Assistant Professor of Philosophy
My areas of research interest range broadly within analytic philosophy, with special emphasis on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophy of science. I have also collaborated with Oleg Favorov on some work in theoretical neuroscience - see the SINBAD theory of the cerebral cortex. You can read abstracts for some of my papers or download the full versions by going here.
If you're just glancing at my webpage, you may be keen to categorize my philosophical views before you take a chance on a paper or two. OK, I give in! Here follows a ludicrously short summary of what I think. Consult at your own risk.
Mind and language: I think beliefs, desires, intentions, imaginings, and perceptions are such because of their causal roles, but they have their contents in virtue of their biological functions ("teleosemantics"). My bet is that the cerebral cortex is a general purpose model-building device, where a model is a structure that has the function of mirroring (i.e. being isomorphic to) some other structure. The brain builds models that mirror the structure of certain specific kinds of regularities in the world, which are "templates" for the models. The models that it builds implement both practical and theoretical inference; depending on the functional role a particular internal model occupies at a time when it is active (i.e. "in use"), it constitutes either a judgement, an occurrent desire, or a supposition for the sake of argument. (I claim that neuroscience upholds this view of the mind, and vindicates folk psychology.) I think that the fundamental form of inference, psychologically speaking, is inference to the best explanation, and that a basic form of it is built into the architecture of our brains. I accept a mix of two solutions to the problem of mental causation: a souped-up, less behaviouristic version of Dretske's theory, plus a solution that appeals to the accuracy of isomorphism. My views on phenomenal states defy a quick description. In part, I'm an error theorist, in that I think our concepts of phenomenal states are partly confused. Insofar as they are not confused, they pick out a combination of representational and dispositional feature of brain states. I agree with Ruth Millikan on a lot of topics, including her thoroughgoing externalism and her positions against Fregeanism, conceptual analysis, and meaning rationalism. I'm also attracted to her heterodox picture of language.
Metaphysics: I think of myself as a pretty staunch metaphysical realist, but that doesn't mean much by itself - it must be backed up by a basic ontology. I lean towards a substance/attribute ontology, where substance is not some mysterious substratum, but rather space (or space-time) - but it's really up to physics to say what this amounts to. I do not think the debate between universals and tropes comes to much - both sides of the debate treat properties like objects, which they are not. Properties may be individuated by their causal powers, but are not exhausted by them. Singular causation is ontologically prior to causal laws, and is to be explicated in terms of dispositions (with physics again responsible for the account of what these are). We have empirical reasons to accept a sparse theory of properties, whereby everything is composed of elementary units that have a small number of basic properties. These are the truthmakers for all of our true beliefs about the world. (I take truthmaking to be the fundamental explanatory task for metaphysics.) Kinds are grounded property clusterings. Metaphysically speaking, there is one kind of possibility, which is closest to so-called "nomological possibility", and it can form the basis for a weak form of essentialism.
Science: I'm interested in inference to the best explanation in science, from both a descriptive and a normative standpoint. This obviously leads to two sets of issues. First, what is the nature of explanation? Given the close link between explanation and understanding, it should come as no surprise that the model-building-and-using view of the mind outlined above can contribute to an understanding of explanation. It shows what is right about the deductive nomological, statistical relevance, causal mechanical, and unificationist models of explanation, suggesting some underlying principles by which to unify them. I'm currently pursuing ways in which this idea links up with Glymour's graphical causal model strategy, and the cognitive science of science more generally. The second set of issues closely linked to IBE centre around scientific realism. I am a scientific realist; I think we have good reason to believe that our scientific theories are at least partially true. That is, the causal powers and relations that we attribute to our theoretical posits resemble the causal powers and relations of the entities that actually explain the phenomena. In the philosophy of biology, I am particularly interested in the nature of biological functions, developmental systems, species, evolutionary psychology, and the issue of whether Mendelian genetics reduces to molecular genetics.
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Term 1: Phil 233 Biomedical ethics, Phil 451 Philosophy of mind
Term 2: Phil 121 Introduction to Philosophy
I am an advisor to The Centre for Inquiry (both the Okanagan chapter and CFI Canada, including CASS). CFI is a charitable organization dedicated to the promotion of science, reason, and secularism.
Under the auspices of CFI, I debated a creationist at the invitation of a student club. People generally advise against this, as it simply gives creationists more airtime than they deserve. They may well be right. I was amazed when 500 people turned up, and I was very glad I had insisted on an online followup afterwards; you can find it here. (It's in a blog format, with the most recent activity listed first. Back-and-forth discussion was supposed to be placed in the comments, although my opponent didn't always stick to that!) There's also a YouTube video of the debate floating around, but please don't watch to the very end where I announce that I didn't really have time to prepare a concluding statement. (I really didn't expect those 500 people...)
Another topic on which my CFI activities have made it online concern genetically modified organisms. I have been concerned by fellow environmentalists' uncritical acceptance of the anti-GMO narrative, and wrote this piece to help address the problem. I also have an article forthcoming in Kamloops This Week on the topic.
I am also trying to gather support for a project aimed at introducing formal training in reasoning into the school curriculum, from the earliest ages. It seems to me that many of the world's ills could be assuaged if people were better reasoners. For instance, they might actually expect to hear persuasive arguments before voting for someone. (Imagine that!) Our organization is called "The Fourth R" (website coming soon). If you're interested in helping out, please send me an e-mail!
Canterbury Tales, Prologue: Line 295