Research

You’re doing a bunch of things at this very moment. You’re reading this research summary. 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 at all. Maintaining your balance is something that many other animals can do: it is an exercise of what we can call animal agency. But reading this research summary is distinctive. You can read this research summary only because you, unlike rocks and (presumably) rhinos, can engage in better or worse reasoning: your reading the summary is an exercise of rational agency. You could have a better or worse reason for reading this summary. 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 summary might be a more or less rational action.

What distinguishes your reading this summary 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 hope to 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 or a state and reason for which it is done. I’m currently pursuing three lines of inquiry related to the basing relation. First, how unified are different exercises of rational agency, such as believing on the basis of a reason and acting on the basis of a reason? Second, are there distinctive norms that govern how an agent’s attitudes are based on one another? If so, how do they interact with other rational norms? Third, what progress can we make in thinking about logic’s normativity (for instance in the context of logical pluralism) by foregrounding basing?

I’m also working on some miscellaneous papers on, among other things: neopragmatism about logic; the singular “they”; metaepistemic negotiation; and the possibility of basic action.

Publications

2023. “Logical Pluralism”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Coauthored with Gillian Russell.
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We cover various topics regarding logical pluralism, the view that there is more than one correct logic. These include: prominent ways of understanding the view; objections to logical pluralism; logical nihilism, the view that there are no correct logics; and what’s at stake in the debate about logical pluralism.

2022. “The Hereby-Commit Account of Inference”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
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An influential way of distinguishing inferential from non-inferential processes appeals to representational states: an agent infers a conclusion from some premises only if she represents those premises as supporting that conclusion. By contrast, when some premises merely cause an agent to believe the conclusion, there is no relevant representational state. While promising, the appeal to representational states invites a regress problem, first famously articulated by Lewis Carroll. This paper develops a novel account of inference that invokes representational states without succumbing to regress. The key move is to reject the tempting idea that the relevant representational states are causally prior to inferences. I argue, instead, that an inference constitutes the relevant representational state. To infer is thus—in the very drawing of the conclusion—to represent the premises as supporting the conclusion, and thereby to commit to that support relation.

2022. “Acting and Believing on the Basis of Reasons”. Philosophy Compass.
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This paper provides an opinionated guide to discussions of acting and believing on the basis of reasons. I aim to bring closer together largely separate literatures in practical rea- son and in epistemology. I focus on three questions. First, is basing causing? Causal theories of basing remain popular despite the notorious Problem of Deviant Causal Chains. Causal theorists in both the epistemic and practical domains have begun to appeal to dispositions to try and solve the problem. Second, how unified are acting and believing on the basis of reasons? I consider an important challenge to their unity due to Setiya. I sketch a response, which posits unity of causal structure across acting and believing on the basis of reasons. Third, how does acting or believing on the basis of a good reason relate to acting or believing on the basis of a reason simpliciter? I generalize a recent argument of Lord and Sylvan’s to include acting as well as believing. The conclusion is that, for both believing and acting, φing on the basis of a good reason does not amount to φing on the basis of a reason that just so happens to be good.

2021. “Reasons, Basing, and the Normative Collapse of Logical Pluralism”. Philosophical Studies.
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Logical pluralism is the view that there is more than one correct logic. A key objection to logical pluralism is that it collapses into monism. The core of the Collapse Objection is that only the pluralist’s strongest logic does any genuine normative work; since a logic must do genuine normative work, this means that the pluralist is really a monist, who is committed to her strongest logic being the one true logic. This paper considers a neglected question in the collapse debate: what is it for a logic to do genuine normative work? As well as having wider upshot for the connection between logic and normativity, grappling with this question provides a new response to the Collapse Objection on behalf of the pluralist. I suggest that we should allow logics to generate pro tanto reasons in a way that bears not just on combinations of attitudes but on how an agent’s attitudes are based on one another. This motivates adopting normative principles that allow the pluralist’s weaker logics to earn their normative keep. Rather than being ad hoc, these principles capture a sense in which good reasoning goes beyond the consistency of an agent’s attitudes. Good reasoning is also concerned with how an agent’s attitudes are based on one another.

2021. “Logical Pluralism without the Normativity”. Synthese. Coauthored with Gillian Russell.
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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.

2020. “Fake News, Relevant Alternatives, and the Degradation of Our Epistemic Environment”. Inquiry.
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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.
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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.