Works in progress
- Reason and Explanation: A Defense of Explanatory Coherentism
- A Critical Introduction to Knowledge How (with Adam Carter)
- Acquaintance and Skepticism about the Past. [Abstract]
- Reasons without first philosophy [Abstract]
I consider the problem of skepticism about the past for Fumerton's acquaintance theory of non-inferential justification. Acts of acquaintance occur within the specious present. But if our data for justification is limited to the specious present then the options for avoiding a far-reaching skepticism are quite limited. I consider Fumerton's responses to skepticism about the past and argue that his acquaintance theory is not able to stave off skepticism about the past. Furthermore, I argue that the bounds of skepticism about the past overflow to the specious present by limiting the kind of content that is available within the all too short present moment. Finally, I defend an epistemic conservative response to this stark skeptical problem by arguing that it is a theoretically economical account of our justification for beliefs about the past.
- Finite Reasons without Foundations [Abstract]
- Direct Phenomenal Beliefs, Cognitive Significance, and the Specious Present [Abstract]
- Is foundational a priori justification indispensable? [Abstract]
- BonJour and the myth of the given. [Abstract]
- Is there an 'I' in epistemology? [Abstract]
- Skeptical Theism within reason. [Abstract]
- Social Evil [Abstract]
- Introduction: Epistemic Coherentism.
- Basic Reasons and First Philosophy. [Abstract]
- Explanationist Plasticity & The Problem of the Criterion. [Abstract]
- Functionalism about Truth and the Metaphysics of Reduction (with Michael Horton). [Abstract]
- Skeptics without borders (with Kevin Meeker) [Abstract]
- Similarity & Acquaintance: A dilemma. [Abstract]
- Internalism and Externalism in Epistemology.
- Know how to be Gettiered?. [Abstract]
- Hell, Vagueness, and Justice: A Reply to Sider. (with Trent Dougherty) [Abstract]
- A User’s Guide to Design Arguments. (with Trent Dougherty) [Abstract]
- Divine Hiddenness and the Nature of Belief. (with Trent Dougherty) [Abstract]
- Foundational Evidentialism and the Problem of Scatter. [Abstract]
- Acquaintance and the Problem of the Speckled Hen. [Abstract]
In this paper I develop a theory of reasons that has strong similarities to Peter Klein's infinitism. The view I develop, Framework Reasons, upholds Klein's principles of avoiding arbitrariness (PAA) and avoiding circularity (PAC) without requiring an infinite regress of reasons. A view of reasons that holds that the ‘reason for’ relation is constrained by PAA and PAC can avoid an infinite regress if the ‘reason for’ relation is contextual. Moreover, such a view of reasons can maintain that skepticism is false by the maintaining that there is more to epistemic justification than what can be expressed in any reasoning session. One crucial argument for Framework Reasons is that justification depends on a background of plausibility considerations. In the final section, I apply this view of reasons to Michael Bergmann's argument any non-skeptical epistemology must embrace epistemic circularity. (Metaphilosophy Special Issues: On the Regress Problem (forthcoming))
David Chalmers (2010) argues for an acquaintance theory of the justification of direct phenomenal beliefs. A central part of this defense is the claim that direct phenomenal beliefs are cognitively significant. I argue against this. Direct phenomenal beliefs are justified within the specious present, and yet the resources available with the present `now' are so impoverished that it barely constrains the content of a direct phenomenal belief. I argue that Chalmers's account does not have the resources for explaining how direct phenomenal beliefs support the inference from `thisE is R' to `that was R.' (Philosophical Studies (forthcoming))
Laurence BonJour's (1985) coherence theory of empirical knowledge relies heavily on a traditional foundationalist theory of a priori knowledge. He argues that a foundationalist, rationalist theory of a priori justification is indispensable for a coherence theory. BonJour (1998) continues this theme, arguing that a traditional account of a priori justification is indispensable for the justification of putative a priori truths, the justification of any non-observational belief, and the justification of reasoning itself. While BonJour's indispensability arguments have received some critical discussion (Gendler 2001; Harman 2001; Beebe 2008), no one has investigated the indispensability arguments from a coherentist perspective. This perspective offers a fruitful take on BonJour's arguments because he does not appreciate the depth of the coherentist alternative to the traditional empiricist-rationalist debate. This is surprising on account of BonJour's previous defense of coherentism. Two significant conclusions emerge: first, BonJour's indispensability arguments beg central questions against an explanationist form of coherentism; second, BonJour's original defense of coherentism took on board certain assumptions that inevitably led to the demise of his form of coherentism. The positive conclusion of this paper is that explanatory coherentism is more coherent than BonJour's indispensability arguments assume and more coherent than BonJour's earlier coherentist epistemology. (Episteme (2013) 10:3, 317-331)
