(Click on the title for a version of the paper. There may be some changes between the papers below and the final, published versions.)
The Goldilocks Problem of the Specificity of Visual Phenomenal Content, forthcoming from Canadian Journal of Philosophy.
Abstract: Existentialist accounts maintain that visual phenomenal content takes the logical form of an existentially quantified sentence. These accounts do not make phenomenal content specific enough. Singularist accounts posit a singular content in which the seen object is a constituent. These accounts make phenomenal content too specific. My account gets the specificity of visual phenomenal content just right. My account begins with John Searle’s suggestion that visual experience represents an object as seen, moves this relation outside the scope of the existential quantifier, and then replaces it with the relation of objects being ‘present as accessible’, as described by Alva Noë.
Getting the Story Right: A Reductionist Narrative Account of Personal Identity, co-authored with Jeanine Weekes Schroer, Philosophical Studies, .
Abstract: A popular “Reductionist” account of personal identity unifies person stages into persons in virtue of their psychological continuity with one another. One objection to psychological continuity accounts is that there is more to our personal identity than just mere psychological continuity: there is also an active process of self-interpretation and self-creation. This criticism can be used to motivate a rival account of personal identity that appeals to the notion of a narrative. To the extent that they comment upon the issue, proponents of narrative accounts typically reject Reductionist metaphysics that (ontologically) reduce persons to aggregates of person stages. In contrast to this trend, we seek to develop a narrative account of personal identity from within Reductionist metaphysics: we think person stages are unified into persons in virtue of their narrative continuity with one another. We argue that this Reductionist version of the narrative account avoids some serious problems facing non-Reductionist versions of the narrative account.
Do the Primary and Secondary Intensions of Phenomenal Concepts Coincide in all Worlds?, Dialectica, Vol. 67 No. 4 (2013), pp 561-577.
Abstract: A slew of conceivability arguments have been given against Physicalism. Many Physicalists try to undermine these arguments by offering accounts of phenomenal concepts that explain how there can be an epistemic gap, but not an ontological gap, between the phenomenal and the physical. Some complain, however, that such accounts fail to do justice to the nature of our introspective grasp of phenomenal properties. A particularly influential version of this complaint comes from David Chalmers (1996, 2003), who claims, in opposition to the accounts of phenomenal concepts described above, that phenomenal concepts have primary and secondary intensions that coincide in all worlds. In this paper, I construct an argument that casts doubt upon Chalmers’ claim. At the heart of this argument is an idea that Chalmers shows some affinity for: namely, that introspection doesn’t reveal whether phenomenal properties are fundamental properties or whether they are derived from more basic protophenomenal properties. I argue that this claim implies that the primary and secondary intensions of our phenomenal concepts do not coincide in all worlds. In this way, I show that a plausible idea about the powers of introspection—an idea that Chalmers himself is drawn to—is a reason for rejecting the claim that phenomenal concepts have primary and secondary intensions that coincide in all worlds.
“Two Potential Problems with Philosophical Intuitions: Muddled Intuitions and Biased Intuitions”, co-authored with Jeanine Weekes Schroer, Philosophia, Vol. 41 No. 4 (2013), pp. 1263-1281.
Abstract: One critique of experimental philosophy is that the intuitions of the philosophically untutored should be accorded little to no weight; instead, only the intuitions of professional philosophers should matter. In response to this critique, “experimentalists” often claim that the intuitions of professional philosophers are biased. In this paper, we explore this question of whose intuitions should be disqualified and why. Much of the literature on this issue focuses on the question of whether the intuitions of professional philosophers are reliable. In contrast, we instead focus on the idea of “muddled” intuitions—i.e. intuitions that are misdirected and about notions other than the ones under discussion. We argue that the philosophically untutored are likely to have muddled intuitions and that professional philosophers are likely to have unmuddled intuitions. Although being umuddled does not, by itself, establish the reliability of the intuitions of professional philosophers, being muddled is enough to disqualify the intuitions of the philosophically untutored. We then turn to the charge that, despite being unmuddled, professional philosophers still have biased intuitions. To evaluate this charge, we switch focus from the general notion of biased intuition to the more specific notion of theory-laden intuition. We argue that there is prima facie evidence—in the form of the presence of conflicts of intuition—for thinking that at least some of the intuitions of professional philosophers are theory-laden. In summary, we conclude that that there is no clean and easy answer to the question of whose intuitions should matter.
“Reductionism in Personal Identity and the Phenomenological Sense of Being a Temporally Extended Self”, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 50 No.4 (2013), pp. 339-356.
