You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till Its Gone (Synthese, forthoming)
What makes a life meaningful and how do we know when our lives have meaning? This paper provides a new answer to these questions drawing on the experience of grief. It is argued that grief is a unique kind of transformative experience that gives us access to facts about the meaningfulness and value that even the most seemingly mundane aspects of our day-to-day lives have had which goes largely unrecognized until the source of that meaning is lost.
Sexual Consent and Lying About One’s Self (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research)
Despite the recent acknowledgement of the moral significance of consent there is still much work to be done in determining which specific sexual encounters count as unproblematically consensual. This paper focuses on the impact of deception on sexual consent. It takes up the specific case of deception about one’s self. It may seem obvious that one ought not to lie to a sexual partner about who one is, but determining which features of oneself are most relevant to the consent of one’s partner, as well as the lies which it follows would be impermissible to tell, is not obvious. Drawing from empirical research, I argue that deception about one’s morally valenced character traits, those we think of as virtues and vices, is particularly problematic. This is true regardless of whether knowing the truth would have made a difference to one’s partner’s consent. I also draw attention to a range of types of lies that one ought not to tell.
Good Looking (Philosophical Issues: A supplement to Nous)
Here, I draw on empirical work concerning the relation between the assessment of moral character, experiences that are evaluative (perceiving someone as attractive) and the perceptual representation of value. Studies show that people we judge to have good character we also evaluate to be more attractive. I argue that in these cases, evaluative perceptual experiences are penetrated by emotional experiences of esteem and inherit their contents. They thereby come to represent morally admirable people as having positive (often intrinsic) value.
The Perception of Virtue (in The Epistemology of Non-Visual Perception, OUP eds. Broogard and Gatzia)
In this paper, I put forward an argument for the view that emotional responses of esteem to perceived demonstrations of good character represent the perceived character traits as valuable, and hence, as virtues. These esteeming experiences are analogous to perceptual representations in other modalities in their epistemic role as causing, providing content for and justifying beliefs regarding the value of the traits they represent. I also discuss the role that the perceiver’s own character plays in their ability to recognize and respond appropriately to virtue in others, showing that moral virtues are also epistemic virtues when it comes to facilitating knowledge about the character of people we encounter.
Can Blue Mean Four (in Sensory Integration and the Unity of Consciousness, MIT eds. Bennett and Hill)
This article further develops the case for the representation of high-level properties in visual experience from synesthesia. Here, I draw on a special variety of number– color synesthesia to argue that we can visually experience graphemes (like ‘4’) to have numerical values (or to represent numbers). A small subset of number-color synesthetes seem to have a heightened ability to perform mental arithmetic in virtue of their synesthesia. How can we explain the apparently facilitative effect of synesthesia on mental arithmetic in synesthete savants? I argue that only the view that synesthete savants visually experience graphemes as having numerical values can account for the role that their color photisms play in facilitating their performance of mental arithmetic.
You Can See What ‘I’ Means (Philosophical Studies)
Dretske (1995) and Tye (1995) both argue that non-doxastic perceptual experiences only represent objects’ shapes as arranged in a spatial dimension. In, “You Can See What ‘I’ Means”, I defend the contrasting view that conscious visual experiences can represent visual objects to have high-level properties such as belonging to an abstract category or representing something such as a number. For instance, we may perceptually represent a numerical grapheme as the number four. Some have argued in favor of high-level contents on the basis of the subjective character of experience. I discuss how such arguments may have limited appeal due to their reliance on introspection. Rather than appealing to phenomenology, I develop my account based on behavioral evidence from grapheme-color synesthetes. The basic idea is that there is a special form of synesthesia that depends on high-level properties. I argue that these penetrate perceptual contents and then argue that the case generalizes to the perception of normal perceivers.
