Research

Below you'll find abstracts for some projects I am currently working on. Please email me if you are interested in hearing more.

Breaking the Tension in Self-Deception

with David Rose

A common objection to motivationist accounts of self-deception is that they are unable to explain the cognitive tension between the truth and the self-deceptive belief that seems inherent to self-deception. Motivationists themselves have largely accepted the terms of this “tension challenge.” They have repeatedly attempted to work tension into their respective motivationist frameworks and judged it to be a crucial fault when an account cannot adequately do so. In this paper, we argue that the tension challenge is fundamentally misguided: tension is not a necessary component of self-deception. To show this, we constructed five test cases where a protagonist appears to be self-deceived despite lacking tension. In every test case, people overwhelmingly agreed that there was no tension. Yet, judgments that the protagonist was self-deceived exceeded 90% in every case. Our findings thus undermine the claim that tension is necessary for self-deception. In light of our results, we argue that motivationism is better equipped than alternatives to capture the concept of self-deception.

Self-Deception Without the Desire to Believe

According to Dana Nelkin, a theory’s ability to sort clear cases in a way consistent with intuitions is an important theoretical desideratum for an account of self-deception. She argues that Mele’s account fails with regard to this intuition desideratum, so we should reject his account in favor of her own. However, I argue that Nelkin’s argument fails on two fronts. First, I present a study of folk intuitions which suggests that Nelkin’s own account is unable to satisfy the intuition desideratum. Second, I use the results of another study to argue that Nelkin’s criticism of Mele is misplaced to begin with. Because Nelkin believes that conformity with intuitions is an important constraint on an adequate theory of self-deception, I argue that the results of my studies pose a major problem for her account.

The Means and Ends of Habitual Action

with Christopher Kalbach

If we accept Fiery Cushman’s suggested view of rationalization, then beliefs and desires are constructed post hoc. However, Cushman seems to be attributing this kind of rationalization to a wider range of cases than is warranted. In particular, we believe he runs into issues when it comes to habitual behavior. When we act out of habit, the resulting behavior will typically either map onto the right circumstances and produce the intended result or it will misfire. If the habitual action maps onto the right circumstances, then the action accomplishes the very end(s) for which the habit was formed in the first place. This leaves little room for post hoc rationalization in Cushman's sense. But if the habitual behavior misfires—as is the case in Cushman's primary example of habitual action—we argue that there is still no salient motivation to rationalize the behavior.

Moral Authority in Autobiographical Narrative

The presence of an underlying moral narrative is one of the most prevalent elements of the autobiographical genre. And, it seems prima facie plausible that the author will always have ultimate moral authority over her own autobiographical narrative. One source of this plausibility, for example, comes from the author’s unique epistemic position with regard to her own life’s story. However, I argue that there is no inherent right to moral authority over one’s own narrative. Rather, this pro tanto moral authority stems from a more general right to autonomy—specifically, the sort of autonomy advanced by Andrea Westlund (2015).

Confirmed Agnosticism and Manipulation

Derk Pereboom argues that his four-case manipulation argument provides good evidence for an incompatibilist conclusion about moral responsibility. Michael McKenna, on the other hand, claims that it is rational to maintain an agnostic, compatibilist-friendly intuition across each of Pereboom’s cases. In this paper, I take a closer look at the initial attitudes that it would be rational to maintain in response to Pereboom’s cases. I argue that it is not ultimately rational for the reader to maintain McKenna’s intuition across each of Pereboom’s cases if that reader is also committed to compatibilism. In doing so, I believe that two points should become clear: first, that there is a wider range of reasonable initial attitudes to these cases than Pereboom himself acknowledges; second, that these additional initial attitudes are favorable for incompatibilism.

The Epistemic Value of Photography

Aaron Meskin and Jonathan Cohen offer an account that aims to explain why we tend to attribute a special epistemic status to photographs that we do not attribute to other forms of depictive representations. However, I argue that Meskin and Cohen’s account fails. Because of the entirely non-doxastic way Meskin and Cohen characterize the information carried by photographs, there is an important explanatory disconnect regarding how that information is supposed to produce true beliefs. They believe that photographs can distort shapes, misrepresent sizes, and drastically alter colors, and still carry the sort of information that sets photographs apart from other pictures. I argue that although Meskin and Cohen’s account might explain why photographs are more reliable in some way, their account fails to explain why we treat photographs as more epistemically valuable.