As a PhD student at Rutgers and a post-doctoral lecturer in the Normativity: Epistemic and Practical project, my research focused on questions about reasons and normativity that cut across ethics and epistemology, and on how ideas from value theory and the philosophy of practical reason could be used to illuminate topics in epistemology. While much of my recent research has been a smooth continuation of these older interests, its range has been expanding to encompass other parts of epistemology, moral philosophy, political philosophy, and philosophy of mind.
One major recent project has been defending epistemic non-consequentialism. In particular, I have been developing what I call Epistemic Kantianism (a view I previewed in my dissertation but didn't end up making central after it was panned in my prospectus defense (see here for the early 2012 draft)). This is the first systematic and explicitly non-consequentialist epistemology, modeled on Kantian ethics. I've also been arguing that this view is consistent with reliabilism, which I don't think is best understood as a version of epistemic consequentialism. These ideas are explored in my recent papers 'An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism' and 'Reliabilism without Epistemic Consequentialism', and I am currently writing a book further articulating and defending this approach. Working on these ideas increased my fondness for Kantian ethics simpliciter, and my paper 'Respect and the Reality of Apparent Reasons' shows (in effect) how broadly Kantian ideas can be used to explain the normativity of rationality in general.
Another recent project concerns the nature of knowledge. Over four years ago, I wrote a paper that eventually appeared in PPR in 2018 called 'Knowledge as a Non-Normative Relation'. This paper argued that knowledge should be analyzed in non-normative terms, vindicating the thought that epistemology in the narrow, etymological sense is a branch of the philosophy of mind. Further exploring the ideas behind this paper led me in 2017 through 2019 to an analysis of knowledge inspired by Theaetetus's idea that 'knowledge is nothing but perception'; this idea was first developed in a paper called 'The Theaetetus Thesis' (given once as a talk), which became 'Knowledge and the Presentation of Reality' (given many times as a talk). I defended the other side of Theaetetus's suggestion in 'Non-Epistemic Perception as Mere Technology': perception is occurrent knowledge, and the mere sensing of objects and features is just part of the technology of perception rather than part of its fundamental nature. In a new manuscript in progress ('World-First Epistemology'), I'm coming around to another, more object-oriented account of knowledge, according to which it is the upshot of the world's informing the mind of a fact (where 'informing' is understood in an ancient way).
A third, much newer project involves applying insights from the vast interdisciplinary literature on Marx and Continental thinkers inspired by Marx to develop a new (to analytic philosophy) approach to practical reason and moral philosophy. The first instalment in this project is my new paper 'The Eclipse of Instrumental Rationality', which draws on themes from the Frankfurt school's 'critique of instrumental reason' to bring out new reasons for skepticism about the normativity of instrumental rationality, and a neglected way to replace instrumental rationality with a non-instrumental form of structural rationality. Another project in progress is a paper with Keshav Singh (tentatively called 'Capitalism, Consequentialism, and Alienation') which shows how ideas from the literature on Hegel's and Marx's discussions of alienation can be used to uncover a new and more powerful version of the alienation objection to consequentialism. The larger background project involves synthesizing Kant and Marx to develop a new constitutivist philosophy of practical reason and a new egalitarian moral and political philosophy. My hypothesis is that Kant (properly understood) and the humanist reading of Marx converge on a neglected alternative to utilitarian ethics and political philosophy, with more progressive implications than Kantian ethics is usually believed to have. In effect, I hypothesize that Kant's anti-feudalism and Marx's anti-capitalism are superficially different but equivalent expressions of a unified relational egalitarian view. We must, I believe, implement this view to avoid feudalism; if unresisted, capitalism leads back to feudalism.
What follows is a more detailed, paper-by-paper overview of my completed research. Most of this research is published/forthcoming. If you'd prefer to just see a list of papers with abstracts, you can go to this page.
1. Epistemic Axiology and Deontology
1.1. Truth, Perspective, and the Structure of Epistemic Value. To explain the significance of the subject's perspective in epistemology, I argue that we need to reject some widely assumed views about epistemic value. Many epistemologists working on epistemic value assume that derivative value has to be grounded in fundamental value via instrumental relations. I think this assumption—which I call Instrumentalism about Derivative Value—is mistaken. Rejecting Instrumentalism is not uncommon in the wider value-theoretic literature, but epistemic value theorists have continued to assume it and have not explored what follows if it is rejected. In 'Veritism Unswamped' (now out in Mind, and which is a long successor to a short critical piece published in Thought), I develop a theory of epistemic value that dispenses with this assumption and show how it solves long-standing problems. I rely on Thomas Hurka’s idea that properly valuing fundamental value is itself derivatively but non-instrumentally valuable. Using that idea, I argue that central epistemic items like justified belief, reasonable belief, and knowledge derive non-instrumental epistemic value in virtue of the fact that they manifest different epistemically fitting ways of valuing accuracy.
