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The Nature and Implementation of Representation in Biological Systems
Year of Dissertation:
I defend a theory of mental representation that satisfies naturalistic constraints. Briefly, we begin by distinguishing (i) what makes something a representation from (ii) given that a thing is a representation, what determines what it represents. Representations are states of biological organisms, so we should expect a unified theoretical framework for explaining both what it is to be a representation as well as what it is to be a heart or a kidney. I follow Millikan in explaining (i) in terms of teleofunction, explicated in terms of natural selection. To explain (ii), we begin by recognizing that representational states do not have content, that is, they are neither true nor false except insofar as they both "point to" or "refer" to something, as well as "say" something regarding whatever it is they are about. To distinguish veridical from false representations, there must be a way for these separate aspects to come apart; hence, we explain (ii) by providing independent theories of what I call f-reference and f-predication (the `f' simply connotes `fundamental', to distinguish these things from their natural language counterparts). Causal theories of representation typically founder on error, or on what Fodor has called the disjunction problem. Resemblance or isomorphism theories typically founder on what I've called the non-uniqueness problem, which is that isomorphisms and resemblance are practically unconstrained and so representational content cannot be uniquely determined. These traditional problems provide the motivation for my theory, the structural preservation theory, as follows. F-reference, like reference, is a specific, asymmetric relation, as is causation. F-predication, like predication, is a non-specific relation, as predicates typically apply to many things, just as many relational systems can be isomorphic to any given relational system. Putting these observations together, a promising strategy is to explain f-reference via causal history and f-predication via something like isomorphism between relational systems. This dissertation should be conceptualized as having three parts. After motivating and characterizing the problem in chapter 1, the first part is the negative project, where I review and critique Dretske's, Fodor's, and Millikan's theories in chapters 2-4. Second, I construct my theory about the nature of representation in chapter 5 and defend it from objections in chapter 6. In chapters 7-8, which constitute the third and final part, I address the question of how representation is implemented in biological systems. In chapter 7 I argue that single-cell intracortical recordings taken from awake Macaque monkeys performing a cognitive task provide empirical evidence for structural preservation theory, and in chapter 8 I use the empirical results to illustrate, clarify, and refine the theory.
Pain is Not a Natural Kind
Year of Dissertation:
Pain is central to our lives. Despite that, I argue, pain is not a natural kind. Chapter 1 identifies a kind as natural insofar as it is usefully referred to in the generalizations of the relevant science(s). Following Boyd, I take the best indicator of this to be causally interlinked clusters of properties, and I update Boyd's approach by relating it to recent work on mechanistic explanation. Chapter 2 employs clinical observations to argue that philosophical, unitary accounts of pain are inadequate. Pain is a multidimensional experience that paradigmatically includes sensation, perception, emotion, cognition, and motivational responses. This multidimensionality is included in the dominant scientific models of pain to which I turn in Chapter 3, but none identify a mechanism (neurobiological or otherwise) underlying the usual co-occurrence of pain's clustering properties. Chapter 4 argues that recent research attempting mechanism-based classifications of pain types allows us to conclude that each token pain is determined by an idiosyncratic convergence of the activity of multiple mechanisms. Neither pain nor any type of pain is a natural kind. Once it is established that a folk kind is not natural, it is customary to become an eliminativist or a pluralist; I resist both options and offer an alternative. Chapter 5 characterizes pluralism as the position that the mechanical heterogeneity of a kind does not undermine its naturalness--either because there is homogeneity at another level, or because the heterogeneity is negligible relative to the target phenomenon. I argue against both options. In the final chapter, I argue that pains are very real despite their non-naturalness; eliminativism should be resisted. The idiosyncrasy argued to subvert scientific generalizations mentioning pain does not disrupt utile reference to pain in everyday life. Neither does idiosyncrasy entail non-existence. The dissertation as a whole may then be considered a case study of a robust and important folk-psychological kind that scientific inquiry reveals is not natural.
Year of Dissertation:
This dissertation discusses three independent questions in the philosophy of human dreaming: 1) Are dreams conscious experiences?, 2)Do we dream in color?, and 3) Do dreams serve an adaptive function? Each of these questions is addressed using sustained philosophical argumentation based on interpretation of recent findings in cognitive science.
Acting Wide Awake: attention and the ethics of emotion
Year of Dissertation:
In cases where two human cultures disagree over fundamental ethical values, metaethical questions about what could make one or the other position correct arise with great force. Philosophers committed to naturalistically plausible accounts of ethics have offered little hope of adjudicating such conflicts, leading some to embrace moral relativism. In my dissertation, I develop an empirically grounded response to moral relativism by turning away from debates over which action types are right and wrong and focusing instead on shared features of human emotional motivation. On my account, being motivated by ill-will is ethically bad (if it is), just because human beings who are fully and accurately aware of how unpleasant it is to be motivated in this way will agree that we ought not to act out of ill-will. Conversely, good-will is ethically good (if it is) just because we ourselves would judge it to be so, if we were fully and accurately aware of how much more ease is present in being motivated in this way. More generally, by appealing to ethical judgments that all members of our human moral community would make if they were alert and unbiased, we can make sense of the idea that individuals and groups sometimes get the normative truth wrong, and that we sometimes get it right. In this way, the experiential ease and unease that is characteristic of various emotional motivations in virtue of our shared human neurobiology can ground a circumscribed set of universal claims about which motivations we ought to act out of, while leaving many other aspects of how we ought to live open to cultural determination.
