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Current Research

On the roles of trust and self-trust in practical reason:

“On the Risks of Resting Assured: An Assurance Theory of Trust” will appear in New Philosophical Perspectives on Trust, edited by Paul Faulkner and Tom Simpson (Oxford University Press, 2016).

“‘What on Earth Was I Thinking?’ How Anticipating Plan’s End Places an Intention in Time” will appear in Time and the Philosophy of Action, edited by Roman Altshuler and Michael J. Sigrist (Routledge, 2016).

Narrative and the Stability of Intention” (draft of 12 March 12) appeared in European Journal of Philosophy 23:1 (March 2015).

Abstract:  This paper addresses a problem concerning the rational stability of intention.  When you form an intention to j at some future time t, you thereby make it subjectively rational for you to follow through and j at t, even if – hypothetically – you would abandon the intention were you to redeliberate at t.  It is hard to understand how this is possible.  Shouldn’t the perspective of your acting self be what determines what is then subjectively rational for you?  I aim to solve this problem by highlighting a role for narrative in intention.  I’ll argue that committing yourself to a course of action by intending to pursue it crucially involves the expectation that your acting self will be ‘swept along’ by its participation in a distinctively narrative form of self-understanding.  I’ll motivate my approach by criticizing Richard Holton’s recent treatment of the stability of intention.  Then I’ll extend the criticism to Michael Bratman’s treatment, though my account also borrows from his work.  I’ll likewise criticize and borrow from David Velleman’s work on narrative and self-intelligibility.  When the pieces fall into place, we’ll see how intending is akin to telling your future self a kind of story.  My thesis is not that you address your acting self but that your acting self figures as a ‘character’ in the ‘story’ that you address to a still later self.  Unlike other appeals to narrative in agency, mine will explain how as narrator you address a specifically intrapersonal audience.

Rational Requirements and Rational’ Akrasia (draft of 27 July 12) appeared in Philosophical Studies 166:3 (December 2013).

Abstract: Can akrasia be rational?  Can it be rational to resist the motivational force of your own practical judgment?  While I do not believe that akrasia can be rational, I think there is something revealingly right in recent arguments for the proposition.  I aim to defend that insight in a way that does not entail that akrasia can be rational but more fundamentally addresses the normative structure of rational requirements. The fundamental issue lies in the relationship between two conceptions of rationality.  Previous treatments of ‘rational’ akrasia have tended to regard rationality as a responsiveness to reasons.  Previous treatments of rational requirements have tended to regard rationality as an attitudinal coherence.  I’ll reformulate the question of rational akrasia within a framework that construes rationality as coherence.  And I’ll reformulate the question of rational coherence to admit the possibility of reasoning as the apparently rational akratic does – from failure to follow through on a judgment to abandonment of that judgment. I’ll argue that rational requirements codify an agential coherence that you negotiate through a dynamic of self-trust and self-mistrust.  It is not reasoning to abandon your judgment through forgetfulness, confusion or perverse self-rebellion.  But it can be reasoning to abandon your judgment through reasonable self-mistrust.  The difference lies in how self-mistrust can manifest a sensitivity to the norm of rational coherence that gives normative force to rational requirements.  The core insight of those who defend the possibility of ‘rational’ akrasia lies in their emphasis on the rational force of self-mistrust.

Conspiracy, Commitment, and the Self” appeared in Ethics 120:3 (April 2010).

Abstract:  Practical commitment is Janus-faced, looking outward toward the expectations it creates and inward toward their basis.  This paper criticizes Kantian attempts to link these facets and proposes an alternative.  Contra David Velleman, the availability of a conspiratorial perspective (not yours, not your interlocutor’s) is what allows you to understand yourself as making a lying promise – as committing yourself ‘outwardly’ with the deceptive reasoning that Velleman argues cannot provide a basis for self-understanding.  Moreover, the intrapersonal availability of such a third perspective is what enables you to commit yourself ‘inwardly.’  Here the paper offers an alternative to Christine Korsgaard’s account of practical commitment, on which committing yourself requires identifying yourself with a principle.  You needn’t identify yourself with a principle because the unity at which you aim when you commit yourself is a unity not with your acting self but with a later perspective, where the relation is one of self-intelligibility, not self-justification, and therefore needn’t be mediated by principles.  This ‘twice-future’ perspective – neither your present intending nor your (once-)future acting but a third perspective that looks back on that relation – plays the intrapersonal role played in interpersonal commitment by potential co-conspirators.  Kantians are therefore right to link your ability to commit yourself with your ability credibly to express that commitment to others.  But the linkage generates a strikingly unKantian result.  The nature of agency cannot provide an apriori basis for honesty because what enables you to commit yourself is what also enables you to lie.

