Research Statement

I have three interrelated research programs within philosophy of mind, centering on the cognitive architecture of human rationality, the nature and ethics of belief, and the implication of these two areas for philosophy of religion. In my dissertation, How Many Minds Do We Need? Toward a One-System Account of Human Reasoning, I argued against dual-process theories of human reasoning and offered my own one-system alternative, according to which human reasoning operates in different modes, but (contra dual-process theory), these modes do not cluster. For example, some processes are automatic but evolutionarily new. I have argued (2015 a) that the way dual-process theorists distinguish processes is problematic because the properties they use either cross-cut one another or fail to do the explanatory work needed to motivate the theory. I further argue (2015 b), contra Stanovich and Evans, that the most prominent versions of dual-process theory (default-interventionism) are incompatible with the strong two-mind theory. My future work in this area will focus on empirically distinguishing my one-system account from rival cognitive architectures, and outlining strategies for overcoming bias using my one-system account.

I have argued for an ethics of belief (2016 a, b): belief formation is not and should not be guided merely by epistemic principles. I have argued (2013 a) that if one rejects this principle, given that one lives in a society in which race plays important sociological roles, there will be certain instances in which one cannot be both rational and moral. I am currently building on the argument from my (2013 a) paper to argue explicitly against the Incommensurability Thesis—the view that it is impossible to compare moral and epistemic oughts. One implication of my argument is that we have some control over our beliefs. The controversial ‘voluntarism argument’ proceeds as follows: (1) Subjects are responsible for holding some beliefs. (2) If (1), then subjects have voluntary control over some beliefs. Therefore, (3) subjects have voluntary control over some of their beliefs. Usually, the motivation for rejecting (1) or (2) is the seeming absurdity of (3), but I have argued (2016 a) that opponents of voluntarism have underestimated our ability to control our beliefs. The extent of our control over our beliefs is an empirical question, and so we need to examine the psychological literature. Candidates for voluntary beliefs include beliefs resulting from the use of executive functioning and instances where perceived evidence is not decisive. My future work in this area will focus on taking a broadly empirical approach to voluntarism about belief.

My work within philosophy of religion remains firmly within philosophy of mind. Indeed, for the most part, my work in philosophy of religion consists in applying my work in philosophy of mind for philosophy of religion. First, in a forthcoming paper, I have applied my work on cognitive decoupling to reasoning about counterpossibles in order to solve what I call the ‘quietist challenge’ to the question of the value of God’s existence. I argue that ‘pretense,’ combined with a three-valued logic, allows us to reason about counterpossibles. One implication of my three-valued approach, which I explore in future work, is that questions about God’s existence and value are less distinct than previously assumed. Second, I have argued (2016 a) that, given the way acceptance and belief should be distinguished (I argue this is largely context sensitivity), belief is a constituent of faith. Third, I have recently begun some work on the mind-body problem by arguing that commitments of Christian orthodoxy undercut motivations for dualism. Thus, a number of religious philosophers should seriously consider physicalism about the mind (R&R).

These three programs are closely interrelated. I have argued (2013 c) that my one-system account is empirically testable: if subjects held contradictory beliefs that arose from simultaneously occurring reasoning processes, then there would really be two autonomous reasoning systems, which would be grounds to reject my account. However, this suggestion has raised important questions regarding the nature of belief, whether simultaneous contradictory belief is possible, and how belief is to be distinguished from other belief-like states, such as acceptance and supposing. Thus, cognitive architecture and mental ontology are crucially inter-related. How belief is distinguished from other belief-like states is central to my argument that belief is a constituent of faith (2016 a) and my solution to the quietist challenge (forthcoming a). Additionally, the ethics of belief cannot be separated from the metaphysics of belief because of the voluntarism argument. Rather than confine myself to one question, I enjoy working on several interrelated questions.

In the next three to five years, I will draw more connections between my work on cognitive architecture, mental ontology, and the ethics of belief. A number of one-system advocates, namely the Spinozan theorists, have claimed that belief is entirely automatic. However, I will argue they have characterized belief too broadly (an objection they themselves consider). On the other hand, critics of voluntarism of belief have, I will continue to argue, been too restrictive in their conception of belief. To formulate my criticism of both these groups, I need a rival account of belief, and I plan to offer one. I will treat ‘belief’ and ‘acceptance’ as natural kinds within the domain of cognitive science. Thus, any candidate for ‘belief’ must have all the markings of natural kinds in other scientific domains. For example, it should figure in explanations and statistical regularities. In order to formulate a robust account of belief, it is helpful to consider borderline cases of belief (such as implicit racism). One might explain these borderline cases by adding a new kind of mental state to our ontology (such as ‘alief’ or ‘in-between-belief’), or by rejecting the borderline cases as problematic because (e.g.) implicit tendencies are not beliefs. I am skeptical of both of these solutions, and my future work will center on building an empirically informed account of belief that overcomes these pitfalls.