Beware lest you lose the substance
by grasping at the shadow.


"A Normative Account of the Need for Explanation", co-authored with Zanja Yudell, Synthese 192 (2015), pp.2863-2885

Although explanation is a central topic in the philosophy of science, there is an important issue concerning explanation that has not been discussed much, namely, why some phenomena need an explanation while some do not. In this paper we first explain why this is an important issue, and then discuss two accounts of the need for explanation that can be gathered from the literature. We argue that both accounts are inadequate. The main purpose of the paper is, however, to offer a normative account of the need for explanation. On this account, a demand for explanation is possible only against the background of a certain understanding of the world (call it a 'map'). It is the map we are using that provides us with the concepts and beliefs in terms of which we can ask for an explanation. And a phenomenon needs explanation only when it does not fit the map --- the phenomenon's not fitting the map is a good reason for us to look for an explanation of it. This account not only captures our pre-theoretical understanding of the need for explanation, but also is in accordance with our practice of demanding an explanation.

"How Fallacious Is the Consequence Fallacy", co-authored with Zanja Yudell, Philosophical Studies 165 (2013), pp.221-227

Timothy Williamson argues against the tactic of criticizing confidence in a theory by identifying a logical consequence of the theory whose probability is not raised by the evidence. He dubs it "the consequence fallacy". In this paper we will show that Williamson's formulation of the tactic in question is ambiguous. On one reading of Williamson's formulation, the tactic is indeed a fallacy, but it is not a commonly used tactic; on another reading, it is a commonly used tactic (or at least more often used than the former tactic), but it is not a fallacy.

"What the Skeptic Still Can't Learn from How We Use the Word 'Know'", in J. Bridges, N. Kolodny & W. Wong (eds.), The Possibility of Philosophical Understanding: Reflections on the Thought of Barry Stroud (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp.124-144

I argue that the contextualist anti-skeptical strategy fails because it misconstrues skepticism by overlooking two important aspects of skepticism: first, all of our knowledge of the external world is brought into question at one fell swoop; second, skepticism depends on certain ideas about sense-perception and its role in our knowledge of the world. Contextualists may have solved 'the skeptical paradox' in their own terms, but such a solution cannot in any way make skepticism less threatening to human knowledge or to the philosophical understanding of human knowledge. I also discuss some important aspects of the practice of knowledge attribution in order to show that the more we can make sense of particular knowledge attributions, the less we can take skepticism seriously, and that the practice of knowledge attribution as we understand and engage in it presupposes that we have knowledge of the world.

"The Cosmic Lottery", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 66 (2009), pp.155-165

One version of the argument for design relies on the assumption that the apparent fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life requires an explanation. I argue that the assumption is false. Philosophers who argue for the assumption usually appeal to analogies, such as the one in which a person was to draw a particular straw among a very large number of straws in order not to be killed. Philosophers on the other side appeal to analogies like the case of winning a lottery. I analyze the two analogies and explain why the lottery analogy is the right one to use. In the light of such an analysis, we can see that although the cosmic feature of being life-permitting is rare, it does not allow life-permitting possible universes to stand out because there are other rare cosmic features that other possible universes have.

"Internalism about Justification and the Skeptic's Dilemma", Erkenntnis 71 (2009), pp.361-375

I first argue that the skeptic needs an internalist conception of justification for her argument for skepticism. I then argue that the skeptic also needs to show that we do not have perceptual access to the world if her skepticism is to be a real threat to human knowledge of the world. This, I conclude, puts the skeptic in a dilemma, for internalist conceptions of justification presuppose that we have perceptual access to the world.

"What Williamson's Anti-Luminosity Argument Really Is", Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 89 (2008), pp.536-543

In Knowledge and Its Limits Timothy Williamson famously argues that virtually no mental states are luminous. I argue in this paper that Williamson's anti-luminosity argument is no more than a sorites argument in disguise.

"Meaningfulness and Identities", Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (2008), pp.123-148

Three distinct but related questions can be asked about the meaningfulness of one's life. The first is 'What is the meaning of life?', which can be called 'the cosmic question about meaningfulness'; the second is 'What is a meaningful life?', which can be called 'the general question about meaningfulness'; and the third is 'What is the meaning of my life?', which can be called 'the personal question about meaningfulness'. I argue that in order to deal with all three questions we should start with the personal question. There is a way of understanding the personal question which allows us to answer it independently of any consideration of the cosmic question, but which nonetheless helps us see why the cosmic question should be dismissed as a bad question. Besides, a recommendable answer to the general question can be derived from my understanding of how the personal question should be answered. Two notions are essential to my account, namely, the notion of identities and the notion of a biographical life. And the account can be epitomized in this enticing way: a person's life is meaningful if it contains material for an autobiography that she thinks is worth writing and others think is worth reading.

