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Research Statement

My research concerns ethics, broadly construed. I’m interested in the nature of ethics and ethical judgments as well as the application of ethical considerations to particular cases. My present research concerns the latter, more applied ethical questions—specifically a bioethical question concerning autism and neurodiversity. But my past research concerned the former, more metaethical questions—specifically concerning the metaphysics of moral judgment and the nature of moral facts. Both have been thoroughly interdisciplinary research projects (neurology, law, experimental psychology), and I’ve received external funding in the past for my metaethical research.

The past two years of my research has been devoted to the ethics of autism. My paper (with David Beversdorf, MD), “A Dilemma for Neurodiversity” has been recently published in Neuroethics. We argue that the relatively recent neurodiversity approach to autism faces a dilemma: de-pathologizing autism arguably undermines autism’s exculpatory role in cases where autistic individuals are charged with a crime. One immediate bioethical implication of our argument is that it may be possible to maintain autism’s disorder status without having to derive this result from any general account of disorder (at least for some individuals). Thus, if our argument succeeds, we will have shown one possible way that autism could be said to be inherently disabling for some individuals without relying on any unjustifiably ableist or neurotypical prejudice. For future research, I intend to further explore this dimension of autism as it concerns questions concerning value theory, moral responsibility, and the philosophy of religion. I am also currently drafting a neurodiversity chapter for an upcoming bioethics handbook.

My former research concerned our pre-theoretical conceptions of morality. Traditionally, any proposed account of morality requires an explanation of its objective aim and its motivational influence.[1] I’ve addressed the motivational requirement in Shields (2016). The central question is whether moral judgments must carry with them some motivation to act accordingly in order to count as a moral judgment. Shields (2016) tests three possible explanations of what I call the Factivity Effect on people’s pre-theoretical intuitions concerning whether someone can sincerely judge an action as morally wrong yet be entirely unmoved by that judgment.

In addition to the experimental approach of Shields (2016), I have also taken a more traditional approach to metaethical questions. For instance, I have presented a new conception of a currently disputed problem within traditional metaethics in my paper, “Quasi-realism and the Problem of the Schizoid Attitude” at the Central APA. I’ve also been invited by the APA numerous times to give comments on metaethical and experimental projects of others in my field.

[1] Mackie (1977).

Mackie, J. L. (1977). Ethics: inventing right and wrong. New York, NY: Penguin.

Shields, K. (2016) “Moral internalism, amoralist skepticism, and the factivity effect.” Philosophical Psychology, 29:8, 1095-1111.

Shields, K. (lead) and Beversdorf, D. (2020) “A Dilemma for Neurodiversity.” Neuroethics.