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Research Summary

There are two major strands to my research.  First, I'm interested in fundamental questions about representation and intentionality, and specifically about the metaphysical underpinnings of representation and intentionality.  Part of the reason for my interest is that I think shedding light on the nature of our representational capacities might enable us to understand some core metaphysical concepts.  My previous work has tried to show how this is the case with concepts like causation, relationality, and existence and non-existence, and I've used authors like Aquinas, Leibniz, and Peirce to do this work.


I’m also, primarily, a Spinoza scholar. My most recent project is an attempt to synthesize Spinoza's political/religious writings with his treatment of foundational philosophical questions. I am currently exploring how Spinoza's understanding of faith relates to his larger theory of belief. What’s exciting about this project is that Spinoza’s political/religious thought and his more abstract metaphysical/epistemological thought have traditionally divided the attention of Spinoza scholars and historians of early modern philosophy. So this avenue promises to give us a more unified picture of his thought. It also teaches us a lot about how understanding faith enriches our understanding of belief, which can enhance current discussions in epistemology, moral psychology, and philosophy of religion.


"Spinoza's Definition of Faith"

Forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy, Vol. 12

One of the most pivotal yet under-examined notions in Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise is his attempt to define the notion of 'faith'. In this paper, I unpack Spinoza's understanding of his definition and its significance within the broader argument of the Treatise by carefully analyzing the relationship between the definition's terminology and logical structure. I specifically examine the connection Spinoza draws between faith and obedience, arguing that according to Spinoza's definition, conceiving of obedience implies conceiving of faith, and not the other way around (as many commentators have claimed). I explore the implications of this entailment for interpreting the nature and function of Spinoza's 'dogmas of universal faith'. Spinoza claims that the definition faith ultimately grounds his main argument in the Treatise, which makes the case for a radical separation between 'faith' and 'philosophy'. One of my goals in the paper is to bring out in higher resolution how the definition underwrites this argument, and what it ultimately means.  [Penultimate]

"Spinoza on Relations"

In A Companion to Spinoza, ed. Yitzhak Y. Melamed (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2021)

I argue that, as ‘beings of reason’, relations occupy a shadowy place in Spinoza's early metaphysics while they play a distinguished role in our mental lives and possess a complex epistemological status at the interface between being and its representation in the mind. I disentangle Spinoza's concept of relations from his concept of universals, suggesting that there are grounds for regarding universals as a separate type of “metaphysical being.” Spinoza discusses relations as ‘beings of reason’ in multiple early texts: this paper focuses on the Short Treatise and the Metaphysical Thoughts. After delineating some of the key differences between relations and universals as Spinoza conceives them, I gesture toward Spinoza's mature conception of relations in the Ethics.

"Brandom's Leibniz"

Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 102 (2021): 73-102

I discuss an objection by Margaret Wilson against Robert Brandom's interpretation of Leibniz's account of perceptual distinctness. According to Brandom, Leibniz holds that (i) the relative distinctness of a perception is a function of its inferentially articulated content and (ii) apperception, or awareness, is explicable in terms of degrees of perceptual distinctness. Wilson alleges that Brandom confuses ‘external deducibility’ from a perceptual state of a monad to the existence of properties in the world, with ‘internally accessible content’ for the monad in that state. Drawing on Leibniz, I develop a response to Wilson on Brandom's behalf.


More broadly, the paper focuses on the problems posed by what Leibniz calls “bare monads” to the coherence of Leibniz’s theory of degrees of perceptual distinctness. Bare monads are simple substances which are constitutively unconscious but which, like all monads, are constituted by perceptions that have some degree of distinctness. This odd combination of features complicates the relationship between the distinctions of conscious vs. unconscious perceptions, on the one hand, and distinct vs. confused perceptions on the other. While one is tempted to ascribe some form of ‘experience’ to bare monads because their perceptions are distinct to some degree, the fact that bare monads are unconscious seems to make this impossible. Ultimately, I argue, we can derive from Brandom’s theory the notion of a ‘flat’ reading of monadic perception whereby the purported ‘experiences’ of unconscious monads should be interpreted in the way suggested by the expression ‘my tire experienced a puncture’: perception, for bare monads and indeed for monads fundamentally, involves a sort of ‘undergoing’ that is consistent with whatever level of consciousness exists in each monad and with the fact that all monads actively bring about each of their perceptual states.

"On the Causal Role of Privation in Thomas Aquinas's Metaphysics"

European Journal of Philosophy 28 (2020): 306-322

I explicate the ontological status of privation as a form of nonbeing to shed light on whether privation, as a kind of absence, can play a causal role for Aquinas, and if so, how. According to Aquinas, privations in a subject serve to determine what sort of (efficient) causal relations that subject can enter into, but, as nonbeings, privations cannot be the cause of the subject's entering into those relations. In this way, I conclude, they cannot, for Aquinas, be efficient causes of effects distinct from the subject. The paper unfolds this theme in three domains of Aquinas’s thought: his theories of being, truth, and natural change. To frame the discussion, I chart a comparison between Aquinas’s views about the causal role of privation and the mutually opposed views of David Lewis and John Haldane on causation by absence. While Aquinas’s perspective overlaps in certain illuminating ways with each of Lewis’s and Haldane’s views, it differs fundamentally from their positions in equally telling ways that bring out the uniqueness of Aquinas’s position, deriving from the peculiarities of his notion of privation.

"Spinozistic Expression"

Philosophers' Imprint 17 (2017): 1-32

I investigate the meaning and significance of Spinoza’s elusive concept of “expression”. I do so by situating expression among his canonical relations of conception, causation, and inherence. I argue that, for Spinoza, expression necessarily corresponds to what is sufficient for conception, but implies neither causation nor inherence. This correspondence with sufficient conditions on conception and the pulling apart of expression from causation and inherence has important consequences for our grasp of the interconnections among Spinoza’s key metaphysical relations. But it also has profound implications for our understanding of the essential structure of Spinoza’s ontology itself, and for the proper assessment of his rationalism. I explore these consequences by explicating Spinoza’s assertion that substance and each of its attributes are “conceived through themselves”, and by demonstrating that, on his view (though contrary to that of most commentators), the relation of conception is not to be accounted for in causal terms. A systematic treatment of the expression relation sheds new light on these issues.

"Intelligibility and Subjectivity in Peirce: A Reading of His 'New List of Categories'"

Journal of the History of Philosophy 50 (2012): 581-610

I examine whetheras is often thoughtPeirce's important early derivation of his set of ontological categories"On a New List of Categories" (1867)reproduces the form of, and draws similar conclusions as, Kant's Transcendental Deduction of the Categories in the Critique of Pure Reason. I argue that this is not the case. A close reading of the "New List" reveals that a key implication of this early workone that goes against Kant's affirmation of the groundedness of intelligibility in the cognizing subjectis that the intelligibility of experience is not grounded in subjectivity but in the mediating function of representations, where, crucially, ‘representations’ are considered not as mental entities, or as entailing the conformity of a subjective thought to an extramental object, but as systems of relations.


Work in Progress

“Notes on a Neglected Distinction: Ponere and Tollere in Spinoza”

"Contrastive Causation in Spinoza"

"Spinoza's Problem of Universals and Particulars"

"Spinoza on Truth as Authenticity"

“Interpretation and Authority: The Argument of Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise

“Order’s Discord? The Multiple Resonance of ‘Order’ (Ordo) in Spinoza”

“Spinoza on Chimeras, Square Circles, and Beings That, by Virtue of Their Essence, Do Not Exist”

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