My primary research is in the philosophy of law, and specifically on the informal promulgation of the law, or 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.
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, John McLevey, and Dennis Klimchuk.) 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).
On first blush, my approach to philosophy can be appropriately described as introspective. I engage in philosophical research by trying to answer characteristically philosophical questions in a way that seems authentic: by imagining a range of intuitively plausible solutions, developing provisional theories, and subjecting these theories to critical scrutiny. There is no getting around the fact that critical inquiry “begins at home”, so to speak, by interrogating the habits and modes of thought that constitute the inner life of the active mind.
That being said, introspection is not sufficient. A lone inquirer is poorly placed to manage their own cognitive biases, and their ideas cannot bloom in a vacuum. So, once we are set on doing philosophy, we should demand the use of rigorous methodology: be it analytical, experimental, or historical. But 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. In this respect, I am an advocate of a suitably restrained methodological pluralism in professional philosophy.
I also believe that philosophy has a real cultural purpose. That is, I believe that the health and well-being of citizens demand that they learn philosophical theories and methods, since those theories play a vital role in fostering the project of protecting human dignity and managing our well-being. In particular, we must all be able to be rational and considerate when faced with reasonable critique. That is but only one of the areas in which philosophy is productive — but it is the one I consider most important.
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 was 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 risk of being in error and what it means to be in intellectual 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. Five theses, in particular, have occupied my attention in the course of the study into unwritten rules: skepticism towards ontological commitments in accounts of normativity, the prospects of a diachronic theory of truth, the interpretive conception of rule-following, the prospects of a non-propositional approach to minimalist semantics, and the role of trust in social epistemology and cognition. I will continue to explore those areas in future research in order to show how they interface with the theory of unwritten law.
I have extensive philosophical, ethical, epistemological, and metaphysical interests beyond those listed: in classical skepticism, theories of autonomy, attempted refutations of solipsism, theories of truth, pragmatism, existentialism, critical theory, logical pluralism, virtue ethics, philosophy of religion and science, and so on. I attempt to tackle each subject according to what inferences are most interesting and appropriate in each, without being waterlogged by motivated inference. That having been said, many or most of these inquiries are only actively pursued to the extent that they provide motivation and support to my primary and secondary projects: unwritten law and unwritten rules.
“Making minds like ours,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, 2014.