Research

Overview

My research focuses on the nature of rational agency, both practical and epistemic. I’m particularly interested in how various epistemic and practical norms govern the exercises of such agency: our believing, intending, and acting. This leads me to address a range of topics in metaethics (reasons, norms, and rationality), epistemology (reasoning, the ethics of belief), and philosophy of mind (the nature of our rational powers). Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the difference between virtue and skill, and how this difference matters for a proper virtue-theoretic account of various epistemic achievements (see my paper in the AJP for more on this project). In addition, I continue working on issues in philosophy of action, which has been the focus of my PhD dissertation (intentional action, practical knowledge).

I started writing and publishing philosophy in German, but these days I mostly do so in English. 

Here is my PhilPapers page

Papers

“In Defense of Constitutivism About Epistemic Normativity”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, forthcoming.

Epistemic Constitutivism (EC) holds that the nature of believing is such that it gives rise to a standard of correctness, and that other epistemic normative notions (e.g., reasons for belief) can be explained in terms of this standard. If defensible, this view promises an attractive and unifying account of epistemic normativity. However, EC faces a forceful objection: that constitutive standards of correctness are never enough for generating normative reasons. This paper aims to defend EC in the face of this objection. I do so in two steps. First, I dispute a crucial assumption underlying the case against EC: that constitutive standards of correctness in general are “reason-giving” only if and because there is also a prior reason to comply with them. Second, I outline a strategy of how EC can meet the challenge of explaining what’s special about the activity of believing such that, unlike other standard-governed activities, it is capable of generating normative reasons. (final version PhilPapers)

“Is Epistemic Competence a Skill?”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, forthcoming.

Many virtue epistemologists conceive of epistemic competence on the model of skill—such as archery, playing baseball or chess. In this paper, I argue that this is a mistake: epistemic competences and skills are crucially and relevantly different kinds of capacities. This, I suggest, undermines the popular attempt to understand epistemic normativity as a mere special case of the sort of normativity familiar from skilful action. In fact, as I argue further, epistemic competences resemble virtues, rather than skills—a claim that is based on an important, but often overlooked, difference between virtue and skill. The upshot is that virtue epistemology should indeed be based on virtue, not on skill. (final version | PhilPapers)

“How Reasoning Aims at Truth”, Noûs 55 (1): 221-241. 2021.

Many hold that theoretical reasoning aims at truth. In this paper, I ask what it is for reasoning to be thus aim-directed. Standard answers to this question explain reasoning’s aim-directedness in terms of intentions, dispositions, or rule-following. I argue that, while these views contain important insights, they are not satisfactory. As an alternative, I introduce and defend a novel account: reasoning aims at truth in virtue of being the exercise of a distinctive kind of cognitive power, one that, unlike ordinary dispositions, is capable of fully explaining its own exercises. I argue that this account is able to avoid the difficulties plaguing standard accounts of the relevant sort of mental teleology. (final version | PhilPapers)

“Introduction: special issue on Agency and Rationality” (with Sergio Tenenbaum), Manuscrito, 41(4), 2018.(issue)

“Enkratic Agency”, European Journal of Philosophy 25 (1): 47-67. 2017.

An enkratic agent is someone who intends to do A because she believes she should do A. Being enkratic is usually understood as something rationality requires of you. However, we must distinguish between different conceptions of enkratic rationality. According to a fairly common view, enkratic rationality is solely a normative requirement on agency: it tells us how agents should think and act. However, I shall argue that this normativist conception of enkratic rationality faces serious difficulties: it makes it a mystery how an agent’s thinking and acting can be guided by the enkratic requirement, which, as I shall further argue, is something that an adequate conception of enkratic rationality must be able to explain. This, I suggest, motivates exploring a different account of enkratic rationality. On this view, enkratic rationality is primarily a constitutive requirement on agency: it is a standard internal to agency, i.e., a standard that partly spells out what it is to exercise one’s agential powers well. (final version | PhilPapers)

“Actions and Accidents”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 45 (3): 300-325. 2015.

In acting intentionally, it is no accident that one is doing what one intends to do. In this paper I ask how to account for this non-accidentality requirement on intentional action. I argue that, for systematic reasons, the currently prevailing view of intentional action—the Causal Theory of Action—is ill-equipped to account for it. I end by proposing an alternative account, according to which an intention is a special kind of cause, one to which it is essential that it represents its effect. (final version | PhilPapers)

“Gute Gründe. Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der realistischen Auffassung von Handlungsgründen”, in: J. Kertscher, J. Müller (eds.), Lebensform und Praxisform, Paderborn: Mentis Verlag. 2015.

“Handlungen, Absichten und praktisches Wissen”, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 61 (3): 373-86. 2013.

