Research

Research Interests

Photo credit: Wendy Salkin

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".

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: how do we determine the persistence conditions of groups? what do we want from a theory of sexual orientation?

Along the way, I have become interested in a smorgasbord of topics, including those in the philosophy of death, practical reason, 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

The Intelligibility of Metaphysical Structure:
Philosophical Studies (Forthcoming)

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 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

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. In the second half of the paper, I 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.

(Link)

High-Fidelity Metaphysics

When metaphysicians debate which among rival theories is most worthy of endorsement, they often utilize the virtue-driven methodology. According to this methodology, one theory is more worthy of endorsement than another insofar as it is more virtuous, where its overall virtue is measured as a function from its more specific theoretical virtues. 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. Along the way, 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.

(Currently under review; email me for a draft.)

The Explosion of Being

In this paper, I develop and defend 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. In effect, this means that those who endorse a principle of ontological parsimony ought to also endorse a principle of ideological parsimony, where all else being equal we ought to prefer the metaphysical theory that employs less ideology. Next, 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. Those who want to avoid an explosion of being must either offer an alternative account of ideological kinds or retreat to an unfashionable position regarding ideological parsimony. I end the paper by replying to some objections.

(Currently under review; email me for a draft.)

Intrinsic Masking and Sexual Orientation

In this paper, I argue that there are genuine cases of intrinsic masking – that sometimes an individual retains their disposition to engage in some behavior even when the manifestation of that disposition is interfered with by features intrinsic to the individual. My argument turns on real-world cases involving sexual orientation. In virtue of their sexual orientation, the individual is disposed to sexually engage with a certain (perhaps fuzzy) class of people. But because of their political, moral, or religious commitments, the individual never manifests the disposition.Armed with these cases, I argue that the most plausible interpretation is that sexual orientation can be intrinsically masked. Along the way, I clarify several topics, including the stimulus conditions relevant to sexual orientation and the ability to do otherwise.

(Currently being retooled, but feel free to ask for an older draft.)

These Confabulations Are Guaranteed to Save Your Marriage!

Typically, researchers understand confabulation as a dysfunction. This understanding neglects the potential benefits of confabulation in both clinical and non-clinical settings. In fact, we think that the benefits of non-clinical confabulation provide a better foundation for a general account of confabulation. In this paper, we start from these benefits and develop a social teleological account. Central to our account is the idea that confabulation is a form of willful ignorance. By understanding confabulation in this way, we can explain both the extent to which confabulation is rational and the difference between clinical and non-clinical cases of confabulation.

(Currently under review; coauthored with Sam Murray)

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

The overarching theme of my dissertation is ideology (in Quine's sense) and its role in theory choice, especially as it pertains to metaphysics. Roughly speaking, the dissertation can be divided into thirds. In the first third, I provide a preliminary characterization of ideology and in so doing distinguish the multiple ways metaphysicians conceive of ideology. My primary focus is on the differences between what I call ideological externalism and ideological internalism. Ideological externalism is the view on which the quality of a theory's ideology is evaluated by the extent to which the ideology corresponds to the objective features of the world. Ideological internalism, in contrast, is the view on which the quality of a theory's ideology is evaluated by how it relates to the theoretical process.

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)