Suppose I seem to see a hand, and as a result form the beliefs There is a hand, That hand is open, and so on. Such cases raise a number of philosophical issues, which I explore in my research:
The epistemology of perception: How do our perceptual experiences justify us in holding such beliefs?
The nature and scope of introspective awareness: How can we know what thoughts and experiences we're having? Can we know the contents of these thoughts and experiences by introspection alone? In what ways is our access to our own mind epistemically special?
Issues about de re thoughts like That hand is open. What does it take to have these thoughts? In what ways are they epistemologically distinctive?
Do our thoughts have the same contents as the thoughts of our counterparts in other environments? I think they often don't. So how then do we account for the epistemic and behavioral similarities between us and those counterparts?
The possibility of fallible a priori justification: Do I have a defeasible a priori entitlement to believe I'm not hallucinating? Do I have a priori justification for believing that if I'm thinking demonstrative thoughts like That hand is open, then there is a real object there that I'm demonstrating? If so, is that justification empirically defeasible?
Some of these issues are primarily discussed by epistemologists, while others are more often discussed by philosophers of mind. I myself find the issues to be very closely connected. What I say about one of them often borrows from and contributes to what I say about the others.
In recent years, I've also been cultivating some work in philosophy of language, especially concerning the use of concepts from computer science like mutation, monads, and continuations. See the papers on Hyper-Evaluativity and That-Clauses below, and see also the website for the seminar I taught with Chris Barker.
I've gathered some pages of other people who have written on some of the issues I've been focusing on:
You are free to recirculate any of the drafts linked here, but please do not cite, quote, criticize, or refute them without permission. Any feedback is welcome, even if I'm not be able to respond right away.
All files are provided as PDFs. Most likely your computer already knows how to read these. If it doesn't, install Adobe's Reader.
- Mental Graphs (not-quite-finished draft posted 9/25/2014)
- to appear in a volume of Review of Philosophy and Psychology dedicated to mental files
Develops a framework for modeling mental contents in graph-theoretic terms.
- The Merits of Incoherence (handout from 11/22/2013)
- This handout is my most recent presentation of a body of arguments against epistemic Closure principles, and in favor of rationally permissible incoherence and the existence of rational dilemmas. Other presentations of these ideas include a rough draft Deliberating, Concluding, and Entailing (from 1/5/2012), a presentation at the 2012 Midwest Epistemology Workshop, and the short script Three Grades of Epistemic Awkwardness (from 9/1/2012). Much of what I say here resonates with Schechter 2013 and a series of papers Christensen has written over the past decade (especially this one from 2007). I also see it as a natural development of ideas I began floating in "What's Wrong with Moore's Argument?" If you're interested in any of these drafts I welcome feedback. I will work them into a proper polished paper someday soon.
- Acquaintance, mental files and mental graphs (text-only, unformatted draft from 3/20/2013)
- Hyper-Evaluativity (very rough draft posted 6/11/2010)
Predicates are "hyper-evaluative" when they depend on more than just the semantic values (be they intensional or more fine-grained) of their individual arguments, but also on the way those arguments are "coordinated" or "wired." I examine motivations and semantic implementations for such predicates, drawing from linguistics and computer science. (Extremely drafty.)
- Hypothetical Oughts (rough draft from 2/20/2012)
Explores issues concerning the normative effect of mere (not-necessarily-justified) attitudes, counter-to-duty oughts, and "wide-scope" oughts. Continuous with ideas floated in "What's Wrong with Moore's Argument" and "When Warrant Transmits," but this presentation is still very drafty.
- Reply to Comesaña (draft from 9/1/2012)
- in Matthias Steup, John Turri, and Ernest Sosa, eds., Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, 2nd ed. (Blackwell, 2013), 235--239, along
with a reprinting of my "There is Immediate Justification" (below), a companion piece by Juan Comesaña, and his own reply to this reply.
- Problems for Credulism (draft from 8/29/2012)
- in Chris Tucker, ed., Seemings and Justification: New Essays on Dogmatism and Phenomenal Conservatism (Oxford, 2013), 89--131
I've defended the view that perceptual beliefs about the external world are
sometimes immediately justified. This is a species of a family of views I call
"Dogmatist." According to some authors, these views conflict with Bayesianism.
I argue that the presence of any conflict depends not just on the Bayesian
formalism but also on some interpretive assumptions that, though widely shared,
are philosophically substantial. Also, with all these interpretive assumptions in
place there's not just a conflict with dogmatist views but with a much wider
family of views I call "Credulist." The conflict is not remedied by moving to a
Jeffrey-conditionalizing form of Bayesianism. We should either be more critical
about the interpretive assumptions that generate this conflict, or look
elsewhere for formalisms that are suited to be exhaustive. I have some sympathy
for each response.
