Here are some published papers and works in progress. You can access both by clicking the links following their abstracts.
Is Every Theory of Knowledge False? — Nous (2019), DOI:10.1111/nous.12280
Is knowledge consistent with literally any credence in the relevant proposition, including credence 0? Of course not. But is credence 0 the only credence in p that entails that you don’t know that p? Knowledge entails belief (most epistemologists think), and it’s impossible to believe that p while having credence 0 in p. Is it true that, for every value of ‘x,’ if it’s impossible to know that p while having credence x in p, this is simply because it’s impossible to believe that p while having credence x in p? If so, is it possible to believe that p while having (say) credence 0.4 in p? These questions aren’t standard epistemological fare, at least in part because many epistemologists think their answers are obvious, but they have unanticipated consequences for epistemology. Let ‘improbabilism’ name the thesis that it’s possible to know that p while having a credence in p below 0.5. Improbabilism will strike many epistemologists as absurd, but careful reflection on these questions reveals that, if improbabilism is false, then all of the most plausible theories of knowledge are also false. Or so I argue in this paper. Since improbabilism is widely rejected by epistemologists (at least implicitly), this paper reveals a tension between all of the most plausible theories of knowledge and a widespread assumption in epistemology.
Evidence, Judgment, and Belief at Will — Mind (2019), DOI:10.1093/mind/fzy065.
Doxastic involuntarists have paid insufficient attention to two debates in contemporary epistemology: the permissivism debate and the debate over norms of assertion and belief. In combination, these debates highlight a conception of belief on which, if you find yourself in what I will call an ‘equipollent case’ with respect to some proposition p, there will be no reason why you can’t believe p at will. While doxastic involuntarism is virtually epistemological orthodoxy, nothing in the entire stock of objections to belief at will blocks this route to doxastic voluntarism. Against the backdrop of the permissivism debate and the literature on norms of belief and assertion, doxastic involuntarism emerges as an article of faith, not the obvious truth it’s usually purported to be.
How to Argue for Pragmatic Encroachment — Synthese (2018), DOI:10.1007/s11229-018-1850-4.
Purists think that changes in our practical interests can’t affect what we know unless those changes are truth-relevant with respect to the propositions in question. Impurists disagree. They think changes in our practical interests can affect what we know even if those changes aren’t truth-relevant with respect to the propositions in question. I argue that impurists are right, but for the wrong reasons, since they haven’t appreciated the best argument for their own view. Together with “Minimalism and the Limits of Warranted Assertability Maneuvers,” “The Pragmatic Encroachment Debate,” and “Anti-Intellectualism” (below), this paper constitutes my attempt to refute the entire pragmatic encroachment debate. As I show in this paper, there is an argument for impurism sitting in plain sight that is considerably more plausible than any extant argument for pragmatism.
Anti-Intellectualism — Mind (2018), Vol. 127, Issue 506, pp. 437-66.
Intellectualists disagree with anti-intellectualists about the relationship between truth and knowledge. According to intellectualists, this relationship is intimate. Knowledge entails true belief, and in fact everything required for knowledge is somehow relevant to the probability that the belief in question is true. According to anti-intellectualists, this relationship isn’t intimate. Or, at least, it’s not as intimate as intellectualists think. Factors that aren’t in any way relevant to the probability that a belief is true can make a difference to whether it counts as knowledge. In this paper, I give a new argument for anti-intellectualism and draw out consequences of this argument for the pragmatic encroachment debate. The standard purist objection to pragmatism is that pragmatism entails anti-intellectualism. As I show, anti-intellectualism follows from premises that are plausible even if purism is true, so the standard purist objection to pragmatism fails.
The Pragmatic Encroachment Debate — Nous (2018), Vol. 52, No. 1: pp. 171-95.
Does knowledge depend in any interesting way on our practical interests? This is the central question in the pragmatic encroachment debate. Pragmatists defend the affirmative answer to this question while purists defend the negative answer. The literature contains two kinds of arguments for pragmatism: principle-based arguments and case-based arguments. Principle-based arguments derive pragmatism from principles that connect knowledge to practical interests. Case-based arguments rely on intuitions about cases that differ with respect to practical interests. I argue that there are insurmountable problems for both kinds of arguments, and that it is therefore unclear what motivates pragmatism.
Are Intellectual Virtues Truth-Relevant? — Episteme (2017), Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 381-92.
According to Attributor Virtue Epistemology (the view defended by Ernest Sosa, John Greco, and others), S knows that p only if her true belief that p is attributable to some intellectual virtue, competence, or ability that she possesses. Attributor Virtue Epistemology captures a wide range of our intuitions about the nature and value of knowledge, and it has many able defenders. Unfortunately, it has an unrecognized consequence that many epistemologists will think is sufficient for rejecting it—namely, it makes knowledge depend on factors that aren’t truth-relevant, even in the broadest sense of this term, and it also makes knowledge depend in counterintuitive ways on factors that are truth-relevant in the more common narrow sense of this term. As I show in this paper, the primary objection to interest-relative views in the pragmatic encroachment debate can be raised even more effectively against Attributor Virtue Epistemology.
