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Research Overview

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 2020-21, my ongoing research projects are:

  • Time and Rationality: I’m finishing three articles extending the theory of temporal neutrality in Time Biases. “Scheduling Deliberation” develops a puzzle for combining A-theoretic passage with certain views of diachronic rationality and tensed semantics. “What Matters in Psychological Continuity? Accommodating Profound Psychological Change in Unbiased Egoistic Concern” is a joint effort with Preston Greene on the methodology for determining diachronic egoistic concern. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: A Theory of 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 moral virtue? 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’m also finishing a standalone article about love and the foundations of moral reasoning, “The Love Imperative: A Defense” related to the Agapism book. And I have an article on distinctively Catholic approaches to the question of methodology in moral philosophy, “Catholic Philosophy as a Way of Life: An Exoteric Proposal”. (Both have been given around as talks in various forms over the past few years.)
  • 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’m directing the dissertation for Ross Jensen (ABD 2020), who is developing an original framework for environmental ethics based in virtue ethics — Title: Love and the Politics of Place. The Engaged Philosophy Group also welcomes inquiries from PhD students interested in teaching and research in virtue ethics.

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 at work.

(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 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 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.

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