Research

Overview:

My research is broadly concerned with moral issues that arise as part of living in diverse communities, especially in the face of difference and disagreement. My primary aims are threefold. First, to diagnose and explain key moral failures unique to these societal configurations. Second, to provide a philosophical and moral account of the sorts of cognitive-emotional social skills that are best suited to correcting and preventing such failures. Third, to draw on insights from the social and cognitive sciences to propose strategies for fostering the relevant skills, as well as the technological, social, and institutional conditions under which they can best be developed and employed. In all of my work, I seek to connect philosophical questions to the real-world issues that give rise to them.

 

Under this umbrella, I am currently interested in questions along roughy the following three lines of inquiry:

  • Moral Psychology. What role do cognitive-emotional skills, like empathy and perspective taking, play in promoting positive bonds between people (especially outgroup members) and under what conditions do they do so? How might these skills facilitate moral perceptiveness and responsiveness? 

  • Applied Ethics. What sorts of cognitive-emotional skills ought healthcare practitioners develop in their dealings with patients? For instance, to what extent is empathy on the part of healthcare practitioners important for promoting patient autonomy and how might the risk of burnout due to excessive empathy be mitigated? How might empathy and perspective-taking training initiatives in medical contexts accommodate the fact of  extreme power asymmetries between healthcare practitioners and patients? What can be learned about the broader importance of cognitive-emotional skill development and training from the case of mental disorders, such as narcissism and borderline personality disorder? How can we create sufficiently diverse contexts in which to implement cognitive-emotional skill training, in light of the widespread lack of diversity in schools and other social institutions? 

  • Feminist Philosophy. To what extent does offloading tasks that require cognitive-emotional skills onto feminine agents of all sorts risk de-skilling and what are the moral consequences of this? What special ethical challenges does the widespread use of feminized AIs---especially to perform caring and service-oriented tasks---pose? What role does social power play in the uneven development of cognitive-emotional skillfulness across the population, and how might the harms of such uneven development be mitigated?  

Please feel free to reach out to find out more about my current projects in these areas. 

Publications:

  • Read, H. (2019). A typology of empathy and its many moral forms. Philosophy Compass, 14(10), e12623.

  • Spaulding, S., Svetlova, R., & Read, H. (forthcoming). The nature of empathy, in De Brigard, F. & Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (Eds.), Philosophy of Neuroscience. Cambridge: MIT Press.

 

 

Selected Works in Progress:

  • Title removed. Empathy's critics have rightly drawn attention to its susceptibility to a host of biases and group preferences. Contra their claim that empathy is therefore morally problematic, I argue that empathy of different kinds is especially useful for one important, and widely overlooked, moral task—namely, promoting an array of positive relationships between people by helping them find common ground, even in very challenging cases. 

  • Title removed. This paper offers an account of the moral importance of perspective taking. In particular, it argues that perspective taking is sometimes needed to correct failures to pick up on morally important features of our surroundings, which may be obscured by consideration of things from a particular perspective. While others have emphasized the importance of attention and care for correcting moral perceptual failures, I maintain that perspective taking is sometimes needed over and above these additional considerations. 

  • Title removed. The interaction between liberal values, such as the freedom of association and freedom of conscience, and social-sorting tendencies perpetuate the problem of insufficient diversity in schools. This, I argue, has devastating consequences for ensuring an adequate democratic education on the part of students, particularly where cognitive-emotional skill development is concerned. In light of these challenges, I propose strategies for creating diverse contexts in which to train the relevant cognitive-emotional skills amongst school-age children under current non-ideal conditions. 

  • Title removed. This paper offers an empirically informed account of the skill of perspective taking. In so doing I show that the skill of perspective taking raises some challenges for both traditional intellectualist and anti-intellectualist views of skill. Far from undermining them, I suggest that addressing these challenges promises to enrich these discussions.