Cultivating an Integrated Self

Forthcoming In Ethics and Self Cultivation: Historical Perspectives, edited by Matthew Dennis and Sander Werkhoven for Routledge


This chapter considers two approaches to the idea that, in self-cultivating, people need to integrate the various aspects of their mental life. In section one, I distinguish between integration of mental states with each other, aimed at avoiding conflicts between such states (‘Structural integration’), and the integration of mental states to a person’s mind writ large, aimed at overcoming forms of alienation or impoverishment (‘Mental Integration’). Structural Integration purportedly underpins the ability to act well and avoid suffering. This view is mistaken, however, and the value of such integration is deeply contingent, as I illustrate through a discussion of Michael Smith on the organization of desire. Moreover, such integration is compatible with a deeply defensive form of mental life which most people would reject, as I argue in my discussion of projective identification: a mental defense mechanism observed by psychoanalysts. In building on this psychoanalytic focus, I argue that there is a viable category of Mental Integration ideals of the cultivated self, which aim to overcome the defensiveness that distances someone from aspects of their mental life. 

The Distinctiveness of Polyamory 

The Journal of Applied Philosophy (DOI: 10.1111/japp.12240)


Polyamory is a form of consensual non-monogamy. To render it palatable to critics, activists and theorists often accentuate its similarity to monogamy. I argue that this strategy conceals the distinctive character of polyamorous intimacy. A more discriminating account of polyamory helps me answer objections to the lifestyle whilst noting some of its unique pitfalls. In section two, I define polyamory, and explain why people pursue this lifestyle. Many think polyamory is an inferior form of intimacy and, in section three, I describe four of their main objections. In section four, I explain how commitment to “the polyamorous possibility” prompts one to viscerally experience personal, practical, and social constraints. Unlike monogamous dynamics, these confrontations are mediated by third parties who destabilize the familiar dynamics of coupled life. Polyamory can be emotionally challenging but, as I outline in section five, it is sustained by interpersonal emotional work that helps people feel and understand their emotions, communicate without confrontation, and contain the difficult emotions of others. This work is qualitatively and quantitatively intensified in polyamory. In sections six and seven, I rebut objections to polyamory whilst also acknowledging the ways polyamory has its own pitfalls. 

I talk about some of this work here

Reconsidering the Soteriological Significance of Sunyavada 

The Journal of Contemporary Buddhism, 2014, Vol. 15 Issue 2. 


The doctrine of emptiness is of significant soteriological importance for the Madhyamaka Buddhism. Therefore it is a reasonable prima facie demand that interpretations of emptiness must accord with this fact. This hermeneutic consideration has been taken to present particular problems for Mark Siderits’ semantic interpretation of the doctrine of emptiness. This paper examines Siderits’ attempted reconciliation of his semantic interpretation of the doctrine of emptiness with its purported soteriological aspects. I question whether Siderits can successfully respond to these problems in order to adequately incorporate the hermeneutic requirement. I argue that the semantic view is not immune to the problems that it was formulated to avoid. It too can be asserted. What is more, the semantic view can generate its own particular forms of attachment which can obscure soteriological goals. These conclusions lead me to question the general project of trying to develop a soteriologically efficacious interpretation of doctrine of emptiness in the first place.