While my research is primarily in the ethics of parenthood and procreation, I work in a wide range of academic issues including: the ethics of killing, bioethics, the value of aging and death, political theology, religious liberty and the scope of conscience rights, incarceration and post-incarceration stigmas, the history and nature of evangelicalism, and Shakespeare.
Moral Thinking: Response to Chapter Two, Spring 2015
This essay considers Chapter Two of Oliver O’Donovan’s book Self, World, and Time.
What the State Owes Bastards: A Modest Critique of Modest One-Child Policies, Journal of Applied Philosophy, November 2019
This essay criticises ‘modest’ one-child policies, which would impose sanctions upon parents who create multiple children. Speciﬁcally, this article considers what the state owes individuals who would be born (illegally) beneath restrictive procreative policies and argues that such policies would fail to show due respect to second- or third-born individuals created beneath them. First, I argue that modest procreative restrictions (like sanctions) are likely to generate only modest compliance. I then suggest it is reasonable to think a one-child policy fails to demonstrate due respect to existing second and third children. I argue that such a policy generates an undue burden on any second or third children who would be born beneath them, before concluding by considering whether the state might be able to avoid effec-tively reinscribing ‘bastardy’ into its law by locating responsibility for the effects of such a policy entirely on the parents, rather than on children.
The Effect of Religion on Emotional Well-Being Among Offenders in Correctional Centers of South Africa: Explanations and Gender Differences, November 2019
We examined (1) whether the relationship between religiosity and negative emotions (anger, frustration, depression, and anxiety) among prisoners is attributable to inmates’ sense of meaning and purpose in life and personal virtues and (2) whether religiosity has a larger positive relationship with a search for and a presence of meaning in life as well as the virtues of forgiveness, gratitude, and self-control among female than male inmates. To examine these relationships, we analyzed survey data from a sample of offenders in South African correctional centers. Findings showed that more religious inmates reported lower levels of negative emotions to the extent that their religiosity enhanced a sense of meaning and purpose in life and levels of self-control than their less or non-religious peers. We also found the salutary effect of religiosity to be applicable equally to male and female inmates. Substantive and practical implications of our findings are discussed.
Is Religious Liberty Under Threat?: An Introduction to the Symposium, Studies in Christian Ethics, May 2020
This introduction surveys the contributions to this issue, which were originally delivered at Oxford University in 2018. By exploring the interconnections and shared motifs, this article suggests that the answer to this symposium is a tentative ‘yes’, but that the sources of those threats arise from the background culture within which these papers are situated.
Stability, Natural Rights, and the Limits of Prudence, June 2021
This essay investigates Prof. Nigel Biggar’s critique of natural rights and his subsequent reliance upon “prudence” to secure positive rights for citizens. It offers a modest defense of natural rights as explanatory for certain intuitions, while raising questions about whether positive rights are sufficiently stable on Prof. Biggar’s view.
Indexing Burdens and Benefits of Treatment to Age: Revisiting Paul Ramsey’s “Medical Indications” Policy, July 2021
This essay reconsiders Paul Ramsey’s “medical indications” policy and argues that his reconstruction of the case of Joseph Saikewicz demonstrates that there is more room for caretakers to decline treatments for “voiceless dependents” than his interlocutors have sometimes thought. It furthermore draws on Ramsey’s earlier work to propose ways that Ramsey might have improved his policy, and argues that the shortcomings of Ramsey’s view arise from his bracketing of age in making determinations about what form of medical care is owed. The reading of Ramsey set forth here suggests Cathleen Kaveny’s depiction of the ‘medical indications’ policy in Ethics at the Edges of Law is too rigid and inflexible, even while it affirms other aspects of her critique.
“Parenthood, Patient as Person, and Research with Children,” forthcoming in Paul Ramsey: The Man, His Thought, and a Groundbreaking Approach to Bioethics, Routledge.
This chapter revisits Paul Ramsey’s critique of non-therapeutic forms of research on children. For Ramsey, the nature and content of parenthood as a status is the decisive matter in determining whether such research is licit, rather than the nature of consent or abstract considerations of risk or harm. This essay reconstructs Ramsey’s account, and puts it in dialogue with contemporary philosophical defenses of non-therapeutic research. Ultimately, it concludes that Ramsey’s account is still out of step with contemporary intuitions about non-therapeutic research for children–but is more plausible than has sometimes been allowed.
