As I've done the last couple years, I'm summarizing the year's activities and looking ahead to the next year, along with some general impressions and reflections. If you've read my occasional personal updates this year, you know it's been a strange year, with a very productive and exciting first half, followed by a lackluster halftime show and a second half full of fumbles and missed field goals. (I didn't post a personal update since September, but nothing much changed.)
In 2016 I had three books out (all resulting from work done last year):
- Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation, edited with Jennifer A. Baker for Oxford University Press.
- Social Economics, a four-volume collection of essential work in the area, edited with Wilfred Dolfsma, Deb Figart, Ellen Mutari, and Bob McMaster for Routledge. (I was responsible for editing the volume on philosophy.)
- A Philosopher Reads Marvel Comics' Civil War: Exploring the Moral Judgment of Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man, which I published with Ockham Publishing (after a brief time on Amazon's Kindle Direct).
I also finished work on another edited volume coming out early next year, The Insanity Defense: Multidisciplinary Views on Its History, Trends, and Controversies, from Praeger.
Finally, I have four book projects in various stages of progress:
- Two sole-authored books: one on the decline of the individual (for Palgrave) and another on a superhero and philosophy (for Wiley Blackwell), both in early drafting stage (the planning for which accounted for the most of the last couple months of the year).
- Two edited books: a handbook of ethics and economics (for Oxford) and Doctor Strange and Philosophy (for Wiley Blackwell), both being assembled as we speak.
Several other book projects are being discussed with various publishers, only one of which is academic in nature, consistent with plans to focus more on popular writing in the future.
ARTICLES AND CHAPTERS
I had eight papers/book chapters published (in print or online ahead of print) this year, the first five on them based on work from earlier and the last three revised this year:
- “On the Justification of Antitrust: A Matter of Rights and Wrongs” and “Response to Long and Barr,” The Antitrust Bulletin, 61(2), pp. 323-335 and 346-350.
- “The Crucial Importance of Interests in Libertarian Paternalism,” in Nudging: Possibilities, Limitations and Applications in European Law and Economics, edited by Klaus Mathis and Avishalom Tor, Springer, pp. 21-38.
- “Overview of Behavioral Economics and Policy,” in Nudge Theory in Action: Behavioral Design in Policy and Markets, edited by Sherzod Abdukadirov, Palgrave, pp. 15-36.
- “Bad Medicine: Does the Unique Nature of Health Care Decisions Justify Nudges?”, in Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics, edited by I. Glenn Cohen, Holly F. Lynch, and Christopher T. Robertson, Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 72-82.
- “The Virtues of a Kantian Economics,” in Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation, edited by Jennifer A. Baker and Mark D. White, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 94-115.
- "The Ethical Issues behind Expanding the Right to Try Preapproval Drugs and Medical Devices," Mercatus Research (online)
- "The Neglected Nuance of Beccaria’s Theory of Punishment," European Journal of Law and Economics, online pre-publication
- "Nudging Merit Goods: Conceptual, Normative, and Practical Connections," Forum for Social Economics, online pre-publication
Three more articles/chapters — the first revised this year, the other two written this year — were accepted this year and await publication:
- “Judging the Efficacy and Ethics of Positive Psychology for Government Policymaking,” forthcoming in The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology, edited by Tim Lomas, Nick Brown, and Francisco Jose Eiroá-Orosa (Routledge)
- “Nudging Debt: On the Ethics of Behavioral Paternalism in Personal Finance,” forthcoming in Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning
- “‘What I Had to Do’: The Ethics of Wonder Woman’s Execution of Maxwell Lord,” forthcoming in Wonder Woman and Philosophy, edited by Jacob M. Held (Wiley Blackwell)
I wrote three more articles/chapters this year, the first under revision and the others under review:
- “Preferences All the Way Down: Questioning the Revolutionary Nature of Behavioral Economics and the Path to Nudge,” under revision for a special issue of Oeconomia
- “Dignity on the Line: The Kantian Ethics and Economics of Work,” submitted for Fair Work: Ethics, Social Policy, Globalization, edited by Kory Schaff (Rowman & Littlefield International)
- "Nudging — Ethical and Political Dimensions of Choice Architectures," submitted for the Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy, edited by Holger Strassheim and Silke Beck (Edward Elgar)
All in all, I wrote five new articles/chapters this year (and revised four others), a slight decline from last year, but consistent with my plan to scale back on short pieces and devote more attention to books, although this would mean more if I'd actually made substantial progress on a sole-authored book this year. (To be fair, it was a relatively chaotic fall semester at work.)
- "Captain America: Civil War -- conflicted heroes and a clash of philosophies," at The Guardian in April (one of several online pieces, such as interviews and reviews, related to my book on Civil War)
- "Defending Kant’s Classical Liberalism" and "Despite Complications and Inconsistencies, the Core of Kantian Ethics Is Classically Liberal," part of the "Immanuel Kant and Classical Liberalism" discussion at CATO Unbound, October
- "Getting Good Results vs. Doing the Right Thing," at Learn Liberty (an IHS blog), November
Also, I was interviewed three times by my friend Skye Cleary for the Blog of the American Philosophical Association: first about Batman v Superman, next about Captain America: Civil War and my book, and the last simply about me.
