Research

There has been much recent research on the nature of reasons, rationality, and normativity which cuts across ethics, epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and the theory of agency. A question at the heart of that research area is this: What is it to engage in an action or hold an attitude of mind in response to a (set of) reason(s) for one to do so?

One response to this question which has received a small amount of attention in the literature is the Disjunctive View. To get clear on what this view amounts to, we first need to take note of the minimal metaphysical structure of acting or holding an attitude of mind (in general: Φ-ing) for a reason. When one Φs for the reason that p, there is a relation of a certain kind that holds between one's Φ-ing and the psychological state which constitutes the appearance of p to one (where, at least typically, this state of mind is a belief that p). Call this the rational-motivation relation. In good cases, p really is a reason for one to Φ: a fact which speaks in favour of Φ-ing, and one rationally responds to it in Φ-ing. In bad cases one fails to Φ in response to the normative reason that p, even though it seems to one exactly as if one has done so.

With this background in place, the Disjunctive View can be formulated in the following way. The view says that we should think of good cases as involving a kind of rational-motivation relation that can be instantiated at all only if there is a normative reason on the scene, of which one is suitably aware. We should think of bad cases, by contrast, as involving the instantiation of a quite different kind of rational-motivation relation that requires only the appearance of the relevant normative reason. Finally, we should think of the first kind of relation as having theoretical primacy over the second kind of relation. The essence of the Disjunctive View is that the very way one is related to one's reason in good cases differs in kind with, and indeed is more fundamental than, the way in which one is related to one's apparent reason in bad cases.

My primary research interest is in developing and defending the Disjunctive View. The research questions I have explored, and am currently exploring, in this connection include:

  • Does responding to the normative reason q require knowing that q?
  • What is the account of rationality which motivates the Disjunctive View, if any?
  • Are there such things as subjective reasons? What should the proponent of the Disjunctive View say about this?
  • Does responding to the normative reason q require a capacity to engage in mental acts of inference, reasoning, or judgement? If so, how might the truth of the Disjunctive View affect our understanding of such capacities?
  • Should the Disjunctive View understand the relation involved in responding to normative reasons dispositionally? If so, what would the resulting view look like?
  • What effect might the Disjunctive View, and related theses, have on our understanding of Cartesian and Pyrrhonian Scepticism?
  • How should our account of perceptual knowledge be affected by the truth of the Disjunctive View, if at all? Supposing it should, does this uncover any interesting parallels between the Disjunctive View of reasons-explanation and its sister disjunctive theories in the epistemology and metaphysics of perception?

Published Papers

Is Believing for a Normative Reason a Composite Condition? | Forthcoming in Synthese

Here is a surprisingly neglected question in contemporary epistemology: what is it for an agent to believe that p in response to a normative reason for them to believe that p? On one style of answer, believing for the normative reason that q factors into believing that p in the light of the apparent reason that q, where one can be in that kind of state even if q is false, in conjunction with further independent conditions such as q's being a normative reason to believe that p. The primary objective of this paper is to demonstrate that that style of answer cannot be right, because we must conceive of believing for a normative reason as constitutively involving a kind of rationality-involving relation that can be instantiated at all only if there is a known fact on the scene, which the agent treats as a normative reason. A secondary objective, achieved along the way, is to demonstrate that in their `Prime Time (for the Basing Relation)' Errol Lord and Kurt Sylvan do not succeed in undermining the factoring picture in general, only a simple-minded version of it.

Are Perceptual Reasons the Objects of Perception? | Forthcoming in Johan Gersel, Morten Thaning, Søren Overgaard, and Rasmus Jensen (eds.) In the Light of Experience: Essays on Reasons and Perception, Oxford University Press

This paper begins with a Davidsonian puzzle in the epistemology of perception and introduces two solutions to that puzzle: the Truth-Maker View (TMV) and the Content Model. The paper goes on to elaborate (TMV), elements of which can be found in the work of Kalderon (2011) and Brewer (2011). The central tenant of (TMV) is the claim that one's reason for one's perceptual belief should, in all cases, be identified with some item one perceives which makes the proposition believed true. I defend an argument against (TMV) which appeals to (a) the claim that the reason for which one believes should always to be identified with the explanans of the rationalising explanation to which one's belief is subject and (b) the claim that the explanantia of rationalising explanations must be identified with truths. I finish by replying to two objections to the argument.

Reflective Epistemological Disjunctivism | 2016. Episteme 13 (1): 111-132

It is now common to draw a distinction between Epistemological and Metaphysical Disjunctivism. It is also common to suggest that a commitment to the former doesn’t obviously require a commitment to the latter. The former, it seems, is neutral on the metaphysics of experience. In this paper I focus on the type of Epistemological Disjunctivism associated with Duncan Pritchard (2012) and John McDowell (2013), which I call Reflective Epistemological Disjunctivism, or (RED). I argue that there is a prima facie plausible principle linking knowability by introspection with the nature of phenomenal character that gives us the result that (RED) is committed to Metaphysical Disjunctivism. Moreover, I put on the map a way of modifying the Internalist element of (RED) and attempt to demonstrate that, even with that modification in place, the proponent of (RED) is still committed to Metaphysical Disjunctivism.

