See below for a list of publications and works in progress
with abstracts and links to the most recent/accessible versions.

Comments and questions are welcome!


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.

Moderate Deflationism for Literary Cognitivism

Conference Draft

Works of literature and thought experiments are similarly challenged with respect to their cognitive value on account of their (typically) being fictions. Davies (2007, 2010) draws on “moderate inflationist” views on the problem of cognitive value for scientific thought experiments to answer the “no-evidence” and “no-argument” challenges to the cognitive value of literary fictions. I argue that Davies’ moderate inflationism is unsuccessful. Furthermore, there is a disanalogy between the problems of cognitive value for literary fictions and scientific thought experiments. The consequence of that disanalogy is that “moderate deflationist” views of scientific thought experiments are compatible with a positive view of the cognitive value of literature. I go on to develop a moderate deflationist account of literary cognitive value based on Norton’s (1996) discussion of the cognitive value of scientific thought experiments, and show how it answers the no-evidence and no-argument challenges.

Discovering Laws and Language Together

Dissertation Ch. 4

This paper examines the Trivial Systems Problem (TSP) and the language privileging that is the standard solution to it in Lewis (1983) and successive variants of the BSA. I offer a way of measuring strength that attends to both the competing system and its paired language that blocks the TSP. A related problem, the Problem of Immanent Comparisons (PIC) of Cohen and Callender (2009), is concerned with the commensurability between competing system-language pairs. The PIC, as it happens, has the overly strong conclusion that systems cannot be compared at all unless they are expressed in the same language. I argue that this is not right, citing the Akaike Information Criterion as a prime example (among others) of a measure that can (and plausibly might) be used to compare systems expressed in different languages. However, TSP and PIC both are based in the problems of language sensitivity that are well known throughout philosophy. These problems cannot be overcome, but, because the language sensitivity lies in the measures to be used in the best system competition, I argue that the language relativity of the BBSA can and should be replaced with competition relativity.

Laws, Facts, and Scientific Fields

Dissertation Ch. 3

The Better Best System Analysis (BBSA) of laws of nature is fashioned to accommodate laws in the special sciences by allowing for any set of kinds to be adopted as basic prior to the determination of the laws. For example, setting biological kinds as basic will yield biological laws as the output of the best system competition. I argue that the BBSA suffers from two significant problems: (1) it will run afoul of cases of interfield interactions that blur the boundary between the basic kinds of individual fields (e.g. when photons are of interest to biology), and (2) it is unable to capture the distinction between fundamental and special science laws. I also introduce an extension of the BBSA, the “Kind and Fact Relative Systems” view (KFRS), in which laws are relativized to kinds and the matters of fact that are being systematized. The KFRS can do all the same good work as the BBSA and it can answer the interfield interaction and fundamental/special distinction problems raised in the paper. I conclude that the KFRS is preferable to the BBSA.

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.