Ryan Cox | Philosophy


Honorary Associate in Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry
University of Sydney

phone: +61 426 050 207
e-mail (Sydney): ryan.cox@sydney.edu.au
web: www.rdouglascox.com
office: N494, Main Quadrangle


About Me

Since 2017, I have been an Honorary Associate in Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney.

Between September 2020 and January 2021 I was Lecturer and Associate Research Scholar in the Department of Philosophy at Princeton University where I taught PHI315-CHV315, Philosophy of Mind and PHI309-CHV309, Political Philosophy.

Prior to these appointments, I was a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hamburg from October 2016 until May 2017, working with Benjamin Schnieder. My research at Hamburg was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

I received my PhD. in Philosophy from the Australian National University in July 2017. My supervisors were Daniel Stoljar (chair), David Chalmers, Daniel Nolan, and Nicholas Southwood.

From October 2013 until March 2014, I was a Guest of the Philosophy Department at the University of Cambridge, working with John Maier. Prior to that, from October 2012 until May 2013, I was a Visiting Student Research Collaborator in the Department of Philosophy at Princeton University, working with Michael Smith.

I live in Sydney with my partner, our year old daughter, and our year old son.


Research

I have a wide range of research interests, from the philosophy of mind, to political philosophy. My research to date has primarily been in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language, although I have recently started working on issues in political philosophy, in particular on the relation between democracy and social equality, on the understanding of value in democratic theory and on the nature of legitimate political authority. My essay “Democracy and Social Equality” was recently accepted at the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.

My research in the philosophy of mind has primarily focused on the issue of self-knowledge. My essay “Knowing Why” concerns our knowledge of our own reasons for acting and holding particular attitudes. Since I published this paper, several other papers have appeared on the same topic. I hope to engage with this work in future research. My essay “Knowledge of Moral Incapacity” concerns our knowledge of our own moral incapacities. It attempts to draw conclusions about the nature of moral incapacities from facts about how we know our own moral incapacities.

My other research in the philosophy of mind has been on the topic of emotion regulation (See “Only Reflect”), on the relation between introspective beliefs and the mental states they are about (See “Introspection and Distinctness” and “Constitutivism about Instrumental Desire and Introspective Belief”), and on the parallel between constitutivism about instrumental beliefs and constitutivism about instrumental desire (See “Constitutivism about Instrumental Desire and Introspective Belief”).

My research in the philosophy of language has focused on the nature of why-questions and other explanatory language. My research on our knowledge of our own reasons for acting and holding particular attitudes led me to questions about the syntax and semantics of why-questions. My paper “How Why-Interrogatives Work” attempts to provide an explanation of the contrastive nature of why-interrogatives while treating why-interrogatives as if they were syntactically similar to other wh-interrogatives. My paper “Bromberger on the Syntax of Why-Interrogatives” takes up questions about the syntax of why-interrogatives from a more linguistic point of view.

I recently collaborated with Matthew Hammerton on a short essay on deontic constraints in agent-neutral consequentialism (See “Setiya on Consequentialism and Constraints”) and hope to continue to collaborate with Matthew on similar questions in ethical theory. I am also currently collaborating with Luara Ferracioli on issues in the philosophy of education.


Publications

Published and Forthcoming

Ryan Cox “Democracy and Social Equality,” Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, forthcoming. Abstract

Abstract: This essay explores the nature of the relation between democracy and social equality. It critically evaluates the egalitarian view that democracy is necessary for full social equality and that democracy is an important constituent of social equality. On such a view, inequalities in power and de facto authority are taken, in certain circumstances, and in the absence of certain dispositions to refrain from exercising such power and authority, to constitute a form of social inequality. On the basis of a series of cases, I argue that such a view is mistaken, and that political inequalities are, at best, causally and contingently related to social inequality. I argue that a better explanation of what is wrong with inequalities in power and de facto authority in many cases is that they can be used to extract greater consideration for those with greater power.

Ryan Cox “Knowledge of Moral Incapacity,” Journal of Value Inquiry, 2021. Abstract

Abstract: Are the limits on what we can do, morally speaking—our “moral incapacities” as Bernard Williams calls them—imposed on us from within, by reason itself, or from without, by something other than reason? Do they perhaps have their source in the will, as opposed to reason? In this essay, I argue for a theory of moral incapacity on which our moral incapacities have their source in reason itself. The theory is defended on the grounds that it provides the best explanation of our knowledge of our own moral incapacities. I argue that just as an agent’s reflective commitments play an essential role in the explanation of their knowledge of their moral incapacities, they play an essential role in the explanation of moral incapacities themselves. Since reflective commitments are rational commitments, and rational commitments have their source in reason, moral incapacities have their source in reason itself. The theory of knowledge of moral incapacity offered in this essay draws on elements of Richard Moran’s “deliberative” theory of self-knowledge and elements of that theory are used to offer a theory of moral incapacities which extends and improves on Bernard Williams’ “deliberative” theory of moral incapacities. The resulting theory is then defended against objections and alternatives.

Ryan Cox “Constitutivism about Instrumental Desires and Introspective Belief,” Dialectica, forthcoming. Abstract

Abstract: This essay is about two familiar theses in the philosophy of mind: constitutivism about instrumental desires, and constitutivism about introspective beliefs, and the arguments for and against them. Constitutivism about instrumental desire is the thesis that instrumental desires are at least partly constituted by the desires and means-end beliefs which explain them and is a thesis which has been championed most prominently by Michael Smith. Constitutivism about introspective belief is the thesis that introspective beliefs are at least partly constituted by the mental states they are about and is a thesis which has been championed most prominently by Sydney Shoemaker. Despite their similarities, the fortunes of these two theses could not be more opposed: constitutivism about instrumental desire is widely accepted, and constitutivism about introspective belief is widely rejected. Yet, the arguments for both theses are roughly analogous. This essay explores these arguments. I argue that the argument which is widely taken to be the best argument for constitutivism about instrumental desires—what I call the argument from necessitation—does not provide the support for the thesis it is widely taken to provide, and that it fails for much the same reasons that it fails to provide support for constitutivism about introspective belief and I argue that the best argument for constitutivism about instrumental desires—what I will call the argument from cognitive dynamics—is also a good argument, if not an equally good argument, for constitutivism about introspective belief (at least when the thesis is suitably qualified).

