Copyright © 2014 Elijah Millgram.
All Rights Reserved.
I'm a philosopher with a day job at the University of Utah, and these days I also visit at the University of Arizona. The focus of my research interests has been the theory of rationality, that is, what it is to reason correctly. Over the years, I've divided my attention between theoretical reasoning, i.e., figuring out what the facts are, and practical reasoning, that is, figuring out what to do.
In my first book, Practical Induction (Harvard UP, 1997), I argued that we learn what matters from experience, and that consequently one widespread preconception -- that being practically rational has to do solely with effectively pursuing one's desires or ends -- is a mistake. My most recent book, Hard Truths (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), argued that our reasoning about how the facts stand must often contain steps that we understand to be, not true, but true enough: our inferences incorporate and depend on approximations, idealizations and other forms of partial truth.
I've been interested in rationality because I think results in this field can drive work in other areas. My second book was meant to make the case that advances in the theory of practical rationality can move moral theory forward; Ethics Done Right (Cambridge UP, 2005) argues that what you think decision making looks like goes a long way towards determining your moral and ethical views. If I am right, my views about theoretical rationality should likewise have consequences for metaphysics, and in particular and especially, for how we conceive of the field and how seriously we take it. If arguments in metaphysics are best understood as being about the choice of idealizations or approximations, rather than as attempts to establish the existence of, to put it a bit baldly, exotic invisible objects, then metaphysics is intellectual ergonomics: an applied science with real practical benefits.