Research

You’re doing a bunch of things at this very moment. You’re reading this research statement. You’re maintaining your balance. And you’re exerting a certain number of newtons of force on the surface supporting your weight. Exerting a certain number of newtons of force is something that any other massive object can do:  it is not an exercise of agency. Maintaining your balance is something that many other animals can do: it is an exercise of animal agency. But reading this research statement is distinctive. You can read this research statement only because you, unlike rocks and rhinos, can engage in better or worse reasoning: your reading the statement is an exercise of rational agency. You could have a better or worse reason for reading this statement. Perhaps you’re curious about my research; or perhaps you’re putting off reading the paper your past self generously, but foolhardily, agreed to referee. Because you can have a better or worse reason for doing it, your reading this statement might be a more or less rational action.

What distinguishes your reading this statement from your maintaining your balance, or from a rhino’s scratching its hide against a tree? What distinguishes your giving yourself a chocolate at the end of a long day because you darn well earned it from your exerting a downward force? My research aims to answer these questions. In so doing, I shed light on the role that logic and reasoning play in exercises of rational agency, and on how rational agency can in turn inform our thinking about logic.

At the moment, my main research project is on the basing relation, which is crucial to many exercises of rational agency. The basing relation obtains between an action and reason for which it is done. In my dissertation, I develop the Hereby-Commit Framework for understanding the basing relation. The core claim is that an action done on the basis of a reason—whether drawing a conclusion from premises, or reading a research statement to avoid doing other work—plays a distinctive functional role. When one does something on the basis of a reason, one—in the very doing—thereby commits to that reason favoring that doing. The Hereby-Commit Framework offers a unified picture of the relation at the heart of both epistemic and practical rationality. Furthermore, the framework dissolves problems that have long-hindered philosophical progress, including Lewis Carroll’s regress and the problem of deviant causal chains.

I’m currently pursuing three lines of inquiry related to the Hereby-Commit Framework. First, what is the nature of commitment and what precise role do commitments play in exercises of rational agency? Second, can emotional states and nondoxastic attitudes manifest rational agency? If so, how should we understand their rational status? Third, are there norms that govern how an agent’s attitudes are based on one another? If so, how do they interact with other rational norms?

Publications

2020. “Fake News, Relevant Alternatives, and the Degradation of Our Epistemic Environment”. Inquiry(Show/hide abstract)

This paper contributes to the growing literature in social epistemology of diagnosing the epistemically problematic features of fake news. I identify two novel problems: the problem of relevant alternatives; and the problem of the degradation of the epistemic environment. The former arises among individual epistemic transactions. By making salient, and thereby relevant, alternatives to knowledge claims, fake news stories threaten knowledge. The problem of the degradation of the epistemic environment arises at the level of entire epistemic communities. I introduce the notion of an epistemic environment, roughly the totality of resources and circumstances relevant to assessing epistemically interesting statuses, such as knowledge. Fake news degrades our epistemic environment by undermining confidence in epistemic institutions and altering epistemic habits, thereby making the environment less conducive to achieving positive epistemic statuses. This is problematic even if the decrease in confidence and the altering of habits are rational. I end by considering solutions to these problems, stressing the importance of reproaching each other for proliferating fake news. I argue that we should reproach even faultless purveyors of fake news. This is because fake news typically arises in abnormal epistemic contexts, where there is widespread ignorance of, and noncompliance with, correct epistemic norms.

2020. “Deflationism about Logic”. Journal of Philosophical Logic(Show/hide abstract)

Logical consequence is typically construed as a metalinguistic relation between (sets of) sentences. Deflationism is an account of logic that challenges this orthodoxy. In Williamson’s recent presentation of deflationism, logic’s primary concern is with universal generalizations over absolutely everything. As well as an interesting account of logic in its own right, deflationism has also been recruited to decide between competing logics in resolving semantic paradoxes. This paper defends deflationism from its most important challenge to date, due to Ole Hjortland. It then presents two new problems for the view. Hjortland’s objection is that deflationism cannot discriminate between distinct logics. I show that his example of classical logic and supervaluationism depends on equivocating about whether the language includes a “definitely” operator. Moreover, I prove a result that blocks this line of objection no matter the choice of logics. I end by criticizing deflationism on two fronts. First, it cannot do the work it has been recruited to perform. That is, it cannot help adjudicate between competing logics. This is because a theory of logic cannot be as easily separated from a theory of truth as its proponents claim. Second, deflationism currently has no adequate answer to the following challenge: what does a sentence’s universal generalization have to do with its logical truth? I argue that the most promising, stipulative response on behalf of the deflationist amounts to an unwarranted change of subject.

2018. “Logical Pluralism without the Normativity”. Synthese. Coauthored with Gillian Russell(Show/hide abstract)

Logical pluralism is the view that there is more than one logic. Logical normativism is the view that logic is normative. These positions have often been assumed to go hand-in-hand, but we show that one can be a logical pluralist without being a logical normativist. We begin by arguing directly against logical normativism. Then we reformulate one popular version of pluralism—due to Beall and Restall—to avoid a normativist commitment. We give three non-normativist pluralist views, the most promising of which depends not on logic’s normativity but on epistemic goals.

Papers Under Review (Titles Changed to Facilitate Anonymous Review)

“A Paper on Inference”. (Show/hide description)

Develops an account of inference using the Hereby-Commit Framework. The account invokes representational states without succumbing to Carroll’s regress. The key move is to reject the widespread assumption that the representational states distinctive of inferences are prior to inferential transitions.

“A Paper on Basing”. (Show/hide description)

Uses the Hereby-Commit Framework to give an account of acting on the basis of a reason. In so doing, solves the Problem of Deviant Causal Chains, and the Problem of Agential Authority.

“A Paper on Logical Pluralism and the Normativity of Logic”. (Show/hide description)

Identifies a lacuna in the main argument against logical pluralism from logic’s normative upshot. The lacuna is the assumption that a logic can earn its normative keep only by making a difference to the all-or-nothing normative landscape, e.g. by making a difference to what an agent ought to believe. Once we attend to the role that reasoning plays in properly basing attitudes, we find an undiscussed class of rational norms: basing norms. These norms, I argue, are best understood in terms of pro tanto notions, like has a reason to. Thus, the pluralist’s logics can earn their normative keep by generating reasons, even if they don’t all make a difference to what agents ought (not) to believe.

Papers In Preparation (Available on Request)

“Against the Constitutivist Construal of Inference”. (Show/hide description)

Some theorists have recently construed inference as a constitutive rather than a causal relation. Roughly, the Constitutivist Construal holds that four things constitute drawing the conclusion that q from p and from if p then q: (i) believing that p; (ii) believing that if p then q, representing p and if p then q as conclusively supporting q; (iv) not being irrational. The view is promising but ultimately unsuccessful. First, it struggles to generalize beyond deductive inference. Second, clause (iv) cannot be spelled out without circularity.

“Rationality and the First Person”. (Show/hide description)

Raises a puzzle (distinct from Kolodny’s well known one) about how structural rationality can be normative from the first-personal perspective. Suggests that the most promising current approaches to structural rationality fail to solve the puzzle. Sketches a vindicatory genealogy (à la Edward Craig and Bernard Williams) of structural rationality that aims to shed light on the puzzle.