Self-Knowledge and Epistemic Explanation

Embedded mental action in self-attribution of belief (Philosophical Studies, 2017)

You can self-attribute a belief that p 'transparently' partly by judging that p. I argue that, in the relevant embedded context, an event of judging that p is also an event of self-attributing a belief that p. Seeing the identity of these mental actions in this context solves an epistemological puzzle about 'transparent' self-knowledge of belief. Published version here. Penultimate draft here.

Knowing Yourself is Something You Do (Dissertation)

Why do you know your own mind best? And why is that important? In my dissertation, I explain the authority and value of self-knowledge by developing several new kinds of epistemic explanation rooted in agency. I show how control can play the role of justification in self-attribution of attitudes. I use the metaphysics of mental action to dissolve a puzzle about apparent inference from world to mind. And I demonstrate that the special value of self-knowledge is neither instrumental nor intrinsic, but emblematic: you want to have the kind of mind that can be robustly known in a distinctively first-personal way. Full summary available here.

Controlling an Attitude Problem (Writing Sample) 

Most attempted explanations of self-knowledge of belief fail to solve a problem that I call "the attitude problem." Knowing that you believe that p, in any instance, involves knowing you take that particular attitude (belief) to the content p. Various views do not specify how you know you take the attitude of belief, rather than some other attitude, to a particular content. I solve the attitude problem by explaining how we can take up attitudes intentionally in occurrent, conscious thought. When you intentionally engage in judgment, for example, you know what you are doing under a description that specifies the attitude in question. The resulting explanation of self-knowledge demonstrates how control can play the role of justification in an explanation of knowledge. Email me for a manuscript.

Saving Hume from Circularity (Writing Sample)

In Book I, Part IV, Section 2 of the Treatise ("On scepticism with regard to the senses"), Hume provides an account of the origin of our distinction between perceptions and objects. This account is often charged with a form of vicious circularity: commentators take it that Hume's explanation relies on the fact that we have the very distinction he aims to explain. In this paper I defend Hume's account from this charge of vicious circularity. If we take seriously Hume's early commitment (in I.4.2.7) to the self-intimating nature of perceptions, we can see a way for Hume to provide a genuine (if insufficient) explanation of the origin of our distinction between perceptions and objects. Email me for a manuscript.

What's Special about Epistemic Responsibility? (Work in progress)

If you were not able to do things in thought, with particular purposes, you would not be held accountable for your beliefs in the way you are held accountable for them. In this paper I examine the nature of epistemic responsibility in a way that cuts across debates about epistemic deontology and consequentialism. I argue that you are epistemically responsible only for the beliefs you can intentionally call to mind—that is, with knowledge of what you are doing. If knowledge attributions entail epistemic responsibility, this account has a circularity at its core—but not a vicious one. This non-vicious circularity individuates the domain of epistemic norms from others, and illuminates what is special about epistemology itself.

Control and Justification (Work in progress)

When someone tries a risky stunt, we might worry whether she knows what she’s doing. This is a worry about control, and it betrays the fact that control modulates practical knowledge—the non-observational knowledge we have of (some of) our intentional actions. In this paper I develop an extended analogy between (a) control and practical knowledge and (b) justification and empirical knowledge. Without control you do not know what you are doing; without justification you do not know the facts of the world. The resulting connections (e.g. between deviant causal chains and Gettier cases) illuminate debates both in action theory and in epistemology. New questions also arise: Is there an epistemic analogue of habitual action? Do experts on factual matters have less insight into how they know certain things, just as skilled agents have less insight into how they do what they do?

Literature and the First-Personal Perspective

What Poetry Can Do and Philosophy Cannot (Second Writing Sample)

You can only phenomenally imagine what you have already experienced. But appreciating literary comparisons can nonetheless give you new phenomenal concepts, and thereby expand the range of what you can actively call to mind in phenomenal imagination. I outline the conditions that must hold to make sense of this expansion of the phenomenal imagination, and apply them to analyze some fragments of poetry. With these conditions in mind, we can see that philosophy cannot itself bring about such imaginative expansion, but poetry often does. Email me for a manuscript.

What Montaigne Did First (Work in progress)

It is often said that Montaigne’s style of self-exposure is the very first example of a particularly modern way of writing about the self. But it is not as easy to specify the nature of this discursive innovation. In this paper I argue that Montaigne is the first to recognize that others can learn about possibilities for themselves by reflecting on the vivid particularities of his own (Montaigne's) experiences. This comes out best in his essay “On Practice,” which relates the details of Montaigne’s early brush with death. His uncharacteristic defensiveness at the end of the essay clarifies his own conception of what he is trying to do that’s new.

Structured Thought and Linear Narrative (Work in progress)

One of the conclusions of my dissertation is that one and the same mental action can be intentional under several descriptions at once, and also have different contents under those different descriptions. Thoughts have this rich, layered structure because they are the thoughts of an agent with hierarchical purposes. This raises a real question about whether it is possible to represent the full structure of thought in any unidimensional linear narrative format. But it is a defining assumption of much literature that first-personal thought can be captured in ordinary discursive writing. In this paper I examine the tension between the two, and consider some narrative methods for mimicking the layered structure of thought. 

Fiction and Fictionalisms (Work in progress)

In various metaphysical debates, philosophers try to bring ontologically inflationary views under control by committing to fictionalism about some domain. For example, those put off by genuine commitment to possible worlds can treat modal talk as a sort of systematic fiction. It is usually taken that this kind of move makes sense of our understanding of a metaphysically suspect ideology. However, our understanding and enjoyment of actual fiction often plays with the impossible and the inconceivable: consider Lewis Carroll’s and Italo Calvino’s forays into absurd fantasy lands in the Alice series and Cosmicomics. In this paper I reflect on what it means to understand a fiction, and whether the analogy with narrative fiction really does help to domesticate outlandish commitments in metaphysics.

Kantian Aesthetic Modality (Work in progress)

In the Critique of Judgment Kant argues that judgments of taste have a special sort of modality not exhibited by other sorts of claims. In his original discussion this point is meant to apply only to judgments with contents of the form O is beautiful. I detach Kant’s innovative analysis of aesthetic modality to generate more broad-ranging sufficiency conditions. Any sets of judgments that exhibit the same modal profile as Kantian judgments of beauty can be treated as meaningfully aesthetic. This defines an interesting domain of aesthetic inquiry and extends the applicability of Kantian aesthetics to domains in which beauty is not the main dimension of aesthetic praise—including the domain of literary arts.

Narrative Selves (Work in progress)

Philosophers disagree about whether we necessarily experience our lives as unfolding stories, and they disagree about whether it would be a good thing to experience our lives in that way. These debates assume that the notion of a narrative self can be made precise in a way that distinguishes it from some other idea of a self. In this paper I explore whether it can be. What would it be to experience yourself as a character in a story? If the constraints on that kind of experience are just as weak as the constraints on stories, there may be nothing more to thinking of yourself in a ‘narrative’ way than there is to thinking of yourself as a person.  

Short Fiction

The Things at Mare's House (Manuscript available on request)

Mare, the recent widow of an acclaimed artist, tries to refuse remuneration from a guest who spills mousse de saumon on a beloved Andean rug. His insistence draws her back to a world she has been avoiding. Email me for a manuscript.

Blue Lagoon Cliff Jump (Manuscript available on request) 

A young couple's relationship comes to an abrupt, awkward end in a misunderstanding at a cliff jump on the island of Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. Email me for a manuscript.