“When Manipulation Gets Personal,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming).
Abstract: Many accounts of moral responsibility have emerged recently that question the importance of conscious choice for moral responsibility. Instead of this “volitional” requirement, these “attributionist” accounts claim that agents are responsible for their actions when their actions reflect who they are and what they value. This paper argues that attributionist accounts are too quick to dismiss the connection between volition and moral responsibility. By excising conscious control from their accounts, the attributionist leaves open the undesirable possibility that an agent may fulfill all necessary conditions for moral responsibility even when she is under the conscious control of another person. Through analyzing situations in which attributionist conditions for moral responsibility are met while an agent is controlled by someone else, the link between an agent’s volition and her moral responsibility becomes more apparent.
“From Conscious Experience to a Conscious Self,” Philosophical Psychology (forthcoming).
Abstract: In his 2011 book The Opacity of Mind, Peter Carruthers presents the Interpretive Sensory Awareness theory (“ISA”), which holds that while we have direct access to our own sensory states, our access to “self-knowledge” is almost always interpretive. In presenting his view, Carruthers also claims that his account is the first of its kind; after a cursory examination of major theories of mind, he concludes that “transparent access” accounts of self-knowledge – the alternative to ISA – have been endorsed throughout history. This paper challenges this latter claim. Contrary to Carruthers’ view, the paper argues that Buddhist theories of mind are not “transparent access” accounts. Instead, they not only have a similar analysis to ISA of sensory processing and conscious experience, but also share what Carruthers sees as ISA’s central tenet: individuals lack transparent, conscious access to most of their propositional attitudes. Given this fundamental alignment, the Buddhist perspective can offer us fresh responses to ISA’s critics, as well as approaches to ethics and free will that are aligned with ISA’s conclusions.
“Selfless Ethics: the Equality of Non-Existence,” Philosophy East and West, 66:4 (2016).
Abstract: A number of scholars have attempted to situate the Buddha’s teachings within the primary Western ethical theories, namely Consequentialism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics. One challenge that each has confronted is Buddhism’s emphasis on the ultimate non-existence of the self. In his writings, Charles Goodman has put forward an account of how the realization of the ultimate non-existence of the self would lead a practitioner to Consequentialism. This article challenges the account offered by Goodman, and argues that an Ethical Particularist account better squares Buddhist ethics with Buddhist metaphysics. The article also shows how Goodman’s more recent work, while constituting a significant retreat from his earlier argumentation, still fails to motivate a Consequentialist reading of Buddhist ethics.
“The Enactivist Self: Virtual or Autonomous?” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 22:7-8, 183-200 (2015).
Abstract: In his foundational Enactivist writings, Francisco Varela explained the self as “virtual,” “fictional” and “groundless.” More recent Enactivist scholars have taken issue with Varela’s analysis, elevating the self to the same ontological status as other biological processes. On their interpretation, our “self” can be considered an autonomous system in the same manner as cells, organs, and organisms. After discussing the Enactivist’s definition of an autonomous system, this paper examines the lack of clarity from more recent scholars around precisely how our self can fulfill the this definition. Specifically, the challenge of meeting the Enactivist’s criteria will be illustrated through a discussion of a narrative self, a socially co-generated self, and approaches to the self that eschew metaphysical commitments. Through this examination, we see some of the challenges faced in arguing that the self exists in the same way as our cells and organs, and why Varela chooses instead to focus on the virtual self. To close, the paper examines how an approach that aligns with Varela’s foundational writings can handle the questions of reductionism and social interaction.
“Beyond Consensual Domains: Enactivism, Social Representations and Third-Order Unities,” Culture and Psychology, 21:2, 259-275 (2015).
Abstract: Although Enactivism and cultural anthropology share many core principles, a satisfactory Enactivist approach to culture has not yet been articulated. While the Enactivist embraces the cultural anthropologist’s skepticism with respect to a pregiven world described through objective truths, one of its stumbling blocks has been its difficulty in accounting for the normative background of interpersonal interaction, or what Wolfgang Wagner has referred to as “Social Representations.” This article argues that in order for the Enactivist to provide the conceptual tools necessary for this analysis, she must make use of what Varela and others refer to as “third-order unities.” The same principles that the Enactivist uses to explain the emergent properties of cells and organisms – autopiesis and identity-production – must be applied at the level of a society in order to understand how cultural meanings emerge and how they influence individual behavior. By applying these concepts at the supra-individual level, we get a more lucid picture of the fundamental features of an Enactivist account of culture, and can better understand the fundamental principles that Enactivism claims underlie all living systems both simple and complex.
“Conscious Belief as Constructed Memory: An Empirical Challenge to Dispositionalism,” Mind & Society, 14:1, 21-33 (2015).
Abstract: There is an emerging consensus that human behavior is governed by two types of processes: System 1 (S1) processes, which are quicker, automatic, and run in parallel, and System 2 (S2) processes, which are slower, more conscious, and run in serial. Among such “dual-process” theorists, however, there is disagreement about whether the premises we use in our conscious, S2 reasoning should be considered as beliefs. In this exchange, one facet that has been largely overlooked is how conscious beliefs are structurally and functionally similar to episodic memories. This article will argue that the similarities between beliefs and episodic memories, specifically in light of Daniel Schacter’s widely influential Constructive Memory Framework, highlight a heretofore unexamined empirical weakness of dispositional accounts of S2 beliefs. In addition, this perspective helps situate beliefs within our broader understanding of how information is encoded and retrieved in the brain.
“Rational Action and Moral Ownership,” Neuroethics. 7:2, 195-203 (2014).
Abstract: In exploring the impact of cognitive science findings on compatibilist theories of moral responsibility such as Fischer and Ravizza’s, most attention has focused on whether agents are, in fact, responsive to reasons. In doing so, however, we have largely ignored our improved understanding of agents’ epistemic access to their reasons for acting. The “ownership” component of Fischer and Ravizza’s theory depends on agents being able to see the causal efficacy of their conscious deliberation. Cognitive science studies make clear that a variety of situational factors, implicit attitudes, and unconscious mental states influence agents’ behavior, and that they are generally unaware of their impact. If an agent is skeptical of the extent to which her conscious deliberation has causal upshots in the world, then she – like a natural incompatibilist – may not take ownership over her action-generating mechanism. Instead, she may seek a more general account of moral responsibility or revise her moral intuitions altogether.
“The Metaphysics of No-Self: A Determinist Deflation of the Free Will Problem,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics. 20, 2013.
Abstract: For over two millennia, the free will problem has proven intractable to philosophers, scientists, and lay people alike. However, Buddhism offers us unique insight into how, when, and why human agency matters to us. In his 2009 book, Consequences of Compassion, Charles Goodman argues that the ultimate nonexistence of the self supports the ultimate nonexistence of free will. Recently in this journal, Riccardo Repetti has critiqued Goodman’s view and made the case that free will does, in fact, ultimately exist. This article first illustrates how Repetti’s view of the self is, actually, entirely consistent with Goodman’s. It goes on to argue that Repetti misconstrues elements of hard determinism as entailing that our wills have no influence on final outcomes. Lastly, it shows how, if Goodman and Repetti are in agreement on the ultimate nonexistence of the self, as well as the causal efficacy of the will, their disagreement about the ultimate existence of free will may be inconsequential.