I am a Departmental Lecturer in Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy and Merton College, University of Oxford. Previously, I had a similar position at St Anne's College, Oxford, and before that I worked as a University Teacher and a Postdoctoral Researcher in Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. My PhD is also from the University of Glasgow.
I specialise in philosophy of mind and metaphysics. Some of the questions that keep me busy are: What is an epiphenomenal property? Are mental and other higher-level properties epiphenomenal? What is it for a property to be multiply realized by other properties? How should we understand emergence? Are higher-level properties multiply realized? Are they emergent? What is the relationship between properties, causal powers, and the laws of nature? Are the laws of nature metaphysically necessary, or contingent? See the bottom of the page for a "word cloud" (based on my published work).
In Oxford, I teach lectures for the Faculty of Philosophy (including: graduate classes on Emergence; undergraduate lectures in Philosophy of Mind and Practical Ethics), teach tutorials in Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Knowledge & Reality (Epistemology & Metaphysics), General Philosophy (1st year introduciton), Moral Philosophy at St Anne's College (2017-2019) and Merton College (2019 onward), and offer graduate supervision primarily in Philosophy of Mind and Metaphysics.
Outside of philosophy, I am a father, step-father, husband, immigrant and a bunch of other things.
"Causal Emergence and Epiphenomenal Emergence", Erkenntnis, forthcoming. According to one conception of strong emergence, strongly emergent properties are nomologically necessitated by their base properties and have novel causal powers relative to them. In this paper, I raise a difficulty for this conception of strong emergence, arguing that these two features (i.e., nomological necessitation and causal novelty) are incompatible. Instead of presenting this as an objection to the friends of strong emergence, I argue that this indicates that there are distinct varieties of strong emergence: causal emergence and epiphenomenal emergence. I then explore the prospects of emergentism with this distinction in the background.
"Why Incompatibilism about Mental Causation is Incompatible with Non-reductive Physicalism" (With Jonas Christensen), Inquiry, forthcoming. The exclusion problem is meant to show that non-reductive physicalism leads to epiphenomenalism: if mental properties are not identical with physical properties, then they are not causally efficacious. Defenders of a difference-making account of causation suggest that the exclusion problem can be solved because mental properties can be difference-making causes of physical effects. Here, we focus on what we dub an incompatibilist implementation of this general strategy and argue against it from a non-reductive physicalist perspective. Specifically, we argue that incompatibilism undermines either the non-reductionist or the physicalist aspirations of non-reductive physicalism.
"Mad Qualia", The Philosophical Quarterly, 2019. This paper revisits some classic thought experiments in which experiences are detached from their characteristic causal roles, and explores what these thought experiments tell us about qualia epiphenomenalism, i.e. the view that qualia are epiphenomenal properties. It argues that qualia epiphenomenalism is true just in case it is (nomologically) possible for experiences of the same type to have entirely different causal powers. This is done with the help of new conceptual tools regarding the concept of an epiphenomenal property. One conclusion is that it is not obvious if qualia epiphenomenalism is false; and it is also not obvious what should make us believe that it is false---or for that matter, true. Connections between qualia epiphenomenalism, physicalism and nonphysicalist property dualism are further explored.
"Quidditism and Contingent Laws", Thought, 2019. According to contingentism, laws of nature hold contingently. An objection to contingentism is that it implies quidditism, and therefore inherits its implausible consequences. This paper argues that this objection is misguided. Understood one way, quidditism is not an implication of contingentism, hence even if it has implausible consequences, these are not relevant to contingentism. Understood another way, contingentism implies quidditism, but it is less clear if this version of quidditism has the same implausible consequences. Whatever the merits of contingentism, the argument from anti-quidditism is not successful in showing that it is false.
“Emergence, Function, and Realization”, in S.C. Gibb. et. al. (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Emergence, Routledge, 2019. “Realization” and “emergence” are two concepts that are sometimes used to describe same or similar phenomena in philosophy of mind and the special sciences, where such phenomena involve the synchronic dependence of some higher-level states of affairs on the lower-level ones. According to a popular line of thought, higher-level properties that are invoked in the special sciences are realized by, and/or emergent from, lower-level, broadly physical, properties. So, these two concepts are taken to refer to relations between properties from different levels where the lower-level ones somehow “bring about” the higher-level ones. However, for those who specialise in inter-level relations, there are important differences between these two concepts – especially if emergence is understood as strong emergence. The purpose of this chapter is to highlight these differences.
"Epiphenomenal Properties”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2018. What is an epiphenomenal property? This question needs to be settled before we can decide whether higher-level properties are epiphenomenal or not. In this paper, I offer an account of what it is for a property to have some causal power. From this, I derive a characterisation of the notion of an epiphenomenal property. I then argue that physically realized higher-level properties are not epiphenomenal because laws of nature impose causal similarities on the bearers of such properties, and these similarities figure as powers in the causal profiles of these properties.
“Must Strong Emergence Collapse?” (With Jessica Wilson), Philosophica, 2017. Some claim that the notion of strong emergence as involving ontological or causal novelty makes no sense, on grounds that any purportedly strongly emergent features or associated powers 'collapse', one way or another, into the lower-level base features upon which they depend. Here we argue that there are several independently motivated and defensible means of preventing the collapse of strongly emergent features or powers into their lower-level bases, as directed against a conception of strongly emergent features as having fundamentally novel powers. After introducing the project, we motivate and present the powers-based account; we then canvass the two main versions of the collapse objection, show how these apply to the powers-based account, and problematize certain strategies of response; we then present and defend four better strategies of response.
“Lawful Mimickers”, Analysis, 2017. The nomic view of dispositions holds that properties confer dispositions on their bearers with nomological necessity. The argument against nomic dispositions challenges the nomic view: if the nomic view is true, then objects don’t have dispositions, but ‘mimic’ them. This paper presents an explication of disposition conferral which shows that the nomic view is not vulnerable to this objection.
“An Argument for Power Inheritance”, The Philosophical Quarterly, 2016. Non-reductive physicalism is commonly understood as the view that mental properties are realized by physical properties. Here, I argue that the realization relation in question is a power inheritance relation: if a property P realizes a property Q, then the causal powers of Q are a subset of the causal powers of P. Whereas others have motivated this claim by appealing to its theoretical benefits, I argue that it is in fact entailed by two theses: (i) realization is a same-subject necessitation relation; (ii) properties have their causal powers derivatively on the causal powers of their bearers. Although the power inheritance claim that is defended here has many opponents, I take it that the two theses that entail it are either plausible or widely assumed.
“Realization Relations in Metaphysics”, Minds and Machines, 2015. “Realization” is a technical term that is often used to denote some dependence relation that is thought to obtain between higher-level properties and lower-level properties. It is said that mental properties are realized by physical properties; functional and computational properties are realized by first-order properties that occupy certain causal/functional roles; dispositional properties are realized by categorical properties; so on and so forth. Given this wide usage of the term “realization”, it would be right to think that there might be different dependence relations that this term denotes in different cases. Any relation that is aptly picked out by this term can be taken to be a realization relation. The aim of this state-of-the-field article is to introduce the central questions about the concept of realization, and provide formulations of a number of realization relations. In doing so, I identify some theoretical roles realization relations should play, and discuss some theories of realization in relation to these theoretical roles.
For a full list of publications, see my Curriculum Vitae. These include chapters in edited collections, reference articles, shorter pieces, and book reviews. For preprint versions of these papers and other publications, you can visit my Academia.edu page or PhilPeople page. If you are interested in Philosophy of Marine Biology, it is possible that you know this Facebook page.