Receptivity and the Will” appeared in Noûs 43:3 (September 2009).

Abstract:  This paper defends an internalist view of agency.  The challenge for an internalist view of agency is to explain how an agent’s all-things-considered judgment has necessary implications for action, a challenge that lies specifically in the possibility of two species of akratic break: between judgment and intention, and between intention and action.  I argue that the two breaks are not importantly different: in each case akrasia manifests a single species of irrational self-mistrust.  I aim to vindicate internalism by showing how rational agency rests on our capacity for trusting receptivity to the verdict of judgment.  To call the relation receptivity is to characterize it as fundamentally passive.  To call it trusting receptivity is to ensure that the passivity is not incompatible with agency, since trust retains a crucial degree of control.  I argue that the best way to meet the externalist argument from akrasia is to abandon the assumption that the will must be a locus of activity.

Advising as Inviting to Trust” appeared in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy 35:3 (September 2005).

Abstract:  How can you give your interlocutor a reason to act?  One way is by manipulating his deliberative context through threats, flattery, or other incentives.  Another is by addressing him in the way distinctive of reasoning with him.  I aim to account for the possibility of this non-manipulative form of address by showing how it is realized through the performance of a specific illocutionary act, that of advising as inviting to trust.  I argue that exercise of a capacity for reasonable trust can give us reasons that are not grounded in our motivational susceptibilities.  Here I echo Kant on moral motivation.  But this rational faculty assesses not principles but persons.  Here I echo Hume on the moral virtues.  We can thus agree with Kant about the motivational efficacy of practical reasons dispensed through advice but agree with Hume about the form of intelligence needed to put ourselves in touch with them.

Trust and Diachronic Agency” appeared in Noûs 37:1 (March 2003).

Abstract:  Some philosophers worry that it can never be reasonable to act simply on the basis of trust, yet you act on the basis of self-trust whenever you merely follow through on one of your own intentions.  It is no more reasonable to follow through on an intention formed by an untrustworthy earlier self of yours than it is to act on the advice of an untrustworthy interlocutor.  But reasonable mistrust equally presupposes untrustworthiness in the mistrusted, or evidence thereof.  The concept of an intention, I argue, codifies the fact that practical reason rests on a capacity for reasonable trust.

On the roles of trust and self-trust in epistemic reason:

"Assurance and Warrant" appeared in Philosophers’ Imprint 14/17 (June 2014).  {Note/warning: this paper is the length of a short book (roughly 45,700 words).]

Abstract:  Previous assurance-theoretic treatments of testimony have not adequately explained how the transmission of warrant depends specifically on the speaker’s mode of address – making it natural to suspect that the interpersonal element is not epistemic but merely psychological or action-theoretic.  I aim to fill that explanatory gap: to specify exactly how a testifier’s assurance can create genuine epistemic warrant.  In doing so I explain (a) how the illocutionary norm governing the speech act proscribes not lies but a species of bullshit, in an extension of Harry Frankfurt’s sense, (b) how that norm makes testimony fully second-personal, in Stephen Darwall’s sense, or bipolar, in Michael Thompson’s sense, and (c) how that species of second-personality or bipolarity is more fundamental than the practical species that Darwall and Thompson discuss.  One attraction of this new Assurance View of testimony is that it allows us to reconceptualize the natures of normativity and responsibility more generally, viewing the assurance as implicating us in normative relations of recognition, and therefore of justice, that are not yet moralized with reactive attitudes.

