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Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary

2023-24 Applied Ethics Fellow, Calgary Institute for the Humanities

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As a philosopher, I tend to overthink, particularly about "us." I believe the liberal tradition tends to misunderstand the nature of us, exaggerate the risks we present, and undervalue our contributions to a good society. The overarching goal of my research is to restore a proper place for us in contemporary society.  

My journey didn't begin in philosophy; I was initially trained as a lawyer at the University of Hong Kong. After graduation, I worked as a legal advocate at an international animal rights organization (PETA). The activist mindset continues to influence my work, especially on Moral Progress, where the emphasis lies on ethical and effective change.

I once heard that there are two kinds of philosophers: those who simplify the world for you and those who tell you the world is messier than you think. I aspire to be a third kind, showing the complexities of the world in clear ways and through that, opening up new ways to dwell. For that reason, while I engage in a considerable amount of abstract conceptual analysis, it is always informed by and returns to concrete lived experience.

Since my research draws a lot on empirical sciences and literary works, I feel most at home in interdisciplinary environments. And I'm lucky to have been able to work in such. ​After completing my MSc in Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science and PhD in Philosophy at Queen's University under the supervision of Will Kymlicka, I have worked at the Social Justice Centre of Concordia University as a Postdoctoral Fellow and the Research Group on Constitutional Studies at McGill University as a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow. Now at the Department of Philosophy and the Calgary Institute for the Humanities of the University of Calgary, I enjoy working with literary scholars, historians, and political scientists on my new SSHRC-funded project "Toward Narrative Democracy: A New Ethical Model of Inclusive Belonging". 

Home: About


I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in moral and political philosophy. I supervise MA and PhD students working on political philosophy.

My teaching of philosophy is guided by the same methodological principles for my research. I try to make sure the content is relevant and usable. Whatever we study in class, I make sure it helps students understand their real-world problems (and not only intellectual puzzles) in better or new ways. Where possible, I end courses by thinking about practical solutions, individual and collective. It matters for our sense of agency, I think.

I am committed to making learning accessible and fun. Students come with different abilities, interests, and backgrounds. Whatever themes I teach, I include a wide range of philosophical perspectives, traditions, theories, and methodologies. I also include different sorts of assignments (e.g., argumentative essays, op-eds, film analyses). I hope my students learn how to think critically and independently. I am very proud when they also learn how to think collaboratively, connect insights from different sources, and communicate complex problems to non-philosophers.

In my graduate seminars, I like to discuss cutting-edge research, so that my students can, if they so want, develop their essays for journal publication. I’ve seen success! And I’m very proud to see my students succeed! 

Below are some syllabi I have developed for my courses. Let me know if you like them and would like to adapt them for your use.

Climate Protest


Image by Yogas Design



Football Fans


Home: Courses


The unifying theme of my research revolves around us. The past and ongoing project is about our role in moral progress. The new one develops a narrative ontology and ethics for making us better.


According to the standard liberal story, "we" are...bad. We create "them", then exclude or even dominate them. This tribalistic nature of us is at the root of exclusionary and xenophobic practices. We tend to be tyrannical over individual members "I" too, suppressing dissent and commanding conformity. So, at both inter and intra-group levels, we are in tension with liberal values such as “mutual respect for equal autonomy”, “fairness” and “toleration”.

I believe the liberal story about us operates with implicit and mistaken assumptions about what and who we are. My new work explicates and corrects these assumptions. Specifically, I believe that we are partly constituted by the stories we tell ourselves. If so, we can be better, to our members and outsiders, if we retell our not-so-good stories. The huge, but worthy, task is to come up with an ethic of joint narration about who we can be. Below is a list of works-in-progress:

  • Social Movements as Agents of Change (Status: under review. Here, I argue progressive movements are shaped and fueled by we-narratives. This reveals the inadequacy of the Contentious Politics Model of Social Movements and highlights the need to incorporate the Collective Identity Model to understand the nature and the ethics of social movements.)

  • A Liberal Answer to Populism: Narrating Stories of Peoplehood via Electoral Democracy (Status: at initial stages. I argue that electoral democracy has an overlooked narrative logic that we use. More importantly, using this narrative logic in the right ways may be a cure for illiberal populism.)

  • Two Conceptions of Belonging (Status: at early stages. A key goal of democracy is to construct communities of belonging, at least in the civic republican tradition. But I think the tradition operates with the flawed conception of belonging as "ownership". I identify and defend a contrasting conception, i.e., belonging as "bond". If correct, deliberative democracy—the latest generation of civic republicanism and the liberal orthodoxy—may build a place of control, but not necessarily a home where we belong.)


