What I Think About (For the Philosophically Uninitiated)

I’m interested in what there is, how we can know about it, what science has to say about it (if it has anything to say about it at all), and how our talk connects up to it (or doesn’t). In other words, I’m interested in metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of science, and the philosophy of language and their overlap. But this is far too general to be useful, so let me get a bit more specific.

Abstract, Mathematical Objects

I’m interested in some of metaphysics’ most speculative theoretical posits—e.g., abstract objects—and whether we’re justified in believing in the existence of such entities. Abstract objects are objects that have no spatiotemporal location: they exist neither in space nor time. But if these objects don’t exist in space or time, how can we know about them? It’s not like we can bump into them, after all.

I suspect that such objects don’t exist. But consider now one example of the abstract: mathematical objects—objects like numbers, functions, vectors, and the like. If mathematical objects are abstract, then, according to me, they don’t really exist. Does this mean, then, that our mathematical theories are all false? For example, if numbers don’t exist, then “2” doesn’t refer to anything. So how can “2 is prime” be true? Perhaps, strictly and literally speaking, our mathematical theories are all false, but true according to the mathematical fiction!

Time

I’m also interested in some of metaphysics’ most elusive subject matters: time. Here, my interests have tended toward the physics and metaphysics of time: How is time different from space? What is the relationship between time and change? How does Special Relativity change our conception of time?

More recently, however, my interests in time have been epistemological, that is, anchored in questions about what we know. Consider this present moment, for example. Is it easy to know that you occupy it? It certainly seems so: if you exist, you exist right now, in the present. But is this moment distinguished in some special way from all other moments (if there are any other moments)? Or are you merely present in the way that I’m here and you’re there: here or there relative to some position in space; present relative to some position in time. Just as nothing is absolutely here or there, perhaps nothing is absolutely past, present, or future. So, let’s reframe the question: is it easy to know that you’re absolutely present? I’m interested in whether answers to such questions are easy to come by—whether, for example, we can know that we are presently located merely by knowing that we exist—or whether the story is more complicated.

Methodology

This tension between what’s “easy” to know and what’s not, are methodological concerns that I take very seriously. How much common sense should be given up to philosophy and science? Science, not philosophy, for instance, is often presumed to have the capabilities of overturning common sense (sorry Zeno). But why? I’m interested in what common sense is and to what extent it should guide or constrain our metaphysical and scientific theorizing.

Science, when compared to philosophy, is also widely believed to have the more impressive track record: science produces results and, well, philosophy produces. Questioning this familiar assumption, however, has prompted me to think more deeply about the relationship between metaphysics and science more broadly: how much (or how little) science traffics in metaphysics and whether metaphysics is more “fundamental’” or “more basic” than science.

I’m also interested in exploring questions slightly further downstream: how tools from the philosophy of science can be used and applied to theory choice in metaphysics (and vice versa). Metaphysical theories, for example, are thought to be empirically underdetermined, meaning that they’re all equally compatible with the evidence. But if they’re all equally compatible with the evidence, how do we know which theory is the right one? How do we choose? For some, this dilemma means so much the worse for metaphysics. But how might extra-empirical virtues come into play here? Extra-empirical virtues could be something like a theory’s explanatory power. Maybe, one of these theories is more explanatorily elegant than the others. If so, then, despite these theories being all equally compatible with the evidence, we have a way of choosing the best one: the one that is most explanatorily elegant!