My main research interests lie in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. I am particularly interested in the nature of belief, dual-process theories of reasoning, and phenomenal consciousness.
The nature of belief
My early research was on the nature of belief and belief-desire explanation. Building on ideas by Ronald de Sousa, Daniel Dennett, and Jonathan Cohen, I argued that the folk-psychological term ‘belief’ refers to two distinct types of mental state, which have different properties and support different kinds of mental explanation. Building on this claim, I proposed a layered model of the human mind, in which a biologically based ‘basic mind’ supports an actively constructed, conscious ‘supermind’. This work culminated in a monograph, Mind and Supermind (2004), which set out the two-level framework and explored its implications for issues in philosophy of mind. A subtheme of this work was the threat of eliminativism about belief — a threat which, I argued, diminishes once we distinguish different levels of belief. I continue to explore the implications of a two-level conception of belief our understanding of various issues, including the nature of judgement, delusions, implicit bias, and conscious thought.
The layered model of mind developed in Mind and Supermind has strong connections with ‘dual-process’ theories in cognitive and social psychology, and I went on to explore these connections. In 2006, I initiated the first-ever international conference dedicated specifically to dual-process theories, which I co-organized with Professor Jonathan Evans of the University of Plymouth. Jonathan and I later co-edited a collection of papers derived from the conference, In Two Minds: Dual Processes and Beyond, which represented the state of the art in the field. The volume also contained a long historical chapter co-authored by Jonathan and myself and my own paper ‘Systems and levels’, which proposed a two-level reinterpretation of dual-process theory. I continue to engage with scientific work in the dual-process tradition and to explore its implications for issues in philosophy.
My other major interest is in the explanation of phenomenal consciousness, where I take a robustly materialist stance. Initially tempted by a realist ‘type-B’ materialism, I attempted to rebut the zombie argument by showing that a parallel conceivablity argument (‘The anti-zombie argument’) can be run for materialism. In later work, however, I rejected phenomenal realism, questioning the coherence of the weak conception of qualia typically employed by materialists and arguing that materialists should be thoroughgoing eliminativists about qualia. Developing this view, I now advocate what I call ‘illusionism’ about consciousness — the view that phenomenality is an introspective illusion. I have defended this view on numerous occasions (including on a 2014 ‘consciousness cruise’ off Greenland), and in 2016 I prepared a target article on the topic for a special issue of Journal of Consciousness Studies, which included responses by supporters and critics of the position. I have also written a textbook on consciousness for an Open University course and am currently working on a new short introduction to the field.
I also have research interests in the philosophy of language, philosophical logic, philosophy of action, and epistemology. I have published papers on the semantics of indirect discourse and conversational implicature (with Maria Kasmirli) and have co-edited a volume of research papers in philosophy of action, New Waves in Philosophy of Action.
I am a strong believer in the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. In my early days at Sheffield, I was closely involved in the work of the Hang Seng Centre for Cognitive Studies and was co-editor of the interdisciplinary web journal Connexions and a weblog on evolutionary topics, Evolving Ideas. At The Open University I was for several years as Director of Mind, Meaning, and Rationality Research Group , and since relocating to Greece I have been affiliated with the University of Crete’s Brain and Mind Program, which acts as focus for a community of researchers in cognitive science and AI. I have also co-edited two interdisciplinary volumes in the ‘Cambridge Handbooks’ series, The Cambridge Handbook of Artificial Intelligence and The Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Science (with William Ramsey of the University of Nevada).