I work and teach in metaphysics, value theory, and philosophy of science. My research can be divided into three areas:

1/ Some of my research addresses metaphysical questions about the nature of individuals, quantities, and space-time. In each case I use symmetry arguments to motivate theses of a structuralist flavor (papers 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 17). In other work I examine the epistemology of these symmetry arguments (papers 7, 8, 16).

2/ Another line of research involves second-order questions about the nature of metaphysics. In earlier work I focused on grounding and its application to various metaphysical debates (papers 4, 5, 9). More recently, I've been developing an anti-realist view of metaphysics motivated by a normative argument (papers 11, 14, 15).

3/ A third line of research uses the same normative argument to motivate anti-realist views in other domains. Some of this work develops a kind of ethical anti-realism and examines its applications (papers 12, 13, 19). In related work I've developed a pragmatist conception of meaning, truth, and justification (paper 18).

Papers in progress

  1. The Meta-Ethics of AI: Are Machines Beholden to Normative Joints?
    Draft of November 2020
  2. In which I argue that there are no right or wrong answers to questions of AI ethics, because they turn on which ethical concepts to use and there is no right or wrong answer to that.

  3. Undoing the Truth Fetish: The Normative Path to Pragmatism
    Draft of April 2020
  4. In which I motivate a broadly pragmatist view of inquiry, truth, justification, and meaning.

  5. How to Be a Relationalist
    Draft of Oct 2019
  6. In which I describe how to be a relationalist, and while doing so develop a non-factualist account of measurement and distinguish two species of metaphysical possibility.

  7. Symmetry and Superfluous Structure: A Metaphysical Overview
    Draft of February 2018
  8. In which I outline the method of symmetry and its application to metaphysics.

    Publications

  9. Privilege in the Construction Industry
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 98.2 (2019): 489-496
  10. In which I discuss issues of egalitarianism and privilege that arise in Karen Bennett's book Making Things Up. (For an invited symposium in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.)

  11. Realism and the Absence of Value
    The Philosophical Review 127.3 (2018): 279-322.
  12. In which I raise a problem for metaphysical realism and suggest a return to a Goodmanian view that the world is a structureless mess onto which we project our own categorizations, not something with categories already built in.

  13. Essentialism and the Nonidentity Problem
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96.3 (2018): 540-570
  14. In which I ask: out of all the many entities coincident with a person, that differ only in their essential profiles, which ones matter? I use nonidentity cases to shed light on this question.

  15. Normative Non-Naturalism and the Problem of Authority
    Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 117.3 (2017): 297-319.
  16. In which I develop a familiar argument against normative non-naturalism, to the effect that non-natural properties would have no "normative authority" over us.

  17. Constitutive Explanation
    Philosophical Issues 27 (2017): 74-97.
  18. In which I argue that the notion of ground can be significantly deflated and still do useful work in philosophy.

  19. Can We Do Without Fundamental Individuals? Yes
    Current Controversies in Metaphysics, edited by Elizabeth Barnes (2017): 7-23. Previously titled "Quality and Structure".
  20. In which I argue that the world is a purely qualitative mosaic. Here is the postscript, coauthored with Jason Turner.

  21. Metaphysical Rationalism
    Noûs 50.2 (2016): 379-418. Selected for inclusion in the Philosopher's Annual.
  22. In which I develop and defend a version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, one that entails that every truth is necessarily true.

  23. Symmetry as an Epistemic Notion (Twice Over)
    The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67.3 (2016): 837-878.
  24. In which I argue that symmetry is an epistemic notion (twice over).

  25. Inexpressible Ignorance
    The Philosophical Review 124.4 (2015): 441-480.
  26. In which I discuss cases where ignorance is inexpressible (e.g. ignorance of absolute position, quiddities, and haecceities) and argue that the ignorance consists in an inability to identify things by way of their natures.

  27. Substantivalism vs Relationalism About Space In Classical Physics
    Philosophy Compass 10.9 (2015): 601-624.
  28. In which I survey a number of arguments for each view (including the bucket argument, Leibniz shift arguments, and symmetry arguments) and conclude that the case for relationalism is strong. Here is the teaching and learning guide.

  29. The Possibility of Physicalism
    The Journal of Philosophy 111.9 (2014): 557-592
  30. In which I argue that the notion of ground is suitable for formulating a variety of metaphysical theses, including physicalism.

  31. On the Plurality of Grounds
    Philosophers' Imprint 14.14 (2014): 1-28.
  32. In which I argue that ground is an irreducibly plural notion: these are grounded in those. Cases of plural grounding include individuals and quantities like kilograms.

  33. Absolutism vs Comparativism about Quantity
    Oxford Studies in Metaphysics: Volume 8 (2013): 105-148. Winner of the Sanders Prize in Metaphysics, 2011.
  34. In which I motivate and defend comparativism about quantities like mass.

  35. The Bare Necessities
    Philosophical Perspectives 25 (2011): 115-160.
  36. In which I discuss substantivalism in the context of the General Theory Relativity, and argue that we do not yet have a satisfactory substantivalist theory.

  37. Individuals: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics
    Philosophical Studies 145.1 (2009): 35-67.
  38. In which I argue that (fundamentally speaking) there are no such things as individuals.

Teaching

I teach undergraduate and graduate classes. I also supervise PhD dissertations and undergraduate honors theses. If you would like me to write a letter of recommendation for you, please let me know as early as possible so that we can plan accordingly. To write an effective letter I will need to follow your progress for some time.

Below is a list of previous courses. Those up to 2016 were taught at Princeton; those since 2017 were taught at UC Berkeley.

Graduate seminars

2018 Fall: First-Year Seminar (with John MacFarlane)

2018 Spring: Why is There Anything Except Physics? (with Geoffrey Lee)

2015 Fall: Metaphysics (with Boris Kment)

2014 Spring: Symmetry, Structure, and Spacetime

2013 Spring: Medieval, Early Modern, and Contemporary Work on Substance (with John Morrison)

2011 Spring: Hyperintensional Metaphysics (with Boris Kment)

2009 Fall: The Structure of the Physical World

Undergraduate courses

Since 2014 many of my undergraduate courses have used a "levels system". This is a series of assignments that students complete at their own pace through the semester; see here for an example. Since 2016 the assignments have typically involved constructing argument maps; see here for an introduction to argument maps. I have now accumulated a stock of assignments and maps for these courses, please email me if you would like access to them.

2020 Spring: Phil 5 Science and Human Understanding; Phil 128 Philosophy of Science

2019 Fall: Phil 100 Philosophical Methods

2019 Spring: Phil 100 Philosophical Methods; Phil 125 Metaphysics

2018 Fall: Phil 5 Science and Human Understanding

2018 Spring: Phil 128 Philosophy of Science

2017 Fall: Phil 5 Science and Human Understanding

2016 Spring: Phi 321 Philosophy of Science

2014 Fall: FRS 187 Philosophical Analysis Using Argument Maps (led by Simon Cullen)

2014 Spring: Phi 203 Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology

2013 Fall: Phi 318 Metaphysics

2012 Fall: Phi 201 Introductory Logic

2012 Spring: Phi 321 Philosophy of Science

2011 Fall: Phi 203 Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology

2011 Spring: Phi 201 Introductory Logic

2009 Fall: Phi 203 Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology (with Gideon Rosen)

2007 Summer: Ethics (at NYU)

PhD supervision

Currently supervising dissertations by:

Previous dissertations supervised:

Shamik Dasgupta