I am a philosopher who specializes in the history of philosophy with a special focus on the early modern period. My doctoral dissertation, which I defended in June of 2019, concerned Hume’s epistemology and philosophy of mind, but I have wide interests in the period and more generally. For the 2019-2020 academic year, I am a 5+1 Postdoctoral Teaching Scholar in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. I did my undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
4. Knowledge and Sensory Knowledge in Hume’s Treatise
Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy, forthcoming.
In this paper, I argue that we should attribute to Hume an account of knowledge that I call the ‘Constitutive Account.’ On this account, Hume holds that (i) every instance of knowledge must be an immediately present perception (i.e., an impression or an idea); (ii) an object of this perception must be a token of a knowable relation; (iii) this token knowable relation must have parts of the instance of knowledge as relata (i.e., the same perception that has it as an object); and any perception that satisfies (i)-(iii) is an instance of knowledge. I then apply the Constitutive Account to the case of sense perception. With the help of some relevant passages from the Treatise, I argue that Hume holds that there are relations of impressions that can be intuited, are knowable, and are necessary. These relations constitute Humean sensory knowledge and they are widespread in vision. On Hume’s view, all one needs to do is sense and, if the objects of one’s senses are of the right sort, one will thereby know. While Hume is rightly labeled an empiricist for many different reasons, a close inspection of his account of knowledge reveals yet another way in which he merits the label.
3. Can the Berkeleyan Idealist Resist Spinozist Panpsychism?
History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis, forthcoming.
Co-authored with Michael Rauschenbach.
We argue that prevailing definitions of Berkeley’s idealism fail to rule out a nearby Spinozist rival view that we call ‘mind-body identity panpsychism.’ Since Berkeley certainly does not agree with Spinoza on this issue, we call for more care in defining Berkeley’s view. After we propose our own definition of Berkeley’s idealism, we survey two Berkeleyan strategies to block the mind-body identity panpsychist and establish his idealism. We argue that Berkeley should follow Leibniz and further develop his account of the mind’s unity. Unity—not activity—is the best way for Berkeley to establish his view at the expense of his panpsychist competitors.
2. Aristotle’s Argument from Truth in Metaphysics Γ 4
Analysis, 79 (1): 17-24. 2019.
Some of Aristotle’s statements about the indemonstrability of the Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC) in Metaphysics Γ 4 merit more attention. The consensus seems to be that Aristotle provides two arguments against the demonstrability of the PNC, with one located in Γ 3 and the other found in the first paragraph of Γ 4. In this article, I argue that Aristotle also relies upon a third argument for the same conclusion: the argument from truth. Although Aristotle does not explicitly state this argument, it is the best argument that he could use to defend some of his statements in the second paragraph of Γ 4. Since the argument relies on only a few of Aristotle’s core views about truth, I propose that it is faithful to his considered position throughout his corpus, and it may be the strongest argument he could offer for the indemonstrability of the PNC.
1. Russell and the Temporal Contiguity of Causes and Effects
Erkenntnis, 83 (6): 1245-1264. 2018.
There are some necessary conditions on causal relations that seem to be so trivial that they do not merit further inquiry. Many philosophers assume that the requirement that there could be no temporal gaps between causes and their effects is such a condition. Bertrand Russell disagrees. In this paper, an in-depth discussion of Russell’s argument against this necessary condition is the centerpiece of an analysis of what is at stake when one accepts or denies that there can be temporal gaps between causes and effects. It is argued that whether one accepts or denies this condition, one is implicated in taking on substantial and wide-ranging philosophical positions. Therefore, it is not a trivial necessary condition of causal relations and it merits further inquiry.
Works Under Review and In Progress
In this paper, I argue that Hume would deny the view that it is necessary that if one knows that p, then one believes that p. Even if it turns out that Hume’s own position is not ultimately tenable, it rests on an account of the mind and an associated methodology that offer insights into how we should settle the question of whether knowledge entails belief. Hume urges that we must work in a systematic fashion—on many fronts simultaneously—if we are to conclusively resolve the dispute over this so-called “entailment thesis.” In particular, we must engage in a thorough study of the mind if we are to come to informed positions on the nature of knowledge and belief. Hume’s denial of the entailment thesis, then, is enlightening regardless of the details of its underlying argumentation. It shows us what Humean epistemological methodology consists in, and it represents a challenge to every philosopher with a positive view on the entailment thesis to develop an account of the mind, or to explain why they need not do so. This is especially true of those who hold that the entailment thesis is obvious.
Click HERE for a draft.
