Research

My primary research is in the philosophy of law, and specifically on the informal promulgation of the lawor unwritten law. The thesis combines a close examination of historical texts with a novel analysis of the concept of unwritten law, resulting in a unique contribution to the philosophical literature.

If I were forced to produce a short list of philosophers whose productive output has exerted the greatest positive influence upon how I think about the world, that list would have to include: Jon Elster, Paul Grice, Jurgen Habermas, Thomas Hobbes, David K. Lewis, John Stuart Mill, Gloria Origgi, and WVO Quine.

I completed my doctorate from the University of Waterloo under the supervision of Dr. Brian Orend in December of 2016. Committee members: Drs. Heather Douglas, Mathieu Doucet, Dennis Klimchuk, and John McLevey. If you like, you can read the full dissertation here.

As part of my doctorate I earned a diploma in cognitive science, a diploma in teaching university level courses, and a departmental teaching award. I also hold an Honors Bachelor degree in philosophy (with sociology) from Western University and a Masters degree in philosophy from York University (in Toronto).

SELECT PUBLICATIONS

[1] “Making minds like ours,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, 2014.

WORKING DRAFTS

I do not actively pursue publication in domains outside of my main area of specialization (philosophy of social science and philosophy of law). However, I do have an active interest in research in other domains that fall within the ambit of traditional areas of philosophy. You can read those drafts by clicking here. Informed and constructive comments are warmly welcome.

META-PHILOSOPHY

As far as I understand it, philosophy tackles the most general questions about the nature ourselves and our world, in order to increase our understanding and diminish our confusion about it. Understood in this way, philosophy is the way that civilizations go about knowledge integration and generation. To ‘do philosophy’ is to engage in generalist inquiry of a kind.

Once we are set on doing philosophy, we should demand the use of rigorous methodology: be it analytical, experimental, or historical/scholastic. But given the ephemeral nature of our subject matter, no single method is robust enough to eclipse the others. All have something to contribute, depending on the demands of the research question we are pursuing; but research is strengthened when methods are combined. In this respect, I am an advocate of a suitably restrained methodological consilience in professional philosophy.

I am a constrained pluralist, in the sense that I believe there are multiple ways of being a legitimate philosopher. I think there are four major kinds: the ‘introspective/autonomous’ type, the ‘programmatic’ type, the ‘critical/skeptic’ type, and the ‘syncretistic’ type. These distinct philosophical profiles can be mutually antagonistic, and our inquiries would be more productive if the profession displayed a measure of tolerance for diversity in intellectual character (while insisting on the vital importance of methodological restraint).

INTELLECTUAL PROGRAMME (2018)

The investigation into tacit normativity is a large-scale project, running from philosophy of mind, through philosophy of language and social epistemology, finally culminating in the philosophy of law. The basic idea is that we have standards of correctness that govern and measure conduct, and which do so without the need for explicit articulation.

The first branch of this research programme is in unwritten law. The main work can be found in my dissertation thesis, The Depiction of Unwritten Law (2016), linked above. In it, I postulated that unwritten laws are informally promulgated rules held on threat of formal sanction by an appropriate political authority. I also provided a taxonomy of potential unwritten laws: implicit constitutions, moral/political rules of change, operationalizations, and secret laws. I argued that, under certain conditions, the correct informal venues could be identified as a function of what the appropriate picture of law tells us about the epistemic risk in legal contexts and what it means to be in intellectual (or discursive) good faith. The result is a novel, modest, and systematic approach to thinking about an interesting and important subject. Presently, I would like to refine and extend that work into the examination of constitutional morality in light of particular cases.

The second branch concerns unwritten rules as such. A successful account of unwritten rules will have to tackle some extremely difficult questions in philosophy: about inference, its relation to rules, meaning, and metaphysics. Four theses, in particular, have occupied my attention in the course of the study into unwritten rules: skepticism towards the need for ontological commitments in accounts of normativity, enthusiasm towards a diachronic constraint on theories of truth, enthusiasm for cognitive and social presuppositions behind an account of inference, and the role of trust in social scientific explanations. I will continue to explore those areas in future research in order to show how they interface with the theory of unwritten law.

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