Perspectival representation: the view from here

The “view from nowhere” isn’t just elusive, it’s impossible. To view at all, we must take up some perspective or other.

My work focuses on the view from here: on what that is, how it is constructed, and what it can tell us about who we are. I draw on empirical findings in cognitive science which I think can help reveal the hidden structure of mental representation.

In Print

“Common Sense in Metaphysics”. 2020. Cambridge Companion to Common Sense Philosophy. Rik Peels and RenĂ© Van Woudenberg (eds.), Cambridge University Press.

Why think that departure from common sense is something we ought to avoid when doing metaphysics? I think the answer depends a lot on what we think metaphysics is. According to my preferred meta-metaphysical stance (metaphysics as modeling) we have both epistemic and non-epistemic reasons to prefer commonsensical metaphysical views.


In Progress

Here are some of the things I’m working on right now.

Worldview As representational structure

The metaphor of a “view” is particularly apt when it comes to understanding the nature of a worldview. In visual perception, mind relies on computationally efficient pre-conscious categorization of perceptual stimuli into basic core categories–categories such as object, place, and number. I argue that this same computational strategy is employed to make sense of the normative landscape. One’s worldview is determined by which normative categories are core to a person’s process of making sense of the world.

Metaphysics of Self

Sometimes a person changes so radically that it seems that, in some sense, they aren’t the same person anymore. Let us say that such a person isn’t the same self. What individuates selves over time? I argue that selves are individuated by worldviews, construed as the core structure of one’s representation of the normative landscape. This has a surprising consequence: what makes you yourself doesn’t have to do with any of your attributes (your job, your character traits, your habits). What makes you yourself is the basic strategy you employ to make sense of the world and your place in it.

De se Discontent: Getting the De se out of Content

Most philosophers think that whatever is distinctive of de se beliefs must be located in the content of the belief. I think this is too quick. Instead, we can find the special de se character of de se belief not in the content of the belief, but in the belief itself, qua vessel of content. In doing so, we can preserve an intuitive picture of communication, one that content views would have us forfeit.


Perspectival Self-knowledge

Most of the time, you know your own mind in a special, first-personal way. What exactly is this special way? I argue that you know your attitudes toward things in the same way you know the camera’s relative position to the objects in a photograph: by appealing to perspective-dependent attributes of the representation. By attending to certain features of your mental representations, you learn facts about yourself as representer.

[A paper about qualia knowledge]

(Title redacted for blind review.) Presumably, you know you’re not a philosophical zombie. You know this because you, unlike a zombie, have qualia. You know what it’s like to feel a cool breeze, to see the color red. How do you know your qualia? I say you know your qualia, in good cases, in the same way you know facts about the external world: the very same evidential basis that serves to justify your knowledge of the external world also serves to justify your qualia knowledge.