Ph.D., University of Miami
- PHIL 1010 Fundamentals of Philosophy
- PHIL 1300 Introduction to Ethics
- PHIL 2310 Philosophy of Sport
- CAS 2405 Knowing What We Know
- PHIL 3510 Philosophy of Language
- PHIL 4500/ 5500 Theory of Knowledge
- PHIL 4510/ 5510 Metaphysics
- Honors Tutorials:
- History of Analytic Philosophy
- Modal Logic
- Modal Epistemology
Statement of Teaching Methodology
My teaching method can best be summarized by these two goals: to promote the value of philosophical inquiry and to provide practical instruction on how to reason about everyday issues. For instance, in courses such as “Fundamentals of Philosophy” and “Philosophy of Sport” and “Introduction to Ethics” my aims are:
- Improving skills at basic logical techniques: discerning the arguments at issue, detecting the defects and advantages of arguments, and imagining counterexamples.
- Provoking appreciation for historical problems of philosophy.
- Opening a space for students to discuss and develop their own views without fear of admitting a change of position to perceived opponents.
To achieve these, I try to draw out the unarticulated but deeply held views of my students by using everyday cases that give rise to historical philosophical problems. For instance, in a recent Fundamentals of Philosophy class, I challenged students who were resistant to the idea of non-experiential knowledge to overcome their initial dismissive stance through an attempt to clarify, with a discussion of an excerpt from Hume, the best argument for the principle that the future will resemble the past. I use, as a practical example, predictions about when the next exam would be held for that very class. The difficulty of proving the principle of induction from experience was then a live topic if it was not already. Not only were many students caught in the realization that there are many other things that they believe which no amount of experience appears sufficient to prove but they also began to realize through our subsequent discussion of empiricism and rationalism the importance and historical difficulty of a good explanation of how such knowledge is possible.
Along the way in every introductory course, I require that students practice the methods associated with the relevant technical terms, such as “validity” and “counterexample” using obvious examples and working up to the more subtle cases they find in the assigned readings. The focus is not just on the history of philosophy but also on the skill of philosophical argument.
For upper-level and graduate courses, my goal is to lead students from a solid background in the subject to engagement with the work being done now. For instance, in a recent upper level metaphysics class, I had students discuss how McTaggart’s (1908) arguments about time relate to a series of influential articles on that topic published in this century. I conducted this discussion after having the students complete a short essay on McTaggart’s arguments. The goal was to bring students up to the point that they could engage the current work and, with practice, write on the topic.
Writing assignments are my preferred form of assessment. For upper-level and graduate courses, I usually require a series of short writing assignments as well as two longer papers. For introductory classes, depending on the size of the class, I give three to four short essay exams. I have also conducted several honors tutorials and individual studies where the writing assignments are geared to producing one final paper of the length and quality of a typical journal article.
In addition to the classes I have taught, I have also organized several conferences, reading groups, and as just mentioned a number of tutorials on special topics in my specialization. These projects have grown out of those same goals that guide my regular classes: to encourage philosophical discussion and to promote the value and skills essential to philosophy.
Statement of Teaching Innovation
Innovation in my teaching is driven by my devotion to promoting the value philosophy, both practical and theoretical. I try to dislodge the misconception that philosophy is just history or some set of religious or scientific claims. I emphasize philosophy as an act, a way of doing things, that is accessible to everyone whether that be as a scientist, artist, solider, political leader, or student.
In my introductory courses, I integrate the actual structure of the course with classical philosophical themes. For example, I hold unannounced exams throughout each semester. Of course I allow students to drop one of the exams in case they must miss that class for the inevitable unforeseen emergency. “Unforeseen emergencies” is also a theme in my introduction to ethics course where I emphasize the philosophical importance of the fact that we must act often (nearly always) without complete information and certainly without control of the circumstances of our action. This makes for a lively discussion of deep issues about fairness and justice in the face of uncertainty that are at the heart of moral philosophy. In other words, the class itself becomes part of the material. Using the same assessment method in my Fundamentals of Philosophy class I focus on the perennial philosophical problem of induction and the evidence for predictions in general. Predicting the next exam, is then the live example for each student. The key is to make philosophy relevant to what students are doing right then and there in the class.