What would it take for Hume to be an external world skeptic? Is Hume’s position on knowledge sufficient to force him to deny that we can acquire knowledge of (non-logical) propositions about the external world? After all, Hume is extremely restrictive about what can be known because he requires knowledge to be immune to error. In this paper, I will argue that if Hume were a skeptic, then he must also deny a particular kind of view about what is immediately present to the mind. I will argue that direct realisms—views that maintain that mind-independent (i.e. ontologically distinct) things are immediately present to the mind—combine with Hume’s position on knowledge to entail the negation of skepticism. So, despite his position on knowledge, Hume could still consistently reject skepticism, if he were to endorse direct realism.
Click HERE for a draft. I will be presenting a version of this paper at the 2020 Pacific APA in San Francisco.
In many ways, Locke is a paradigmatic humble theist—a deeply religious thinker who understands all too well how limited our philosophical capacities are. This leads most of Locke’s readers, including one of his earliest critics, Edward Stillingfleet, to read him as being noncommittal when it comes to a general ontological view. In this paper, I argue that Locke’s endorsement of the primary-secondary quality distinction in fact drives him towards substance dualism despite his theistic humility. This implication of Locke’s defense of the distinction has not been recognized by commentators because their focus has been on his position on our minds and bodies rather than his broader ontology.
Click HERE for a draft. I will be presenting a version of this paper at the 2020 International Conference of the John Locke Society in Naples, Italy.
Commentators have rightly focused on the reasons why Hume maintains the conclusions of the skeptical arguments of Book 1 Part 4 of the Treatise cannot be believed, and on the role these arguments play in Hume’s justification of his account of the mind. Nevertheless, Hume’s interpreters have made a mistake in failing to take seriously the question of whether or not Hume holds that these arguments are demonstrations. If the skeptical arguments that Hume presents are not demonstrations because they do not have necessary premises and conclusions, because they are invalid, or because they have false premises, then Hume’s case for his account of the mind is severely weakened. After all, perhaps the best explanation of why the mind does not believe the skeptical conclusions Hume presents is that the arguments he gives for them suffer from one or more of these flaws. Only if the arguments are demonstrations do they have the requisite status to prove Hume’s point about the nature of the mind’s belief-generating faculties. Unlike other arguments, demonstrations are not mere considerations in favor of a claim. In this paper, I treat the main argument from T 1.4.4—Hume’s argument against the primary/secondary quality distinction—as my case study, and I argue that it is intended by Hume to be a demonstration.
In this paper, I argue that Hume’s denial of the existence of abstract objects, his views on necessity, and his statements on truth force him to deny the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM), which is the view that for every proposition p, either p or not p. Since Hume’s positions on these issues are rather primitive, I argue that they can be helpfully supplemented by that of Brouwer, who is the most important denier of the LEM, as well as the progenitor of several logics that eschew it. The affinities between these two thinkers have not been discussed in the literature.
[co-authored with Michael Rauschenbach]
In forthcoming work, we argue that prevailing definitions of Berkeley’s idealism fail to rule out a nearby Spinozist rival view that we call ‘mind-body identity panpsychism,’ and we call for more care in defining Berkeley’s view. After we propose our own definition of Berkeley’s idealism, we argue that Berkeley should follow Leibniz and further develop his account of the mind’s unity. Unity—not activity—is the best way for Berkeley to establish his view at the expense of his mind-body identity panpsychist competitors.
Here, we explore some vulnerabilities of Berkeley’s position on unity by focusing on how some of Berkeley’s rivals treat unity. Unlike Berkeley, Hume and Spinoza deny that all minds are unified in virtue of being substances, and they hold that bodies are unified in the same way that some minds are. Hume holds that minds and bodies are bundles of resembling and causally-interrelated perceptions, while Spinoza locates the unity of finite minds and bodies in their shared production of unified effects. To make matters worse, Hume and Spinoza also have robust explanations of why (finite) minds appear to have a more substantial variety of unity.
If Berkeley is to justify his view that minds are unified in virtue of being substances and bodies are not, he needs either epistemological arguments for taking the mind’s perceptions of its own substantial unity as veridical (that do not also establish the substantial unity of bodies), or metaphysical arguments for holding that only minds are so unified. Given the weakness of arguments for the transparency of the mental that would allow him to grab this dilemma’s first horn and given the strength of his rival’s explanations of apparent unity, we argue that Berkeley will be unable to avoid delving into the metaphysics of substance he sometimes seems so keen to avoid.
We will be presenting a version of this paper at the 2020 NYC Workshop in Early Modern Philosophy at Fordham University in New York City, NY.
