Photo Credit: Esther Sánchez González via Midjourney

Publications & Talks

Papers

Published

1. Imagining as a Skillful Mental Action

(Forthcoming)

Synthese

Abstract: I provide a novel, non-reductive, action-first skill-based account of active imagining. I call it the Skillful Action Account of Imagining (the skillful action account for short). According to this account, to actively imagine something is to form a representation of that thing, where the agent’s forming that representation and selecting its content together constitute a means to the completion of some imaginative project. Completing imaginative projects stands to the active formation of the relevant representations as an end. The account thus bakes in the means-end order that some in action theory take to be definitional of intentional action. Moreover, in the spirit of this conception of intentional action, I hold that a central feature of the means-end order exhibited in active imagining is the agent’s direct non-observational knowledge both of her act of imagining and of its having this order. The agent knows that she’s actively imagining (that-)p and knows why she actively imagines this–to carry on the pretense, engage in the fiction, predict another’s behavior, reason about possibility or necessity, reason about contingent matters of fact, just imagine for its own sake, and so on. I show that the account accounts for the possibility of misimagining while holding onto the idea that we imagine what we intend to imagine. I likewise show that the account unifies imagining across types of imaginative project like those just listed in a way that tolerates conflict in the roles that imagining plays in the mental economy across those projects. Finally, I show that the account can accommodate passive imagining like involuntary and automatic imagining as well as mind wandering.   

2. Trauma, Trust, & Competent Testimony

with Alison Springle

Philosophical Psychology (2023). Publisher's Version 

Abstract: Public discourse implicitly appeals to what we call the “Traumatic Untrustworthiness Argument” (TUA). To motivate, articulate, and assess the TUA, we appeal to Hawley’s (2019) commitment account of trust and trustworthiness. On Hawley’s account, being trustworthy consists in the successful avoidance of unfulfilled commitments and involves three components: the actual avoidance of unfulfilled commitments, sincerity in one’s taking on elective commitments, and competence in fulfilling commitments one has incurred. In contexts of testimony, what’s at issue is the speaker’s competence and sincere intention to speak truthfully. The TUA targets trauma victims’ competence rather than their sincerity. According to the TUA, empirical evidence shows that trauma undermines victims’ trustworthiness with regard to speaking truthfully about their trauma by undermining their competence to remember the event. We argue that what the evidence shows is rather that remembering traumatic events involves a distinct “mode of manifesting” the competence to remember particular events from the personal past. Trauma victims are competent to speak truthfully about their trauma and ought to be trusted at least with regard to the central details of the event. By suggesting otherwise, the TUA threatens an insidious form of epistemic injustice which Hawley’s account helps us locate.

2.  Finding Normality in Abnormality: On the Ascription of Normal Functions to Cancer

Philosophy of Science (2023). Publisher's Version

Abstract: Cancer biologists ascribe normal functions to parts of cancer. Normal functions are activities that parts of systems are in some minimal sense supposed to perform. Cancer biologists’ finding normality within the abnormality of cancer pose difficulties for two main approaches to normal function. One approach claims that normal functions are activities that parts are selected for. However, some parts of cancers that have normal functions aren’t selected to perform them. The other approach claims that normal functions are part-activities typical for the system and that contribute to survival/reproduction. However, cancers are too heterogeneous to establish what’s typical across a type. 


3.  Trusting Traumatic Memory: Considerations from Memory Science

with Alison Springle and Rebecca Dreier 

Philosophy of Science (2023). Publisher's Version.  

Abstract: Court cases involving sexual assault and police violence rely heavily on victim testimony. We consider what we call the “Traumatic Untrustworthiness Argument (TUA)” according to which we should be skeptical about victim testimony because people are particularly liable to misremember traumatic events. The TUA is not obviously based in mere distrust of women, people of color, disabled people, poor people, etc. Rather, it seeks to justify skepticism on epistemic and empirical grounds. We consider how the TUA might appeal to the psychology and neuroscience of memory for empirical support. However, we argue that neither support the TUA. 


