Research

For a list of all publications and works-in-progress, see my C.V.

An overarching concern in my work is: What are the limits of philosophical inquiry? The question concerns epistemic limits, but often the issue is not about the limited evidence for answers to philosophical questions. It is rather about whether we can adequately articulate such answers in the first place. More details are available HERE, and in the abstracts below.

Feedback is always welcome






Externalism & Self-Knowledge

Self-Reflection for the Opaque Mind   New York: Routledge, 2017.
Above is a link to excerpts from my book—includes the front matter, the first section of the preamble, and chapter 1. You can buy the book HERE or HERE. Also, a complete bibliography is available HERE.

Self-Reflection for the Opaque Mind attempts to solve a grave problem about critical self-reflection. The worry is that we critical thinkers are all in “epistemic bad faith” in light of what psychology tells us. After all, the research shows not just that we are bad at detecting “ego-threatening” thoughts à la Freud. It also indicates that we are ignorant of even our ordinary thoughts—e.g., our reasons for moral judgments of others (Haidt 2001), and even mundane reasons for buying one pair of stockings over another! (Nisbett & Wilson 1977) However, reflection on one’s thoughts requires knowing what those thoughts are in the first place. So if ignorance is the norm, why attempt self-reflection? The activity would just display naivety about psychology. Yet while respecting all the data, the book argues that, remarkably, we are sometimes infallible in our self-discerning judgments. Even so, infallibility does not imply indubitability, and there is no Cartesian ambition to provide a “foundation” for empirical knowledge. The point is rather to explain how self-reflection as a rational activity is possible.


Infallibilism about Self-Knowledge      Philosophical Studies 133.3; Apr. 2007, pp. 411424.
ABSTRACT: Descartes held the view that a subject has infallible beliefs about the contents of her thoughts. Here, I first examine a popular contemporary defense of this claim, given by Burge (1988), and find it lacking. I then offer my own defense, appealing to a minimal version of the language of thought hypothesis. The argument here has the virtue of refraining from any semantic premises; thus, it is congenial to both internalists and externalists about semantics. The argument also illuminates how a subject may have an apriori and privileged access to her own thoughts.

Infallibility Naturalized: Reply to Hoffmann      Dialectica, 67.3; Sept. 2013, pp. 353–358.
ABSTRACT: The present piece is a reply to G. Hoffmann on my (2007) infallibilist view of self-knowledge. Contra Hoffmann, it is argued that the view does not preclude a Quinean view where every belief is vulnerable to empirical revision.

Externalism and Self-Knowledge         Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Summer 2013, E. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-knowledge-externalism/>.
A summary of the literature on whether semantic externalism precludes non-empirical knowledge of one's own thoughts.

Externalism and Knowing What” One Thinks          Synthese, 192.5; May 2015, pp. 13371350.

ABSTRACT: Some worry that semantic externalism is incompatible with knowing via introspection what content your thoughts have. In this paper, one primary argument is examined for this incompatibilist worry, the slow-switch argument. Following Goldberg, the argument is construed as problematizing an externalist’s skeptic immune knowledge of content (where this type of knowledge persists under various skeptical hypotheses). Goldberg attempts to reclaim such knowledge for the externalist by developing a strategy from Burge. Nevertheless, it is noted that such Burge-style accounts only address a subject’s ability to know that she is thinking that “water is wet.” They do not explicitly concern the subject’s ability to know what she is thinking, which is the distinctive type of knowing at issue in the slow-switch argument. Subsequently, however, the Burge-style view is recast so that the relevant “knowing what” has a chance against the argument. For one, it is emphasized that “knowing what” is intensional (one can know what a water thought is sans familiarity with H2O-thoughts). Second, the relevant “knowing what” is construed as ontologically non-committal (so that knowing what a water-thought is does not require knowing that water exists). Third, following Boër & Lycan, “knowing what” is understood as purpose relative, in that whether one “knows what” depends on whether one knows enough to achieve some contextually salient purpose/goal. And for at least some purposes, it seems an externalist can introspectively “know what” she thinks—even in a skeptical context.


Self-Knowledge and Externalism about Empty Concepts          Analytic Philosophy, 56.2; June 2015, pp. 158-168.
ABSTRACT: Several authors have argued that, assuming we have apriori knowledge of our own thought-contents, semantic externalism implies that we can know apriori contingent facts about the empirical world. After presenting the argument, I shall respond by resisting the premise that an externalist can know apriori: If s/he has the concept water, then water exists. In particular, Boghossian's Dry Earth example suggests that such thought-experiments do not provide such apriori knowledge. Boghossian himself rejects the Dry Earth experiment, however, since it would imply that externalism is true of empty concepts as well as non-empty concepts. Yet in this paper I respond by defending empty-concept externalism, from criticisms suggested by Boghossian and Brown, and recently developed further by Besson. My contention is that an externalist can give a non-ad hoc descriptivist account of empty concepts. Accordingly, apriori self-knowledge does not enable an externalist to know contingent features of the external world.

