I started university a bit later than most students, in my mid-twenties. I hadn’t studied any philosophy before, but quickly realised that the sorts of questions which had always fascinated me, and which I loved thinking about the most, were essentially philosophical questions. (I remember thinking: “oh, I get it: I’m not weird, I’m just a philosopher!”) I studied at UEA for my BA Joint Honours in English Literature and Philosophy (2003-06). In my second year, I got hooked on Kant and logic (and, after that, on cognitive science, linguistics and philosophy of science); so I ended up sitting in on extra philosophy lectures to fit in as much extra philosophy as I could.
Given my interests at undergraduate level, I was taught a great deal by Prof. John Collins. Whilst taking John’s module ‘Language in Mind’, on Chomsky, I wrote an extended essay on Kant’s relevance to Chomsky’s philosophy of mind (in particular, his suggestions about the limits of our cognition). Upon handing in the essay, I realised I couldn’t put it down: I was obsessed with the issues, and they subsequently became the basis for my PhD thesis topic.
I went straight on to do my PhD (2006-11), also at UEA, and continued to study under John Collins; he acted as my primary supervisor, and Dr. Angela Breitenbach was my secondary supervisor. I had the opportunity to act as the secretary to the executive committee for the British Postgraduate Philosophy Society for two years (2007-09), through which I met some fantastic fellow philosophers. Throughout my PhD, I was lucky enough to have over four years of experience as a seminar tutor, and discovered that I am just as passionate about teaching philosophy as I am about writing it.
Earlier this year (2011), I submitted and defended my thesis (examined by Dr. Eugen Fischer and Prof. Wolfram Hinzen). Just two weeks after graduation, I was lucky enough to be offered my current position as a postdoctoral lecturing fellow (2011-12), which is my first academic appointment.
PhD in Philosophy, UEA (awarded at graduation: July 2011).
BA Joint Hons English and Literature, starred first, UEA (July 2006).
Key Research Interests
My research interests are primarily in Kant, the foundations of cognitive science, philosophy of mind and philosophy of science.
(1) My research so far.
All four areas were brought together in my doctoral thesis, Revised Kantian Naturalism: Cognition and the limits of inquiry. I argued for the possibility of a quasi-Kantian philosophy of science (RKN), based upon Cassirer’s neo-Kantian approach to relativity theory.
The modified position (RKN) focuses on specific aspects of Kant’s philosophy of science, which are adapted so as to remain within the constraints of naturalism (specifically, Chomsky’s methodological naturalism), and so as to remain updated, according to scientific advances since Kant’s critical writing. By retaining the two revised ideas of a (relativised) constitutive framework, and of a regulative ideal of the unity of science, and therefore preserving the notion of the relationship between constitutive and regulative principles, Cassirer achieves an updated Kantian approach to understanding scientific theorisation. It is such an approach that I defended as my naturalised revised Kantian position (RKN).
Having defended my modified Kantian approach, I apply RKN to philosophical problems for scientific and cognitive inquiry. The first issue concerns the possibility of a problem-mystery distinction for human inquiry. I challenge the notion of a strict demarcation of the distinction between the inherently problematic and the inherently mysterious, with reference to Chomsky’s suggestion that our future study of mind may reveal faculty-based structures that allow us to stipulate such a strict line. Subsequently, I argue that RKN both demonstrates the flaws in such a proposal, as well as highlighting the remaining important insights about the nature of inquiry which are nonetheless integral to Chomsky’s suggestion.
The second problem concerns how we should characterise the achievements of scientific explanatory theories and how such success is so much as possible, with explicit reference to debates surrounding structural realism. I demonstrate that RKN (particularly, Cassirer’s unity principle) lends support to the defence of ontic structural realism (OSR) over constructive empiricism (CE, or empirical structuralism). The debate pivots around the role of modal claims within theoretical explanation (proponents of OSR endorse the necessity of such claims). I argue that, whilst OSR may be defended independently, Cassirer’s regulative principle (via RKN) highlights the strength of the ontic structural realist’s position, by emphasising a simultaneous optimism and humility towards inquiry inherent in OSR but also ES. Cassirer’s Regulative Principle, furthermore, lends emphasis to the necessity of unity as a regulative ideal whilst simultaneously highlighting those aspects of ES which are retained by OSR. In other words, I achieved a new way of defending OSR which explicitly emphasises the remaining benefits of ES.
In developing and applying RKN, throughout, I address the potential tension between the cognition qua a condition for the possibility of inquiry, and cognition qua an object of that inquiry (understood naturalistically). A consequent side-argument in the thesis is that the revised Kantian approach illuminates how the conditions for the possibility of inquiry are resituated with relation to our cognitive makeup, so as to remain loosely mind-independent. The two core applications of the Kantian approach drew on the themes of intellectual humility and the notion of a unity to inquiry, and so one of the overarching threads of my thesis was to demonstrate the way in which Cassirer’s modified Kantian position necessarily fuses together these two aspects of inquiry which do not always appear to sit happily hand in hand.
(2) My research plans.
I am currently preparing two papers for publication, based upon the arguments for the two applications (detailed above) of the modified Kantian philosophy, based upon Cassirer’s work.
Additionally, I am keen to investigate further the significance of Cassirer’s Kantian unity principle for problems posed to the ontic structural realist (for instance, the problem of the mathematical relationship of real structure). I also to hope to continue thinking about how the combined application of the modified Kantian position and ontic structural realism supplies a novel means by which to promote Chomsky’s argument against the notion of a mind-body problem.
Finally, aside from my areas of specialised research, I enjoy participating in department reading groups on the topics of logic and philosophy of mathematics.
Revised Kantian Naturalism: Cognition and the Limits of Inquiry
Papers in preparation for publication:
‘Problems, Mysteries and the Limits of Science.’
‘Investigative Modesty and Ontic Structural Realism.’
During my 10-month postdoctoral fellowship, I teach on Philosophy of Mind and Advanced Philosophy of Mind in the autumn semester (2011), and on Reasoning and Logic in the spring (2012). I am also supervising a masters student on one of their MRes Study Modules. for their Masters Research degree.