4.  Standard Aberration: Cancer Biology and the Modeling Account of Function*

Biology and Philosophy 38(1) (2023). Publisher's Version

Abstract: Cancer biology features the ascription of normal functions to parts of cancers. At least some ascriptions of function in cancer biology track local normality of parts within the global abnormality of the aberration to which those parts belong. That is, cancer biologists identify as functions activities that, in some sense, parts of cancers are supposed to perform, despite cancers themselves having no purpose. The present paper provides a theory to accommodate these normal function ascriptions—I call it the Modeling Account of Normal Function (MA). MA comprises two claims. First, normal functions are activities whose performance by the function-bearing part contributes to the self-maintenance of the whole system and, thereby, results in the continued presence of that part. Second, MA holds that there is a class of models of system-level activities (partly) constitutive of self-maintenance members of which are improved by including a representation of the relevant function-bearing part and by making reference to some activity which that part performs, where that activity contributes to those system-level activities. I contrast MA with two other accounts that seek to explicate the ascription of normal functions in biology, namely, the organizational account and the selected effects account. Both struggle to extend to cancer biology. However, I offer ecumenical readings which allow them to recover some ascriptions of normal function to parts of cancers. So, although I contend that MA excels in this respect, the purpose of this paper is served if it provides materials for bridging the gap between cancer biology, philosophy of cancer, and the literature on function.

* This paper extends the argument presented in "Finding Normality in Abnormality: On the Ascription of Normal Functions to Cancer"


5.  Memory as Skill 

(winner of the 2021 Philosophy of Memory Essay Prize

Review of Philosophy and Psychology (2022). Publisher's Version 

Abstract: The temporal structure for motivating, monitoring, and making sense of agency depends on encoding, maintaining, and accessing the right contents at the right times. These functions are facilitated by memory. Moreover, in informing action, memory is itself often active. That remembering is essential to and an expression of agency and is often active suggests that it is a type of action. Despite this, Galen Strawson (2003) and Alfred Mele (2009) deny that remembering is an action. They claim that memory fails to admit of control. Remembering is automatic—once remembering starts, the process can neither be stopped nor intervened on. Moreover, the agent does not initiate remembering. An agent has control over an event or process if and only if she has the capacity and opportunity to initiate and intervene on that event or process. Actions are events over which an agent has control. Since it is automatic, we fail to have control over remembering. Thus, remembering is not an action. In this paper, I draw out an assumption of Strawson’s and Mele’s accounts: an event-type whose tokens exhibit automaticity cannot, for that reason, be an action. Against this assumption, I draw parallels between skilled bodily action and memory. I show that memory exhibits two defining features of skill: it can be learned with practice and it admits of attributions of excellence. These features reveal how intelligent control is exerted in the exercise of skill despite apparent automaticity—control is gained over time. Since exercises of skill are by definition actions and since memory exemplifies the defining features of skill, memory is a skill and instances of remembering are actions too. 

Under Review (drafts available upon request)

1.  Remembering is an Imaginative Project

(R&R).

Abstract: This essay defends the claim that episodic remembering is a mental action by arguing that episodic remembering and sensory- or experience-like imagining are of a kind in a way relevant for agency. Episodic remembering is a type of imaginative project that involves the agential construction of imagistic-content and that aims at (veridically) representing particular events of the personal past. Neurally intact adults under normal conditions can token experiential memories of particular events from the personal past (merely) by intending or trying to. An agent’s ability to actively remember depends not only on her being able to determine that some memory event occurs but on her ability to construct the relevant scene at will as well. I claim that the ability to guide construction with respect to imagistic-content is a distinctive feature of a subset of active imagining. Episodic remembering is of a kind with that subset of active imagining by being a process of agential construction of imagistic-content, in this case, scene construction that aims at (veridically) representing the personal past. Agential scene construction in the context of remembering is the agent’s exploring her personal past as a highly circumscribed region of modal space. 


2. Episodic Memory as First-Hand Historytelling

with Alison Springle

(Under Review).

