Research

Research Interests

Meaning and Reality in Social Context 2019, Academia Sinica, Taipei

In my research, I focus primarily on questions in metametaphysics and the methodology of metaphysics, questions like: what are the goals of metaphysicians, and how can we best meet those goals? My most immediate concern is with the role of ideology in theory choice. (That's 'ideology' in Quine's sense, which involves a theory's expressive resources, rather than a set of political beliefs!)

Broadly speaking, I endorse a meta-ideological position suitable for certain brands of metaphysical realism -- those that "go beyond the predicate". In much of my published work, I try to articulate and defend this position.

Currently, I am extending my research to first-order questions in metaphysics. Among these questions are those that are closely tied to long-standing disputes in the philosophy of time -- for example: just how high are the ideological costs incurred by a theory that employs undefined tense operators? Also among these questions are those concerning social metaphysics -- for example: what do we want from a theory of sexual orientation?

Along the way, I have become interested in a smorgasbord of other topics, including those in social philosophy, practical reason, the philosophy of death, and the history of analytic philosophy. In general, though, I like to think about what we do, what we're trying to do, and the gap between those two.

Published Work

Ideology and Its Role in Metaphysics
Synthese (Forthcoming)

Metaphysicians now typically distinguish between a theory’s ontology and its ideology. But besides a few cursory efforts, no one has explained the role of ideology in theory choice. In this paper I develop a framework for discussing how differing approaches to ideology impact metaphysical disputes. I first provide an initial characterization of ideology and develop two contrasting types of criteria used to evaluate its quality. In using externalist criteria, we judge the quality of a theory’s ideology by its relation to external features of the world. In contrast, in using internalist criteria, we judge the quality of a theory’s ideology by features internal to the theory and the theorizer, e.g. the intelligibility of the terminology employed. I then argue for an unrestricted application of externalist criteria, what I call maximal realism. According to maximal realism, we ought to apply externalist criteria to the entirety of a theory’s ideology—to not only predicates but also to quantifiers and logical operators. I defend maximal realism from what I take to be the best objection to it: that the view leads to bad questions. As part of my defense, I argue that those who would restrict their application of externalist criteria either adopt an unjustified partition of ideology or reject seemingly benign questions. Finally, I apply my discussion of ideology to two extant metaphysical disputes.

(Penultimate version; official version)

The Explosion of Being:
Ideological Kinds in Theory Choice
Philosophical Quarterly 69 (276):486-510 (July 2019)

In this paper, I develop a novel account of ideological kinds. I first present some conceptual territory regarding the use of Occam’s Razor in minimizing ontological commitments. I then present the analogous device for minimizing ideological commitments, what I call the Comb. I argue that metaphysicians ought to use both or none at all. This means that those who endorse a principle of ontological parsimony ought to also endorse some principle of ideological parsimony, where we ought to prefer the metaphysical theory that employs less ideology. In support of one such principle, I propose a novel account of ideological kinds. I individuate ideological kinds based on the satisfaction of two conditions: interdefinability and sameness of syntactic category. Ultimately, I think this account is the best available. It does, however, produce surprising results. For instance, my account shows that quantifier pluralism is ideologically parsimonious. I end by replying to some objections.

(Penultimate version; official version)

The Intelligibility of Metaphysical Structure
Philosophical Studies 176 (3):581-606 (March 2019)

Theories that posit metaphysical structure are able to do much work in philosophy. Some, however, find the notion of 'metaphysical structure' unintelligible. In this paper, I argue that their charge of unintelligibility fails. There is nothing distinctively problematic about the notion. At best, their charge of unintelligibility is a mere reiteration of previous complaints made toward similar notions. In developing their charge, I clarify several important concepts, including primitiveness, intelligibility, and the Armstrong-inspired "ontologism" view of the world. I argue that, ultimately, their charge is best understood as an objection whose central premise is that the notion of 'structure' runs contrary to an important presupposition of contemporary metaphysics. But that central premise is, on closer inspection, implausible. I respond to the objection by identifying three popular metaphysical theories that violate the alleged presupposition but are still generally regarded as intelligible. The objection thus fails to show that a theory that posits metaphysical structure is unintelligible.

(Penultimate version; official version)

Yet Another Epicurean Argument
Philosophical Perspectives 30 (1):135-159 (December 2016)

In this paper, we develop a novel version of the so-called Lucretian symmetry argument against the badness of death. Our argument has two features that make it particularly effective. First, it focuses on the preferences of rational agents. We believe the focus on preferences eliminates needless complications and emphasizes the urgency to respond to the argument. Second, our argument utilizes a principle that states that a rational agent's preferences should not vary in arbitrary ways. We argue that this principle underlies our judgments of cognitive biases. We should therefore endorse the principle insofar as we think a cognitively biased agent fails to be rational. In the second half of the paper we survey potential ways to resist the new symmetry argument. We show that they all fail to meet the dialectical burden of our argument or involve highly controversial assumptions about the metaphysics of time or the limits of rational preferences.

(Penultimate version; official version; coauthored with Meghan Sullivan)

Works in Progress

High-Fidelity Metaphysics

This is a paper about how some metaphysicians should understand the role of parsimony in theory choice.

Seek the Joints! Avoid the Gruesome!

This is a paper about epistemic value in metaphysics.

Intrinsic Masking and Sexual Orientation

This is a paper about the difference between a genuine change of sexual orientation and a "mere" masking of its manifestation.

How to Project a Socially Constructed Sexual Orientation

This is a paper about our ability to coherently talk about the sexual orientation of historical figures.

These Confabulations Are Guaranteed to Save Your Marriage!

This is a paper about the positive role confabulation plays in ordinary life. I coauthored it with Sam Murray.

Temporal Quantifier Relativism

This is a paper about how quantifier pluralism allows us to construct surprisingly competitive metaphysical theories.

Explanatory Unity and the Argument from A-Theoretic Experience

This is a paper about our phenomenal experience of time and what that experience suggests about the correct metaphysical theory of time.

Structuring Metaphysical Disputes: A Foray into Meta-Ideology (Dissertation)