Abstract: The special and unique attitudes that we take towards events in our futures/pasts—e.g., attitudes like the dread of an impeding pain—create a challenge for “Reductionist” accounts that reduce persons to aggregates of interconnected person stages: if the person stage currently dreading tomorrow’s pain is numerically distinct from the person stage that will actually suffer the pain, what reason could the current person stage have for thinking of that future pain as being his? One reason everyday subjects believe they have a substantially extended temporal existence stems from introspection—they introspectively experience their selves as being temporally extended. In this paper, I examine whether a Reductionist about personal identity can co-opt this explanation. Using Galen Strawson’s recent work on self-experience as a resource, I reach both a negative and a positive conclusion about the prospects of such a position. First, the relevant kind of self-experience—i.e., the introspective experience of one’s self as being a substantially temporally extended entity—will not automatically arise within a person stage simply in virtue of that stage being psychologically connected to/continuous with other person stages. Second, the relevant kind of self-experience will arise, however, in virtue of person stages weaving together their respective experiences, actions, etc. via a narrative. This positive conclusion points towards a new Reductionist position that focuses upon a narrative, and not mere psychological continuity, in attempting to justify the special attitudes we take towards events in our futures/pasts.
“Can a Single Property be both Dispositional and Categorical? The ‘Partial Consideration Strategy’, Partially Considered”, Metaphysica, Vol. 14 No. 1 (2013), pp. 63-77.
Abstract: One controversial position in the debate over dispositional and categorical properties maintains that our concepts of these properties are the result of partially considering unitary properties that are both dispositional and categorical. As one of its defenders (John Heil 2005, p. 351) admits, this position is typically met with “incredulous stares”. In this paper, I examine whether such a reaction is warranted. This thesis about properties is an instance of what I call “the Partial Consideration Strategy”—i.e. the strategy of claiming that what were formerly thought of as distinct entities are actually a unified entity, partially considered. By evaluating its use in other debates, I uncover a multi-layered prima facie case against the use of the Partial Consideration Strategy in the dispositional/categorical properties debate. In closing, I describe how the Partial Consideration Strategy can be reworked in a way that would allow it to sidestep this prima facie case.
“Painful Reasons: Representationalism as a Theory of Pain”, with Brendan O’Sullivan, The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 249 (October 2012), pp. 737-758.
Abstract: It is widely thought that functionalism and the qualia theory are better positioned to accommodate the “affective” aspect (i.e., the hurtfulness) of pain phenomenology than representationalism. In this paper, we attempt to overturn this opinion by raising problems for both functionalism and the qualia theory on this score. First, we argue that functionalism gets the order of explanation wrong: pain experience gives rise to the effects it does because it hurts, and not the other way around. Second, we argue that the qualia theory fails to capture the sense in which pain’s affective phenomenology rationalizes various bodily-directed beliefs, desires, and behaviors. Since it escapes both of these problems, we argue that representationalism has a significant advantage in the debates about pain’s affective phenomenology. We end the paper by examining objections, including the question of what representationalists should say about so-called “disassociation cases,” such as pain asymbolia.
“Representationalism and the Scene-Immediacy of Visual Experience: A Journey to the Fringe and Back”, Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 4 (2012), pp. 595 - 615.
Abstract: Both visual experience and conscious thought represent external objects, but in visual experience these objects seem present before the mind and available for direct access in a way that they don’t in conscious thought. In this paper, I introduce a couple of challenges that this “Scene-Immediacy” of visual experience raises for traditional versions of Representationalism. I then identify a resource to which Representationalists can appeal in addressing these challenges: the low-detail fringe of visual experience. I argue that low-detail contents within visual experience provide the mind with a rich access to additional high-detail information, an access that is not found in conscious thought. This access, in turn, speaks to the challenges raised by the Scene-Immediacy of visual experience.
“Two Challenges that Categorical Properties Pose to Physicalism”, Ratio, Vol 25, Issue 2 (July 2012), pp. 195-206
Abstract: What are physical objects like when they are considered independently of their causal interactions? Many think that the answer to this question involves categorical properties—properties that make contributions to their bearers that are independent of any causal interactions those objects may enter into. In this paper, I examine two challenges that this solution poses to Physicalism. The first challenge is that, given that they are distinct from any of the scientifically described causal powers that they happen to convey, categorical properties will not qualify as being ‘physical’ properties. Given the right definition of ‘physical’, this challenge can be overcome. I argue, however, that the only way we can have a positive grasp of the nature of categorical properties is via ‘acquaintance’—a non-physical relation. This second challenge to Physicalism cannot be overcome.
“Can Determinable Properties Earn Their Keep?”, Synthese, Vol 183, No 2 (November 2011), pp 229-247.