- Uncertainty and Undermining (very rough draft from 2007)
Discusses some difficulties with expressing dogmatism in the standard probabilistic framework; and develops a framework which is (somewhat) expressively more adequate. The paper Problems for Credulism
provides the philosophical motivation for this. I intend to rewrite this as a sequel to that.
- When Warrant Transmits (copyedited draft posted 3/14/2012)
- in Annalisa Coliva, ed., Mind, Meaning, and Knowledge: Themes from the Philosophy of Crispin Wright (Oxford, 2012), 269--303
- Reasons and That-Clauses (draft posted 3/31/2007)
- Philosophical Issues 17 (2007)
Outlines a debate over the ontology of reasons, and what broader epistemic import it threatens to have. Then examines linguistic evidence that's commonly taken to support the ontologies which take reasons to be propositions or facts. I argue that this linguistic evidence is less straightforward than is commonly assumed.
- What's Wrong with McKinsey-style Reasoning? (revisions posted 12/5/2006)
(Drafts of this paper were also circulated as "Externalism about Content and McKinsey-style Reasoning")
- in Sanford Goldberg, ed., Internalism and Externalism in Semantics and Epistemology (Oxford, 2007)
Michael McKinsey formulated an argument that raises a puzzle about the relation between externalism about content and our introspective awareness of content. The puzzle goes like this: it seems like I can know the contents of my thoughts by introspection alone; but philosophical reflection tells me that the contents of those thoughts are externalist, and so I couldn't have the thoughts unless my environment were a certain way. Hence, it looks like I can conclude, on the basis of introspection and philosophical reflection alone, that my environment is a certain way. Wright and Davies have each tried to defuse this puzzle by appealing to their notion of "transmission-failure." I do not think those attempts work. I defend a more straightforward solution to the puzzle, which says that we can't have the kind of justification that McKinsey's argument requires for all the premises simultaneously. Diagnosing this puzzle teaches us valuable lessons about a priori justification, introspection, and externalism about content.
- More on Hyper-Reliability and Apriority (manuscript posted 9/25/2006)
- Hyper-Reliability and Apriority (final version posted 1/10/2007)
- Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 106 (2006)
I argue that beliefs that are true whenever held---like I exist, I am thinking about myself, and (in a object-dependent framework) Jack=Jack---needn't on that account be a priori. It does however seem possible to remove the existential commitment from the last example, to get a belief that is knowable a priori. I discuss some difficulties concerning how to do that.
- What's Wrong with Moore's Argument? (final version posted 12/8/04)
- Philosophical Issues 14 (2004)
This is an electronic version of an article
published in Philosophical Issues. Complete citation information for the
final version of the paper, as published in the print edition of
Philosophical Issues, is available on the Blackwell Synergy online delivery
service, accessible via the journal's website at www.blackwellpublishing.com/journals/nous or
Argues that Moore's argument is better than it's commonly regarded. Moore genuinely can acquire more justification to believe there's an external world by reasoning in the way he demonstrates. His argument's weaknesses are all persuasive or dialectical. I explain why we should expect justificatory power and dialectical effectiveness to come apart in that way.
I'm leaving an older 2001 version Is Moore's Argument an Example of Transmission-Failure? on-line, too, since some people have referred to it.
- Indexicality and A Priority (draft posted 2/8/2005)
I consider beliefs that are claimed to be a priori in virtue of (i) their indexical character--beliefs like "I am here now", or in virtue of (ii) their self-verifying character--beliefs like "I exist" and "I am now thinking about myself." I argue that none of these beliefs really are a priori.
An improved and more recent treatment of some of this material is in Hyper-Reliability and Apriority
- An Epistemic Theory of Acquaintance (lecture notes/handout posted 3/28/2004)
Explore what constraints one needs to satisfy to have de re thoughts about O. I argue that any experiential episode conferring the ability to have such thoughts must, as a constitutive matter, give you some a posteriori justification about O. This will make trouble for Kripke's and Evans' idea that reference-fixing is a way to acquire a priori justification. What's alleged to be a priori reference-fixing justification is usually just a posteriori justification that was constitutively involved in your acquiring the relevant de re thoughts. But that's an argument for a later paper.
