I work primarily at the intersection of philosophy of mind and social philosophy. I am interested in thinking about belief with the goal of understanding and regulating pervasive forms of bad believing which shape the social world. On the one hand, considering phenomena under the purview of social philosophy – like bias, ideology and standpoints - is crucial to really understanding belief and minds more generally. On the other hand, a better understanding of belief and how it differs from other aspects of our minds can do valuable work in social philosophy, explaining the effectiveness of political strategies which focus on changing the environment and not on argumentative persuasion in the first instance, and suggesting additional ways of shaping up minds and the social world they help constitute.
Other topics I have spent some time thinking about include: interpretationism about mental content; delusions and self-deception; norm internalization, self-regulation and social identity; cognitive architecture as a conceptual engineering project; frames, perspectives, and the role of attention in structuring thought; and virtues and vices of conversation.
Papers in progress
E-mail me for drafts at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments welcome!
Belief-keeping in an epistemic game
What are beliefs? The traditional conception of belief as an attitude that is closely tied to rational inquiry is under pressure given that we in fact believe in pervasively irrational ways. I develop an account of belief that does justice to the role which beliefs play in epistemic interaction without limiting beliefs to highly rational epistemic agents. To do so, I employ a capacities-first approach: belief requires the capacity for evidence sensitivity. I argue that we must accept such a necessary condition on belief to make sense of our practices of trying to change each other’s minds by appeal to evidence and argument. At the same time, because the relevant capacities are fallible and may be masked by other (internal and external) factors, this account allows for beliefs to be routinely formed and held in epistemically sub-par ways. Further, these capacities come in degrees of sophistication, which both allows non-linguistic and cognitively less sophisticated agents to have beliefs and yields an attractive naturalistic picture in which beliefs gradually emerge from a ground of simpler capacities to respond to one’s environment.
Belief as a Social Kind
Our attitude concepts are highly socially significant. Using such concepts to classify behavior - as opposed to opting for a description in physical terms - and which attitude concepts we pick are factors which matter deeply for how we interact with the subject. I argue that such social significance ought to guide us in conceptually engineering better attitude concepts, i.e. in the cognitive architecture project of carving distinctions between attitude types. This contrasts with popular approaches in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, which tend to skate over the social significance of these concepts to focus exclusively on their role in explanations in psychology.
To make this case, I focus on the concept of belief. I argue that the one aspect of social significance that typically gets taken into account – namely, the role of beliefs in explaining and predicting behavior – is insufficient for properly thinking about beliefs. We need to, first, take into account the kinds of looping or regulative effects that facilitate belief having such a role (i.e. the fact that belief ascriptions help ensure that targets behave in predictable, belief-like ways). Second, we need to consider the role which beliefs play in epistemic interaction, and the way in which classifying an attitude as a belief serves to mark the subject as a potential participant in such interaction.
I finish by arguing that attitude concepts that take seriously social significance can figure in a naturalistic study of the mind. More specifically, the social significance functions as a reference-fixer, picking out underlying capacities which make sense of the relevant social interactions.
“That’s All You Really Are”: Social Trouble With Cognitive Essentialism (with Liz Camp)
Feminist theorists have long criticized essentialism. In the analytic tradition, the focus has been on metaphysical essentialism and on linguistic mechanisms for the propagation of essentialist views. But what does social essentialist thinking consist in, and what cognitive mechanisms are involved in implementing it?
We argue that essentialist thinking does not require essentialist belief. Central instances of essentialist thinking are evidence-resistant, holistic, tinged with affect, and play a deep role in structuring the subject’s cognition. These features make appealing to belief inapt. Instead, prototypical instances of essentialist thinking involve the use of ossified frames: rigid interpretive devices which provide intuitive guidance for noticing, explaining, and responding to individuals in a social group.
