Research Interests

I have a variety of interest within philosophy, and this introduces you to some of what is rattling around in my brain (or mind). Some interests are past and will stay there; others, are possible areas I may yet still pursue. I’m confident several things I say below are inconsistent.

[Note: I’ll add links more & more as I have time]

Dissertation

My dissertation focused on semantico-philosophical issues on how to define the term miracle, and whether David Hume was correct in saying miracles must, by definition, violate the laws of nature. Of course, this requires knowing what it means for something to be a law of nature–an issue very important in contemporary metaphysics and philosophy of science.

Being interested in miracles, and having an advisor who was once a colleague of John Earman‘s, I’ve also got a strong interest in applying the technical machinery of the probability calculus to issues in Philosophy of Religion. Especially applications of Bayes’s Theorem to miracles.

Philosophy of Religion (and Philosophical Theology)

Most of my present projects are in the technical details in philosophy of religion. But doing philosophy of religion can be both rewarding and frustrating. It’s rewarding because the style of philosophy of religion I’m interested in involves integrating philosophy of religion with other philosophical issues. To borrow a quote: I have found it necessary, in order to answer the questions I’m interested in, to study and research many general philosophical topics and then apply these results to philosophy of religion. Consequently, I spent most of my graduate career thinking about other issues than philosophy of religion. In fact, my dissertation spun out of an idea I had while reading David Lewis‘s Counterfactuals (1973). My favorite philosophers of religion (e.g., Peter Geach, Peter van Inwagen, Robert Adams, Richard Swinburne, Graham Oppy, and J. Howard Sobel) have put their spin on philosophy of religion by drawing on other philosophical fields.

I’m also interested in classical arguments for God’s existence, but I’m skeptical there are any knock-down arguments one way or the other. Such arguments include Cosmological Arguments (including perhaps the most famous, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and some recent versions) and the Fine-Tuning Design Argument (rather than Biological Design Arguments). I’m also equally interested in technical criticisms of these arguments. I also think the Ontological Argument, especially the modal versions, are improvements on what one of my professors called the “most interesting philosophical argument of all time.” I also think there are strong arguments against theism, utilizing the same probabilistic machinery I mentioned earlier, called the problem of evil. (Watch this link for an example of what makes the problem so difficult.) Lastly, I’m interested in Cumulative Case arguments pioneered by Richard Swinburne.

I also maintain an interest in what may be called “Philosophical Theology,” or, in the style of which it’s done, “Analytic Theology.” Chiefly, I’m interested in the late Richard Cartwright’s classic paper “On the Logical Problem of the Trinity” (1987). I’m interested in various responses to it (a good survey).

The frustrating part of studying Philosophy of Religion is that, first, most philosophers have strong religious beliefs regardless of their specialization. Subsequently, some philosophers will have an opinion, but are often unaware of recent literature. Second, as someone who routinely reads the philosophy of religion journals, I think the quality (especially the rigor) is substantially lower than other subdisciplines. I don’t know why this is, but the discipline could certainly benefit from more philosophers who are clear, careful, and not afraid of technical details.

Metaphysics 

 Interestingly, I chose my PhD program based on their strength on metaphysics, including metaontology (including the nature of existence), properties, causation, dispositionslaw of nature, and modality. The metaphysics I find interesting often overlaps with philosophy of science, philosophy of language, and philosophical logic.

Philosophy of Language

My 144pp M.A. thesis was on W. V. O. Quine’s use of Bertrand Russell’s theory of descriptions (an excellent survey of this history) in determining what objects exist in his paper “On What There Is“. This led me to be fascinated with the early to mid-20th Century Philosophy’s use of philosophy of language, which led to an interest in Saul Kripke‘s contributions, and also to the work being done on language at UCLA by several formidable figures. Eventually, I also became interested in context sensitivity done by the linguist Chris Kennedy. I am, as a result, interested in vagueness, gradable adjectives, among other contemporary issues. Jason Stanley wrote a this paper trying to sum up everything a grad student need to know about philosophy of language, and I also recommend projects that Stephen Neale works on.

Philosophy of Science 

I also have a strong interest in the Philosophy of Science. This is not the study of science, data-points, etc., but more of a study on what is science? What makes something scientific, called the “demarcation problem,” has a famous answer by Karl Popper. My interests here have let me to explore Logical Positivism, Falsification, Laws of Nature, Causality, Explanation, Confirmation Theory, etc. I won’t deny that I’ve had two seminars on James Woodward’s book Making Things Happen, and I think he got it. I’m also fascinated by the work of Imre Lakatos, and, after having lived next to a astrophysicist at UCSB, I’m interested in recent work being done on cosmology.

History of Analytic Philosophy

Having spent my MA thesis working on Russell and Quine, I discovered the work Scott Soames has done on 20th Century Analytic Philosophy. Having read works in response to Quine’s paper “On What There Is,” I became familiar with responses by some of the greats this past century, including: A. J. Ayer, Rudolf Carnap, Alonzo Church, Richard Cartwright and many others. In addition, I had several professors at UCSB—viz., Nathan Salmon and Tony Anderson (my advisor)—who impressed upon me the importance of keeping an eye on the past, looking to the greats (who always seemed to be from UCLA), before working on the problem.

(Philosophical, and the Philosophy of) Logic

I’m the academic grandson of Alonzo Church. This makes Alan Turing, of The Imitation Game (2014) fame, my academic uncle. (Following the Mathematics Genealogical Project I’m also directly related–academically speaking–to Laplace, Euler, D. Bernoulli & J. Bernoulli, Leibniz, and Copernicus). But I make no claim beyond the ten logic course I took (or audited) in graduate school (including one in the Mathematics department and one in the Computer Science department). My interests are not so much in the more mathematical results common in metatheory, computation, etc.–though, they certainly have their place. Instead, I’m more concerned with the tools necessary to read the details in contemporary journals and then doing work in contemporary analytic philosophy. Logic is, in my eyes, a useful tool, and should be done slowly, carefully, and only when required. So, I’m interested in “philosophical” logic, including: counterfactuals, possible world semantics, modal logic, extensions of modal logic (e.g., tense, deontic, and epistemic logic), multivalued, intuitionist, relevant, intensional, and 2nd-order logic. I’ve a growing interest in Fuzzy and Defeasible Logic, but I’ve not yet found enough interest in Paraconsistent Logic. Additionally, I’ve interests in issues that answer questions like: Is there a correct logic or are there just a bunch of different systems? And why some results follow in some systems but not in others? I prefer the elegant (and much easier to teach) Jeffery-style Trees as my Proof-Theoretic approach (rather than, say, a natural deduction system). (Peter Smith discusses several of these issues in this helpful document.)