Research

My research is largely organized around the question of what we should believe, both as individuals and as groups. This research touches on many topics in epistemology (including traditional, formal, and social epistemology), the nature of normativity in ethics and epistemology, and social philosophy with particular emphases on diversity and polarization. Below are some short descriptions of my major research projects. For more information about my research, see my CV or contact me.

Truth-Loving Epistemology and the Source of Epistemic Norms

I’ve recently finished a draft of a book titled Right Belief and True Belief that’s under contract with Oxford University Press. In Right Belief and True Belief, I argue that we should conceive of the central epistemic question as the question of what we should believe. I then argue that we can approach that question in a way that mirrors how normative ethicists approach the question of what we should do. The first chapter is devoted to the methodology, but most of the book is dedicated to defending a truth-loving consequentialist answer to the question of what we should believe. The central claim of the truth-loving epistemic consequentialist is that what we should believe (and what credences we should have) can be understood in a simple consequentialist way in terms of what conduces to us having the most accurate picture of the world. The view can straight-forwardly vindicate the popular intuition that epistemic norms are about getting true belief and avoiding false belief, and it coheres well with how scientists, engineers, statisticians, etc. (i.e. those who are particularly rigorous in regulating their own beliefs) think about what we should believe. Many authors have flirted with truth-based consequentialist approaches to epistemic norms before, but most of those have abandoned the approach in response to a number of persuasive objections, most famously including trade-off and counting-blades-of-grass objections. In Right Belief and True Belief, I defend the simple truth-based consequentialist account of epistemic norms from these objections and argue that the truth-loving epistemic consequentialist picture can undergird a broader truth-centric approach to epistemology. Some parts of the book build off previous work (such as my 2018 “How to be an Epistemic Consequentialist” in Philosophical Quarterly and my 2018 “Permissible Epistemic Trade-offs” in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy), but the vast majority of the book is new.

Right Belief and True Belief defends the first-order normative aspects of a thoroughly truth-centric conception of epistemology, but the broader project delves into the theoretical (and metaethical) aspects of the view more deeply. In “What Epistemic Reasons are For” with Sara Aronowitz, for example, I argue that we should give up on the standard conception of epistemic reasons being reasons for belief, which opens up space for a more truth-oriented conception of epistemic reasons. In work in progress (and work under review), I defend a constitutivist conception of epistemic norms that says that epistemic norms apply to us in virtue of our agency.

Selected Related Publications:

Diversity, Polarization, and Social Networks

A second major part of my research involves theorizing about diversity and polarization and the effects they can have on groups. I approach this research using minimal models of diversity, polarization, and expertise in group problem solving and deliberation (usually instantiated in agent-based computer models). To get the idea of how this works, consider how scientists use simple models to understand complex phenomena. In the same way that a simple harmonic oscillator model can help physicists understand the movement of springs by focusing them on the features and mechanisms of springs that are the most fundamental to their motion, so too can minimal models of diverse and polarized groups help us understand the various kinds of effects diversity and polarization can have on group problem solving and deliberation. But unlike the motion of springs, the scientific community is currently far from having a strong grasp on how diversity and polarization affects groups. For example, as I show in “Diversity, Not Randomness, Trumps Ability” (2019, Philosophy of Science), even measuring diversity in our best models is difficult and in need of further analysis. This part of my research develops and uses simple agent-based models of group deliberation and problem solving to attempt to gain basic insights into diversity and polarization.

Most of my work in this second project is done with regular co-authors under the auspices of the Computational Social Philosophy Lab. The Computational Social Philosophy Lab is an interdisciplinary and international group of researchers that takes an empirically-informed approach to using agent-based computer models to investigate questions in social epistemology, political philosophy, and philosophy of science. The group has worked together since 2009, and recently, we’ve been using a new model of group deliberation to understand diversity, polarization, and representational structures in groups. In “Rational Social and Political Polarization” (2019, Philosophical Studies), for example, we use a simple version of the model to show how groups of rational people can polarize even when they’re all listening to each other. Our work has resulted in a number of insights about topics like diversity and polarization in groups, the nature of expertise, how information moves in groups, how democracies can improve or hinder information flow, and how representative and direct democracies compare. More recently, we’ve been thinking a lot about the dynamics of juries, the role of diversity in juries, the dynamics of representational democracies, and how scientific institutions should be structured to better advance scientific aims. For more information, see the page for the Computational Social Philosophy Lab.

Selected Related Papers:

For more CSPL papers, see the Computational Social Philosophy Lab website.

For more information about my research or other publications, please see my CV or contact me.