My research focuses on reconciling humanistic concerns and commitments with a naturalistic worldview, particularly aspects of that worldview shaped by modern biology. What new lessons and constraints do empirical sciences like biology and neuroscience pose to our self-understanding? What changes do they motivate in our philosophical theories of action, knowledge, rationality, value, selfhood, or society? What role do human factors such as subjective experience and culturally contingent epistemic frameworks play in the development and justification of the sciences themselves?
My previously published work has addressed various aspects of the relationship between science and human concerns: for instance, the influence of philosophical commitments in Darwin interpretations (HOPOS, 2018); the role of biologically questionable “typological thinking” in discussions of biological species and human nature (Studies C, 2015); 19th and 20th century rhetoric on the human “place” in nature (Palgrave, 2016); the promises and dangers of ethical naturalism (IPQ, 2011); the realism-relativism issue in the Rorty-Putnam debate (Nordic Studies in Pragmatism, 2015); and a biologically-engaged strain of European philosophy known as “philosophical anthropology” (IJPS, 2015; Phil. Soc. Sci. 2015; Palgrave 2016).
In my current book project, Natural Artificiality: Biology, Technology, and the Human Place in the World, I build on my previous research to address this relation between the naturalistic worldview and human concerns in a fundamental and original way. In the first half of the book, I argue for a single empirically plausible but controversial biological hypothesis – namely, that humans are characterized by “content-open natural artificiality”: in short, a species-typical adaptation for mediation of their cognitive and behavioral repertoires by artifacts, where the precise features of the mediating artifacts are not given by their (humans’) species-typical nature. If true, this thesis entails that contingent artificial mediacy is the natural condition of human beings. In the second half of the book, I draw the consequences of this hypothesis for philosophy of mind, action, knowledge, normativity, technology, and society. The result challenges many canonical philosophical views: for instance, it affirms both the legitimacy of modern natural science’s epistemic authority and the inevitable subjectivity and historical-cultural contingency of all human knowledge and evaluation, including the norms and commitments of modern science themselves.
My previous research has addressed related themes in the history of philosophy. One focus has been a tradition of modern European thought known as “philosophische Anthropologie” (philosophical anthropology): for instance, the work of Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen, and Adolf Portmann. My work on these figures has explored the relevance of their ideas to contemporary debates about naturalism, the ontology of living things and processes, philosophies of nature, culture, and technology, and embodiment and animality. Another strain of my previously published research has focused on the history of the philosophy of biology, mostly since 1950. This work has examined debates and discussions between representatives of the fields of biology and philosophy, including negotiation of boundaries, contests over epistemic authority, collaborations, and conceptual, thematic, and other epistemic borrowings.