drafts available upon request

 To browse by topic, use the following links: Philosophy of Action  Metaethics Formal Epistemology Social Choice

Under Review

A Control Theory of Action

One of the central problems in the philosophy of action is to spell out the distinction between action and what merely happens, e.g., a wink versus an eye twitch. This essay proposes a theory of action offering an account of this distinction. The central claim of the theory is that action is movement that is controlled by the mover, where movement is understood capaciously and control is characterized by a trio of conditions consisting of an aim condition, a modal condition, and an explanatory condition. Importantly, being controlled is shown to be a determinable property of movements, and its determination dimensions are isolated. Paired with the claim that action is movement that is controlled by the mover, this account of control as a determinable illuminates the diversity within the category of action.

Anscombe's Knowledge Thesis and the Argument from Distinct Thresholds

In her groundbreaking Intention, G.E.M. Anscombe defends the Knowledge Thesis: while intentionally Xing, one knows without observation that one is Xing. This thesis has proved deeply controversial, largely due to what looks like a wealth of counterexamples. Among those who follow Anscombe, some have defended weaker versions of the Knowledge Thesis. Some weaken the necessity of the connection between knowledge and action, usually by granting the proposed counterexamples. Others retain the necessary connection, but alter the features, content, or species of the knowledge necessary for action. In this paper, I present an argument to the effect that we have good reason to think that there is no necessary connection between intentional action and knowledge, no matter the assumed features, content, or species of the knowledge. Further, rather than argue by counterexample, I present an argument that explains why we continue to find counterexamples to claims of a necessary connection between action and knowledge. The explanation is in the spirit of Gilbert Harman's separation of intentional action and belief and Michael Bratman's separation of intentional action and intention in that it relies on the place of intentional action in ethical life.

Escaping Arrow's Theorem: The Advantage-Standard Model

with Wesley Holliday

There is an extensive literature in social choice theory studying the consequences of weakening the assumptions of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. Much of this literature suggests that there is no escape from Arrow-style impossibility theorems unless one drastically violates the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives (IIA). In this paper, we present a more positive outlook. We propose a model of comparing candidates in elections, which we call the Advantage-Standard (AS) model. The requirement that a collective choice rule (CCR) be rationalizable by the AS model is in the spirit of but weaker than IIA; yet it is stronger than what is known in the literature as weak IIA (two profiles alike on x, y cannot have opposite strict social preferences on x and y). In addition to motivating violations of IIA, the AS model makes intelligible violations of another Arrovian assumption: the negative transitivity of the strict social preference relation P. While previous literature shows that only weakening IIA to weak IIA or only weakening negative transitivity of P to acyclicity still leads to impossibility theorems, we show that jointly weakening IIA to AS rationalizability and weakening negative transitivity of P leads to no such impossibility theorems. Indeed, we show that several appealing CCRs are AS rationalizable, including even transitive CCRs.

Zetetic Indispensability and Epistemic Justification

Robust metanormative realists think that there are irreducibly normative, metaphysically heavy normative facts. One might wonder how we could be epistemically justified in believing that such facts exist. In this paper, I offer an answer to this question: one's belief in the existence of robustly real normative facts is epistemically justified because so believing is indispensable to being a successful inquirer for creatures like us. The argument builds on Enoch's (2007, 2011) deliberative indispensability argument for Robust Realism but avoids relying on an overly pragmatic account of the sources of basic epistemic justification. Instead, I suggest that the sources of basic epistemic justification are those belief-forming methods which are indispensable for zetetically indispensable projects, that is, projects which are constitutive of being a successful inquirer for embodied, agential creatures like ourselves.

In Preparation

The Ethical Function of Intentional Action

I argue that intentional action is, in a sense, intrinsically ethical. The central claim that I defend is the following two-part thesis spelling out the precise sense in which intentional action is intrinsically ethical. First, the concept of intentional action plays a functional role in our ethical conceptual scheme: it flags behaviors that are of priority for ethical evaluation broadly construed. Second, by way of fixing the degree of control required for intentional action, this ethical functional role partially determines the extension of the concept of intentional action. As we will see, the sense in which intentional action is intrinsically ethical is also, to a large degree, consistent with naturalistic theories of action and thus  should be appealing to the naturalist.

A Contextual Accuracy Dominance Argument for Probabilism

A central motivation for Probabilism---the principle of rationality that requires one to have credences that satisfy the axioms of probability---is the accuracy dominance argument: one should not have accuracy dominated credences, and one avoids accuracy dominance just in case one satisfies Probabilism. Up until recently, the accuracy dominance argument for Probabilism has been restricted to the finite setting. One reason for this is that it is not easy to measure the accuracy of infinitely many credences in a motivated way. In particular, as recent work has shown, the conditions often imposed in the finite setting are mutually inconsistent in the infinite setting. One response to these impossibility results is to weaken the conditions on a legitimate measure of accuracy. However, this response runs the risk of offering an accuracy dominance argument using illegitimate measures of accuracy. In this paper, I offer an alternative response which concedes the possibility that not all sets of credences can be measured for accuracy. I then offer an accuracy dominance argument for Probabilism that allows for this restrictedness. The normative core of the argument is the principle that one should not have credences that would be accuracy dominated in some epistemic context one might find oneself in if there are alternative credences which do not have this defect.

On the Incompatibility of Rational and Necessary Connections between Action and Knowledge

In this note, I show the incompatibility of rational and necessary connections between action and knowledge, assuming a plausible view on the relation between rationality and necessity. I then discuss, more generally, how insofar as normative requirements must be violable to be action guiding, metaphysical and normative investigations into the connections between philosophical concepts constrain one another.

Action in a Virtual World

Danny has a virtual affair with his lifelong friend Karl while playing a virtual reality fighting game.  Each night over a number of weeks, Danny and Karl place small buttons on their temples, their physical forms go motionless, and they enter virtual reality, taking on the forms of their chosen characters Lance and Roxette. Danny and Karl (or Lance and Roxette?) start out fighting one another in the game but eventually turn to having sex. This story, drawn from an episode of Black Mirror, raises an interesting and difficult question for philosophers of action: can the doings of one's virtual counterpart in virtual reality be one's actions? In particular, does Danny have sex with Karl---or perform any action at all---while his physical body lay motionless on the couch in physical reality? In this essay, I try to isolate exactly what is interesting and difficult about these questions. I then offer some possible answers.

To act, must I aim?

A paper evaluating the view that action, in the broadest sense, requires an explanatorily relevant aim that belongs to the agent.

On Hold