This theory of derivative epistemic value leads to a simple account of why reasonable belief necessarily has value from the epistemic point of view. The picture honors the intuitive thought that we care about reasonable belief because we care about accuracy. But it is perfectly consistent with the thought that someone whose belief-forming processes are unreliable might be entirely sensible. I argue that this story is the same story we need to explain the epistemic value of forms of belief that are instrumentally connected to fundamental epistemic value. Once Instrumentalism is abandoned, we can have a unified and truth-oriented account of epistemic value. The concluding chapter of my dissertation, 'Rationality and Fundamental Epistemic Value', explained why the value of rationality seems especially puzzling, why Instrumentalist accounts of the value of rationality fail, and how the framework from 'Veritism Unswamped' solves the puzzle, invoking the idea that epistemic rationality constitutes respect for truth.
1.2. Epistemic Non-Consequentialism. As I note in 'Veritism Unswamped', it is not obvious that rejecting the instrumentalist model of derivative epistemic value requires rejecting epistemic consequentialism; indeed, the view from Hurka that inspired mine was meant to help consequentialists in ethics. Ultimately, however, I think we should reject epistemic consequentialism, and don't think it stands up well once the instrumentalist model of derivative epistemic value is undermined. In 'An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism' (Philosophical Review, 2020), I develop the first systematic and explicitly non-consequentialist epistemology, which I call Epistemic Kantianism. I propose that the fundamental epistemic norm is a norm of respect for the truth, and argue that this view is able to capture everything that might have seemed attractive about epistemic consequentialism while also avoiding the problems for that view, which I suggest cut much deeper than the case-based objections that Berker raised in 'Epistemic Teleology and the Separateness of Propositions'. I also argue in 'Reliabilism without Epistemic Consequentialism' (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2020) that rejecting epistemic consequentialism doesn't require abandoning the insights of reliabilism, which was never firmly intended as a version of epistemic consequentialism, and can be naturally understood in several non-consequentialist ways.
2. Subjective Reasons and Justification in Epistemology
In 'What Apparent Reasons Appear to Be' (a 2015 paper in Philosophical Studies), I develop an account of subjective reasons on which they are constituted by exercises of competences to correctly respond to objective reasons. Specifically, I claim that subjective reasons are apparent facts that we are competently attracted to treat like objective reasons. Owing to the competence/performance distinction, it is possible to be competently attracted to treat apparent facts as if they were objective reasons even when these apparent facts are not objective reasons. This fact is what explains why one's non-factive mental duplicate in a skeptical scenario has the same subjective reasons that one has: for one’s duplicate will retain the competence to respond to objective reasons that one has.
Following many meta-ethicists, I understand rationality in terms of subjective reasons. Hence, I think that we should deny that rationality consists as a matter of conceptual necessity in responsiveness to reasons that are objectively good (though these properties extensionally coincide, given Epistemic Kantianism). In 'On Divorcing the Rational and the Justified in Epistemology' --- a paper from my dissertation which I've set aside to work on other things --- I rely on this picture to provide an account of the conceptual difference between rationality and justification. The difference is that while rationality turns on the balance of subjective reasons, justification turns on the balance of objective reasons one possesses. I also discuss this view in my Philosophy Compass paper 'Epistemic Reasons I: Normativity'.*
What is it to possess an objective reason? Here again I rely on a distinction from virtue epistemology. While subjective reasons are considerations that we merely competently treat like objective reasons, possessed objective reasons are considerations that we aptly treat like objective reasons: that is, we treat them like the objective reasons that they actually are in virtue of manifesting competence. On this view, possessing an objective reason is itself an achievement. I develop this account of possession in my paper 'The Achievements of Reason'. This paper unifies themes from the two aforementioned papers in a larger view that I call Rationalism. My approach has become yet more rationalist in a way that I discuss in my newer 'Evidence and Virtue (and Beyond)', which also brings out that the approach is not at bottom a kind of virtue epistemology.
Some of these ideas were sparked by collaborations and interactions with Ernest Sosa (though our individual views are quite different). In 'The Place of Reasons in Epistemology' (just published in the Oxford Handbook of Reasons and Normativity but written years ago), Sosa and I stress that reasons must be possessed in order to do most work in epistemology, and argue that possessing a reason has to be understood as an exercise of competence. We also claim that this competence is not essentially reasons-based: manifestations of that competence need not themselves be based on reasons. While I still endorse that claim, I think it is misleading. Indeed, our picture was too pessimistic. As 'The Achievements of Reason' illustrates, competences can be Reason-based without being reasons-based in the narrower sense that Sosa and I had in mind, and there are good reasons to take competences to be Reason-based.