In addition to my regular scheduled classes, I have taught honors tutorials and graduate courses in my areas of specialization. I have also organized several summer reading groups in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language. These are based on demand and often include graduate students as well as majors and non-majors. I often present my own research in these activities, to give the group both some exposure to those specific areas and as a practical exercise about publication, research plans, and the profession. These efforts have been quite rewarding; a number of the participants are now in prestigious graduate programs and pursuing careers both in philosophy and in other disciplines.
Most recently, I am developing a new course that is the core of the interdisciplinary theme of Knowledge of the Future. Together with colleagues in Physics, Mathematics, History, and English; I will pilot the course in the spring of 2015. I will not only be co-teaching the course but I am involved at every stage in the development of this theme. It is my devotion to the topic and the practical value of philosophy that attracted me to this project in the first place.
“Aiken’s Evidentialism and the Will to Believe” 2016 William James Studies, 2016 12 (2) (co-authored with J. Reed)
“An Epistemological Approach to Essential Indexicality” 2011 American Philosophical Quarterly 48(1): 47-61
“The Justification of Torture-Horror” The Philosophy of Horror. 2010 ed. T. Fahey. University of Kentucky Press.
“The Epistemic Inadequacy of Ersatzer Possible World Semantics” 2010 Logique et Analyse 53: 61-76 (co-authored with M. Shaffer)
“Pragmatic Reflexivity in Self-Defeating and Self-Justifying Expressions” 2008 Argumentation 22:205-216
“A Paradox for Possible World Semantics” 2006 Logique et Analyse 49: 307-317 (co-authored with M. Shaffer)
“An Ontologically Neutral Defense of the Privileged Present”
“Discovering Particular Absences”
“Conceivability and Easy Knowledge of Existence
Notable Conference Publications
“Possible but Impossible to Imagine” Cologne Summer School in Philosophy 2015
“Justified but Impossible to Believe” North Carolina Philosophy Society 2015
“The Explanatory Value of Paradoxes” Semiotic Society of America 2014
“The Privacy of Now” Mountain Plains Philosophy Conference 2013
“Justified but Impossible to Believe” Central States Philosophy Conference 2013
“Limited Access to the Privileged Present” Pittsburgh Area Philosophy Conference 2012
“Conceivability and Easy Knowledge of Existence” Ohio Philosophical Association 2011
“Pragmatic Reflexivity in Existence Arguments” International Society for the Study of Argumentation, University of Amsterdam 2010
“Indexical Co-reference in Competing Explanations” Semiotic Society of America 2009
"Knowing What Someone Else Knows Versus Knowing That Someone Else Knows” Ohio Philosophical Association 2009
“Varieties of Metajustification” University of Miami Conference in Epistemology 2009
"Non-Existence, Reference Failure, and Non-Self-Identity”
Florida Philosophical Association 2008
My predominant interest is in the extent to which thoughts can be shared among different subjects, and in particular whether there are limits to this sort of cognitive access. My research goal is to explain how indexical thinking, i.e., thinking in terms of “I”, “now” and “here”, describes the limits of cognitive access.
There are some things that some individuals can know which others cannot know in principle. For instance, suppose I realize that I am in danger. A good explanation of my knowledge and subsequent behavior would require some attitude ascriptions in terms of indexicals such as “I”, as opposed to my name or some other non-indexical form of identification like a definite description.
Since it is always possible for me to know that I am in danger without knowing that Jeremy, the man who authored the research statement, etc., is in danger and vice versa, these are different pieces of knowledge. It is not my knowledge that Jeremy or the author that is in danger, but my knowledge that I am in danger, that would motivate my acting for my own safety; though of course all of these are related so long as I realize that I am Jeremy, the author, and so on. Because explanations of action, such as my fleeing, must be in terms of knowledge that would actually motivate the action, some knowledge must be ascribed with the indexical “I”. This is the sense in which indexicals are essential to explanations of practical rationality.