Ryan Cox “Introspection and Distinctness,” in A Materialist Theory of the Mind: 50 Years on, ed. Peter Anstey and David Braddon-Mitchell (Oxford University Press, 2022). Abstract.

Abstract: Claims about the distinctness or non-distinctness of introspective beliefs from the mental states they are about have played a central role in the philosophy of introspection in the past fifty years or so. In A Materialist Theory of the Mind and work leading up to it, David Armstrong famously argued against infallibilist theories of introspection, and in defence of his own self-scanning theory of introspection, on the ground that introspective beliefs are distinct from the mental states they are about. Sydney Shoemaker, one of Armstrong’s most ardent critics, famously argued against Armstrong’s self-scanning theory of introspection, and in favour of his own constitutive theory of introspection, on the ground that introspective beliefs are not distinct from the mental states they are about. Yet the relevant sense or senses of distinctness involved here, and the role such claims about distinctness plays in such arguments, is notoriously hard to pin down. This essay explores some of the issues concerning distinctness and non-distinctness in the philosophy of introspection and in the dispute between Armstrong and Shoemaker and offers a reassessment of some of the central arguments offered in that dispute.

Ryan Cox and Matthew Hammerton “Setiya on Consequentialism and Constraints,” Utilitas 33, no. 4 (2021): 474–79. Abstract.

Abstract: It is widely held that agent-neutral consequentialism is incompatible with deontic constraints. Recently, Kieran Setiya has challenged this orthodoxy by presenting a form of agent-neutral consequentialism that he claims can capture deontic constraints. In this reply, we argue against Setiya’s proposal by pointing to features of deontic constraints that his account fails to capture.

Ryan Cox “Bromberger on the Syntax of Why-Interrogatives,” Lingua 274 (2020). Abstract.

Abstract: Are why-interrogatives just like other wh-interrogatives, syntactically speaking? Are they filler-gap constructions? This essay presents the case for thinking that they are. It brings together the standard arguments for thinking that they are and presents a new argument for thinking so. It then critically examines the justly influential arguments of Sylvain Bromberger for thinking that why-interrogatives are not syntactically just like other wh-interrogatives and argues that they do not establish their conclusion.

Ryan Cox “Only Reflect,” Philosophical Topics 47, no. 2 (2019): 183–204. Abstract.

Abstract: While it is widely held that normative reflection is an effective means of controlling our emotions, it has proven to be notoriously difficult to provide a plausible model of such control. How could reflection on the normative status of our emotions be a means of controlling them? Higher-order models of reflective control give a special role to higher-order beliefs and judgements about the normative status of our emotions in controlling our emotions, but in doing so claim that higher-order beliefs and judgements have more control over our emotional lives than they in fact have, and fail to explain some of the central features of reflective control. First-order models of reflective control give a special role to first-order evaluative beliefs and perceptions about the objects of our emotions in controlling our emotions, but in doing so fail to explain how normative reflection could be a distinctive means of controlling our emotions at all. In this essay, I defend a model of reflective control which avoids the twin pitfalls of the higher-order and first-order models of reflective control, while learning from them both. I defend a model according to which normative reflection is a means of bringing our emotions under the control of reflective reason, where an emotion’s being under the control of reflective reason is to be understood in terms of its being under the control of one’s first-order evaluative beliefs and perceptions in accordance with one’s reflective commitments.

Ryan Cox “How Why-Interrogatives Work,” Synthese, 2019, 1–38. Abstract.

Abstract: How do why-interrogatives work? How do they express the questions they express, in the contexts in which they express them? In this essay, I argue that, at a fundamental level, why-interrogatives work just like other wh-interrogatives, particularly other adjunct wh-interrogatives, and they express the questions they express, in the contexts in which they express them, by the same means that other wh-interrogatives do. These conclusions go against a trend in recent work on why-interrogatives, which holds that they are syntactically and semantically unlike other wh-interrogatives. Since the claim that why-interrogatives are unlike other wh-interrogatives has been taken to support various philosophical theses about the nature of why-questions and explanation, showing that why-interrogatives are just like other wh-interrogatives undermines this line of support for these theses.

Ryan Cox “Knowing Why,” Mind & Language 33, no. 2 (2018): 177–97. Abstract.

Abstract: In this essay, I argue that we have a non-inferential way of knowing particular explanations of our own actions and attitudes. I begin by explicating and evaluating Nisbett and Wilson’s influential argument to the contrary. I argue that Nisbett and Wilson’s claim that we arrive at such explanations of our own actions and attitudes by inference is not adequately supported by their findings because they overlook an important alternative explanation of those findings. I explicate and defend such an alternative explanation of how we can know such explanations in a non-inferential way, drawing on recent work in the philosophy of self-knowledge.

Reviews

Ryan Cox “Review of T. Parent Self-Reflection for the Opaque MindNotre Dame Philosophical Review (2017). Abstract: A short review of Ted Parent’s book Self-Reflection for the Opaque Mind: An Essay in Neo-Sellarsian Philosophy.


Curriculum Vitae

For my curriculum vitae, click here.