Research

Below are all the papers I am currently working on or have finished.  Some are part of my dissertation, and some are co-authored.  Questions or comments are welcome and appreciated.

 

The Trouble With Having Standards

The uniqueness thesis states that for any body of evidence and any proposition, there is at most one rational doxastic attitude that an epistemic agent can take toward that proposition.  Permissivism is the denial of uniqueness.  Perhaps the most popular form of permissivism is what I call the Epistemic Standard View (ESV), since it relies on the concept of epistemic standards. Roughly speaking, epistemic standards encode particular ways of responding to any possible body of evidence.  Since different epistemic standards may rationalize different doxastic states on the same body of evidence, this view gives us a form of permissivism if different agents can have different epistemic standards.

Defenders of the ESV, however, have not paid sufficient attention to what it means to have a particular epistemic standard.  I argue that any theory of epistemic standard-possession must satisfy two criteria to adequately address the broader needs of the ESV.  The first criterion is the normative criterion: a theory of standard-possession should explain why agents are rationally required to form beliefs in accordance with their own (rational) epistemic standard, rather than any other (rational) standard.  The second criterion is the applicability criterion: a theory of standard-possession should rule that agents have the epistemic standards we intuitively think they have.  I then argue that no extant theories of standard-possession can satisfy both these criteria.  I conclude by diagnosing why these criteria are so hard to jointly satisfy.  Defenders of the ESV are thus left with a serious obstacle to forming a complete and plausible version of their view.

How Supererogation Can Save Intrapersonal Permissivism

Rationality is intrapersonally permissive just in case there are multiple doxastic states that one agent may be rational in holding at a given time, given some body of evidence. One way for intrapersonal permissivism to be true is if there are epistemic supererogatory beliefs – beliefs that go beyond the call of epistemic duty. Despite this, there has been almost no discussion of epistemic supererogation in the permissivism literature. In this paper, I show that this is a mistake. I do this by arguing that the most popular ways of responding to one of the major obstacles to any intrapersonally permissive theory – the arbitrariness objection due to Roger White – all fall prey to the same problem. This problem is most naturally solved by positing a category of epistemically supererogatory belief. So intrapersonal epistemic permissivists should embrace epistemic supererogation.

A Theory of Epistemic Supererogation (forthcoming in Erkenntnis)

Though there is a wide and varied literature on ethical supererogation, there has been almost nothing written about its epistemic counterpart, despite an intuitive analogy between the two fields.  This paper seeks to change this state of affairs.  I will begin by showing that there are examples which intuitively feature epistemically supererogatory doxastic states.  Next, I will present a positive theory of epistemic supererogation that can vindicate our intuitions in these examples, in an explanation that parallels a popular theory of ethical supererogation.  Roughly, I will argue that a specific type of epistemic virtue – the ability to creatively think up plausible hypotheses given a body of evidence – is not required of epistemic agents.  Thus, certain exercises of this virtue can result in supererogatory doxastic states.  In presenting this theory, I will also show how thinking about epistemic supererogation can provide us a new way forward in the debate about the uniqueness thesis for epistemic rationality.

Conciliationism and Merely Possible Disagreement (with Zach Barnett, published in Synthese)

Conciliationism faces a challenge that has not been satisfactorily addressed.  There are clear cases of epistemically significant merely possible disagreement, but there are also clear cases where merely possible disagreement is epistemically irrelevant.  Conciliationists have not yet accounted for this asymmetry. In this paper, we propose that the asymmetry can be explained by positing a selection constraint on all cases of peer disagreement—whether actual or merely possible. If a peer’s opinion was not selected in accordance with the proposed constraint, then it lacks epistemic significance. This allows us to distinguish the epistemically significant cases of merely
possible disagreement from the insignificant ones.

Fool Me Once: Can Indifference Vindicate Induction? (with Zach Barnett, forthcoming in Episteme)

A reply to Roger White's 2015 paper, "The Problem of the Problem of Induction."

Why Is Rationality Morally but not Epistemically Permissive? (with Bradford Saad)

Morality is intrapersonally permissive: under some circumstances an agent has more than one morally permitted option. In contrast, epistemic rationality is (plausibly) not intrapersonally permissive: (plausibly) there are no cases in which an agent has more than one epistemically permitted response to her evidence. This disanalogy between morality and epistemology calls out for explanation. The paper's task is to answer that call. I proceed by considering three types of permissive case - cases of ties, cases of incommensurability, and cases of supererogation - and explaining why they have moral instances but not epistemic instances.