Research

 

PUBLISHED WORK


The Logic of Mind-Body Identification

(forthcoming in Ergo)


Penultimate Draft

Abstract: I explore an interesting but largely unappreciated logical difficulty in the attempt to identify phenomena that are prima facie different, namely that, due to problems involving regress, it may be arbitrarily difficult or impossible to explain away the differences, even for genuine identicals whose apparent differences are illusory. I show that the circumstances in which this occurs are approximated in the context of the problem of consciousness, and that this may explain why proposed identifications between mental and physical phenomena typically give rise to how-possibly questions.




Zombies and Probability: A Stochastic Approach to the Dualist’s Problems

(forthcoming in American Philosophical Quarterly)


Penultimate Draft

Abstract: This paper develops, for the purposes of answering some of the problems associated with interactionist dualism, a strategy suggested in the literature on libertarian free will in which nonphysical mental events exploit physical indeterminism in effecting mind-body action. Three central points made in the paper, all of them to answer what would otherwise be an objection, are that (i) non-physical events that affect the probability of fundamental physical events do not necessarily conflict with the probabilities assigned by physical law; (ii) such interactions would not show up in observations made purely at the physical level; and (iii) views of this kind fuse well with mainstream contemporary arguments for dualism that make use of the conceptual possibility of mind-body dissociation (e.g. zombie arguments.) No development of the view for the libertarian is made or intended.




New Arguments that Philosophers Don't Treat Intuitions as Evidence

(Metaphilosophy, 2014)


Penultimate Draft

Abstract: According to orthodox views of philosophical methodology, when philosophers appeal to intuitions, they treat them as evidence for their contents. Call this `descriptive evidentialism'. Descriptive evidentialism is assumed both by those who defend the epistemic status of intuitions and by those, including many experimental philosophers, who criticize it. I note, however, that descriptive evidentialism is not the only possible account of what philosophers are doing when they appeal to intuition. Moreover, I show that the idea that philosophers treat intuitions as evidence struggles to account for the way philosophers treat intuitions in a variety of philosophical contexts. In particular, it cannot account for philosophers' treatment of a priori intuitions, for non-propositional uses of intuition, and for philosophers' failure to use intuition to exclude the counterintuitive. I conclude that much of the recent debate between traditionalists and skeptics from e.g. experimental philosophy is based on a false presupposition.




How the Problem of Consciousness Could Emerge in Robots

(Minds and Machines, 2012)


Penultimate Draft

Abstract: I show how a robot with what looks like a hard problem of consciousness might emerge from the earnest attempt to make a robot that is smart and self-reflective. This problem arises independently of any assumption to the effect that the robot is conscious, but deserves to be thought of as related to the human problem in virtue of the fact that (1) the problem is one the robot encounters when it tries to naturalistically reduce its own subjective states (2) it seems incredibly difficult from the robot’s own naturalist perspective and, most importantly, (3) it invites the robot to engage in the exact same metaphysical responses as humans offer to the problem of consciousness. Despite the fact that it invites the robot to consider extravagant metaphysical solutions, the problem I explore is purely algorithmic. The robot cannot complete its naturalist physicalist reduction as a matter of algorithmic fact, whether or not the naturalist physicalist reduction would be correct as a matter of metaphysical fact. It is hoped that by reproducing the familiar seeming problem in an artificial context, a greater understanding of the human problem of consciousness can be achieved.




On the Infinitely Hard Problem of Consciousness

(Australasian Journal of Philosophy 2011)


Penultimate Draft

Abstract: I show that the recursive structure of Leibniz’s Law requires agents to perform infinitely many operations to psychologically identify the referents of phenomenal and physical concepts, even though the referents of ordinary concepts (e.g. Hesperus and Phosphorus) can be identified in a finite number of steps. The resulting problem resembles the hard problem of consciousness in the fact that it appears (and indeed is) unsolvable by anyone for whom it arises, and in the fact that it invites dualist and eliminativist responses. Moreover, if this is the hard problem then we can predict that regardless of the strength of the argument for physicalism, and regardless of physicalism’s truth, an ineliminable dissatisfaction is bound to accompany any physicalist theory of consciousness. Accordingly, I suggest that this is the hard problem of consciousness, and therefore that the hard problem arises from a recursively degenerate application of Leibniz’s Law.




