I am a professor in the Philosophy Department and the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University. I have been at GSU since 2005, when I returned to my hometown of Atlanta, where I grew up, attended Emory University, and met my wife, Cheryl. From 2001-2005, I was an assistant professor at Florida State University. Before that, I received my PhD in 2001 from Duke University, where I wrote my dissertation, Free Will and the Knowledge Condition, under the direction of Owen Flanagan. Between college and grad school, I spent a year at St. Andrews University in Scotland, studying philosophy on a Bobby Jones Scholarship (yes, the golfer, but not for golfing!), and I taught for two years at Yeshiva High School in Atlanta.
At GSU, I am the Director of Undergraduate Research, and I have led an initiative to begin a program in Neuroethics.
My research is devoted to the study of human agency: what it is, how it is possible, and how it accords with scientific accounts of human nature. My primary focus right now is the free will debate. I am currently working on a book project, Rediscovering Free Will, which argues that the free will debate should not be focused on the traditional question of whether free will is compatible with determinism. Rather, the free will debate should be focused on distinct threats posed by the sciences of the mind (e.g., neuroscience and psychology). I examine these threats and argue that they do not show that free will is an illusion. Instead, these sciences can help to explain free will, rather than explaining it away. To set up these conclusions about what the modern mind sciences tell us about free will, I offer a naturalistic theory of free will focusing on the importance of self-knowledge—especially our ability to know what we really want and know how to act on it. This account of free will, which analyzes it as set of psychological capacities that agents possess and exercise to varying degrees, is amenable to scientific inquiry. I also discuss empirical research on ordinary people’s intuitions about free will and moral responsibility—i.e., ‘experimental philosophy.’
I have conducted experimental philosophy research with several graduate students at FSU and GSU. Our studies suggest that most ordinary people do not take determinism, properly understood, to be incompatible with free will and moral responsibility. Rather, people take determinism to be threatening when they misinterpret it to entail reductionism, epiphenomenalism, or fatalism–what I call ‘bypassing threats’ to agency. In these papers, we also discuss the role such data should play in the philosophical debates. See papers in the “Research” section of this website or my PhilPapers page.
I have also written several papers that discuss the relevance of scientific research to free will and agency, including “Is Free Will an Illusion“, “The Psychology of Free Will,” “Why ‘Willusionism’ Leads to ‘Bad Results’,” which offers an explanation for why recent scientific claims that free will is an illusion may lead people to behave worse, “Autonomous Agency and the Threat of Social Psychology,” which considers how research in situationist social psychology potentially threatens free will, and two papers that examine Daniel Wegner’s claims about the illusion of conscious will, “Agency, Authorship, and Illusion” and “When Consciousness Matters.”
In “Close Calls and the Confident Agent,” I consider the significance of alternative possibilities for free will. In the unpublished paper, “The State of the Free Will Debate: From Frankfurt Cases to the Consequence Argument,” I discuss the structure of incompatibilist arguments. And in an unpublished talk, “Free Will and Knowledge,” I consider the auspicious implications of understanding free will as a set of capacities to obtain knowledge about oneself and the world.
I also examine the intersection of the above questions with questions about moral responsibility and the moral sentiments. Along with Thomas Nadelhoffer and Shaun Nichols, I have co-edited a volume, Moral Psychology: Historical and Contemporary Readings(Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). The volume brings together contemporary texts by philosophers, psychologists and other cognitive scientists with foundational works from both philosophy and psychology that discuss key debates in moral psychology, including moral motivation, altruism, responsible agency, virtues, and intuitions.
I enjoy teaching very much and find that my research is motivated by my attempts to make philosophical questions interesting and relevant to my students. In the Teaching section, see “Polling as Pedagogy” and “Some Practical Suggestions for Teaching Small Philosophy Classes”. Recent seminars include “Free Will and the Sciences of the Mind” and “Moral Psychology.” In 2003 I won the Superior Honors Teaching Award from the Florida State Honors program.
I am active in SPP, the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (serving as program chair for the 2005 meeting) and SSPP, the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology. I also like to blog occasionally at, for instance, Flickers of Freedom, Experimental Philosophy, and AskPhilosophers.
I love to play soccer (but since my knee blew out, now I just coach my kids and watch it), read the newspaper, watch movies, and play guitar. My wife Cheryl is an Instructional Coach at a middle school. In addition to Cheryl, the loves of my life are my sons, Lucas and Sam, and my daughter Eve.