published papers and links to them are immediately below
some works in progress are listed farther down


Interest Relativism in the Best System Analysis of Laws

Synthese (2017)

Lewis’ Best System Analysis (BSA) of laws of nature is often criticized on the grounds that what it means to be the “best” system is too subjective for an analysis of lawhood. Recent proponents of the BSA have embraced the view’s close connection to the particulars of scientific practice despite the objection. I distinguish two compatible versions of the objection: one opposed to mind or subject dependence and the other opposed to relativity. The BSA can answer both. Answering the anti-relative version of Armstrong’s objection requires that the BSA be no more or less relative than is required by scientific practice. A spectrum of relativity is introduced with extremes of minimally and maximally relative variants of the BSA, and extant variants of the BSA are located on it. Lastly, I sketch what work remains to be done with respect to Armstrong’s objection by BSA proponents depending on where in the spectrum of relativity they hope to locate their view.

A Cortical Substrate for Memory-Guided Orienting in the Rat

with J.C. Erlich and C.D. Brody

Neuron (2011)


Anatomical, stimulation, and lesion data have suggested a homology between the rat frontal orienting fields (FOF) (centered at +2 AP, ±1.3 ML mm from Bregma) and primate frontal cortices such as the frontal or supplementary eye fields. We investigated the functional role of the FOF using rats trained to perform a memory-guided orienting task, in which there was a delay period between the end of a sensory stimulus instructing orienting direction and the time of the allowed motor response. Unilateral inactivation of the FOF resulted in impaired contralateral responses. Extracellular recordings of single units revealed that 37% of FOF neurons had delay period firing rates that predicted the direction of the rats' later orienting motion. Our data provide the first electrophysiological and pharmacological evidence supporting the existence in the rat, as in the primate, of a frontal cortical area involved in the preparation and/or planning of orienting responses.


Works in Progress

feel free to contact me for copies of these papers
comments are always welcome!


Moderate Deflationism for Literary Cognitivsm

It is often said that literary fictions can be cognitively valuable in the same way that thought experiments in science are so valuable. But the cognitive value of thought experiments in science is a matter of debate, questioning both if there is value and how what value there is might be realized. Davies (2010) has recently drawn on the debate over scientific thought experiments to give a “moderate inflationary” account of cognitive value for literary fictions, according to which that value is rooted in a unique ability to articulate certain cognitive resources. I argue in this paper that Davies’ account does not succeed in answering the challenges to literary cognitivism that it is meant to answer. However, those challenges can be answered by a competing “moderate deflationary” account of scientific thought experiments, and such an account is developed based on the view of Norton (1996) that valuable thought experiments are arguments.

Comparing Systems Without Single Language Privileging

It is a standard feature of the BSA and its variants that systematizations of the world competing to be the best must be expressed in the same language. This paper argues that such single language privileging is problematic because (1) it enhances the objection that the BSA is insufficiently objective, and (2) it breaks the parallel between the BSA and scientific practice by not letting laws and basic kinds be identified/discovered together. A solution to these problems and the ones that prompt single language privileging is proposed in the form of privileging the best system competition(s).

Fact Relative Humean Laws

The Better Best Systems (BBS) analysis of laws of nature accommodates laws in the special sciences by privileging a set of kinds prior to the determination of the laws (e.g. privileging biological kinds yields biological laws). I introduce two problems for the BBS: (1) it will run afoul of cases of interfield interactions that blur the boundary between the basic kinds of individual fields, and (2) it is unable to satisfactorily single out a set of laws as fundamental. I then propose a variant of the BBS account for special science laws, fundamental laws, and cases of interfield interactions.