This project studies how liberalism undervalues our contribution to moral progress. My dissertation, Reasons, Norms, and Moral Progress (2020), shows that, contrary to the Enlightenment narrative, the parochial and conformist tendencies of we-groups, far from obstructing, can advance moral progress. Reconstructing from the history of moral progress (e.g., British abolitionism), I articulate how we can reason to revise our norms in alignment with universally valid moral norms.

  • A Case for Political Epistemic Trust (2021) Social Trust (K. Vallier and M. Weber, eds. Routledge). The orthodox liberal solution to mistrust is epistemic vigilance and autonomy. I argue this strategy is suboptimal and propose to shift the strategy from cultivating vigilance to fostering trustworthiness, in which we-reasoning can play a role.

  • Being Popular and Being Just: How Animal Protection Organizations Can be Both (2023) (with Will Kymlicka), “The Ethics of Animal Shelters”  (V. Giroux, A. Pepper, and K. Voigt, eds. Oxford University Press). This chapter applies the we-reasoning framework to animal rights advocacy, arguing that animal protection organizations need not shy away from progressive campaigns (like…veganism!) for fear of loss of public goodwill if we-reasoning is adopted as a strategy. I am also a co-author of "The Ethics of Animal Shelters: Guidelines and Recommendations" in the volume.

  • Reviving the Project of Moral Progress: A Pragmatist Attempt and its Limits (forthcoming) Analysis. This critical notice situates Philip Kitcher’s book Moral Progress in the larger debate on progress and evaluates Kitcher’s pragmatist attempt to re-establish the concept’s relevance and validity. While I think his Deweyan attempt is successful in overcoming the metaphysical and epistemic challenges to moral progress, it fails the motivational one. To overcome it, a less democratic and less scientific but more communitarian and more artful method is needed.

  • Progress” (2024) (with Margaret Meek Lange), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There is somewhat of a revival of interest in the discourse of progress. I have just substantively updated the entry to help students, teachers, and researchers of progress to understand why and how. I have also shown how scholars in evolutionary sciences, meta-ethics, moral and political philosophy, social sciences, and post-colonial studies can contribute to this thriving field.  

Home: Publications


Check out some of the public talks I am giving or gave and the cool community projects I got to be a part of!

Home: News & Resources


This is a short essay I wrote for the online publishing initiative Permanent Collection of the Esker Foundation, an avant-garde contemporary art gallery in Calgary. The essay uses the lens of political philosophy to view four art exhibitions on the theme of belonging and articulates the deep, complex, and at times painful, emotions evoked by the artworks. I owe a big thanks to Naomi Potter, Director of Esker, for her invitation and her trust in an outsider to the art world! You can read it here.


In the age of migration, many societies are grappling with a crisis of belonging. Not only do immigrants and minorities feel alienated from their community, but even the majority feels disoriented in their homeland. What’s the missing social glue? Many philosophers have argued that the cement of a society is a social contract, and that civil debates can help define the right terms. In this public lecture, I challenge this conventional view. I argue instead that the social glue is the bond of history, and to create this bond, we need stories—ethical and artful ones—more than ever.

The Calgary Institute for the Humanities 4th Annual Lecture in Applied Ethics, presentation in partnership with the Calgary Public Library (Mar 12, 2024) (Free event at Calgary Central Library. Click to register)

2024 F.E.L. Priestley Lecture Series, University of Lethbridge (Mar 1, 2024)


I was a contributor to the SSHRC-funded project titled Animal Welfare Organizations: Responding to Ethical Challenges jointly organized by the Centre de recherche en éthique (CRÉ), the Groupe de recherche en éthique environnementale et animale

 (GREÉA), and the Montreal SPCA. In October 2018, a team of moral philosophers met with the staff members of Montreal SPCA to discuss their ethical challenges in daily operation. We drafted and submitted ethical guidelines and policy recommendations to the Montreal SPCA in March 2019. As part of the project, Will Kymlicka and I presented a talk titled The Role for Social Norms in Applied Ethics: A Case Study from Vegan Advocacy at a symposium in March 2019.  


In 2018, I collaborated with animal and environmental activists at Queen’s University to change the social norm of meat-eating on campus. Guided by my research findings about the power of peer expectations and the importance of trusted authorities in inspiring change, I helped identify the key norm-entrepreneurs (including the Sustainability Office, the Kinesiology & Health Studies and Department of Gender Studies) to lead a “Vegan Pledge” campaign, with the goal to foster new peer expectations about sustainable campus. The campaign garnered 20 departments/units and over 300 students to join, and ended with the University’s implementation of vegan chef training and increased supply of vegan options on campus.

Home: CV



Email: agnes [dot] tam [at] ucalgary [dot] ca

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