Abstract: Sydney Shoemaker’s ‘Subset Account’ offers a new take on determinable properties and the realization relation as well as a defense of non-reductive physicalism from the problem of mental causation. At the heart of this account are the claims that 1) mental properties are determinable properties and 2) the causal powers that individuate a determinable property are a proper subset of the causal powers that individuate the determinates of that property. The second claim, however, has led to the accusation that the effects caused by the instantiation of a determinable property will also be caused by the instantiation of the determinates of that property—so instead of solving the problem of mental causation, the Subset Account ends up guaranteeing that the effects of mental properties (and all other types of determinable property) will be causally overdetermined! In this paper, I explore this objection. I argue that both sides in this debate have failed to engage the question at the heart of the objection: Given that both a determinable property and its determinates have the power to cause some effect (E), does it follow that both will actually cause E when the relevant conditions obtain? To make genuine progress towards answering this question, we need to take a serious look at the metaphysics of causation. With the debate properly reframed and issues about the metaphysics of causation front and center, I explore the question of whether the Subset Account is doomed to result in problematic causal overdetermination. (AUTHOR’S NOTE (SEPT 2014): It has recently come to my attention that the position described in this paper as “Shoemaker’s Subset Account” has also been developed, refined, and defended in a number of papers by Jessica Wilson, going back as far as 1999. I regret the absence of any discussion, or acknowledgement, of Wilson’s position in this paper.)
“Is There More than One Categorical Property?”, The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 60 (October 2010), p. 831-850.
Abstract: One of the most intense debates about properties is whether they are dispositional or categorical. In this paper, I develop a new theory of properties by considering two central arguments from this debate. The first claims that objects must possess categorical properties in order to be distinct from empty space. The second argument, however, points out several untoward consequences of positing categorical properties. I explore these arguments and argue that, despite appearances, their conclusions need not be in conflict with one another. In particular, we can view the second argument as only supporting the claim that there is not a plurality of categorical properties, and not the stronger claim that there are no categorical properties whatsoever. I then develop a new account of properties that capitalizes on this insight.
“Where’s the Beef? Phenomenal Concepts as Both Demonstrative and Substantial”, The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 88, No. 3 (July 2010), pp. 505-522.
Abstract: One popular materialist response to the explanatory gap identifies phenomenal concepts with type-demonstrative concepts. This kind of response, however, faces a serious challenge: Our phenomenal concepts seem to provide a richer characterization of their referents than just the demonstrative characterization of ‘that quality’. In this paper, I develop a materialist account that beefs up the contents of phenomenal concepts while retaining the idea that these contents contain demonstrative elements. I illustrate this account by focusing on our phenomenal concepts of phenomenal colour. The phenomenal colours stand in a similarity space relative to one another in virtue of being complex qualities—qualities that contain saturation, lightness, and various aspects of hue as component elements. Our phenomenal concepts, in turn, provide a demonstrative characterization of each of these component elements as well as a description of how much of that element is present in a given phenomenal colour. The result is an account where phenomenal concepts contain demonstrative elements and yet provide a significantly richer characterization of the intrinsic nature of their referents than just ‘that quality’.
“How Far Can the Physical Sciences Reach?”, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3 (July 2010), pp. 253-266.
Abstract: It is widely thought that dispositional properties depend upon categorical properties; specifying the nature of this dependency, however, has proven a difficult task. The dependency of dispositional properties upon categorical properties also presents a challenge to the thesis of Physicalism: If the physical sciences only tell us about the dispositional properties of the objects they study and if dispositional properties depend upon categorical properties, then it appears that there will be kind of property—categorical properties—that will escape description by the physical sciences. This paper argues that a new theory of dispositional and categorical properties, a theory put forth by C.B. Martin and John Heil, solves both of these problems: It presents a way of understanding the sense in which dispositional properties depend upon categorical properties that has major advantages over more popular accounts of this dependency and it also provides a new and interesting Physicalist response to the challenge presented by categorical properties.
“Does the Phenomenality of Perceptual Experience Present an Obstacle to Phenomenal Externalism?”, Philosophical Papers, Vol. 39, No. 1 (March 2009), pp. 93-110.
Abstract: Although Externalism is widely accepted as a thesis about belief, as a thesis about experience it is both controversial and unpopular. One potential explanation of this difference involves the phenomenality of perceptual experience—perhaps there is something about how perceptual experiences seem that straightforwardly speaks against Externalist accounts of their individuation conditions. In this paper, I investigate this idea by exploring the role that the phenomenality of color experience plays in a prominent argument against Phenomenal Externalism: Ned Block’s Inverted Earth Argument. In the course of carrying out this investigation, I will show that challenging Phenomenal Externalism on phenomenological grounds is not as straightforward a task as it is commonly assumed to be.
"Open Your Eyes and Look Harder! (An Investigation into the Idea of a Responsible Search)", The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Fall 2008), pp. 409-430.
