About Dr. McKinnon
A Welcome Message
As of May 2013, I'm a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary. I obtained my PhD from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo in 2012. In August 2014, I will be joining the Department of Philosophy at the College of Charleston as an Assitant Professor.
My primary research focuses on the relationship between knowledge and action. Specifically, much of my research currently focuses on the norms of assertion. I aim to explicate the epistemic dimensions of what we assert to each other, and the relevant norms potentially governing the practice. This work includes working on how to properly evaluate performances such as placing wagers, shooting an arrow, and making decisions. It also includes work on the nature of luck and its role in our evaluations of performances. In addition to a number of projects, I'm currently working on finishing my first book, which focuses on advancing my views on the norms of assertion.
I've been invited to contribute a paper to a special volume of Metaphilosophy on luck. My paper is titled, "You Make Your Own Luck."
Abstract: In this paper, I take up two questions. First, what does it mean to say that someone creates their own luck? At least colloquially speaking, luck is conceived as something out of an agent's control. So how could an agent increase or decrease the likelihood that they'll be lucky? Building on some recent work on the metaphysics of luck, I'll argue that there is a sense in which agents can create their own luck. Second, what implications does this conception of luck have for related topics such as how we evaluate performances (like shooting an arrow), including coming to know something? The ubiquitous presence of luck in our actions is often under-appreciated. I'll argue that we need a more nuanced view of how luck sometimes undermines credit for success in agents' actions. The upshot of my view is that while luck may undermine the creditworthiness of an agent's success, it only partially undermines creditworthiness.
I am contributing a paper to the forthcoming Bioshock and Philosophy book in the Blackwell Popular Philosophy Series. My paper is titled, "Propaganda, Lies, and Misleading Language in Bioshock."
Abstract: Bioshock is replete with propaganda and misleading language. Most of us associate this with dishonest governments attempting to control their citizens' behavior, including their thoughts. Often the most perverse propaganda is successful precisely because it convinces its audience of things that they wouldn't otherwise believe, and often against their own interests. But what is it about such speech that makes it morally problematic? Moreover, what difference, if any, is there between propaganda, lies, and misleading language? More specifically, what distinguishes misleading speech when it comes from, say, a teacher trying to get her students to learn a stepping-stone concept, from when it comes from a government trying to maintain civil order? I'll argue that while there's nothing clearly structurally different between the two cases, the epistemic differences make a moral difference. That is, when a physics teacher knowingly lies to her students saying, "Electrons behave according to the Bohr model," her motivation for her utterance makes it an instance of epistemically and morally appropriate lying. While this motivation is sometimes present in propaganda--arguably making such instances unproblematic--it's certainly absent in the propaganda found in Bioshock, and especially in what we find from Andrew Ryan in Rapture.
I've been awarded a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship.
I've been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSRHC), which I took up beginning in May 2013 at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary. The fellowship is meant to help with my research on extending my analyses of the norms of assertion into a parallel debate on the norms of practical reasoning. This is a natural extension of my work, and it builds on some publications, such as my most recent papers in Logos and Episteme and Metaphilosophy. In broad outline, I think that reasons motivating rejecting a knowledge norm of assertion will also work for rejecting a knowledge norm of practical reasoning. And while there are a number of people taking the view that the norms of practical reasoning parallel those of the norms of assertion, I don't think that this is the case.
During my time at the University of Calgary, I'll also be teaching an undergraduate/graduate split course (PHIL 561/661) in the Winter 2014 term on my first book: The Norms of Assertion.
My paper "Stereotype Threat and Attributional Ambiguity for Trans Women" is now forthcoming in Hypatia
Abstract: In this paper I discuss the interrelated topics of stereotype threat and attributional ambiguity as they relate to gender and gender identity. The former has become an emerging topic in feminist philosophy and has spawned a tremendous amount of research in social psychology and elsewhere. But the discussion, at least in how it connects to gender, is incomplete: the focus is only on cisgender women and their experiences. By considering trans women's experiences of stereotype threat and attributional ambiguity, we gain a deeper understanding of the phenomena, and their problematic effects.
My paper "Lotteries, Knowledge, and Irrelevant Alternatives" is now forthcoming in Dialogue
Abstract: The lottery paradox plays an important role in arguments for various norms of assertion. Why is it that, prior to information on the results of a draw, assertions such as "My ticket lost" seem inappropriate? This paper is composed of two projects. First, I articulate a number of problems arising from Williamson's analysis of the lottery paradox. Second, I propose a relevant alternatives theory, which I call the Non-Destabilizing Alternatives Theory (NDAT), that better explains the pathology of asserting lottery propositions, while permitting assertions of what I call fallible propositions such as "My car is in the driveway."
My paper with Mathieu Doucet "This Paper Took Too Long to Write: A Puzzle About Overcoming Weakness of Will" is now forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology
Abstract: The most discussed puzzle about weakness of will (WoW) is how it is possible: how can a person freely and intentionally perform actions that she judges she ought not perform, or that she has resolved not to perform? In this paper, we are concerned with a much less discussed puzzle about WoW: how is overcoming it possible? We explain some of the ways in which previously weak-willed agents manage to overcome their weakness. Some of these are relatively straightforward: as agents learns of the real costs of weakness, or as those costs mount dramatically, they can become strongly motivated to do what they already judged best. But other cases are more difficult to explain: sometimes, agents with a long history of forming and then weakly abandoning resolutions manage to stick to their guns. We argue that these cases can be explained by combining George Ainslie's model of agents as multiple preference orderings competing in game theoretic interactions along with the insights of evolutionary game theory. This can explain the puzzling cases where agents suddenly adopt successful strategies for avoiding weak-willed behavior, especially where agents gain no new information about themselves or the consequences of their actions.
My paper "Getting Luck Properly Under Control" is now published in Metaphilosophy
Abstract: In this paper I propose a new account of luck and how luck impacts attributions of credit for agents' actions. I propose an analogy with the expected value of a series of wagers and argue that luck is what we call the difference between actual outcomes and expected value. The upshot of my argument is that when considering the interplay of intention, chance, outcomes, skill, and actions, we ought to be more parsimonious in our attributions of credit when exercising a skill and obtaining successful outcomes, and more generous in our attributions of credit when exercising a skill but obtaining unsuccessful outcomes. Furthermore, I will argue that when agents skillfully perform an action, they deserve the same amount of credit whether their action is successful or unsuccessful in achieving the goal.