1. Phenomenological Naturalism. (2017). International Journal of Philosophical Studies.
2. A Dilemma For Heideggerian Cognitive Science. (2017). Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.
3. Sensory Substitution and Non-Sensory Feelings. (2019). Co-authored with Diana Acosta Navas, Umut Baysan, and Kevin Connolly. In Sensory Substitution and Augmentation, edited by Fiona Macpherson. Oxford University Press.
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.
“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.
“How Nature Shows Itself”
I examine Kant and Heidegger’s reasons for thinking that subjectivity escapes scientific explanation, while simultaneously enabling it. This understanding of the relationship between subjectivity and science places limits on the explanatory scope of the sciences. But what makes transcendental reflection on the structure of subjectivity possible in the first place? Transcendental philosophy encounters its own limits in attempting to characterize its own conditions of possibility. I argue that the limits of science and the limits of transcendental philosophy entail that nature cannot be conceived as a specific object or as the totality of objects in the world, but only as the ontological ground of phenomena. Nature, then, is not a being of the ordinary kind; it is, rather, the origin from which the discovery of phenomena proceeds.
“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.
“Heidegger on What Grounds Ground”
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.
Phenomenology and the Philosophy of Perception
I aim 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 revising a paper on this topic, and have been planning a sequel.
“Disjunctivism and Self-Awareness in Martin and Merleau-Ponty”
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.
“Seeing and Time”
This paper compares phenomenological and metaphysical realist conceptions of the objective world. Realists posit the brute existence of a fully determinate objective world. By contrast, phenomenologists seek to ground objectivity on temporal structures whose unfolding generates determinacy, thereby allowing for our sense of an objective world. Which ontology ought we to prefer? I argue that comparing these answers allows for a clearer assessment of their respective strengths and weaknesses. I extract an argument from Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception which shows that only the phenomenological view can account for the possibility of an experience of the passage of time.
Thinking Nature: Towards a Phenomenological Naturalism
What is subjectivity, and how can it be understood as a natural phenomenon? I argue that one’s point of view on the world—one’s subjectivity—cannot be an object. Instead, subjectivity needs to be understood as what makes possible one’s access to objects in the world. It is a transcendental condition of the world’s availability. Because subjectivity is what makes the world available, subjectivity cannot be an object in the world. It is, instead, one’s openness to the world. Nevertheless, I argue that subjectivity is a wholly natural phenomenon. I develop and defend a form of phenomenological naturalism which claims that nature must be conceived as the ontological ground of beings in their intelligibility. Nature, on this view, 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 in the first place.
Recent attempts to ‘naturalize’ phenomenology have typically conceded that subjectivity is metaphysically grounded in physical objects, thereby abandoning questions of fundamental ontology to the sciences. But subjectivity makes possible all scientific and metaphysical understanding. Subjectivity makes the world available and beings intelligible. I argue that neither science nor metaphysics can fully explain subjectivity since their respective modes of explanation depend on beings that have already been made available to us, beings that have already been understood in some way as beings. Science and metaphysics are incapable of explaining the transcendental conditions that make possible the availability of the world and the intelligibility of beings; instead, they can only presuppose those transcendental conditions as already in effect. Thus, in contrast to scientific naturalism, which makes science the final arbiter of our ontological commitments, phenomenological naturalism respects the ontological significance of our explanatory predicament, arguing that our subjectivity cannot be metaphysically grounded in, or explained by, physical objects.
Instead of taking our subjectivity to be metaphysically grounded in physical objects, or vice versa, I argue that subjectivity needs to be understood as grounded in a nature that is neither a subject nor an object—a unifying principle which makes possible our encounters with intelligible worldly things.