Structural Epistemic Rationality
It’s rational for you to believe that you ought to shoot me in the head… if, that is, you believe that I am a zombie and that one ought to shoot zombies in the head. Those beliefs are crazy (I hope!), but they’re rational in the sense that they have a structure that “hangs together,” i.e. they cohere. I work on the nature and value of this structural type of rationality, In particular, I argue that it is a matter of meeting one’s own standards—it is hyper agent-relative. This raises the specter of radical subjectivism, so a major task of this project is developing an account of standards of structural evaluation that are objectively determined yet legitimately the agent’s own. To do this, I propose an account that takes inspiration from David Lewis’ best systems analysis of the laws of nature.
A background assumption in many experimental critiques of philosophical appeals to intuitions is that they are meant to provide public evidence (like scientific data). By contrast, I argue that (often and appropriately) they are appeals to the individual intuitions of interlocutors, which are private evidence (like perceptions) as part of an attempt to rationally persuade them. I call this view “Intuition Dialecticism.” If I’m right, the question then becomes why we should think this is a good way to get at the truth, especially in light of putative intuition diversity. I argue that even if there is radical intuitive disagreement, various factors, including social epistemological virtues of the sort familiar from philosophy of science, mean that intuition-heavy philosophical investigation is an epistemically worthwhile project.
- “Animals as Stakeholders” (forthcoming in Animals and Business Ethics, Springer)
- I argue that animals ought to be treated as stakeholders given that they affect and are affected by the achievement of the objectives of the businesses in which they are involved. Stakeholder Theory therefore requires taking those interests into account. By taking the stakeholder approach, businesses can avoid merely reacting to (rapidly increasing) public outcry over the treatment of animals. Even those who hold extreme positions can take the treatment of animals as stakeholders to provide an ethical realpolitik of sorts that is both better for animals and better for business.
- “Coherence Concerns for McCain’s Explanationist Evidentialism” (Syndicate Philosophy, (2017))
- The above link is to a the initial, blog-ish format posting of a symposium on Kevin McCain’s Evidentialism and Epistemic Justification to which my paper is a contribution. Kevin’s book is outstanding, however I argue that he overlooks the relevance of (non-justificatory) coherence-based rationality to justification. Responses ensue.
- “Interdisciplinary Modelling: A Case Study of Evolutionary Economics” (with Collin Rice; please cite published version, Biology & Philosophy (2011) 26:655-75)
- I and Collin argue that the label evolutionary economics is in fact used to cover several distinct ways of applying biological lessons to economics. We then use these distinctions to develop a general taxonomy of interdisciplinary model “borrowing.”
- Groundwork for Structural Epistemic Rationality (2020 Central APA)
- Value theorists routinely distinguish structural rationality—a matter of attitudinal coherence—from substantive rationality—a matter of reasons-responsiveness. Epistemologists do not likewise distinguish structural epistemic rationality (SER) from justification, but they should. I first argue that SER demands self-coherence, not classical consistency, and show that this means its epistemic work is not superfluous to justification’s. I then provide a vindication (in BonJour’s (1985) sense) of SER by showing that it promotes a fundamental cognitive goal. In doing so, I argue that fundamental cognitive goals ought to be understood not in terms of truth, but of a broader notion of accuracy.
- “Objective Own-Standards Rational Belief” (2016 Eastern APA)
- One motivation behind coherence-based accounts of rationality is that coherence means one has met their own standards. But this motivation is undermined if the standards of coherence are not the agent’s own. I develop a best system account (inspired by David Lewis’ analysis of laws of nature) that provides a principled basis for identifying agent-relative, but not radically subjective, standards of coherence.
- “Dialecticism about Philosophical Intuitions” (2016 Pacific APA)
- Develops dialecticism, an account on which philosophers (often/appropriately) appeal to intuitions as evidence by appealing to the intuitions of individual interlocutors as private evidence for those individuals. I argue that recognition of this fact has significant import for experimental criticisms of intuition-heavy philosophy.
- Groundwork for Structural Epistemic Rationality
- Argues that structural epistemic rationality (an evaluation of doxastic attitudinal coherence) plays an epistemically valuable role analogous to, but distinct from, that of justification, and it is therefore epistemologically significant—worthy of further investigation. This role is the promotion of a fundamental cognitive goal, but the way in which structural rationality does this requires that its standards of evaluation be agent-relative. I show how such standards can be both objectively determined and legitimately the agent’s own.
- Pluralism about Rationality
- The specific pluralism I defend concerns what I call the scale of rational evaluation: the beliefs (or other doxastic attitudes) that must meet an agent’s (best system-derived) standard in order for a belief to be rationally held. Very crudely, linguistic and intuitive data indicate that scale does not concern only a particular number or type of belief, and pluralism does a better job of accounting for this than do other options.