The Sellarsian dilemma is a powerful argument against internalistic foundationalist views that aim to end the regress of reasons in experiential states. Laurence BonJour once defended the soundness of this dilemma as part of a larger argument for epistemic coherentism. BonJour has now renounced his earlier conclusions about the dilemma and has offered an account of internalistic foundationalism aimed, in part, at showing the errors of his former ways. I contend that BonJour's early concerns about the Sellarsian dilemma are correct, and that his latest position does not adequately handle the dilemma. I focus my attention on BonJour's claim that a nonconceptual experiential state can provide a subject with a reason to believe some proposition. It is crucial for the viability of internalistic foundationalism to evaluate whether this claim is true. I argue it is false. The requirement that the states that provide justification give reasons to a subject conflicts with the idea that these states are nonconceptual. In the final section I consider David Chalmers's attempt to defend a view closely similar to BonJour's. Chalmers's useful theory of phenomenal concepts provides a helpful framework for identifying a crucial problem with attempts to end the regress of reasons in pure experiential states. (Res Philosophica (2013) 90:2, 185-201)
Epistemic conservatism is the thesis that the mere holding of a belief confers some positive epistemic status on its content. Conservatism is widely criticized on the grounds that it conflicts with the main goal in epistemology to believe truths and disbelieve falsehoods. In this paper I argue for conservatism and defend it from objections. First, I argue that the objection to conservatism from the truth goal in epistemology fails. Second, I develop and defend an argument for conservatism from the perspectival character of the truth goal. Finally, I examine several forceful challenges to conservatism and argue that these challenges are unsuccessful. The first challenge is that conservatism implies the propriety of assertions like ‘I believe p and this is part of my justification for it’. The second challenge argues that conservatism wrongly implies that the identity of an epistemic agent is relevant to the main goal of believing truths and disbelieving falsehoods. The last two challenges I consider are the ‘extra boost’ objection and the conversion objection. Each of these objections helps to clarify the nature of the conservative thesis. The upshot of the paper is that conservatism is an important and viable epistemological thesis. (Dialectica (2012) 66:4, 517-541).
The evidential argument from evil moves from inscrutable evils to gratuitous evils, from evils we cannot scrutinize a God-justifying reason for permitting to there being no such reason. Skeptical theism challenges this move by claiming that our inability to scrutinize a God-justifying reason does not provide good evidence that there is no reason. The core motivation for skeptical theism is that the cognitive and moral distance between a perfect being and creatures like us is so great we shouldn’t expect we grasp all the relevant considerations pertaining to a God-justifying reason. My goal in this paper is to defend skeptical theism within a context that allows for an inverse probability argument for theism. These arguments are crucial for an evidentialist approach to the justification of theism. I aim to show that there is a natural way of motivating a skeptical theist position that does not undermine our knowledge of some values. (Skeptical Theism: New Essays, OUP, edited by Trent Dougherty and Justin McBrayer (forthcoming))
Social evil is any pain or suffering brought about by game-theoretic interactions of many individuals. This paper introduces and discusses the problem of social evil. I begin by focusing on social evil brought about by game-theoretic interactions of rational moral individuals. The problem social evil poses for theism is distinct from problems posed by natural and moral evils. Social evil is not a natural evil because it is brought about by the choices of individuals. But social evil is not a form of moral evil because each individual actor does not misuse his free will. Traditional defenses for natural and moral evil fall short in addressing the problem of social evil. The final section of this paper discusses social evil and virtue. I begin by arguing that social evil can arise even when individual virtue is lacking. Next, I explore the possibility of an Edwardsian defense of social evil that stresses the high demands of true virtue. In this context, I argue that social evil may arise even when all the participants are truly virtuous. The conclusion of this paper is that social evil is problematic and provides new ground for exploring the conceptual resources of theism. (Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming)).
This paper develops and defends a coherentist account of reasons. I develop three core ideas for this defense: a distinction between basic reasons and noninferential justification, the plausibility of the neglected argument against first philosophy, and an emergent account of reasons. These three ideas form the backbone for a credible coherentist view of reasons. I work toward this account by formulating and explaining the basic reasons dilemma. This dilemma reveals a wavering attitude that coherentists have had toward basic reasons. More importantly, the basic reasons dilemma focuses our attention on the central problems that afflict coherentist views of basic beliefs. By reflecting on the basic reasons dilemma, I formulate three desiderata that any viable coherentist account of basic beliefs must satisfy. I argue that the account on offer satisfies these desiderata. (The Southern Journal of Philosophy (2012) 50(1): 75-93).