Book Reviews

Eva Schmidt's Modest Nonconceptualism | 2017. Philosophical Psychology 30 (1-2): 205-208

This review provides an overview of Eva Schmidt's impressively thorough and detailed book on the Conceptualist/Nonconceptualist debate in the philosophy of perception, and briefly sketches two objections to Schmidt. First, I suggest that a certain dilemma for the Conceptualist Schmidt raises in the context of her discussion of the fineness of grain argument is surmountable. Second, I question whether Schmidt's response to the epistemological motivation for Conceptualism is sound.

Under Review

The Formulation of Disjunctivism about Φ-ing for a Reason | Under Review with The Philosophical Quarterly

We can contrast rationalising explanations of the form S Φs because p with those of form S Φs because S believes that p. According the Common Kind View, the two sorts of explanation are the same. The Disjunctive View denies this. This paper sets out to elucidate the sense in which the Common Kind Theorist asserts, but the Disjunctivist denies, that the two explanations are the same. I suggest that, in the light of the distinction between kinds of explanation and particular explanations, the relevant sameness thesis is ambiguous, thus giving us two distinct versions of the Common Kind View. I then argue that the only direct arguments for Disjunctivism available in the literature fail because they only succeed in undermining one version of the Common Kind View. I finish, however, by providing a fresh argument for the Disjunctive View which aims to undermine both versions of its competitor.

Knowledgeably Responding to Reasons | Under Review with Philosophical Studies

Jennifer Hornsby has defended the Reasons-Knowledge Thesis (RKT): the claim that Φ-ing because p requires knowing that p, where the `because' at issue is a rationalising `because'. She defends (RKT) by appeal to the thought that it provides the best explanation of why the subject in a certain sort of Gettier Case fails to be in a position to Φ because p. Dustin Locke and, separately, Nick Hughes, present some modified barn-façade cases which (a) seem to constitute counterexamples to (RKT) and (b) undermine Hornsby's way of motivating it by rendering their alternative Reasons-Explanation Thesis (RET) a better explanation of Hornsby's datum. This paper defends (RKT) and Hornsby's argument for it against those objections. First, I point out that their supposedly intuitive verdict about the relevant barn-façade cases is not as intuitive as they think. But second, I point out that even if we share the intuition, the two problems can be tackled anyway.

The Basis of Debasing Scepticism | Under Revision for Erkenntnis

This paper purports to provide a fresh cashing out of Debasing Scepticism: the type of Scepticism put on the map in a recent article by Jonathan Schaffer, with a view to demonstrating that the Debasing Sceptic's argument is not so easily dismissed as many of Schaffer's commentators have thought. After defending the very possibility of the Deception Sceptic's favoured sceptical scenario, I lay out a framework for thinking of the agent's power to hold their beliefs in the light of reasons which I argue has initial plausibility. I then attempt to show that with this framework in tow, the Debasing Sceptic has an argument for their sceptical conclusion available to them which Schaffer's commentators have failed to undermine, and which is independently interesting.

In Progress

The Myth of Motivation Reasons

What is it to think of an agent as Φ-ing for the reason that p? According to the Factive View it is to think of them as Φ-ing in a way that is motivated by the normative reason that p. According to the Motivating Reasons View, S can Φ for the reason that p even in cases in which it merely seems to them as if they responding to a normative reason. It follows that to think of S as Φ-ing for the reason that p is not to think of S as Φ-ing in response to the normative reason that p, but to think of them as Φ-ing for a motivating reason. This paper argues in favour of the Factive View. First, the onus is shifted onto the Motivating Reasons View by appeal to the thought that to think of oneself as Φ-ing for the reason that p does not seem to involve the thought that the reason which is motivating one to Φ is anything other than a normative reason. Second, the two best arguments I know of for the Motivating Reasons View are undermined: Dancy's (2000) Linguistic Argument and Comesaña & McGrath's (2014) Argument from Rationality. Finally, a third option is described, which does not treat Φ-ing for a reason as a relation between a reason and the subject's Φ-ing, and it is suggested that the argument against the Motivating Reasons View is effective against that third option too.

Factive Rationality

This paper distinguishes between two theses associated with Disjunctivism about Φ-ing for a Reason: a Pluralism about Φ-ing for a reason and a Primacy of the good case thesis. Two problems which the Disjunctivist currently faces are (a) it is not clear how to formulate Pluralism and (b) it is not clear that there is any motivation for Primacy. This paper purports to solve those problems, thus clearing the ground for a fresh assessment of the Disjunctivist's position. Regarding Pluralism, three different conceptions of it are put on the map: one found in Dancy (2000), one in Honsby (2008), and one in Hyman (2011) and it is argued that once we are clear about the conception of rationality which the Disjunctivist wishes to defend, it is the conception found in Hyman which turns out to be the correct way to formulate the thesis. It is then argued that the conception of rationality in question provides anyone wishing to endorse Pluralism with a further reason to embrace Primacy. Finally, Pluralism and Primacy are provided with a cashing-out within an abilities-based framework, a kind of framework within which many contemporary non-Disjunctivists in this area operate, thus giving us a clear picture of what a developed Disjunctivism in this area would look like.

The Depths of Delusion

This paper argues that extant Two-Factors Theories of delusion of the sort defended by Davies et al. (2001) fail to account for the sense in which patients suffering from a monothematic delusion fail to hold their delusory believe rationally.