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''Explanation and Underdetermination in the Science of Consciousness''

Much of contemporary philosophical work on consciousness is predicated on the assumption that work produced as part of the neuroscience of consciousness, the now prolific and well established research field within cognitive neuroscience, is neutral with respect to the radically divergent theories of consciousness in the philosophy of mind. The operation of this ‘neutrality thesis’ is evidenced most clearly in the methodological practices of philosophers and neuroscientists, who stand united in the assertion that questions about the metaphysics of consciousness and the details of its neural basis form largely independent, non-interacting research areas. Left unchallenged, this has led to the perceived viability and subsequent propagation of so-called naturalistic non-physicalist metaphysical accounts of consciousness on the basis that such a position is ‘‘broadly consistent with the picture of consciousness and the brain emerging from contemporary neuroscience’’ (Crane et al. 2015). This paper presents a case against the neutrality thesis and the view of the philosophy and metaphysics of mind it supports. This is split into two parts. In the first, I draw out the main line of argument in favour of the neutrality assumption, introduced by David Chalmers and Uriah Kriegel. With the use of case studies from recent neuroscientific research, in the second I present two objections to this argument. Together, these aim to demonstrate that the argument depends, in various ways, on an outdated and empirically implausible view of contemporary neuroscientific research and, in particular, its mechanistic explanatory aims and practices.



''Aphantasia, Imagination and Dreaming''

Aphantasia is a recently discovered disorder characterised by the total incapacity to generate visual forms of mental imagery. This paper proposes that aphantasia raises important theoretical concerns for the ongoing debate in the philosophy and science of consciousness over the nature of dreams. Recent studies of aphantasia and its neurobehavioral correlates reveal that the majority of aphantasics, whilst unable to produce visual imagery while awake, nevertheless retain the capacity to experience rich visual dreams. This finding constitutes a novel explanandum for theories of dreaming. Specifically, I argue that the recent dream reports of aphantasics constitute an empirical challenge to the emerging family of views which claim that dreams are essentially imaginative experiences, constitutively involving the kinds of mental imagery which aphantasics, ex-hypothesi, lack. After presenting this challenge in the context Jonathan Ichikawa’s recent arguments for this view, I argue that this empirical challenge can be overcome if the imagination theorist abandons Ichikawa’s account of dreaming in favour of a modified version. This second thesis involves the claim that dreams are essentially inactive and constitutively involve non voluntary forms of imagination.


''The Naturalisation of Consciousness: A Neuroscience-First Approach to the Metaphysics of Mind''

An ongoing and heavily disputed debate in philosophical methodology concerns the extent to which contemporary metaphysics requires naturalisation. An emerging consensus suggests that whilst radical arguments which call the discontinuation of the entirety of metaphysics may be unfounded, epistemic considerations nevertheless demand the pursuit of a ‘moderately naturalised’ and scientifically responsible programme - one in which metaphysical theories are constructed on the basis of a rich and sustained dialog with emerging scientific research. This paper raises the following question: if one accepts these epistemic constraints, is there space in a scientifically engaged research programme for a naturalised metaphysics of consciousness? and defends an affirmative answer. When combined with recent work in the metaphysics of science, it is argued that adoption of an explanationist account of metaphysics - on which one views philosophy of mind as proceeding via inference to the best explanation - provides us with a compelling account of how such a programme can be constructed. The result is a novel methodological ‘‘neuroscience-first’’ framework for conducting the metaphysics of consciousness. In addition to satisfying the standard criteria demanded by a moderately naturalised metaphysics, it is argued that this framework, given the extent and maturity of neuroscientific research on the neural basis of consciousness, is likely to be a fruitful one. Consciousness, on this view, is ripe for naturalisation.

''A Mechanistic Perspective on the Neuroscientific Threat to Free Agency''

A closer look at the literature on so-called ‘neuroscientific threats to free will’ reveals that, in the most pressing cases, the success of these empirical challenges - whether or not they compel us to endorse a form of free will skepticism - hinges upon the correct formulation of their empirical premise viz.the claim that the relevant neuroscientific results can be plausibly said to establish. In this paper I argue for the novel view that the empirical premise in neuroscientific arguments against free will cannot, as has previously been assumed, be ascertained within the purview of philosophy of mind and free will alone, but instead requires close attention to the broader explanatory project of cognitive neuroscience, discussion of which is prevalent in contemporary philosophy of science and mechanistic explanation (Craver 2007). Taking the most substantial and pressing threat to free will from neuroscience as my focus- the threat from unconscious initiation of action - I argue that, on a mechanistic reading, such a threat is rendered illusory. This is based on two considerations (i) that initiation incontrovertibly implies the presence of a causal relation between the initiating event and the event which is initiated and (ii) that, according to standard readings, constitutive mechanistic phenomena bear a constitutive, non-causal relation to their component parts in a manner which precludes interlevel causation between a component acting-entity (indicated by unconscious brain activity) and a constitutive phenomenon (volitional free action) required for the notion of initiation to get off the ground. I conclude with a discussion of how the explanatory account of neuroscience detailed by the new mechanists might prove to be of further, positive, use to the free will debate, providing the foundations of an empirically validated account of how free will looks when its’ working.

 ''Making Sense of Mental Causation: What Causal Pluralism Can do for Metaphysics''

The  urge to understand ontic phenomena as single kinds of thing permeates contemporary debates in metaphysics. Whilst this parsimonious instinct is certainly justified in particular cases, more often than not this insistence on the provision of monistic accounts of metaphysical phenomena works instead to block the construction of alternative pluralistic theories which are richer and ecumenical, arriving onto the dialectical stage better equipped to do justice to the phenomenon under examination. Arguably, nowhere is this predicament more apparent than in the metaphysics of causation, where it has recently been argued that ‘causation’, despite its unified and monolithic appearance, masks an underlying ontological diversity (Psillos 2009).


This paper explores the role that this monistic assumption plays in the contemporary debate on mental causation to which metaphysical accounts of causation are frequently applied, and examines how its abandonment - signaled by pluralist theories - changes the nature and ultimate outcome of standard arguments in the literature. I argue for the following claims: (i) that the monistic assumption does crucial work in the mental causation debate  in virtue of securing the soundness of Kim’s revised and much discussed Causal Exclusion Argument against non-reductive physicalism (2005), (ii) that its’ denial in an ontological form of causal pluralism as outlined by Psillos (2009) provides the resources for a new case against the exclusion argument, suggesting a novel picture of mental causation according to which downward (mental to physical) and horizontal (physical to physical) causation denote distinct worldly relations. Such a response, I’ll claim, can be best understood as falling within the set of arguments which grant the systematic overdetermination of physical effects by mental and physical causes yet claim that the occurrence of such ubiquitous causal overdetermination is benign, in virtue of the causal overdetermination in the mental causation case possessing certain unique features - in this instance, the overdetermination of physical effects by different types of causal relations.  I conclude with a discussion of (iii) how the provisionary account of pluralistic mental causation I present provides a convincing case against the recent attack on so-called  ‘overdetermination acceptors’ posed by Sara Bernstein (2016), of which this response is an instance.

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