"Moore, the Skeptic, and the Philosophical Context", Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87 (2006), pp.271-287

I argue that Moore's anti-skeptical arguments should be understood as targeting the skeptic as a person rather than skepticism as a philosophical thesis. My interpretation of Moore's arguments offers a good explanation of why they have anti-skeptical force even though they beg the question against skepticism. I also show that Moore has offered two different anti-skeptical arguments that are often conflated by his interpreters. The first is his famous proof of an external world, and the other is a reductio argument. According to my interpretation, the anti-skeptical force of the reductio argument has to be derived from Moore's proof. I then consider a kind of objection to Moore's arguments that is based on a distinction between the everyday context and the philosophical context. The distinction can be understood temporally or semantically; I argue that the objection fails no matter how the distinction is understood.

"The Skeptical Paradox and the Indispensability of Knowledge-Beliefs", Synthese 143 (2005), pp.273-290

Some philosophers understand epistemological skepticism as merely presenting a paradox to be solved, a paradox given rise to by some apparently forceful arguments. I argue that such a view needs to be justified, and that the best way to do so is to show that we cannot help seeing skepticism as obviously false. The obviousness (to us) of the falsity of skepticism is, I suggest, explained by the fact that we cannot live without knowledge-beliefs (a knowledge-belief about the world is a belief that a person or a group of people know that p, where p is an empirical proposition about the world). I then go on to argue for the indispensability of knowledge-beliefs. The first line of argument appeals to the practical aspects of our employment of the concept of knowledge, and the second line of argument draws on some Davidsonian ideas concerning understanding and massive agreement.

"Strawson's Anti-Scepticism: A Critical Reconstruction", Ratio 16 (2003), pp.290-306

P. F. Strawson suggests an anti-sceptical strategy which consists in offering good reason for ignoring scepticism rather than trying to refute it, and the reason he offers is that beliefs about the external world are indispensable to us. I give an exposition of Strawson's arguments for the indispensability thesis and explain why they are not strong enough. I then propose an argument based on some of Davidson's ideas in his theory of radical interpretation, which I think can establish the indispensability thesis. Finally, I spell out the force of Strawson's anti-sceptical strategy by arguing that we have good reason for ignoring scepticism not only because beliefs about the world are indispensable, but also because it is irrational to have both beliefs about the world and sceptical doubts.

"The Problem of Insulation", Philosophy 77 (2002), pp.349-373

Insulation is a noticeable phenomenon in the case of most non-Pyrrhonian skeptics about human knowledge. A skeptic is experiencing insulation when his skepticism does not have any effect on his common sense beliefs, and his common sense beliefs do not have any effect on his skepticism. I try to show why this is a puzzling phenomenon, and how it can be explained. It is puzzling because insulation seems to require blindness to one's own epistemic irresponsibility and irrationality, while the skeptic presumably cares a lot about being epistemically responsible and rational. Insulation can be explained by means of a notion of philosophical detachment: to be detached from one's own beliefs about the world is to take an other-personal position towards those beliefs, treating them as if they are another person's beliefs. It is because of this that the skeptic's skepticism is insulated from his common sense beliefs; and his common sense beliefs are insulated from his skepticism because he cannot be detached from his beliefs about the world when he is engaging in everyday, practical activities. I conclude the paper with a brief discussion of the generality of the problem of insulation.

"Interpretive Charity, Massive Disagreement, and Imagination", Canadian Journal of Philosophy 29 (1999), pp.49-74

I argue that it is a main theme of Davidson's theory of interpretation that interpretive charity implies the impossibility of massive disagreement. There is clear textual support for that. I then argue that from the first-person point of view of a full-blooded interpreter, the theme must be accepted; and that is precisely why Davidson accepts it. If massive disagreement between speaker and interpreter seems to us easy to imagine, it is only because the imagination involved is third-personal and not full-blooded.

Last Update: 10/15/2015