Research

My primary research interests are in metaontology and metasemantics.

Papers

(These papers are either works in progress or under review. Email me if you would like to see a draft.)

“The Substantivity of the Question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

“Structure, Metaphysically Equivalent Theories, and Ontological Disputes”

Metaontological realism—the thesis that ontological disputes are generally substantive and that there are mind-independent truths about which positions in these disputes are correct—has been a presupposition of most of the literature in metaphysics in the last several decades. Yet the last two decades have seen more opponents of metaontological realism articulating their suspicions and attempting to show that something is wrong with it. In this paper I develop a framework for explicating and defending metaontological realism. The framework has a number of strengths: (1) It does not require us to appeal to primitive notions of metaphysical structure. (2) It avoids epistemic and methodological difficulties that plague other views. (3) It leads naturally to an appealing account of metaphysical equivalence. (4) It is neutral about heavy-weight notions like fundamentality. (5) It gives us the resources to take a conciliatory approach to the ontological theses defended by some metaphysicians and ordinary beliefs and assertions without running into the objections Korman (2015) raises for Siderian metaontological frameworks.

“Charity and Common ground in Conflict”

Important challenges for the view that ontological disputes are substantive come from Carnap-inspired deflationists motivated by considerations of language and interpretation. Eli Hirsch (2002, 2009), arguing that most ontological disputes are merely verbal, offers the most prominent recent example. In the sizable literature generated on these kinds of arguments, most replies focus on what conclusions about ontological disputes can be drawn from the principle of charity. In this paper, I offer a novel challenge to Hirsch-style arguments. I argue that these arguments have unacceptable consequences beyond the ontology room: the best accounts of natural language semantic phenomena—most importantly, presupposition—cannot be maintained if we accept the use of the principle of charity found in these arguments.

“Reference Magnetism without Natural Properties”

Simple interpretationist accounts face an indeterminacy problem: there are too many interpretations of our language that will count as correct. The thesis that some terms are more reference magnetic is part of a strategy to constrain the number of interpretations that count as “correct” for a linguistic community. This idea allows the interpretationist to claim that the correct interpretation, or semantic theory, is the one that assigns to our terms more eligible referents, usually understood as Lewisian natural properties. In this paper, I propose and defend a version of interpretationism that replaces this reliance on natural properties with an alternative constraint. My view resolves some seemingly intractable problems for interpretationist accounts and has the virtue of avoiding commitment to natural properties.

“Why Future-bias Isn't Rationally Evaluable”

Future-bias is preferring some lesser future good to a greater past good because it is in the future, or preferring some greater past pain to some lesser future pain because it is in the past. Most of us think that this bias is rational. In this paper, I argue that no agents have future-biased preferences that are rationally evaluable, that is, evaluable as rational or irrational. Given certain plausible assumptions about representing preferences, either we must find a new definition of future-bias that avoids the difficulties I raise, or we must conclude that future-biased preferences are not subject to rational evaluation.