Katrina L. Sifferd, J.D. Ph.D.

Professor and Chair of Philosophy, Elmhurst University

Genevieve Staudt Endowed Chair

Co-Editor in Chief, Neuroethics


Photo by Marcela Rafea

I'm a philosopher researching responsibility, punishment, and neuroethics/neurolaw. 

I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of London, King’s College where I worked with philosopher David Papineau. After finishing my Ph.D., I held a post-doctoral position as Rockefeller Fellow in Law and Public Policy and Visiting Professor at Dartmouth College. Before becoming a philosopher, I earned a Juris Doctorate and worked as a senior research analyst on criminal justice projects for the U.S. National Institute of Justice.

I have just finished a paper discussing the purely retributivist understanding of criminal blame and punishment articulated in the work of Michael S. Moore. I claim that both informal and formal blame and punishment hold persons responsible in the same sense, and that directed moral blame in both forms aim to communicate something to the the wrongdoer and generate a retributive good. However, contra Moore, I argue that instrumental aims are also important to justifying methods and degree of punishment. The paper, published in Criminal Law & Philosophy, can be found here.

Philosopher Anneli Jefferson (Cardiff) and I have a paper forthcoming in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice that discusses McGeer’s (2015, 2019) scaffolded reasons-responsiveness account in the light of two concerns: (1) that some agents may be less attuned to feedback from their social environment but are nevertheless morally responsible agents – for example, autistic people; and (2) that moral audiences can actually work to undermine reasons-responsiveness if they espouse the wrong values. We argue that McGeer’s account can be modified to handle these problems. Once we understand the specific roles that moral feedback plays for recognizing and acting on moral reasons, we can see that autistics frequently do rely on such feedback, although it often needs to be more explicit. Furthermore, although McGeer is correct to highlight the importance of moral feedback, audience sensitivity is not all that matters to reasons-responsiveness; it needs to be tempered by a consistent application of moral rules. Agents also need to make sure that they choose their moral audiences carefully, paying special attention to receiving feedback from audiences which may be adversely affected by their actions.

Recently I’ve also completed several papers on the topic of rape. First, I published a paper arguing that many rape cases may sit in a moral blindspot. I have a paper forthcoming articulating the reasons rapists deserve criminal treatment (in the Palgrave Handbook on Philosophy of Punishment). Anneli Jefferson and I also published a recent paper that explores whether moral culpability can justify criminal verdicts and punishment in cases of reckless rape, where recklessness is widely construed as “couldn’t care less” whether a person consents. Although clearly such rapes constitute moral wrongdoing, moral culpability is less than it is for a crime committed “purposely” or “knowingly.” Instrumental ends, including making the norms regarding sexual conduct more salient, may justify criminal verdicts and punishment in reckless rape.