A final issue I've worked on under the heading of Subjective Reasons and Justification is the topic of what it is to believe something for normative reasons. One might be surprised to see someone working on this topic in its own right, since one might have thought that this topic is merely a special case of the broader topic of believing for reasons. But this attitude would have to rest on a highly substantive view: namely, the Composite View, on which believing something for a normative reason is nothing more than (i) believing something for a reason and (ii) that reason happening to correspond to a normative reason, where (i) and (ii) are independent. In a joint paper with Errol Lord called 'Prime Time (for the Basing Relation)', I argue that this view is false and defend an alternative conception of believing for normative reasons on which it is prime, not composite. A key motivation for this view is thematically related to my other work above: namely, the thought that believing for normative reasons is naturally viewed as an achievement. I also discuss this view in my Philosophy Compass paper 'Epistemic Reasons II: Basing'.
If believing for normative reasons can naturally be viewed as an achievement, some important implications follow for epistemology that I discussed in the first chapter of my dissertation. Perhaps most importantly, I think it follows that it is a mistake to treat evidentialism and virtue epistemology as being rivals at all. Evidentialists can without revising their core view make room for competence by viewing it as a necessary condition for being sensitive to evidence-for relations, which is itself required for the achievement of heeding the evidence. Even if the founding fathers of evidentialism (viz., Conee and Feldman) failed to notice this place for competence in their core view, it does not follow that evidentialism must take an impure, hybrid form to exploit competence. I further develop this thought in a new paper 'Evidence and Virtue (and Beyond)'.
3. Virtue Epistemology
Although I am not really a virtue epistemologist, I've written several papers about virtue epistemology, recommending a view that lies in between the character-based virtue epistemology of Zagzebski and the skill-based virtue epistemology of Sosa as the best version of the approach. In 'Can Performance Epistemology Explain Higher Epistemic Value?', I argue that the normativity of skill cannot ground the kind of normativity associated with reasons and rationality, and suggest that Sosa's attempt in recent work to argue otherwise rests on a mistake within the theory of skill-based normativity. Indeed, I show that some of the very examples that he takes to support his view are actually counterexamples to it.
In 'Responsibilism out of Character' (published in 2017 in the OUP collection Epistemic Situationism), I argue that responsibilists should abandon the assumption that there is a connection between epistemic responsibility and character traits, and show how abandoning this assumption allows them to sidestep the empirical challenges of situationist social psychology. Like 'Veritism Unswamped', this paper's central contribution rests on extending a theme from Thomas Hurka's work in ethics into epistemology: Hurka has long argued that the virtue statuses that attach to acts (which I call 'act-attaching virtue properties') don't presuppose that the agent performing the acts has a stable disposition to perform acts of this kind, and indeed argues that these act-attaching virtue properties are metaphysically prior to the virtue properties that attach to persons.
In my new paper 'Responsibilism within Reason' (commissioned for a CUP collection on virtue epistemology edited by John Greco and Chris Kelp), I further develop a novel sort of responsibilist virtue epistemology, arguing first that all of the standard objections to responsibilist virtue epistemology only target optional features of one version of the view (viz., Zagzebski's), and then unpacking a new version that I call 'Kantian Responsibilism'. Much like Kant supplemented the foundational normative theory developed in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason with a 'Doctrine of Virtue' in the Metaphysics of Morals for evaluating imperfect beings and their conduct, so I supplement the foundational normative theory I defend in 'An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism' with the view offered in this paper. While I don't think virtue epistemology is successful as a foundational normative theory, I do think responsibilist themes have a proper place in a subordinate kind of epistemology.
4. Knowledge and Perception
In 'Knowledge as a Non-Normative Relation' (in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research), I argue against the view that knowledge is constituted by normative properties/relations or is itself a normative relation, and develop a positive non-normativist account of the nature of knowledge. Shortly after I wrote this paper, I started to think more about the nature of perception, and my views about knowledge and perception have started to converge in a surprising way, one that returns epistemology to its origins in Plato's Theaetetus and Republic.
In my paper 'Non-Epistemic Perception as Mere Technology', I argue that perception is occurrent knowledge, and that the mere sensing of objects and features of a sort that doesn't deploy recognitional capacities is only part of the technology of perception, not a key to its fundamental nature. At the same time I wrote the first draft of this paper, I started to write a paper about the nature of inferential knowledge in which I argued that it is quasi-perceptual, and in which I suggested that inferential knowledge might hence be 'direct' in an important sense even if it does involve seeing one truth by seeing another truth.
