Research

My primary research interests are in metasemantics and metaontology: I’m interested in how determinate linguistic and mental content is achieved, and the nature of metaphysical inquiry and its methodology.

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?’”

Many have argued that the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (henceforth: the Question) is defective in some way. While much of the literature on the Question rightly attends to questions about the nature and limits of explanation, little attention has been paid to how new work in metaontology, an area concerned with characterizing substantive metaphysical inquiry and its limits, might shed light on the matter. In this paper I discuss how best to understand the Question in light of the now common metaontological commitment to quantifiers that vary in metaphysical naturalness. I show that proponents of this view have arguments at their disposal that appear to challenge the metaphysical substantivity of the Question, but argue that these arguments can and should be resisted. I also show that the arguments do not pose a challenge to the Question if it is construed in a way that makes reference to many quantifiers. Rendering the Question with multiple quantifiers not only allows one to grant the prima facie substantivity of the Question, but allows us to express it in a way that is mode-of-being-neutral and ontology-neutral—an independently desirable aim. 

“Value-based Interpretationism: Reference Magnetism without Natural Properties”

Simple interpretationist accounts of linguistic content 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.

“Metaphysical Structure 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—is a presupposition of most contemporary work in metaphysics. 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 when theories are metaphysically equivalent. (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 metaontological frameworks appealing to primitive metaphysical structure.

“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.

“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.