I received my PhD in Philosophy from McMaster University in 1997. I have been a full-time member of the Department of Philosophy at Laurier since 2000.
I have published extensively on arguments for qualia epiphenomenalism and on the problem of mental causation for nonreductive physicalism. I have recently begun to bring some of this work to bear on debates about free will.
I am currently involved in two long-term research projects. The first explores the prospects for the idea that we can be responsible for shaping our own characters. I am particularly intrigued by Robert Kane’s account of “ultimate responsibility,” according to which we can secure responsibility for our own characters through the performance of certain undetermined choices. I am exploring various criticisms of Kane’s theory as well as ways to modify it in order to address its weaknesses. Particularly relevant here are questions about the effect of indeterminism on the rationality of our choices and on the degree of control we can have over them.
The second project involves P.F. Strawson’s “reactive attitudes.” I am particularly interested in developing an account of the ways in which the reactive attitudes, such as resentment and gratitude, foster or reinforce what is sometimes called the “engaged” as opposed to the “objective” attitude. Strawson claimed that the reactive attitudes constitute our human engagement with one another, but it is not entirely clear how they do this or what features of the reactive attitudes are relevant to their ability to play this role. Existing approaches tend to limit their accounts to the moral reactive attitudes, yet Strawson claimed that these are just one group or category of reactive attitudes among several others. I am working to develop theory of the reactive attitudes that extends beyond the moral reactive attitudes and that accounts for the varying degrees of personal engagement we can have with one another.
I currently hold a two year SSHRC Insight Development Grant to assist with the project on Strawson's reactive attitudes.
I joined Laurier’s Department of Philosophy in 2000 and have supervised two doctoral students to successful completion: Hugh Alcock: Consciousness from a Naturalistic Perspective (2009), and Dwayne Moore: The Problem of Causal-Explanatory Exclusion (2010). We have since phased out our doctoral program, but in 2007, we launched our thematic MA program Self, Agency and Community. I have supervised the following MA students: Jennifer Howse: The Tibetan Contribution to Developing a New Theory of Mind (2008), Aaron Roberts: Amending the Causal-Dynamic Model of Strong Emergence (2012), Fraydon Karimi: Explanatory Relations and Understanding (2014), Jeremy Scharoun: The Equanimity of Hard Incompatibilism (2015), Alessandro Fiorello: Free Will, Values, and Narrative Selfhood (2018), Nicole Benson: Mental Causation and the Failure of Trope Monism ((2019), Dani Yousif: The Ambivalence Within Character-Formation: A Look at Freedom of Will and the Role of Discrepancy (2021), Shiva Rezvani Najafabadi (co-supervised with Gary Foster) Epistemic Injustice Concerning Racialized Patients (2021), Marc Paquette (co-supervised with Gary Foster) Self and Pervasive Media (2021).
My graduate seminars have been very closely tied to my own research. Since 2007, I have offered several courses in the philosophy of mind. Although these seminars deal with a number of metaphysical issues — reductive vs. nonreductive physicalism; the nature of action explanation; emergence, qualia and consciousness — the central focus has been the problem of mental causation. In particular, I have been intrigued with Jaegwon Kim’s extremely influential supervenience/exclusion argument and several variants thereof.
More recently, my seminars have begun to explore the metaphysics of character formation. Using Robert Kane’s account of ultimate responsibility as our starting point, we explore the potential of and the obstacles to the idea that one can shape one’s own character through certain kinds of undetermined choices. Kane’s theory has been widely discussed and has been criticized on many fronts. Among those we explore are: the objection that undetermined choices are a product of luck, and so cannot be responsible acts of self-formation; the objection that the dual efforts of will that Kane’s theory requires undermines the agent’s rationality or doubles her responsibility; the objection that undetermined choices lack contrastive explanations, and so their occurrence is fundamentally inexplicable.
I have also run seminars on Strawson's conception of the reactive attitudes and have focused on two main questions: (1) in what way do the reactive attitudes constitute what Strawson called the engaged or participant stance? That is, how can our interpersonal relationships be said to be constituted by our exposure and proneness to reactive attitudes? (2) How can one make theoretical sense of interactions that straddle the objective and participant attitudes, given that Strawson claims the objective attitude is incompatible with the reactive attitudes?
When the opportunity arises, I have been eager to invite graduate students (or former graduate students) to coauthor papers as an exercise in mentoring. I have coauthored three published articles with my former Doctoral student, Dwayne Moore: “On Kim’s Exclusion Principle,” Synthèse Vol. 169 no. 1 (2009) pp. 75-90; “Functional Reduction and Mental Causation,” Acta Analytica Vol. 25 no. 4 (2010) pp. 435-446; “On the Metaphysics of Mental Causation” Abstracta Vol. 8 no. 2 (2015) 3-16. I have also coauthored a paper with my former Master’s student, Jeremy Scharoun: “A Defense of Derk Pereboom’s Containment Policy,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice DOI: 10.1007/s10677-016-9736-3 (2016) pp. 1-17. More recently, I published "Contrastive Explanation, Efforts of Will, and Dual Responsibility" in Acta Analytica (in press) with Jamal Kadkhodapour, who worked with me as a visiting Ph.D. student from Iran. Currently, I have a paper under review that I co-authored with Alexander Carty, who completed our MA program in 2020.
If you have a research project in mind for our MA program and would like to discuss it with me, please feel free to contact me.