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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 understand 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 2022-23, my ongoing research projects are:

  • Time and Rationality: I’ve just finished a trio of research 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 valuing. Another paper — “Temporal Discounting in Psychology and Philosophy” — offers proposals for connecting sources of evidence in philosophy and social psychology. And another paper — “What Matters in Psychological Continuity?” (written with Preston Greene) — raises some puzzles from Buddhist psychology for common philosophical understandings of egoistic concern. A public-facing article– “Mediocrity in the Age of Crypto-Philanthropy” is out in Commonweal in February 2023. I’m now working on the “Time Biases” entry for the new Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Time
  • Philosophy as a Way of Life: Paul Blaschko and I finished a big book on virtue ethics with Penguin Press, called The Good Life Method. It came out Jan 2022. You can order it here. I just wrapped up a feature review article for Ethics on applied tradition and the OUP Guides to the Good Life series.
  • Moral Theory and Love: I’m in drafting stages of a research monograph on love and recent debates about strength of reasons: Samaritanism: 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 foundation 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 taught 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 (UCLA Law) and I are in the very early 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… aka the Ted Chiang Class.
  • Grants and Philosophy Pedagogy: We’ve just wrapped up our Mellon grant, and now I am working with colleagues at the NDIAS to build a teaching lab program based on insights from that project. I give a lot of public-facing talks and participate in podcasts on how we live out our philosophical commitments. And I continue to run experiments with my sections of GGL.
  • Modal Logic and Ontology: I have a (way too long) article on abductive methodology in modal logic and modal ontology that I have been working on for a decade, keep giving around as talks, and I 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’ve recently directed the dissertation for Ting Cho Lau (PhD June 2019), who wrote on normative powers and rationality — Title: The Reasons Management Framework. And I’ve recently directed the dissertation for Ross Jensen (PhD 2021), who has developed a framework for environmental ethics based in Aristotelian virtue ethics and bioregionalism — Title: Love and the Politics of Place. I’m currently directing three dissertations. Haley Dutmer, who is working on the philosophy of education (ABD 2021) and Sara Chan (ABD 2022) who is working on the philosophy of disability.

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 Samaritanism (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. I defend a temporally neutral theory of prudential rationality and diachronic identity. And I connect both contemporary and historical philosophical work on these questions with current debates in psychology and economics.

(3) Time, Change, and Tense Logic

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. I’m also interested in arguments for presentism and ways of connecting abstract questions about the nature of time to more practical questions like how to understand discount functions.

(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’m interested in 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 more public-facing writing.

(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 psychology, political theory, and economics.

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