My research focuses on normative issues in epistemology, like whether we can be responsible for what we believe and whether we value acquiring the truth instrumentally or for its own sake. I'm also interested in parallels and differences between practical and theoretical reason, and between belief and action. Below are descriptions of some of my more recent projects.
Believing Intentionally: An Essay on the Voluntarist Grounds of Epistemic Responsibility (Dissertation)
In my dissertation, I argue that we are responsible for at least some of our beliefs, that this responsibility requires us to have voluntary control over those beliefs, and that theoretical deliberation, as an intentional act of belief formation, is just the sort of voluntary control we need to ground epistemic responsibility. The dissertation is thus an action theoretic investigation of the metaphysics of belief formation, with the goal of illuminating the grounds and nature of epistemic normativity. (PDF of Draft, to be defended summer 2018)
Theoretical Deliberation as Voluntary Belief Formation (a version of ch. 3) *
There are at least some processes of belief formation that constitute non-basic intentional action, and there are a great many basic actions that foreseeably play constitutive roles in such processes. In particular, theoretical deliberation is a process of belief formation in which the agent aims to acquire some belief-entailing state (knowledge, justified belief, etc) via the performance of various intellectual actions, like weighing evidence, attending to the question in the right sort of way, thinking through incompatible alternatives, etc. In this chapter, I will argue that such (deliberative) processes of belief formation constitute non-basic intentional action, and that the control or agency exercised in the course of such processes provides us with a clear example of non-manipulative control capable of grounding epistemic responsibility. More generally, I will suggest that the capacity to exercise such control over beliefs provides us with a plausible foundation for this and other species of epistemic normativity. In addition to developing the various specific proposals outlined above, then, this chapter greatly clarifies a number of issues regarding the role of the will in cognition and its evaluation. (PDF of Draft)
Belief & Agency
Although doxastic involuntarism is orthodoxy in contemporary epistemology, it is false. There is at least one class of beliefs over which individuals enjoy a considerable amount of doxastic agency and control. The class to which I refer is the class of beliefs about what intentional actions one is going to perform. Such actions constitute what I call “agential self-knowledge,” and in this paper I argue this such knowledge is atypical insofar as it is consists in beliefs based on practical (rather than theoretical) reasons, and rationally adopted without any evidence, such as, e.g., the observational evidence that third person observers must gather in order to form justified beliefs about another agent’s actions. I begin with an overview of my argument, lay the framework and clarify terminology, and then present my argument and responses to several objections I anticipate. The result is a sustained attack on doxastic involuntarism with significant results for the question of the possibility of doxastic agency and the extent to which it is exercised.
Rational Epistemic Regret
Cases are offered to illustrate the as yet largely undiscussed phenomenon of epistemic regret, and the phenomenon is further characterized. It is then suggested that epistemic regret of the sort I am interested in is a species of what Bernard Williams calls “agent-regret.” (Williams, 1981) A theoretical framework is then put in place to provide resistance to the anticipated objection that we should reject this characterization on the basis of doxastic involuntarism, and the the phenomenon is further characterized with respect to a notion of doxastic activity. An explanatory account is then offered: legitimate expressions of epistemic regret target instances of deliberatively formed beliefs, or beliefs on which on now judges one ought to have reflected and deliberated. Because we have significant voluntary control over deliberative belief formation, the objection is avoided and a deeper sense in which such regret can be characterized as "agent-regret" is illuminated.
Augustine on Testimonial Belief, knowledge, and understanding **
The justificatory status of testimony serves as a surprisingly illuminating avenue into Augustine’s otherwise very internalistic epistemology. The central argument put
forward here is that Augustine maintains a “two-sense” thesis regarding the concept of knowledge, but that he does so in order to maintain theoretical unity in the face of a great tension. Against the academic skeptics, Augustine maintained that believers are perfectly justified in believing on the ordinary assertions of others, but he was also careful to distinguish such belief from the ultimate theological knowledge or understanding at which all cognitive activity aims. The final section provides a sketch of Augustine’s positive view of the justificatory status of testimony, which engages many of the most relevant issues in the contemporary literature on that topic. (PDF of draft)
"Narrative thinking" and Ethical intuitions
Recent work in cognitive science on the apparent unreliability of intuitions has led some philosophers to argue that we ought not give intuitions the evidential role they have traditionally occupied. Such anti-intuitionists, as I call them, often rely on studies in which subjects are given two narrative cases that differ in only minor, apparently insignificant ways, and asked to make intuitive judgments about those cases. Surprisingly, many subjects articulate different intuitions when presented with the different cases, leading anti-intuitionists to conclude that such intuitions are, thus, unreliable. In this paper, I refute these arguments by pointing to ways in which apparently insignificant differences in narratives can actually alter the story-content of those narratives in deeply philosophically significant ways. Thus, for all we know, the intuitions of subjects in the extant cognitive scientific studies may be reliably tracking philosophically significant differences in the cases they are presented with. (PDF of draft)
Disagreement, Dispositions, and Higher-Order Evidence (MA Thesis)
In opting to consider toy cases of disagreement -- cases that, like Christensen's dinner bill scenario, obviously involve evidence-sharing epistemic peers -- epistemologists have hitherto failed to take seriously a distinct and "deeper" kind of disagreement. The distinction emerges most clearly, I argue, when cases that are typically thought to be vulnerable to the threat of "spinelessness" are brought in for more careful consideration (i.e. political disagreements, religious and philosophical disagreements, etc.). By picking out distinctive features of this sort of disagreement -- deep disagreement -- and arguing that it is, in fact, epistemically significant (though, perhaps requiring a different response than that required by toy cases of shallow disagreement), I attempt in this paper to re-orient the literature on disagreement, recommending that epistemologists focus their efforts on paradigmatic cases of deep disagreement and suggesting that this will resolve apparent tensions associated with "spinelessness" that have arisen within the literature. (PDF)
Against Reductive Accounts of Epistemic Responsibility
Most contemporary accounts of epistemic responsibility today are "reductive" in the sense that they make our responsibility for beliefs derivative on our responsibility for belief-influencing actions. I argue that, on the most common way of understanding this view, this would make epistemic responsibility require an objectionable form of self-manipulation. I also show how we can account of such responsibility without positing this sort of manipulation.
Believing at will: A conceptual framework
"Believing at will" is a multiply ambiguous phrase. In this paper, I offer seven ways epistemologists have recently tried to disambiguate it and argue that substantive philosophical issues turn on which disambiguation we choose to employ.
Partiality and Evidence: How to Rationally Believe Friends in the Face of Damning Evidence
It often seems rational, perhaps even morally obligatory, to believe friends even in the face of potentially damning evidence. In this paper, I argue that, contrary to the widely accepted view, it is not only epistemically permissible to do so, but it may well be epistemically obligatory as well.
* Paper is under review.
** Paper has received an R&R.