Why the Neural Correlates of Consciousness Cannot be Found

(Journal of Consciousness Studies 2010)


Penultimate Draft

Abstract: A focal point for the science of consciousness is the search for the “neural correlate of consciousness” or NCC; the neural activity that accompanies conscious experience. However, I present some reason to think it is impossible to distinguish the “one true” NCC from closely associated phenomena. This is because any dissociative experiment, from the point of view of one of the theories tested, appears as a case where consciousness was stifled - i.e. unable to have the causal effects that produce memories and reports of it. This problem, I argue, always results in indefinitely many candidate NCCs being on an equal empirical footing.




If Intuitions Must be Evidential then Philosophy Is in Big Trouble

(with Josh Earlenbaugh)

(Studia Philosophica Estonica special issue on intuitions 2009)


Originally Submitted Draft

Abstract: Many philosophers claim that intuitions are evidential. Yet it is hard to see how introspecting one’s mental states could provide evidence for such synthetic truths as those concerning, for example, the abstract and the counterfactual. Such considerations have sometimes been taken to lead to mentalism – the view that philosophy must concern itself only with matters of concept application or other mind-dependent topics suited to a contemplative approach – but this provides us with a poor account of what it is that philosophers take themselves to be doing, for many of them are concerned with the extra-mental facts about the universe. Evidentialism therefore gestates a disaster for philosophy, for it ultimately demands an epistemology for the investigation into such matter as the abstract and the modal that simply will not be forthcoming. We make a different suggestion: That intuitions are inclinations to believe. Hence, according to us, a philosophical argument does well, as a socio-rhetorical matter of fact, when it is founded on premises philosophers are generally inclined to believe, whether or not those inclinations to believe connect appropriately to the extra- mental facts. Accordingly, the role of intuitions (inclinations to believe) in philosophical methodology is non-evidential, and the question of how they could be used as evidence falls away.




Intuitions are Inclinations to Believe

(with Josh Earlenbaugh)

Philosophical Studies 2009


Jstor Link

Penultimate Draft

Abstract: Advocates of the use of intuitions in philosophy argue that they are treated as evidence because they are evidential. Their opponents agree that they are treated as evidence, but argue that they should not be so used, since they are the wrong kinds of things. In contrast to both, we argue that, despite appearances, intuitions are not treated as evidence in philosophy whether or not they should be. Our positive account is that intuitions are a subclass of inclinations to believe. Our thesis explains why intuitions play a role in persuasion and inquiry, without con- ceding that they are evidential. The account also makes predictions about the structure of intuitions that are confirmed by independent arguments.




Why Experience Told Me Nothing About Transparency

(Nous 2009)


Penultimate Draft

Abstract: The transparency argument concludes that we’re directly aware of external properties and not directly aware of the properties of experience. Focusing on the presentation used by Michael Tye (2002) I contend that the argument requires experience to have content that it cannot plausibly have. I attribute the failure to a faulty account of the transparency phenomenon and conclude by suggesting an alternative understanding which is independently plausible, is not an error-theory and yet renders the transparency of experience compatible with mental-paint style views.




Primeness, Internalism and Explanatory Generality

(Philosophical Studies 2007)


Jstor Link

Penultimate Draft

Abstract. Williamson (2000) argues that attempts to substitute narrow mental states or narrow/environmental composites for broad and factive mental states will result in poorer explanations of behavior. I resist Williamson’s arguments and use Twin-Earth style cases to argue for the causal inertness of broad mental states.


My work primarily focuses on ontological and epistemological issues concerning human consciousness and intuition.