I received my PhD in Philosophy from the University of California, Irvine in philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and philosophical logic. My research focuses on consciousness, intentionality, and self-consciousness. In my dissertation I studied formal models of meaning and semantics in their application to phenomenology
I try to answer two of life's big questions. The first question is: how does consciousness get to be about things outside of the mind? This opens onto another question: what is the relationship between consciousness, self-consciousness, and thought? We are aware both of the world and also of ourselves as being in the world and some people have said that thoughts about ourselves, like 'I exist' are the starting point of knowing anything at all. What does a person come to know when they come to know, 'I exist'?
Kriegel has revived adverbialism as a theory of consciousness. But recent attacks have shed doubt on the viability of the theory. To save adverbialism, I propose that the adverbialist take a stance on the nature of adverbial modification. On one leading theory, adverbial modification turns on the instantiation by a substance of a psychological type. But the resulting formulation of adverbialism turns out to be a mere notational variant on the relationalist approaches against which Kriegel dialectically situates adverbialism. By contrast, I argue that the way to be an adverbialist is to adopt an event ontology, emphasizing the active contribution of the mind to the phenomenology of experience. My close examination of the semantics of adverbial modification throws this metaphysical distinction into sharp relief. The event-based semantics overcomes recent objections in a way superior to the methods that would have been obviously available in the absence of a sophisticated semantics.
In this article, I use concepts from the phenomenological tradition to extend Campbell’s theory of the perceptual origin of demonstrative concepts to the problem of de se thought, or thought about oneself as oneself. I argue that the phenomenological concept of pre-reflective self-consciousness and the field of awareness permit an explanation of de se thoughts in terms of the ways that subjects consciously attend to themselves. Therefore, a strong form of first-person persectivalness, in which the subject is capable of self-directed control of the focus of conscious attention, is required for de se thought. But no constraints on the semantic content of such thoughts are required. Hence the theory is able to respond to recent skepticism about the importance of the first-person perspective for philosophy.
Predicate approaches to modality have been a topic of increased interest in recent intensional logic. Halbach and Welch (Mind 118(469):71–100, 2009) have proposed a new formal technique to reduce the necessity predicate to an operator, demonstrating that predicate and operator methods are ultimately compatible. This article concerns the question of whether Halbach and Welch’s approach can provide a uniform formal treatment for intensionality. I show that the monotonicity constraint in Halbach and Welch’s proof for necessity fails for almost all possible-worlds theories of knowledge. The nonmonotonicity results demonstrate that the most obvious way of emulating Halbach and Welch’s rapprochement of the predicate and operator fails in the epistemic setting.
What is the relationship between consciousness and intentionality, i.e., the power that the mind has to make reference to objects in the world? Many philosophers are now arguing that consciousness is what brings intentionality into the world. But what is the nature of the sort of consciousness that grounds intentionality? In a series of articles, I aim to construct and defend a new version of the adverbial theory of consciousness. Whereas many traditional theories of consciousness hold it to be a relation between brain states and the environment, I defend a novel version of the theory on which consciousness is to be found in a pattern of modes of mental activity. In short, consciousness is a way of doing, rather than a way of being. This research has led me to endorse a theory of intentionality by virtue of which consciousness is more than the result of being affected by the outside world; instead, our conscious acts actively give shape to the way human beings experience the world.
Self-consciousness and Subjectivity
What is the relationship between consciousness of things outside of our minds and consciousness of ourselves? What does it mean to think about oneself? How do one's thoughts about oneself manage to target oneself, and not someone else? In the second arm of my research, I examine the relationship between phenomenology and self-consciousness. First, I develop a position in which subjectivity is a formal feature of the global structure of phenomenal space, rather than a property of mental states. Second, I develop the view that thinking about oneself under the concept of "I" involves robust forms of phenomenal self-hood that cannot be reduced to an effective procedure or to linguistic dispositions, and therefore requires genuine occurrent self-consciousness.
history of philosophy
In concert with my interests in bringing phenomenological insights to present-day problems in the philosophy of mind, I also work on exegetical issues in the classical phenomenological and existential traditions.
My formative educational moments centralize around instances in which I had an intense feeling of seeing the world clearly, as though some long standing cognitive shortcut was being unwired and I could see things aright. Two particular moments stand out. The first was when I was assigned to read Plato’s account of Socrates’ final days. My professor, being of Native American descent, taught us the logic behind Socrates’ words and at the same time brought the perspective of someone who had been educated outside of the Western intellectual tradition to bear. I had a double epiphany: I simultaneously saw clearly how to discern the logical from the illogical, and my mind opened enough to see that my own culture’s way of thinking had a contingent historical origin.
This experience led me to the realization that I actually enjoyed learning, much to my own surprise as someone who was thoroughly bored in high school. In my double epiphany I came to appreciate rationality as a means of liberating the mind, while at the same time to cherish diversity of forms of rationality. These two newfound qualities led me to an interterm retreat to a Buddhist meditation center, during which it would be charitable to say I struggled with the hours-long meditations. The second formative moment then came from a discussion with the course’s chaperoning sociology teacher, who told me, “the way out is through.” I spontaneously understood the value not only of knowledge but also of the skill of doing things because they are difficult, foreign, and stretch one’s limitations.
These moments modified my foundational beliefs in a way that shaped me, much like Descartes’ doubting meditator who penetrated to the deepest reaches of his biases in order to clarify his mind. I found a serendipitous continuity in the methods of philosophy and the space of the university life where one has the miraculous opportunity to mould one’s intellectual and moral character. This has formed my goal as a teacher to continue creating this space for new generations of students.
Achieving this goal necessitates the promotion of active learning. I set the agenda for the class based on student agency, so that they are set up as actors rather than passive registers of information from generations past. I task students with doing interpretive work, both giving them a model of humanistic inquiry and inviting them to produce the knowledge on their own through discussion and reflection.
My own background as someone who came to university believing I was not a scholar has led me to appreciate that all students, no matter their predispositions, can have life-changing realizations in the university space. I therefore approach each student as an individual so that the benefits of education are equally available to all.