Abstract: In this paper, I explore and defend the idea that we have epistemic responsibilities with respect to our visual searches, responsibilities that are far more fine-grained and interesting than the trivial responsibilities to keep our eyes open and “look hard”. In order to have such responsibilities, we must be able to exert fine-grained and interesting forms of control over our visual searches. I present both an intuitive case and an empirical case for thinking that we do, in fact, have such forms of control over our visual searches. I then show how these forms of control can be used to aim the visual beliefs that result from our searches towards various epistemic goals.
"The Woman in the Painting and the Image in the Penny: An Investigation of Phenomenological Doubleness, Seeing-in, and 'Reversed Seeing-in'", Philosophical Studies, Vol. 139, No. 3 (June 2008), pp. 329-341.
Abstract: The experience of looking at a tilted penny involves a “phenomenological doubleness” in that it simultaneously seems to be of something circular and of something elliptical. In this paper, I investigate the phenomenological doubleness of this experience by comparing it to another case of phenomenological doubleness—the phenomenological doubleness of seeing an object in a painting. I begin by pointing out some striking similarities between the phenomenological characters of these two experiences. I then argue that these phenomenological characters have a common explanation. More specifically, I argue that the psychological mechanism that explains the phenomenological doubleness of the experience of seeing an object in a painting can be extended to also explain the phenomenological doubleness of the experience of seeing a tilted penny.
"Memory Foundationalism and the Problem of Unforgotten Carelessness", Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 89, Issue 1 (March 2008), pp. 74-85.
Abstract: According to memory foundationalism, seeming to remember that P is prima facie justification for believing that P. There is a common objection to this theory: If I previously believed that P carelessly (i.e. without justification) and later seem to remember that P, then (according to memory foundationalism) I have somehow acquired justification for a previously unjustified belief. In this paper, I explore this objection. I begin by distinguishing between two versions of it: One where I seem to remember that P while also seeming to remember being careless in my original believing that P and the other where I seem to remember that P while not seeming to remember my past carelessness. I argue that the former case is the real challenge for memory foundationalism. After establishing the case of unforgotten carelessness as objection to memory foundationalism, I recast memory foundationalism in way that allows it to escape this objection.
"The Reticence of Visual Phenomenal Character: A Spatial Interpretation of Transparency", The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 85, Issue 3 (Sept 2007), pp. 393-414.
Abstract: It is often claimed that the phenomenal character of visual experience is ‘transparent’ in that the phenomenal features of visual experience do not seem ‘mental’. It is then claimed that this transparency speaks in favour of some theories of experience while speaking against others. In this paper, I advance both a negative and a positive thesis about transparency: My negative thesis is that visual phenomenal character is reticent in that it does not reveal whether it is mental or non-mental in nature. This, in turn, means that, by itself, transparency does not speak in favour of (and against) the theories it is often thought to speak in favour of (and against). My positive thesis is that the phenomenon referred to as the ‘transparency’ of visual phenomenal character is best characterized in spatial, not mental, terms.
“Environmental Representationalists on Afterimages and Phosphenes: Putting Our Best Foot Forward”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 42, No.4 (Winter 2004), pp. 531-546.
Abstract: Environmental representationalism is the position that phenomenal differences between visual experiences are determined by the representational claims those experiences make about the surrounding environment. Afterimage and phosphene experiences are an important and widely cited objection to this position. In this paper, I defend environmental representationalism from this objection. In particular, I point out several ways in which typical environmental representationalist accounts of these experiences are lacking while developing a more satisfying account which focuses on how the visual system generates its representations as well as on several of the unique temporally-extended features of afterimage/phosphene experiences.
“Seeing It All Clearly: The Real Story on Blurry Vision”, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 3 (July 2002), pp. 297-301.
Abstract: Representationalism is the position that the phenomenal character of a perceptual experience supervenes upon its representational content. The phenomenon of blurry vision is thought to raise a difficulty for this position. More specifically, it is alleged that representationalists cannot account for the phenomenal difference between clearly seeing an indistinct edge and blurrily seeing a distinct edge solely in terms of represented features of the surrounding environment. I defend representationalism from this objection by offering a novel account of the phenomenal difference between these two kinds of cases.
“The Intransitivity of Matching Sensible Qualities of Color: A Skeleton in the Closet for Representationalism”, Philosophical Studies, Vol. 107, No. 3(February 2002), pp. 259-273.
Abstract: The intransitivity of matching sensible qualities of color is a threat not only to the sense-data theory, but to all realist theories of sensible qualities, including the current leading realist theory: representationalism. I save representationalism from this threat by way of a novel yet empirically plausible hypothesis about the introspective classification of sensible qualities of color. I argue that, due to limitations of the visual system's ability to extract fine-grained information about color from the environment, introspective classification of sensible qualities of color is sensitive to features of context. I finish by arguing for the superiority of my solution over two alternative solutions: one by Nelson Goodman, the other by C.L. Hardin.