Ph.D. (expected March)

Philosophy-Neuroscience-PsychologyWashington University in St. Louis

I am a Ph.D. candidate at Washington University in St. Louis, specializing in moral psychology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of psychology.

My primary research centers on two related strands. First, I investigate the role of emotion in various mental processes like introspection, deliberation, mindreading, and imagination. Second, I apply these findings towards understanding the nature of human agency (i.e., the ability to order our behavior and organize our lives).

In my dissertation I argue that, pace the venerable “reason versus passions” dichotomy, affective mechanisms play an important role in a large number of mental processes, ranging from low-level phenomena like the unity of consciousness (i.e., having a unified experience of the world), to high-level phenomena like deliberation and mindreading (i.e., attributing propositional attitudes to oneself and others in terms of other mental states).

Outlining the role of emotion in mental processes sheds light on some of the main controversies in philosophy of mind and moral psychology.

Specifically, philosophers of mind commonly hold that mental processes primarily function to ensure epistemic accuracy (i.e., perception and beliefs aim at truth in representing the world). However, a close look at the pervasive and systematic role of affect in these processes casts doubt on this influential view. In particular, epistemic accuracy regularly takes a backseat to maintaining feelings of self-efficacy (i.e., feelings of motivation). Furthermore, even technically accurate states gain currency in our mental economy due to their functional role in maintaining feelings of motivational engagement.

As a result, contra the attractive notion that effective self-regulation requires accurate self-awareness, developing agential skills for navigating the world do not depend on developing ways of increasing epistemic accuracy. Instead, agential skills depend on developing cognitive flexibility or the ability to temporarily “bracket” convictions during critical self-examination.

Personal Background

I was born in post-Soviet Moscow to a classical pianist and a rocket scientist. I grew up playing classical piano, painting, and reading Dostoevsky. Once my family immigrated to Los Angeles, I developed an interest in understanding the mind in a more systematic fashion. When I am not doing philosophy or painting, I am out gardening or hiking with my four pets.