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 is a fact which one treats as a reason for one to Φ, and one rationally responds to it by Φ-ing. In bad cases one fails to Φ in response to the fact 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 what one treats as a normative reason is a fact, 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 fact. 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 from, and is indeed 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, 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 in terms of the agent's abilities? 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?

Journal Articles

The Basis of Debasing Scepticism | Forthcoming in 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.

Knowledgeably Responding to Reasons | Forthcoming in Erkenntnis

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. Second, I point out that even if we share the intuition: we have strong reason to doubt the verdict anyway. And finally I point out that since (RET) is independently implausible, the two problems can be tackled anyway.

Is Believing for a Normative Reason a Composite Condition? | 2019. Synthese 196 (9): 3889--3910

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.

The Formulation of Disjunctivism about Φ-ing for a Reason | 2019. Philosophical Quarterly 69 (275): 235--257

We can contrast rationalising explanations of the form S Φs because p with those of the 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.

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 Chapters

Are Perceptual Reasons the Objects of Perception? | 2018. In: Johan Gersel, Morten Thaning, Søren Overgaard, and Rasmus Jensen (eds.) In the Light of Experience: Essays on Reasons and Perception, Oxford: 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.

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.

Susanne Mantel's Determined by Reasons | Forthcoming in The Philosophical Quarterly

The primary focus of Susanne Mantel’s excellent Determined by Reasons is to develop a distinctive abilities-based account of acting in response to normative reasons, one which is clearly modelled on extant ability-theoretic accounts of knowledge. This review sketches Mantel’s account and raises a worry: that the account fails to characterise the sort of abilities constitutively involved in responding to reasons because it allows that agents can act for the reason that p even if their belief that p is not accessible to conscious reasoning.

Under Review

The Matter of Motivating Reasons

It is now standard in the literature on reasons and rationality to distinguish between normative reasons and motivating reasons. Two issues have dominated philosophical theorising concerning the latter: (i) whether we should think of them as certain (narrowly supervening) psychological states of the agent – the dispute over Psychologism; and (ii) whether we should say that the agent can f for the reason that p only if p – the dispute over Factivism. This paper argues, first, that there is prima facie compelling reason to think that the two disputes are merely verbal, in the sense that they are generated solely by a disagreement concerning the semantic values of phrases such as ‘the reason’ and ‘S’s reason’, as those appear in motivating reasons ascription contexts. The paper argues, second, however, that a study of the main arguments for Psychologism and Anti-Factivist reveals what the proponent of each position is really out to prove are certain Cartesian theses about the nature and normative structure of evaluations of rationality. The paper ends with an attempt to shift the onus of proof onto the proponents of such a picture by exploiting a form of argument analogous to arguments from the so-called transparency of experience in the philosophy of perception.

Rational Abilities Externalised

In recent years, theorists of reasons have become attracted to a dispositional or ability-based account of Φ-ing in response to a normative reason. According to such views, we’re to account for the relation that holds between an agent’s Φ-ing and their representation of their reason in terms of the operation of an ability of a certain kind possessed by the agent. That style of approach promises to preserve the virtues of causal accounts whilst providing a solution to the problem of deviant causal chains. This paper argues that dispositional accounts are only successful in avoiding the problem of deviant causal chains if they commit to the thought that the rational ability which is manifested when the agent Φs in the light of a fact requires for its manifestation that the agent knows the fact in question, whereas the rational ability which is manifested when the agent Φs merely in the light of their belief does not have that property. The paper provides a sustained cashing-out of this disjunctive version of the dispositional view and finishes by highlighting several pay-offs.