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Research Areas

I direct the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, a university-wide interdisciplinary research institute. Information about all of those programs is available on the NDIAS page. I love working with teams of colleagues and students to identify and unravel complex ethical problems.

Below you can find mostly non-specialist descriptions of the questions I pursue in my individual research. For a more comprehensive list, see my CV, articles page or email me for available drafts.

For AY 2021-22, my ongoing research projects are:

  • Time and Rationality: I’m finishing the last of three articles extending the theory of temporal neutrality in Time Biases. “Scheduling Deliberation” — for Phil Perspectives 2022 — develops a puzzle for combining A-theoretic passage with certain views of diachronic rationality and tensed semantics. Preston Greene and I just wrapped up a piece on skeptical challenges that certain meditative traditions pose for thought experiments about personal identity and egoistic concern. That will come out in a volume on philosophy and psychology edited by Kevin Tobia (Georgetown Law). A third piece – “Temporal Discounting in Philosophy and Psychology: Four Proposals for Mutual Research Aid” — is finalized and coming out with an OUP volume next year. It proposes some ways philosophers and psychologists who work on discounting can help one another.
  • Virtue Ethics and the Good Life: Paul Blaschko and I just finished a big book on virtue ethics with Penguin Press, called The Good Life Method. It will come out Jan 2022. You can pre-order it here.
  • Moral Theory and Love: I’m in drafting stages of a research monograph on love and recent debates about strength of reasons: Agapism: Moral Responsibility and Our Inner Lives. This is primarily a book in contemporary moral theory: what does moral theory look like if we take love to be the foundational of our moral reasons. It considers how debates about love and reasons intersect and the role such reasoning can play in justifying various forms of interpersonal and institutional commitment. I’ll teach a grad seminar in Fall 2021 on the book manuscript. And there are two standalone articles based on the project in the works. One defends the theory of love and reasons against some hard objections; the other develops an approach to moral theory with a strong publicity condition on reasons in religious arguments (particularly Catholic moral theology).
  • Rationality and Tech Ethics: Mark McKenna (ND Law) and I are in the drafting stages of a paper on highly reliable predictors (Newcomb predictors) and consumer rationality, which came out of an idea in our 2020 Technology, Ethics, and Imagination course.
  • Grants and Philosophy Pedagogy: Research related to ongoing EPG grant projects, especially work on philosophy pedagogy with our collaborative EPG team. We’ve been recently running projects on student-led dialogue and designing digitally integrated courses, as part of a collaboration with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and several other universities. I give a lot of public-facing talks (and web-based talks) on how we live out our philosophical commitments related to the above.
  • Modal Logic and Ontology: On the back-burner, I have a (way too long) article on abductive methodology in modal logic and modal ontology that I keep giving around and will someday finish.

I direct Philosophy PhDs related to any of these topics, but at the moment my graduate advising projects skew toward value theory and interdisciplinary programs run through NDIAS. I recently directed the dissertation for Ting Cho Lau (PhD June 2019), who wrote on normative powers and rationality — Title: The Reasons Management Framework. I’ve recently directed the dissertation for Ross Jensen (PhD 2021), who has developed an original framework for environmental ethics based in Aristotelian virtue ethics and bioregionalism — Title: Love and the Politics of Place. I’m currently directing the dissertation for Haley Dutmer, who is working on the philosophy of education.

Here are the overarching themes of my research:

(1) Philosophy as a Way of Life

What does it mean to organize one’s life around a set of philosophical commitments? And to what extent does philosophical integrity require specific forms of interpersonal and institutional commitment? In current research, I develop an intellectualist approach to these questions and a related methodology for work in ethics and philosophy of religion. Both The Good Life Method (2022) and Agapism (MS) show aspects of this approach in action.

(2) Time, Value and Rationality

The passage of time plays a crucial role in how we organize our beliefs, how we model the exchange of information, and how we form and evaluate our preferences. I’m interested in connections between the objective nature of time and different standards of rationality. And I defend a temporally neutral theory of prudential rationality and diachronic identity.

(3) Time, Change and Existence

There are considerable puzzles for how we reason about time and change, both in natural languages and in formal logic. I think the best unified response to these puzzles is to treat all forms of change as property change. The resulting theory raises interesting questions about persistence through time, about the nature of properties, and about the ways logical formalism can and cannot constrain theories of time.

(4) Essentialism, Conventions, and Modal Logic

Theories of essential properties play a starring role in contemporary debates about modality and methodology.  I investigate potential anti-essentialist arguments.  I am also interested in novel approaches to modal conventionalism—in particular, I like the view that modal truths may depend on objectively knowable explanatory norms. I am perpetually interested in methodological debates at the intersection of modal logic and other branches of philosophy, and I am interested in debates about the uses and misuses of modal logics.

(5) Religious Pluralism, Religious Language and Moral Dimensions of Faith

Religious disagreement is often thought to pose a particular epistemic challenge for theists and atheists alike – namely, does the mere fact that there is pervasive disagreement among peers about religious matters provide evidence that undermines justification for holding the relevant beliefs?  Some say it does, others say it doesn’t, and still others deny that peer disagreement is possible on religious matters. (These puzzles can further generalize to other philosophical, political and aesthetic disagreements.)   I’ve argued that related forms of disagreement also pose a unique semantic challenge, because certain kinds of disagreement can undermine the potential for terms in a shared language to refer. Despite the challenge, I’m interested in potential epistemic, ethical and semantic benefits of religious pluralism.

I’m also interested in strategies for addressing the Argument(s) from Evil. And I am interested in “exoteric” philosophy of religion — philosophical arguments which involve distinctively religious premises but are nevertheless rationally accessible to pluralist audiences. Lately this has taken the form of some very sketchy papers on the relationship between love and so-called “natural evils”.

(6) Encyclopedia Articles and Miscellaneous

Sometimes I also work on topics that defy characterization, like the “Metaphysics” and “Time” entries for the SEP. And now with NDIAS, I work on a fair number of projects that stray outside the boundaries of philosophy. I’m particularly interested in areas where philosophical methods interact with evidence from social psychology, political theory, and economics.

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