“Could we obtain a distinct and full history of all that hath passed in the mind of a child, from the beginning of life and sensation, till it grows up to the use of reason, this would be a treasure of natural history, which would probably give more light into the human faculties, than all the systems of philosophers about them since the beginning of the world.”
— Thomas Reid
Philosophy does not have a distinctive methodology. Philosophers make progress by drawing on the findings and methodologies of other disciplines, always on the lookout for tensions and unarticulated assumptions and often with an eye toward the big picture. Of course, philosophers reason, reflect, question, debate, draw distinctions, and clarify concepts. But these are basic features of most fields of inquiry, so they do not distinguish philosophy any more than reading, writing and arithmetic do.
I practice philosophy as a form of inquiry continuous with science. My work is informed by the history of philosophy alongside concepts and findings from the cognitive, social, symbolic, and life sciences. Here are some methods I use in my research.
“Human beings began to do philosophy at first because they wondered about the strange things right in front of them, and later because they came to find greater things puzzling.”
Philosophy doesn't have a distinctive methodology, but it does ask distinctive questions and encourages a healthy dichotomy of mind. On the one hand, philosophy encourages you to pursue the big picture — to ask the big and deep questions and seek out their connections. On the other hand, philosophy encourages you to pursue the small picture — to be mindful of inconspicuous and ordinary details and seek out their consequences. I believe this combination of contrary intellectual impulses helps to distinguish the philosophical mindset and makes philosophy both exasperating and exhilarating, often at the same time.
Here are some topics and questions I work on, often in collaboration with others. In almost every case, I'm interested in developmental, social, cultural, and comparative dimensions to the questions. That is, I'm also interested in how the relevant concepts, categories, and practices vary across the human lifespan, different social settings, human cultures, and species. For more details, visit the Philosophical Science Lab.
Does knowledge require truth?
Is the concept of knowledge a human universal?
When should you make an assertion?
How does human communication differ from other animals' signaling behavior?
Is saying something false essential to lying?
Is deceptive intent essential to lying?
What criteria do we use to re-identify individuals?
Can one person exist in two different places at the same time?
Do we intuitively think that humans have supernatural powers?
Can science fully explain human agency?
Can you voluntarily choose to believe something?
Can you know something that you don't believe?
Does luck undermine achievement?
Do we intuitively recognize different forms of probability?
Can your moral responsibilities exceed your ability to fulfill them?
Can you be blamed for things you can't control?
“Origin of man now proved. He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.”
— Charles Darwin
I am fortunate to have collaborated with talented researchers from many disciplines.
"When an investigation is commenced, after the initial expenses are once paid, at little cost we improve our knowledge, and improvement then is especially valuable."
— Charles Peirce
These organizations have graciously funded my research.