Papers

Published and forthcoming:

Forthcoming, ‘Two kinds of logical impossibility’ (with Koji Tanaka) Noûs

In this paper we argue that a distinction ought to be drawn between two ways in which a given world might be logically impossible. First, a world w might be impossible because the laws that hold at w are different from those that hold at some other world (say the actual world). Second, a world w might be impossible because the laws of logic that hold in some world (say the actual world) are violated at w. Extant approaches to logical impossibility tend to emphasize one of these kinds of impossibility at the expense of the other. We develop a novel way of modeling logical possibility that makes room for both kinds of logical impossibility. Doing so has interesting implications for the epistemology of logic, the metaphysics of possible and impossible worlds, and the relationship between logical possibility and other kinds of possibility (for example, metaphysical possibility).

Forthcoming, ‘Strictly Speaking’ (with Renee Jorgensen Bolinger) Analysis

A type of argument occasionally made in metaethics, epistemology and philosophy of science notes that, on the strictest interpretation of some expression, most ordinary assertions involving it are false. This requires there to be a presumption in favour of a strict interpretation of expressions that admit of interpretations at difference levels of strictness. We argue that this presumption is unmotivated, and thus the arguments fail.

Forthcoming, ‘A Metarepresenational Theory of Intentional Identity’, Synthese

My belief that London is pretty and my belief that my sister is happy are not directed at the same thing. These beliefs do not have a common focus. My belief that London is pretty and my belief that London is populous do have a common focus. What is more there is an object at that focus, namely London. Geach (1967) points out that there is an intermediate sort of case in which pairs of beliefs have a common focus in spite of there being, apparently, no object at that focus. For example, two or more beliefs can be directed at Vulcan even though there is no such planet. Geach introduced the label ‘intentional identity’ to pick out the relation that holds between attitudes in these intermediate cases; Geach says that ‘[w]e have intentional identity when a number of people, or one person on different occasions, have attitudes with a common focus, whether or not there actually is something at that focus’ (Geach 1967, 627). In this paper, I propose a novel theory of intentional identity, the triangulation theory, and argue that it has considerable advantages over its principal rivals. My approach centers on agents’ metarepresentational beliefs about what it takes for intentional attitudes to be about particular objects.

2019, ‘A New Puzzle for Phenomenal Intentionality’, (with Peter Clutton) Ergo, an Open Access Journal of Philosophy

Phenomenal intentionality theories have recently enjoyed significant attention. According to these theories, the intentionality of a mental representation (what it is about) crucially depends on its phenomenal features. We present a new puzzle for these theories, involving a phenomenon called ‘intentional identity’, or ‘co-intentionality’. We suggest that phenomenal intentionality theories need to either develop new uniquely phenomenal resources for handling the puzzle, or restrict their explanatory ambitions.

2019, ‘Puzzling Pierre and Intentional Identity’, Erkenntnis

This paper concerns Kripke’s puzzle about belief. I have two goals in this paper. The first is to argue that two leading approaches to Kripke’s puzzle, those of Lewis and Chalmers, are inadequate as they stand. Both approaches require the world to supply an object that the relevant intentional attitudes pick out. The problem is that there are cases which, I argue, exhibit the very same puzzling phenomenon in which the world does not supply an object in the required way. The second goal is to draw out a more general lesson about Kripke’s puzzle. I argue that Kripke’s puzzle should be understood as intimately related to a phenomenon known as ‘intentional identity’, and that an adequate account of Kripke’s puzzle should be extensible to cases in which the relevant attitudes are empty (not, prima facie, about anything that exists).

2018, ‘Secondary belief content, what is it good for?’, Philosophical Studies

Some use the need to explain communication, agreement, and disagreement to argue for two-dimensional conceptions of belief content. One prominent defender of an account of this sort is David Chalmers. Chalmers claims that beliefs have two kinds of content. The second dimension of belief content, which is tied to what beliefs pick out in the actual world, is supposed to help explain communication, agreement, and disagreement. I argue that it does not. Since the need to explain these phenomena is the main stated motivation for the addition of the second dimension of belief content, my arguments also undermine the motivation for Chalmers’ two-dimensional account of belief content and theories like it.

2018, ‘Which Witch is Which? Exotic Objects and Intentional identity’, Synthese

This paper is about intentional identity, the phenomenon of intentional attitudes having a common focus. I present an argument against an approach to explaining intentional identity, defended by Nathan Salmon, Terence Parsons and others, that involves positing exotic objects. For example, those who adopt this sort of view say that when two astronomers had beliefs about Vulcan, their attitudes had a common focus because there is an exotic object that both of their beliefs were about. I argue that countenancing these exotic objects does not help us explain intentional identity.

 2014, ‘Creationism and Cardinality’, (with Daniel Nolan) Analysis

Creationism about fictional entities requires a principle connecting what fictions say exist with which fictional entities really exist. The most natural way of spelling out such a principle yields inconsistent verdicts about how many fictional entities are generated by certain inconsistent fictions. Avoiding inconsistency without compromising the attractions of creationism will not be easy.

