Research

My research focuses on bounded rationality and inquiry.  I want to know how bounded agents should make up their minds about what to do and believe.

Click here for a research statement, or see below for a short introduction to bounded rationality and inquiry. 

 
Bounded Rationality

Humans are resource-bounded agents. In action and inquiry we must ration scarce cognitive and physical resources to achieve desirable outcomes. Herbert Simon coined the term bounded rationality to cover theories of rationality which pay special attention to the resource constraints facing bounded agents.

As the term caught on, bounded rationality came to mean many things to many different people. My research focuses on a traditional notion of bounded rationality with six core commitments:

 

 

Process-focus: Resource constraints bear not only on action, but also on the process of inquiry itself. A complete theory of bounded rationality should focus on the processes of practical and theoretical inquiry by which actions and beliefs are produced.

Heuristic inquiry: Bounded agents have access to a toolbox of heuristic strategies for practical and theoretical inquiry. Boundedly rational agents learn to flexibly apply heuristics in appropriate contexts. In many contexts, heuristic strategies are more appropriate than their Bayesian counterparts.

Ecological rationality: Most heuristics perform well in some environments and poorly in others. Heuristics are not rational or irrational in themselves, but only in an environment.

Non-maximization: Heuristic inquiry is not reducible to traditional maximizing methods such as expected utility maximization.

Modest anti-intellectualism: The purpose of inquiry is not to construct cognitive models of choice situations. Inquiry aims to produce good decisions and correct, helpful beliefs. Inquiries should be judged primarily by their results and not by their internal cognitive structure.

Vindicatory epistemology: Human cognition is, on balance, fairly rational.

 

Inquiry

Bounded rationality is process-focused. Resource bounds constrain not only the beliefs we can form and the actions we can take, but also the processes of inquiry by which these beliefs and actions can be arrived at. For this reason, the bounded tradition focuses on norms governing inquiry rather than belief and action.

Philosophical work on inquiry spans at least two topics. Many authors tackle both at once.

 

 

Metaphysics of inquiry: What type of process is inquiry? Recent authors have argued that inquiry is directed at a question rather than a proposition, and that inquiry is intimately related to a class of interrogative attitudes such as curiosity, doubt and suspension of judgment.

Norms of inquiry: What are the norms governing inquiry? Recent authors have stressed that inquiry is governed by a number of norms that are importantly different from, and perhaps in tension with traditional epistemic requirements.

 

My research focuses on norms of inquiry. I defend a consequentialist account of rational inquiry and use that account to explain and defend key normative insights from the bounded tradition.