I am a research associate at the University of Zurich working on philosophy of language, mind and moral psychology. I'm currently the PI of a 4-year SNF research project exploring biases in mental state ascriptions. I'm also a fellow at the Digital Society Initiative (UZH) where I work on Ethics & AI. Previously I did a postdoc at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, and was a Humanities and Neuroscience Fellow at Columbia University's Italian Academy. I hold a PhD in philosophy and an MA in cognitive science from the Institut Jean Nicod (ENS/EHESS Paris), as well as a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford. I also studied film in the MFA program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and have directed a few films.
Please do not hesitate to email me regarding drafts not presently online or anything else.
Happiness and Well-Being: Is It All in Your Head? Evidence from the Folk. With D. Haybron.
Despite a voluminous literature on happiness and well-being, there is still no scholarly consensus on whether happiness and well-being are purely psychological phenomena, or for that matter whether they are identical. In a series of studies we examined lay intuitions involving a variety happiness and well-being-related terms to assess their sensitivity to psychological (internal) versus external conditions. We found that all terms, including ‘happy’, ‘doing well’ and ‘good life’, were far more sensitive to internal than external conditions, suggesting that for laypersons, mental states are the most important part of happiness and well-being. But several terms, including ‘doing well’, ‘good life’ and ‘enviable life’ were also sensitive to external conditions, consistent with dominant philosophical views of well-being. ‘Happy’, by contrast, appears to be ambiguous: for many participants, but not all, it was completely insensitive to external conditions, suggesting that the folk are divided about whether happiness is purely a psychological notion or equivalent to well-being.
The paper introduces a phenomenon called perspectival plurality, which has gone largely unnoticed in the debate between relativists and contextualists about predicates of personal taste. Perspectival plurality is the phenomenon according to which certain claims containing multiple predicates of personal taste can be sensitive to various contextually salient perspectives. For instance, if a father reports on a family holiday in Italy by saying "The wine was delicious and the water slide a lot of fun", the predicate ‘delicious’ – in suitable contexts – must be relativized to the father and ‘fun’ to the kids. The paper argues that perspectival plurality raises severe problems for relativist semantics of perspectival expressions. Plurality blocks any attempt to justify parameter proliferation by aid of Kaplanian operator arguments, and it frustrates reasonable relativist strategies to account for syntactic binding.
This article explores whether perspective taking has an impact on the ascription of epistemic states. To do so, a new method is introduced which incites participants to imagine themselves in the position of the protagonist of a short vignette and to judge from her perspective. In a series of experiments (total N=1980), perspective proves to have a significant impact on belief ascriptions, but not on knowledge ascriptions. For belief, perspective is further found to moderate the epistemic side-effect effect significantly. It is hypothesized that the surprising findings are driven by the special epistemic authority we enjoy in assessing our own belief states, which does not extend to the assessment of our own knowledge states.
Mens rea, expertise and outcome effects: Professional judges surveyed. Cognition (169), 2017. With S. Bourgeois-Gironde.
A coherent practice of mens rea (‘guilty mind’) ascription in criminal law presupposes a concept of mens rea which is insensitive to the moral valence of an action’s outcome. For instance, an assessment of whether an agent harmed another person intentionally should be unaffected by the severity of harm done. Ascriptions of intentionality made by laypeople, however, are subject to a strong outcome bias. As demonstrated by the Knobe effect, a knowingly incurred negative side effect is standardly judged intentional, whereas a positive side effect is not. We report the first empirical investigation into intentionality ascriptions made by professional judges, which finds (i) that professionals are sensitive to the moral valence of outcome type, and (ii) that the worse the outcome, the higher the propensity to ascribe intentionality. The data shows the intentionality ascriptions of professional judges to be inconsistent with the concept of mens rea supposedly at the foundation of criminal law.
The potential capacity for robots to deceive has received considerable attention recently. Many papers focus on the technical possibility for a robot to engage in deception for beneficial purposes (e.g. in education or health). In this short experimental paper, I focus on a more paradigmatic case: Robot lying (lying being the textbook example of deception) for nonbeneficial purposes as judged from the human point of view. More precisely, I present an empirical experiment with 399 participants which explores the following three questions: (i) Are ordinary people willing to ascribe intentions to deceive to artificial agents? (ii) Are they as willing to judge a robot lie as a lie as they would be when human agents engage in verbal deception? (iii) Do they blame a lying artificial agent to the same extent as a lying human agent? The response to all three questions is a resounding yes. This, I argue, implies that robot deception and its normative consequences deserve considerably more attention than it presently attracts.
