I am an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Central European University in Vienna. Previously, I taught at UNC Chapel Hill, Dartmouth College, and New York University. I work primarily in metaphysics, social philosophy, and feminist philosophy. I am currently writing a book on the metaphysics of social objects as well as a series of papers on social construction and grounding & essence. I also have a project on cryptocurrency. I obtained my PhD in Philosophy at NYU and my BPhil in Philosophy at Oxford. Prior to that, I did my BA degree at UC Berkeley.
I am the co-founder and co-organizer of the annual Social Metaphysics Workshop (with Kevin Richardson), and the Vice President of the International Social Ontology Society.
"Social Kind Essentialism," under review (email for draft)
There has been widespread opposition to so-called essentialism in contemporary social theory. At the same time, within contemporary analytic metaphysics, the notion of essence has been revived and put to work by neo-Aristotelians. The ‘new essentialism’ of the neo-Aristotelians opens the prospect for a new social essentialism—one that avoids the problematic commitments of the ‘old essentialism’ while also providing a helpful framework for social theorizing. In this paper, I formulate a distinct neo-Aristotelian brand of essentialism about social kinds and show how it avoids the legitimate worries of social theorists. I then argue that neo-Aristotelian social kind essentialism provides a useful framework for a wide range of projects in social ontology and feminist metaphysics, including descriptive and ameliorative inquiries as well as the project of achieving social change. I further argue that an essentialist framework is more useful than a grounding framework when it comes to certain legitimate theoretical and practical purposes in social theory.
"Social Construction and Meta-Ground," under R&R (email for draft)
The notion of social construction plays an important role in many areas of social philosophy, including the philosophy of gender, the philosophy of race, and social ontology. Yet there is no consensus in the literature on how this notion is to be understood. One promising proposal, which has been championed in recent years by Brian Epstein (2015, 2016), Aaron Griffith (2017, 2018), and Jonathan Schaffer (2017), is that social construction may be understood in terms of the notion of metaphysical grounding. However, a simple ground-theoretic analysis of social construction is subject to familiar counterexamples, and it is far from clear how to modify the analysis to avoid the counterexamples. I argue that some initially plausible strategies for dealing with the counterexamples fail. I then develop and defend a new strategy for dealing with the counterexamples—one which leads to a novel ground-theoretic account of social construction in terms of meta-ground.
"Ameliorative Metaphysics," under revision (email for draft)
In recent years, ‘ameliorative’ projects have become popular in social metaphysics. Such projects have been pursued for a wide range of social phenomena, including gender, race, sexual orientation, and misogyny. Yet the very idea of an ameliorative metaphysics is puzzling. On the one hand, normative and political considerations are supposed to be relevant to ameliorative inquiry. On the other hand, metaphysics is supposed to be a value-neutral descriptive endeavor. In this paper, I consider and reject some extant proposals for how to make sense of ameliorative metaphysics. I then propose a new way of understanding this sort of project within a broadly neo-Aristotelian conception of metaphysics.
"Collective Acceptance and Attitudes," in preparation for the Oxford Handbook of Social Ontology
This chapter expounds John Searle's theory of social and institutional facts, according to which the social world is created through attitudes of collective acceptance. It then discusses some of the most important objections to this theory and alternatives that have been proposed in the literature.
"Metaphysics of Social Objects," in preparation for Philosophy Compass
This article critically surveys competing views on the ontology of social objects such as borders, dollars, states, restaurants, and corporations. The following views are examined: (i) eliminativism, which says that social objects don't exist; (ii) reductive materialism, which says that token social objects are identical to token ordinary material things; (iii) non-reductive materialism, which says that social objects are not identical to ordinary material things but nevertheless stand in some close relation to such things; (iv) immaterialism, which says that social objects are immaterial entities; and (v) mixed ontologies, which say that some social objects are material whereas others are immaterial. I argue that the last view is the most adequate.
"Artifacts, Artworks, and Social Objects," forthcoming in Routledge Handbook of Essence in Philosophy
Artifacts include practical items such as tables, chairs, and screwdrivers, as well as artworks such as paintings, sculptures, and musical works. Social objects include social and institutional things such as dollars, borders, states, corporations, and universities. Although we are all familiar with such entities, it is far from clear what their nature or essence consists in or whether they even have a real nature or essence. The aim of this chapter is to survey and critically examine various positions on these two central philosophical issues concerning essence and artifacts, artworks, and social objects. I first consider whether the kinds artifact and social object, as well as kinds of artifacts and social objects, have essences; I then inquire into what these essences may be.