The Empirical Case against Infallibilism          Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 7.1; March 2016, pp. 223-242.
ABSTRACT: Philosophers and psychologists generally hold that, in light of the empirical data, a subject lacks infallible access to her own mental states. However, while subjects certainly are fallible in some ways, I show that the data fails to discredit that a subject has infallible access to her own occurrent thoughts and judgments. This is argued, first, by revisiting the empirical studies, and carefully scrutinizing what is shown exactly. Second, I argue that if the data were interpreted to rule out all such infallibility, the relevant psychological studies would be self-undermining. For they adopt a methodology where a subject is simply presumed to know her own second-order thoughts and judgments--as if she were infallible about them. After all, what she expresses as her second-order judgment is trusted as accurate without independent evidence — even though such judgments often misrepresent the subject’s first-order states. The upshot is that such studies do not discredit all infallibility hypotheses regarding one’s own mental states.


Other Philosophy of Mind & Epistemology

Theory Dualism and the Metalogic of Mind-Body Problems         Palgrave Handbook of Philosophical Methods, C. Daly (ed.). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. pp. 497–526.

ABSTRACT: The paper defends the philosophical method of “regimentation” by example, especially in relation to the theory of mind. The starting point is the Place-Smart after-image argument: A green after-image will not be located outside the skull, but if we cracked open your skull, we won’t find anything green in there either. (If we did, you’d have some disturbing medical news.) So the after-image seems not to be in physical space, suggesting that it is non-physical. In response, I argue that the green blob is a fictional object, while assuming a weak sort of realism about fictional objects (where they exist as mind-dependent objects). This view can look like dualism—yet I try to interpret it not as implying metaphysical dualism, but rather as reflecting a dualism of theory. Roughly, there can be a theory of mind-independent objects, and a theory of mind-dependent objects. Yet there are principled reasons why we cannot integrate the two into a consistent whole, for reasons related to Russell’s vicious circle principle. Most of the paper motivates this by an analogy between the physicalist’s theory of the world, and drawing a map with a complete representation of the map itself. Regimentation unearths the inconsistencies that arise, when trying to represent as part of a model the very representations used to define the model.


In the Mental Fiction, Mental Fictionalism is Fictitious         The Monist, 96.4; Oct. 2013, pp. 605621.
ABSTRACT: Here I explore the prospects for fictionalism about the mental, modeled after fictionalism about possible worlds. Mental fictionalism holds that the mental states posited by folk psychology do not exist, yet that some sentences of folk psychological discourse are true. This is accomplished by construing truths of folk psychology as “truths according to the mentalistic fiction.” After formulating the view, I identify five ways that the view appears self-refuting. Moreover, I argue that this cannot be fixed by semantic ascent or by a kind of primitivism. Even so, I also show that the “self-refutation” charges are subtly question-begging. Nevertheless, the reply reveals that a mental fictionalist ought to be a kind of quietist.

Knowing-Wh and Embedded Questions        Philosophy Compass, 9.2; Feb. 2014, pp. 81
95.
ABSTRACT: Do you know who you are? If the question seems unclear, it might owe to the notion of “knowing-wh” (knowing-who, knowing-what, knowing-when, etc.). Such knowledge contrasts with “knowing-that,” the more familiar topic of epistemologists. But these days knowing-wh is receiving more attention than ever, and here we will survey three current debates on the nature of knowing-wh. These debates concern, respectively, (1) whether all knowing-wh is reducible to knowing-that (“generalized intellectualism”), (2) whether all knowing-wh is relativized to a contrast proposition (“contrastivism about knowing-wh”), and (3) whether the context-sensitivity of knowing-wh is a semantic or purely pragmatic phenomenon (“contextualism vs. invariantism about knowing-wh”).

Note on Induction        Think [Cambridge UP], 12.33; Mar. 2013, pp. 3739.
ABSTRACT: I provide a counterexample to the view (common in logic textbooks) that induction is partly defined by the reasoner's intentions. Also, an alternative definition is offered, where induction is tentatively seen as a type of argument by analogy.


Metaontology

Ontic Terms and Metaontology, or: On What There Actually Is        Philosophical Studies, 170.2; Sept. 2014, pp. 199–214.
ABSTRACT: Terms such as ‘exist’, ‘actual’, etc., (hereafter, “ontic terms”) are recognized as having uses that are not ontologically committing, in addition to the usual commissive uses. (Consider, e.g., the two interpretations of ‘There is an even prime.’) In this paper, I identify five different non-commissive uses for ontic terms, and along the way I attempt to define (by a kind of via negativa) the commissive use of an ontic term, using ‘actual’ as my example. The problem, however, is that the resulting definiens for the commissive ‘actual’ is itself equivocal between a commissive and a non-commissive reading, and thus I consider other proposals for defining the commissive use, including two proposals from David Lewis. However, each proposal is found to be equivocal in the same way—and eventually I argue that it is impossible to define an ontic term unequivocally. Even so, this is not meant to overshadow the fact that we can understand an ontic term as univocally commissive, in certain conversational contexts. I close by illustrating the import of these observations for meta-ontology, especially for Hirsch’s “superficialist” view.