Finally, I contributed a short piece on superheroes, ethics, and economics to Perspectives, the print publication of King’s College London Economics & Finance Society, titled “What Can Superheroes Teach Us about Ethics and Economics? Homo economicus, deontology, and virtue ethics, explained through Iron Man and Captain America" (issue 5, 2016), although it's not online yet.
This year, I also participated in a number of podcasts, three of them dealing with superheroes and one devoted to a recent academic book:
- NerdSync Podcast, March 31, discussing the philosophy of Civil War (and my book)
- The Tom Woods Show, April 1, with Jennifer A. Baker discussing economics and the virtues (and our co-edited book on the topic)
- NerdSync Podcast, May 27, discussing the Captain America: Civil War film and the Civil War II and Captain America comics (some of which was used in a NerdSync video on June 1)
- The Fantasticast, June 4, discussing Marvel Two-in-One #4 (1974), featuring the Thing and Captain America
I really enjoyed doing all of these, and I've been thinking since of doing some podcasting of my own in the future.
As with writing, the bulk of my talks — all of them, as it turns out — were given early in the year, and they were fewer than in recent years:
- “Kant on Modern Finance: Are We Treating People Simply as Means?”, presented at the Association for Social Economics/Allied Social Science Associations (ASSA) meetings, January
- Panelist at “An Evening with Batman’s Brain,” public event with E. Paul Zehr and Travis Langley at University of Victoria, March
- “What Superheroes Can Teach Us about Liberty and Security,” public lecture at Northwood University, March
I also commented on a paper at the Central Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA) in March and sat on a dissertation defense at the law school at the University of Toronto in May. As detailed in my last update, I was scheduled to speak at the “Designing Moral Technologies” conference at the Universität Zürich in July, but I cancelled for health reasons.
I am currently committed to give only two talks in 2017, both of them at the Central APA meetings in March; going forward, I plan to give (even) fewer academic presentations and, if anything, more popular philosophy talks (whether or not they deal with superheroes).
This part has proven difficult. For one, it almost seems distasteful to engage in too much self-reflection at the end of a year like 2016, with the political atmosphere and realities around both the presidential election in the US and Brexit in the UK, the unfathomable plight of refugees around the world, and the passing of so many people whose creativity, passion, and struggles are (and will always be) so inspirational to me, such as David Bowie, Prince, and Maurice White. [UPDATE: And, an hour or two after I posted this, we lost Carrie Fisher. Sigh.]
Also, when I look inward, I really don't know what to say that I haven't said before. Little has changed since I invoked Tolstoy five years ago at The Good Men Project. I'm still not sure what I'm doing, what I "should" be doing, or what I want to be doing.
The one new development in this is that I've begun to realize that most of my "professional" life — that is, developments related to my salaried job rather than my independent writing activities or any semblance of a personal life — has been a result of passively following what seemed to be the natural path rather than the active pursuit of any goal or dream I had. (Not very autonomous of me, I know, which bothers me too.) This isn't to suggest that this path was always easy or that I didn't work hard at each step. But looking back, I'm just not sure why I did any of it. Ideally, this would inspire me to find something else to do, but before I can do that I need to determine what it is that I want to do, and that's when I realize that I never thought about it (nor does anything come to mind when I do).
So, until I figure any of this out, and even though I feel less well-suited for it as time passes, I'll just keep going on this path.
To that end, in 2017 I hope to use my time better by focusing on routine. One of my main problems has been with focus, and every book and article I read about writing (or creative work in general) recommends establishing a routine to maintain focus. I remember times in the past when I kept to a routine and how well it worked, but nonetheless I find it very difficult to establish one now. I did have one for a while late this summer and early fall when I rediscovered a coffee shop I found I could write well in, and although I still go there most days that I can, I haven't been very productive there lately. More recently I started going to another place that opens earlier, so I can get started right away instead of wasting time at home waiting to leave, and I have managed to work well there on occasion, but not often or well enough. Another bad thing is that, since I've tried to establish a routine of working outside my apartment in the mornings, it's harder to consider my apartment as a workplace when I return, which usually means I get nothing done the rest of the day. That's a tremendous amount of time wasted, which weighs on me significantly.
I'm also fully aware that routine can't do all the heavy lifting — one still has to be motivated to follow the routine as well as to do the work you schedule for. But the hope is that once you establish a routine that becomes a habit, you won't have to think about it, and the motivation to work will come more naturally. And that's another aspect of routine that I hope to follow in 2017: making it regular, hopefully daily, even if the particular routine has to be modified to fit my other responsibilities. A problem I'm dealing with right now is keeping my mind "in" my current projects, especially if I haven't worked on them for a day or two. Whenever I return to them, it takes some time to remind myself where I was in the project and then what to do next. If I spend at least a little time with each project every day, this "acclimation" period might not be necessary, and I can just "jump in" when I return to it. Hopefully I would be able to spend enough time each day to make significant progress, but even if I can only do enough to keep it fresh in my mind, that would be a big help. In the end, regularity might be more important than routine, but I'm sure that both combined, as much as possible, will be best.
I hope to be able to report some success on this front next year, as well as in the broader question of figuring out what I'm doing with my life, so my "looking back on 2017" post is less melancholic. (Sorry about that.)
I wish you all the best for your 2017 as well!