Assertion, Sincerity, and Knowledge” (draft of 16 July 2013) appeared in Noûs 47:4 (December 2013).

Abstract: The oddities in lottery cases and Moore’s paradox appear to support the knowledge account of assertion, according to which one should assert only what one knows.  This paper preserves an emphasis on epistemic norms but presents grounds for an alternative explanation.  The alternative divides the explanandum, explaining the error in lottery and Moorean assertions with one move and their deeper incoherence with another.  The error derives from a respect in which the assertions are uninformative: the speaker is not being appropriately responsive to her addressee’s epistemic needs.  And the incoherence derives from a deeper respect in which lottery and some (but not all) Moorean assertions are uninformative: it is difficult to see how the speaker’s assertion could express any judgment she has made or would relevantly make, since she transparently lacks epistemic authority to inform any conceivable interlocutor on the subject.  This diagnosis suggests an epistemic approach not directly to assertion but to judgment.  Without judging that p, how could a speaker be in the business of informing her addressee that p?  If the speaker transparently lacks authority to inform anyone whether p – to give anyone her word that p – how could she without confusion count as judging that p?

Can Trust Itself Ground a Reason to Believe the Trusted?” appeared in Abstracta, Special Issue VI (December 2012): A Symposium on Paul Faulkner’s Knowledge on Trust.

Abstract: Can a reason to believe testimony derive from the addressee’s trust itself or only from reliability in the speaker that the trust perhaps causes? I aim to cast suspicion on the former view, defended by Faulkner, in favor of the latter – despite agreeing with Faulkner’s emphasis on the second-personal normativity of testimonial assurance. Beyond my narrow disagreement with Faulkner lie two broader issues.  I argue that Faulkner misappropriates Bernard Williams’s genealogy of testimony when he makes use of Williams’s genealogical argument in his own preferred assurance view of testimony.  Though Williams doesn’t clearly articulate it, there is a deep reason why Williams’s genealogy cannot underwrite an argument for trust-based testimonial reasons.  Can a genealogical argument underwrite any version of the assurance view?  I sketch an assurance view of testimonial reasons that rejects Faulkner’s thesis that such reasons could be grounded in trust. Then I examine what it would take for that assurance view to receive genealogical vindication.

"Reflection, Disagreement, and Context" appeared in American Philosophical Quarterly 49:2 (April 2012).

Abstract:  How far, if at all, do our intrapersonal and our interpersonal epistemic obligations run in parallel? How are we epistemically obligated to weigh diverging opinions—a change of mind—that we expect we will have in the future? Do those obligations resemble whatever obligations we may have to be responsive to the opinions of peers who disagree with us? This essay recommends that we treat these questions as addressing the stability of doxastic commitment in the two dimensions. If we think of belief as paradigmatically the product of doxastic deliberation, as some philosophers now do, then we can view forming a belief as bringing doxastic deliberation to a proper conclusion, thereby generating a properly stable commitment. And we can make our questions more specific: Does a doxastic stance that fails to do justice to expected future opinion manifest a properly stable orientation as it moves forward into that future? Does a doxastic stance that fails to do justice to interpersonal disagreement manifest a properly stable orientation as it moves outward into the social give-and-take of reasons? How far, if at all, do these species of doxastic stability run in parallel?

A review of McMyler’s Testimony, Trust, and Authority appeared in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (March 2012).

Telling as Inviting to Trust” appeared in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70:3 (May 2005).

Abstract:  How can I give you a reason to believe what I tell you?  I can influence the evidence available to you.  Or I can simply invite your trust.  These two ways of giving reasons work very differently.  When a speaker tells her hearer that p, I argue, she intends that he gain access to a prima facie reason to believe that p that derives not from evidence but from his mere understanding of her act.  Unlike mere assertions, acts of telling give reasons directly.  They give reasons by inviting the hearer’s trust.  This yields a novel form of anti-reductionism in the epistemology of testimony.  The status of testimony as a sui generis source of epistemic warrant is entailed by the nature of the act of telling.  We can discover the nature of this illocution, and its epistemic role, by examining how it functions in the real world of human relations.