My research interests are in metaphysics, specifically personal ontology. I examine the relationship between contemporary accounts of what we are and contemporary puzzles that arise in material object metaphysics. Ultimately, I argue, the difficulty of reconciling accounts of our nature with satisfactory solutions to these puzzles should prompt us to endorse an immaterialist personal ontology. More narrowly, I argue that certain solutions to puzzles require revisionary concessions that are unacceptable for defenders of many ontologies. Animalists, for instance, are on the hook for providing a plausible solution to the problem of the many. Constitutionalists must respond to the notorious grounding problem. But even immaterialists must have an eye toward these puzzles when considering what variety of immaterialism should be endorsed. And while immaterialism itself need not be associated with any particular religious notions, those concerned with religious conceptions of our nature may face further theoretical constraints. These challenges are the focus of my current works in progress.
Works In Progress:
Too Many Animals, Too Many Thinkers
Animalism, the thesis that each of us is a human animal, is a prominent materialist account of what we are. Animalism is often motivated by an attractive line of reasoning, the Thinking Animal Argument. And, independently, animalism has been challenged by appeals to a metaphysical puzzle, the problem of the many. In this paper, I draw attention to the relationship between the Thinking Animal Argument and the problem of the many. I further argue that in virtue of this relationship, animalists are left in an unfortunate position: animalists cannot hold onto their most successful argument without undermining animalism itself.
Constitution, Hylomorphism, and the Grounding Problem in Personal Ontology
The grounding problem is a challenge for many material object ontologies. Consider the relationship between a statue and the piece of metal that constitutes it. According to many ontologies, the statue and the piece of metal are not numerically identical; after all, the statue goes out of existence if melted down, but the piece of metal persists. Thus, the statue and the piece of metal have different modal profiles or different persistence conditions. But it is difficult to explain in virtue of what the statue and the metal have different modal profiles; this is the grounding problem. Those who endorse constitution and hylomorphic material object ontologies have tried to offer responses to the grounding problem. In this paper I canvass the available options and highlight the unique challenges that arise when trying to apply these strategies to an ontology of persons.
Accepting Evolution Without Animalism
Animalism, the thesis that each of us is a human animal, has been motivated primarily by the Thinking Animal Argument. Recently other arguments in favor of animalism have been proposed and defended. Among these arguments is an argument about our evolutionary ancestry, which relies on the claim that each of us is a product of evolution. If we must accept that each of us is a human animal in order to accept that each of us is a product of evolution, then we are prompted toward accepting animalism. We should not reject evolutionary theory, but we may be wary of accepting animalism. In this paper, I argue that we can indeed accept evolutionary theory without a commitment to animalism.
Material Problems for Immaterialism
Puzzles in the metaphysics of material objects, such as the problem of the many, pose threats to material object ontologies. If persons, too, are material objects, then the problem of the many also threatens personal ontologies. In response, it has been suggested that this threat can be avoided by endorsing a personal ontology according to which persons are not material but immaterial. In this paper, I assess this suggestion by showing that some immaterialist personal ontologies do nonetheless give rise to the challenge of the problem of the many. I further argue that the only way to avoid the challenge by appealing to immaterialism is to endorse a view according to which persons are not only immaterial but simple.
Title: Immaterialist Solutions to Puzzles in Personal Ontology
My dissertation research focused on the nature of human persons. What are we, fundamentally? What features do we have essentially? What features do we have only contingently? What kind of thing are we? I addressed these questions by responding to challenges raised in the metaphysics of material objects literature.
I defended an immaterialist account of the nature of human persons that is well-suited to solve notoriously intractable puzzles. Discussion of these puzzles, including the problem of the many and the grounding problem, has largely centered on inanimate objects. I pursued the challenges that arise for us as human persons. Responses to the puzzles often require endorsing counterintuitive or revisionary claims. While these claims may be tenable when considering only ordinary objects, they will be unacceptable when applied to human persons; an account of the nature of persons should not be so revisionary. I argued that an immaterialist personal ontology alone provides the tools necessary for responding satisfactorily to these puzzles.