Rule Following and Metaontology          Journal of Philosophy, 112.5; May 2015, pp. 247265.
ABSTRACT: Wittgenstein’s rule-following argument indicates that linguistic understanding does not consist in knowing interpretations, whereas Kripkenstein’s version suggests that meaning cannot be metaphysically fixed by interpretations. In the present paper, rule-following considerations are used to suggest that certain ontological questions cannot be answered by interpretations. Specifically, if the aim is to specify the ontology of a language, an interpretation cannot answer what object an expression of L denotes, if the interpretations are themselves L-expressions. Briefly, that’s because the ontology of such interpretations, e.g., “ ‘Pollux’ denotes Pollux” or “ ‘Pollux’ denotes Beta Geminorum,” would naturally be in question as much as the expressions they interpret. So in order to settle the question of ontology, the interpretations themselves would need to be interpreted, and thus a regress. I conclude that knowing the answer to what ontology underlies L cannot be a matter of knowing interpretations. The paper ends with a quietist conclusion; the slogan is that empirical science is ontology enough, or rather, it is about all the ontology one should expect.

An Objection to the Laplacean Chalmers          Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 47.1; April 2016, pp 237240.

ABSTRACT: I discuss David Chalmers’ “scrutability thesis,” roughly that a Laplacean intellect could know every truth about the universe from a “compact class” of basic truths. It is argued that despite Chalmers’ remarks to the contrary, the thesis is problematic owing to quantum indeterminacy. Chalmers attempts to “frontload” various principles into the compact class to help out. But though frontloading may succeed in principle, Chalmers does not frontload enough to avoid the problem.

Content Externalism and Quine's Criterion are Incompatible          Erkenntnis, forthcoming.
ABSTRACT:
Externalism holds that the content of our utterances and thoughts are determined partly by the environment. Here, I offer an argument which suggests that externalism is incompatible with a natural view about ontological commitment—namely, the Quinean view that such commitments are fixed by the range of the variables in your theory. The idea in brief is that if Oscar mistakenly believes that water = XYZ, the externalist ontologically commits Oscar to two waterish kinds, whereas the Quinean commits him to one such kind (albeit a metaphysically impossible kind). The penultimate section addresses a variety of objections to the argument.


Ontology & Modality

Modal Metaphysics           Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Mar. 2012, J. Feiser & B. Dowden (eds.), http://www.iep.utm.edu/mod-meta/
This summarizes of some prominent views about the metaphysics of possible worlds.

On the PROVER9 Ontological Argument              Philosophia, 43.2; June 2015, pp. 475483.
ABSTRACT: Oppenheimer & Zalta have re-devised their version of the ontological argument, with the help of PROVER9, an impressive automated reasoning engine. The authors end up rejecting the new argument; however, the theist has a rejoinder worth considering. But after presenting this rejoinder, I highlight that the conceivability of the being does not imply its possibility. One lesson is that even non-modal ontological arguments must engage modal matters concerning God. Another lesson is that if PROVER9 derives a conclusion from fewer premises, the result is sometimes an inferior proof.


The Modal Ontological Argument meets Modal Fictionalism               Analytic Philosophy, 57.4; Dec. 2016, pp. 338352.
ABSTRACT: This paper attacks the modal ontological argument, as advocated by Plantinga among others. Whereas other criticisms in the literature reject one of its premises, the present line is that the argument is invalid.  This becomes apparent once we run the argument assuming fictionalism about possible worlds. Broadly speaking, the problem is that if one defines “x” as something that exists, it does not follow that there is anything satisfying the definition. Yet unlike non-modal ontological arguments, the modal argument commits this “existential fallacy” not in relation to the definition of ‘God’. Rather, it occurs in relation to the modal facts quantified over within a Kripkean modal logic. In brief, we can describe the modal facts by whichever logic we prefer—yet it does not follow that there are genuine modal facts, as opposed to mere facts-according-to-the-fiction. A broader consequence of the discussion is that the existential fallacy is an issue for many projects in “armchair metaphysics.”


