Publications (* = refereed)
Phenomenological naturalism is the view that nature is the ontological ground of beings in their intelligibility. On this view, nature is the ground of the existence of both the objects and laws discovered by the sciences, as well as the transcendental conditions that allow those objects and laws to be understood. I have a number of papers in progress on this topic.
“Time Will Tell”
For both Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, temporality is the fundamental ground of phenomena. For both, it is also intimately tied up with our mode of being as subjects. Does this have the consequence that phenomena are grounded on subjects? I argue that it does not. Although temporality is a structure that is essential to our mode of being, phenomena are not our creations. Phenomena remain objective because the temporal paths which lead to their manifestation are not constituted by us; rather, we are constituted by temporality. Our subjectivity is grounded in the same horizon that allows other phenomena to become manifest. Other phenomena may need us in order to manifest themselves, but the reverse holds too: subjects and objects are equally fundamental ‘moments’ of temporalization. So, although temporalization essentially involves the actualization of factical subjects, this process should not be seen as ‘subjective.’ Therefore, properly understood, it is temporality, and not subjectivity, that is the ground of phenomena. The resulting objectivity of phenomena is not the objectivity of self-standing substances, but the objectivity of beings that make themselves manifest in time. I suggest that this conception of temporality opens the way to an ontology that is neither realist, nor straightforwardly idealist.
“Problem of Consciousness or Paradox of Subjectivity”
I argue that our openness to the world is irreducible to an object in the world. While it has been argued that experience is irreducible to anything physical because of its ‘subjectivity,’ this has usually meant that experiences are irreducible to anything physical because they possess qualitative characters, or qualia. I argue, instead, that ‘subjectivity’ needs to be understood in terms of its transcendental role, as what makes possible our experiential access to entities in the world. Because subjectivity makes it possible for entities in the world to be manifest to us at all, subjectivity cannot be explained in terms of the entities it makes available. Since the very intelligibility of the existence of the entities posited by metaphysics and natural science depends on subjectivity, those posited entities cannot function as the explanatory grounds of subjectivity unless we simply assume that those entities are capable of grounding their own intelligibility.
Phenomenology and the Philosophy of Perception
I hope to draw out affinities between phenomenology and relationalist views in Anglophone philosophy of perception. Phenomenologists and relationalists both maintain that perception is a direct encounter with entities and properties in the world, and both want to explain perceptual encounters in a way that can support the mind-independent existence of the objects that we perceive. But if experience doesn’t stop short of its objects, then how can those objects also be independent of experience? My project aims at recovering answers to this question from the phenomenological tradition, and aims to connect the phenomenological approach to the line of analytic philosophy stretching from P. F. Strawson’s reading of Kant, through to Gareth Evans, John McDowell, John Campbell, M. G. F. Martin, Lucy Allais, and Anil Gomes. I am currently revising a paper on this topic, and have been planning a sequel.
“Seeing and Time”
Phenomenological theories of perception face a version of the argument from illusion. They need to show that although perception and illusion can be subjectively indistinguishable, it does not follow that an illusion’s failure to be a direct relation to an independently existing thing must be generalized to veridical perception as well. I argue that Merleau-Ponty’s answer to the argument from illusion commits him to a form of disjunctivism that is underwritten by considerations regarding the limits of our self-awareness. I review briefly why the limits of self-awareness might be relevant to a defense of disjunctivism, looking at work by M. G. F. Martin. Next, I provide evidence that Merleau-Ponty ties the possibility of illusion to the limits of our self-awareness. Finally, I suggest that for Merleau-Ponty these limits ultimately reflect features of the temporality that structures both the objects of our awareness and our awareness itself.
Phenomenology and Metaphysical Grounding
“Big Nothing: Wittgenstein and Heidegger on Making Sense”
Metaphysicians have posited a primitive notion of metaphysical dependence: ground. They’ve also asked: ‘what grounds ground?’ I want use that question to make sense of two central Heideggerian notions: (a) the meaning of being, and (b) the nothing. Heidegger argues that we should not take the meaning of being for granted, and should try to get clear about the condition—being—that makes the existence of beings possible. What do we mean when we say that some being exists? Heidegger argues that the condition that makes existence possible cannot itself be a being. Heidegger says that this condition, being, ‘is’ nothing. What could that possibly mean? I suggest that it is an answer to the question: ‘what grounds ground?’ Heidegger’s answer is: nothing. Facts about grounding are brute facts, and nothing explains why a brute fact obtains. But for Heidegger, this means that the possibility of brute facts is explained by (i.e., grounded in) a condition which is not a being, a condition which allows brute facts to be intelligible as brute facts.