This paper develops an explanationist treatment of the problem of the criterion. Explanationism is the view that all justified reasoning is justified in virtue of the explanatory virtues: simplicity, fruitfulness, testability, scope, and conservativeness. A crucial part of the explanationist framework is achieving wide reflective equilibrium. I argue that explanationism offers a plausible solution to the problem of the criterion. Furthermore, I argue that a key feature of explanationism is the plasticity of epistemic judgments and epistemic methods. The explanationist does not offer any fixed judgments or methods to guide epistemic conduct; even the explanatory virtues themselves are subject to change. This feature of explanationism gives it an advantage over non-explanationist views that offer fixed epistemic judgments and epistemic methods. The final section of this paper responds to objections to explanationism. (Philosophical Papers (2011) 40(3): 395-419).
Functionalism about truth is the view that truth is an explanatorily significant but multiply-realizable property. According to this view the properties that realize truth vary from domain to domain, but the property of truth is a single, higher-order, domain insensitive property. We argue that this view faces a challenge similar to the one that Jaegwon Kim laid out for the multiple realization thesis. The challenge is that the higher-order property of truth is equivalent to an explanatorily idle disjunction of its realization bases. This consequence undermines the alethic functionalists’ non-deflationary ambitions. A plausible response to Kim’s argument fails to carry over to alethic functionalism on account of significant differences between alethic functionalism and psychological functionalism. Lynch’s revised view in his book Truth as One and Many (2009) fails to answer our challenge. The upshot is that, while mental functionalism may survive Kim’s argument, it mortally wounds functionalism about truth.. (Acta Analytica (2012) 27: 13-27).
Timothy Williamson’s anti-luminosity argument has received considerable attention. Escaping unnoticed, though, is a strikingly similar argument from David Hume. This paper highlights some of the arresting parallels between Williamson’s reasoning and Hume’s that will allow us to appreciate more deeply the plausibility of Williamson’s reasoning and to understand how, following Hume, we can extend this reasoning to undermine the “luminosity” of simple necessary truths. More broadly the parallels help us to identify a common skeptical predicament underlying both arguments, which we shall call “the quarantine problem”. The quarantine problem expresses a deep skepticism about achieving any exalted epistemic state. Further, the perspective gained by the quarantine problem allows us to easily categorize existing responses to Williamson’s anti-luminosity argument and to observe the deficiencies of those responses. In sum, the quarantine problem reveals the deeply fallibilistic nature of whatever knowledge we may possess. (American Philosophical Quarterly (2010) 47(3): 223-237)
There is an interesting and instructive problem with Richard Fumerton’s acquaintance theory of noninferential justification. Fumerton’s explicit account requires acquaintance with the truth-maker of one’s belief and yet he admits that one can have noninferential justification when one is not acquainted with the truth-maker of one’s belief but instead acquainted with a very similar truth-maker. On the face of it this problem calls for clarification. However, there are skeptical issues lurking in the background. This paper explores these issues by developing a dilemma for an acquaintance theory. (Philosophical Studies (2010) 147: 369-378).
Jason Stanley and Timothy Williamson’s influential article "Knowing How" argues that knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-that. One objection to their view is that knowledge-how is significantly different than knowledge-that because Gettier cases afflict the latter but not the former. Stanley and Williamson argue that this objection fails. Their response, however, is not adequate. Moreover, I sketch a plausible argument that knowledge-how is not susceptible to Gettier cases. This suggests a significant distinction between knowledge-that and knowledge-how.(Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2009) LXXIX(3): 743-747).
Ted Sider’s paper “Hell and Vagueness” challenges a certain conception of Hell by arguing that it is inconsistent with God’s justice. Sider’s inconsistency argument works only when supplemented by additional premises. Key to Sider’s case is a premise that the properties upon which eternal destinies supervene are “a smear,” i.e., they are distributed continuously among individuals in the world. We question this premise and provide reasons to doubt it. The doubts come from two sources. The first is based on evidential considerations borrowed from skeptical theism. A related but separate consideration is that supposing it would be an insurmountable problem for God to make just (and therefore non-arbitrary) distinctions in morally smeared world, God thereby has sufficient motivation not to actualize such worlds. Yet God also clearly has motivation only to actualize some member of the subset of non- smeared worlds which don’t appear non-smeared. For if it was obvious who was morally fit for Heaven and who wasn’t, a new arena of great injustice is opened up. The result is that if there is a God, then he has the motivation and the ability to actualize from just that set of worlds which are not smeared but which are indiscernible from smeared worlds. (Faith & Philosophy (2008) 25(3): 322-328).