Reasons to Not Believe (and Reasons to Act) — Episteme (2016), Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 439-48
In “Reasons to Believe and Reasons to Act,” Stewart Cohen argues that balance of reasons accounts of rational action get the wrong results when applied to doxastic attitudes, and that there are therefore important differences between reasons to believe and reasons to act. In this paper, I argue that balance of reasons accounts of rational action get the right results when applied to the cases that Cohen considers, and that these results highlight interesting similarities between reasons to believe and reasons to act. I also consider an argument for Cohen’s conclusion based on the principle that Adler, Moran, Shah, Velleman and others call “transparency.” I resist this argument by explaining why transparency is itself doubtful.
Minimalism and the Limits of Warranted Assertability Maneuvers — Episteme (2014), Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 245 – 260
Contextualists and pragmatists agree that knowledge-denying sentences are contextually variable, in the sense that a knowledge-denying sentence might semantically express a false proposition in one context and a true proposition in another context, without any change in the properties traditionally viewed as necessary for knowledge. Minimalists deny both pragmatism and contextualism, and maintain that knowledge-denying sentences are not contextually variable. To defend their view from cases like DeRose and Stanley’s high stakes bank case, minimalists like Patrick Rysiew, Jessica Brown, and Wayne Davis forward “warranted assertability maneuvers.” The basic idea is that some knowledge-denying sentence seems contextually variable because we mistake what a speaker pragmatically conveys by uttering that sentence for what she literally says by uttering that sentence. In this paper, I raise problems for the warranted assertability maneuvers of Rysiew, Brown, and Davis, and then present a warranted assertability maneuver that should succeed if any warranted assertability maneuver will succeed. I then show how my warranted assertability maneuver fails, and how the problem with my warranted assertability maneuver generalizes to pragmatic responses in general. The upshot of my argument is that, in order to defend their view from cases like DeRose and Stanley’s high stakes bank case, minimalists must prioritize the epistemological question whether the subjects in those cases know over linguistic questions about the pragmatics of various knowledge-denying sentences.
Click here for final draft.
Does the Theist Have an Epistemic Advantage Over the Atheist? — Journal of Philosophical Research (2009), Vol. 34, pp. 305-328)
I wrote this paper my first semester as a student at Northern Illinois University. Jerry Fodor read it, put a smiley face in the margin, and wrote “Cute.” I guess that’s better than “Ugly.” This paper argues that Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism shows that naturalists have defeaters for everything they believe only if analogous arguments from the problem of evil show that theists have defeaters for everything they believe. Recent iterations of Plantinga’s argument bear a surprising resemblance to a famous argument in Descartes’s Third Meditation. Both arguments conclude that theists have an epistemic advantage over atheists/naturalists vis-à-vis the question whether or not our cognitive faculties are reliable. In this paper I show how these arguments bear an even deeper resemblance to each other. After bringing the problem of evil to bear negatively on Descartes’s argument, I argue that, given these similarities, atheists can wield a recent solution to the problem of evil against theism in much the way Plantinga wields the details of evolutionary theory against naturalism. I conclude that Plantinga and Descartes give us insufficient reason for thinking theists are in a better epistemic position than atheists and naturalists vis-à-vis the question whether or not our cognitive faculties are reliable.
Click here for final draft.
Works in Progress
Permissive Situations and Direct Doxastic Control
According to what I will call ‘the disanalogy thesis,’ beliefs differ from actions in at least the following important way: while cognitively healthy people often exhibit direct control over their actions, there is no possible scenario where a cognitively healthy person exhibits direct control over her beliefs. Recent arguments against the disanalogy thesis maintain that, if you find yourself in what I will call a ‘permissive situation’ with respect to p, then you can have direct control over whether you believe p, and do so without manifesting any cognitive defect. These arguments focus primarily on the idea that we can have direct doxastic control in permissive situations, but they provide insufficient reason for thinking that permissive situations are actually possible, since they pay inadequate attention to the following worries: permissive situations seem inconsistent with the uniqueness thesis, permissive situations seem inconsistent with natural thoughts about epistemic akrasia, and vagueness threatens even if we push these worries aside. In this paper I argue that, on the understanding of permissive situations that is most useful for evaluating the disanalogy thesis, permissive situations clearly are possible.
Click here for most recent draft.
Transparency isn’t a Datum
According to a thesis often called ‘transparency,’ you can answer the deliberative question whether you should believe that p iff you can answer the factual question whether p. Transparency is widely accepted by philosophers. Indeed, it’s standardly taken as a datum, and it’s so widely accepted that it is hard to find philosophers who reject it. But this widespread acceptance of transparency is a mistake, since, on all of the many ways we might understand transparency, it’s doubtful that transparency is true.
Click here for most recent draft.