My main interests are in the history of philosophy, especially the early modern period. My doctoral dissertation, which I defended in June of 2019, concerns 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 will be a 5+1 Postdoctoral Fellow in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. I did my undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Citizenship: Voting, Representation, and Parties
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.
Systematic Thinking: God, Identity, and the Moderns
I designed this modular class in order to help non-majors begin to develop systematic philosophical worldviews. In the form of the class I taught most recently, it was 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 past spring students were required to commit to a view on personal identity in their first paper and then, in their second paper, they were 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.
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 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 must maintain that we can demonstrate claims that we cannot believe.
Other Research Projects
[paper on defining Berkeley’s idealism] – draft available
(co-authored with Michael Rauschenbach)
In this paper, we begin by inspecting some of the prevailing definitions of Berkeley’s idealism. We argue that these definitions fail to rule out a nearby rival view endorsed by Spinoza which we call ‘mind-body identity panpsychism’. Since Berkeley certainly does not agree with Spinoza about mind-body identity panpsychism, we call for more care in defining Berkeley’s view. Next, we argue that this problem is a symptom of broader definitional issues surrounding idealism and panpsychism. We then propose a more discriminating definition of Berkeley’s idealism. Finally, we briefly survey two Berkeleyan lines of thought which might help Berkeley block the mind-body identity panpsychist and begin establishing his idealism.
[paper on Locke’s dualism] – draft available
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.
[paper on Brouwer’s philosophy of mind] – in progress
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.
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.