- There Is Immediate Justification (final draft posted 10/13/2003)
- in Matthias Steup and Ernest Sosa, eds., Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (Blackwell, 2005)
Articulates a notion of immediate or "non-inferential" justification, cites some apparent examples of it, and then examines at length a familiar coherentist argument against the possibility of such justification. That argument was traditionally employed against "the Given Theory"; but it threatens to have much broader scope. It is driven by a principle I call the "Premise Principle," which says that a belief in P cannot be justified except by other representational states whose contents are premises that inferentially support P. One can accept that Principle and still be a foundationalist, but many foundationalists will want to reject it. I argue that the Premise Principle is unmotivated.
- Comments on Sosa's "Relevant Alternatives, Contextualism Included" (posted 6/10/04)
- Philosophical Studies 119 (2004)
- Bad Intensions, co-authored with Alex Byrne (final draft posted 7/7/03)
- in Manuel García-Carpintero and Josep Macià, eds., The Two-Dimensional Framework (OUP, 2006)
This paper concerns the descriptive stereotypes that we associate with words like "water" and "Bob Dylan," and the epistemic status of those stereotypes. Frank Jackson and David Chalmers advocate a "two-dimensionalist" theory of content, which builds on some of the things Kripke said in Naming and Necessity about how we should "explain away" modal illusions, like the illusion that water might not have been H2O. Two-dimensionalists claim that our words have two kinds of intensions, a "primary" or "epistemic" intension and a "secondary" or "metaphysical" intension. The "epistemic" intension of a word does the most theoretical work. It can be thought of as a set of properties that all competent speakers associate with the word that fixes the word's reference, and that accounts for the word's cognitive significance. For instance, the epistemic intension of "water" might include the properties of being a clear drinkable liquid predominant in our lakes and rivers. These are properties that we and our counterparts on Twin Earth both associate with "water," even if we're referring to H2O and they're referring to XYZ. Alex Byrne and I rehearse Kripke's familiar arguments from ignorance and error, which make it prima facie unlikely that speakers associate informative and uniquely identifying properties with their words. We then examine and criticize some of Chalmers' responses to these arguments.
- What's So Bad about Living in the Matrix? (third version posted 7/18/2003)
- Published in a collection of philosophy articles commissioned for the Warner Brothers' website for the Matrix films (2003)
reprinted in Christopher Grau, ed., Philosophers Explore the Matrix (OUP, 2005)
Written for an introductory audience. Discusses our belief in an objective world beyond our own experiences, and whether we really care about how the world is objectively.
- Highlights of Recent Epistemology (final version posted 8/9/2001)
- British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (2001)
Surveys recent work in epistemology, much of which also bears on the epistemology of perception. Examines: (i) contextualism about knowledge-attributions, (ii) modest forms of foundationalism, including the kind of view I advocate about perception, and (iii) the internalism/externalism debate in epistemology, and its connections to the ethics of belief.
The internalism/externalism debate is intimately connected with the epistemology of perception; so it's a topic I want to spend more time on. I am a kind of internalist (as I explain in the article, different philosophers mean different things by "internalism" and "externalism"). Much of my thinking about the internalism/externalism debate is tied up with issues about the ethics of belief, and the role of probability in epistemology. Those are also topics I'll be exploring in later research.
- The Skeptic and the Dogmatist (final version posted 8/9/2001)
- Noûs 34 (2000), 517-49
Reprinted in The Philosopher's Annual 23 (2001)
I develop a notion of being antecedently justified in believing something, and argue that the best forms of skeptical argument need to appeal to this notion. Those arguments will insist that, in order to be justified in believing Here is a hand on the basis of your perceptual experiences, you need to be antecedently justified in believing that you're not being deceived by a demon, that you're not a brain in a vat, and so on. I then argue for an epistemology of perception that rejects those skeptical principles. On my view, simply having certain experiences is enough to give you prima facie justification for believing Here is a hand. You don't need to believe you have those experiences, or have evidence that they are reliable, or that there is no deceiving demon, or anything else of that sort. So long as you lack defeating evidence, merely having the experiences you do is enough to make you justified in believing Here is a hand.
- Immunity to Error through Misidentification (final version posted 8/12/2001)
- Philosophical Topics 26 (1999), devoted to the work of Sydney Shoemaker
Examines a notion that Shoemaker uses to characterize a way in which the justification we get from introspection is epistemologically special. I argue that the phenomenon Shoemaker points to comes in two main varieties that we need to distinguish. I also assess a debate between Shoemaker and Evans about whether first-person memory-based beliefs have the special epistemological status Shoemaker describes.
I plan eventually to extend the work I've done here into a larger project that maps the differences between introspective justification, perceptual justification, and a priori justification.