My current research primarily focuses on topics in the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, action theory, and metaethics. Below are some of my projects. Please contact me for drafts. Comments are welcome.
- "The Essential Indexicality of Intentional Action" (winner of the Philosophical Quarterly Essay Prize 2015; view it here)
Abstract: Cappelen and Dever 2013 challenge the widely accepted idea that some key aspect of intentional action is essentially indexical, in that no explanation of an intentional action will be complete if it doesn’t make indexical reference. They argue that the classical arguments for this coming from Perry 1979 are in fact arguments for a different phenomena: the opacity of explanatory contexts. I agree with Cappelen and Dever that what Perry says about the ineliminability of indexical terms from explanations of intentional action fails to amount to an argument for this indexicality being essential. But this shouldn’t lead us to be skeptics. In this paper I present a different argument for the essential indexicality of intentional actions. The key premise of this argument is that the contents of intentions are essentially indexical. I provide evidence for this premise and defend it against potential criticism. I also show how the essential indexicality of intentions can be used to vindicate Perry’s original claims about the essential indexicality of certain beliefs and desires.
- "The Rationality of Desires"
Abstract: A number of metaethicists have claimed that individual desires are assessable for rationality. A scan of the current literature reveals two common arguments for this claim. One argument turns on the observation that desires are causally responsive to reasons, while the other turns on the observation that we often appeal to reasons to justify and criticize someone’s desires. From either of these observations and additional premises linking responsiveness to reasons and justifiability by appeal to reasons to rational assessability, the claim that desires are rationally assessable is derived. The aim of this paper is to call into question both of these arguments for the rational assessability of desires. In particular, I will argue that the aforementioned “observations” may not be what they appear to be, and that proponents of the rational assessability of desires have, at minimum, much more work to do if they want to establish their central claim.
- "Feeling Pulled by What Others Say"
Abstract: How is it that uses of sentences move us to action? A common answer is that these uses have “oomph”; they exert a sort of felt-pull on the person or persons to whom they are addressed, and this pull translates into the person being moved to act. Uses of imperatives sentences are the paradigm. You feel a pull to stick out your tongue when your doctor says ‘Stick out your tongue’. In this way the doctor’s use of the imperative has practical oomph over you, by exerting a felt-pull on you to act accordingly. Phenomenologically, this oomph, this pull, is difficult to describe. It’s like having a rope attached to your will on one end and to something else on the other, and this other thing is trying to pull you towards the performance of an act. Moreover, this pull comes in various degrees of strength: sometimes the pull is really strong, other times you barely feel it at all, but most times the strength falls somewhere in the middle. You can of course resist the pull, successfully or not, or you can wrench the rope free of whatever is on the other end, provided its strength is weak enough relative to the strength of your will. But what is it you are resisting against? What’s on the other end of the rope?
The aim of this paper is determine what’s on the other end of the rope, what the source of the pull felt from uses of language is. The basic claim I will make is that motivating reasons, understood in a sense related to that found in Davidson 1963, are doing the pulling. One feels moved to perform some act on the basis of some sentence being used because one either has or has acquired motivating reasons that pull towards the performance of that act. Thus, even in the case of imperatives, oomph comes from a source external yet closely connected to sentences and their contents. Some, like followers of Hare and Castañeda, will find this surprising, even counterintuitive. But before jumping to conclusions, the view needs to be laid out in detail, and afterwards we can see how it stacks up to its competitors.
- Telling Each Other What To Do: On Imperative Language (Dissertation)
Abstract: In my dissertation I examine the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of imperative sentences. The guiding question is What are the meanings of imperatives? To answer this question I begin by arguing, in Chapter 1, that the syntax of imperatives structurally parallels the syntax of declaratives, such that imperatives and declaratives have all the same structural features (subject NP, predicate VP, mood feature, etc.). From this starting point I then go on to argue, in Chapter 2, that two of the most prominent theories of imperative meaning on the market today – the Property Theory and the Deontic Proposition Theory – are inadequate. In Chapter 3 I present, develop, and defend a theory of imperative meaning which builds on the work of Castañeda, Hamblin, Ludwig, and Mastop, among others, while departing from each in significant ways. I call it Naïve Satisfactionism. This theory faces a number of challenges however. In Chapter 4 I tackle perhaps the most pressing difficult for any theory of imperative meaning: compound sentences containing both imperatives and clauses with different types of meanings (e.g. 'You do the laundry and I will vacuum the carpets'). I review a number of potential ways to account for these "mixed" compound sentences. Ultimately, I argue that this problem requires holding that imperatives and declaratives have exactly the same semantics. This means that imperatives and declaratives have both the same intensions and the same extensions. Thus, Chapter 4 draws the surprising conclusion that despite surface differences, there is no interesting semantic difference between imperatives and declaratives (or any other clause-type for that matter). Nevertheless, I argue that there are still conversational differences between imperatives and declaratives. Namely, I argue that sentential moods conversationally function to determine which areas of one's mental life one should be engaging. For instance, while accepting a sentence in the declarative mood involves forming a belief, accepting a sentence in the imperative mood involves forming an intention. Another pressing problem for Naïve Satisfactionism is it's not clear how proponents of the theory can make good on the claim that there is a significant connection between imperatives and action. Chapter 5 responds to this problem by linking imperative sentences up with reasons for action: one accepts an imperative sentence only if they have motivating reasons to carry the imperative out. In linking imperatives up with reasons for action, I am able to account for the practical "oomph" that language-users report experiencing when being on the receiving end of an imperative, and thereby am able to explain how it is that we tell each other what to do.