My primary research interests are in various areas of epistemology, metaethics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind.
I am a postdoctoral researcher at UiO (2022-2024), researching natural norms of attention, as part of the GoodAttention project (descriptive strand, subproject 1), Principal Investigator Sebastian Watzl. I take a functional approach, investigating what attention does for the creatures that use it that explains why such a capacity has persisted, historically. My work in this area draws inspiration from Ruth Millikan's biosemantic theory and her theory of proper function (Millikan 1984). Methodologically, my approach is to examine instances where attention seems to be going wrong, or not functioning well, as providing insight into what attention is supposed to accomplish when functioning properly. I am also interested in exploring the function of attention in moral cognition.
Prior to this, I was a Research Fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (2021-2022). My research here focused on the epistemology of deep disagreement in morality and politics. Drawing inspiration from Wittgenstein's enigmatic masterpiece On Certainty, I propose an analysis of (some) deep disagreements in terms of hinge epistemology—a recent strand of epistemological theory centered around Wittgenstein's metaphor that just as the hinges of a door must remain fixed if the door is to turn, so too, certain intellectual commitments must be held fixed if we are to engage in rational evaluation. On my reading (inspired by Pritchard 2016), these hinge commitments are held with a maximal degree of subjective certainty, and for this reason any purported counterevidence will appear less compelling than the hinge that it challenges. I argue that this can help us make sense of some deep disagreement; when a disagreement is based in a difference in hinge commitment between interlocutors, the reasons advanced by one side will inevitably appear less certain than the commitment of the other that is thereby challenged.
I also completed my dissertation while working as a fellow at UCHI (University of Connecticut philosophy department, 2022), under the supervision of Dorit Bar-On. My dissertation, "A Hybrid Theory of Ethical Thought and Discourse", argues that ethical claims and judgments have the function of modifying behavior so that it varies according to the morally salient features of social situations. Ethical claims accomplish this function (when they do) by expressing and so transferring (via a process akin to emotional contagion) a motivationally-charged affective attitude from speaker to hearer. Ethical claims only fulfil their proper function, however, when they accurately enough track the morally salient features of situations (features in virtue of which such claims can be true or false). This view incorporates both cognitivist and expressivist insights in metaethics, within a biosemantic framework (again drawing from Millikan).
I also have research interests in basic self-knowledge. Our knowledge of many of our own current mental states—such as my knowledge that I’d like more coffee right now—is puzzling, because it seems to be at once epistemically privileged (I know my mind best) but also baseless (there is no obvious epistemic method by which I come to acquire such knowledge). I defend the neo-expressivist approach to basic self-knowledge articulated by Dorit Bar-On (2004), according to which basic self-knowledge is explained by our capacity to express our minds using linguistically articulate self-ascriptive expressive vehicles.
- Ruth Garrett Millikan Graduate Research Fellowship. Awarded Summer 2019.
- Research Fellow, University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (2021-2022).
- Graduate Assistant, University of Connecticut Philosophy Department.
Podlaskowski, A., & D. Johnson (eds.). Truth 20|20: Recent Work on Minimalism, Pluralism, Pragmatism, Truth and Politics. Synthese Library Book Series. Under contract.
Articles and Chapters
Johnson, D. (forthcoming). “Proper Function and Ethical Judgment: Towards a Biosemantic Theory of Ethical Thought and Discourse”. Erkenntnis. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-021-00481-y [Full text available here]
Bar-On, D., & Johnson, D. (2019). “Epistemological Disjunctivism: Perception, Expression, and Self-Knowledge”. In C. Doyle, J. Milburn, & D. Pritchard (eds.), New Issues in Epistemological Disjunctivism (pp. 317-344). Routledge. [Full text available here]
Johnson, D. (2019). “Hinge Epistemology, Radical Skepticism, and Domain Specific Skepticism”. The international journal for the study of skepticism, 9(2): 116-133. https://doi.org/10.1163/22105700-20191302 [Full text available here]
Johnson, D. (accepted for publication). Book Review of Non-Evidentialist Epistemology (2021). L. Moretti & N.J.L.L. Pederson (eds.). The International Journal for the Study of Skepticism.
Bar-On, D., & Johnson, D. (forthcoming). “‘Transparent’ Rules and Basic Self-Knowledge: A Critical Study of Alex Byrne’s Transparency and Self-Knowledge”. Inquiry. (28 pages). [full text available here]
Johnson, D. (2022). "A Hybrid Theory of Ethical Thought and Discourse". University of Connecticut, philosophy department.
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