In my research, I explore uncertainty by asking complementary questions from the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, and epistemology. First, what is going on in agents’ minds – what sorts of attitudes do agents have – when they are uncertain? Second, how do agents communicate their uncertainty? Finally, which attitudes of uncertainty are rational to have together and which are irrational to have together?
A core theme of my research is that the orthodoxy about attitudes of uncertainty isn’t the complete story. Appreciating alternative perspectives about the ways in which agents can be uncertain helps to dissolve puzzles in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind. These new perspectives also allow us to develop interesting extensions of traditional theories in the epistemology of uncertainty.
A Dutch Book Theorem for Quantificational Credences. Accepted for Publication in Ergo
In this paper, I present an argument for a rational norm involving a kind of credal attitude called a quantificational credence – the kind of attitude we can report by saying that Lucy thinks that each record in Schroeder’s collection is 5% likely to be scratched. I prove a result called a Dutch Book Theorem, which constitutes conditional support for the norm. Though Dutch Book Theorems exist for norms on ordinary and conditional credences, there is controversy about the epistemic significance of these results. So, my conclusion is that if Dutch Book Theorems do, in general, support norms on credal states, then we have support for the suggested norm on quantificational credences. Providing conditional support for this norm gives us a fuller picture of the normative landscape of credal states.
Probabilistic Consistency Norms and Quantificational Credences (2017). Synthese, 194(6), 2101-2119.
In addition to beliefs, people have attitudes of confidence called credences. Combinations of credences, like combinations of beliefs, can be inconsistent. It is common to use tools from probability theory to understand the normative relationships between a person’s credences. More precisely, it is common to think that something is a consistency norm on a person’s credal state if and only if it is a simple transformation of a truth of probability (a transformation that merely changes the statement from one about probability to one about credences). Though it is common to challenge the right-to-left direction of this biconditional, I argue in this paper that the left-to-right direction is false for standard versions of probability theory. That is, I make the case that there are consistency constraints on credal states that are not simple transformations of truths of standard versions of probability theory. I do so by drawing on a newly discovered type of credal attitude, a quantificational credence, and by showing how the consistency norms on this attitude can't be represented as simple transformations of truths of standard versions of probability theory. I conclude by showing that a probability theory that could avoid the result would have to be strikingly different from the standard versions - so different that I suspect many would hesitate to call it a theory of probability at all.
Quantificational Credences (2015). Philosophers’ Imprint, 15(9), 1-24.
In addition to full beliefs, agents have attitudes of varying confidence, or credences. For instance, I do not believe that the Boston Red Sox will win the American League East this year, but I am at least a little bit confident that they will - i.e. I have a positive credence that they will. It is also common to think that agents have conditional credences. For instance, I am very confident - i.e. have a conditional credence of very-likely strength - that the Red Sox will win the AL East this year given that their pitching staff stays healthy. There are good reasons to think that conditional credences are neither credences nor some combination of credences. In this paper, I show that similar reasons support thinking that agents have what we can call quantificational credences - attitudes like, thinking that each AL East team with a healthy pitching staff is at least a little bit likely to win the division - which are neither credences, conditional credences, nor some combination thereof. I provide a framework for assessing the rationality of credal states which involve quantificational credences. And I give a general picture of credal states that explains the similarities and differences between ordinary, conditional, and quantificational credences.
Simple Contextualism about Epistemic Modals is Incorrect (2014). Thought: A Journal of Philosophy, 3(4), 252-262.
I argue against a simple contextualist account of epistemic modals. My argument, like the arguments on which it is based (von Fintel and Gillies 2011 and MacFarlane 2011), charges that simple contextualism cannot explain all of the conversational data about uses of epistemic modals. My argument improves on its predecessors by insulating itself from recent contextualist attempts by Janice Dowell (2011) and Igor Yanovich (2014) to get around that argument. In particular, I use linguistic data to show that an utterance of an epistemic modal sentence can be warranted while an utterance of its suggested simple contextualist paraphrase is not.
Taking ‘Might’-Communication Seriously (2014). Analytic Philosophy, 55(2), 176-198.
In this paper, I show that, given seemingly plausible assumptions about the epistemic ‘might’ and conditionals, we cannot explain why in some circumstances it is appropriate to utter conditional ‘might’-sentences, like “If Angelica has crumbs in her pocket, then she might be the thief” and not the corresponding simple ones, like “Angelica might be the thief.” So, one of our assumptions must be incorrect. I argue that the root of the problem is an umbrella thesis about the pragmatics of ‘might’-communication - one that says that the communicative impact of an utterance of a ‘might’-sentence is the performance of a consistency check on the information of the context. I conclude that we must reject this thesis. And I close the paper by sketching an alternative view about what assertive uses of ‘might’-sentences typically do - one which avoids the problem. Such uses typically present a possibility as a serious option in reasoning and deliberation.
Papers In Progress
Might-Beliefs and Asymmetric Disagreement (invited to revise and resubmit)
What we can call asymmetric disagreement occurs when one agent is in disagreement with another, but not vice-versa. In this paper, I give an example of and develop a framework for understanding this phenomenon. One pivotal feature of my example is that one of the agents in the scenario has a belief about what might be the case - a might-belief. I show that a traditional account of might-beliefs and disagreement cannot explain the initially surprising phenomenon of asymmetric disagreement. In order to provide an explanation, I develop a dynamic account of might-beliefs and a corresponding account of disagreement.
Probabilistic Antecedents and Conditional Attitudes
Noncognitivism and the Frege-Geach Problem in Formal Epistemology
What Might but Must Not Be (with Stephen Finlay)