Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will

    Author:
    Gregg Caruso
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Michael Levin
    Abstract:

    In recent decades, with advances in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences, the idea that patterns of human behavior may ultimately be due to factors beyond our control has increasingly gained traction and renewed interest in the age old problem of free will. In this dissertation I examine both the traditional philosophical problems long associated with the question of free will, such as the relationship between determinism and free will, as well as recent experimental and theoretical work directly related to consciousness and human agency. I argue that our best scientific theories indeed have the consequence that factors beyond our control produce all of the actions we perform and that because of this we do not possess the kind of free will required for genuine or ultimate responsibility. I further argue that the strong and pervasive belief in free will, which I consider an illusion, can be accounted for through a careful analysis of our phenomenology and a proper theoretical understanding of consciousness. Indeed, the primary goal of this dissertation is to argue that our subjective feeling of freedom, as reflected in the first-person phenomenology of agentive experience, is an illusion created by certain aspects of our consciousness. After working to establish that free will is an illusion, I proceed to give a novel account of just how that illusion is created. I present my illusionist account using one leading theory of consciousness--the higher-order thought (or HOT) theory of consciousness as developed by David Rosenthal. I maintain that by combining the theoretical framework of the HOT theory with empirical findings in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences, we can come to see that the illusion of free will is created by the particular way our higher-order thoughts make us conscious of our mental states and how our sense of self is constructed within consciousness.

  • The Nature and Implementation of Representation in Biological Systems

    Author:
    Michael Collins
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Jesse Prinz
    Abstract:

    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

    Author:
    Jennifer Corns
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Jesse Prinz
    Abstract:

    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.

  • Saving Moral Realism: Against Blackburn's Projectivism

    Author:
    Paul Cummins
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Steven Cahn
    Abstract:

    In the argumentative dialectic between moral realists and non-cognitivist moral antirealists each side in the debate is typically thought to enjoy a different prima facie advantage over its rival. Moral realism gains plausibility from its truth-conditional semantics because it can explain the meaning of moral judgments on the same basis as ordinary propositions. However, many moral philosophers doubt moral realism because the theory is committed to the existence of moral properties, which are, in J. L. Mackie's term, "queer." Moral antirealism denies that these moral properties exist, and this is a principal reason why many moral philosophers endorse the theory. However, if moral terms like "good", "immoral", or "right" do not refer to anything, then the meanings of the moral judgments in which they appear cannot be explained with truth-conditional semantics; moral antirealists who wish to preserve moral practice need to develop a semantics that can accommodate it. The general perception of the dialectic is that moral realists have the upper hand in semantics, but a disadvantage in metaphysics, and vice versa for moral antirealists. This essay challenges this assumption. Simon Blackburn's quasi-realism is one of the principal examples of non-cognitivism, a form of moral antirealism that tries to develop an alternative account of moral semantics in which the function of a moral proposition is not to express belief but attitude. Quasi-realism is Blackburn's research program of developing a semantics for moral discourse that is consistent with projectivism, the metaphysics of his metaethical theory. After situating Blackburn's project within the history of twentieth century metaethics, this essay reviews Blackburn's quasi-realist semantics and criticizes it. This essay then aims to extend the metaethical dialectic by developing and critiquing an account of Blackburn's projectivism. This essay interprets projectivism as an explanation of moral awareness that aims to explain the realist phenomenology of that experience when realist explanations of it fail. After developing an account of the mechanism of projectivism, this essay argues that a metaethical theory feature projectivism as its metaphysical element contrasts negatively with moral realism in several ways: e.g., if it postulates new mental states and more events to account for moral awareness, then its ontological economy is less certain; it does not solve a metaphysical problem, supervenience, that moral realism cannot; it is incompatible with desirable features of moral practice; it undermines Blackburn's rejection of error theory. This essay then concludes that when assessing the dialectic between moral realism and non-cognitivist moral antirealism, it is inappropriate to presume a metaphysical advantage for the latter on the basis of the mere denial of the existence of moral properties. This suggests that non-cognitivist moral antirealists need to supplement their theories with more robust metaphysical research programs.

  • On Dreaming

    Author:
    Timothy Czech
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Steven Cahn
    Abstract:

    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

    Author:
    Jacob Davis
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Jesse Prinz
    Abstract:

    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

    Author:
    Tobyn DeMarco
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Nickolas Pappas
    Abstract:

    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

    Author:
    Laura Teresa Di Summa-Knoop
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Noel Carroll
    Abstract:

    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

    Author:
    James Dow
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Jesse Prinz
    Abstract:

    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

    Author:
    Damien DuPont
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Stefan Baumrin
    Abstract:

    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.