"Cryptocurrency: Commodity or Credit?,"The Philosophy of Money and Finance, OUP (2024)
To this day, many theorists regard the commodity theory and the credit theory as the two main rival accounts of the nature of money. Yet cryptocurrency has revolutionized the institution of money in ways that most commodity and credit theorists could hardly have anticipated. Given that cryptocurrency is a new form of money, the question arises whether the commodity and credit theories can adequately account for it. I argue that they cannot. I first offer an interpretation of the commodity and credit theories according to which these theories uphold differing claims about the origin of money, the ontology of money, and the function of money. I then argue that thus understood, neither theory can accommodate cryptocurrency. Finally, I develop a novel hybrid hylomorphic account of money which draws on aspects of both the commodity and credit theories, and I argue that this hybrid account can accommodate cryptocurrency.
"Norm and Object: A Normative Hylomorphic Theory of Social Objects," Philosophers' Imprint (2021) [Michigan]
This paper is an investigation into the metaphysics of social objects such as political borders, states, and organizations. I articulate a metaphysical puzzle concerning such objects and then propose a novel account of social objects that provides a solution to the puzzle. The basic idea behind the puzzle is that under appropriate circumstances, seemingly concrete social objects can apparently be created by acts of agreement, decree, declaration, or the like. Yet there is reason to believe that no concrete object can be created in this way. The central idea of my positive account is that social objects have a normative component to them, and seemingly concrete social objects have both normative and material components. I develop this idea more rigorously using resources from the Aristotelian hylomorphic tradition. The resulting normative hylomorphic account, I argue, solves the puzzle by providing a satisfying explanation of creation-by-agreement and the like, while also avoiding the difficulties facing extant accounts of social objects.
Feminist metaphysicians have recently argued that some of the most influential contemporary meta-metaphysical frameworks are at odds with feminist metaphysics. In this paper I argue that the Finean framework of grounding, essence, and reality evades the main challenges that have been raised for alternative frameworks. The upshot of my discussion is that the Finean framework is an apt one for feminist metaphysics.
The advent of virtual currencies such as bitcoin raises a pressing question for lawmakers, regulators, and judges: should bitcoin and other virtual currencies be classified as money or currency for legal and regulatory purposes? I examine two different approaches to answering this question—a descriptive approach and a normative approach. The descriptive approach says that bitcoin and other virtual currencies should be classified as money or currency just in case they really are money or currency, whereas the normative approach says that this question of classification should be answered on the basis of substantive normative considerations. I argue against the descriptive approach and in favor of the normative approach.
There is a widespread sentiment that social objects such as nation-states, borders, and pieces of money are just figments of our collective imagination and not really ‘out there’ in the world. Call this the ‘antirealist intuition’. Eliminativist, reductive materialist, and immaterialist views of social objects can all make sense of the antirealist intuition, in one way or another. But these views face serious difficulties. A promising alternative view is nonreductive materialism. Yet it is unclear whether and how nonreductive materialists can make sense of the antirealist intuition. I develop a version of nonreductive materialism that is able to meet this explanatory demand. The central idea is that social objects are materially constituted, response-dependent objects. I go on to offer an independent argument in favor of this response-dependent view of social objects. I then suggest that a proponent of this view can appeal to the response-dependent nature of social objects to explain, or explain away, the antirealist intuition.
In recent years there has been an increased interest in applying the tools and methods of analytic metaphysics to the study of social phenomena. This essay examines how one such tool – the notion of metaphysical ground – may be used to elucidate some central notions, debates, and positions in the philosophy of race and gender, social ontology, and the philosophy of social science. Three main applications are examined: how the notion of social construction may be analyzed in ground-theoretic terms (§1); how debates over the nature of social facts may be recast as grounding debates (§2); and how the doctrine of ontological individualism may be formulated using the notion of ground (§3). The essay concludes by considering a skeptical challenge concerning the usefulness of the grounding framework for social metaphysics (§4).
"Daniel Z. Korman, Objects: Nothing Out of the Ordinary," Philosophical Review (2019) [Duke]
This is a review of Korman's book. I focus on the argument from counterexamples in favor of conservatism, the debunking response to this argument, and the arbitrariness arguments against conservatism.
Social Objects, in progress
Social objects such as borders, dollars, states, governments, and corporations play an important role in our everyday lives as well as in the social sciences and the law. But what exactly are these things, metaphysically speaking? On the one hand, social objects seem to be just as real as ordinary objects like trees, tables, and chairs: they have causal powers, they figure in explanation and prediction, and many of them are ‘out there’ in the external world. On the other hand, social objects seem to be products of our collective imagination. Thus, under appropriate circumstances they can be created and destroyed by social acts of agreement, decree, declaration, or the like. Moreover, they appear to have a distinctively normative dimension to them insofar as they can be just or unjust, legitimate or illegitimate. My book aims to develop a unified and systematic metaphysics of social objects which can account for these puzzling and distinctive features. The central idea is that social objects are essentially normative entities whose existence is partly a normative matter, where the relevant norms are moral, legal, or social. I develop this idea using resources from the neo-Aristotelian metaphysical tradition. I then apply the general theory to three specific cases: money and currency; the state; and social ‘personages’ such as citizens, presidents, and wives. I conclude by examining the implications of the general theory for issues in the philosophy of social science, and for real-world legal and political disputes.