Works in progress:

Thought and talk in a generous world (with Maegan Fairchild)

How do we manage to think and talk about particular objects even though there are so many things in the world? This question lies at the center of one puzzle often considered under the broad label `the problem of the many’. In this paper we explore a novel way of characterizing what it is to think about things according to which subject matter (what we are talking about) is only as fine-grained as we, with our conventions and intentions, make them. According to this proposal, a plenitude of objects in the world, no matter how extensive, does not get in the way of our talking about particular things since we do not need to select one from from the many in order to be think and talk about a particular thing. Talking about a thing is just not a matter of selecting one from the many.

Turning aboutness about

There are two families of serious, influential, and stubborn puzzles that face many theories of aboutness (intentionality), underdetermination puzzles and puzzles concerning representations that appears to be directed at things that do not exist. I propose an approach that elegantly avoids both kinds of puzzle. The central idea is to explain aboutness (the relation supposed to stand between thoughts and terms and their objects) in terms of relations of co-aboutness (the relation of being about the same thing that stands between the thoughts and terms themselves).

Truth and Interpretation: a better solution to Putnam’s paradox

In ‘Putnam’s Paradox’, David Lewis considers an argument for the conclusion that all claims (and beliefs) are true. This conclusion is taken by almost everyone (with the notable exception of Catherine Elgin) to be disastrous. The most common response to the argument, favoured by Lewis himself and others, is to avoid the conclusion by appealing to eligibility constraints on interpretation that are not tied to the psychology or conventions of representors either individually or collectively; some things (and contents) are just objectively more eligible to be represented in thought and talk. In this paper I defend a different response to the argument that is rather less metaphysically extravagant, and fits better with how linguistic and mental representations are used in science and everyday life.

Determinism, Causation, and Decision (with Timothy Williamson)

Rational agents face choices, even when they take seriously the possibility of determinism. Rational agents also follow the advice of Causal Decision Theory (CDT). Though many take those two claims to be well-motivated, there has been growing pressure to reject at least one of them. The reason is that CDT is supposed to go badly wrong in deterministic cases (i.e. cases in which certain states in the decision situation are incompatible with certain acts being performed). In a nutshell: CDT evaluates acts counterfactually (`what would happen if I acted in some way?’), which seems to lead to absurd verdicts in cases where the agent may be predetermined not to act in some way. Arif Ahmed (2014a, 2014b) has argued that this means CDT should be rejected; others (e.g. Sobel 1988, Joyce 2016) conclude that rational agents do not face choices in deterministic scenarios. We want to be causalists and compatibilists (at least about decision-making). Our first goal is to show that deterministic cases do not undermine a counterfactual model of rational deliberation; rather, deterministic cases force us to distinguish between counterfactuals that are relevant and irrelevant of the purposes of deliberation (where one reason a counterfactual might be irrelevant is if its consequent is certainly non-actual). Our second goal is to incorporate that distinction into a formal model of rational choice. We build on a broadly Lewisian decision theoretic foundation to develop what we call `Selective Causal Decision Theory’ (SDT). SDT delivers the correct recommendations in deterministic cases, allows for decision-making in a wide range of cases, and respects the key motivations behind CDT.

Levelling counterfactual skepticism (with Katie Steele)

In this paper, we develop a novel response to counterfactual scepticism, the thesis that most counterfactual claims are false. In the process we aim to shed light on the relationship between debates in the philosophy of science and debates concerning the semantics and pragmatics of counterfactuals. We argue that science views the world at various levels of resolution and that, accordingly, many law-like regularities of interest to scientists include an implicit ceteris paribus clause that licences the exclusion of interferences or accidents relative to a particular level of scientific inquiry. This observation reveals a way of responding to scepticism while, at the same time, doing justice both to the role of counterfactuals in science and to the complexities inherent in ordinary counterfactual reasoning.

 

Ph.D. Dissertation:

2016 Cruel Intensions: An Essay on Intentional Identity and Intentional Attitudes

Some intentional attitudes (beliefs, fears, desires, etc.) have a common focus in spite of there being no object at that focus. For example, two beliefs may be about the same witch even when there are no witches, different astronomers had beliefs directed at Vulcan, even though there is no such planet. This relation of having a common focus, whether or not there is an actual concrete object at that focus, is called intentional identity. In the first part of this thesis I develop a new theory of intentional identity, the triangulation theory, and argue that it has significant advantages over the extant theories of intentional identity in the literature. Empty attitudes (attitudes that are not, prima facie, about anything that exists) will serve as useful cases for testing theories of intentional identity.

In the second part, I put the theory developed in the first part to work. I use triangulation theoretic tools to shed light on other debates about intentional attitudes. Some issues to which intentional identity are relevant are the debate about the content of intentional attitudes, the issue of whether or not we need to appeal to external constraints on the content of intentional attitudes, how we should understand the agreement and disagreement of attitudes, how we should construe communication and how we ought to solve Kripke’s puzzle about belief. The second part of this thesis also motivates a broadly internalist and individualistic approach to the con-tent of intentional attitudes; it turns out that if we take a closer look at the narrowly construed psychological states of agents we find materials that allow us to make sense of phenomena usually associated with externalist constraints on the content of attitudes (such as causal constraints and eligibility constraints) in a new way.