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Research Overview

I direct the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, a university-wide interdisciplinary research institute. Check out the NDIAS page for more information on the fantastic projects we’re running, including our 2020-21 Nature of Trust fellowship program. I love working with teams of colleagues 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:

  • 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. “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 in the editing process and coming out later this year.
  • Paul Blaschko and I just finished a big book on virtue ethics with Penguin Press, called God and the Good Life after our popular course. It contains original research and case studies. It will come out Jan 2022.
  • I’m in drafting stages of a research monograph on ethical commitment, intellectual commitment, and rational faith — Agapism: A Theory of Our Inner Lives and Outer Commitments. 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?
  • I’m finishing a standalone article about love and the foundations of moral reasoning, “The Love Imperative: A Defense”, related to the Agapism book.
  • Research related to ongoing EPG grant projects, especially work on philosophy pedagogy with our collaborative 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.
  • On the back-burner: a (way too long) article on abductive methodology in modal logic and modal metaphysics.

I advise PhDs related to any of these topics, but at the moment my advising projects skew toward value theory and to students who want to work on project teams. 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. The Engaged Philosophy Group welcomes inquiries from PhD students interested in teaching and research in virtue ethics — meetings are weekly on Tuesdays.

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.

(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 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 recent debates about modality and methodology.  I investigate potential anti-essentialist arguments.  I am also interested in novel approaches to modal conventionalism—in particular, the view that modal truths depend on objectively knowable explanatory norms. I am perpetually interested in methodological debates at the intersection of modal logic and other branches of philosophy.

(5) Religious Pluralism, Religious Language and Rational 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 argue 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. I’m interested in potential epistemic, ethical and semantic benefits of religious pluralism. And I am interested in strategies for addressing the Argument(s) from Evil.

(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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