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 exploring the implications of this position for other topics. Some of these topics are solidly within the realm of metaphysics -- for example, just how high are the ideological costs incurred by a theory that employs undefined tense operators? But some of these topics branch into other areas of philosophy. Most recently, I have written about unacknowledged complications to our understanding of epistemic value. I am also interested in reconciling the methodology of "traditional" metaphysics with the methodology of social metaphysics.

Along the way, I have become interested in a smorgasbord of other topics, including those in the philosophy of psychology, 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

How to Project a Socially Constructed Sexual Orientation
Journal of Social Ontology (2021)

Was bisexuality a widespread feature of ancient Greek society? This question is an instance of cross-cultural projection –- of taking the means through which people are categorized in one culture and applying it to members of another. It’s widely held by those who think that sexual orientation is socially constructed that its projection poses a problem. In this paper, I offer a more careful analysis of this alleged problem. To analyze projection, I adapt Iris Einheuser’s substratum-carving model of conventionalism to fit the specific needs of social construction (and social metaphysics more broadly). Using this model, I show that projection is conceptually coherent, and so does not for that reason pose any problem. Along the way, I identify some of the epistemic difficulties facing projection. While these difficulties are formidable, they are not substantially affected by the constructivist claim. I therefore conclude that there is no unique problem facing the projection of a socially constructed sexual orientation.

(Penultimate version; official version)

High-Fidelity Metaphysics: Ideological Parsimony in Theory Choice
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2021)

Many metaphysicians utilize the virtue-driven methodology. According to this methodology, one theory is more worthy of endorsement than another insofar as it is more virtuous. In this paper, I show how a theory’s overall virtue is shaped by its ideological parsimony -- parsimony with respect to the terminology employed in stating the theory. I distinguish between a theory’s truth and its fidelity ("joint-carvingness") and the corresponding epistemic and fidelic virtues. I argue that ideological parsimony is not an epistemic virtue but is a fidelic virtue. Insofar as metaphysicians value fidelity, then, ideological parsimony has an important role in theory choice.

(Penultimate version; official version)

These Confabulations Are Guaranteed to Save Your Marriage: Toward a Teleological Theory of Confabulation
Synthese 198 (11):10313-10339 (June 2021)

Confabulation is typically understood to be dysfunctional. But this understanding neglects the potential benefits of confabulation. We think that reflecting on the benefits of non-clinical confabulation provides a better foundation for a general account of confabulation. In this paper, we start from these benefits to develop a social teleological account of confabulation. Central to our account is the idea that confabulation manifests a kind of willful ignorance. By understanding confabulation in this way, we can provide principled explanations for the difference between clinical and non-clinical cases of confabulation and the extent to which confabulation is rational.

(Penultimate version; official version; coauthored with Sam Murray)

Ideology and Its Role in Metaphysics
Synthese 198 (2):957-983 (February 2021)

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

within Metaphysics (broadly construed)

Seek the Joints! Avoid the Gruesome!

This is a paper about epistemic value, especially as it relates to metaphysics.

A Puzzle About Parsimony

This is a paper about how metaphysicians use parsimony in a way that seems (to me) inconsistent.

Temporal Quantifier Relativism

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

Against Metaphysical Egalitarianism

This is a paper about how differences in epistemic values can lead to differences in choice of ideology in certain hard cases.

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.

within Social Philosophy (broadly construed)

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.

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