Published Papers

Idealism Without God   (Idealism: New Essays in Metaphysics Eds. Tyron Goldschmidt and Kenny Pearce, OUP, forthcoming)

I develop a nontheistic (quasi-)Berkeleyan idealism. The basic strategy is to peel away the attributes of God that aren't essential for role he plays in idealist metaphysics. God's omnibenevolence, his desires, intentions, beliefs, his very status as an agent ... aren't relevant to the work he does. When we peel all these things away, we're left with a view on which reality is a vast unity of consciousness, weaving together sensory experiences of colors, shapes, sounds, sizes, etc. into the trees, electrons, black holes, and central nervous systems that fill the world around us. This phenomenal unity is governed by laws analogous to those posited by materialists, governing the unfolding of reality. I argue that if reality is fundamentally phenomenal in this way, we can give a unique account of perception that robustly captures direct realist intuitions of reality forming the "constituents" of our experiences: In perception, our finite unities of consciousness come to literally overlap with the unity of consciousness that is reality. I assess the unique virtues and challenges such a view faces, paying particular attention to the question of whether idealism entails a profligacy of physical laws.

Seeing Through Eyes, Mirrors, Shadows and Pictures (forthcoming in Philosophical Studies)

I argue that we can see in a great many cases that run counter to common sense. We can literally see through mirrors, in just the same way that we (literally) see through our eyes. We can, likewise, literally see through photographs, shadows, and (some) paintings. Rather than starting with an analysis of seeing, I present a series of evolving thought experiments, arguing that in each case there is no relevant difference between it and the previous case regarding whether we see. In a sense, my arguments can be thought of as akin to the Extended Mind Hypothesis (Clark & Chalmers, 1998). But instead of arguing that our minds can extend into the world, I argue that our sensory organs can extend into the world. Among the things that emerge from this discussion are (1) that seeing an object O doesn't require being able to locate O with respect to yourself, (2) that — contrary to Roy Sorensen (2008) — we can see objects by seeing their shadows, and (3) that — contrary to Kendall Walton (1984) — it doesn't matter whether the causal relation between O and yourself is mediated by beliefs.

Virtue and Salience (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2016; co-authored with Richard Yetter Chappell)

This paper explores two ways in which evaluations of an agent's character as virtuous or vicious are properly influenced by what the agent finds salient or attention-grabbing. First, we argue that ignoring salient needs reveals a greater deficit of benevolent motivation in the agent, and hence renders the agent more blameworthy. We use this fact to help explain our ordinary intuition that failing to give to famine relief is in some sense less bad than failing to help a child who is drowning right before your eyes, in a way that's compatible with the contention that there's no principled reason to see the one life-saving act as any more or less choiceworthy than the other. Second, we argue that alleged ‘virtues of ignorance’ are better understood as ‘virtues of salience’. Rather than placing demands on what we believe, these virtues place demands on what we find salient.

Circularity in the Conditional Analysis of Phenomenal Concepts   (Philosophical Studies, 2013)

The conditional analysis of phenomenal concepts purports to give physicalists a way of understanding phenomenal concepts that will allow them to (1) accept the zombie intuition, (2) accept that conceivability is generally a good guide to possibility, and yet (3) reject the conclusion that zombies are metaphysically possible. It does this by positing that whether phenomenal concepts refer to physical or nonphysical states depends on what the actual world is like. In this paper, I offer support for the Chalmers/Alter objection that the conditional analysis fails to accommodate the true zombie intuition, and develop a new and far more powerful argument against the conditional analysis. I argue that, as stated, the conditional analysis is radically incomplete. But when fully fleshed out, the analysis becomes viciously circular. The only way to avoid this circularity is to adopt a species of analytic functionalism, on which it's a priori that phenomenal concepts refer to the state (perhaps physical, perhaps nonphysical) that actually plays so-and-so functional role. While this rigidified analytic functionalism is coherent, it is highly unattractive, running contrary to both the intuitions that motivate functionalism and the intuitions that motivated the conditional analysis.

Mind-Body Meets Metaethics: A Moral Concept Strategy   (Philosophical Studies, 2013; co-authored with Richard Yetter Chappell)

The aim of this paper is to assess the relationship between anti-physicalist arguments in the philosophy of mind and anti-naturalist arguments in metaethics, and to show how the literature on the mind-body problem can inform metaethics. Among the questions we will consider are: (1) whether a moral parallel of the knowledge argument can be constructed to create trouble for naturalists, (2) the relationship between such a "Moral Knowledge Argument" and the familiar Open Question Argument, and (3) how naturalists can respond to the Moral Twin Earth argument. We will give particular attention to recent arguments in the philosophy of mind that aim to show that anti-physicalist arguments can be defused by acknowledging a distinctive kind of conceptual dualism between the phenomenal and the physical. This tactic for evading anti-physicalist arguments has come to be known as the Phenomenal Concept Strategy. We will propose a metaethical version of this strategy, which we shall call the `Moral Concept Strategy'. We suggest that the Moral Concept Strategy offers the most promising way out of these anti-naturalist arguments, though significant challenges remain.

