SELECTED PHILOSOPHY PAPERS:
I defend the thesis that the constitutive aim of inquiring into some question, Q , is improving one’s epistemic standing with respect to Q. Call this the epistemic-improvement view. I consider and ultimately reject two alternative accounts of the constitutive aim of inquiry—namely, the thesis that inquiry aims at knowledge and the thesis that inquiry aims at (justified) belief—and I use my criticisms as a foil for clarifying and motivating the epistemic-improvement view. I also consider and reject a pair of normative theses about when inquiry goes awry or is inappropriate. The first is the normative thesis defended by Dennis Whitcomb who claims that inquiry goes awry if it culminates in a belief that falls short of knowledge and that one should not inquire into Q if one already knows the answer to Q. The second is the normative thesis defended by Jane Friedman who claims that one should not inquire into Q if one already believes some complete answer to Q.
In her paper “Why Suspend Judging?” Jane Friedman has argued that being agnostic about some question entails that one has an inquiring attitude towards that question. Call this the agnostic-as-inquirer thesis. I argue that the agnostic-as-inquirer thesis is implausible. Specifically, I maintain that the agnostic-as-inquirer thesis requires that we deny the existence of a kind of agent that plausibly exists; namely, one who is both agnostic about Q because they regard their available evidence as insufficient for answering Q and who decides not to inquire into Q because they believe Q to be unanswerable. I claim that it is not only possible for such an agent to exist, but that such an agent is also epistemically permissible.
There has been an ongoing debate about whether desires are beliefs. Call the claim that they are the desire-as-belief thesis (DAB). This paper sets out to impugn the two versions of DAB that have enjoyed the most support in the philosophical literature: the guise of the good and the guise of reasons accounts. According to the guise of the good version of DAB, the desire to X is identical to the belief that X is good. According to the guise of reasons version of DAB, the desire to X is identical to the belief that one has a normative reason to X. My paper presents a pair of objections to DAB: the first specifically targets the guise of reasons account defended by Alex Gregory, while the second aims to undermine DAB more generally.
In a number of recent papers, Jane Friedman has argued that attitudes like wondering, inquiring, and suspending judgement are question-directed and have the function of moving someone from a position of ignorance to one of knowledge. Call such attitudes interrogative attitudes (IAs). Friedman insists that all IAs are governed by the following Ignorance Norm: Necessarily, if one knows Q at t, then one ought not have an IA towards Q at t. However, I argue that key premises in Friedman’s argument actually point towards an opposing conclusion; namely, that (i) IAs are not governed by the Ignorance Norm, and (ii) IAs have functions other than moving someone from a position of ignorance to one of knowledge. I conclude that the Ignorance Norm should be rejected.
According to the Strong Belief Thesis (SBT), intending to X entails the belief that one will X. John Brunero has attempted to impugn SBT by arguing that there are cases in which an agent intends to X but is unsure that she will X. Moreover, he claims that the standard reply to such putative counterexamples to SBT—namely, to claim that the unsure agent merely has an intention to try—comes at a high price. Specifically, it prevents SBT from playing the kind of explanatory role the cognitivist requires. This paper meets Brunero’s challenge to SBT by offering an account of trying and intending to try that that not only saves SBT from Brunero’s criticism, but does so in a way that preserves the explanatory significance cognitivist typically take SBT to have.
Richard Holton has argued that the traditional account of intentions—which only posits the existence of all-out intentions—is inadequate because it fails to accommodate dual-plan cases; ones in which it is rationally permissible for an agent to adopt two competing plans to bring about the same end. Since the consistency norms governing all-out intentions prohibit the adoption of competing intentions, we can only preserve the idea that the agent in a dual-plan case is not being irrational if we attribute to them a pair of partial intentions. I argue that, contrary to initial appearances, (i) Holton has yet to offer us an actual account of partial intentions, and (ii) that the traditional account of intentions already has the resources necessary to accommodate dual-plan cases.
According to the cognitivist strategy, the desire to bring about P provides reasons for intending to bring about P in a way analogous to how perceiving that P provides reasons for believing that P. However, while perceiving P provides reasons for believing P by representing P as true, desiring to bring about P provides reasons for intending to bring about P by representing P as good. This paper offers an argument against this view. My argument proceeds via an appeal to what I call the non-substitutability of perception, the thesis that, given that there is no independent evidence for P, one cannot substitute something that fails to provide reasons with respect to P for the perceptual experience that P, without altering the rational permissibility of believing that P. By contrast, I argue that it is always possible to substitute something that fails to provide reasons for a desire without altering the rational permissibility of an intention based on said desire. I take this to show that a desire does not provide reasons in a way analogous to perceptual experience.
I argue that the concept of direction of fit is best seen as picking out a certain inferential property of a psychological attitude. The property in question is one that believing shares with assuming and fantasizing and fails to share with desire. Unfortunately, the standard analysis of direction of fit obscures this fact because it conflates two very different properties of an attitude: that in virtue of which it displays a certain direction of fit, and that in virtue of which it displays certain revision-conditions. I claim that the latter corresponds with the aim of an attitude, not its direction of fit. In order to remedy this failure of the standard analysis, I offer an alternative account of direction of fit, which I refer to as the two-content analysis.
My dissertation addresses the question “do desires provide reasons?” I present two independent lines of argument in support of the conclusion that they do not. The first line of argument emerges from the way I circumscribe the concept of a desire. Complications aside, I conceive of a desire as a member of a family of attitudes that have imperative content, understood as content that displays doability-conditions rather than truth-conditions. Moreover, I hold that an attitude may provide reasons only if it has truth-evaluable content. Insofar as desires lack truth-evaluable content, I hold that the content of a desire has the wrong kind of logical structure to provide reasons. My second line of argument claims that even if a desire did have truth-evaluable content, it would not follow that desires provide reasons. This is because a desire has no more rational significance than a guess or coin-flip. My argument relies on what I call the non-substitutability principle, the thesis that (all things being equal) one cannot substitute something that lacks rational significance, relative to some attitude, A, for something that has rational significance, relative to A, and leave the rational standing of A unchanged. For example, one cannot substitute the guess that P (i.e., something that lacks rational significance relative to the belief that P) for the perception that P (i.e., something that is rationally significant relative to the belief that P) without altering the rational standing of the belief. I argue that when the non-substitutability principle is applied to a desire that gives rise to an intention, it turns out that one can always substitute a guess or coin-flip (i.e., something that lacks rational significance relative to the intention) for the desire, without altering the rational standing of the intention. I take this to show that desires are not rationally significant relative to the intentions to which they give rise.
In his essay, “Knowledge and the Internal Revisited”, John McDowell claims that “seeing that p constitutes false-hood excluding justification for believing that p.” In this thesis I attempt to construct an account of perceptual knowledge that exploits McDowell’s notion of false-hood excluding justification. To this end, I limn a justified (strong) belief, or bipartite, account of perceptual knowledge in which justification is seen as factive. On this picture, the truth requirement of the traditional tripartite account is incorporated into the justification condition for knowledge. My account of perceptual knowledge is McDowellian in spirit, but not in detail. Specifically, I part ways with McDowell in my insistence that knowledge should be seen as a composite rather than primitive concept in which belief, understood as commitment to the truth of a proposition, and justification, understood as the possession of a factive reason, both figure.