Most broadly I want to understand our epistemic psychology, and the factors that influence what we believe, what we doubt, and who to trust. The project is deeply empirical, and uses cognitive science, including my own experimental work, to explore epistemological questions.
Radical Skepticism and Commonplace Skepticism
Doubt is important. For instance, the commonplace doubts of climate skeptics and anti-vaxxers have a significant effect on energy policy and public health initiatives. Better understanding those doubts and the factors that influence how they emerge is an important way in which empirically informed philosophy can play a role in our national dialogue.
My primary research project takes a naturalistic approach to understanding doubt. The central goal of the project is to explore the underlying psychology of doubt, and to understand when doubt is appropriate and when it is not. This project has important theoretical and practical components. The practical goals are straightforward: by better understanding commonplace doubts, we can hopefully develop more transparent ways of discussing ideologically charged questions.
The theoretical goals are related. Traditionally, philosophy’s engagement with doubt has been through the problem of radical skepticism, and consequently there has been little interest in an empirical approach like mine. This isn’t very surprising. The Cartesian skeptic challenges the possibility of empirical knowledge by questioning the reliability of our senses, and so appealing to empirical evidence would simply beg the question against the skeptic.
However, my goal is to understand how doubt gets a grip on us, not in the first instance how to reply to the radical skeptic. The working hypothesis of my research project is that the appeal of arguments for radical skepticism has its roots in more modest forms of doubt. Thus, by understanding the underlying psychology of commonplace doubts we can thereby illuminate why arguments for radical skepticism, despite their absurd conclusions, can nevertheless seem so intuitive.
Sometimes we disagree, but how should we respond to disagreement? When should we stick to our guns, and when should we listen to the other side? The philosophy of disagreement has become increasingly interesting to epistemologists, who have focused on whether we should remain steadfast in the face of an epistemic peer, or whether we should change our confidence. Together with Joshua Alexander and Chad Gonnerman, I have been exploring how both contextual factors and individual differences determine how we respond to disagreement.
Cooperation and Testimony
Nick Tebben and I are using the formal machinery of game theory to model the exchange of testimony. The working hypothesis of our research program is that information is valuable, and that understanding the norms governing its exchange can inform our more general epistemic values, including who to trust and what counts as rational.
1. Infallibilism, Skepticism, & Cultural Differences (with Karen Yan, Chad Gonnerman, and Joshua Alexander) Forthcoming in Stephen Stich, Jason Stanley, & Masaharu Mizumoto (eds.), Epistemology for the Rest of the World. New York: Oxford University Press. (pls. email for a copy).
2. The Market for Testimony: A Reply to Our Critics (with Nick Tebben), in Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 5 (2015): 43-51.
3. Epistemic Free-Riders and Reasons to Trust Testimony (with Nick Tebben), in Social Epistemology 29, no. 3 (2015): 270 – 279.
4. Salience & Epistemic Egocentrism (with Joshua Alexander & Chad Gonnerman) in James Beebe (ed.), New Directions in Experimental Epistemology (2014). London: Bloomsbury Press.
1. On the Psychological Foundations of Skepticism (pls. email for a copy).