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published papers


Attentional moral perception. (forthcoming) with Preston Werner. Journal of Moral Philosophy.

Moral perceptualism is the view that perceptual experience is attuned to pick up on moral features in our environment, just as it is attuned to pick up on mundane features of an environment like shapes, colors, and pitches. One important family of views that incorporate moral perception are those of virtue theorists and sensibility theorists. On these views, one central ability of the virtuous agent is her sensitivity to morally relevant features of situations, where this sensitivity is often characterized in perceptual terms. However, sensibility theorists have often not specified how to understand their claims about moral sensibilities as perceptual. In this paper, we distinguish Attentional Moral Perception from Contentful Moral Perception. We argue that sensibility theorists should endorse Attentional Moral Perception, because it has powerful empirical evidence in its favor, and it can play all the explanatory roles that sensibility theorists need in their theory of moral sensibilities.

Perceptual uncertainty, clarity, and attention. (forthcoming). In T. Cheng, R. Sato, & J. Hohwy (Eds.) Expected Experiences: The Predictive Mind in an Uncertain World. Routledge. 

Perceptual systems much operate under conditions of uncertainty. As a result, perceptual experiences represent features of the environment with varying degrees of clarity. This paper articulates a notion of perceptual clarity and defends an account of it in terms of perceptual uncertainty. The account correctly predicts the degree of clarity in a range of experiences. Clarity is then distinguished from salience. The account is further supported by its ability to explain several key facts about the relationship between attention, salience, and clarity.

Vagueness in visual experience. (forthcoming). In R. French and B. Brogaard (Eds.) The Roles of Representations in Visual Perception. Springer.

Vagueness in language has received extensive philosophical discussion. Vagueness in perception has not. This paper argues that there is vagueness in visual experiences. For example, among other core aspects of vagueness, a blurry experience can represent an object’s boundaries without clear, sharp cutoffs between the object and its surroundings. Clarity is central to the notion of vagueness, and perceptual clarity is central to vagueness in visual experiences. The paper offers a view of perceptual clarity as a degreed manner of representation and argues that the view can account for the vagueness in visual experiences. Finally, the paper criticizes several pure representationalist accounts of experience—according to which an experience’s phenomenal character is fully determined by its representational content alone—as failing to account for vagueness in visual experiences.

Precision and perceptual clarity (2020) Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

When we see objects blurrily, in the periphery, or in dim light, we often experience their features unclearly. This paper argues that perceptual clarity is a dimension along which experiences vary, distinct from their distal contents. Drawing on models in perception science, the paper accounts for clarity using the probabilistic notion of precision. The account’s first part is ecumenical: it says that experiences carry information about the precision of the representations from which each distal content of experience was selected and this precision information accounts for perceptual clarity. The account’s second part entails that experiences carry the relevant precision information in the manner in which their distal contents are represented. The precision account of clarity is shown to conform to common intuitions about experiences’ contents and accuracy conditions. And it is used to illustrate how experiences could assign probability distributions over distal possibilities, even if experiences’ contents are non-probabilistic.

Noise, uncertainty, and interest: Predictive coding and cognitive penetration (2017) with Dustin Stokes. Consciousness & Cognition.

This paper addresses how current predictive processing theorists conceptualize and explain possible instances of cognitive penetration. Section 1 offers brief clarification of the predictive coding framework and of cognitive penetration. Section 2 develops more precise ways that the predictive coding framework can explain genuine top-down causal effects on perceptual experience. Section 3 develops these insights further with an eye towards tracking one extant criterion for cognitive penetration, namely, that the relevant cognitive effects on perception must be sufficiently direct. In Section 4, we analyze and criticize a claim made by some theorists of predictive coding, namely, that (interesting) instances of cognitive penetration tend to occur in perceptual circumstances involving substantial noise or uncertainty. We argue that, when applied, the claim fails to explain (or perhaps even be consistent with) a large range of important and uncontroversially interesting possible cases of cognitive penetration. We conclude with general speculation about how the recent work on the predictive mind may influence the current dialectic concerning top-down effects on perception.

Cognitive penetration and the tribunal of experience (2015) Review of Philosophy and Psychology


This paper uses a Bayesian framework for perceptual processing and offers two arguments for the following conclusion: influence by cognitive states on perceptual processing does not always undermine the roles of perception, even when the influence is via cognitive penetration. First, since perception has to rely on stored information to generate perceptual experiences anyway, it does not matter whether that information is stored in a cognitive format or not. Second, perception need not serve as an independent tribunal against which we check our beliefs to provide us with knowledge.