Abstract: How is reference in episodic memory possible? And what exactly is it that we are doing when we episodically remember? In this paper, we develop a novel social historical account of episodic memory according to which episodic remembering is an at least partly covert, self-directed intentional performance of a distinctive form of a fundamentally intersubjective kind of intentional action that we call “historytelling.” Historytelling consists, on the one hand, in the activation of linguistic and expressive capacities for recording an in principle intersubjectively accessible event one experiences at encoding and, on the other hand, in the subsequent activation of linguistic and expressive capacities for reenacting recording that event as one experienced it at retrieval. Such reenactment, in turn, activates perceptual- recognitional capacities for (re)identifying the event and its constituents as one experienced them. Such reenactment and its activation of corresponding perceptual- recognitional capacities, we claim, constitutes episodic recall. The integrated, unified activity of these capacities as part of historytelling serves a social function: it promotes cohesion among members of a group or within oneself by eliciting in others or in oneself an experience of what others or one’s past self experienced. We show how the capacity for historytelling might have developed from social linguistic practices and how it provides us first-hand knowledge of particular events from the personal past based in previously experiencing of those events. We then contrast the historytelling account with its rivals. We point out areas of mutual agreement and where the account outperforms those rivals. We conclude by emphasizing the importance of taking seriously the self-conception of human agents as the kind of agents that act for reasons and the significance of human rationality.


3. In Defense of the Essentially Epistemic Nature of Episodic Memory

with Alison Springle.

(Under Review). 

Abstract: According to the traditional approach in philosophy of memory, when all goes well, our episodic memories of particular events in our personal past constitute firsthand knowledge of the who, what, where, and what-was-it-like of those events. However, it’s now becoming increasingly common to treat the epistemic function of episodic memories as non-essential. What are the grounds for this “non-epistemic turn” in the philosophy of memory? We identify three: “the argument from construction” appeals to evidence that the contents of episodic memory are constructed rather than stored; “the argument from error” appeals to evidence that episodic memory is highly error-prone; and, finally, “the argument from animals” appeals to evidence that some nonhuman animals can episodically remember. We argue that all three arguments fail, so the traditional epistemic orientation towards the philosophy of memory should be preserved. 


4. Episodic Remembering and Imaginative Agency

(Under Review). 

Abstract: I argue that episodic remembering is a kind of active imagining, specifically that it’s an imaginative project. I draw out two commitments of accounts of memory as a mental action, namely, that memory involves construction of mnemic content by the agent and that, nonetheless, mnemic content is constrained to specific past experiences. There’s a tension between these two commitments, since agential construction seems to imply a lack of constraints and the stringency of the constraints on memory seems to preclude an agent’s involvement in the construction of mnemic content. To resolve the tension, I consider how the constraints on memory are imposed and satisfied. Using Langland-Hassan (2022a, 2023) and Sant’Anna (2023) as foils, I argue that the tension is avoided by denying that constraints on memory are imposed or satisfied ultimately by virtue of the well-functioning of the agent’s neurocognitive architecture. Instead, constraints on memory—and on imagination more generally—are imposed and satisfied, ultimately, by the agent herself.


5.  The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: On the Concepts of Health and Disability 

(Under Review).

Abstract: What difference is there, if any, between cautioning pregnant people against drinking alcohol and cautioning prospective parents against selecting potential offspring that will develop a disability like deafness or Down syndrome? According to some self-avowed eugenicists, there’s none: it’s permissible to select or treat potential offspring on the basis of genetic counseling or through genetic enhancement, provided doing so doesn’t decrease the offspring’s chance of a good life or interfere with the wellbeing of others (Veit et al. 2021). Genetic counseling and genetic enhancement, they claim, are medical tools to be used towards improving wellbeing. This paper argues that approval of genetic counseling or gene enhancement in the case of disability begs the question. Specifically, approval of genetic counseling or genetic enhancement in such cases requires a view of what types of states are disabling, i.e., which states constitute real limits on or decreases in human function or ability. But accounts of human function and health that eugenicists may appeal to underdetermine, for several disabilities, whether those disabilities limit or decrease human function or ability. Indeed, it might be that the relevant disabilities are simply other ways of being human. Moreover, we fail to see that the relevant disabilities might constitute other ways of being human because the concepts of health and pathology we inherit from ableist traditions in medicine fail to be morally neutral towards disabled people. This failure of recognition harms disabled individuals through the formation and application of normative judgments of medical professionals against selecting for disability. The very expertise that is supposed to heal in these cases very often harms. If this is right, then there are morally relevant differences between some uses of genetic counseling or genetic enhancement and others. These differences block approval of genetic counseling or genetic enhancement in the case of disability.  

