Vancouver Summer Philosophy Conference - Photography by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa

Research

My primary research revolves around several themes – rationality, language, and virtue – and their importance for accounts of human excellence and achievement. These central concerns manifest themselves in particular interests in social and political philosophy, ethics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and metaphysics. Below are descriptions of and links to my published work.

Publications

"Belief, Rational and Justified," Mind, Forthcoming

It is clear that beliefs can be assessed both as to their justification and their rationality. What is not as clear, however, is how the rationality and justification of belief relate to one another. Stewart Cohen has stumped for the popular proposal that rationality and justification come to the same thing, that rational beliefs just are justified beliefs, supporting his view by arguing that ‘justified belief’ and ‘rational belief’ are synonymous. In this paper, I will give reason to think that Cohen’s argument is spurious. I will show that ‘rational’ and ‘justified’ occupy two distinct semantic categories – ‘rational’ is an absolute gradable adjective and ‘justified’ is a relative gradable adjective – telling against the thought that ‘rational belief’ and ‘justified belief’ are synonymous. I will then argue that the burden of proof is on those who would equate rationality and justification, making the case that those who hold this prominent position face the difficulty of explaining how rationality and justification come to the same thing even though ‘rational’ and ‘justified’ are not synonymous.

"Stoic Virtue: A Contemporary Interpretation," Philosophers' Imprint, Forthcoming

The Stoic understanding of virtue is often taken to be a non-starter. Many of the Stoic claims about virtue – that a virtuous requires moral perfection and that all who are not fully virtuous are vicious – are thought to be completely out of step with our commonsense notion of virtue, making the Stoic account more of an historical oddity than a seriously defended view. Despite many voices to the contrary, I will argue that there is a way of making sense of these Stoic claims. Recent work in linguistics has shown that there is a distinction between relative and absolute gradable adjectives, with the absolute variety only applying to perfect exemplars. I will argue that taking virtue terms to be absolute gradable adjectives – and thus that they apply only to those who are fully virtuous – is one way to make sense of the Stoic view. I will also show how interpreting virtue-theoretic adjectives as absolute gradable adjectives makes it possible to defend Stoicism against its most common objections, demonstrating how the Stoic account of virtue might once again be a player in the contemporary landscape of virtue theorizing.

Externalists about epistemic justification have long emphasized the connection between truth and justification, with this coupling finding explicit expression in process reliabilism. Process reliabilism, however, faces a number of severe difficulties, leading disenchanted process reliabilists to find a new theoretical home. The conceptual flag under which such epistemologists have preferred to gather is that of dispositions. Just as reliabilism is determined by the frequency of a particular outcome, making it possible to characterize justification in terms of a particular relationship to truth, dispositions are accompanied by concrete, worldly manifestations. By taking true beliefs as the result, not of certain processes but of particular dispositions, these epistemologists have attempted to respond to the numerous obstacles to reliablism. Yet all this work has proceeded without regard to the wealth of contemporary work on the metaphysics of dispositions, making the new hope premature at best, ill-founded at worst. Combining contemporary dispositional accounts of justification with extant analyses of dispositions reveals that the latter is the case. The structural differences between epistemic justification and dispositions make it clear that not only should process reliabilism be abandoned, but the subsequent appeal to dispositions along with it.

"The Demandingness of Virtue," The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, Forthcoming

How demanding is the virtuous life? Can virtue exist alongside hints of vice? Is it possible to be virtuous within a vicious society? A line of thinking running through Diogenes and the Stoics is that even a hint of corruption is inimical to virtue, that participating in a vicious society makes it impossible for a person to be virtuous. One response to this difficulty is to claim that virtue is a threshold concept, that context sets a threshold for what is considered virtuous. On this way of thinking, what counts as virtuous in one society may be more demanding than what passes for virtuous in another. This response seems plausible when considering that virtue-theoretic terms like ‘honest’ are gradable adjectives. Many gradable adjectives, like‘long’and‘expensive,’have contextual thresholds that shift depending on the situation, and so it is tenable that virtue-theoretic adjectives might function with contextual thresholds as well. A major difficulty for this response, however, is that many virtue terms are absolute gradable adjectives, a variety of gradable adjectives that do not require a contextual threshold. These absolute gradable adjectives instead draw their truth conditions from their maximal degree, suggesting that Diogenes and the Stoics were correct to think that a number of the virtues are incompatible with even a small degree of vice

"Incoherent but Reasonable: A Defense of Truth-Abstinence in Political Liberalism," with Alex Schaefer, Social Theory and Practice, Forthcoming

A strength of liberal political institutions is their ability to accommodate pluralism, both allowing divergent comprehensive doctrines as well as constructing the common ground necessary for diverse people to live together. A pressing question is how far such pluralism extends. Which comprehensive doctrines are simply beyond the pale and need not be accommodated by a political consensus? Rawls attempted to keep the boundaries of reasonable disagreement quite broad by infamously denying that political liberalism need make reference to the concept of truth, a claim that has been criticized by Joseph Raz, Joshua Cohen, and David Estlund. In this paper, we argue that these criticisms fail due to the fact that political liberalism can remain non-committal on the nature of truth, leaving the concept of truth in the domain of comprehensive doctrines, while still avoiding the issues raised by Raz, Cohen, and Estlund. Further substantiating this point is the fact that Rawls would, and should, include parties in the overlapping consensus whose views on truth may be incoherent. Once it is seen that political liberalism allows such incoherence to reasonable parties, it is clear that the inclusion of truth and the requirement of coherence urged by Raz,Cohen, and Estlund requires more of reasonable people than is necessary for a political consensus.