Drafts

Dissolving Type-B Physicalism

The majority of physicalists are type-B physicalists — believing that the phenomenal-physical truths are only knowable a posteriori. This aims to paper show why this view is misguided. The strategy is to design an agent who (1) has full general physical knowledge, (2) has phenomenal concepts, and yet (3) is wired such that she would be in a position to immediately work out the phenomenal-physical truths. I argue that this derivation yields a priori knowledge. The possibility of such a creature entails that — contrary to type-B physicalism — there is not an ideal epistemic gap between the phenomenal and the physical truths. Out of this argument against type-B physicalism emerges a positive result: a new and compelling version of type-A physicalism, roughly a type-A phenomenal concept strategy.

Leaving it Open: From Sparse Experiences to Sparse Reality

I argue that both experiences and reality can be a great deal more sparse than you might initially believe. There can be experiences that are determinately phenomenally warm-colored, but not any particular warm shade; there can be experiences of objects standing in spatial relations to one another, but not any particular spatial relations; there can be experiences of triangles, that are neither equilateral, isosceles, nor scalene, for the relationships between the lengths of sides and angles are left open. Further, for each such "sparse" experience, there is a corresponding possible world. There are possible worlds in which objects stand in spatial relations to one another, but not any particular spatial relations — e.g. in which one object is determinately above another, but where their horizontal positions are left open. There are possible worlds in which there are triangles that are neither equilateral, isosceles, nor scalene. The argument takes the following structure. (1) Show that our mental imagery can "leave open" various aspects of its form. (2) Argue that other possible creatures' mental imagery could exhibit an even more radical degree of sparseness, along these dimensions. (3) Argue that a Berkeleyan idealist should accept the possibility of worlds "leaving open" anything that can be so left open in mental imagery. (4) Argue that non-idealists should agree with Berkeley that such worlds are possible, as we should grant that there are worlds where Berkeleyan idealism is true.

Individuating Phenomenal Concepts

According to constitutional theories of phenomenal concepts, PC are partially constituted by instances of the type of experience that they refer to. Phenomenal concepts have something like the structure: "the experience __", where the blank is filled in by a token of the relevant type of experience, and what type of experience fills the blank determines what type of experience the concept refers to. Michael Tye (2003, 2009) has posed a serious challenge to constitutional theories of PC: Any phenomenal experience that could serve as the "filler" for a phenomenal concept will instantiate many different phenomenal qualities. (The experience I have as I look at my blue teacup is not only blue, it's navy, blue5982, a visual experience, etc.) But what determines which quality is the one that the PC refers to? How are we to individuate phenomenal concepts? In this paper, I develop three possible ways of addressing the individuation challenge: a dispositional response, an attentional response, and a reply based on the idea that some experiences can display large amounts of indeterminacy. While there's reason to think that none of these approaches can meet the individuation challenge in isolation, I suggest that they may be able to work together, as they are far less disjoint than they might at first appear.

Opacity and the Phenomenal Concept Strategy

Several philosophers have recently argued against the Phenomenal Concept Strategy (PCS) and physicalism generally on the grounds that phenomenal concepts are transparent — they reveal the nature of their referents (Goff 2011, Nida-Rumelin 2007). This paper has two aims (i) to defend the possibility that phenomenal concepts are translucent — revealing some, but not all, of their nature — and (ii) to argue that this does not help PCS. I argue that the action for PCS lies not simply in their analysis of phenomenal concepts, but in the relationship between phenomenal concepts and physical concepts and in what is required for a priori derivation.

Dissertation

Phenomenal Concepts and the Mind-Body Problem

My dissertation explores the nature of phenomenal concepts and what work phenomenal concepts can do in solving the mind-body problem. The first half of the dissertation is an attempt to formulate an adequate theory of phenomenal concepts. I lay out what we want out of such a theory, argue against two popular theories of phenomenal concepts, and defend a version of the constitutional theory. The second half of the dissertation assesses the philosophical work that phenomenal concepts can do. I argue against type-B physicalism —the view that it's compatible with physicalism that there be an ideal epistemic/explanatory gap between the phenomenal and the physical truths. The dominant strategies for defending this view appeal to the special nature of phenomenal concepts. I show that such appeals are misguided, arguing against both the phenomenal concept strategy and the conditional analysis of phenomenal concepts. Out of these arguments emerges a new, and highly compelling way to be a physicalist. Finally, I consider the broader implications of my arguments for the mind-body debate.