My work in epistemology is motivated by the fact that we make mistakes when forming and maintaining our beliefs. Much of my published epistemological work attempts to make sense of the theoretical and normative implications of this fact. In particular, I am articulating and defending a novel version of "non-ideal epistemic theory." That being said, my interest in this area is fundamentally practical. We have all sorts of explicit and implicit strategies that we use to maintain our beliefs when confronted with evidence of our mistakes. I find this pretty disturbing. Contemplating deep and fundamental disagreement -- disagreement not only about what the correct interpretation of the shared data is, but disagreement about what the data are -- is what (occasionally) keeps me up at night! How do we overcome these disagreements and circumvent pernicious strategies of belief maintenance? In an effort to answer this question and unearth methods for mitigating controversy based in these sorts of strategies, I'm now thinking about the philosophically underexplored topic of conversion -- political, religious, scientific, etc. conversion. What causes people to convert? Which kinds of conversion are epistemically and morally desirable? Insofar as people cause others to convert via advocacy efforts, who are the best advocates?
Most of my philosophical interests are normative in nature. This has led me to consider theoretical questions about the source of normativity. While I would *like* there to be some true non-instrumental account of normativity, I'm ultimately skeptical of this prospect. As a result, I've attempted to think carefully about how to develop instrumental accounts. Sophisticated instrumental accounts tend to appeal to a notion like "promotion" of desires or other similar states. So far, much of my purely metaethical work has been devoted to clarifying this notion. (Some of this work has been discussed in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Ethics, Philosophical Studies, Philosophical Issues, JESP, (and again in) JESP, and thisbook.) I also draw on work in metaethics, ethics, and political theory when doing my more theoretical work in epistemology. For details concerning my dissertation and my research trajectory, please email me.
Work in Progress I welcome feedback. Please email me for drafts or with comments. Second Best Epistemology: Fallibility and Normativity (Revise & Resubmit at Philosophical Studies) Abstract: The Fallibility Norm – the claim that we ought to take our fallibility into account when managing our beliefs – appears to conflict with several other compelling epistemic norms. To shed light on these apparent conflicts, I distinguish two kinds of norms: norms of perfection and norms of compensation. Roughly, norms of perfection tell us how agents ought to behave if they’re to be perfect; norms of compensation tell us how imperfect agents ought to behave in order to compensate for their imperfections. I argue that the Fallibility Norm is a norm of compensation, and that thinking of it like this helps us make progress in debates surrounding disagreement, higher-order evidence, and epistemic akrasia.
The Epistemic Significance of Conversion (Under Review) Abstract: In this paper, I address epistemic issues related to the philosophically underexplored topic of conversion. In particular, I consider the question of whether evidence of an agent’s conversion is evidence of that agent having the epistemic virtues of open-mindedness and intellectual integrity. The answer, I argue, is that it depends on three factors: the nature of the conversion, the “new worldview” to which the agent has converted, and how one reasons with information about her conversion. In §1, I raise the question about conversion in the context of etiological challenges to agents’ beliefs. In §2, I distinguish four kinds of conversion (Indoctrinating, Voluntaristic, Reflective, and Experiential), and I argue that only evidence of the latter two is evidence of epistemic virtue. In §3, I explain how conversion might make one more closed-minded and dogmatic. In §4, I return to the relation between etiology and conversion, arguing that examination of conversion casts doubt on etiological deflationism -- the view that learning about the etiology of beliefs lacks distinctive epistemic significance -- and that conversion can make one more susceptible to etiological challenges.
The Word of a Reluctant Convert (Under Review) Abstract: Recent political events suggest that there is more political, religious, and moral division than many had previously realized. Since people on all sides think they’re in the right, it’s in everyone’s interest to mitigate that division. But overcoming division requires changing minds, and changing minds requires advocacy. These considerations raise important questions in the rarely discussed field of the epistemology of advocacy. In particular, who are the best advocates? After making some general remarks about the epistemology of advocacy, I defend the thought, found in Berkeley’s dialogue Alciphron, that a certain kind of convert (a “reluctant convert”) is the best advocate. I identify three respects in which these converts are better suited than others to fill the advocacy role: They are less likely to be accused of being problematically biased, they can identify with and understand the concerns of those resistant to accepting the relevant doctrine, and they are likely better able to guide potential converts along the path of conversion since they once traveled this path themselves.