It soon became clear to me that the strategy I'd used to defend this claim could be easily generalized to defend the bolder claim that knowledge is that mental state which, when occurrent, constitutes a quasi-perceptual presentation of a fact. Hence I started in 2016-2017 to develop a new non-normativist approach, beginning with an abandoned paper (given twice as a talk) called 'The Theaetetus Thesis' in which I argued that knowledge is (nearly) perception, then turning into a paper written in 2018 called 'Knowledge and the Presentation of Reality', in which I defended access monism, the view that there is just one fundamental way of knowing (viz., factive presentation). In a manuscript now in progress called 'World-First Epistemology', I'm defending a final, more objective development of this set of ideas which occurred to me in a graduate seminar I taught in 2019. According to this view, knowledge is the outcome of the world's informing the mind (in an old-fashioned sense). Hence it is the world that does the presenting, with knowledge the passive residue.
5. Practical Reason
5.1. The Normativity of Subjective Reasons in General. While my early work focused on explaining why epistemic rationality matters from the epistemic point of view, I have always also been interested in why subjective factors (period) matter (period). I think the broader problem about the normativity of the subjective is not restricted simply to requirements of coherence, as the literature often assumes. The broader problem is well posed by this question: how could it be true that we necessarily have real reason to comply with perspectival requirements, such as requirements of rationality, if our perspective only requires us to respond to apparent reasons?
In 'Respect and the Reality of Apparent Reasons' (forthcoming in Philosophical Studies), I take a shot at answering this broader question. The answer relies on two key suggestions. The first is the suggestion that there are kinds of duties---which I call duties of respect---of which it is true that if one appears to violate a duty of this kind, one is in fact violating a duty of this kind. To see an example of this phenomenon, consider the loyalty called for by some relationships. It is easy to argue that if it appears to you that X-ing would constitute disloyalty and you decide to X anyway, you are thereby in fact violating a real, not merely apparent, duty of loyalty. The following case illustrates this:
(DISGUISE) A and B agreed to have a monogamous relationship. But A worries that B would cheat if B got the chance. A decides to test this hypothesis. With the help of some extraordinary costuming, A manages to dress up like a totally different person on whom B would have an instant crush. Disguised, A has been showing up around B's workplace to make advances. B believes on the basis of this misleading evidence that this is a fascinating person distinct from A. B now seems to be having a date with this distinct person when A had planned to be out of town....
Suppose that A suddenly reveals the truth and demands an explanation. The following would not be a convincing response on B's behalf: “Look, I was not really disloyal. After all, it is you I am showing to a fine evening!" Plausibly, this is because loyalty calls (objectively!) for us to respond to the appearances in certain ways. Hence, for duties of loyalty, if it appears that one is violating a duty of this kind, one is in fact violating a duty of this kind.
The second key suggestion is a suggestion that allows us to generalize this point. I argue that there is an objective norm of respect for objective reasons that we violate whenever we fail to correctly respond to apparent reasons. What is wrong with someone who violates the norms of rationality is that this person violates this objective norm. For that reason, when one has an apparent reason to X, one in fact has a real objective reason to X. And this reason is not merely a slack one, since reasons of respect generally are peremptory rather than enticing. I argue that this story gives the subjective all the objective significance that we could reasonably demand of it.
This account explains the objective significance of one's perspective on normative truth. One might wonder whether it can cover all of practical rationality, however: some would argue that instrumental rationality requires a different explanation. But, as it happens, I don't think there is any such thing as instrumental rationality, and I think the practical phenomena that were meant to be explained by the instrumental principle are better explained by non-instrumental principles of structural rationality. This is an idea I develop in 'The Eclipse of Instrumental Rationality'.
5.2. The Handbook of Practical Reason. Ruth Chang and I have been co-editing the Routledge Handbook of Practical Reason, which is the first book of its kind dedicated to the area we call the philosophy of practical reason. The original proposal for the volume can be found here, though there have been changes to authors and topics. The volume will likely be published in early 2019. Contributors include Elizabeth Anderson, Chrisoula Andreou, Nomy Arpaly, Michael Bratman, John Broome, Sarah Buss, Agnes Callard, Ruth Chang, David Copp, Jonathan Dancy, Stephen Darwall, David Enoch, Patricia Greenspan, Elizabeth Harman, Sally Haslanger, Pamela Hieronymi, Errol Lord, Coleen Macnamara, Jennifer Morton, Margaret O'Little, Derek Parfit, Sarah Paul, Wlodek Rabinowicz, Peter Railton, Connie Rosati, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, T. M. Scanlon, Tamar Schapiro, David Sobel, Michael Stocker, me, Sergio Tenenbaum, Valerie Tiberius, R. Jay Wallace, Natalia Washington, Monique Wonderly and David Wong. It will be dedicated to the memory of Derek Parfit.