Triage Dilemmas: A Window into (Ecologically Valid) Moral Cognition. With. I. Hannikainen.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, frontline professionals at intensive care units around the world faced gruesome decisions about how to ration life-saving medical resources. These events provided a unique context for moral psychologists to understand how the general public reasons about real-world dilemmas involving trade-offs between human lives—in contrast to most prior research pursuing parallel questions via hypothetical thought experiments with limited relevance to the real world. In three studies (total N = 2387), we examined people’s moral attitudes toward triage of acute coronavirus patients.
Implementations in Machine Ethics: A Survey
With. S. Tolmeijer, C. Sarasua, M. Christen & A. Bernstein
Increasingly complex and autonomous systems require machine ethics to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks to society arising from the new technology. It is challenging to decide which type of ethical theory to employ and how to implement it effectively. This survey provides a threefold contribution. Firstly, it introduces a taxonomy to analyze the field of machine ethics from an ethical, implementational, and technical perspective. Secondly, an exhaustive selection and description of relevant works is presented. Thirdly, applying the new taxonomy to the selected works, dominant research patterns and lessons for the field are identified, and future directions for research are suggested.
Do You Feel the Same? The Effect of Outcome Severity on Moral Judgment and Interpersonal Goals of Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders. With L. Frisch, J. Ullrich & J. Krueger
When two actors have exactly the same mental states but one happens to harm another person (unlucky actor) and the other one does not (lucky actor), the latter elicits milder moral judgment among bystanders. We hypothesized that the social role from which transgressions are perceived would moderate this outcome effect. In three preregistered experiments (N = 950), we randomly assigned participants to imagine and respond to moral scenarios as actor (i.e., perpetrator), victim, or bystander. Results revealed highly similar outcome effects on moral judgment across social roles. However, as predicted, the social role moderated the strength of the outcome effect on interpersonal goals pertaining to agency and communion. Although in agreement about the blameworthiness of lucky and unlucky actors, victims’ agency and communion were more sensitive to the outcome severity than perpetrators’ agency and communion, with bystanders’ outcome sensitivity falling in between. Outcome severity affected agency and communion directly instead of being mediated by moral judgment. We discuss the possibility that outcome severity raises normative expectations regarding interaction in a transgression’s aftermath that are unrelated to moral considerations.
The Content-dependence of Imaginative Resistance. Forthcoming in F. Cova and S. Rénault (eds.), Advances in Experimental Philosophy of Aesthetics. New York: Bloombury Publishing. With H. Kim and M. Stuart. Penultimate version.
An observation of Hume’s has received a lot of attention over the last decade and a half: Although we can standardly imagine the most implausible scenarios, we encounter resistance when imagining propositions at odds with established moral (or perhaps more generally evaluative) convictions. The literature is ripe with ‘solutions’ to this so-called ‘Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance’. Few, however, question the plausibility of the empirical assumption at the heart of the puzzle. In this paper, we explore empirically whether the difficulty we witness in imagining certain propositions is indeed due to claim type (evaluative v. non-evaluative) or whether it is much rather driven by mundane features of content. Our findings suggest that claim type plays but a marginal role, and that there might hence not be much of a ‘puzzle’ to be solved.
Attribution de mens rea: Données empiriques. Forthcoming in S. Ferey and F. G’Sell (eds.), Causalité, Responsabilité et Contribution à la Dette. Brussels: Editions Bruylant. With S. Bourgeois-Gironde.
The Knobe Effect suggests that the folk ascribe intentionality in cases where a negative side-effect has been knowingly brought about, though not in cases where a positive side-effect has been knowingly brought about. Perhaps the most discussed question in this field of research regards whether the Knobe Effect is evidence of a bias in folk ascriptions of intentionality, or else whether such asymmetric ascriptions of intentionality manifest competency with the concept. A different, perhaps more important question, by contrast, has received little attention: Whether, and if so how, the Knobe Effect matters for mens rea ascriptions in criminal law. We argue that the two questions are intimately related, demonstrate that experts (professional lawyers) are just as susceptible to the Knobe Effect, and suggest that this might constitute a very serious problem for criminal jurisprudence.
Semantic Incompleteness, Modal Anxiety and Necessity. R&R. Draft.
