Associate Professor of Philosophy, Cal State Fullerton
AOS - Metaphysics, Language, Epistemology
AOC - Logic, Metaethics, History of Philosophy (Analytic, American Pragmatism - esp. C.S. Peirce)
ANDREW HOWAT BIO
From Scotland to the OC
I was born in Scotland and studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh (1997-2001), where I was extremely fortunate to be taught by terrific philosophers like Rae Langton, Richard Holton, Alexander Bird, Huw Price, Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, and Timothy Williamson.
I did my PhD in Sheffield (2003-2007) with Chris Hookway, David Bell (briefly, prior to his retirement), and Rob Hopkins (now at NYU). While there I was profoundly influenced by the remarkably friendly, pluralistic, and rigorous environment and by the strong feminist community created by Professors and fellow students such as Jenny Saul, Lindsey Porter, Jules Holroyd, Komarine Romdenh-Romluc, and many others.
My dissertation defended the idea that truth is a response-dependent concept and that this is a novel way to frame and defend classical pragmatism and its critique of metaphysical realism.
After several years of temporary appointments in the UK (at Sheffield, Nottingham, and Hull), I was hired by CSUF in 2011 as an Assistant Professor. I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2017.
At the upper division I regularly teach metaphysics, philosophy of language, American Philosophy, Metaethics, and Symbolic Logic. At the lower division I regularly teach introduction to logic and introduction to philosophy.
In August 2020 I became the editor for the PhilPapers.org category on Charles S. Peirce.
My current research project focuses on the idea that pragmatism's conception of truth and its relationship to metaphysics, particularly as envisioned by its founder C.S. Peirce, is widely misunderstood. In particular, I argue that pragmatism's conception of truth is a way of reconstructing, rather than rejecting, concepts such as realism, mind-independence, and objectivity. In recent years I have been especially influenced by the work of several remarkable pragmatism scholars, particularly Cheryl Misak, Robert Lane, Diana Heney, Ken Boyd, Cathy Legg, Richard Kenneth Atkins, and Shannon Dea, among others.
MISAK'S PEIRCE AND PRAGMATISM'S METAPHYSICAL COMMITMENTS
In this comment on Misak’s Cambridge Pragmatism, I examine a case study—debate about the existence of free will—in order to explore residual tensions between Misak’s ‘truth-affirming,’ Peircean pragmatism, and mainstream analytic philosophy. I suggest that Misak’s Peirce makes a metaphysical commitment to the existence of rational self-control, and thereby to the existence of free will. I also suggest, however, that her ‘analytic pragmatism’ thus far offers few clues about how we should defend such a commitment from skeptical arguments emerging from contemporary analytic metaphysics. I conclude that analytic pragmatists have more work to do in explaining pragmatism’s complex relationship with metaphysics, and defending its core commitments from skeptical threats.
CONSTITUTING ASSERTION: A PRAGMATIST CRITIQUE OF HORWICH'S 'TRUTH'
In his influential book Truth, Paul Horwich deploys a philosophical method focused on linguistic usage, that is, on the function(s) the concept of truth serves in actual discourse. In doing so Horwich eschews abstract metaphysics, arguing that metaphysical or ontological conceptions of truth rest on basic misconceptions. From this description, one might reasonably expect Horwich's book to have drawn inspiration from, or even embodied philosophical pragmatism of some kind. Unfortunately Horwich relies upon Russell's tired caricature of pragmatism about truth (''p' is true if and only if it is useful to believe p' (Ibid., p. 34, p. 47)), and as a result underestimates the challenge it poses to Minimalism. This paper develops a pragmatist critique of minimalism that focuses on the seemingly central, plausibly constitutive role played by the concept of truth in the speech-act of assertion. The critique suggests that Horwich's Minimalism does not and cannot accomplish its stated goal of explaining all of the facts involving truth. Indeed, the kind of thorough-going deflationism sought by Horwich and others (including pragmatist sympathizer Bob Brandom) is incompatible with an adequate account of assertion, and perhaps other concepts (like belief, judgement and inquiry) as well.
Some Favorite Classes
These are four of the classes I regularly teach, which touch upon my research interests.
AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY (PHIL 379)
METAPHYSICS (PHIL 420)
Typically runs each fall
During the late 19th and early 20th century, Americans grappled with numerous difficult philosophical issues: ethical/political issues about race and justice through civil war, slavery, and reconstruction; existential/moral issues about faith, reason, and humanity’s place in the universe through the Darwinian revolution; epistemological issues about the nature and significance of scientific inquiry through the birth and growth of scientific institutions. From these struggles emerged a distinctively American school of thought named pragmatism, roughly the conviction that the measure and full meaning of any idea lies in its practical consequences. There has always been lively disagreement about what pragmatism is. Its influence and impact has also reached far beyond those who were comfortable identifying themselves with the label ‘pragmatist’, and helped shape both the Analytic and Continental traditions, through figures as diverse as Quine, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Derrida. By studying a selection of the many and varied ideas and thinkers associated with pragmatism (chiefly Peirce, James, Dewey, Addams, DuBois, Cooper, and Santayana), we shall endeavor to identify some of the practical consequences that might follow from calling oneself a pragmatist and consider its usefulness as a philosophical orientation. In the process, we shall endeavor to identify some of the practical consequences of being an “American” and a “philosopher”.
Usually runs every 3rd or 4th semester
What, if anything, can philosophical reflection tell us about the world? Can it tell us about the nature of time, the self, race, or gender? Can it tell us what reality is like independently of how it seems to us to be? Many are skeptical that there is anything to be gained by reasoning about the nature of reality from the comfort of one’s armchair. Surely, if you want to understand the world, you have to go out an investigate it, become a scientist of some kind? We will examine some popular forms of skepticism about the possibility of metaphysics and see how the discipline has changed significantly in response over the past hundred years or so.
PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE (PHIL 435)
METAETHICS (PHIL 409, SOON TO BE RETITLED "THE NATURE OF MORALITY")
Usually runs every 3rd or 4th semester
This course addresses three main themes in the recent philosophy of language: (1) semantics, or the study of the nature of meaning and truth; (2) pragmatics, or the study of the nature of speech-acts, conversational norms, implicatures, etc.; and (3) the application of all these concepts and theories to ethically and politically significant speech (e.g. slurs, generics, propaganda, pornography, etc.).
Runs every 3rd or 4th semester
While normative ethics is the attempt to determine which acts are right and wrong (e.g. by identifying moral principles such as the principle of utility, or the categorical imperative), meta-ethics is the attempt to understand the very nature of morality and moral value. Meta-ethical questions include: What makes a judgement moral? Can such judgments be true? If so, who or what makes them true? Is there a fundamental dichotomy between fact/description and value/normativity (‘is’ and ‘ought’) or are there facts about value (e.g. facts about what is morally right/wrong). Is moral truth objective, subjective, or relative? Can we know the moral truth, and if so, how?
In my spare time I write, arrange, perform, mix, and (am beginning to learn how to) master my own music, plus music I co-write with my friend and colleague Jon Bruschke. Our first EP is on Spotify (here). Over the years I have written rock music, prog, singer-songwriter, classical guitar music, and even some electronica. There are some very old and dicey recordings on my (rather neglected) Soundcloud page.