Phenomenal commitments: A puzzle for experiential theories of emotion. (2018) in H. Naar & F. Teroni (Eds.). The Ontology of Emotions. Cambridge University Press

This paper raises and responds to a puzzle for experiential theories of emotion. Experiential theories entail that some emotions just are experiences. The puzzle is to explain how subjects could be rationally evaluable in virtue of their emotional experiences, as experiential theories entail in conjunction with the desideratum that subjects are rationally evaluable in virtue of their emotions. Component theories entail that no emotions just are experiences. On some component theories, the experience component of emotion is distinct from the rationally evaluable component. These theories do not face the puzzle. As a result, these component theories have a potential advantage over experiential theories. In response to the puzzle, I defend experiential theories of emotion. Like many others, I argue that the rational evaluability of subjects in virtue of their emotions requires rationally evaluable subjective commitments. Unlike many others, I argue that the commitments need not be even partly constitutive of emotions. Instead, I suggest that emotional experiences are rationally evaluable because of their relation to other commitments the subject makes and the norms that govern those commitments. 

Emotion and the new epistemic challenge from cognitive penetrability (2014) Philosophical Studies


This paper highlights features shared by emotional and perceptual experiences. I argue that emotional experiences' power to justify beliefs can be undermined by defective causal histories. On the strength of the shared features of emotional and perceptual experiences and their causal histories, I conclude the perceptual experiences' power to justify beliefs can also be undermined by defective causal histories.

Predictive processing 

Action prevents error: Predictive processing without active inference. (2017) In T. Metzinger & W. Wiese (Eds.) Philosophy and Predictive Processing. Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group.

According to predictive processing, prediction error minimization explains everything the mind does, from perception to cognition to action. Here I focus on action. ‘Active inference’ is the standard approach to action in predictive processing. According to active inference, as it has been developed by Friston and collaborators, action ensues when proprioceptive predictions generate prediction error at the motor periphery, and classical reflex arcs engage to quash the error. In this paper, I raise a series of problems for active inference. I then offer an alternative approach on which action prevents error, rather than quash it. I argue that the action prevents error approach solves all the problems raised for active inference. In addition, I show how the alternative approach can be independently motivated by further commitments of predictive processing and that it is compatible with other prominent approaches to sensorimotor psychology, such as optimal feedback control.


Review of Jakob Hohwy's The predictive mind. (2015) Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

This review gives an overview of the predictive mind hypothesis, according to which all mental processes are arranged in a Bayesian hierarchy, aim at prediction error minimization, and employ a single prediction error mechanism. The review raises questions about how the levels of the hierarchy are ordered, whether a single mechanism can account for perception and action, and whether the account's application to psychological disorders is explanatory.


Commentary: The myth of cognitive agency. (2018) Frontiers in Psychology. 

This commentary discusses how narrative conceptions of the self can be developed within Thomas Metzinger's Self Model Theory of self-representation. Against many narrative conceptions of the self, I argue that a substantial proportion of narrative self-representations occur without words, during nocturnal rapid eye movement (REM) dreaming and other subpersonal processes. I also discuss how to situate self-narratives in the overall architecture the Self Model Theory. 

Electronic versions are provided as a professional courtesy to ensure timely dissemination of academic work for individual, noncommercial purposes. Copyright (and all rights therein) resides with the respective copyright holders, as stated within each paper. These files may not be reposted without permission.

papers in progress

Predictive processing and persistent illusions
In the 1980s, Jerry Fodor used persistent perceptual illusions (such as the Muller-Lyer and the Ebbinghaus illusions) to challenge views on which cognition frequently and directly influences perception via what is now usually called 'cognitive penetration'. Taking as his targets New Look psychologists, scientific relativists, and connectionists, Fodor developed his challenge in a way that was suggestive, but informal and inconclusive. Since the 1980s, hierarchical, probabilistic (especially Bayesian) approaches to modeling mental processing have replaced New Look psychology and the older forms of connectionism Fodor targeted. Predictive processing is among the most prominent and complete developments of such an approach. Many advocates of predictive processing hold that cognitive penetration of perceptual processing frequently occurs via a continuous message-passing hierarchy linking perception and cognition. The present paper describes key mathematical details of predictive processing's proposed message-passing hierarchy, and it uses the details to present a new and improved version of the challenge from persistent illusions. The paper shows that recent responses to the challenge by Andy Clark, Gary Lupyan, and Jakob Hohwy face serious difficulties in light of the new and improved formulation. The paper concludes with upshots for recent debates about cognitive influence on perception.

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