In Progress (drafts available upon request)

1.  Monitoring and the Ability to Intervene are Necessary for Control Over Skillful Action

Abstract: One thing we admire about skilled agency is the display of an extraordinary level of control over, say, performing a Produnova vault. However, skilled actions are also highly automatic, that is, not up to the agent. This raises the question how skilled actions can be both at once. Call this the Controlled-Automaticity puzzle. In this paper, I resolve the Controlled-Automaticity puzzle by distinguishing between possessing and exerting control. I argue that a behavior counts as an agent’s skillful φ-ing, and thereby agentively controlled with respect to φ, only if i) there is monitoring for whether φ which results in the agent’s having the opportunity to intervene on whether she φ’s and ii) she has the capacity to intervene on whether she φ’s in light of that monitoring. Incorporating monitoring which cues the agent and her ability to intervene as necessary for control in skillful action solves the Controlled-Automaticity puzzle.


2.  Ontological Disparities Between Cognitive and Biological Functions

Abstract: Contemporary cognitive science employs Marr’s (1982) three levels of analysis (Montgomery et al. 2019, Bates and Jacobs 2020, Suri et al. 2020, Bott et al. 2021, Hotaling et al. 2021, Sanborn et al. 2021, Mondal 2022). At the highest levels—the computational and algorithmic—a function is ascribed to a faculty of mind which tells us what that faculty does, why it does what it does, and how it does what it does. The purpose of this paper is to argue that the functions ascribed in cognitive science are radically, metaphysically distinct from another type of function, i.e., biological function. Reductive naturalism about the mind suggests that the mental is fully continuous with the biological. Several philosophers have argued that biological function provides a common denominator for mind and body (Cummins 1975, Millikan 1984, 1989, Neander 1991, 2002, 2017, Craver 2001). They claim that the ascription of these functions tells us what parts of organisms do, why they do what they do, and how they do what they do. However, there are at least two ways biological functions diverge from what I call “formal functions” as ascribed in cognitive science. Formal functions do not determine the properties or constitution of function-bearing items, whereas biological functions do. And at least some formal functions are constituted by norms of rationality (Anderson 1990, Burge 2003, 2010), whereas biological functions are at most constituted by evolutionary norms. These divergences between formal and biological function rule out identifying the former as either an instance or an extension of the latter, leaving a problematic explanatory gap between mind and body. 

Talks

Invited Talks

2023 

"An Anscombean Account of Active Imagining" Invited Talk. 4th Annual Conference [Online/Virtual] for Imagination Domination (COVID). Online. 

Comments from Daniel Munro and Nick Wiltsher

Peer Reviewed Conferences

2024

"In Defense of the Essentially Epistemic Nature of Episodic Memory" Talk. Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) with Alison Springle. West Lafayette, Indiana.


"In Defense of the Essentially Epistemic Nature of Episodic Memory" Talk. European Society of Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP) with Alison Springle. Grenoble, France.


"In Defense of the Essentially Epistemic Nature of Episodic Memory" Talk. Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SSPP) with Alison Springle. Cincinnati, Ohio.


"In Defense of the Essentially Epistemic Nature of Episodic Memory" Talk. Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA) meeting 2024 with Alison Springle. Montreal, Canada.


"In Defense of the Essentially Epistemic Nature of Episodic Memory" Talk. Issues in Philosophy of Memory 4 (IPM4) with Alison Springle. Geneva, Switzerland.

2023

"Remembering is an Imaginative Project" Talk. Issues in Philosophy of Memory (IPM) 3.5. Online. 


"Epistemic Arrogance & Epistemic Shame" Talk. Empirical Epistemology Conference with Alison Springle. Glasgow, UK.


