I am a 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. Here is my CV.
I specialise mainly in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophy of science, especially in the intersection of these three areas (such as philosophy of the special sciences and the metaphysics of science). The main topics of my research are:
Emergence and reduction: realization and multiple realizability; non-reductive physicalism; varieties of emergentism; emergent properties
Higher-level causation: the mental causation debate; causal exclusion/closure arguments; varieties of epiphenomenalism
Phenomenal consciousness: epiphenomenalism about qualia; contemporary discussions of panpsychism; Russellian monism; conceivability arguments
Propositional attitudes: functionalism in philosophy of mind; group intentionality
Metaphysics of properties and laws: categoricalism/quidditism versus dispositionalism; theories of laws; epiphenomenal properties
I occasionally work on other topics in epistemology and philosophy of cognitive science. I am open to collaboration in any of the aforementioned topics as well as in other areas of philosophy; so feel free to contact if you have an idea!
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), Practical Ethics, General Philosophy (1st year introduction), 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. My colleague Alex Moran and I are organising the Oxford Metaphysics of Consciousness Seminar.
Outside of philosophy, I am a father, step-father, husband, immigrant, BBQ enthusiast, and a bunch of other things. I live in Oxford with my wife and our four children.
"Rejecting Epiphobia", Synthese, forthcoming. Epiphenomenalism denies some or all putative cases of mental causation. The view is widely taken to be absurd: if a theory can be shown to entail epiphenomenalism, many see that as a reductio of that theory. Opponents take epiphenomenalism to be absurd because they regard the view as undermining the evident agency we have in action and precluding substantial self-knowledge. In this paper, I defend epiphenomenalism against these objections, and thus against the negative dialectical role that the view plays in philosophy of mind. I argue that nearly in all cases where a theory implies one kind of epiphenomenalism, it is an epiphenomenalism of a non-problematic kind, at least as far as issues about agency and self-knowledge are concerned. There is indeed a problematic version of epiphenomenalism, but that version is not relevant to the debates where its apparent absurdity is invoked.
"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.
"Causal Emergence and Epiphenomenal Emergence", Erkenntnis, 2020. 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.
"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.
Journal Special Issue
Non-Standard Approaches to Emergence, (co-edited with Olivier Sartenaer) Synthese, forthcoming. Includes articles by Karen Crowther, Samuel Fletcher, Paul Humphreys, Gil Santos, Ludger Van Dijk, Michele Paolini Paoletti, and Kenneth Silver. Our introduction article is here.
Metaphysical Emergence, by Jessica Wilson. In The Philosophical Quarterly, forthcoming.
Mental Causation: A Counterfactual Theory, by Thomas Kroedel. In Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2020.
The Multiple Realization Book by Thomas Polger and Larry Shapiro”. In Analysis, 2017.
Qualia and Mental Causation in a Physical World: Themes from the Philosophy of Jaegwon Kim, edited by Terence Horgan, Marcelo Sabates, and David Sosa. In The Philosophical Quarterly, 2015.
Mental Causation and Ontology, edited by S. C. Gibb, E. J. Lowe, and R. D. Ingthorsson. In Mind, 2014.
For a full list of publications, see my CV. 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, you should check out this Facebook page.