Prof Michelle N Mason
The philosophical questions that most interest me intersect value theory and the philosophy of mind and action.
We care, and care deeply, about how others not only act but feel toward us. We expect even strangers to regard us with a certain degree of respect; moreover, we hope that certain intimates – as in the case of spouses, parents, and children – love us. What could warrant such attitudes toward a person? To what moral evaluations, if any, are such responses subject? In current work, I examine the moral psychology of a related quartet of attitudes – contempt, shame, love, and pride – as attitudes indispensable to regarding ourselves and others as responsible for approximating certain normative ideals. Against interpretations of the reactive attitudes that ascribe to them a predominantly deontic, imperative shape, I offer an account that accommodates this quartet as what I dub aretaic, appellative attitudes. Some of my work in this area has been published as articles and book chapters, in venues such as Ethics and Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility, and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others. Currently, I am completing a monograph on the topic, Valuing Persons, for Oxford University Press. My related edited volume, The Moral Psychology of Contempt, is forthcoming in January 2018 in Rowman & Littlefield’s Moral Psychology of the Emotions series.
My second research project takes up an ancient question in normative ethical theory: Is living a virtuous life – in the sense of living justly, courageously, honestly, and the like – necessary if one is to live a life good for the one who lives it? Defending a developmental account of the human good, and bringing my practical experience as a child welfare advocate to bear, I defend a novel connection between living virtuously and faring well. My research to date on this project has been published in venues such as the Southern Journal of Philosophy and The Journal of Moral Philosophy, and supported by the Templeton Foundation, among others.
A third project, The Interpreter of Guantanamo: A case Study in Empathy, and its Failures, harnesses my academic interest in moral psychology to a long abandoned start in journalism. Currently in the interviewing stages, I am pursuing a biographical case study that explores the place of empathy, and its limits, in the ongoing tragedy of Guantanamo.
Someday, finally, I hope to return to my early interest in aesthetics, particularly an interest in exploring how aesthetic and moral values conflict and – when they do – how that conflict might inform thinking about the purportedly overriding character of moral reasons.