Book

The View from Everywhere: Realist Idealism Without God (manuscript)

Few contemporary philosophers take idealism seriously. The View from Everywhere aims to change this, developing a new quasi-Berkeleyan realist idealism, which does not depend upon God to do the metaphysical heavy lifting. This non-theistic idealism requires a fresh approach to the persistence and stability of the physical world. The resulting theory offers unique implications for the nature of perception, and the relationship between our minds and our bodies.

I discussed the book in an interview on MindChat with Philip Goff and Keith Frankish in September 2021. You can watch this (fairly accessible) introduction to my project here.

Papers

Idealism and the Best of All (Subjectively Indistinguishable) Possible Worlds (to appear in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Mind, volume 4. Ed. Uriah Kriegel.)

The space of possible worlds is vast. Some of these possible worlds are materialist worlds, some may be worlds bottoming out in 0s and 1s, or other strange things we cannot even dream of… and some are idealist worlds. From among all of the worlds subjectively indistinguishable from our own, the idealist ones have uniquely compelling virtues. Idealism gives us a world that is just as it appears; a world whose intrinsic nature (and not just structure) is intelligible to us; a world that’s fit to literally enter our minds when we perceive it.

If the world is an idealist world, we live in a perceptual Eden. We did not fall from Eden. Rather, we deluded ourselves into believing that we couldn’t possibly live in Eden when we committed to materialism. Reflecting on these big-picture issues gives us reason to question this commitment and embrace a radically new account of reality and our relation to it.

Dualism All the Way Down: Why There is No Paradox of Phenomenal Judgment (forthcoming in Synthese)

Epiphenomenalist dualists hold that certain physical states give rise to non-physical conscious experiences, but that these non-physical experiences are themselves causally inefficacious. Among the most pressing challenges facing epiphenomenalists is the so-called “paradox of phenomenal judgment”, which challenges epiphenomenalism’s ability to account for our knowledge of our own conscious experiences. According to this objection, we lack knowledge of the very thing that epiphenomenalists take physicalists to be unable to explain. By developing an epiphenomenalist theory of subjects and mental states, this paper argues that there is nothing paradoxical or problematic about the epiphenomenalist’s understanding of phenomenal judgments or phenomenal self-knowledge. The appearance of paradox emerges from inconsistently combining (epiphenomenalist) dualism about qualia with a physicalistic conception of subjects of experience. The lesson we should take from this is not that there is anything wrong with epipheomenalism, but that epiphenomenalist dualists should be “dualists all the way down” – embracing a picture of mind that gives phenomenology a central place, in its understanding of both subjects and their knowledge of their own minds. Epiphenomenalist-friendly accounts of reference and memory are also developed, showing that neither of these issues creates a paradox for the epiphenomenalist.

Get Acquainted With Naïve Idealism (forthcoming in The Roles of Representations in Visual Perception. Eds. Robert French & Berit Brogaard. Synthese Book Series.)

In this paper, I present a new realist idealist account of perception. Perception, on this account, involves the overlapping of two phenomenal unities: the perceiving subject, and the phenomenal “tapestry of reality”. This renders it intelligible that we can stand in precisely the same relation to distal objects of perception as we do to our own pains. The resulting view captures much that naïve realists take to be central to perception. But, I argue, such a view is only intelligible if distal objects are themselves fundamentally mental. Idealism is thus uniquely posed to intelligibly capture the benefits of naïve realism.

What Does God Add to an Idealist World? (forthcoming in Value Beyond Monotheism: The Axiology of the Divine. Ed. Kirk Lougheed. Routledge.)

There has been increasing interest among contemporary philosophers in nontheistic forms of ontological idealism, in contrast to the canonical theistic idealism of Berkeley. Given the ontological role that God plays in Berkeley’s metaphysics, it’s natural to think that questions of the value-impact of God will be greater in an idealistic context. Thus, it seems fruitful to ask: What does God add to (or detract from) an idealist world? This paper assesses the benefits and costs that come from moving to an idealism which is not (essentially) theistic. I explicate various dimensions along which theistic and nontheistic idealisms differ. Most of these metaphysical differences are surprisingly value-neutral. The one respect in which God’s (in)existence makes a distinctive value-impact within an idealistic context is in the intelligibility of reality. This is a variant of what Lougheed (2020) calls the Complete Understanding Argument. But the argument takes on a new significance within the idealistic context. Here, the inability to fully comprehend God doesn’t merely pose a challenge for understanding the God-part of reality, or the occasions on which God interferes with the naturalistic causal order. It presents a challenge to understanding the very nature of reality itself. Finally, I consider what sort of value difference this is, distinguishing between two sorts of value that God’s existence might confer: value for a world (including its inhabitants) and value for a theory.

Idealization and Problem Intuitions: Why No Possible Agent is Indisputably Ideal (Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2019)

This paper builds on my earlier paper 'Dissolving Type-B Materialism' to explore one way in which the meta-problem may shed light on existing debates about the hard problem of consciousness. I argue that the possibility of a suitable agent without problem intuitions would undercut the dialectical force of arguments against physicalism. Standard antiphysicalist arguments begin from intuitions about what's ideally conceivable, and argue from there to the falsity of physicalism. For these arguments to be dialectically effective, there must be a shared conception of what ideal conceivability consists in. Unfortunately, proposed accounts of ideal conceivability all make reference to an unexplained 'intuitive' notion of idealization. Consideration of the meta-problem reveals that, when it comes to the hard problem, intuitions about idealization are essentially theory-laden. There is no neutral basis for determining whether agents with or without problem intuitions are more rationally ideal.

Idealism Without God   (in Idealism: New Essays in Metaphysics Eds. Tyron Goldschmidt and Kenny Pearce, OUP, 2017)

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.

Dissolving Type-B Physicalism   (Philosophical Perspectives, 2017)

The majority of physicalists are type-B physicalists — believing that the phenomenal-physical truths are only knowable a posteriori. This paper aims to 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.

Seeing Through Eyes, Mirrors, Shadows and Pictures (Philosophical Studies, 2018)

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

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.

Locating Global Character

Situationists (Doris 1998, 2002; Harman 1999, 2003, 2009) have argued that our propensity to behave differently in different situations shows that human beings lack the sort of cross-situational character traits presupposed by virtue ethics. I defend such “global” character traits, arguing that the very studies situationists use to argue against the existence of cross-situational character traits can actually help us locate a sort of global character trait, which ordinary individuals undeniably have. While the sort of virtue that emerges from this new understanding of character is somewhat different from the traditional understanding, it has many of the qualities we want out of a notion of moral character: It is stable across situations, picks out a real pattern in people’s moral behavior, has important explanatory and predictive powers, and allows for a compelling account of character development.