Rene Magritte, The muscles of the sky ( Les muscles celestes) , 1927

Rene Magritte, The muscles of the sky (Les muscles celestes), 1927

My research is situated at the intersection of the philosophy of mind, metaphysics and early modern philosophy. My guiding thought is that a satisfactory understanding of sensory experience hinges on an accurate conception of the metaphysics of sensible qualities; and, furthermore, that informing our metaphysics with historical discussions of the manifest world can only benefit the scope of our investigation. In a current book project that stems from my dissertation,  I develop a new metaphysical framework, according to which sensible qualities are an ontologically flexible kind, in order to dissolve a central puzzle in the philosophy of mind—namely, how veridical perception can make us constitutively aware of the mind-independent world, if phenomenologically identical delusive experiences are possible. You can read an abstract of my project here

Papers in Progress

In “Sensible Over-Determination”, I argue that sensible qualities are “ontologically flexible” –they can be instantiated either in virtue of having material bearers or in virtue of being perceived by minds. Given that these qualities have disjunctive conditions on instantiation, a single instance of such a quality can be over-determined – that is, have its existence simultaneously guaranteed both in virtue of having a material bearer and in virtue of being perceived. I make use of this metaphysical insight to show that, contrary to received wisdom, naïve realism is compatible with the possibility of qualitatively matching hallucinations. Both hallucinations and ordinary perceptions acquaint us with instances of the same sensible qualities. While the instances in hallucination are mind-dependent, those in veridical perception are not. The latter are over-determined, and, thus, mind-independent – they can continue to exist unperceived, because, in addition to the minds that perceive them, their existence is guaranteed by the material objects that are their bearers.

Working with the assumption that properties depend for their instantiation on substances, in “Varieties of Instantiation”, I argue against a unitary conception of instantiation. On the standard view, a property is instantiated just in case there is a substance that serves as the bearer of the property. But this view cannot make sense of how properties that are mind-dependent depend for their instantiation on minds. I consider two classes of properties that philosophers often take to be mind-dependent: sensible qualities like color, and bodily sensations like itches. Given that the mind is never itself literally red or itchy, we cannot explain the instantiation of these qualities as a matter of their having a mental bearer, as the standard view would require. So, if we are to understand the proposal that these qualities are mind-dependent, we need an alternative account of how a property can be instantiated. I defend a view on which a property can be instantiated not in virtue of having a bearer—mental or material—but rather in virtue of being the object of a conscious act of awareness. In the second half of the paper, I argue that the best account of both sensible qualities and bodily sensations ultimately makes use of both varieties of instantiation.

On the traditional picture, accidents must inhere in substances in order to exist. Berkeley famously argues that a particular class of accidents—the sensible qualities—are mere ideas; entities that depend for their existence on minds. Understood from within the traditional framework, this amounts to the thesis that sensible qualities must inhere in minds. This is indeed the standard interpretation of Berkeley’s view. In contrast, in “Mind-Dependence in Berkeley and the Problem of Perception”, I argue that, far from an endorsement of the traditional picture, we find, in Berkeley’s work, a novel metaphysical proposal for how to understand the existence conditions on qualities. Berkeley replaces the familiar thesis that particular accidents secure their existence in virtue of inhering in a substance with the novel suggestion that they secure their existence in virtue of being perceived by a substance (in particular, a mental substance). This metaphysical insight, once correctly understood, gives us the resources to solve a central problem that still plagues the philosophy of perception; the problem of how, given the power of the mind to create phenomenally rich experiences, ordinary perception can nonetheless be said to acquaint us with the mind-independent world.

In “Sensible Individuation”, I consider the question of how to individuate property instances, with an eye to solving some central problems in the philosophy of perception. The argument from hallucination has led most philosophers to conclude that if we offer a sense-datum analysis of delusive perceptions, we are forced to say that in all cases, perception only makes us aware of mind-dependent entities. To the contrary, I argue that once we have the right view of property-instance individuation, the argument from hallucination poses no threat to a naive view of ordinary perception, according to which perception makes us aware of mind-independent objects and their properties.