Recent and Upcoming Events
December 5th, 2019: I hosted and moderated a public debate on immigration and citizenship at Notre Dame. Here’s a write-up in the Notre Dame school newspaper The Observer about the event, here is a video of the event on the Notre Dame Philosophy Facebook page, and here are some photos from the event:
April 8th-11th, 2020: I will be presenting “What Makes Hume an External World Skeptic?” at the Pacific APA in San Francisco, CA.
April 18th-19th, 2020: I and Michael Rauschenbach will be presenting “The Burden of Unity: Berkeley Between Hume and Spinoza” at the NYC Workshop in Early Modern Philosophy at Fordham University in New York City, NY.
June 10th-12th, 2020: I will be presenting “Towards Establishing Locke’s General Ontology of Substance Dualism” at the 2020 International Conference of the John Locke Society in Naples, Italy.
July 6th-10th, 2020: I will be presenting “Hume’s Incredible Demonstrations” at the 47th International Hume Society Conference in Bogotá, Colombia.
Teaching, Past and Present
Systematic Thinking: God, Identity, and the Moderns – syllabus
Spring 2018, Spring 2020
I designed this modular class in order to help non-majors begin to develop systematic philosophical worldviews. In the form of the class I am teaching now, it is split into two units, with one on personal identity and the other on God. My goal is to challenge my students to develop consistent systematic views on the issues covered in each unit. The content and assignments reflect this goal. For instance, this spring students are required to commit to a view on personal identity in their first paper and then, in their second paper, they are required to take up consistent (and complementary) views on either the permissibility of abortion, the permissibility of euthanasia, moral responsibility, or the possibility of the afterlife. Since I designed the units so that they were self-contained, they could be swapped—in future semesters—for others that better fit the needs of the department at that time. What will be retained is an emphasis on teaching students to see the links between philosophical commitments on issues that matter to them.
Citizenship: Voting, Representation, and Parties – syllabus
I designed this class to help students develop their views on some of the ethical issues related to citizenship in sovereign/territorial states. The focus is on representative democracies like the United States, but many of the issues have broad application. I host five debates between the students (with their classmates as judges), each focused on one of the following questions:
1. Should citizens vote?
2. Should it be relatively easy to become a citizen?
3. Are political parties good?
4. Which voting procedure should representative democracies deploy in their legislatures?
5. Should only public funds be used for political campaigns?
Much of the class is dedicated to exploring different answers to these questions, and students are expected to synthesize and apply what they have learned in the debates in real time. Since many great philosophers of the past give persuasive answers to these questions, and our current thinking is indebted to them in many ways, I incorporate the study of their views in the class readings and lectures. For instance, we consider the views of James Madison on the influence of political parties. Nonetheless, our interest is not with history for its own sake.
Courses Under Development
History of Modern Philosophy (traditional canon) – syllabus
History of Modern Philosophy (non-traditional – dialogue)
History of Modern Philosophy (non-traditional – women)
Systematic Thinking: Free Will, Identity, and the Moderns
Public Philosophy Essays
In this public philosophy essay, I discuss the view that one must have consistent moral views. I argue that this so-called ‘consistency principle’ is the only challenge of its variety that we all agree you always face as a moral agent. In the course of discussing why there are no other principles like the consistency principle, I paint a picture of moral discourse designed to encourage non-philosophers to reflect on the ways in which they ought to engage in this sort of discourse.
Click HERE for a draft.
Graduate Mentor, ND
Editorial Assistant, NDPR
Dissertation – “Hume on Knowledge”
Many of Hume’s positions have received as much attention as those of any other early modern figure, but his position on knowledge has been surprisingly neglected. In my dissertation, I develop a general interpretation of Hume’s position on knowledge. The most striking features of Hume’s account, under my interpretation, are that (i) instances of knowledge are immediately present perceptions and (ii) the objects of instances of knowledge are relations between some of their parts. The exegetical and philosophical implications of this account are significant. First, I argue that Hume runs afoul of the widespread contemporary dogma that knowledge entails belief, both in cases involving sense perception and in cases involving abstract philosophical reasoning. Second, I argue that knowledge infallibilisms like Hume’s—views that maintain that a knower could not err with respect to what she knows—are compatible with the negation of external world skepticism, contrary to the consensus in the field. Some strains of direct realism provide ample space for the infallibilist of Hume’s stripe to deny this skeptical conclusion. Third, I argue that some of Hume’s “demonstrations” do not, in fact, generate knowledge. (Demonstrations are, among other things, sound arguments with necessary premises.) Since Hume is widely interpreted to hold that these demonstrations have literally unbelievable conclusions, this means that Hume maintains that we can demonstrate claims that we can neither know nor believe.