According to indexical contextualism, the perspectival element of taste predicates and epistemic modals is part of the content expressed. According to nonindexicalism, the perspectival element (a standard of taste, an epistemic situation) must be conceived as a parameter in the circumstance of evaluation which engenders 'thin' or perspective- neutral semantic contents. Echoing Evans (1985), thin contents have frequently been criticized. It is doubtful whether such coarse-grained quasi-propositions can do any meaningful work as objects of propositioanl attitudes. In the literature, only a single argument responds to this so-called 'incompleteness worry': MacFarlane's (2014) argument from modal anxiety. MacFarlane suggests that if perspectives must be part of the content, so must worlds, which would make contingent propositions necessary. I demonstrate that MacFarlane's attempt to rescue nonindexical contextualism and relativism conflates two distinct notions of necessity, and fails to reinvigorate the views defended even if its mistaken premise were granted.
Moral philosophers and psychologists often assume that people judge morally lucky and morally unlucky agents differently, an assumption that stands at the heart of the puzzle of moral luck. We examine whether the asymmetry is found for reflective intuitions regarding wrongness, blame, permissibility and punishment judgments, whether people’s concrete, case-based judgments align with their explicit, abstract principles regarding moral luck, and what psychological mechanisms might drive the effect. Our experiments produce three findings: First, under circumstances favorable to reflective deliberation, wrongness, blame and permissibility judgments across different moral luck conditions are the same. Second, punishment judgments differ from all three other measures, a result that is at odds with contemporary dual process theories of moral judgment. Third, the moral luck effect for wrongness, blame and permissibility, where it does arise, is due to the hindsight bias. We conclude that this effect is a performance error and does not, as philosophers frequently argue, pose a challenge to the very possibility of systematic ethics.
A series of four experiments (total N=1500) explores whether the norm of assertion is constitutively tied to knowledge, truth or justified belief. Contrary to previous findings, knowledge turns out to be a poor predictor of assertability, and the norm of assertion is not factive either. The studies here presented are the first to provide empirical reason in favour of the view that a speaker is warranted to assert that p if her belief that p is justified.
Epistemic Modals: 'Data' and Data. Under Review. Email for draft.
Epistemic modal claims such as ‘John must be in China’ or ‘John might be in China’ are used to convey one’s relative certainty and uncertainty with respect to a particular states of affairs. Such claims are thus context-dependent; they are sensitive to an agent’s knowledge or epistemic perspective. Contextualists argue that the extension of epistemic modal claims depends on the context of utterance, relativists hold that it depends on the context of assessment. On the latter view, this is demonstrated by the fact that an improvement of the speaker’s epistemic perspective gives rise to the retraction of previous assertions which no longer seem true. In a series of five experiments it is shown that the extension of modal claims depends on features of the context of utterance, and that assertion is not governed by a retraction norm. The data is consistent with contextualism and inconsistent with truth relativism.
Perspectival Plurality: A Natural Language Phenomenon. Under Review. Draft.
Perspectival plurality is the phenomenon according to which certain claims containing multiple predicates of taste can be sensitive to various contextually salient perspectives. The paper argues that perspectival plurality raises severe problems for nonindexicalist semantics of perspectival expressions. Plurality blocks any attempt to justify parameter proliferation by aid of Kaplanian operator arguments, and it frustrates reasonable nonindexicalist strategies to account for syntactic binding. Both arguments must be taken serious: As the second, empirical part of the paper demonstrates with experiments targeting both predicates of personal taste and epistemic modals, perspectival plurality is a genuine feature of ordinary linguistic discourse.
The reflection defense asserts, roughly, that experimental studies that reveal the vagaries of judgments about philosophical cases can be safely ignored because the judgments elicited in experimental studies are swift shots from the hip that lack the necessary deliberative care. Our goal in this article is to show that the reflection defense is misguided. We clarify the reflection defense, and we present a series of five experimental studies involving more than 1800 participants in order to explore the empirical adequacy of the reflection defense.
Predicates of Personal Taste: Empirical Data. Under Review. Draft.
According to contextualism, the extension of claims of personal taste is dependent on the context of utterance. According to truth relativism, their extension depends on the context of assessment. On this view, when the tastes of a speaker change, so does the truth value of a previously uttered taste claim, and if it is false, the speaker is required to retract it. Both views make strong empirical assumptions, which are here put to the test for the first time. It turns out that the linguistic behaviour of ordinary English speakers is consistent with contextualist predictions and inconsistent with relativist predictions.