The Metaphysics of Improvisation
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In "The Metaphysics of Improvisation," I criticize wrongheaded metaphysical views of, and theories about, improvisation, and put forward a cogent metaphysical theory of improvisation, which includes action theory, an analysis of the relevant genetic and aesthetic properties, and ontology (work-hood). The dissertation has two Parts. Part I is a survey of the history of many improvisational practices, and of the concept of improvisation. Here I delineate, sketch, and sort out the often vague boundaries between improvising and non-improvising within many art forms and genres, including music, dance, theatre, motion pictures, painting, and literature. In addition, I discuss the concept of non-artistic improvisation in various contexts. I attempt to portray an accurate picture of how improvisation functions, or does not function, in various art forms and genres. Part II addresses metaphysical issues in, and problems and questions of, improvisation in the arts. I argue that that continuum and genus-species models are the most cogent ways to understand the action-types of improvising and composing and their relations. I demonstrate that these models are substantiated by an informed investigation and phenomenology of improvisational practice, action theory conceptual analysis, cognitive neuroscience studies and experiments, cognitive psychology studies and models, and some theories of creativity. In addition, I provide a constraint based taxonomy for classifying improvisations that is compatible with, and supports, the continuum model. Next, I address epistemological and ontological issues involving the genetic properties of improvisations, and the properties "improvisatory," and "as if improvised." Finally, I show that arguments against treating, or classifying, improvisations as works are weak or erroneous, and by focusing on music, I provide a correct ontological theory of work-hood for artistic improvisations.
The Art of Telling About the Self. Memoirs in Literature and Film
Laura Teresa Di Summa-Knoop
Year of Dissertation:
Autobiography, or to use a term that has become more fashionable, memoir is one of the leading literary phenomena in contemporary culture. The proliferation and popularity of this genre is easily explainable: everyone has a life and every life is worth telling or, as Dostoevsky sardonically claims at the beginning of Notes from Underground: But what can a decent man speak of with most pleasure? Answer: Of himself. Well, so I will talk about myself. Yet, despite its present popularity, autobiography is not a recent phenomenon, but a genre that has been tracing its own boundaries for almost 2000 years. Starting with Augustine's Confessions, the history of memoir is characterized by a constellation of literary and philosophical questions on the nature of the self, and, more specifically, on what is meant and implied by narrating the self. One of the leading questions surrounding memoir is related to whether the eventual inconsistencies in the narration of events can assimilate it to fictional narration, or whether we should instead still regard it as nonfictional expression. I defend the claim according to which autobiography as a form of "unweaving" the self stems from the cognitive construction of personhood, and from the notion of the narrative self. Memoirs, in other words, are not exclusively cultural products; they are active responses to the question of personal identity. It is in virtue of a cognitive and scientific analysis of autobiography that I reject the assimilation of memoir to fiction, and instead frame it as the narrative expression of what I will define as the authentic self. Seeing memoir as a form, or branch of fiction is not only mistaken, it misinterprets the intention and cognitive origin of this genre. My conclusions, from the defense of memoir as nonfiction, to its cognitive origin are at basis of the construction of a narrative theory of autobiography.
SELVES AND OTHERS: AN INTERPERSONAL ACCOUNT OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS
Year of Dissertation:
My dissertation presents an argument for the claim that awareness of oneself and awareness of others is symmetrical and mutually dependent. My work challenges the traditional account of self-consciousness according to which individuals can be aware of themselves even though they have never been aware of individuals like themselves. First, I provide an analysis of self-consciousness as the self-ascription of experiences that shows that if a subject is to be able to think "I am experiencing F," then he must be able to ascribe experiential predicates, e.g., "b is F," "c is F," to arbitrarily distinguishable individuals. Second, I argue that in order for one to be self-conscious, one must be able to identify oneself as a subject of experience. However, the traditional account of self-ascription holds that self-ascriptions do not involve identification of a subject, because `I' is immune to error through misidentification. Contrary to universal opinion, I argue that self-ascriptions are not immune to error through misidentification through a conceptual and empirical argument. Third, I argue that the identification of the subject of self-ascription is only possible given the perception of oneself as a person among persons, which I call the Persons Theory. The Persons Theory provides us with a genuinely unique account of thought about other minds that differs from two extant accounts of experience ascription-- the simulation theory and the theory-theory. According to the Persons Theory, rather than imagination or thought, perception of persons enables the self-ascription and other-ascription of experiences. I elucidate types of recognition and acknowledgement between subjects in joint perception, action and emotion that are pivotal for self-awareness. An implication of the Persons Theory is that awareness of oneself and awareness of others develops in tandem and involves interaction between persons.