- A Minimal Defense of Armchair Philosophy
- The longer version of my dialecticism paper spends more time providing a defense of a philosophical methodology in which dialectical appeals to intuition feature heavily. This defense is minimal in that it assumes that the direst descriptions/predictions about experimental philosophical results are true. I appeal to, among other things, the notion of research programs (particularly as developed by Jessica Wilson) to argue that armchair philosophy can nevertheless be an epistemically worthwhile pursuit.
- “Disbelief is a Distinct Doxastic Attitude”
- A short paper arguing that disbelieving that p is not the same thing as believing that ~p.
- “Universal Darwinism and Economics: Some Clarifications”
- Follow up to my and Collin’s interdisciplinary modelling paper in which I argue that much of the debate over the applicability of Universal Darwinism to economic systems is the result of confusion about the nature and justification of that theory. I clarify these issues and sketch a role that the theory might play in an economic research program.
- “Might Moses and Mackie Both Be Right? The Very Idea of Theistic Moral Nihilism”
- I argue that, contrary to all appearances, Mackie-style moral nihilism is compatible with theism of a fairly orthodox sort. Moreover, I argue that it this combination of views in fact provides some distinct theoretical benefits such that it is worth investigating further.
- Factive attitudes and Duncan Pritchard’s disjunctivist anti-skepticism
- Argues that the nature of factive attitudes means that we have no reason to think that they play the special epistemic role assigned them by Duncan Pritchard in his Epistemological Disjunctivism. The upshot is that this titular theory does not provide the anti-skeptical punch claimed for it.
- Ideal and Non-Ideal Rationality
- My work on perspectival rationality has implications for several current debates (e.g. those concerning higher order evidence and epistemic akrasia) in which the notions of ideal and non-ideal rational agents have recently become important. I am interested in thinking about the ways in which agents can fail to be ideally rational. Given my pluralism about scale, I do not think that there is a particular set of standards (or requirements or the like) that determines whether the attitudes of a non-ideal agent are rational.
- Rationality and Epistemic Communities
- An extension of my defense of armchair philosophy that looks to investigate the question of whether/in what way participation in epistemic (specifically, research) communities makes a difference to whether one is individually rational. Suppose a scientist has little enough evidence for a theory that they would be irrational in believing it “on their own.” Can they nevertheless be rational in believing it if doing so plays an appropriate role in the extremely, epistemically productive scientific community? If not, are there other epistemically evaluable attitudes that they can take toward the proposition?
- Doxastic Attitudes
- In addition to arguing that disbelief is a distinct attitude, I’m interested in developing a more general picture of outright doxastic attitudes and their relationships.
- (2016). “Dialecticism about Philosophical Appeals to Intuition.“ Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association
- (2016). “Objective Own-Standards Rational Belief.“ Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association
- (2013). “Theistic Moral Nihilism, the Very Idea, or, Might Mackie and Moses Both Be Right?” Analytic Theology Project Workshop
- (2011). “Beg, Borrow, Steal: Evolutionary Economics as Model Borrowing.” Conference for the International Society of the History and Philosophy of Social Sciences and Biology
- (2016). “Might Moses and Mackie Both Be Right? Developing Theistic Moral Nihilism.” Eastern Regional Meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers
- (2016). “Might Moses and Mackie Both Be Right? Developing Theistic Moral Nihilism.” Midwest Regional Meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers
- (2015). “Dialecticism about Philosophical Appeals to Intuition.“ Central States Philosophical Association Meeting
- (2015). “Serious Problems and Radical Solutions for Own-Standards Epistemic Rationality.“ Midsouth Philosophy Conference
- (2014). “Might Mackie and Moses Both Be Right: The Very Idea of Theistic Moral Nihilism.” Midsouth Philosophy Conference
- (2012). “Dialecticism, or how to do philosophy with personal intuitions.” Midsouth Philosophy Conference
Comments and Institutional Presentations
- (2016). “No Little-t Truths: Socrates against Relativism.” Philosophy Café presentation at Christopher Newport University
- (2015). “Towards an Own-Standards Conception of Epistemic Rationality.“ Notre Dame/Northwestern University Graduate Student Epistemology Conference
- (2015) Comments on Andrew Moon’s “A Dilemma for Credal Expressivism.” Central States Philosophical Association Meeting
- (2013). “A Dialectical Conception of Philosophy”. Mark L. Shapiro Graduate Philosophy Conference at Brown
- (2013). “A Dialectical Conception of Philosophy.” Graduate Student Conference at St. Louis University
- (2012). Comments on Bekka Williams’ “What Does Subjective Ought Imply?” Central States Philosophical Association Conference
- (2012). “Only You Can Prevent Robot Uprisings.” Presentation to ΑΩΕ (University of Missouri engineering and technical sciences sorority)