I use this page to lay out the topics in philosophy that have most captured my attention over the years.
My dissertation brought together my most significant interests: the glue of the social world and the process of reasoning with others. (The title, “Thinking Together: Joint Commitment and Social Epistemology,” is a major clue here.) The heart of the project is my understanding of joint commitment, the sort of social glue that makes togetherness between two or more people possible. Once you understand togetherness, you can understand how people can reason together, and maybe even know things as a group that they couldn’t know alone.
A project that spun off of this research, a paper called “Intra-Group Disagreement and Conciliationism,” will appear in The Epistemology of Group Disagreement, edited by J. Adam Carter and Fernando Broncano-Berrocal. I argue that, when we personally disagree with a position taken by a group that we’re members of, this disagreement should change our minds somewhat about the point of contention. So, like the title suggests, I argue that conciliation is the rational response to disagreement between oneself and one’s group.
I’ve been interested in the problem of disagreement since taking Mike Titelbaum’s epistemology class at UW-Madison. If I’m in a disagreement with someone I otherwise regard as smart and well-informed, should that affect my opinion about the subject of our disagreement? I’ve always leaned “yes,” but I’ve also wondered whether the question starts off on the wrong foot somewhere. Rather than framing disagreement as a “problem,” maybe we should take Catherine Elgin’s attitude and see disagreement as a feature of social life, not a bug.
Some worry that, if we do take the “yes” route I suggested above, we’ll tumble down a slippery slope of skepticism, since disagreement is everywhere. Doesn’t this threaten all of our knowledge? And my answer there is, I dunno, maybe? So it’s probably no surprise that I’ve started thinking a lot more about Pyrrho and Nagarjuna lately (spurred on by this excellent piece by Jay Garfield). The “radical skeptic” (who?) isn’t a bogeyman to defeat; they offer a genuine alternative and a way to free ourselves of suffering.
My other publications in epistemology have been joint ventures with friends and colleagues. I wrote a critical notice with my supervisor Michael Lynch of Epistemic Authority by Linda Zagzebski, a book I find myself revisiting over and over. I also helped write a bibliography on intellectual humility with Michael Lynch, Casey Johnson, and Hanna Gunn.
Nothing really stops me from getting obsessed with things and dropping them, but one topic at least hasn’t been dropped yet, and that’s the work of Wilfrid Sellars.