Research

Below are some of my projects, old and new. Feel free to email me for drafts at rebecca.s.chan [at] sjsu [dot] edu.

Publications

Religious Experience, Voluntarist Reasons, and the Transformative Experience Puzzle“, Res Philosophica, 93.1: 269-287 (2016).

Current Projects

“Ethics-First Metaphysics”

This paper is about normative data and the work they can do. Normative data, roughly, are facts about value and what we ought to do. Besides informing our actions, they also can inform us about the way the world is. This paper presents and defends ethics-first metaphysics, a methodology on which normative data provide epistemic guidance for making progress on metaphysical disputes. This methodology is significant because it provides a way of responding to an epistemic challenge that metaphysicians face: given the evidence under consideration, metaphysicians don’t seem to have sufficient justification for believing either side of a dispute. This methodology also provides a way of responding to a more existential practical challenge: many metaphysical disputes don’t seem worth engaging because they do not appear to matter.

“The Problem of Self-Transformation”

From the standpoint of self-interest, is it rational for me to prefer to become someone who is radically different from my current self rather than someone who feels connected to who I currently am? Should my answer to this question depend on value considerations associated with the potential ways my life might go? These questions—which constitute what I call the problem of self-transformation—are the focus of my paper. In attempting to answer these questions, I hope to show (i) that value considerations underdetermine what preferences agents ought to have in decisions involving self-transformation, (ii) that considerations grounded in the will of an agent are needed to determine rational preferences in these decisions, and (iii) that there is a distinction between who agents are practically and who they are metaphysically with the former being what matters for self-interest.

“Transformed by Faith”

Appealing to value considerations is a common way of justifying the rationality of religious faith. For instance, Pascal’s wager relies upon the expected value of choosing the life of faith being infinite. Similarly, many contemporary arguments for the rationality of faith turn on whether faith is practically rational—or whether it is better for an agent to have faith rather than lack it. In this paper, I argue contra Pascal and others that value considerations do not justify the rationality of faith. In general, value considerations underdetermine the preferences that self-interested agents ought to have in cases of radical transformation. Living the life of faith is radically transformative. A fortiori, value considerations underdetermine whether one ought to prefer to be transformed by faith.

“What’s Wrong with Telling Someone Else’s Story?”

This paper explores whether it is permissible to tell someone else’s story. Specifically, it’s interested in works—such as those in literature and art—that attempt to convey the experiences of a group of which the author or artist is not a part. Telling someone else’s story requires robust ‘what it’s like’ knowledge, and there is a strong presumption that authors either lack this knowledge. Without this knowledge, these works are epistemically defective in the same way that fabricated or misappropriated research is in, e.g., the sciences. Finally, the paper notes that the epistemic wrongness of telling someone else’s story connects with an account of wrongness grounded in social injustice: membership in a group of a socially unjust society is sufficient (though not necessary) for lacking the relevant knowledge of ‘what it’s like’ to be a member of a different group.

“Moral Indulgences” (coauthored with Dustin Crummett)

Suppose it’s prima facie wrong to eat meat. Scott, whenever he eats meat, makes a donation to an animal welfare charity—one large enough to prevent more suffering than his meat-eating causes. Plausibly, donating is supererogatory and can be performed without meat-eating; it’s better if Scott refrained from eating meat and still donated. But if things are better when Scott performs both actions than when he performs neither (as he could have permissibly done), has Scott done something wrong? We explore the permissibility of being morally indulgent. Roughly, morally indulgent agents, like Scott, perform one act that is prima facie wrong and another that is supererogatory and outweighs the wrong. This practice seems permissible in some cases (e.g., polluting and purchasing carbon offsets) and impermissible in others (e.g., murdering one and donating money to save many). We explore whether there is a principle that explains when morally indulging is permissible.

“Reviving the Modal Account of Essence”

In “Essence and Modality,” Kit Fine presents counterexamples to the modal account of essence that are now widely regarded as successful. As a result, the modal account has fallen out of favor, and the trend in metaphysics is to move towards a definitional account of essence on which only some of a thing’s necessary properties—those that “define what it is”—qualify as essential properties. This paper argues that abandoning the modal account for the definitional one is too hasty. The modal account can be repaired by adding two modifications based on determinacy and sparseness. These modifications result in a revised modal account that avoids Fine’s counterexamples. Furthermore, unlike other attempts in the literature to modify the modal account, these modifications can be analyzed in purely modal terms. The revised account proposed in this paper is thus fully reductive and preserves the main virtue of the original modal account.

“Reasons! Weighing in on the Belief Independence Debate”

Belief independence is the thesis that if an agent has already doxastically revised his beliefs in light of a disagreeing peer, that agent only needs to revise further in light of additional disagreeing peers if those peers hold their beliefs independently of the first peer. Some epistemologists like Elga and Kelly advance the thesis, while others like Lackey reject it, arguing that various formulations of the thesis are defective. My paper enters the debate here and presents a more plausible position that focuses on reasons—the grounds for belief. I present a series of cases that demonstrates that: belief independence of some sort is required, and the sort independence that matters is independence of reasons for belief; considerations in support of belief independence of reasons also support additional doxastic revision in cases where multiple independent reasons ground a peer’s belief; and the correct view with respect to belief independence is one that requires doxastic revision in response to numbers of independent reasons, not numbers of peers.