Research Statement

My research mainly falls into two broad categories: philosophical issues related to Madagascar and Africana philosophy and philosophical issues in intentionality, concepts, and language. Click here for my research statement, which provides more detail.


"Siméon Rajaona on Western ways of thinking and the authentic Malagasy mind," with Graziella Masindrazana and Zoly Rakotoniera, South African Journal of Philosophy, 37 (3): 347-360, 2018 (pdf)

In two papers earlier in his career, Siméon Rajaona—one of Madagascar's most famous intellectuals—argues that Westerners have tended to distort the Malagasy worldview by interpolating Western notions into their understanding of it. As a result, the authentic characteristics of the Malagasy mind have been missed by many in the West. He claims that when compared to Westerners, Malagasy have a distinct notion of truth, a different style of reasoning, a different conceptual connection with the world, and a distinct ethical system. His work on this topic is pioneering and insightful. We think that Rajaona is correct on some points but that others are overestimated. In the essay, we explain his work and raise challenges for most of his claims and express agreement with him in parts. While we express skepticism about his claims involving truth, reasoning, and conceptual connection, we agree with him that there is a distinctive Malagasy ethics, though it has analogues in the West. At the end of the paper, we sketch what we take to be distinct elements in the Malagasy worldview relative to Rajaona’s claims.

"Knowledge Transmission and the Internalism-Externalism Debate about Content," Philosophia, 45(4): 1851-1861, 2017 (pdf)

Sanford Goldberg (2015) argues for Content Externalism by drawing our attention to the extent to which an individual’s concepts depend on the concepts of others. More specifically, he focuses on cases that involve knowledge transmission between experts and non-experts to make his point. In this paper, I argue that the content internalist cannot only plausibly respond to his argument but that Content Internalism offers a more plausible account of intentional content with regard to knowledge transmission than does Content Externalism.

"Malagasy Time Conceptions," Comparative Philosophy, 8 (1): 63-81, 2017 (pdf)

In this paper I discuss Øyvind Dahl’s argument (1995,1999) for the conclusion that Malagasy people conceive of the future as coming from behind them and not as being before them as most worldviews do. I argue that we have good reason not to attribute this view to Malagasy people. First, it would mark an inefficient and anomalous way of keeping track of the past and future. Second, the linguistic and testimonial evidence presented by Dahl doesn’t support the conclusion. Even though this specific argument fails, Dahl has many enlightening things to say about Malagasy time conceptions, such as the various time-conceptions that figure more predominantly in their worldview as opposed to the general modern Western worldview. Dahl is right that successful communication for Westerners in Madagascar requires understanding that the Malagasy worldview is structured more by an event-related conception of time than the general modern Western worldview. I also show in this paper that the three time conceptions Dahl outlines are relevant to living a good life. 

"Externalist Thought Experiments and Direction of Fit," Argumenta 3 (1): 139-156, 2016 (pdf)

The classic thought experiments for Content Externalism have been motivated by consideration of intentional states with a mind-to-world direction of fit. In this paper, I argue that when these experiments are run on intentional states with a world-to-mind direction of fit, the thought experiments actually support Content Internalism. Because of this, I argue that the classic thought experiments alone cannot properly motivate Content Externalism. I do not show that Content Externalism is false in this paper, just that it cannot be motivated by the classic thought experiments alone. I discuss various externalist responses to the argument I raise and show that they all fail. 

"The Indispensability and Irreducibility of Intentional Objects," The Journal of Philosophical Research 41: 543-558, 2016 (pdf)

In this paper, I argue against Michael Gorman’s objection to Tim Crane’s view of intentional objects. Gorman (“Talking about Intentional Objects,” 2006), following Searle (Intentionality, 1983), argues that intentional content can be cashed out solely in terms of conditions of satisfaction. For Gorman, we have reason to prefer his more minimal satisfaction-condition approach to Crane’s be- cause we cannot understand Crane’s notion of an intentional object when applied to non-existent objects. I argue that Gorman’s criticism rests on a misunderstanding of Crane’s position. I also discuss the importance of keeping track of the distinction between the intentional objects of intentional states and the referents of such states. I do agree with Gorman that conditions of satisfaction are needed to cash out propositional intentional content, but we cannot get these conditions of satisfaction right if we do not capture how the subject takes the world to be. And we cannot properly capture how the subject takes the world to be without commitment to intentional objects. I argue that Crane’s notion of an intentional object is one that avoids questionable ontological commitments. So, in the end we have a view of intentional objects with a respectable metaphysics and ontology that can properly capture the intentional content of subjects’ intentional states.

“The Limits of Adverbialism about Intentionality,” Inquiry 59 (5): 488-512, 2016 (pdf)

Uriah Kriegel (2007, 2008, 2011) has recently developed (but not fully endorsed) an adverbial account of intentionality, in part to solve the problem of how we can think of non-existents. The view has real virtues: it endorses a non-relational (internalist) conception of intentionality and is ontologically conservative. Alas, the view ultimately cannot replace the act-object model of intentionality that it seeks to, because it depends on the act-object model for its intelligibility at key points. It thus fails as a revisionistic theory. I argue that the virtues of adverbialism can be had from within the act-object framework, provided we understand intentional objects correctly. I use Tim Crane (2001a, 2001b, 2013) as a guide here, and build on his work on intentional objects. In the end, we can provide a suitable solution to the problem of thinking of non-existents within the act-object framework without adopting implausible ontological or metaphysical views. So, adverbialism is neither a possible stand-alone revisionary option nor a needed modification of the common-sense act-object framework of intentionality.

“Imagining Zombies,” Disputatio 38 (4): 107-116, 2014 (pdf)

Philosophers have argued that the conceivability of philosophical zom- bies creates problems for physicalism. In response, it has been argued that zombies are not conceivable. Eric Marcus (2004), for example, challenges the conceivability claim. Torin Alter (2007) argues that Marcus’s argument rests on an overly restrictive principle of imagina- tion. I agree that the argument relies on an overly restrictive principle of imagination, but argue that Alter has not put his finger on the right one. In short, Marcus’s argument fails, but not for the reasons Alter gives.