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.
These Confabulations Are Guaranteed to Save Your Marriage: Toward a Teleological Theory of Confabulation
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.
Ideology and Its Role in Metaphysics
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.
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.
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.
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.
Works in Progress
within Metaphysics (broadly construed)
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, especially as it relates to metaphysics.
(Currently under review)
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.
(Currently under review)
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.
I experience the world as if it dynamically changes. I experience the world as if the moment of my experience is privileged over other moments. The best explanation for these facts entails that the world operates in a way that makes my experience more-or-less accurate -- that is, the best explanation entails that the A-theory of time is true. In this paper, I explore the extent to which this argument from A-theoretic experience can discriminate between competing A-theories of time. I focus on explanatory unity. I argue that some A-theories of time exhibit less explanatory unity than others because their explanations for the passage of time ideologically differ from their explanations for the privilege of the present. If explanatory unity is one feature on which competing explanations can be compared, then the argument from A-theoretic experience actually supports some A-theories of time over others.
(Currently being retooled; feel free to email me if you'd like to talk about it!)
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.
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.
(Currently under review. This is a descendant of a paper I called "Anchoring Sexual Orientation"; the central motivations are the same, but the methodology is pretty different!)
Structuring Metaphysical Disputes: A Foray into Meta-Ideology (Dissertation)
In the second third of the dissertation, I argue for a particular version of ideological externalism, what I call non-ontic maximal realism. According to this position, we ought to endorse theories that employ ideology we have reason to believe correspond to the objective features of the world, where these features can be things (e.g. electrons or properties) or non-ontic stuff (e.g. water and quantificational structure). In arguing for maximal realism, I defend both its intelligibility and its viability relative to its competitors
In the final third of the dissertation, I make some methodological suggestions for those who endorse maximal realism. Given that maximal realism is true, how do we go about determining which theories employ the correct ideology? I advocate for a modified version of the virtue-driven methodology. According to this methodology, the fact that a theory exhibits some theoretical virtue is a reason to believe that it employs the correct ideology.
(Email me for a copy)