Here you can view my current research statement.
You can also view my current cv.
There Is Something to the Authority Thesis (forthcoming in the Journal of Philosophical Research)
Many philosophers accept an “Authority Thesis”: that, ordinarily, self-ascriptions of our current mental states are or ought to be met with a distinctive presumptive of truth. Recently, however, Wolfgang Barz (2018, this journal) has argued that there is no adequate specification of the Authority Thesis. This, he argues, is because available specifications turn out to be either (1) philosophically puzzling but false, or (2) true but philosophically unpuzzling. I argue, contra Barz, that there are plausible and philosophically puzzling specifications of the Authority Thesis.
Donald Davidson famously offered an explanation of “first-person authority” (1984). However, he described first-person authority differently across different works—sometimes referring to the presumptive truth of agents’ self-ascriptions of their current mental states, and sometimes referring to the direct self-knowledge that agents often have of said states. First, I show that a standard Davidsonian explanation of first-person authority can at best, and with some modification, explain the presumptive truth of agents’ self-ascriptions. I then develop two Davidsonian accounts of direct self-knowledge—one accounting for its function and another accounting for its source—pushing back in the process against deflationary and quietist rejoinders to these projects. Finally, I relate my Davidsonian accounts of direct self-knowledge back to the modified Davidsonian account of the presumptive truth of agents’ self-ascriptions.
A growing cohort of philosophers argue that inference, understood as an agent-level psychological process or event, is subject to a “Taking Condition.” The Taking Condition states, roughly, that drawing an inference requires one to take one’s premise(s) to epistemically support one’s conclusion, where “takings” are some sort of higher-order attitude, thought, intuition, or act. My question is not about the nature of takings, but about their contents. I examine the prospects for “minimal” and “robust” views of the contents of takings. On the minimal view, taking one’s premise(s) to support one’s conclusion only requires focusing on propositional contents and putative epistemic support relations between them. On the robust view, taking one’s premise(s) to support one’s conclusion also requires knowledge (or being in a position to have knowledge) of the attitudes one holds toward those contents. I argue that arguments for the Taking Condition do not entail or sufficiently motivate the robust view. Accordingly, contra several philosophers, the Taking Condition does not illuminate a deep relationship between inference and self-knowledge.
Alex Byrne (2005; 2011a; 2011b; 2018) has argued that we can gain self-knowledge of our current mental states through the use of a transparency method. A transparency method provides an extrospective rather than introspective route to self-knowledge. For example, one comes to know whether one believes P not by thinking about oneself but by considering the world-directed question of whether P is true. According to Byrne, this psychological process consists in drawing inferences from world-directed propositions to mind-directed conclusions. In this article, I consider whether this ‘Inferential Transparency Method’ can provide us with the self-knowledge that some philosophers have thought we require in order to “critically reason” (Burge 1996), and I conclude that it cannot provide such self-knowledge. The force of this objection depends on how much stock we should place in our status as critical reasoners. However, I conclude by suggesting a more general worry for Byrne’s account.
Terence Cuneo (2007) has argued that we have to be committed to the existence of epistemic facts insofar as they are indispensable to theorizing (a project that is likewise cognitively indispensable). Furthermore, he argues that the epistemic properties of these facts are inextricably ‘ontologically entangled’ with certain moral properties, such that there exist indispensable ‘moral-epistemic’ facts. Cuneo, therefore, concludes that insofar as epistemic realism is true, moral realism is likewise true. I argue that Cuneo’s appeal to the existence of indispensable moral-epistemic facts is problematic, even granting the existence of indispensable epistemic facts. I conclude, therefore, that Cuneo’s argument fails to justify moral realism.
When an agent avows being in a certain state of mind, it is often appropriate to presume the avowal’s truth. Expressivist accounts of such “first-person authority” explain the appropriateness of this presumption in terms of what avowals express. According to “neo-expressivism”, the relevant expressed feature is the very mental state avowed (Bar-On 2004). According to a more recently developed “agency-based” expressivism, the relevant expressed feature is the agent’s unique capacity to shape the avowed mental state through her cognitive agency (Parrott 2015). Matthew Parrott argues that agency-based expressivism is immune to various objections facing neo-expressivism. In this paper I come to the defense of neo-expressivism. First, I argue that Parrott’s objections to neo-expressivism fail. Next, I argue that a key objection to agency-based expressivism should push us further in the direction of neo-expressivism.
Self-Knowledge and Interpersonal Reasoning
In this paper I argue that our evident skills as interpersonal reasoners—as reasoners who reason with one another—requires or strongly suggests that each of us has “privileged” and “peculiar” self-knowledge of many our propositional attitudes. Such self-knowledge is privileged insofar as it is more secure than the knowledge that others have of one’s propositional attitudes, and it is peculiar insofar as it is not obtained via the exercise of methods that enable us to gain knowledge of others’ propositional attitudes. I begin by arguing against a deflationary view according to which interpersonal reasoning can proceed in the absence of any self-knowledge on the part of the participants. I then offer several reasons for why, lacking distinctively privileged and peculiar self-knowledge of our propositional attitudes, we would be less effective interpersonal reasoners than we in fact seem to be. Perhaps, however, we are less effective interpersonal reasoners than we seem to be. In that event, the conclusion of this paper is that privileged and peculiar self-knowledge has a certain value for us qua interpersonal reasoners, whether or not we possess it.
First-Person Authority as Easy Deference
Three claims jointly approximate the most popular conception of “first-person authority”. These are: (1) typically, we are more warranted in deferring to an agent’s present-tense mental state self-ascriptions than to any similar ascriptions made by one agent about another agent’s current mental states, (2) typically, we are warranted in deferring to such self-ascriptions even though the speaker cannot be reasonably expected to cite independent epistemic support in their favour, whereas this expectation is appropriate for any ascription she might make of a current mental state to someone else, and (3) typically, a speaker’s self-ascriptions are uniquely insulated against a range of reasonable epistemic doubts. In this paper I identify another aspect of our first-person authority: (4) typically, we are more easily warranted in deferring to an agent’s self-ascriptions than to any ascription made by one agent about another agent’s mental states. After identifying two senses in which this may be true, I argue that one such sense is best explained in non-epistemic terms, that is, in terms unrelated to agents’ self-knowledge of their mental states. Finally, I argue that that a certain virtue-epistemological account of testimonial warrant nicely handles the second possible sense in which we are especially easily warranted in deferring to self-ascriptions.
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