We argue that essentialist thinking comes in degrees of ossification along a range of dimensions –centrality in thinking about others, cross-contextual application, and resistance to evidence -, and can be implemented either in how a subject structures their cognitive life, or in encoded representations. We use this view to explain why essentialist thinking is often hard to combat, and suggest that we need to shift gears from offering evidence and argument to bringing subjects’ essentialist commitments to a cognitive level where they can be so addressed.
Gathering Evidence as an Epistemic Obligation (With Elise Woodard)
Despite the importance of evidence gathering for getting at the truth and avoiding falsehood, the view that there are epistemic (as opposed to practical, or inquiry-based) norms on evidence gathering has found few defenders. Against this trend, we argue that there are purely epistemic obligations to gather evidence. More specifically, we argue for Gather Evidence to Upgrade: If S believes that p, then S is epistemically required to gather non-misleading evidence bearing on p that's easy for S to collect when doing so would result in an epistemic upgrade on the attitude toward p.
We focus on a range of cases in which subjects are criticizable for their beliefs because they are distracted, avoidant, lazy, or sheltered, and thus fail to gather easily accessible evidence that would defeat those beliefs. We argue that, to fully account for our reaction to these cases, appeal to epistemic vices or to violations of practical or moral norms won't do: we need to appeal to an evidence gathering norm. We show that such a norm not only bears the hallmarks of genuine epistemic normativity but also helps illuminate what goes epistemically wrong in cases of wrongful beliefs and moral deference.
lies, narcissism, and vice
The belief condition on lying – one must believe that p is false to lie in saying that p – is almost universally endorsed. In addition, orthodoxy has it that lying requires one to believe not-p, or to not believe that p. I argue that we should reject all of these claims because (1) beliefs can and do often come apart from one’s best take on the world, and (2) whether one lies is determined by the latter and not the former. To this effect, I deploy variations of Lackey’s (2007) selfless assertions (cases I call narcissistic assertions) as counterexamples to necessary conditions on lying that go through the asserter’s first-order beliefs about the world.
I then suggest, as a replacement for such conditions, that lying requires asserting against one’s best take on the world. I consider several alternatives for spelling out how one’s best take on the world is cognitively implemented, and show that, in addition to handling paradigm cases of lying, this alternative can handle a wide range of under-explored cases: cases of unreflective or habitual lying, of narcissistic assertion, and of higher-order narcissistic assertion.
Talks marked with a “*” are ones selected based on blind review.
Gathering Evidence as an Epistemic Obligation
American Philosophical Association Pacific Division Meeting (Colloquium). San Francisco, April 2020.*
Belief as a Social Kind
Social Ontology 2019, Tampere, Finland, August 2019.*
“That’s All You Really Are”: Social Trouble with Cognitive Essentialism
Constructing Social Hierarchy, University of Melbourne, July 2019.
Belief-Keeping in an epistemic game
Reasons and Emotions, University of Wollongong, July 2019.
Mind Research Group. Rutgers New Brunswick, November 2018.
Lies, Narcissism, and Vice
NYU-Columbia Graduate Conference. New York, April 2018. *
•4th IIFs-UNAM Philosophy Graduate Conference. Mexico City, March 2018. *
Spinoza’s Account of Self-Knowledge
Philosophy of Mind in Early Modern Philosophy. Princeton University, April 2018. *
American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting (Colloquium). Chicago, February 2018. *
Annual Meeting of the Canadian Philosophical Association (Colloquium). Toronto, May 2017. *
Intelligibility, Beliefs, and Delusions
CUNY-Milan Annual Interdisciplinary Workshop on Belief. New York, February 2018.*
The Human Mind Conference (Poster Session). Cambridge (UK), June 2017.*
Mind Research Group. Rutgers New Brunswick, April 2017.
Comments on Panel “Why ‘Structural Racism’ Matters: Social Philosophy and Epistemology” (César Cabezas, Eric Bayruns Garcia, Annette Martin), 3rd Latinx Philosophy Conference, Rutgers New Brunswick, April 2018.
Graduate Student Commentator-at-Large, PeRFECt 3 (Penn Reasons and Foundations in Epistemology Conference). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. November 2017. *