research

I am a Philosophy PhD Candidate at the University of Pittsburgh and a current job seeker. I write about skepticism in contemporary philosophy and the modern period.

Kant's Critical System , painted and sketched by me in 2014

Kant's Critical System, painted and sketched by me in 2014

INTERESTS

My main areas of interest are epistemology and the history of modern philosophy.   In both cases, my primary topic is skepticism, the view or feeling that we know very little.  My research addresses questions like:  How can we talk to people who are deeply and radically skeptical?  What kinds of considerations or arguments could get skeptics to change their mind?  From where does their skepticism come?  I treat these as live philosophical questions.  But my approach is informed by historical treatments of skepticism, especially those of Hume and Kant.

I am also interested in existentialism, the history of ethics, moral psychology, philosophy of action, applied ethics (including bioethics), the history of medicine, the Scottish Enlightenment, and the works Aristotle and Heidegger.

CV

Available here.

PUBLICATIONS

“Does Perceptual Psychology Rule Out Disjunctivism in the Theory of Perception” forthcoming in Synthese.

Against Tyler Burge, I argue that the perceptual kinds employed within vision science typically differ from and imply nothing about the kinds that figure in epistemological disjunctivism, the view that genuine perceptions and misperceptions differ in epistemic kind.

Discussion of John McDowell’s ‘Perceptual Experience and Empirical Rationality’” Analytic Philosophy, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2018, pp. 99–111.

Discussion of Anil Gupta’s ‘Outline of an Account of Experience’” Analytic Philosophy, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2018, pp. 75–88.

PAPERS

“The Humors in Hume’s Skepticism” (under review, available upon request)

Interpreters have struggled to explain the succession of stages in Hume’s recovery from melancholy in Treatise 1.4.7. I argue that Hume’s repeated invocation of the four humors of ancient medicine explains the succession, and sheds a new light on the role of skepticism in his theory of human nature.

“The Groundlessness of Skepticism” (under review, available upon request)

I offer a three-part cure for external world skepticism. First, I argue that influential skeptical arguments rely on a shared, tacit premise about the nature of perception. Next, I argue that the best arguments for this premise are circular. Last, I offer an alternative view of perception that avoids skepticism.

“Transcendental Cures for Skepticism” (under review, available upon request)

Kantian ‘transcendental’ arguments argue that an anti-skeptical state of affairs is a precondition on thought or experience. Yet they struggle to convince skeptics. I argue that a weakened Kantian argument, together with a plausible “ought implies can” principle, constitutes a cure that can reach many skeptics.

RESEARCH STATEMENT

Available here.

DISSERTATION

‘Talking to Skeptics’

Committee: John McDowell (chair), Stephen Engstrom, James Shaw, Karl Schafer (UC Irvine)

Skeptics argue that we can know almost nothing at all. In doing so, they threaten our understand- ing of ourselves and the world we live in. Many philosophers now think there is no use in talking to skeptics—that no argument can change their minds, thereby curing them of their skepticism. These philosophers opt for a merely preventive response, aiming to convince only non-skeptics that they can resist skeptical arguments. I argue that a cure is necessary, viable, and theoretically illuminating.

First, I argue that the merely preventive response must fail. To succeed with it, I explain, we would have to understand why skeptical arguments appear compelling. We would then find out either why the arguments seem compelling, but are ultimately not, or that they are indeed compelling. In the first case, a cure would be within reach; we could explain the skeptic’s error to her. In the second, prevention would come too late; we ourselves would need a cure. It follows, I argue, that until we can show a skeptic how she has gone wrong, we cannot resist her arguments in good faith.

Second, I argue that we can in fact change a skeptic’s mind. I begin by considering influential arguments for skepticism about the external world, including arguments from closure and underdetermination, and the classic argument formulated in Jim Pryor’s “The Skeptic and the Dogmatist.” I show that all these arguments, despite their apparent differences, rely on a shared, tacit premise: that perception never puts us in touch with the world in a way that guarantees the truth of what we perceive. I then argue that the best arguments for this shared premise are question-begging. The claims and inferences meant to bring out perception’s limitations lack motivation without circularly presuming the shared premise. This suggests that the premise is a groundless intuition, and thus that external world skepticism lacks any solid foundation. Showing this to the skeptic clears the obstacles to her accepting, on ordinary grounds, a view on which perception can straight- forwardly provide us with knowledge of how things are around us. This acceptance cures the skeptic.

Third, I argue that my ambitious, curative response can help us understand the nature, significance and history of skepticism. For Hume, I explain, skepticism is primarily a temperament. As he understood it, a skeptical temperament leads to excessive questioning and even madness when overly dominant, but only carefulness and rigor when balanced with other temperaments. Tracing skepticism to a groundless intuition helps motivate Hume’s focus on temperaments and feelings. Hume’s conception of proper temperamental balance, in turn, helps us grasp the skeptic’s nature, how to diagnose skepticism, and what we can learn from skeptic even as we cure her.

The curative response also helps us understand Kant’s views, and vice versa. Standard readings of Kant portray the central arguments of his first Critique as meant in part to expose contradictions within skeptical empiricism. On my reading, Kant’s attitude toward the skeptical empiricist is not so adversarial. Instead of refuting the skeptic, he offers her an alternative conception of the mind and its relation to the objects of knowledge—one which makes sense of our knowing much of what such a skeptic doubts. Though this conception can seem at odds with skeptical empiricism, I argue that Kant is right to expect that the skeptic would find it appealing. Kant’s portrayal of skepticism as arising out of a frustration or despair of understanding human knowledge explains why, and teaches a general lesson about how to cure skepticism: Offering the skeptic a viewpoint which makes sense of our knowledge, allows her to overcome the frustration from which her skepticism first arises.

If I am right, we can and should talk to skeptics. We need not be quiet or dogmatic in their presence. We can show them the groundlessness of their views, instead of conceding the groundlessness of ours. And we can change their minds by offering a compelling, alternative conception of ourselves.