On-Line Papers

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For a complete listing of all my publications, please see my cv.

 

To read about my books, click here.

 


 

“A Myth Resurgent: Classical Foundationalism and the New Sellarsian Critique,” forthcoming in Synthese

 

Abstract: One important strand of Sellars’s attack on classical foundationalism from Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind is his thesis about the priority of is-talk over looks-talk. This thesis has been criticized extensively in recent years, and classical foundationalism has found several contemporary defenders.

              I revisit Sellars’s thesis and argue that is-talk is epistemically prior to looks-talk in a way that undermines classical foundationalism. The classical foundationalist claims that epistemic foundations are constituted by the agent’s set of looks-judgments. However, I argue that only a subset of these looks-judgments are even candidates to serve as foundations for the agent’s empirical knowledge, and membership in this subset is determined by the agent’s theory of how the world is. Thus, the epistemic force of the looks-judgments in this subset is dependent on the agent’s theory of how the world is. This means that these looks-judgments aren’t foundational at all, as the agent’s theory of how the world is is epistemically is prior to the epistemic status of these looks-judgments. This is the sense in which judgments about how the world is are epistemically prior to judgments about how things look.

              This conclusion allows concrete elaboration of another of Sellars’s well-know (although not well-understood) claims: “I do wish to insist that the metaphor of ‘foundation’ is misleading in that it keeps us from seeing that if there is a logical dimension in which other empirical propositions rest on observation reports, there is another logical dimension in which the latter rest on the former.”

 


 

“A Fatal Dilemma for Direct Realist Foundationalism,” Journal of Philosophical Research 40 (2015)

 

Abstract: Direct realist versions of foundationalism (hereafter, DRF) have recently been advocated by (among others) Pryor, Huemer, Alston, and Plantinga. DRF can hold either that our foundational observation beliefs are about the simple perceptible qualities of objects (like color, shape, etc.), or that our foundational observation beliefs are more complex ones about objects in the world. I will show that whether our observational beliefs are simple or complex, the agent must possess other epistemically significant states (knowledge, or justified beliefs) in order for these observational beliefs to be justified. These other states are therefore epistemically prior to observation belief, and prevent them from being epistemically foundational.

 


“Can God’s Goodness Save the Divine Command Theory from Euthyphro?” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 4:1 (Spring 2012)

 

Abstract: Recent defenders of the divine command theory like Adams and Alston have confronted the Euthyphro dilemma by arguing that although God’s commands make right actions right, God is morally perfect and hence would never issue unjust or immoral commandments.  On their view, God’s nature is the standard of moral goodness, and God’s commands are the source of all obligation.  I argue that this view of divine goodness fails because it strips God’s nature of any features that would make His goodness intelligible.  An adequate solution to the Euthyphro dilemma may require that God be constrained by a standard of goodness that is external to Himself—itself a problematic proposal for many theists.

 


 

"Plantinga on Properly Basic Belief in God: Lessons from the Epistemology of Perception” The Philosophical Quarterly 61:245 (October 2011)

 

Abstract: Plantinga famously argues against the evidentialist that belief in God can be properly basic.  Consideration of the epistemology of cognitive faculties (like perception and memory) that produce psychologically non-inferential belief helps us understand how various inferentially-justified theoretical beliefs are epistemically prior to our memory and perceptual beliefs, preventing such beliefs from being epistemically basic.  Taking seriously Plantinga’s analogy between the sensus divinitatis and cognitive faculties like memory and perception, I argue that such considerations give us good reason to think that the deliverances of the sensus divinitatis cannot be properly basic, either.  We close by considering a number of objections to our argument by and on behalf of Plantinga.

 


 

"Natural Evil as a Test of Faith in the Abrahamic Traditions," Sophia 49:1 (April 2010)

 

Abstract: This paper critically examines what I call the ‘testing theodicy,’ the widely-held idea that natural evil exists in order to test our faith in God.  This theodicy appears numerous times in the scriptures of all three Abrahamic faiths.  After examining some of these scriptural passages, we will argue that in light of these texts, the notion of faith is best understood as some type of commitment such as trust, loyalty or piety, rather than as merely belief in God’s existence.  After carefully showing the form this theodicy must take, I argue that the testing theodicy suffers from serious difficulties and fails to adequately account for the existence of natural evil.

