My research comprises two intertwined strands: the nature of human perception and reasoning, and the epistemic roles of these mental processes.
In a series of papers, I argue that, contrary to most views in epistemology, perceptual states can be based on reasons and are epistemically evaluable as justified or unjustified, just like beliefs. I examine psychological case studies of perceptions that are based on reasons, and explore the justificatory status of these perceptions.
"The Epistemic Role of Core Cognition". The Philosophical Review, 2020 129(2): 251-298.
Abstract: According to a traditional picture, perception and belief have starkly different epistemic roles. Beliefs have epistemic statuses as justified or unjustified, depending on how they are formed and maintained. In contrast, perceptions are “unjustified justifiers.” Core cognition is a set of mental systems that stand at the border of perception and belief, and has been extensively studied in developmental psychology. Core cognition's borderline states do not fit neatly into the traditional epistemic picture. What is the epistemic role of these states? Focusing on the core object system, I argue that core object representations have epistemic statuses like beliefs do, despite their many prototypically perceptual features. The scope of mental states that are subject to epistemic evaluation is not restricted to beliefs.
"Perceptual Learning and Reason-Responsiveness" (Under Review)
Abstract: Perceptual experiences are not immediately responsive to reasons. You see a stick submerged in a glass of water as bent no matter how much you know about light refraction. Due to this isolation from reasons, perception is traditionally considered outside the scope of epistemic evaluability as justified or unjustified. Is perception really as independent from reasons as visual illusions make it out to be? I argue no, drawing on psychological evidence from perceptual learning. The flexibility of perceptual learning is a way of responding to new epistemic reasons. The resulting perceptual experiences are epistemically evaluable as justified or unjustified.
"Crossmodal Basing" (Under Review)
Abstract: What kinds of mental states can be based on epistemic reasons? The standard answer is only beliefs. I argue that perceptual states can also be based on reasons, as the result of crossmodal interactions. A perceptual state from one modality can serve as the basis for an experience in another modality. My argument identifies key markers of the basing relation and locates them in the crossmodal Marimba Illusion. I argue that a subject’s auditory experience of musical tone duration is based on her visual representation of the length of the musician’s gesture.
Abstract: Are all failures to respond to reasons irrational? When we fail to respond to reasons due to pride or indolence, a verdict of irrationality seems apt. But some features of cognitive architecture complicate the idea that there is a broad requirement to respond to one’s reasons. Information encapsulation in perception, social cognition, emotion, language processing, and other mental systems renders some reasons inaccessible, due not to person-level features of agents but simply to how human minds are constructed. Two polarized positions rise to the fore: either we are only required to respond to the reasons that are accessible in the moment, and thus informationally encapsulated failures are excused, or accessibility of reasons is irrelevant, and all encapsulated failures are just as irrational as any others. I argue instead for a middle path. Normative requirements to respond to reasons are sensitive to the fixed constraints of cognitive architecture in their timescale and degree, but there are still significant rational demands on informationally encapsulated systems to respond to reasons.
"Epistemic Conflict in the Experience of Art" (Under Review)
Abstract: Do epistemic and aesthetic norms ever conflict? While conflicts between epistemic, moral, and prudential rationality have been widely discussed, conflicts in the aesthetic domain are relatively unexplored. I argue that an experience of a work of art can be at once aesthetically upgraded but epistemically downgraded. I focus on an example in which a viewer’s expectations about Rothko’s vibrant color palette alter her experience of degraded Rothko paintings, creating an illusion that simulates their original condition. I argue that this cognitive influence at once epistemically downgrades and aesthetically upgrades her experience, creating a conflict between epistemic and aesthetic norms. The true and the beautiful can pull us in different directions, forcing us to choose between domains of rationality.
"The Perception of Distance by Sight: Berkeley on the Modality of Experience"
Abstract: It seems as though we see the distance of things, yet Berkeley claims in An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision that we only immediately perceive light and color through vision. To address this puzzle, Berkeley proposes a “language of vision”, through which we learn to see distance. I argue that Berkeley does not have the resources in his empiricist arsenal to explain how we could have an experience of distance with a proprietarily visual phenomenology rather than an experience of distance with a tactile quality, derived from our initial sense memories of touch. Berkeley must rely heavily on the unreliability of introspection to explain how our experiences of distance seem to us.