August Gorman

I’m August Gorman, a postdoc at the Ethics Lab at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.


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I’m interested in creative approaches to philosophy pedagogy, and my teaching through the Ethics Lab involves bringing the tools of design thinking to bear on problem-based topic-focused introductory ethics courses. I also help run the Engaging Ethics Initiative, working with faculty from non-philosophy disciplines to integrate creative ethics instruction into their curricula.

My research explores the role that an agent’s relationship to her own motivations plays in normative domains. Several of my projects stem from thinking about atypical agents who face conditions that in different ways impair the normal relationship an agent has to her motivations. I use evidence from the phenomenology of mental disability to challenge existing models of agency, and to inform the development of accounts of moral responsibility, well-being, and meaningfulness in life.

In my dissertation I defended a new view of moral responsibility: the Minimal Approval view. In it I argue that, in contrast to traditional Deep Self views,  in order for an agent to be an apt target of blame on the basis of her behavior, the chain of mental events that leads her to action can involve any mental states, just so long as they dispose her to minimally approve of acting on the motivation she in fact does. To minimally approve is to be such that, if you were to consider your first-order desires to act, you would desire to some degree for your effective desire to be satisfied for some further aim than merely to get rid of it. I engage with the psychological literature on various psychological conditions to show how this view is uniquely well-suited to separate ordinary spontaneous, weak-willed, and emotional action for which agents are responsible from pathologically compulsive action for which they are not.