Works in Progress

Democracy’s Unpluckable Feathers

Abstract: Mussolini is said to have advised that those seeking power ought to do so as one ought to pluck a chicken, “feather by feather—so each squawk is heard apart from every other and the whole process is kept as muted as possible.” Appealing to Mussolini’s metaphor, I argue that in order to establish a bulwark against autocracy, democracies ought to identify what I call unpluckable feathers of democracy. Unpluckable feathers of democracy are specific and nonpartisan core aspects of democracy that are treated as inviolable because of their importance in preserving democracy. An unpluckable feather’s power comes from the citizenry’s refusal to allow it to be violated. In this paper, I outline the characteristics of an ideal unpluckable feather, and then apply the theory of unpluckable feathers to presidential term limits, concluding that strict abidance of presidential term limits is a paradigmatic example of an ideal unpluckable feather.

Political Partisanship and Sincere Religious Conviction

Abstract: In order for a religious conviction to receive protection under the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it must be a sincere religious conviction. Some critics of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby have suggested that the plaintiffs in that case and in related cases were motivated more by political ideology than by sincere religious conviction. The remedy, they argue, is for courts to be quicker to scrutinize claims of religious sincerity. In this article, I consider another possibility—namely, that current sociopolitical partisanship in the United States has eroded a clear distinction between political ideology and religious conviction for plaintiffs in cases like Hobby Lobby. If this theory is correct, it is far less obvious what the proper remedy is. I consider and reject the view that newly formed religious convictions with political origins should be treated as less than sincere on those grounds. However, I do argue that whether or not a religious conviction seems to have been newly generated by political circumstances should be taken into account when deciding religious free exercise cases. I suggest that this could best be accounted for if the courts adopted a balanced interests approach instead of the winner-takes-all “checklist” approaches that have developed under Employment Div. v. Smith and RFRA.

A Permissive Account of What’s Permissible to Belief

Abstract: In this paper I offer a new account of when it’s permissible to believe P. The account always permits one to believe P when so believing is in accordance with one’s evidence, but it also, under certain limited circumstances, permits one to believe P out of accordance with one’s evidence (i.e. in a situation with either under-supportive or predominantly contrary evidence in regards to P). The key on this account is that believing out of accordance with the evidence is only permissible in situations where one has sufficient evidence about the likely benefit that believing P will bring about (along with sufficient evidence that offsetting harm is unlikely). In this paper I deal with some of the epistemological (and to a lesser extent ethical) difficulties that arise in fleshing out such an account and seek to motivate this type of account by arguing that such an account can be used to create an intuitive dividing line for when we can and cannot believe out of accordance with our evidence.

A paper about social epistemology, epistemic injustice, and political polarization

Currently under review. Email author for more information. Handout with relevant background information available here.

A paper about the meaning of ‘know’

Currently under review. Email author for more information.

A work in progress on rethinking the concept of religious hostility in U.S. jurisprudence

Handout with relevant background information available here.