"An Argument for Parity of the Interface Problem in the Case of Mental Action" Talk. PSA Around the World with Alison Springle. Online. 


"Remembering is an Imaginative Project" as part of the Symposium on Voluntary and Involuntary Memory. 1st Annual Web Conference of the International Society for the Philosophy of the Sciences of the Mind with Santiago Arango-Muñoz, Marina Tarkas, Alison Springle, and Rebecca Dreier. 


"An Argument for Parity of the Interface Problem in the Case of Mental Action" Poster. Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) with Alison Springle. Pittsburgh, PA.  


"Remembering as a Mental Action and the (Dis)continuism Debate" Talk. Annual Canadian Philosophical Association Meeting (CPA). Toronto, Canada. 

Comments from Daniel Munro


"Remembering as a Mental Action and the (Dis)continuism Debate" Talk. Ohio Philosophical Association Annual Meeting (OPA). Wooster, OH.

Comments from Zach Joachim


"Remembering as a Mental Action and the (Dis)continuism Debate" Talk. Havard-MIT Graduate Student Conference. Cambridge, MA.

Comments from Megan Entwistle 


"Monitoring and the Ability to Intervene are Necessary for Control over Skillful Action" Talk. Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SSPP). Louisville, KY.  

Comments from Dan Burnston. 


"Monitoring and the Ability to Intervene are Necessary for Control over Skillful Action" Colloquium. American Philosophical Association (APA) Central Division Meeting. Denver, CO.

Comments from Alison Springle.


"Finding Normality In Abnormality: On the Ascription of Normal Functions to Parts of Cancers" Colloquium. American Philosophical Association (APA) Eastern Division Meeting. Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  

Comments from Andrew Rubner.


2022 

"Trusting Traumatic Memories” Talk. Issues in Philosophy of Memory (IPM) 3, with Alison Springle and Rebecca Dreier. Durham, NC. "


"Finding Normality in Abnormality: Function Ascription in Cancer Research” Talk. Ohio Philosophical Association Annual Meeting (OPA). Akron, Ohio. 

Comments from Mallory Wietrzykowski.  


“Ontological Disparities Between Cognitive and Biological Functions” Poster. Joint Meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) and the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP), with Alison Springle, Alessandra Buccella, and Tomak Wysocki. 


“A Pushmi-Pullyu Psychology” Talk. Joint Meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) and the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP), with Alison Springle, Nimra Asif, Alessandra Buccella, and Tomak Wysocki. Milan, IT.


“Trusting Traumatic Memories” Talk. Joint Meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) and the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP), with Alison Springle and Rebecca Dreier. Milan, IT. 


“Normality, Causal Judgments, and Conjoined Cases” Poster.  Joint Meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) and the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP), with Tomek Wysocki, Alessandra Buccella, and Alison Springle. Milan, IT.


"Imagination as skill: (Re)construction for action" Talk. Simulationism 2022, hosted by the Center for Philosophy of Memory. Grenoble, France. 


"The Cure Is Worse Than the Disease: On the Concepts of Health and Disability" Talk. PERITIA: The Ethics of Trust and Expertise. Online. 


"Finding Normality In Abnormality: On the Ascription of Normal Functions to Parts of Cancers" Talk. Rotman Graduate Student Conference. London, Ontario, Canada. 


"The Cure Is Worse Than the Disease: On the Concepts of Health and Disability" Talk. Concordia University Graduate Philosophy Conference. Online.  


"The Cure Is Worse Than the Disease: On the Concepts of Health and Disability" Talk. Great Lakes Philosophy Conference. Online.  


“The Cure Is Worse than the Disease: On the Notion of Health and Disability” Poster. American Philosophical Association (APA) Central Division Meeting. Chicago, IL. 


“The Cure Is Worse than the Disease: On the Notion of Health and Disability” Talk. 31st Annual Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) International Conference. Online. 


2021 

“A Modeling Account of Function: On Ascribing Normal Functions to Self-Maintaining Pathologies” Talk. 8th Tarbiat Modares University Philosophy Conference. 


“The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: On the Concepts of Health and Disability” Talk. Georgia Philosophical Society 2021 Online Conference on Philosophical Perspectives on Rights, Obligations, and Freedom. Online. 