Representing the Impossible (Philosophical Psychology)
Some have argued that the view that perceptual experiences represent properties over and above those directly transduced by the sensory modalities such as in amodal perception, will constrain how we should think of the metaphysical issue about what material properties serve as the realizers of those phenomenal experiences. For example, Nöe and Thompson develop a version of the extended mind thesis based on the assertion that the embodied and enactive approach to perception is necessary to account for amodal perception, and that this entails that phenomenal qualities are realized by physical properties of external objects. This paper develops a counter-example to the extended mind thesis about perception based on the perception of an impossible figure. The impossible figure is a picture that depicts an object that we represent to have a three-dimensional shape, even though the figure could not possibly be instantiated in three-dimensions. Thus, the paper offers indirect support for the view that narrow properties of the perceiver’s perceptual system are both necessary and sufficient for amodal perception.
Phenomenal Intentionality and Color Experience (Topics in Cognitive Science)
This paper argues that a popular theory about the nature of phenomenal content has difficulty accounting for the intentionality of color experiences. ‘Phenomenal intentionality’ is a view about the representational content of conscious experiences that grounds the content of conscious experiences in their phenomenal character. Roughly, the problem for the view is as follows. Color predicates are usefully employed in sciences such as biology, cognitive science and engineering. They are used in law-like generalizations about properties of phenomena. Moreover, there is reason to take this to be a legitimate practice since the success of scientific practice rests on the assumption that the terms involved in laws governing the behavior of entities are terms that refer to properties that entities can really have. We should assume, then, that there is some consistent set of properties that our color terms refer to. I review possible candidate versions of the view. Some versions fail to count things as part of the content of color experience that they should, resulting in verdicts that some color experiences are inaccurate which should not be. Other versions admit properties as part of their contents that ought not to be, resulting in color experiences being deemed accurate when they ought not to be considered so.
Two HOTs To Handle (Philosophical Psychology)
In “Two HOTs To Handle” I provide a novel analysis of a reductive theory of phenomenal consciousness. The well known higher-order thought theory holds that conscious states are identical to meta-representational cognitive states that represent us to be in other mental states. Unlike consciousness, meta-cognition is thought to be easily amenable to physical reduction. I argue that the ambiguous employment of the term ‘mental state’ in the context of the theory’s guiding principle has resulted in two metaphysically distinct models of the theory. In the context of the theory’s main principle, the term ‘mental state’ appears to denote a mental-state-type on some occasions, and on other occasions it appears to denote a mental-state-token. In evaluating whether the higher-order theory provides a viable reductive model of consciousness, the principle of charity dictates that we should aim to evaluate the strongest model of the theory. The clarifications made here should lead to more productive discussions of the theory.
Reduction and the Determination of Subjective Character (Philosophical Psychology)
My paper, “Reduction and the Determination of Subjective Character” takes up the two models of the higher-order thought theory identified in my previous paper, “Two HOTs to Handle”. I argue that, although the theory is generally interpreted in line with the mental- state-token version of the principle, the model based on mental-state-types is stronger. I show the type-model to be better motivated than the token-model. I also show that it withstands the various objections that are commonly lodged against the higher-order thought theory. Those objections target the token-model. In addition, although various alternative self- representational meta-cognitive theories of consciousness have been proposed by Kriegel, Van Gulick, and Gennaro in reaction to the objections commonly made against the higher-order theory, these alternative theories do not improve on the original higher-order model in the ways that they are purported to. I show each to be inferior to the type-model of the higher- order thought theory as each of those alternative self-representational views is vulnerable to a unique set of problems. The type-model of the higher-order theory is immune to these problems.
Color Synasthesia (Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology 2019) co-authored with Berit Brogaard and Dimitria Gatzia. This is cognitive/neuroscientifically oriented entry on color synesthesia.
Synaesthesia (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2012) co-authored with Sean Allen-Hermanson. This is an entry that reviews philosophical work that discusses or draws on research on synaesthesia.
Book reviews and other writings
Review of Evaluative Perception., eds. Anna Bergqvist and Robert Cowan (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2019)
Review of Perception, Realism, and the Problem of Reference. (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2012)
Liking What We See (The Philosophers Magazine 2016) A public oriented philosophical essay based on the ideas in my academic paper, Good Looking (Phil. Issues 2016)