Click to view Research Statement: WashingtonResearchStatement


  • Tiberius V., and Washington, N (forthcoming“Practical Reason and Social Science Research” Routledge Handbook of Practical Reason, Eds. K. Sullivan and R. Chang.
    • ABSTRACT: Are there any philosophical questions about practical reason or reasoning that might be illuminated by work in the social sciences?   In this chapter we consider three possibilities.  1. Are moral judgments rational?  We examine various ways of interpreting this question, and whether the empirical debate about the role of sentiments in moral judgment has any relevance. 2. What is the connection between reason and action?  We discuss research on the degree to which our actions are explained by reasoning as opposed to factors we do not regard as reasons, and whether the answer matters philosophically.  3. How can we reason better?  We examine biases, heuristics and strategies for overcoming bias in our reasoning.
  • Washington, N. (forthcoming) “Contextualism as a Solution to Paternalism in Psychiatric Practice” Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology
    • ABSTRACT: If the goal of psychiatric practice is to alleviate the suffering caused by mental illness, what kinds of standards are the right ones to use in determining what counts as mental illness? In this paper, I address the problem of paternalism in psychiatry, the frequent occurrence of clinical intervention—including diagnosis itself—on the basis of unjustified standards. Following Daniel Groll’s work on paternalism, I argue that, in face of avowals from competent patients that they are not ill, the burden of proof falls on the clinician to show that a diagnosis is justified. Further, following Valerie Tiberius and Alexandria Plakias’s discussions of well-being, I argue that a theory with properly justified evaluative standards for psychiatric diagnosis must have normative authority. I examine how several theories of mental disorder fail to have normative authority, and conclude that clinical psychiatry must ground what it means to be mentally ill or mentally healthy in the concerns of individual patients.
  • Washington, N. (2016). ‘Culturally Unbound: Cross-Cultural Cognitive Diversity and the Science of Psychopathology,’ Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology. 23(2): 165-179.
  •  Washington, N., and Kelly, D. (2016). ‘Who’s Responsible for This? Moral Responsibility, Externalism, and Knowledge about Implicit Bias,’ Implicit Bias and Philosophy, Eds. M. Brownstein and J. Saul. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Washington, N., and Morar, N. (2016). “Implicit Cognition and Gifts: How does social psychology help us think differently about medical practice?Hastings Center Report. 46(3): 33-43.

