MS under review
Perceptual liberals have offered numerous arguments claiming to show that kind-representing perceptual phenomenology exists, which naturally raises questions about what it is like to perceive objects as belonging to different kinds. Yet almost no effort has been made to answer these questions. This quietism invites the concern that liberalism may be a defunct research program: unable to answer the questions raised by its own development. Building on work by P.F. Strawson, a recent surge of empirical research, and theoretical considerations from the Helmholtzian paradigm of perceptual psychology, I argue that perceptual experience can complete the stereotypical features, behaviors, and affordances of kinds of objects even when only some of those features/behaviors/affordances are “on display”, just as it can complete the shape of a cat behind a picket fence in amodal completion. The phenomenal character of high-level kind perception, I argue, is grounded in stereotype completion.
Forthcoming at Inquiry
I argue that physicalists have been too conciliatory in granting that certain classic thought experiments about consciousness such as Mary the color scientist, color spectrum inversion, and zombies provide strong prima facie support for epiphenomenal anti-physicalism. While these thought experiments may suggest that we are intuitive epiphenomenal anti-physicalists when taken individually, when they are appropriately combined, they suggest that epiphenomenal anti-physicalism leads to a version of phenomenal skepticism according to which (i) we cannot know how our states of phenomenal consciousness compare and contrast and (ii) we cannot know how our first-order beliefs about our states of consciousness compare and contrast. Insofar as comparative phenomenal skepticism is a deeply counter-intuitive view, our intuitions about consciousness are far more equivocal than they are widely thought to be. There simply may be no one metaphysical view that should qualify as their obvious champion.
MS under review
A slightly expanded version of the MS is available here.
A number of philosophers and social scientists have argued that we can discount reports made by persons with disabilities who claim that their disabilities do not harm their well-being. These philosophers and social scientists claim that such reports are compromised by adaptive preferences or the status quo bias. Because these arguments do not address the question of how biased non-disabled persons might be in their belief that disability is harmful to well-being. Consequently, these arguments pose a major risk of testimonial injustice. After criticizing the idea that disability positive testimony is the product of either adaptive preferences or the status quo bias, I appeal to a number of well-known results from behavioral economics and social psychology, such as the endowment effect, intergroup bias, and biases in cultural transmission, to argue that non-disabled persons are likely biased in thinking about the effect of disability on well-being. Consequently, we have no reason to believe that persons with disabilities are particularly biased in thinking about the impact of disability on well-being; indeed, the opposite may be true. We currently have no reason to discount disability positive testimony when theorizing about the determinants of a life well-lived.
A draft conference paper draft of this MS, which was presented at the 2022 SSPP, is available here.
Philosophers of consciousness have devoted considerable time and energy to thinking about 1) zombies and 2) color spectrum inverts. These are thought experiments in which we are asked to imagine perfect physical/functional duplicates of us who either 1) lack conscious experience altogether, or 2) have green experiences whenever we have red experiences and vice versa, and so on for other complementary colors. If we think of these cases in terms of subtracting away conscious experience or systematically substituting different types of experiences for one another, then it becomes clear that there is a third possibility that philosophers of consciousness have not discussed, namely, adding on conscious experiences to creatures who are built just like us. Call them Gnostics. Gnostics raise a novel question: Is there an upper limit to how many distinct types of conscious experiences creatures who are built like us can conceivably have? While it remains unclear if we can answer this 'conceivable limit question', I discuss two avenues for progress. The first centers on the idea our space of possible experiences is constrained by compositional rules that govern how different kinds of experiences can be combined, much in the way that a grammatical rules governs govern how different kinds of linguistic elements can be combined. The second appeals to the idea that gnostics may violate the unity of consciousness.
MS in preparation. The PowerPoint we used to present our work at the symposium 'The Structure of Consciousness' at the Canadian Philosophical Association's 2022 meeting is available here
For over fifty years, philosophers of cognitive science have explored the idea that thought may have a compositional syntax in which basic representations are combined in rule governed ways to generate complex representations. For over thirty, years philosophers of consciousness have explored the connection between the representational contents of perception and its phenomenal character. Strikingly, no one has tried to connect the phenomenal character of perception to the idea that perception may have a compositional syntax. We aim to rectify this oversight. We develop syntactic explanations of perceptual representations and use those explanations to account for certain kinds of robust generalizations about conscious experience, e.g., why does it seem impossible for an object to appear both red and green all over. We distinguish syntactic explanations from metaphysical explanations, semantic explanations, mechanistic explanations, and descriptive accounts of perception and perceptual phenomenology. Syntactic explanations tell us what complex representations are possible, and which are not, given the representational primitives and the available modes of combination. Because representations constitutively depend on their syntax, syntactic explanations ground 'parochial necessities'. It is metaphysically necessary, for instance, that well-formed sentences have a verb phrase/noun phrase structure, but it is not metaphysically necessary that all representations have VP/NP structure. Trying to imagine ill-formed experiences (such as trying to imagine a visual experience of shape but without any concomitant visual experience of color, luminance, or transparency) can generate 'intuitive error messages'. These intuitive error messages are comparable to our intuitions about ill formed sentences, e.g., that #'Paola found' is incorrect. As in linguistics, in intuitive error messages provide us with defeasible evidence about what sort of syntax conscious experience has, but experimental work will ultimately be required for a full account.
There are three main positions regarding the relationship between phenomenality and intentionality: separatism, representationalism, and phenomenal intentionalism. I defend a novel claim about the phenomenal-intentional relation that is incompatible with separatism, can enrich representationalism and phenomenal intentionalism, but can also be accepted without endorsing representationalism or phenomenal intentionalism. I call this view phenomenal schematics: Phenomenal structure places formal and sometimes semantic constraints on the possible intentional contents of our experiences, and these constraints hold with apriori necessity. According to phenomenal schematics, the phenomenal structure of our experiences is akin to the grammatical properties of words (or the rules of composition governing the representational elements in diagrams, maps, and models). Unlike words, however, phenomenal characters possess their “grammatical properties” essentially. This is a point that has not received clear expression in the literature to date, and it marks a new perspective on the connections that exist between phenomenality and intentionality.
Philosophical Quarterly, October 2020, 70(281): 689-710
Liberals about perceptual contents claim that perceptual experiences can represent kinds and specific, familiar individuals as such; they also claim that the representation of an individual or kind as such by a perceptual experience will be reflected in the phenomenal character of that experience. Conservatives always deny the latter and sometimes also the former claim. I argue that neither liberals nor conservatives have adequately appreciated how the content internalism/externalism debate bears on their views. I show that perceptual content internalism entails conservativism when conjoined with one other, extremely plausible premise. Hence, liberals are committed to perceptual contents externalism, yet they have failed to fully address the consequences that this has for their view. Moreover, the argument is easily adapted to perceptual experiences of Twin Earthable properties, like colour and shape. I use this last result to show why existing conservative arguments that appeal to Twin Earth plausibly overgeneralize.
(with Lawrence Nelson) Hastings Center Report, 2011, 41(3): 28-37
Though there are good arguments against physician participation in executions, physicians should be allowed to make their own decisions about whether they will participate, and professional medical organizations should not flatly destroy the careers of those who do.