Research

I fit somewhat uncomfortably in armchairs.

Overview

Much contemporary philosophy of mind takes either an introspectionist or empiricist approach. The former takes the deliverances of introspection as the core phenomena for philosophical theorizing, while the latter endeavors to reduce mental categories to kinds identified by the cognitive sciences.

In my work, I start with the mental as it shows up in folk psychology, which is neither especially introspective, nor constrained to the kinds uncovered by the cognitive sciences. This approach was favored by P.F. Strawson, and other descriptive metaphysicians, but the project looks very different now, in light of the empirical work on social cognition over the last fifty years.

My dissertation—'Understanding Minds: Essays on Social Cognition'—treats the problem of other minds from this perspective, with some surprising results. Among them, I argue that we perceive agency, but not mental states, that perception immediately justifies beliefs that outstrip how things are perceptually presented, and that the personal–subpersonal distinction is a psychological construction.

After defending my dissertation, I plan to pursue accounts of more 'sophisticated' knowledge of the mental—introspection and empathy—as well as develop my constructivist account of the personal, especially as it relates to the normative.

Papers in Progress

[Title Witheld to Preserve Blind Review]

A paper about mental state attribution and the epistemology of perception.

[Title Witheld to Preserve Blind Review]

A short paper about the epistemology of perception.

The Personal–Subpersonal Distinction as Social Cognition

Abstract: Philosophers and cognitive scientists routinely distinguish between the personal and the subpersonal. Some of what we posit as occurring in my mind is 'me' and some of it isn't. Though this distinction is widely deployed, far less work takes the distinction itself as the subject of inquiry. What's the difference between the mental stuff that's 'me' and the mental stuff that's 'below' that? It's a very philosophical question—in both an honorific and a pejorative sense—and it's the one I take up here.

I propose that we should understand the personal–subpersonal distinction as an expression of our folk psychological capacities: Those psychological posits that correspond to the kinds within folk psychology are personal, and those that don't, aren't. This proposal, I suggest, is mutually illuminating. On the one hand, only the folk psychological proposal has the requisite structure to answer the fundamental challenge in characterizing the personal level. The things that plausibly qualify as personal level are motley. Other attempts at accounting for the personal level simply cannot accommodate the plurality essential to it. On the other, an appreciation of the connection between folk psychology and the personal–subpersonal distinction constitutes a powerful argument for a pluralistic conception of folk psychology, and, insofar as the personal–subpersonal distinction plays an ineliminable role in our theorizing, so too does folk psychology.

Perceiving Agency

Abstract: When we look around the world, some objects we see show up as animate, others don't. This distinction is easy to notice phenomenologically, but harder to make sense of philosophically. I argue that animacy detection is a genuinely perceptual phenomenon. Some objects are visually presented as animate, others are not. I then argue that we should understand animacy in terms of agency. Perceiving movement as animate is the perception of behavior, and perceiving an object as animate is to perceive it as an agent. The agent-based account of animacy offers a natural explanation of how animacy perception plays its functional role.

Consciousness Enables Skilled Judgment

Abstract: Consciousness intuitively has substantial epistemic import. Many of my beliefs enjoy a positive epistemic status in virtue of descending from my conscious experiences, that they wouldn't have if they had descended from reliable but unconscious processes. This paper proposes an explanation of why this is. I begin by arguing that conscious perception can immediately justify beliefs that do not share contents with the experience. This result rules out a prominent family of views—which I call 'the testimonial model'​. If experience can justify beliefs that do not share its content, then it does not justify beliefs by prsenting content 'as true', since it can justify beliefs without presenting content at all. Rather, perception justifies belief by enabling us to manifest our recognitional capacities. Perception doesn't tell us how things are; it enables us to judge for ourselves.

Reconciling Phenomenology and Social Cognition

Abstract: Prominent theories of social cognition posit information processing systems tasked with producing explanations and predictions of others' behavior. Much of the substantive theorizing involves characterizing the kind of information processing that produce these explanations and predictions. Dan Zahavi and Shaun Gallagher have argued that phenomenological data tell against these theories. Phenomenological investigation reveals that interpersonal interaction only rarely involves prediction and explanation. So these theories of social cognition cannot account for what actually goes on in our social interactions. Shannon Spaulding has argued that this objection misunderstands the theories under discussion. These are theories, not of what subjects do in social situations, but of the subpersonal information processing that underwrites our social encounters. Here, I argue both perspectives are wanting. Phenomenology needs social cognition, and social cognition needs phenomenology. An adequate account must explain how information processing and phenomenology fit together. I sketch an account that does so.

Presentations (Selected)

A Constructivist Account of the Personal–Subpersonal Distinction

APA Pacific Division, April 2020

The Epistemology of Looks

APA Eastern Division, January 2020

Perceiving Animacy

The Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society & the Mind Association, July 2019

The Personal–Subpersonal Distinction and Social Cognition

Society for Philosophy and Psychology, July 2019

Ampliative Perceptual Judgments and Other Minds

Canadian Philosophical Association: Annual Congress, June 2019 Handout

Other Minds are Neither Seen Nor Inferred

APA Eastern Division, January 2019