Many students relate Professor Scott Sehon with the unique courses he teaches in the philosophy department: Logic and Intermediate Logic. He is not, however, a logician.
While Sehon does from time to time utilize the forms of logic he teaches in structuring arguments, his research is concerned with a considerably different branch of philosophy known as philosophy of mind.
Philosophy of mind encompasses numerous issues, questions and sub-philosophies all centered around the task of better understanding the nature of the mind, which Sehon defines as "the place of human beings in the natural world." Sehon's first book, "Teleological Realism: Mind, Agency, and Explanation," engages this task by examining action-explanations.
We are all familiar with causal explanations such as, "The dust in my nose caused me to sneeze!" (Alternately, "I sneezed because there was dust in my nose!") But many of us do not consider the variety of ways in which events can be explained. Of these alternative explanations, Sehon is interested in teleological ones, or explanations which cite an agent's reason for acting, such as, "I stole the diamonds in hopes of becoming rich."
It may seem strange that this type of explanation should constitute a type of its own, seeing as this last explanation can be restructured as a causal one: "My hope of becoming rich caused me to steal the diamonds." It would be fair to guess, given this example, that all teleological explanations are in fact causal ones; according to Sehon, however, this is not the case.
Sehon has found his views on action-explanation to be somewhat controversial: "Some philosophers believe all teleological explanations can be reduced to causal ones, but I deny this. I believe some teleological explanations are irreducible. In my first book, I argued for this claim and used it as the main ingredient in what I call a 'non-reductive account of the mind.'"
Sehon also writes about action-explanations in his in-progress book on the free will debate. He poses the question, "Suppose the universe is deterministic. Is it possible that we could still have free will?"
While most of us would say no, believing there to be an irreconcilable paradox existing between the two, Sehon wants to show that "the right view of action-explanation helps to support compatibilism"—that is, in a deterministic universe we can still have free will.
When asked why he chose this line of research, Sehon answered simply, "I got hooked on philosophy of mind in college, and branching out to the free will debate seemed a natural outgrowth of the views I developed there."
He further explained, "Many areas of philosophy are related, and it isn't a stretch to move between areas and contribute to each."
Sehon has also contributed to debates in philosophy of religion and to a discussion about the nature of evidence in medical research. This flexibility of inquiry was part of the appeal for him.
Most of all, he cites the importance of philosophy and philosophical questions as a motivation for his involvement with the subject.
"Philosophical questions underlie many other disciplines and are intrinsically important to us," he said. "Striving to find the right answers is worthwhile—but an extremely difficult endeavor."