 Reviews and Commentaries

Works in Progress

  • Washington, N. “Square Pegs, Round Holes: Naturalized Norms and Mental Health
    • ABSTRACT: In this paper, I take issue with Peter Railton’s account of naturalized norms in his 1986 paper ‘Moral Realism’, and with their ostensible place in theorizing about what is known as relational or instrumental good, good for-ness, or what is in our best interest. My primary purpose is to complicate a piece of the puzzle which has all too often been used unquestioningly by theories of health and disease. First, I will closely examine the notion of a naturalized norm as it appears in Railton’s original architectural example (known as the snow and rooves case). I will argue that Railton infers more than what is justified from the facts surrounding the snow and rooves case by overlooking hidden assumptions about what is central and what is peripheral to achieving a particular goal. Then, by introducing my own example (which I will call the pegs and holes case), I will extrapolate on what is and isn’t implied by having a fixed goal in mind. Finally, I will return to well-being, and examine how naturalized norms can and have been used in establishing what ought to be done in the pursuit of health. It is this same confusion about naturalized norms, I argue, which lies at the heart of many crucial debates about disability and disease, as well as how to achieve the good life.
  • Niemi, L., Washington, N., Workman, C. “Epistemic Injustice and Trauma: The Neural Substrates Involved in Having One’s Credibility Repeatedly Undermined
    • PROJECT SUMMARY: Critical inquiry is valuable in healthy public discourse and professional settings. However, it has been suggested that persistent questioning of the capacity of some people to be “knowers” is an important way that racism and sexism are enacted on a societal scale (i.e., testimonial injustice; Fricker, 2007; Washington, 2016). It has been proposed that, for members of marginalized social groups, the day to day experience of repeatedly having one’s credibility undermined, along with other micro-inequities and acts of discrimination, can alter the brain in similar ways to victims of trauma (e.g., reduced volume in parts of the brain associated with affective control like the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex, and hyper-responsiveness in regions associated with emotional processing such as the amygdala)–even without one ‘sudden, catastrophic event’ of the sort that qualifies a person for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Carter, 2007; American Psychiatric Association, 2013; for PTSD’s effects on the brain, see Bremner, 2006).
      This research investigates whether having one’s testimony persistently and unjustly questioned is experienced behaviorally, physiologically, and neurally in a manner similar to the experience of hostility. If credibility threats can affect the brain in a manner indistinguishable from hostility (hostile threat being typically understood to qualify as a ‘traumatic’ stressor) this would suggest that testimonial injustice is traumatic in a clinically relevant sense. Women, people of color, socioeconomic minorities, and those with prior history of multiple stressors and traumatic life events (i.e., sexual assault and chronic identity-based injustice), are expected to show behavioral, physiological, and neural responses to credibility threats that appear most similar to those responses associated with the experience of hostility, as they may be sensitized to credibility threats as indicative of the presence of other more serious personal threats. Findings consistent with this hypothesis thus lend credence to the idea that testimonial injustice and other ‘microinjustices’ qualify as traumatic for their experiencers, even without the presence of discernibly hostile speech acts.
      This research represents novel interdisciplinary work bridging neuroscience and social epistemology within philosophy, and aims to have real social significance. If it turns out that the neural markers of credibility threats are substantially similar (or even indistinguishable) to those associated with PTSD and other forms of traumatic stress (e.g., race-based, sexual assault-based), then we may have good reason to rethink the clinical constructs (e.g., DSM diagnostic criteria and their relationship to cognitive ontology). Moreover, this research directly investigates testimonial injustice as a relatively “soft” way to perpetrate real harm toward targeted groups.
  • Washington, N. “Stewardship of the Mind: How an Ecological Perspective Can Help Us Better Understand Psychiatric Therapy
    • ABSTRACT: Understanding how therapeutic change occurs in clinical psychiatry depends non-trivially on how we understand human cognition and human agency. In this paper I closely examine what an ecological perspective on cognition and agency tells us about what has gone wrong in cases of mental illness, and how successful therapeutic interventions generate change. Briefly, an ecological perspective casts human beings as stewards of the mind—ecological agents that manage cognitive ecology. Manifest variation in individual cognitive ecology, then, implies that there will be variation in the ways we achieve, maintain, and improve mental health. From this ecological perspective, therapeutic techniques are best conceived of as a species of agential technologies; a set of often non-obvious methods and strategies of control, whose pathway of influence over behavior and psychological functioning often loops outside the boundaries of the skin and skull.
  • Washington, N. “The Value of Diagnosis: Understanding Good Clinical Reasoning in Scientific Clinical Psychiatry”
  • Waters, C., Washington, N., “What is Love? An Empirical Investigation of the Folk Concept”
    • *This project has an empirical component in collaboration with Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkins and Nick Fitz
    • ABSTRACT: Folk attributions of romantic love are especially interesting given this connection to social practices. Is love primarily a feeling, emotion, or psychological state, or is it more centrally tied to cultural behaviors? Is love is as love does, as the saying goes? Philosophically, we may understand this debate as taking place between two kinds of views about the metaphysics of love, naturalist views and constructionist views, and in this paper, we are concerned with just this question. We aim to consider whether naturalism or constructionism is theoretically superior with respect to love by considering how these two metaphysical positions accommodate empirical evidence about how the concept ‘love’ is used. In short we will show that, as a social phenomenon, what people think about love mattersthe tenability of constructionist views over naturalist ones depends in part on whether there is a unified phenomenon under consideration.