Philosophical Methodology: How do we justify philosophical claims?

The question that motivates my interest in philosophical methodology is: when dealing with the enduring and fundamental questions of philosophy, what makes an argument compelling? Indeed, the diversity of answers to these enduring questions owes itself, in part, to the diversity of methods used to ascertain them. In contemporary philosophy, the focus falls on the practice of using thought experiments, and our responses to them (commonly called “intuitions”) as evidence for and against philosophical theses. The use of intuitions in philosophical arguments has been widely (though non-controversially) taken as the standard methodology of contemporary analytic philosophy, and the aim of experimental philosophy is to apply better empirical methods for figuring out what is actually intuitive. My own work focuses on the role that intuition does, or does not, play in philosophical methodology. I argue for an interpretation of these arguments which emphasizes the rhetorical force of appeals to intuition, rather than their evidential force, while also making space for the contributions of experimental philosophers.

Linguistic Methodology: What role do intuitions play in linguistic arguments?

My interests in philosophical methodology intersect with my interests in the philosophy of linguistics. In a series of papers, I have explored the role that intuitions play in generative linguistics, as well as in the philosophy of language. In particular, I explore the way in which different theoretical contexts produce different interpretations of the philosophical significance of intuition.

Metacognition and Critical Reasoning: How can we become better reasoners?

The ability to think critically is crucial in a democratic society. If you cannot think critically, then others will do your thinking for you, leading you with rhetorical tricks and insufficient evidence. Given the importance of this skill, how do we actually teach it? Traditional approaches focus on the tools of formal and informal logic. This approach, however, is insufficient; it does not address the psychology of human reasoning, and in particular, the cognitive biases that obstruct good reasoning. In my work on critical thinking pedagogy, I argue for the importance of developing metacognitive sophistication in our students, so that they can deploy debiasing strategies in the right contexts. In this way, our critical thinking education can be responsive to the challenges posed by the cognitive biases.

History of Analytic Philosophy: How did the personal and policital lives of the Logical Positivists influence their philosophical work?

Logical positivism is one of the most influential philosophical movements of the 20th century, but discussion of it often centers its demise and students are often turned off by its apparent scientism. Yet, many of the logical positivists were political radicals writing in the shadow of Nazism, and their flight from Germany helped lay the groundwork for 20th century analytic philosophy in the United States.

For our recent book, Steve Gimbel (Gettysburg College) and I interviewed surviving members of the positivist movement and other early analytic philosophers, as well as members of their families, to better understand the roots of analytic philosophy. The interviews range over subjects from the death of Kurt Grelling in the Holocaust, the enduring if underappreciated influence of Paul Oppenheim, to W.V. Quine’s specially modified typewriter.