5/2009 to 5/2010: Work and Research Circle on Rationality, Coherence Requirements, and Normativity
In December 2009 I finished organizing a 'research circle' on rationality, coherence requirements, and normativity, which was frequently attended by Errol Lord and Katy Meadows, and sometimes attended by others, including Holly Smith and Alvin Goldman. Here was the agenda. Click on the first square to the right for a DropBox link to a folder containing notes from most meetings. If put together, these notes would span over 100 single-spaced pages. It was a crazy time.
The prelude to all of this was a graduate seminar I took with Ruth Chang and Derek Parfit in the spring of 2009. For that seminar, I wrote a paper (which I started in May 2009) on whether there was also a bootstrapping problem for wide-scope requirements of rationality. Although I'm too embarrassed to post that paper, working on it acquainted me with the work of Kolodny and Broome. Their work fundamentally transformed the way I thought about rationality and eventually led me to abandon the traditional epistemic internalism that I had loved as an undergraduate.
9/2009 to 5/2010: Initial Work + Research Circle on the Epistemology of Perception
At the same time I organized the rationality group, I also organized a group on the epistemology of perception; I was trying to figure out whether to do my dissertation on rationality or perception. The prelude to this group was a paper I wrote on Lyons's neo-Sellarsian argument against experientialist epistemologies of perception. The first square to the right includes a link to that paper. The second square includes a link to a folder containing notes from most meetings of this group. The third square includes a link to a paper on the epistemology of recognition that emerged in the summer after this group.
Although the conclusion of this semester was that I would work on rationality and epistemic value, I continued to produce work on perception at various points in graduate school. (I have finally started to revisit this topic in the past couple of years, after finally getting out most of my work on rationality and epistemic value.)
5/2010 to 5/2011: Initial Work + Research Circle on Epistemic Value
The Backdrop: At the end of the research circle on rationality, I had assumed that epistemic consequentialism was true and used this assumption to try to raise doubts about the normative significance of rationality from an epistemic point of view. I also assumed that hypological and deontic properties were almost wholly separable, and that rationality was a hypological property, adding a further blow to its significance; these ideas were in the background of papers that I wrote for seminars from Holly Smith (here is one paper) and Ernie Sosa (here is another (significantly better) paper).
But not so long after these thoughts occurred to me, I became persuaded via an independent study with Ruth Chang that my attraction to epistemic consequentialism (and consequentialism in general) rested on fundamental confusions about value. I liked consequentialism because I thought consequentialists grounded duties in value. But because I was confused about the nature of value, I didn't appreciate that non-consequentialists could do an even better job explaining duties by appealing to values. Through that independent study, I learned that not all value is 'to be promoted'. Elizabeth Anderson's Value in Ethics and Economics and the chapter on value in T. M. Scanlon's What We Owe to Each Other became religious documents for me.
At the same time I was doing that independent study, I was organizing another research circle on epistemic value, and at this point I began to experiment with the ideas that later became central to 'Veritism Unswamped' and 'An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism'. To the right you will find a link to a folder with the notes from this group. It was in the middle of the group that these ideas took their initial form.
Perhaps the most important paper that emerged from this time was called at first 'Perspective and the Objectively Normative'. This paper contained good ideas that have only finally emerged in my publication record via 'Respect and the Reality of Apparent Reasons' and 'An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism'.
I've posted two versions of this paper to the right, one from the end of 2010 and another from 2011.
5/2011 to 12/2011: Buck-Passing, the Wrong-Kind of Reasons Problem, and Fittingness as a Weakly Normative Concept
In the summer and semester after my last research circle ended, I also kept trying and failing to produce a decent paper on the buck-passing account of value and the wrong-kind of reasons problem. This paper took three different forms (!) and was then abandoned.
Eventually some ideas from this paper got merged with ideas developed through conversations with Errol Lord, and became our joint paper 'Reasons: Wrong, Right, Normative, Fundamental'. To the right are links to three different versions of this work.
5/11 to 6/12: Early Work on Reasons in Epistemology
During the same era in which I worked on the previous papers, I also produced some papers on reasons in epistemology whose ideas gradually got simplified and consolidated in the first chapter in my dissertation and other work with Errol Lord. The last of these papers became an abandoned second draft of that chapter, which was entirely rewritten in 2013. To the right are links to three of these works.
10/11 to 1/12: First Abandoned Draft of Half of a Much Longer Dissertation
My dissertation was originally going to be titled 'Respect for Truth and the Normativity of Epistemic Rationality' and was intended to be several chapters longer than it ended up being. It was originally meant to feature epistemic Kantianism as its main achievement, a view which I am only finally getting into print. I wrote this for a proposal defense which took place in early 2012. In that defense, epistemic Kantianism took enough heat that I ended up not defending it in the 2013/2014 dissertation, but I marginalized it for bad reasons: I wanted to have the unqualified support of my committee. Some of the ideas in this old draft made it into 'An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism'.
1/12 to 1/13: A LOT of Further Abandoned Dissertation Material
After producing that draft, I tried producing parts of a new dissertation which was closer to the first than the final dissertation. But this time I only wrote some of the chapters out of order. Ultimately the final version of my dissertation rejected this material and was written almost entirely anew in the late spring and summer of 2013.
You can see an outline of this intermediate version from March 2012 by clicking the first box.
After that box are links to some other important work that ended up being re-purposed for 'An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism', as well as links to material that eventually turned into 'What Apparent Reasons Appear to Be'. (Concerning the apparently random order: I have listed these ones so that the ones I like the most are at the top.)
