Research

My primary interests are reasoning, willpower, and wellbeing. I approach these topics as a cognitive scientist, a philosopher of mind, and a philosopher of science. My research is interdisciplinary; it draws on research in biology, computer science, epistemology, ethics, medicine, psychiatry, and various social sciences.

Reasoning

Empirical work. I ran a study of the relationships between cognitive style, personality, and philosophical training. The study also analyzed relationships between cognitive style, personality, and philosophical judgment. I found that…

  1. people who get PhDs in philosophy are significantly more reflective than others.
  2. less reflective philosophers are significantly more likely to endorse certain views (e.g., theism, scientific anti-realism, and others).

Corpus linguistics. I have compiled a 7.5 million word philosophy text corpus from various papers and books in philosophy. I am in the process of preparing the corpus for analysis. When the corpus is ready, it can be used to answer a variety of questions about philosophy — e.g., do philosophers appeal to intuition? [Jump To Top]

Dissertation. The grist for my dissertation is made up of the philosophy and science of reflective reasoning. Philosophers have said a lot about reflective reasoning — implicitly and explicitly. More recently philosophers have begun to take stock of what science says about reflective reasoning. This has resulted in some revision and debate. In my dissertation, I outline the prominent philosophical claims about reflective reasoning. Then I take a look at how various sciences understand reflective reasoning. The result is an account of reflective reasoning that is both more complex and more empirically adequate than most philosophers’ accounts of reflective reasoning. One upshot is that we must revise philosophical claims that rely on oversimplified and empirically inadequate views of reflective reasoning. [Jump To Top]

Motivation. Why do I study reasoning? For starters, reasoning research (a) explains how to improve our reasoning and (b) makes sense of our otherwise non-sensical reasoning. But (c) it’s also fun. If you ever have the chance, try observing philosophers the way that a social scientist would. Right away you will notice interesting traditions, rituals, and protocols. And as you encounter more philosophers, you’ll discern each tradition’s canonical texts, sacred ideas, and taboos. Spend a little more time with philosophers and you’ll find out about the origin stories of each tradition and the history of conflict between traditions. Then take a step back and look at the institution of academic philosophy and you will see power dynamics, incentive structures, and political movements at work. Oh! I almost forgot to mention: there is this mysterious sixth sense called ‘intuition’! Fascinating, right? [Jump To Top]

Willpower

We have all reluctantly given in to a temptation. You might think that this is the result of a willpower deficiency. But what is willpower and how does it work? I am interested in answering these questions. After all, the more we understand willpower, the more we can improve it. [Jump To Top]

You want more willpower. But how? Imagine that there is a “willpower pill” that improves our willpower and thereby allows us to resist certain temptations and endure difficult tasks. We don’t have such a pill, but have an alternative. A survey of the scientific research in multiple domains suggests that simple tweaks to our habits can increase the chances of overcoming temptation, make demanding tasks easier, improving productivity, etc. In other words, we can improve our willpower by changing our habits. So if you think that we should take the willpower pill, then you should change your habits. [Jump To Top]

Willpower inequality. Some of the stuff that influences willpower is not within our control. For example, some people are born into circumstances that allow them to have better or worse willpower. As a result, these people are systematically more or less self-controlled, patient, and productive than people with less access to the same lifestyle. So, contrary to some of our intuitions, there might be situations in which no one can take the credit (or the blame) for being more or less self-controlled, patient, and productive. [Jump To Top]

Wellbeing

Science reveals that wellbeing is influenced by many different variables. In some cases, we have control over these variables, but we often don’t. This means that while some of our wellbeing is up to us, much of it is not. Interestingly, science suggests that other people — e.g., neighbors, friends, and family — can influence some of these variables. So other people can influence our wellbeing in ways that we cannot! Moreover, certain institutions can influence variables that neither we nor our neighbors, friends, or family members can. So institutions can also influence our wellbeing in unique ways! If people and institutions have unique power over our wellbeing, do they also have unique responsibilities? [Jump To Top]

Miscellaneous

Other topics about which I have written include implicit bias, depression, cognitive therapy, scientific realism, cosmopolitan egalitarianism, racial integration, unconscious intentions, free will, personal identity, the non-identity problem, and posthumous harm. [Jump To Top]