Yet there is limited access to this knowledge in the sense that only I can have it; anyone other than me has at most knowledge that Jeremy, the author, that man, etc., is in danger. I am the only one that can know just what motivates me to flee since I am the only one who can identify myself in that first person way. First person indexical knowledge is in this case limited to me alone.
For the last half-century, limited accessibility was regarded as a potential threat to basic epistemological assumptions about the extent to which knowledge is publically accessible. As a consequence various semantic strategies were devised to avoid reaching the conclusion of limited access. These strategies focused on modifying propositional analyses of attitudes thought to give rise to the problem. I argue that it was a mistake to assume that limited accessibility can or even should be avoided in the semantics of attitude ascriptions. Cognitive limitations should be addressed on their own terms as a consequence of successful explanation with essential indexicals. This is so on any analysis of attitudes whether the analysis is in terms of propositions or some other unit of semantic content. Part of what makes my approach significant is that it reveals a new strategy for analyzing indexical explanations that focuses on the plausibility of an epistemological account of private thought. The threat posed by limited access is not intractable, I argue, insofar as an epistemological theory must already absorb private knowledge in ordinary cases of cognitive disabilities such as blindness and amnesia. My recent publication in American Philosophical Quarterly lays out this new account for the first person indexical “I.”
I apply the same strategy to the temporal indexical “now” in my recent work in metaphysics. I argue that cognitive access to the present, however it is privileged on a given metaphysical view of time, is also limited to those subjects occupying that time. Arguments for certain metaphysical views of time maintain that thought about the present is epistemically privileged insofar as knowledge of the present is easy, a priori, or immediate. This epistemic concept of privilege is at least part of the motivation for A-theories of time, i.e., theories that take temporal distinctions such as “presentness” to be real properties of times; and it is sometimes used to argue for presentism: the view that only the present exists. It has been argued, for instance, that if there exist past (or future) times in addition to the present, then a skeptical hypothesis arises: we might be mistaken about the present; and this undermines the privileged status of the present. I object to this argument because access to the present is limited to those who occupy it. Even if there exist past times at which someone believes that their time is present, this is not a possible belief for me insofar as I occupy a different time; namely, the present. Hence, the relevant epistemic defeaters are impossible even on pluralist A-theories, such as the growing block theory. In papers recently presented at conferences, such as “Limited Access to the Privileged Present” I address worries about temporally limited access, e.g., the possibility of historical evidence and trans-temporal communication, in the context of my general account of private, indexical thought.
I expand this account of indexicality further in other papers some of which I have already presented at conferences including: “Indexical Co-Reference in Competing Explanations” and “Knowing What Someone Else Knows Versus Knowing That Someone Else Knows”. The former addresses how general accounts of inferences to the best explanation relate to my account of public discourse with indexicals. The latter is my reply to a potential conflict between my account of limited access and classic principles of epistemic logic such as epistemic closure.
Two of my other publications, “A Paradox for Possible World Semantics” and “Pragmatic Reflexivity in Self-Justifying and Self-Defeating Expressions” concern the reflexivity or self-applicability of semantic and epistemological theories. The former applies possible worlds semantics to the question of whether my utterance “possible world semantics is necessarily true” is true. The latter relates my analysis of self-defeating expressions to a number of traditional problems including skepticism and epistemological relativism. A related paper “The Allure of Meta-justification” concentrates on reflexivity based arguments at the heart of the dispute between rationalists and empiricists over higher-order justification of empirical and a priori knowledge. My immediate goal is to publish on all of these individual topics while working toward a larger work on indexicality and reflexivity as guiding issues in philosophical methodology. In essence the larger project will be an examination of how the success conditions of basic epistemic and semantic acts, such as conceiving, theorizing, and referring figure into the evaluation of philosophical explanations of those acts.
All of the projects I have described are unified by my focus on the relationship between philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics. What is at the core of each project is concern over the balance between the semantics of indexical attitude ascriptions and the success of the metaphysically and epistemologically loaded explanations that employ them.