"Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man."
"Callicles, you'll ruin our previous arguments and will no longer be examining the truth with me if you speak contrary to what you believe."
-Socrates, in Plato's Gorgias
I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington, where I have been on the faculty since receiving my PhD in 2000 from Harvard University. While I am an analytic philosopher by training and intellectual orientation, I see my philosophical work as fundamentally humanistic. I tend to prefer accurate description and other forms of reflective elucidation to explanatory theory-building, and I strive never to lose contact with what it is like to be a flesh-and-blood human being engaged in an ongoing life with other people. Reason is part of this story, but so too are human emotion in all of its vagaries, various forms of irrationality, and the struggle to come to terms with deeply human but unsatisfiable yearnings. In 2010 I received a multi-year Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellowship for ongoing training in clinical psychoanalysis. The clinical psychoanalytic setting has become an important source of data and inspiration for my philosophical work.
My current research covers a broad range of topics in epistemology, moral psychology, psychological explanation, and psychoanalysis.
In epistemology, I have been working on external world skepticism for many years. I am currently developing this work into a book. I also have an ongoing project on topics often broached in the self-knowledge literature (the first-person relation to one’s own attitudes, self-conscious belief, “transparency”, expression of mental states through self-attribution, etc.). This latter work intersects productively with my interest in clinical psychoanalysis.
In moral psychology I have been working with Katy Abramson on various issues relating to love, self-love, reasons, and valuing. (Our paper “Love as a Reactive Emotion” received the 2010 Philosophical Quarterly Essay Prize.) We are also writing together on empathy and emotional attunement.
These moral-psychological interests connect with a more general interest I have in interpersonal phenomena, including particularly desire in interpersonal contexts and the normative structure of interpersonal interaction. In relation to psychoanalysis I have written on self-understanding in the clinical context, and I am currently working on the concept of psychic integration.
Across all of these areas I aim to understand the distinctive mixture that goes into making us what we are: social and deliberative beings, deeply emotionally interdependent, capable of making, evaluating, and accepting or rejecting claims to and upon each other, capable too of determining to some extent our beliefs and other attitudes by considering reasons in the course of deliberation — and yet also shaped by largely non-rational psychic forces beyond our ordinary conscious awareness and deliberative control. One example of this complex interplay, as I argue in a forthcoming paper, is that our capacity for deliberative rationality requires – and builds upon – our capacity to experience rationally incoherent states of mind.
I have wide-ranging historical interests. Much of my work in contemporary epistemology belongs to a tradition that includes G. E. Moore, Wittgenstein, and J. L. Austin: my epistemological data largely arise from careful investigations of our actual epistemic practices, and my response to external world skepticism begins from a position within those practices, asking what reason we can give ourselves for changing our views in the ways the skeptic suggests we should. I argue that we can find no good reason to do so.
Of all my publications, my personal favorites are “Changing One’s Mind” (forthcoming), “Love as a Reactive Emotion” (with Katy Abramson), “Experiential Self-Understanding” (with the psychoanalyst David Bell), “Why Don’t I Know that I’m Not a Brain in a Vat?”, “That’s not Evidence; It’s not Even True!”, and “How to Take Skepticism Seriously.”
Here are some of the issues I have published on in epistemology.
- External world skepticism
- The relation between being justified and being able to justify one's beliefs.
- A "localist" account of justification, which holds (very roughly) that being justified is a matter of being able to draw upon one's background beliefs in appropriate ways to provide an adequate defense of believing as one does.
- The question of whether inferential justification requires belief (or justified belief) that the justifying reason is a good one -- and whether any unwelcome consequences would follow if it does.
- The epistemic basing relation: What is involved in holding a belief for a reason? I offer an account which links basing relations to the commitments undertaken in the course of one's deliberative and justificatory activity.
- Fallibilism and the relation between epistemic categories such as knowledge and justification, on the one hand, and practical considerations, on the other.
- The bearing of real-world circumstances on the adequacy of epistemic reasons.
At the undergraduate level I teach introduction to philosophy and upper-level courses on epistemology, philosophy of action, Wittgenstein, philosophy and psychoanalysis, and philosophical methods and writing. My standard introductory course, "Appearance and Reality," is historically oriented, with readings from Plato, Descartes, Berkeley, Kant, and Schlick. My undergraduate course on philosophy and psychoanalysis, which I have taught three times through the Indiana University Hutton Honors College, focuses on various issues in philosophy of mind and action arising from classic and contemporary psychoanalytic texts. My standard upper-level undergraduate epistemology course includes units on external world skepticism, a priori knowledge, and knowledge of mind (self knowledge and knowledge of other minds).
At the graduate level I have taught seminars on self-knowledge, empirical justification, external world skepticism, the later Wittgenstein, the epistemology of testimony, history of analytic philosophy (Sellars, Quine, Davidson), and epistemic and practical normativity. I have supervised PhD dissertations on the first-person perspective, reasons and experience, and epistemic responsibility. I am currently advising a student writing on doxastic deliberation and another working on instrumentalism about epistemic norms. PhD dissertation committees have included projects on self-knowledge, semantic externalism and perceptual justification, a priori knowledge, metaphysical aspects of explanation, Kierkegaard on communication, guidance by norms, epistemological externalism, Levinas and ethical and epistemic reasons, and Kierkegaard on self-deception, among others.
I have an ongoing interest in pedagogical matters and am part of an interdisciplinary group studying games, play, and intrinsic motivation in the undergraduate classroom.