Modal Realism and the Meaning of 'Exist'
ABSTRACT: Here I first raise an argument purporting to show that Lewis’ Modal Realism ends up being entirely trivial. But although I reject this line, the argument reveals how difficult it is to interpret Lewis’ thesis that possibilia “exist.” Five natural interpretations are considered, yet upon reflection, none appear entirely adequate. In particular, under the three different “concretist” interpretations of ‘exist’, Modal Realism looks insufficient for genuine ontological commitment. Whereas under the “multiverse” interpretation or the broadly Actualist interpretation, Modal Realism omits various nonactual possibilities. I close with a related, more general dilemma for Modal Realism: Are Lewisian possibilia in the proper domain of physics or not? Since our physics aims to explain everything that exists, it seems so. Yet then the omission of some possibilities seems inevitable.

Conservative Meinongianism
ABSTRACT: David Lewis acclimated us to talk of “nonactual concreta that exist,” regarding talking donkeys and the like. I shall argue that this was not for the best, and try to normalize a way of describing them as “actual concreta that do not exist.” The basis of this is a defense of the Meinongian thesis “there are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects,” re: fictitious and illusory objects. I first formulate the problem of negative existentials in a novel way, and discuss why this new version is more forceful against anti-Meinongians. Additional data is then raised to vex anti-Meinongians—e.g., the truth of ‘Pegasus is imaginary’, and a reading of ‘There actually are illusory objects’ where it comes out true. The Meinongian, in contrast, easily and uniformly explains the same data, by allowing the existence Pegasus, pink elephants, and the like. But contra Meinong, these cases suggest that the nonexistent objects are mind-dependent objects, and I clarify and defend this suggestion from several objections. The resulting Meinongianism is thus “conservative” in that it merely acknowledges the sense in which there are mind-dependent objects, imaginary and illusory objects being prime examples. Of special note, the “ideology” is conservative as well in that the typical Meinongian jargon of “nuclear” or “encoded” properties is paraphrased away. The view is also distinctive in that it resists categorically affirming that non-existents are abstract. (It indeed affirms round squares as non-existent abstracta, but it also affirms Pegasus as a non-existent concretum.) I end by arguing that it is presumptive to use Occham’s razor against Meinongian objects, since this would assume we can achieve empirical adequacy without them. Yet this assumption is now seen as contentious, in light of the data provided.


Language & Logic

Quine and Logical Truth     Erkenntnis 68.1; Jan. 2008, pp. 103112.
ABSTRACT: It is a consequence of Quine's confirmation holism that the logical laws are in principle revisable. Some have worried this is at odds with another dictum in Quine, viz., that any translation which construes speakers as systematically illogical is ipso facto inadequate. In this paper, I try to formulate exactly what the problem is here, and offer a solution to it by (1) disambiguating the term 'logic', and (2) appealing to a Quinean understanding of necessity. The result is that different theses in Quine's philosopy of logic are to be situated within different contexts of inquiry.

A Puzzle about Kinds and Kind Terms
ABSTRACT: ‘The kind Dinosaur’ denotes a kind. Yet many generics are thought to denote kinds also, like the subject-terms in ‘Dinosaurs are extinct’, ‘Liquor causes cirrhosis’, and ‘The mosquito carries malaria’. This view may be an adequate view for the linguist’s purposeshowever, it raises a puzzle for the ontologist. The problem is that what is often claimed about kinds is never claimed about dinosaurs, liquor, and the mosquito. Thus, kinds are sometimes said to be abstract objects, immanent universals, nominal essences, etc. But the mosquito is an insectit is not an abstract object, nor an immanent universal, nor a nominal essence. I consider several proposals about resolving the puzzle, including some non-standard paraphrases of the target sentences. However, the conclusion is that none of the proposals are adequate. The ontologist is thus hard pressed to make sense of kind-denoting generics.

A New Modal Liar

ABSTRACT: Montague’s modal liar is thought to show that ‘necessarily’ cannot be treated as a predicate of sentences. However, if ‘necessarily’ is treated as an operator on propositions (as is standard), we can also generate paradox (and without Montague’s contentious use of the necessitation rule). The reasoning of the new modal liar is not immediately obvioushowever, assuming that accessibility is reflexive, one can derive a contradiction from the proposition: This very proposition is not necessary. Thus the key advantage of the operator view is shown to be illusory.


Paradox with just Self-Reference
ABSTRACT: If a semantically open language allows self-reference, one can show there is a predicate which is both satisfied and unsatisfied by a self-referring term. The argument requires diagonalization on substitution instances of a definition-scheme for the predicate “x is Lagadonian.” (The term ‘Lagadonian’ is adapted from David Lewis). Briefly, a self-referring term is counted as “Lagadonian” if the initial variable in the schema is replaced with the term itself. But the same term is not counted as Lagadonian if this variable is replaced with the quotation or other name for the term. Thus the term both satisfies and does not satisfy ‘x is Lagadonian’.


Bonus: An Exchange on Logical Form between William G. Lycan and myself.


If you are looking for the bibliography I compiled on analytic existentialism, click HERE.

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