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 will be 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.
Can the Berkeleyan Idealist Resist Spinozist Panpsychism?
Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy, 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 distinguish himself from his panpsychist competitors.
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.
Works in Progress
In this paper, I argue for a new and comprehensive interpretation of Hume’s 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 knowledge relation, and (iii) this token knowledge relation must have parts of the instance of knowledge as relata (i.e., the same perception that has it as an object). 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, they are widespread in vision, and they constitute the third prong of Hume’s Fork. 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.
Click HERE for a draft. This paper has received an R&R at Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy and is presently under review there.
In this paper, I argue that Hume would deny the entailment thesis, which is the view that knowledge entails belief. Hume’s denial of this recently popular dogma follows from how some of the core claims of his account of the mind—especially those concerning the nature and origin of beliefs—combine with his normative views about knowledge. Given that Hume does not explicitly discuss the entailment thesis, we must infer his attitude towards it from how he defines belief and knowledge. The story as I will tell it is, in brief, as follows. Hume maintains that both beliefs and instances of knowledge are (occurrent) perceptions. Beliefs are especially phenomenally intense, and they arise either from causal reasoning or from mere repetition (as in the case of rote memorization). By contrast, instances of knowledge have intentional objects of a special kind, and they arise either from sense perception, from unconscious causal reasoning, from mere repetition, or from non-causal reasoning (as in the case of arithmetical calculation). Given these features, it is possible that, by Hume’s lights, one knows and believes, and it is also possible that one knows but does not believe. So, it is not the case that it is necessary that if a perception is an instance of knowledge, then it is a belief. But if this is not necessary, then some instances of knowledge are distinct from beliefs. Since Hume holds that it is possible that distinct beings exist separately, it follows that Hume would maintain that it is not the case that it is necessary that if one knows that p, one believes that p.
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.
In this paper, I argue that Hume’s denial of the existence of abstract objects 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.
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.
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 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.
Courses Under Development
History of Modern Philosophy (traditional canon) – syllabus
History of Modern Philosophy (non-traditional – dialogue) – syllabus
History of Modern Philosophy (non-traditional – women) – syllabus
Systematic Thinking: Free Will, Identity, and the Moderns – syllabus
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.