The Imago Dei and the Infinite Value of Human Life, CBHD
This essay argues that the doctrine of the imago Dei supplies reason to affirm the infinite worth of each individual in their relatedness to God. At the same time, the relative ethical significance of this value has rarely been specified, and invoking it within pandemic conditions generates its own moral hazards. As such, this paper disentangles the doctrine from both the claims that we must undertake a zero-risk stance toward imposing infections, and that we cannot make prudential, comparative judgments to save some people even if doing so means others might suffer or die. Such distinctions are essential for developing prudent policies in a pandemic.
Anti-Abortionist Action Theory and the Asymmetry between Spontaneous and Induced Abortions, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy.
This essay defends the asymmetry between the badness of spontaneous and induced abortions in order to explain why anti-abortionists prioritize stopping induced abortions over preventing spontaneous abortions. Specifically, it argues (1) the distinction between killing and letting-die is of more limited use in explaining the asymmetry than has sometimes been presumed, and (2) that accounting for intentions in moral agency does not render performances morally inert. Instead, antiabortionists adopt a pluralist, non-reductive account of moral analysis which is situated against a backdrop that sees the limits of our ability to control the process of fertility as themselves valuable. Though this view is complex, the paper concludes by arguing that it has the advantage of explaining features of the anti-abortion outlook that have sometimes been overlooked. First, it accounts for why the pre-Roe regime of abortion restrictions primarily imposed penalties on doctors who induced abortions rather than the women who seek them. And second, it explains why the advent of ectogestation will not prompt anti-abortionists to compromise on ‘disconnect abortions,’ which putatively let the embryo die by extracting it from the mother’s womb.
(When) Is There a Christian Responsibility to Gossip?, Journal for the Society of Christian Ethics.
This paper offers a Thomistic defense of gossip as a licit means of protecting third parties from harm by known offenders. After first clarifying what constitutes gossip, it draws from Thomas Aquinas to identify the narrow set of conditions under which gossip might be both permissible and obligatory. It concludes by specifying how the duty to gossip might work in Christian institutions, and especially within institutions where there are weak systems of formal accountability.
Religion and Responsibility-Taking among Offenders in Colombia and South Africa: A Qualitative Assessment of a Faith Based Program in Prison, primary author with Jason Burtt, Karen Booyens, Sung Joon Jang, Byron Johnson, and Michael Joseph, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology.
This paper examines whether religion contributes to offenders taking responsibility for crimes. Specifically, we assessed whether participation in The Prisoner’s Journey (TPJ), a bible study program, increased or decreased responsibility-taking. We also examined whether religious offenders that did not participate in TPJ were likely to take responsibility for their offenses. For this study, we conducted a quasi-experiment in two Colombian and five South African prisons from 2018 to 2019, collecting data from personal interviews with a total of 73 inmates—42 TPJ participants and 31 nonparticipants—before and after the program. Offenders frequently offered subtle accounts of responsibility that incorporated their own agency with other factors. Highly religious offenders were equally likely to take responsibility, and in some cases participation in TPJ heightened responsibility. In sum, this paper presents evidence that religious beliefs and practice are commensurate with responsibility-taking and desistance from crime.
Ectogestation and Humanity’s Whence? An Exploration with Saint Augustine and Karl Barth, Christian Bioethics.
What is the value of having been born? As novel ectogestation technologies (artificial wombs) will open up the possibility of forming human life with no presence of the mother, it is imperative to develop resources to understand what might be lost if we employ them. Through a critical and constructive examination of Augustine and Karl Barth’s account of humanity’s “whence,” this essay attempts to describe the stakes of how we answer this question for theological anthropology and ethics.
“Bringing Body and Soul (Back) Together Again: Robert P. George, Oliver O’Donovan, and the Place of Resurrection in Body Ethics,” in Social Conservatism for the Common Good: A Protestant Engagement with Robert P. George, Crossway Books, edited by Andrew Walker.
This chapter considers the prospects and limits of a “natural law” account of the body’s place in ethics. It first takes up Robert George’s hylemorphic account of the body, arguing that George’s view of the good of “life” leaves his account unable to resist technologies that would promise or aim at indefinite life-extension. It then considers Oliver O’Donovan’s ‘evangelical’ ethic of the body, highlighting the ways in which his view struggles to consistently affirm an ethic for the body that is founded upon the resurrection.
Humility, pride, and Christian virtue theory by Kent Dunnington, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2019 & Humility and human flourishing: a study in analytic moral theology by Michael W. Austin, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018.
In Political Theology, January/February 2020
Susannah Cornwall, Un/Familiar Theology: Reconceiving Sex, Reproduction and Generativity, (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).
In Studies in Christian Ethics, 2018.
Ethics at the Edges of Law: Christian Moralists and American Legal Thought. By Cathleen Kaveny. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
In Church and State, Summer 2018.