Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Environmental Sustainability, Economic Growth and Distributive Justice

    Author:
    Fan Liang
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Sibyl Schwarzenbach
    Abstract:

    Abstract Environmental Sustainability, Economic Growth and Distributive Justice By Fan Liang Adviser: Professor Sibyl A. Schwarzenbach The global ecological crisis is at once a humanitarian crisis: the well-being of both the human world and the non-human world is increasingly in jeopardy. The predicament has multiple causes, and calls for responses on different fronts and levels, and a key, perhaps decisive, factor in both is, I argue, people's beliefs about and attitudes towards material production and consumption. The widely influential and characteristically modern belief of both the desirability and the possibility of indefinite increase in material production and consumption has been and continues to be a powerful driver of human appropriation of the environment. But this belief is both scientifically ill-informed and normatively ill-advised. It is based on the one hand on ignorance about the ecological finitude of the earth and on the other hand on indefensible ideas about the nature of human flourishing. Consequently, the belief is fundamentally at odds with the demands of distributive justice with respect to the benefits and the burdens of human dependency on the natural environment, within and across generations as well as societies. Both sustaining the earth's life-supporting and welfare-promoting capacity in the long term and realizing the just sharing of this capacity in the short term require timely and strategic restraint in the pursuit of economic growth. I argue that a holistic understanding of human welfare, one shorn of materialistic biases, renders reference to the notion both necessary and sufficient for formulating sound normative principles that proscribe the wanton abuse of nature. The idea that nature has inherent value independent of human interests need play no role, in my view, in these principles because it is based on dubious metaphysics. Under the current condition of worldwide ecological distress and socioeconomic polarization, achieving universal basic welfare without further damage to the environment requires the remediation of existing injustices, both globally and domestically, through drastic redistributive measures. Assertiveness on the part of the state is also needed to reign in the market's inherent expansionary tendencies. The easing of ideological and institutional pressures towards economic growth is not only instrumental for realigning market and cultural forces to better serve the causes of environmental sustainability and distributive justice, it can also help create/restore a social atmosphere hospitable towards the practice of ecological virtues such as simplicity and self-sufficiency.

  • A CRITIQUE OF CONTEMPORARY NONNATURALIST MORAL REALISM

    Author:
    Patrick Linden
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Jesse Prinz
    Abstract:

    This dissertation defends the claim that nonnaturalist moral realism cannot be successfully formulated in terms of a constitution model similar to that proposed by non-reductive materialists for mental properties. Constitution metaphysics of moral properties fails to be non-reductive in any relevant sense; it is incompatible with the claim that moral properties are non-natural and it fails to provide any substance to the claim that there are objective values. Nonnatural moral properties are still in search of a believable metaphysics. The centerpiece of the dissertation is a detailed discussion of Shafer-Landau's metaphysics of moral properties as expressed in Moral Realism, since it is the most philosophically sophisticated proposal of a constitution model for moral properties. It will also be argued that nonnaturalist realism defended without a commitment to mind-independent moral properties fails to respond to common realist intuitions. In fact, the strongest intuitions about objectivity are not likely to find a comprehensible metaphysics. It is unlikely that this result will have any important social consequences.

  • Proper Names: Reference and Attribution

    Author:
    Michael Maumus
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Stephen Neale
    Abstract:

    In the wake of Saul Kripke's landmark Naming and Necessity, the claim that proper names are directly referential expressions devoid of descriptive content has come to verge on philosophical commonplace. Nevertheless, the return to a purely referential semantics for proper names has coincided with the resurgence of the very puzzles which motivated so-called description theories of proper names in the first place - to wit, the failure of substitutivity for co-referential names in propositional attitude ascriptions, the informativeness of true identity statements involving co-referential names, and the meaningfulness of negative existential discourse. In the following I argue in favor of what I dub Metalinguistic Description Theory, which holds that the meaning of typical uses of the name type `NN' to be given by the definite description `the phi bearer of `NN'' (where phi is a contextually determined sortal which speakers use to disambiguate the reference of names with multiple bearers). This analysis, I contend, provides an ultimately novel solution to the principal puzzles for the Direct Reference theory of proper names which, nevertheless, avoids the devastating arguments which felled the classical description theories of Frege and Russell.

  • Philanthropy, Charting the Moral Terrain

    Author:
    Robert Merker
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    jesse prinz
    Abstract:

    I begin with three simple questions. Should a wealthy person give to philanthropy? How much should they give? And, where should donations be made? I turn to Peter Singer's life-saving pond example to make an argument that philanthropy to aid agencies, which I call life-saving philanthropy, is in some cases obligatory and not merely supererogatory. Given a reasonable, or "modest" interpretation of Singer's argument, and the obligations that follow, I argue that for the very wealthy giving all (or nearly all) their wealth at death turns out to be the type of minimal sacrifice that is morally required. I also argue that the modest principle does not preclude a suitable provision for heirs. I discuss what is "suitable," and what constitutes excessive consumption. Since you do not survive your own death, making donations at death represents the type of minimal sacrifice called for by Singer's argument. I follow Parfit and Cowen in arguing that lives in the future are of equal value to lives in the present, and so donations can be postponed until death. When considering the potential recipients of philanthropy, I argue that life-saving philanthropy should constitute a meaningful percentage of philanthropic donations, but this does not preclude other types of philanthropy. In an appendix I take up the question of whether there are ethical reasons to restrict corporate philanthropy.