We argue that there is a tension between two types of design arguments: the fine-tuning argument (FTA) and the biological design argument (BDA). The tension arises because the strength of each argument is inversely proportional to the value of a certain currently unknown probability. Since the value of that probability is currently unknown, we investigate the properties of the FTA and BDA on different hypothetical values of this probability. If our central claim is correct this suggests three results: (1) It is not very plausible that a cumulative case for theism include both the FTA and the BDA (with one possible qualification); (2) Self- organization scenarios do not threaten theism but in fact provide the materials for a good FTA; (3) A plausible design argument of one sort or another (either FTA or BDA) will be available for a wide variety of values of the key probability. (Religious Studies (2008) 44: 99-110).
In this paper we argue that attention to the intricacies relating to belief illustrate crucial difficulties with Schellenberg’s hiddenness argument. This issue has been only tangentially discussed in the literature to date. Yet we judge this aspect of Schellenberg’s argument deeply significant. We claim that focus on the nature of belief manifests a central flaw in the hiddenness argument. Additionally, attention to doxastic subtleties provides important lessons about the nature of faith.(Religious Studies (2007) 44: 183-198).
This paper addresses the scatter problem for foundational evidentialism. Reflection on the scatter problem uncovers significant epistemological lessons. The scatter problem is evaluated in connection with Ernest Sosa’s use of the problem as an argument against foundational evidentialism. Sosa’s strategy is to consider a strong intuition in favor of internalism—the new evil demon problem, and then illustrate how a foundational evidentialist account of the new evil demon problem succumbs to the scatter problem. The goal in this paper is to evaluate the force of the scatter problem. The main argument of the paper is that the scatter problem has mixed success. On the one hand, scatter undermines objectual evidentialism, an evidentialist theory that formulates principles of basic perceptual justification in terms of the objects (or properties) of perceptual states. On the other hand, the problem of scatter does not undermine content evidentialism, an evidentialist view that formulates its epistemic principles in terms of the assertive content of perceptual states. The significance of the scatter problem, especially in concert with the new evil demon problem, is that it provides an argument for content evidentialism. (Abstracta (2007) 3(2): 89-106).
This paper responds to Ernest Sosa’s recent criticism of Richard Fumerton’s acquaintance theory. Sosa argues that Fumerton’s account of non-inferential justification falls prey to the problem of the speckled hen. I argue that Sosa’s criticisms are both illuminating and interesting but that Fumerton’s theory can escape the problem of the speckled hen. More generally, the paper shows that an internalist account of non-inferential justification can survive the powerful objections of the Sellarsian dilemma and the problem of the speckled hen. (Philosophical Studies (2007) 132: 331-346).
- Evidence and Religious Belief Kelly James Clark and Raymond VanArragon (eds). [Details]
- Liberal Faith: Essays in honor of Philip Quinn (ed) Paul J. Weithman
- Believing by Faith John Bishop. [Details]
- Justification without Awareness Michael Bergmann. [Details]
- Common-Sense Nicholas Rescher. [Details]
European Journal for Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming
Mind 117 (2009), 151-155
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77:2 (2008), 570-573
Faith & Philosophy 24:3 (2007), 361-363
Recent & Upcoming Presentations
- Infinitism and Inference. [Venue]
- Locating Bayesianism within an explanationist framework. [Venues]
- S14: Introduction to Philosophy
- S13: Philosophy of Religion
- S13: Philosophy of Math
- S13:Mathematical Logic
- S13: Philosophy of Science
- F12: Critical Thinking
- S12: Game Theory
Vanderbilt University; October 17-20, 2013 (invited).
Southeastern Epistemology Conference; University of North Florida; October 26-27, 2012 (invited).
I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Alabama. My primary research area is in epistemology. I am particularly interested in the role explanation and its virtues play in a non-skeptical epistemology. Inference to the best explanation and explanatory coherence are the hallmarks of good scientific inference. Yet there are puzzling questions about how non-empirical virtues like simplicity, explanatory power, and conservativeness are appropriately truth-conducive. I have addressed some of these issues in my book Reason and Explanation. There I defend the line that one's normative standing in the space of reasons is constituted by one's explanatory position. When I'm not writing about epistemology, I explore questions in the philosophy of religion that interest me.