January 18, 2017

"Locke, Arnauld, and Abstract Ideas"

I've posted a new draft to my writings page, "Locke, Arnauld, and Abstract Ideas". Current work in the history of philosophy mostly treats Arnauld as a footnote to other philosophers, but the fact that he's needed as a footnote in discussions of Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz, and Locke suggests that his historical importance is greater than his 'footnote' status suggests. Further, what little English-language secondary literature on Arnauld exists is mostly divided into three categories: work on the Port-Royal Logic and Grammar (including, especially, the influence of these works on Locke), work on the controversy with Malebranche (and the direct realism...
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January 12, 2017

Berkeley and Hobbes

From a certain point of view (or perhaps several points of view), one might think that no two early modern philosophers are more opposed than Berkeley and Hobbes. True, both are empiricists, and the disagreement between rationalists and empiricists is often treated as the 'main event' of early modern philosophy. However, a comparison between Berkeley and Hobbes might well be regarded as a vivid and compelling illustration of the failings of the traditional rationalist-empiricist narrative. Note, for starters, that the ontologies of Berkeley and Hobbes are disjoint: Hobbes believes only in material substances, Berkeley believes only in spiritual (immaterial) substances....
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December 22, 2016

Berkeley's Manuscript Introduction Digitized

This morning the digitization team at the Trinity College Library provided me with scans of the manuscript version of the Introduction to Berkeley's Principles. The manuscript is significantly longer than the published version and contains some important material, as I discuss at some length in my book. However, it has been widely known for some time that the transcription of the manuscript in the Luce and Jessop edition of Berkeley's Works is unreliable. The excellent diplomatic edition prepared by Bertil Belfrage was printed in a run of only 500 copies in 1987, and hence is not widely available. In the coming months, I will be working to prepare a permanent online home for the manuscript. In the meantime, I am pleased to make it available here.
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December 5, 2016

Princess Elisabeth's Refutation of Descartes

I also find that the senses show me that the soul moves the body, but they teach me nothing (no more than do the understanding and the imagination) of the way in which it does so. For this reason, I think that there are some properties of the soul, which are unknown to us, which could perhaps overturn what your Metaphysical Meditations persuaded me of by such good reasoning: the nonextendedness of the soul. This doubt seems to be founded on the rule that you give there, in speaking of the true and the false, that all error comes to...
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November 15, 2016

Language and Structure Available for Pre-Order!

I am most pleased to announce that Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World is now available for pre-order through Amazon UK or direct from Oxford University Press! It has not yet appeared on the US Amazon site. UK release is scheduled for March; US release for May. In addition to the information available on the Amazon and OUP sites, a detailed abstract can be found here.
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October 7, 2016

Becoming a Political Kantian

This morning I've decided to take a break from contemplating the fact that my country is seriously considering giving the nuclear codes to a narcissistic, incompetent, hateful, con artist orangutang to contemplate politics in a more theoretical fashion, without reference to the present election. I've always had strongly deontological moral intuitions—that is, I find it most natural to think of ethics as primarily involving rules we have to follow rather than outcomes we have to promote. Further, before I started studying philosophy, I had broadly libertarian political views. It's not surprising, then, that when I first encountered Nozick's Kantian defense...
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September 30, 2016

"Berkeley on Unperceived Objects and the Publicity of Language"

Completing my summer research goals (only slightly late!), I've posted another new draft to my writings page, "Berkeley on Unperceived Objects and the Publicity of Language". The paper argues that when Berkeley's language of nature theory is interpreted in light of his own philosophy of language it produces a solution to the notorious problem of the existence of objects presently unperceived by humans.
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September 29, 2016

Teaching Like Socrates?

The Daily Nous heap of links today contained the image to the right (click for a larger view) which appears to be a letter to the editor of some newspaper by Simon Blackburn. I found the letter interesting and amusing, and it has something of a point, but it would be a big mistake to use this point to exempt philosophy departments from broader university conversations about pedagogy. The fact is, first, although the central pedagogical idea most associated with Socrates—that we teach by raising questions that cause students to re-examine their views—is certainly sound, this is really only the...
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September 28, 2016

"What Descartes Doubted, Berkeley Denied, and Kant Endorsed"

I've posted a new draft, "What Descartes Doubted, Berkeley Denied, and Kant Endorsed," to my writings page. This is actually a rewrite of a much older paper; the original idea pre-dates my dissertation. In it, I argue (among other things) that Kant's fundamental complaint against Berkeley is that Berkeley's empiricism leaves him with cognitive resources too sparse for the construction of a genuine world. In particular, Kant targets Berkeley's rejection of the application of the concept of substance to perceived objects. Of course, in Language and Structure I argue that Berkeley is aware of these sorts of problems and develops...
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September 15, 2016

"Counterpossible Dependence" in Faith and Philosophy

My paper, "Counterpossible Dependence and the Efficacy of the Divine Will" has been accepted by Faith and Philosophy. This paper is a sort of companion to my Sanders prize essay: it applies the ideas about God and grounding in that essay to solve some problems about divine omnipotence. The preprint is available here.
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September 5, 2016

"Foundational Grounding" wins Sanders Prize

I was informed today that my paper "Foundational Grounding and the Argument from Contingency" (draft here) has been awarded the Sanders Prize in in Philosophy of Religion. This means (among other things) that a (lightly revised) version will appear in the forthcoming volume of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.

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August 26, 2016

Shipping Books Internationally

I have now arrived at my new position in Ireland, and am pleased to report that my books have also arrived more-or-less unscathed. I expended a good deal of time and energy over the summer figuring out how best to transport my books. In the end, the actual process of shipping them was not very difficult or frustrating; it was the lack of any good information on how to go about it that was the problem. Hence, this blog post. First, people may advise you to ship books by a freight service since they are so heavy. Generally, this only...
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Topic(s): My Life
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July 14, 2016

On Christianity and Donald Trump

It's been a long time since I've written anything about politics, religion, or the intersection of the two that was not directly connected to my philosophical work, but I feel the need to say something about the present US election. Perhaps I should have overcome my reluctance to say this during the primary season, but I didn't, so here it is now. Years ago, when I was a student leader of a campus Christian group back at Penn, I was constantly fighting against the idea, held by a certain vocal group of my peers, that being a Christian meant supporting...
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May 3, 2016

Two Definitions of 'Empiricism'

In traditional tellings of the history of early modern philosophy, the school of British empiricists - the Locke-Berkeley-Hume triumvirate - is seen as according foundational status to the Aristotelian principle, "nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses." This is, of course, given new formulations in terms of the modern 'Way of Ideas'. Their philosophical systems, so the story goes, are built on this foundation. However, there is another meaning of 'empiricism' that is more common in the early modern period. This notion goes back to the ancient 'empirics,' a school of physicians who eschewed theorizing in...
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May 2, 2016

Philosophy and 'Depth'

There is a kind of philosophy, or pseudo-philosophy, whose principal aim is to create a certain feeling of 'depth,' often without very much real content. Of course, this phenomenon is hardly restricted to philosophy, nor is it even, I think, a very widespread feature of the academic discipline of philosophy. Still, I call it a kind of philosophy or pseudo-philosophy because this feeling of 'depth' or profundity is very closely connected to how the words 'philosophy' and 'philosophical' are often used in common (i.e., non-academic) parlance. But is this feeling of 'depth' always purely illusory? Can there be something genuinely...
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