Anger Et Cetera: Understanding the Emotions in Ethics
Year of Dissertation:
This dissertation argues in part that because the ethical theory of sentimentalism is based on the mistaken belief that emotions are non-cognitive, sentimentalism cannot account for the fact of the influence of cognition in morality and moral action. Therefore sentimentalism is of little use in ethics. This work is done by going back to examine Western thinking on the emotions from its dawn in Homer's writing through to contemporary philosophy and neurophysiology on the emotions. Following the development of the way emotions were thought of and how they related to ethics allows the identification of an intellectual forked path brought about by Stoic thinking on emotions and morality and calcified by the work of René Descartes on the emotions. I identify three `Cartesian errors' that have made their way through to David Hume's thought and from there to contemporary thinking on the emotions. The first Cartesian error is the belief that `mind' or `mental activity' is pure cognition and that `body' is an unthinking machine responsive only to pleasure and pain and having nothing to do with cognition. The second Cartesian error is the irreparable separation of emotion from cognition which forces a theory into an untenable, ad hoc distinction between calm and violent passions in order to imbue some emotions with intelligence. The third Cartesian error is being unable to coherently explain how the mind and the body could have duplex communication between `mind' and `body'. I explain how the two contemporary camps, both `cognitivists' and `physicalists' about emotions are compromised by the Cartesian errors. Finally, I show how experience, common sense and contemporary empirical findings in neurophysiology recommend to us a pluralist view of the emotions that avoids the Cartesian errors and fully embraces both their physiological basis and their accompanying `cognitivity', as well as a fruitful cognitive ethical theory that is something of a middle ground between the sentimentalism of Shaftesbury and Hume and the rationalist positions of thinkers such as Socrates and Berkeley. This theory, which will be worked out in more detail in the future, is a synthesis of the findings of Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, psychologist Richard Lazarus and contemporary psychophysiology.
A NEO-HUMEAN BUNDLE THEORY: A REDUCTIONIST ACCOUNT OF PERSONAL IDENTITY, CONSCIOUSNESS AND SELF-CONCERN
Year of Dissertation:
Although our understanding of mental states ordinarily assumes something that has those mental states, viz. a subject, or a self, it is far from clear what the subject or the self is supposed to be. While philosophers have been critical enough of thinking subjects in a certain way for instance as Cartesian egos, or as brains, they have not been critical enough of the need for subjects. Since there is no well-articulated theory of what subjects are really supposed to be, I contend that it is time to challenge the commitment to subjects in mental lives, and see if we can do without them. Both Hume's bundle theory and Parfit's reductionism challenge the idea of subjects as separately existing entities, but Hume's atomistic view of perceptions makes it very difficult to further develop an understanding of the unity of mental states in a single bundle. And Parfit at times seems to give in to the idea of persons as subjects of experiences. I contend that the idea of persons as subjects needs to be made explanatorily redundant, for reducing subjects to experiences and endorsing an eliminative approach towards subjects. There are various phenomena that seem to call for subjects to explain them, which might justify the existence of persons as subjects. Hence, methodologically speaking, only if there were a way to account for phenomena that seem subject-requiring without referring to subjects, would it be reasonable to suggest that there are no such things as selves and that persons reduce to bodies and a series of interrelated mental states. I call such accounts reductionist and start by arguing for a reductionist account of personal identity and unity of experiences. Then I argue for the possibility of conscious mental states without a conception of oneself as the subject of one's experiences. Finally in order to show that reductionism is compatible with basic human experiences, I argue for an explanation of why there would still be self-related concerns in the absence of selves.
Truth And Literature: The Relevance Of Truth To Literary Value
Year of Dissertation:
In this dissertation, I examine the question of whether it is ever appropriate to judge a work of literature on the truth or falsity of the statements it contains. I argue that literary works often do assert truths, and that therefore a normal and appropriate element of our critical response to these works involves an assessment of their truth claims. I am therefore arguing against what has come to be called the "No Truth Theory," whose various defenders claim that truth is never relevant to the literary value of a piece of language. I trace the No Truth Theory in its modern form, through the work of Arnold Isenberg, Sydney Zink, Monroe Beardsley, Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen. I identify several common threads in their arguments, and isolate the source of my disagreement with them, namely, their (in my view) mistaken theory of what a work of literature is. While they all consider a work of literature to be a locutionary act, I argue that a work of literature is an illocutionary act, or more precisely, that a work of literature often has an illocutionary force, and that assessing how well this illocutionary act is performed is a legitimate part of literary criticism. The assertion of truths is, of course, one such illocutionary project, and so the assessment of truths is part of legitimate critical practice. I show that the purely locutionary view of literature, espoused by the NTT, is inadequate, while the illocutionary view has much to recommend it. I show how the illocutionary view of literature affects our understanding of several key literary concepts, such as metaphor, theme and thesis. I apply my theory to particular cases, and show how an assessment of truth claims is crucial to certain kinds of literary works.