4/12-9/12: Evidentialism as Buck-Passing
In mid-2012, I was also drafting a paper called 'Evidentialism as Buck-Passing', and at one point I had this paper on Academia.edu. I very much want to revive this paper, since its time has finally come. But because I have several more important projects to complete first, it will probably be delayed a couple of years. To the right is a link to the most recent version of the paper. And here is its abstract:
Abstract: I argue that evidentialism can and should be framed as a meta-normative account of justification in the same genre as the buck-passing account of value—i.e., as a theory of how normative facts of one kind are grounded in normative facts of another kind. So understood, it can remain an interesting theory and help the cause of Reasons First, the view that reasons are normatively fundamental. Not so understood, it is either false, trivial, or explanatorily idle. Having made these points in §2 and §3, I ask in §4 what it takes to support and to challenge evidentialism. Both take more than many assume, I argue. This has an important corollary. Setting aside hybrid theories, like Comesaña (2010) and Goldman (2011)’s, evidentialism sans phrase is often treated as a potential rival to reliabilism sans phrase. Even this treatment is, I argue, wrong. These views can conflict no more than a buck-passing account of value can conflict with a hedonist account of value.
5/17: From Conceptual to Doxastic Pragmatism?
In the spring semester of 2017, I taught a version of my Ethics of Belief module that covered conceptual ethics. In doing this topic, it struck me as interesting that pragmatism has a plausibility in conceptual ethics that it doesn't have (for me at least) in the ethics of belief. I wondered whether these attitudes I had were consistent. I discovered what I believe is an argument from pragmatism in conceptual ethics to pragmatism in the ethics of belief. I presented this paper at an internal conference organized by my colleague Giulia Felappi. Although I felt that it had failed at the time, I've come to think that there is definitely some way of fixing it: some claims just need to be formulated more narrowly. But even if it cannot be fixed as an argument for pragmatism, I do think it is clear now that both kinds of pragmatism stand or fall together. Once I figure out whether I accept the more or the less ambitious thesis, I will work again on this paper. Still, it is not a paper that I feel an urgent need to get out, so it will take a while.
2/19-4/19: Public Talks on the Normativity of Economic Reason, the Possibility of Authorship and Ownership in the Intellectual Sphere, and Classical Indian Epistemology
Last semester, I gave three strange public talks outside my main comfort zones. The first was a talk for a series organized by some cool radicals in the English and Art departments on Alternative Economics. The first square to the right gives a link to it. While I don't pretend it is a serious piece of research and it was deliberately written for non-philosophers, it did pave the framework for real work in the philosophy of political economy that I am now writing. This work will merge themes from figures in Continental Marxism and environmentalism with themes from the literature on the normativity of rationality, and argue that there is overwhelming reason not to be economically rational, since economic rationality consists in the exploitation and commodification of values that are not to be exploited or commodified. I believe this conclusion is important, because ordinary people seem to be strongly moved by beliefs about what is economically right: yet what is economically right may be simply wrong, and indeed as a matter of constitution.
The second talk I gave was about the possibility of authoring and owning ideas, delivered to random people at the Southampton City Art Gallery attending a Da Vinci exhibition. In this talk, I argued from a Platonist view about ideas to the conclusion that ideas cannot be authored by particular people, but only by the Universal Self: hence a person can only be an author of an idea as a mere representative of bare personhood. I used this to explain the interest of Renaissance art and philosophy, which I argued is as good as the ancient art and philosophy that it allegedly copies. After giving the talk and interacting with a copyright lawyer in the audience, I did become rather interested in norms surrounding claims of authorship and ownership in the realm of ideas. So there is some chance I might return to this topic one day. Apparently a lot of UK copyright law is founded on the kind of Platonic communist view I defended, which I found astonishing.
The final talk I gave is related to a new teaching interest that I have developed. Within the last three years as I've been developing my presentationalist account of knowledge, I became aware of a rich tradition of such accounts in classical Indian epistemology. In my talk, I attempted to defend the claim that my kind of account can be found in lots of classical Indian epistemology. The talk has provided the framework for my part of a module on classical Indian philosophy that I will be co-teaching with Chris Janaway next semester. Again, it is not serious research, but merely lays the foundations for later work. Eventually I will write a book on knowledge which will contain a substantial historical section, including a lot of detail on classical Indian epistemology, which I believe all epistemologists must learn (since literally all of the achievements ascribed to contemporary epistemology were achieved a thousand or more years ago).
Like all American PhD students, I took a lot of modules outside my areas of specialization in my first few years, and wrote seminar papers for them. I've either lost or forgotten about many of these papers quite deliberately, since I was painfully ashamed of them. There were, however, a few that I really enjoyed thinking about, even if what I wrote was not great. The ones that come to mind, in order of enjoyment, are
(1) a paper defending Fodor's LOT2 arguments against inferentialism about logical concept possession written for Brian Weatherson,
(2) a paper on concept pragmatism more generally written for Jerry Fodor,
(3) a paper trying to articulate the fundamental metasemantic argument against epistemicism written for Brian McLaughlin,
(4) a paper on a regress/circularity dilemma for intellectualism about know-how written for Jason Stanley,
(5) a paper at the intersection of action theory and ancient epistemology written for Robert Bolton.
To the right are buttons with links to these papers. While none of these papers are even remotely worth your reading, I would like to return to some of these topics some day. I might go back to these papers in a decade to see if any idea is salvageable.
I went into graduate school thinking that I'd do as much metaphysics as epistemology, since that's what I did as an undergrad. When I got there, though, I didn't like the turn to metametaphysics, grounding, and showy formal metaphysics: as an undergraduate, I liked older, blander topics like universals, causation, powers, and laws approached in the manner of Armstrong. I was also far too afraid to try to do philosophy of physics at Rutgers, which was the one way I could have kept working on some of these issues. So I let those interests die. But for the record, I did write an undergraduate honors thesis which partly concerned the metaphysics of laws and causation. This is the only version of it of which I have a record (and I don't think it is the final version).