Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics at Duke University in the Philosophy Department, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Duke Institute for Brain Science, and the Law School. He publishes widely in ethics, moral psychology and neuroscience, philosophy of law, epistemology, informal logic, and philosophy of religion.
Sinnott-Armstrong is co-director of the Questions and Polarization project, responsible for general supervision and organization.
Summers is an Academic Dean in Trinity college and a Kenan Fellow in the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke. He is originally from Kansas and received his BA from the University of Kansas. After some time living and studying in France and England, Summers eventually received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from UCLA. Summers’ research in philosophy is, broadly speaking, on the ethical implications of various forms of irrationality. For this project, his interest is specifically in the rationalizations of political and controversial beliefs, whether those rationalizations magnify polarization, and how they can be used to help diminish it.
Valerie Soon is a third-year Philosophy PhD student. She is interested in how social science can inform ideal theory concepts in political philosophy. Specifically, her research concerns the social norms, practices, and individual preferences that create unjust inequalities, and the bounds of permissible intervention on these causes in a liberal state. In this project, she is analyzing survey data to distinguish among the different identities (e.g. race, gender, class) that are correlated with polarization. She is ultimately interested in the following questions: to what extent can we predict an individual’s political views based on the intersections of her identity? If people are made aware that their views can be reliably predicted by group identity, might this mitigate polarization by minimizing their confidence in their justification for their views?
Joshua “Gus” Skorburg
Starting January 2018, Gus Skorburg will be post-doctoral fellow in philosophy at Duke University. His research is in applied ethics and moral psychology, with a focus on questions of self and identity. His PhD is in philosophy from the University of Oregon.
Simone Tang is a PhD Candidate in the Management and Organizations department at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. She has a BA in Psychology and an MA in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania.
Her research centers on morality, ethics and ideology in social and organizational contexts. Within this team, she is examining how loyalty to one’s political party influences perceptions of and behaviors towards members of other parties.
Hannah Read is a student in the Philosophy PhD program at Duke. She works primarily in the areas of metaethics and moral psychology. She is particularly interested in moral disagreement and the way that strong emotions associated with moral issues often make it difficult (sometimes even practically impossible) to resolve such disagreements. Her current work focuses on empathy as a tool for bringing people together across political, social, cultural, or ideological divides by helping them relate to one another.
Rose is a sophomore at Duke majoring in statistical science with a background in political science. She has assisted in past research regarding public opinion on the United States Supreme Court and is very enthusiastic about continuing research regarding polarization. In this Bass Connections,
She is assisting with a project relating to what groups of individuals are polarized and on what issues does this group polarization occur. The result of this project is to have a program that can accurately predict political views based on an individual’s identity. She will also be assisting in gathering the data to determine the viewpoints of specific groups on polarizing issues and aid in the statistical analysis and creation of the program.
J.J. is a Junior in Trinity College Studying Science in Mathematics while minoring in Philosophy and Economics
J.J. hopes to one day work in research of economic and political development. He is passionate about using scientific methods to understand what institutions and policies shape positive economic growth, healthy democracies, and fulfilling lives for citizens. Alongside his teammates, he is concerned that the inability to hold productive political discussions with opponents affects our electorate’s ability to make reasoned voting decisions. Whereas a less hostile, more constructive debate culture seems essential for democracy to function well. He hopes to help this Bass Connections team discover the causes of polarized debate and how to mediate tensions.
Specifically, he is serving on various subprojects: First, he is helping conduct the literature review and data management on how often identity markers (race, sex, geography, political affiliation) can serve as good indicators of one’s policy views on various issues. Second, he is coding, preparing, and analyzing data on how the phrasing of questions in a debate can affect the participants’ tendencies toward polarized or non-polarized (and thus constructive) discussion.
While advocating for investment in research and policy reform, scientists need a means to communicate why their work deserves to be funded and how their discoveries benefit society. Policymakers and the citizens, on the other hand, need to interpret these claims to inform their choice of policy while advocating what they think is ethical and worthwhile. As is too often is the case, however, political and cultural polarization cloud this relationship and everyone loses. As a part of this Bass Connections Project, How to Ask a Question, Esko, a Masters student in Bioethics and Science Policy, is joining others to better understand the origins of polarization, and, with any luck, its cure.
In particular, Esko is helping this team make their research more accessible through the creation of this website, as well as developing a mini-repository of relevant polarization research that can be readily accessed by the public.
Kyra Exterovich-Rubin is a third-year undergraduate student studying public policy and philosophy. She hails from Wisconsin, where she first became concerned with empathetic political dialogue. Her interest in empathy and polarization extend into her interest in conflict resolution.
Sarah Sculco is an undergraduate majoring in philosophy at Duke. Her primary interests are moral and political philosophy. She is very glad to be working with Hannah Read on the empathy and polarization sub-project. Questions about empathy and its limits have always been interesting to her, and she is excited to contribute to work in this field. Previously, she has worked as an Advocate for Children at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County. The educational curriculum (informed by philosophical and psychological literature) we hope to develop falls directly in line with Sarah’s goals; in the future, she would like to work at the intersection of philosophy and public policy.