 


 

“Conservatism, Basic Beliefs and the Diachronic and Social Nature of Epistemic Justification,” Episteme 2:3 (October 2006).

 

Abstract: Discussions of conservatism in epistemology often fail to demonstrate that the principle of conservatism is supported by epistemic considerations.  In this paper, I hope to show two things.  First, I hope to show that there is a defensible version of the principle of conservatism, a version that applies only to what I will call our basic beliefs.  Those who deny that conservatism is supported by epistemic considerations do so because they fail to take into account the necessarily social, diachronic and self-correcting nature of our epistemic practice.  Second, I will attempt to show how our basic beliefs are justified via this principle of conservatism.

 

 


 

“Sellars, Givenness, and Epistemic Priority,” in Michael P. Wolf and Mark Norris Lance (eds.), The Self-Correcting Enterprise: Essays on Wilfrid Sellars, Poznans Studies in the Philosophy of Science and the Humanities (Amsterdam and  New York: Rodopi, 2006.

 

Abstract:  Recent critics of Sellars’s argument against the Given attack Sellars’s (purported) conclusion that sensations cannot play a role in the justification of observation beliefs.  I maintain that Sellars can concede that sensations play a role in justifying observation reports without being forced to concede that they have the foundational status of an epistemic Given.  However, Sellars’s own arguments that observation reports rest, in some sense, on other empirical beliefs are not sufficiently well-developed; nor are his comments concerning internalism, which is crucial to his attack on the Given.  As a result, both of these aspects of Sellars’s epistemology have been attacked, and their significance has gone unrecognized by many philosophers.  In this paper, I will try to fill in some of the missing pieces, so that we can see that not only are Sellars’s theses concerning internalism and epistemic priority correct, but they represent a devastating attack on the Given, even if Sellars concedes that sensation can play a role in justifying observation beliefs.  In short, we will see that these recent arguments in support of the Given have not succeeded in reviving it.  The Given remains a myth.

 

 


 

“An Argument Against Reduction in Morality and Epistemology,” Philosophical Investigations 29:3 (July 2006).

 

Abstract:  To avoid Moore’s open question objection and similar arguments, reductionist philosophers argue that normative (e.g., moral and epistemic) and natural terms are only co-extensive, but not synonymous.  These reductionists argue the normative content of normative terms is not a feature of their extension, but is accounted for in some other way (for example, as a feature of these terms’ meaning).  However, reductionist philosophers cannot account for this ‘normative surplus’ while remaining true to their original reductionist motivations.  The reductionist’s theoretical commitments both require and forbid a reductionist account of the normative content of moral and epistemic concepts.

 

 


 

"Disenchanting the World: McDowell, Sellars, and Rational Constraint by Perception," Journal of Philosophical Research 29 (2004)

 

 

Abstract:  In his book Mind and World, John McDowell grapples with the problem that the world must and yet seemingly cannot constrain our empirical thought. I first argue that McDowell’s proposed solution to the problem throws him onto the horns of his own, intractable dilemma, and thus fails to solve the problem of rational constraint by the world. Next, I will argue that Wilfrid Sellars, in a series of articles written in the 1950s and 60s, provides the tools to solve the dilemma McDowell sets before us. We will see how, borrowing from Sellars and certain neo-Sellarsians, we can solve the problem of rational constraint by perception without resorting to a McDowellian quasi-enchantment of the world.