5.3. Kantian Philosophy of Practical Reason and 'Constructivism'. A couple of years ago, I published a long but selective study of John Skorupski's Domain of Reasons in Philosophical Quarterly that I called 'Spontaneity, Apriority, and Normative Truth'. It focused on what I take to be the uncomfortable interaction between Skorupski's 'spontaneity'-based epistemology of normativity and his non-naturalist metaphysics of normativity. While Skorupski's approach is Kantian in many ways, the book contains little discussion of the constructivist Kantian approach found in writers like Korsgaard and Markovits. I argued that Skorupski's metaphysics should become Kantian in this further way if it is to sit well with his epistemology.
Skorupski wrote a response arguing that this approach isn't really Kantian, and that we shouldn't accept any view worth calling 'constructivist'. But I hope to stand by my earlier claims. In re-reading Kant as an inspiration for my views in epistemology, I've become persuaded that Skorupski may be wrong about him, and that 'constructivism' isn't such a bad label for some of Kant's ideas. These are claims for which I hope to argue in future work.
5.4. Constitutivism, Reasons Fundamentalism, and the Right Kind of Reasons Problem. In joint work with Errol Lord, I have been pursuing an independent argument for the constitutivist view --- of which Kantian constructivism is one version --- that normativity is grounded in the internal standards of correctness of certain kinds of attitudes. In 'Reasons: Right, Wrong, Normative, Fundamental', Lord and I argue that this constitutivist view is the best solution to a new problem for reasons-based approaches to normativity that we call the right kind of reasons problem. We argue that the best solution to the more familiar wrong kind of reasons problem for reasons-based analyses of other normative statuses (e.g., the buck-passing account of value) implies that not all reasons are genuinely normative, and hence that there is a need for reasons-based theorists to explain the difference between the reasons that are suited to ground genuine normativity (reasons of the right kind in a strong sense) and the reasons that aren't. Constitutivism provides the best account that is consistent with the internal strictures of the reasons-based approach, we argue.
6. Miscellaneous Work
In addition to working on the above topics in epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of mind, I also have some more miscellaneous interests. My early publication, 'How to Be a Redundant Realist', raised a problem for List and Pettit's central argument for 'non-redundant realism' about group agency, and sketched an alternative 'redundant realist' account of group attitudes that is consistent with, and indeed better explains, the data about judgment aggregation that they use to defend their view. In a related paper that I drafted around the same time but set in abeyance--'How Groups Possess Evidence'--I sketched an account of collective epistemic rationality that drew on some of the ideas in 'How to be a Redundant Realist', and which further undermines the case for non-redundant realism about group agency from facts about collective rationality.
Another publication of mine--The Illusion of Discretion'--is more closely related to my interests in normativity, but doesn't fit neatly into any of the above categories. This paper considers a moderate permissivist thesis I call Discretion, which says that if one has sufficient evidence for p, it can be epistemically permissible for one either to believe p or to be agnostic on whether p. Many epistemologists treat Discretion as a datum. But as several writers have argued, if it is true, it may have important implications for whether we can exercise direct control over our doxastic attitudes without irrationality. Roughly, the thought is that if sufficient evidence does not decide whether we should believe or be agnostic, we can simply will to go either way with no irrationality. My paper argues that this thesis is false, and that far from supporting this sort of doxastic control, its truth would actually undermine doxastic control of the kind worth wanting.
An Epistemic Non-Consequentialism
Reliabilism without Epistemic Consequentialism
What Apparent Reasons Appear to Be
On Divorcing the Rational and the Justified in Epistemology
The Achievements of Reason
The Place of Reasons in Epistemology
Prime Time (for the Basing Relation)
Epistemic Reasons I and II: Normativity and Basing
Responsibilism out of Character
Can Performance Epistemology Explain Higher Epistemic Value?
Responsibilism within Reason
Knowledge as a Non-Normative Relation
Non-Epistemic Perception as Mere Technology
Respect and the Reality of Apparent Reasons
The Eclipse of Instrumental Rationality
Routledge Handbook of Practical Reason (Proposal)
Skorupski on Spontaneity, Apriority, and Normative Truth
Reasons: Right, Wrong, Normative, Fundamental
How to Be a Redundant Realist
How Groups Possess Evidence
The Illusion of Discretion