My current and planned research is in the history of British Modern philosophy of mind and language. Methodologically, my research program brings the study of the history of modern philosophy together with a critical assessment of contemporary empirical psychology and linguistics to explain some of the philosophical puzzles concerning human cognition.
For more, see the papers below:
Using Benevolent Affections To Learn Our Duty. Forthcoming in Mind. DOI: 10.1093/mind/fzx004 (published version)
The puzzle is this: I argue that for Reid, moral sense needs benevolent affections — i.e. some of our animal, non-cognitive principles of action — to apply rules of duty, since the moral sense alone doesn't always tell us whether the rules apply. But duty can conflict with benevolent affections. In this paper, I argue that Reid takes moral psychology seriously and that he believes that our natural benevolent affections can be used as indicators of duty. Although creative, his account has a major problem, because he does not resolve certain conflicts that arise between what action a duty prescribes and what action a natural affection, associated to that duty, inclines us to do.
Memory is essential to our functioning as fully developed, social individuals. Without memory to help us retain new information, our lives would be devoid of continuity, so that questions about our identity as persons and our place in the world would be impossible to answer. According to psychologists, there are several types of memory, and one type in particular, the so-called
episodic memory, is essential for keeping track of our relationships with things in our environment. One project here is to determine exactly what type of things we are related to via episodic memory. Intuitively, physical objects, broadly construed, and their properties should be on the list. In addition, events seem like good candidates. But it is difficult to understand how we can have direct access to past events, given their essentially ephemeral character. Thomas Reid offers an explanation of how memory of events is possible. This paper presents, criticizes, and amends his view that memory not only preserves our knowledge of the external world, but also contributes to such knowledge, by being essential for the perception of events.
How is it that, as fiction readers, we are nonplussed by J. K Rowling's prescription to imagine Ronan, Bane, and Magorian, three different centaurs of the Forbidden Forrest at Hogwarts? It is usually held in the philosophical literature on fictional discourse that singular imaginings of fictional objects are impossible, given the blatant nonexistent of such objects. In this paper, I have a dual purpose: (i) on the one hand, to show that, without being committed to Meinongeanism, we can explain the phenomenon of singular imaginings of different nonexistents of the same (fictional) kind; (ii) while, at the same time, to attribute this position to Thomas Reid, thus correcting some misunderstandings of his view on imagination.
In An Inquiry into the Human Mind and in Essays on Intellectual Powers, Thomas Reid discusses what kinds of things perceivers are related to in perception. Are these things qualities of bodies, the bodies themselves, or both? This question places him in a long tradition of philosophers concerned with understanding how human perception works in connecting us with the external world. It is still an open question in the philosophy of perception whether the human perceptual system is providing us with representations as of bodies, or only as of their properties. My project in this article is to explain how, on Reid's view, we can have perceptual representations as of bodies. This, in turn, enables him to argue that we have a robust understanding of the world around us, an understanding that would be missing if our perceptual system only supplied us with representations as of free-floating properties of bodies.
Perceptual and Imaginative Conception: The Distinction Reid Missed. In Todd Buras and Rebecca Copenhaver (eds.), Mind, Knowledge, and Value: Essays in Honor of Reid's Tercentenary. Mind Occasional Series (p. 52-74). Oxford: University Press (penultimate draft)
This paper is concerned with Thomas Reid's explanation of conception, understood as playing a key role in perception and as being essentially employed by imagination. I argue that there is a deep-rooted tension in Reid's understanding of conception, and that he conflates two different things when he describes the power of conception as being unitary.
Two Takes on the De Se. (with James Higginbotham). In Simon Prosser and François Recanati (eds.), Immunity to Error Through Misidentification: New Essays. Cambridge: University Press, 2012 (penultimate draft)
In this article we consider, relying in part upon comparative semantic evidence from English and Romanian, two contrasting dimensions of the sense in which our thoughts, including the contents of imagination and memory, and extending to objects of fear, enjoyment, and other emotions directed toward worldly happenings, may be distinctively first-personal, or "de se," to use the terminology introduced in Lewis (1979), and exhibit the phenomenon of immunity to error through misidentification (hereafter: IEM) in the sense of Shoemaker (1968) and elsewhere.
Work in progress:
Relinquishing Control: What Romanian De Se Attitude Reports Teach Us About Immunity To Error Through Misidentification. (commissioned for a Springer volume on indirect reports and pragmatics, edited by A. Capone) (draft available upon request)
Higginbotham (2003) argued that certain linguistic items of English necessarily trigger first-personal interpretations. They are: the emphatic reflexive pronoun and the controlled understood subject, represented as PRO. PRO is special, in this respect, due to its imposing obligatory control effects between the main clause and its subordinates. For languages where PRO does not play the syntactical role it does in English, one could investigate whether there are obligatory control elements akin to PRO, which force a de se interpretation of the relevant reports, and thus indicate that those reports are immune to error through misidentification (IEM henceforth). Folescu & Higginbotham (2012) argued that in Romanian, a language whose grammar doesn't allow for PRO, de se triggers are correlated with the subjunctive mood of certain verbs. However, that paper did not account for the grammatical diversity of the reports that display IEM in Romanian: some of these reports are expressed by using de se triggers; others are not. Moreover, in Romanian, there are reports that do not look as if they're expressing de se attitudes (since they do not have the usual de se triggers) that are, nonetheless, expressing thoughts that have IEM. Their IEM, moreover, is not even lexically controlled by the verbs, via their theta-roles; it is, rather, determined by the meaning of the verbs in question. Given these data from Romanian, I argue, the phenomenon of IEM cannot be explained starting either from the syntactical or lexical structure of a language.
Perception As A Multi-Stage Process: A Reidian Account. (under review) (draft available upon request)
The starting point of this paper is Thomas Reid's brand of anti-skepticism: he believed that our knowledge of the external world is justified. The ground zero of this knowledge is the information we acquire about our environment via perception. Reid argues that perception grounds our knowledge of the external world, even though perception is merely reliable, and not infallible. There are two main features that make perception a weapon of choice in Reid's battle against skepticism: (i) perception (proper) is epistemically immediate; relatedly, (ii) the knowledge acquired via perception(proper)is not the result of learning, experience, or reasoning. Given these
normative parameters, this paper argues that, for Reid, the mechanism of perception proper (aka
original perception) is a multi-stage process, with sequential and independent stages of acquiring and processing information, which must occur, for a subject to perceive a body with its qualities.