I am a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. This page contains information about some of my research, and accompanying pages contain links to some of my current and published work, and information for students in my courses.
Iím originally from Wisconsin; in 2000 I received my undergraduate degree from Carleton College, in philosophy, mathematics, and economics. In 2004 I received my PhD in philosophy from Princeton University, and I spent two years teaching at the University of Maryland before coming to USC in 2006. I was tenured in April of 2008 and promoted to full professor in December 2011. My interests range widely across areas of philosophy that are in some way connected with metaethics, including topics in epistemology, metaphysics, normative ethics, practical reason, and the philosophy of language; I have also published on the history of ethics.
Much of my recent work has focused on problems facing and issues surrounding expressivism, a kind of semantic theory most associated with applications in metaethics, but which can also be naturally applied to a wide range of other domains. In my second book, Being For, I argued that expressivism is coherent and interesting, but an unpromising hypothesis about natural language semantics, by showing how a group of straightforward problems besetting expressivism can be solved, but arguing that the solution constrains the course of downstream problems, making them even more difficult.
More recently I have been thinking about the virtues of expressivism as a theory of truth, as well as about possible applications to epistemic modals and conditionals, and about the relationship between expressivism and relativism. Most recently, I have been trying to think about how to generalize on the virtues of expressivism in these domains, and to what extent they might be duplicated within a different semantic framework. I've also become interested in the extent to which non-standard semantic frameworks like expressivism can be re-cast as competing theories about the nature of propositions.
I've recently been thinking a lot about the logic and semantics of 'ought' and other deontic modals, including 'may' and 'must'. I'm particularly interested in the hypothesis that these terms need to be interpreted as semantically uniform across epistemic and deontic readings, which would sharply constrain the valid inferential principles governing deontic modals to match the valid inferential principles governing epistemic modals, and would also tightly constrain theorizing about both the semantics and metaphysics of deontic modals. This hypothesis would therefore have very large implications for both metaethics and normative theory.
Much of my work has concerned the connection between rationality and reasons; recently I've been thinking a lot about various versions of the 'wrong kind of reasons' problem. One version of the problem that concerns me is this: it is often supposed that the only reasons which can affect the rationality of belief are evidential, in the sense that R is a reason to believe P only if R is evidence that P, and R is a reason not to believe P only if R is evidence that ~P. I think this mistakenly overgeneralizes on its promising first conjunct - it is true that the only right-kind reasons to believe that p are evidence that p, but not all right-kind reasons not to believe that p are evidence that ~p. Similarly, it is widely assumed that right-kind reasons for intention track reasons for action, in the sense that R is a right-kind reason to intend to do A only if it is a reason to do A, and R is a right-kind reason not to intend to do A only if it is a reason to not do A. Again, I think this overgeneralizes on its promising first conjunct: the only right-kind reasons to intend to do A are reasons to do A, but there are right-kind reasons to not intend to do A that are not reasons to not do A.
I believe that paying strict attention to this observation will much more tightly constrain the options in attempts to theorize about the 'right kind of reasons' - for example, it serves to refute the 'object-given'/'state-given' distinction as even extensionally correct. And I believe that it has deeper consequences for our understanding of rational belief and rational intention, as well. In particular, I have come to believe that when we pair the most promising strategy for understanding the distinction between the 'right' and 'wrong' kind of reasons with the most promising sort of account of the nature of belief, it will be clear how there could be pragmatic encroachment on distinctively epistemic rationality - the very kind of rationality that is required for knowledge.
I'm also interested in many other topics in metaethics, the philosophy of language, epistemology, and the theory of rationality. For further details, please see my research page.