My research focuses on questions about psychological self-knowledge, which includes knowing such things as what you want, what you believe, how you are feeling, and what you are thinking. Each of us has a way of knowing these things that is only available to us. This is “first-person knowledge”; it contrasts with ways of knowing your mind equally available to others, such as observation, inference, and testimony. First-person knowledge possesses a number of distinctive and puzzling features. My work has focused on two questions, one about sources (how do we possess self-knowledge?) and another about value (why is self- knowledge important to us?)
One reason I'm interested in self-knowledge is that it seems to be important to us. It's not just important to know what you believe or want, any old way. It seems important to us to know your mind from the inside, in the first-personal way. Here I find an analogy with moral knowledge compelling. Many philosophers (including me) think that there is something objectionable or suboptimal about forming moral beliefs by testimony. While it is fine in other domains, unreflective deference is suboptimal in moral matters. This view is called “Pessimism.” I am a Pessimist about self-knowledge. I think there is something suboptimal or second best about deferring to another about your own mental states like belief and desire. If we were omniscient about our minds, this would not be very interesting. But we aren't: self-knowledge is often a struggle. It would often be easier to just take another at her word. Despite that, there seems to be reason not to. That is puzzling. Aside from its intuitive plausibility, Pessimism is a central tenet of much psychodynamic practice: transformative self-knowledge must be achieved by the patient herself, it cannot be transmitted by the therapist. But why is Pessimism true? What do we want when we want self-knowledge that cannot be transmitted by testimony? On my view, the first-person perspective is distinctive, and important to us, because it involves both knowing one's mental states and understanding them in light of the reasons one has for holding them. Coming to understand one's attitudes in this way is often very straightforward, but other times it is difficult. Pessimism raises an interesting question: what role do others play in the achievement of self-knowledge, if Pessimism is true? I have work in progress addressing this question. I have also published on Pessimism about moral testimony and continue to work on it.
My current research project is titled "Self-Knowledge and the Normativity of the Mental". The Normativity of the Mental is a thesis in the philosophy of mind which holds that, necessarily, rational creatures like us are disposed to conform to the requirements of rationality that apply to them. It is in the nature of rational creatures that they are disposed to be rational. (Of course, what one is disposed to do and what one will actually do are different matters.) My goal is to consider what work this thesis can do in explaining certain distinctive features of self-knowledge of belief including first-person authority and the transparency of belief. In other work in progress I consider failures of self-knowledge, paradigmatically in self-deception, and consider how their possibility can be reconciled with the fact that self-knowledge is groundless and nonobservational.
Aside from self-knowledge, I am interested in knowledge of other minds, if you can believe it. I have published on Wittgenstein's remarks about knowing and understanding others through perception and imitation. I also have a scholary interest in love. I defend what I call the "Naive View", on which there are reasons for love, and these are such ordinary things as another's sense of humor, beauty, personality, or whatever you are into. This contrasts with views on which love is a way of valuing rational personhood, or a human being, or a relationship, or nothing at all. I have focused on developing a version of this view that responds to the worry that the Naive View cannot explain love's constancy. ("Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds.") I draw on Iris Murdoch's evocative but obscure remarks in The Sovereignty of Good on love as a form of attention to do this. In the future I plan to consider the relation between these topics-love and other minds- in particular the idea that there is something distinctive about persons as objects of knowledge.