Research

My primary research interests are in metaontology, ontology, and metasemantics. I am especially interested in Putnam's model-theoretic arguments, reductive interpretationist accounts of content, and natural properties. On the side, I like to think about rationality, time-bias, and questions in feminist philosophy.

Papers

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

"Structure, Metaphysically Equivalent Theories, and Ontological Disputes"

In this paper I examine Sider’s defensive response to Hirsch’s argument that most ontological disputes are verbal, which has become increasingly popular as a means of explicating and defending what I will call metaontological realism—the thesis that ontological disputes are generally substantive and that there are mind and language-independent truths about which positions in these substantive ontological debates are correct. But this Siderian strategy is not only taken up for this purpose of defending and characterizing metaontological realism; philosophers have also turned to it as a way to reconcile the odd-sounding theses disputed by ontologists with our ordinary beliefs and assertions about objects and their properties.

I defend a different strategy to achieve the same result of ensuring ontological disputes are substantive, while going further in its concessions to Hirsch-style ontological deflationists. This substantially increases the force of the metaontological realist reply to such deflationists, and renders their position more defensible overall. The resulting view is much more attractive than Siderian metaontological realism in a number of respects. (1) It has the advantage that it does not require us to appeal to Siderian quantificational structure (quantifier meanings that are more “natural” in Lewis’ sense, or more “joint-carving”), a posit that many metaphysicians will find suspicious, primarily owing to the insistence that it is objective ideology which can be a reference magnet. (2) We avoid intractable epistemic and methodological difficulties that attend metaphysical theorizing on Siderian views. (3) My view leads naturally to a novel and attractive account of metaphysical equivalence unavailable to friends of Siderian quantificational structure. (4) Because my view is neutral about heavy-weight notions like fundamentality—it provides an attractive realist metaontological foundation within which fundamentality, truth-maker, grounding, building, and essence theorists can articulate their views. (5) Finally, it gives us the resources to succeed in reconciling the odd-sounding ontological theses advocated by some metaphysicians and the ordinary beliefs and assertions that seem so obviously true.

"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 address a basic objection to these kinds of interpretationist accounts: why should our words tend to refer to natural properties? Even if an eligibility constraint on reference that invokes natural properties can ensure that our interpretationist metasemantic account hones in on the intuitively correct interpretation of our language, i.e., assigns to linguistic items the semantic values we think they should have, it just doesn’t seem like there’s any good reason to think that our words are more likely to refer to items that are metaphysically distinguished as more natural. Call this the magnet problem. In this paper, I propose and defend a version of interpretationism that replaces this reliance on natural properties with an alternative constraint. In addition to avoiding the magnet problem, my view resolves some other seemingly intractable problems for interpretationist accounts. Even if one is untroubled by the magnet problem, my view 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.