Research & CV

Projects

Structural Epistemic Rationality

If you believe that I am a zombie and that one ought to shoot zombies in the head, then it's rational for you to believe that you ought to shoot me in the head. It wouldn't be substantively rational (justified), since you don't have good reasons to hold them (I hope!), but it would be structurally rational, because it makes sense given what else you believe--your attitudes cohere. This substantive-structural distinction is prominent in value and action theory, but I argue that it is epistemologically significant as well. Key to this argument is another, to the effect that structural rationality is deeply perspectival. This does not result in "epistemic anarchism," because structural epistemic rationality is a matter of agent-relative standards, not subjective evaluations. I propose that a best system approach can provide standards that are objectively determined, yet genuinely the agent's own. This work also raises important questions about the scale of rational evaluation (which mental states matter), and the nature and possible rationality of epistemic akrasia.

Intuitions & Philosophical Methodology

Contra some recent arguments, I take intuitive judgments about cases to be a fundamental part of analytic philosophy. However, their value as such has been called into question by proponents of experimental philosophy (x-phi). I argue that one reason such critiques miss the mark is that they overlook an important role played by appeals to intuitions. Intuition Dialecticism (or just Dialecticism) is the view that when philosophers say things like, "It is intuitive that p," they are (often and appropriately) appealing to the intuitions of their individual interlocutors to show them that they are rationally committed to further claims. In essence, they are saying, "Don't you have the intuition that p? Well look, I've got this argument from p for my conclusion, so you should accept that too." If Dialecticism is right, then appeals to intuitions aren't the sort of claims that are candidates for falsification by x-phi studies. Of course, x-phi critiques often take a different form--an argument from the widespread disagreement revealed by such studies. However, even if the worst case scenario about the extent and nature of this disagreement turned out to be true, it wouldn't show that we shouldn't rely on intuitions in philosophical theorizing. There is more to a corporate intellectual enterprise (such as professional philosophy) than individual epistemic rationality. In such contexts, individuals who operate on, and flesh out the consequences of, unjustified commitments are participating in a sort of group-practical rationality--participating in the means to an epistemic end. Furthermore, the extent to which this is (group-)rational depends not only on the likelihood of achieving that end by that means but also the strength of the desire for that end, and it matters an awful lot to us what we should believe about justice, free will, God, and many other philosophical questions besides.

Publications

Epistemologists routinely assume that "S disbelieves p" is just another way of saying, "S believes ~p," but I argue that this does not fit with the general picture of doxastic attitudes in epistemology. Moreover, it is possible to disbelieve p without believing ~p, and so disbelief is distinct from belief both in the sense of being non-identical to it and independent of it.

“Animals as Stakeholders” (forthcoming in Animals and Business Ethics, Springer)

I argue that animals ought to be treated as stakeholders given that they affect and are affected by the achievement of the objectives of the businesses in which they are involved. Stakeholder Theory therefore requires taking those interests into account. By taking the stakeholder approach, businesses can avoid merely reacting to (rapidly increasing) public outcry over the treatment of animals. Even those who hold extreme positions can take the treatment of animals as stakeholders to provide an ethical realpolitik of sorts that is both better for animals and better for business.

The above link is to a the initial, blog-ish format posting of a symposium on Kevin McCain’s Evidentialism and Epistemic Justification to which my paper is a contribution. Kevin’s book is outstanding, however I argue that he overlooks the relevance of (non-justificatory), coherence-based rationality to justification.

“Interdisciplinary Modelling: A Case Study of Evolutionary Economics” (with Collin Rice; please cite published version, Biology & Philosophy (2011) 26:655-75)

Collin and I argue that the label 'evolutionary economics' is in fact used to cover several distinct ways of applying biological lessons to economic theory. We then use these distinctions to develop a general taxonomy of interdisciplinary model “borrowing.”

Selected Presentations

APA

2020. "Groundwork for Structural Epistemic Rationality" (Central Division Meeting of the APA)

Value theorists routinely distinguish structural rationality—a matter of attitudinal coherence—from substantive rationality—a matter of reasons-responsiveness. Epistemologists do not likewise distinguish structural epistemic rationality (SER) from justification, but they should. I first argue that SER demands self-coherence, not classical consistency, and show that this means its epistemic work is not superfluous to justification’s. I then provide a vindication (in BonJour’s (1985) sense) of SER by showing that it promotes a fundamental cognitive goal. In doing so, I argue that fundamental cognitive goals ought to be understood not in terms of truth, but of a broader notion of accuracy.

2016. "Dialecticism about Philosophical Appeals to Intuitions" (Pacific Division Meeting of the APA)

I defend the practice of appealing to philosophical intuitions against claims that it is undermined by experimental research. This defense involves pointing out an important role played by such appeals. Intuition Dialecticism is the view that when philosophers appeal to intuitions, they (often and appropriately) are appealing to the intuitions of individual interlocutors in an attempt to show them that have some commitment or other that is relevant to the argument at hand. Once this role is understood, we can see that the most direct and extreme objections by experimental philosophers are beside the point.

2016. "Objective, Own-Standards Rational Belief" (Eastern Division Meeting of the APA)

On a common use of 'rational', it can be rational for dialetheists to believe some propositions that it could not be rational for classical logicians to believe, and this in virtue of their rejection of the law of non-contradiction. Rationality in this sense of "meeting one's own standards" has been neglected by epistemologists, in part because it seems to lead to a radical subjectivism. However, I argue that it need not, developing a Best System Account of rational standards that are agent-relative without being radically subjective.

Other Intl.

2013. "Theological Realism and Moral Anti-Realism: Might Moses and Mackie Both Be Right?" (The Analytic Theology Project Summer Workshop)

I argue that, surprisingly, one can endorse both theological realism of a fairly orthodox sort and moral anti-realism. Moreover, there are even some potential theoretical advantages to doing so. (Updated draft)

2011. "Beg, Borrow, Steal: Evolutionary Economics as Model Borrowing" (Biennial Meeting of the Intl. Soc. for the History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences of Biology)

Based on work with Collin Rice, I propose that the term 'evolutionary economics' actually refers to a set of activities that can be fruitfully distinguished by the types of evolutionary models that they "borrow" and the ways in which they deploy them.