Research

The primary focus of my research is Kant’s metaphysics, epistemology, and theory of mind. I also study early modern philosophy generally and have interests in the reception of Kantian ideas in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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On Kant on Continuity

(under review)

Throughout his career, Kant accepted some version of the Law of the Continuity of Alterations (LCA): Whenever an object alters from one state to another, it passes through a continuum of intermediate states. Although he initially accepted the LCA without argument, in the Inaugural Dissertation, the first Critique, and in the Metaphysics Lecture Transcripts, he offers arguments which attempt to demonstrate the a priori necessity of the principle. Kant appeals first (Inaugural Dissertation) to the metaphysics of time, and then (the Critique) to the metaphysics of causality as well. Sadly, both arguments fail. However, I think that things are not completely hopeless for Kant. I make the case that even though the LCA does not achieve the status of a transcendental law of the understanding, it may nevertheless find a place in the transcendental philosophy as a regulative principle of reason. That is, it serves as a special kind of heuristic which aids reason in its project of arriving at an ever more complete and systematic understanding of the workings of the natural world.

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Kantian Phenomenalism Without Berkeleyan Idealism

(Forthcoming in Kantian Review, 2017)

Frequently, one sees arguments against phenomenalist interpretations of Kant’s idealism that take the following form: Kant can’t be a phenomenalist, because if he were, than Kantian idealism would be the same as Berkeleyan idealism; but it’s not, so he’s not. This sort of argument is typically paired with the claim that phenomenalist interpretations are inconsistent with Kant’s empirical realism. Against these views, I argue that Kant is a kind of phenomenalist, but not in the same way that Berkeley is. I show that the basic phenomenalist thesis (that the objects of experience are the subject’s own mental states) is ambiguous: it can be construed as an ontological thesis, as an epistemological thesis, as a semantic thesis, as a thesis about what is “present to consciousness,” or as a thesis about intentional objects. Berkeley subscribes to the ontological, epistemological, semantic, and “presence” versions. I make the case that we could attribute to Kant the “presence” version and the intentional object version without this undermining his empirical realism nor collapsing his idealism into Berkeley’s. Throughout, I try to shine some light on the significance of the difference between Berkeley’s and Kant’s respective theories of intentionality.

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Sensory Consciousness and Intentionality in Kant

(forthcoming in Journal of Philosophical Research, 2016)

According to one promising line of interpretation of Kant’s transcendental idealism, the objects of experience are to be understood as mere intentional objects. That is, the objects of experience are intentional objects that are constructed in representation out of representational contents, and they have no ontological status beyond this. Versions of such an interpretation have been offered by Wilfred Sellars, Richard Aquila, James Van Cleve, and Joannes Haag. In this paper I ask how we should understand sensory consciousness within such an interpretive framework. I argue that the most philosophically satisfying, phenomenologically accurate, and textually faithful model of sensory consciousness in Kant involves a brute, perceptual, intentional relation to internal mental states, which are then represented (conceptualized) as external physical objects.

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Sensations as Representations in Kant

(British Journal for the History of Philosophy 22(3), 2014; pdf available here)

Kant’s most frequent characterizations of sensations (Empfindungen) in Critique of Pure Reason describe them as “subjective representations” and as “effects” of objects on the senses. However, Kant will also describe sensations as “objective representations” that “designate” and have as their “objects” realities in space. Taken together, Kant’s different claims about sensation present two problems: (1) It isn’t clear how sensations can be both subjective and objective representations, and (2) it isn’t clear how sensations (mere sensory effects) could be representations at all, given the conditions on representationality described throughout the Transcendental Analytic. I resolve the first problem by showing that Kant uses the subjective/objective distinction in at least two different ways when describing sensations; hence calling sensations “subjective” in one sense does not preclude calling them “objective” in another. I resolve the second problem by showing that although sensations are not representations in the full sense (they do not possess intentionality and they do not refer to anything distinct from themselves), they nevertheless have a representational function (in a broader sense of “representational”) due to their combination with the representation of space in empirical intuition. The resulting interpretation shows that the intentionality of intuitions is not as simple as many commentators have supposed.

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Kant’s Argument for the Principle of Intensive Magnitudes

(pdf: Kantian Review 18(3), 2013)

In the chapter titled “Anticipations of Perception” in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues that every possible object of experience will (as a matter of a priori and transcendental necessity) possess a determinate “degree” (or “intensive magnitude”) of “reality.” This claim is significant within Kant’s broader systematic philosophy because it gives an a priori, transcendental basis to the dynamical theory of matter that he would go on to develop in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. However, Kant’s argument for this claim in the Anticipations is peculiar: Kant argues that sensations have intensive magnitudes, and since sensations “correspond” to the reality in objects, it follows that that reality must also have intensive magnitudes. Most commentators dismiss this argument as a failure, claiming that it has no place in the transcendental philosophy. I appeal to Kant’s theory of empirical intuition to show how Kant’s argument can be rehabilitated back into his transcendental project.

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Meat on the Bones: Kant’s Account of Cognition in the Anthropology Lectures

(with Eric Watkins; Kant’s Lectures on Anthropology: A Critical Guide, ed. Alix Cohen, Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Kant taught a course on “pragmatic anthropology” throughout most of his career. As with other of his courses, several detailed transcripts of his lectures have survived. In this paper, we analyze the empirical theory of cognition articulated in those lecture transcripts. We argue that the content of these transcripts substantially fleshes out the theory of cognition articulated in the first Critique. Kant’s focus in the Critique is on a priori cognition, and he doesn’t say much about how the basic cognitive faculties get put to use in empirical cognition. The anthropology transcripts fill in many of these important details, giving accounts of the workings of the senses, the imagination, and the understanding.

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Sensation and Intentionality in Kant’s Theory of Cognition

(Dissertation, defended June 2012. Click here for a (longish) summary.)

Briefly, the dissertation attempts to provide answers to the following questions: What is the representational status of sensation (Empfindung) according to Kant? Does sensation represent objects in the world, or merely the subject’s own sensorily modified state? How and to what extent does the data received in sensation determine the content of our perceptual states and empirical beliefs? How does Kant understand the intentionality of our representations, i.e., the “Dignität” of “Beziehung auf einen Gegenstand unseren Vorstellungen“? What is the relation between sensation and the semantic content by virtue of which we represent an object as occupying a region of space? And what is the relation between sensation and the semantic content by virtue of which we represent an object as actual (as opposed to merely possible or merely imagined)? How seriously should we take Kant’s occasional remark that sensations are the matter not just of our representations, but of the objects of those representations as well?

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