In this paper, I argue that in order to understand intentional action we have to understand a distinctive kind of practical knowledge—knowledge that is the cause of what it represents. To do so, I begin by identifying two requirements for an adequate understanding of intentional action: (a) someone who acts intentionally has an intention that is the cause of her action; (b) someone who acts intentionally knows what she is doing. My aim is to show that a theory of intentional action that adequately accounts for both requirements will have to be a theory of practical knowledge. Moreover, I argue that a widespread view of practical thought (e.g. intention) stands in the way of a proper account of the relevant notion of practical knowledge. According to this view, a practical thought is composed of two independent elements: a causal force and a content. I end by sketching an alternative view of practical thought, which, I claim, provides a better framework for understanding practical knowledge. (final version  | PhilPapers)

“Schwerpunkt: Praktisches Wissen” (co-authored with Andrea Kern), Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 61 (3): 353-56. 2013. (final version)

“Practical Knowledge”, in: T. Spitzley, M. Holtje, W. Spohn (eds.): What may we believe? What ought we to do? Duisburg: Universität Duisburg Essen (DuEPublico). 2013.

In her book Intention Elizabeth Anscombe famously claims that acting intentionally essentially involves knowledge of one’s action. Doing something intentionally is doing it knowingly. In this paper, I offer an interpretation and defense of her claim. In doing so, I argue mainly for two points: first, I show that, if there is such an essential connection between knowledge and intentional action, the relevant kind of knowledge cannot be observational or inferential knowledge; rather, the knowledge involved in intentional action must be practical knowledge. Second, I argue that it is impossible to understand the relevant notion of practical knowledge if we presuppose a compositional view of practical thought, according to which such thought is composed of content and causal force as independent elements. I end by sketching an alternative conception of practical thought, which, I claim, is able to account for the relevant notion of practical knowledge.

Book

Absichtliches Handeln, Paderborn: Mentis Verlag. 2012.

 

In this book, I offer an account of intentional action. The book has two main parts: in the first part, I discuss and criticize the currently prevailing account of intentional action—the Causal Theory of Action (CTA)—and, in the second part, I offer my alternative account. The CTA proposes essentially two conditions for something that you do to be an intentional action: (1) what you do is represented by your intention (or other mental attitudes), and (2) it is caused by your intention. Against the CTA, I argue that, since it conceives of representation and causality as essentially separate conditions, it cannot explain why, when someone acts intentionally, it is not a mere accident that both conditions are jointly satisfied: i.e., that the intention causes the movement it represents. The CTA’s inability to rule out such accidentality is, as I argue further, the deeper source of the notorious problem of deviant causation. Given this diagnosis, I claim that the key for a satisfactory account of intentional action is to conceive of the essential unity of representation and causality in intentional action. Doing so, I suggest, requires understanding a distinctive sort of causality at work in intentional action. Following the work of G.E.M. Anscombe, I argue that what is distinctive of the sort of causal-explanatory connection captured in action explanations like “S is doing A because she intends to do B” is that it is essentially known by the acting subject. In the final sections of the book, I then develop and defend a conception of the sort of self-knowledge involved in intentional action. (book)

Edited volumes

“Agency and Rationality” (co-edited with Sergio Tenenbaum), special issue for Manuscrito, 41(4), 2018. (issue)

“Praktisches Wissen” (co-edited with Andrea Kern), special issue for Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 61(3), 2013. (issue)

Work in progress

Please feel free to email me for drafts. Most of these papers are under review, so I have removed their titles.

A paper arguing for a virtue-based account of doxastic rationality.

 

Many hold that doxastic rationality is a matter of immediate responsiveness to one’s evidence. But what is it for believers to be thus evidence-responsive? My main aim in this paper is to introduce and defend a novel answer to this question, based on the idea that doxastic rationality is a doxastic virtue. Rational belief-formation, I argue, is immediately evidence-responsive because it is the exercise of a doxastic virtue. I motivate this view by first considering views according to which rational believers are immediately responsive to their evidence either because they aim at truth or because belief is subject to a constitutive norm of truth (or both). I argue that these views are ultimately unsatisfactory. Furthermore, I clarify how my own virtue-based account differs from other recent accounts of doxastic rationality that appeal to virtue or similar notions (such as competence, skill, or capacity).

A paper defending the distinctness of virtue. 

 

In this paper, I aim to defend the traditional Aristotelian claim that virtue is importantly distinct from skill. Roughly, on this view, skilled agents are merely capable of acting well, whereas virtuous agents typically do act well—a generous person, say, isn’t merely able to do generous things, she actually does them on relevant occasions. Recently, a number of authors (e.g., Julia Annas, Matt Stichter) have challenged this claim. They acknowledge the difference between virtue and skill but attempt to account for it by supplementing the skill-analogy with a notion of commitment. The basic idea is that a virtuous person is like an agent who is capable of acting well and committed to doing so. I plan to argue that the commitment-enhanced view faces a dilemma. Modeling the relevant notion of commitment on the one we find in skilled agents (committed athletes, say) is too weak to capture the robustness of virtuous motivation. Yet, strengthening the commitment condition so as to capture such motivation threatens to rob the view of its explanatory power, as the only examples of relevantly “committed” agents turn out to be possessors of virtue.

A paper on reasoning, dispositions, and the ‘taking condition’. 

 

According to a widely held view, theoretical reasoning is essentially a matter of manifesting certain dispositions—dispositions to form beliefs in response to other things you believe. Another popular claim in the recent literature is that, in reasoning, you take your premises to support your conclusion. This paper argues that, contrary to claims by John Broome, the dispositional view fails to account for the ‘taking’-condition. The paper ends by suggesting an alternative approach to reasoning, one that is better suited to accommodate the relevant ‘taking’.