 

 


 

"Why Response-Dependence Theories of Morality are False," Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6:3 (September 2003)

 

Abstract: Many response-dependence theorists equate moral truth with the generation of some affective psychological response: what makes this action wrong, as opposed to right, is that it would cause (or merit) affective response of type R (perhaps under ideal conditions).  Since our affective nature is purely contingent, and not necessarily shared by all rational creatures (or even by all humans), response-dependence threatens to lead to relativism.  In this paper, I will argue that emotional responses and moral features do not align in the way predicted by the response-dependence theorist who wishes to tie morality to emotional affect.  I further argue that since response-dependence accounts that tie morality to any sort of affect (be it an emotion, a desire, a desire to desire, or so on) cannot explain the objectivity and universality of morality; and since we do not need a psychological response to play a truth-constituting role in morality in order to explain the normativity or content of morality, we should reject such response-dependence accounts.

 

 


 

"Consensus and Excellence of Reasons," Journal of Philosophical Research 28 (2003)

 

Abstract:  It is plausible to suppose that the normativity of evaluative (e.g., moral and epistemic) judgments arises out of and is in some sense dependent on our actual evaluative practice. At the same time, though, it seems likely that the correctness of evaluative judgments is not merely a matter of what the underlying practice endorses and condemns; denial of this leads one into a rather objectionable form of relativism. In this paper, I will explore a social practice account of normativity according to which normativity is grounded in our actual social practice of evaluation. I will show how this account allows normativity to be dependent on our actual evaluative practice, while allowing the correctness of evaluative judgments to be independent of this practice in important ways—and how the resulting temporal logic of reasons gives us a conception of morality and other sorts of evaluative discourse that is not historically local.

 

 


 

"Is Hard Determinism a Form of Compatibilism?" The Philosophical Forum 33:1 (March 2002)

© 2002 Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

Reproduced by permission of Blackwell Publishers

Other than for personal use/research, use of the material is subject to Blackwell’s permission.

 

Abstract: Most philosophers now concede that libertarianism has failed as an account of free will. Assuming the correctness of this concession, that leaves compatibilism and hard determinism as the only remaining choices in the free will debate. In this paper, I will argue that hard determinism turns out to be a form of compatibilism, and therefore, compatibilism is the only remaining position in the free will debate. I will attempt to establish this conclusion by arguing that hard determinists will end up punishing or rewarding the same acts (and omissions) that the compatibilists punish and reward. Next, I will respond to several objections that attempt to pry apart hard determinism and compatibilism. It will emerge not only that hard determinism and compatibilism are identical at the practical level, but also that the key terms employed by the hard determinist have the same meaning as equivalent terms ("free," "morally responsible," and "retributive punishment") employed by the compatibilist. I conclude that hard determinism genuinely is a form of compatibilism.

 

 


 

"Emotions and Incommensurable Moral Concepts," Philosophy 76:4 (October 2001)

© 2001 Cambridge University Press

reprinted by permission of Cambridge University Press

 

Abstract: Many authors have argued that emotions serve an epistemic role in our moral practice. Some argue that this epistemic connection is so strong that creatures who do not share our affective nature will be unable to grasp our moral concepts. I argue that even if this sort of incommensurability does result from the role of affect in morality, incommensurability does not in itself entail relativism. In any case, there is no reason to suppose that one must share our emotions and concerns to be able to apply our moral concept successfully. Finally, I briefly investigate whether the moral realist can seek aid and comfort from Davidsonian arguments to the effect that incommensurability in ethics is in principle impossible, and decide that these arguments are not successful. I conclude that the epistemic role our emotions play in moral discourse does not relativize morality.

 

 


 

"Do Normative Facts Need to Explain?" in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 81:3 (September 2000)

© 2000 University of Southern California and Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Reproduced by permission of Blackwell Publishers (UK).

 

Abstract: Much moral skepticism stems from the charge that moral facts do not figure in causal explanations. However, philosophers committed to normative epistemological discourse (by which I mean our practice of evaluating beliefs as justified or unjustified, and so forth) are in no position to demand that normative facts serve such a role, since epistemic facts are causally impotent as well. I argue instead that pragmatic reasons can justify our continued participation in practices which, like morality and epistemology, do not serve the function of causal explanation.  Finally, I defend this pragmatic justification of morality and epistemology against a number of objections, including the objection that it confuses practical and theoretical justification

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