Research Statement

My primary research interests lie first at the intersection of phenomenology and philosophy of perception—particularly as they relate to conceptuality, the normativity of perception, and skillful action—and second in environmental ethics. In addition to having these interests, I want to note my recent participation in an academic writing group at Georgetown. In my experience, developing the habit of writing everyday and holding myself accountable to my peers is just as important as my research agenda.

While I have an abiding interest in certain key phenomenological texts, my interest is neither historical nor rooted in specific figures, but rather in the contributions phenomenology makes to contemporary debates. Hence, my research aims not merely to interpret, clarify or situate phenomenological insights, but to move contemporary debates forward. In my dissertation I focus on a series of questions concerning the nature of unreflective skillful practices and their relationship to perceptual and linguistic activities. I argue that careful phenomenology is a critical methodological tool, positively manifesting the phenomena of human experience and negatively discrediting theories that do not account for this experience. On its own, however, phenomenology cannot fully answer questions about the meaningful nature of human experience. Specifically, I show that our situated, skillful and embodied engagement with the world is a pervasive and intentional, personal-level phenomenon. As such, it calls for greater attention and a more detailed analysis than it has so far received by epistemologists and philosophers of perception working to answer questions concerning the conceptuality and epistemic merit of experience. In my analysis, I advance and defend three interrelated theses; working out the implications of these is my most immediate research objective.

First, I claim that possessing conceptual capacities—no less than possessing skillful, action-oriented bodies—changes the nature and content of perception. Making good on this claim requires engaging more fully the question of whether and in what sense perceptions have contents. On the one hand, I argue that traditional notions of content are too restrictive, flattening out the rich nature of perceptual experience. Attempts to do away with content altogether, however, run into familiar problems regarding the unique epistemic contributions of experience. My work analyzes more than merely visual elements of perception and calls for an expansive notion of content—one that encompasses traditional accuracy conditions as well as conditions of improvement that relate to our unreflective, embodied grasp of a situation.

Second, my arguments fall on the side of conceptualism within the debate over personal-level, nonconceptual content. Notions of (non-)conceptuality have proliferated in recent years, however, and consequently the advancement of this position requires a careful definition and defense of a specific notion of conceptuality. Despite disagreement on this issue, there is broad consensus concerning a number of important markers of conceptuality. In the future I will employ a strategy of analyzing these markers in order to develop a specific criterion with broad appeal. Such a criterion will have the immediate benefit of providing a popularly acceptable evaluation of the more contentious aspects of experience highlighted in the debate over nonconceptual content (e.g., egocentric and indexical elements of perception).

Finally, my research endorses the relevance and explores various implications of a phenomenology of skillful coping (i.e., situated, normative, but essentially unreflective engagement with the world). My arguments, however, pose a direct challenge to a broad consensus among existential phenomenologists concerning the relation between skillful coping and our conceptual capacities. In particular, my work highlights the tight integration between language and sensorimotor or motor-intentional practices. My goal is to show that not only does language operate as a part of skillful coping, but semantic meaning is necessary for a full explanation of the normativity of skillful coping. Additionally, I want to pursue questions about the relationship between language and motor-intentional action. Among other things, I believe my arguments lend themselves to robust versions of pragmatics and are of value to phenomenologists and philosophers of language alike.

A related issue of more long-term interest is the nature of multi-modal perception and how this relates to the unity of consciousness. I’ve argued that the nature of our sense modalities is such that they cannot be adequately characterized independently of their relations to other modalities. Analogously, individual modalities are characterized by the development of our overall skillful dispositions within a perceptual scenario, as well as our conceptual capacities. Hence, I’m interested in exploring multi-modality and its implications for standard theories of perception, a subject I feel is neglected in the contemporary literature.

Of equal passion is my interest in environmental ethics. I have recently written a paper on stewardship and moral considerability. Critics of anthropocentric models of moral considerability have frequently attacked traditional notions of stewardship as either responsible for or contributing to a pernicious or inadequate understanding of moral value in nature. Respondents to these attacks have usually attempted to show that stewardship is compatible with some degree of biocentrism or appealed to a theocentric model that inherently constrains notions of human stewardship. My arguments show that traditional notions of stewardship can support rather than be merely compatible with biocentric models, and do so without recourse to theocentrism and its inherently limited appeal.

           

In the future I want to build off of these arguments in order to show the pluralistic potency of stewardship for bridging differences between philosophers with widely divergent views on the origins of moral value, as well as between philosophers and the public more broadly. I also hope to work out practical guidelines for action based on a stewardship model of the relation between humans and the environment.

           

Finally, my interests extend to questions surrounding environmental restoration. Too often the debate is centered on whether we possess a philosophically adequate notion of “wild” nature or whether environmental preservation is itself a means of anthropocentric control. I am ultimately skeptical of our securing an adequate definition of nature or separating human life from the rest of the biosphere. Rather, I want to show that there are more fruitful means of understanding our obligations with respect to environmental restoration based on both ecological health (which requires biodiversity) and human flourishing (which also demands biodiversity).