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. I am especially interested in our knowledge of nonconscious attitudes, such as belief and intention, emotions, and acts of conscious 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?)
Self-knowledge in this sense should be distinguished from knowing such things as: what you are like as a person, your character traits, your virtues and vices, or perhaps your "true self." That kind of knowledge is important and interesting, too, of course. But, at least at first glance, it lacks some of the features that make psychological self-knowledge so distinctive. For example, each of us speaks with a special kind of authority about our minds. When you tell me what you want or believe, there is a general presumption that what you say is true, a presumption that doesn't hold when you speak about another's mind. It doesn't seem like we speak with such authority about what we are really like or what our virtues are (quite the opposite, you might think.) Likewise, it doesn't seem like we have a uniquely first-personal way of knowing our true selves. It seems like we find out what we are really like in much the same way as we find out about other people. Finally, it seems like, in the ordinary run of things, we have epistemic privilege about our minds: you are typically in an especially good position to know what you believe or want, better than me. Yet that doesn't seem to be true of our characters or true self.
One reason I'm interested in self-knowledge is that it seems to be important to us. Here I find an analogy with moral knowledge compelling. Many philosophers 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 one’s own mind. This idea 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 or the perspective they embody on the world. Coming to understand one's attitudes in this way is often very straightforward, you can do it straightaway, but other times it is difficult. One aim of my research is to understand this process of self-understanding better, with particular attention to the cases of belief and the emotions.
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 would like 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.