“The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: On the Notions of Health and Disability” Talk. Binghamton University 5th Annual Graduate Philosophy Conference. Online. 


“The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: On the Concepts of Health and Disability” Talk. Society for Christian Bioethicists Inaugural Conference. Online. 


“Fake News and Function in Model Pathologies: How Dis- and Misinformation Keep Us Dumb” as part of The Inhumanity of Fake News Panel. The 6th Public Philosophy Network Conference: Engagement, Policy, and Practice. Online. 


“The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: On the Notions of Health and Disability” Talk. The 22nd Annual Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum Conference. Online 


“The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: On the Notions of Health and Disability” Talk. The 75th Mountain-Plains Philosophy Conference. Online.


“Fake News and Function in Model Pathologies” Talk. Social Ontology 2021, hosted by the International Social Ontology Society. Online. 


“Memory as Skill” Talk. Issues in Philosophy of Memory 2.5 (IPM2.5). Online. 


"Function in Addiction and Pathology" Poster. Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) with Alison Springle and Jason Kay. Princeton, NJ. 


"Emotions, Attitudes, Ethics, and Instructions” Talk. Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) with Alison Springle and Jason Kay. Princeton, NJ.


“Realistic Perspectives of Function” Poster. Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) with Alison Springle and Jason Kay. Princeton, NJ. POSTPONED


"Function and Modeling Systems” Talk. 9th Annual University of Calgary Philosophy Graduate Conference. Online. 


“Function and Model Pathologies: How Fake News Keeps Us Dumb” Talk. The Philosophy Graduate Student Association at the University of Tennessee 4th Philosophy Conference. Online. 


"Skills and Conceptions: How We Know-How." Talk. New Mexico Texas Philosophical Society. Online. 


2020 

“Function in Addiction and Pathology” Poster. The Society for Philosophy and Psychology, 46th Annual Meeting. POSTPONED.


“Fake News and a Notion of Function” Talk. 2020 Great Lakes Philosophy Conference. POSTPONED. 


“Fake News and a Notion of Function” Talk. 2020 Joint Meeting of the North Carolina Philosophical Society and the South Carolina Society for Philosophy. POSTPONED.


2019 

“Imagination and a Diachronic Hylomorphic Account of Empirical Cognition in Kant’s First Critique” Talk. Virginia Philosophical Association Annual Meeting. Virginia Beach, VA. 

Comments from Ed Martin.


2018 

“Practical Knowledge: Practical Reasoning, Reliable Judgment, and Reliable Execution of Intention” Talk. Illinois Philosophical Association Annual Meeting. Normal, IL. 


“Practical Knowledge: Practical Reasoning, Reliable Judgment, and Reliable Execution of Intention.” Talk. Central States Philosophical Association 2018 Meeting. Buffalo, NY.


“Mental Action and Control in the Case of Remembering” Talk. ENFA 7—Seventh National Meeting in Analytic Philosophy. Lisbon, Portugal.


“Achieving Practical Knowledge: A Taxonomic Virtue-Theoretic Approach” Talk. IV FINO Graduate Conference in Mind, Language and Cognition; Kinds of Reasoning. Vercelli and Novara, Italy. 


2017 

“Achieving Realism with a Complete Science” Talk. Undergraduate Conference in Philosophy, University of North Texas. Denton, TX.


“Metaphors for Tripping Track Reality Better Than Your Vision” Talk. MidSouth Undergraduate Philosophy Conference. Memphis, TN. 

Workshops

2024

"Ontological Disparities Between Cognitive and Biological Functions and What They Mean for Neurodiversity" Talk. The Templeton-Sowerby Joint Workshop on Function and Dysfunction in Medicine and Psychiatry. London, England. 


2021 

“The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: On the Concepts of Health and Disability” Canadian Society for the Study of Practical Ethics Webinar Series: Upon Moral and Genetic Stereotyping. Online. 


“Function and Modeling Systems” Kentucky Philosophical Association (KPA) Summer 2021 Scholars Workshop. Online. 

Public Philosophy