Philosophy of mind (especially consciousness), phenomenology, ancient philosophy
Philosophy of mind, ancient philosophy, phenomenology, modern philosophy, introduction to philosophy
I have been with Rice's Philosophy Department since the summer of 2010, having previously worked at the University of California Riverside, the University of Miami, and Reed College.
My book The Significance of Consciousness (1998) is an effort to use critical first-person reflection to defend an interpretation of consciousness and its place in the mind. My research since then has been largely devoted to deepening and extending this project. I have published articles on issues such as: the nature of our warrant for judgments about our own experience; phenomenological approaches to understanding the mind (including interpretations of Brentano, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty); the relation between self-knowledge and rationality; the richness of visual experience; the “transparency” of consciousness and introspective attention; cognitive experience (a.k.a. “cognitive phenomenology”); the experience of perceptual constancy, recognition and sensorimotor activity, together with the role these play in warranting judgments about our surroundings; the temporality of thought and consciousness; the intrinsic value of experience and how it figures in moral status.
I am now writing a book (under contract with Oxford University Press) that draws together these themes, provisionally entitled Subjectivity and Understanding. It starts with an extended defense of first person reflection on experience against anti-introspectionist attacks, arguing such reflection is useful in personal self-assessment, in the evaluation of empirical research, and in philosophical investigation of the kind the rest of the book takes up. I begin that investigation by clarifying the notions of consciousness and “subjective character”—“what it’s like for one” to have experience. From there I argue for an account of how our experience can render objects that go beyond it apparent and recognizable to us, and make conceptual understanding and commitment possible. I then use this to provide an account of self-consciousness that explains what’s special about the warrant with which we judge of our own experience. Finally, I argue that the kinds of experience I’ve described are both necessary and sufficient for having a mind with which we can: form desires meriting others’ concern; bind ourselves to rational norms in a way that earns us others’ respect; and appreciate for ourselves what makes our lives worthwhile.
My work on Plato has focused on a reconstruction of his argument for distinguishing three sources of human motivation: reason, “spirit”, and appetite. My hope is that this interpretation will come to integrate more fully with the research on consciousness just described, by helping to show how desire is variously manifest in experience, and how self-knowledge and self-unity can be achieved.