Research

I’m C. Thi Nguyen. I’m Associate Professor in the department of Philosophy and Humanities at Utah Valley University.

I’m interested in the ways in which our rationality and agency are socially embedded – about how our ways of thinking and deciding are conditioned by features of social organization, community, technology, and art practices. I’m also interested in the structures and nature of the interdependences we have with one another – and with our artifacts, practices, and institutions. How do we trust, and to what degree can we be autonomous? And how can we help or hinder each others’ autonomy? I am particularly interested in the way in which designed social structures – games, echo chambers, bureaucracies – can change how we reason, value, and act.

My research on these themes has crossed many sub-fields in philosophy, including social epistemology, value theory, practical reasoning and aesthetics. I’ve examined how that trust can backfire, reinforcing our mistakes.  I’ve analyzed echo chambers as social structures of manipulated trust. I’ve written about how the intimacy of group practices explains the norms of cultural appropriation. I’ve written about how public art can function as the vessel for collective emotions in group agents.

Much of my recent work has focused on the philosophy of games. Games, I think, are a special kind of social technology – a way to sculpt modes of rationality and agency, and to pass them around amongst ourselves. My forthcoming book, Games: Agency as Art, argues that games are a unique art form that works in the medium of agency. Games not only give us abilities, but they tell us what our motivations will be in the game. They shape our interests and our abilities, in conjunction with the obstacles we face. Games offer crystallized experiences of deciding and doing. They are ways to inscribe and share particular modes of agency. And the fact that we can play games shows that our agency is notably fluid, manipulable, and communicable. Thinking about games shows yet another way in which our agency is socially embedded: we can use games to learn from one another about ways of being an agent.

My new research project concerns a phenomenon I’m calling “value capture” – where the simplification of values in certain social settings can interfere with our richer modes of valuing. Value capture occurs in in the following circumstances. First, many of our values are subtle, rich, or otherwise inchoate. Second, we often get parked next to quantified or otherwise simplified measures of those values, frequently in institutional settings. Third, sometimes the simplified versions of those values supplant our original, subtler versions. Fourth, our lives get worse. Possible candidates include educational assessment, Twitter and Facebook Likes, research impact numbers, wine scoring, and Rotten Tomatoes.

I am also assistant editor at Aesthetics for Birds, perhaps the world’s foremost blog for aesthetic philosophers writing about art-type stuff. I sometimes write there about odd topics like what’s missing from cookbook reviews. I’m also a founding editor of the Journal of the Philosophy of Games, and Chair of the Diversity Committee for the American Society for Aesthetics.

Once, I wrote about food for the Los Angeles Times. I wrote about cheap, soulful, mostly ethnic food for a column called “The Find”. Here’s an index of my restaurant reviews and other food writing.