  • Nature's Goodness: An Aristotelian Account

    Author:
    Nathan Metzger
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Peter Simpson
    Abstract:

    Neo-Aristotelians have made major headway in moral theory, and it is now commonplace to find philosophers defending the reality of goodness through a teleological analysis of human being. Whatever the merits of this approach, it has suffered from a lack of a sustained defense of its pre-modern metaphysical panorama: the Aristotelian conception of the human good gets traction only if its decidedly pre-modern and `robust' philosophy of nature is defensible in its own right. In this dissertation, I aim to give a partial breakdown of the particular sort of metaphysical project that the Aristotelian moral theorist assumes, but does not always explicate. In particular, I aim to show how neo-Aristotelians rely on a particular view of substance that, while certainly challenging to contemporary naturalist construals of the same, is nevertheless defensible in its own right. Moreover, it might well be the case that even `liberal' contemporary naturalist construals of `moral facts' face difficulties that cannot be overcome; for they might only be able to countenance the less deflationary moral ontologies they desire by first assuming a view of substance that puts pressure on the entirety of the `modern' project. The first part of this dissertation will focus on the ways that an Aristotelian nature is defensible. The second part will show in more detail how this pre-modern vision of reality helps to locate and in some cases even `solve' certain metaethical conundrums. The goal is to show why an Aristotelian moral theory can offer a credible alternative to the usual `moral realist' positions in contemporary metaethics, by offering not just a more plausible view of human goodness, but a more plausible view of nature as a whole.

  • Why Should One Reproduce? The Rationality and Morality of Human Reproduction

    Author:
    Lantz Miller
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Carol Gould
    Abstract:

    Human reproduction has long been assumed to be an act of the blind force of nature, to which humans were subject, like the weather. However, with recent concerns about the environmental impact of human population, particularly resource depletion, human reproduction has come to be seen as a moral issue. That is, in general, it may be moral or immoral for people to continue propagating their species. The past decade's philosophical discussions of the question have yielded varying results. This dissertation takes on the issue in a broader moral perspective and asks not only whether it is moral to reproduce but why one should. That is, are there positive normative reasons, whether moral or rational, to reproduce? This thesis approaches this problem first by facing three general philosophical challenges to its resolution: from contemporary population and environmental ethics and rationality theory; from traditional Western schools of moral philosophy; and from recent attempts to answer the narrower question of whether one should reproduce. The thesis finds that exploring these challenges cannot yield a clear response. However, taking cues from many of these approaches, such as care ethics' emphasis on values, the dissertation proposes that lacking from recent attempts is recognition of a source-value for all human values, viz. the valuing of life in and of itself. Proposing that this valuing is a characteristic of humans and of how they value, it looks to anthropology for empirical justification. It observes that many cultures and individuals frequently prioritize their values so as to devalue this source valuing. Yet, when those value prioritizations give this valuing high priority, there may be some moral justification for reproduction. Furthermore, if one subscribes to the tenets of rationality, which enjoin agents to formulate their beliefs for action based upon the results of rational inquiry, this normative force may invest this descriptive (empirical) hypothesis about values with normative force to guide actions. That is, given certain value prioritizations, it may be rational as well as moral to reproduce. The thesis question of why one should reproduce would then at least have a plausible answer.

  • What Is Scientific Progress?

    Author:
    Moti Mizrahi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Catherine Wilson
    Abstract:

    As Philip Kitcher observes, it seems that almost everybody agrees that science constitutes the richest and most extensive body of human knowledge. Among philosophers of science, however, there is curiously very little explicit discussion of scientific knowledge. As a result, the question "What is scientific progress?" almost never gets an answer in terms of the accumulation of scientific knowledge, even though this answer seems to be the most natural one. Indeed, this is how scientists themselves--from Early Modern natural philosophers to contemporary practitioners--conceive of scientific progress. For scientists, scientific progress occurs when there is an accumulation of scientific knowledge. A scientific episode is progressive when, by the end of such a period of scientific change, we know more than we did at the beginning. I show that this is how scientists conceive of progress by examining some major episodes from the history of the life sciences, such as Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood, as well as some key episodes from the history of the Nobel Prize, especially in physiology or medicine. The Nobel Prize is a setting in which scientists reward their peers for what they take to be important contributions to scientific knowledge. Examining this scientific practice of assessing progress reveals that scientists make judgments about progressive discoveries based on epistemic criteria. This practice also reveals that, for scientists, scientific knowledge is not merely theoretical (inferential) knowledge. They also consider progressive the accumulation of empirical (factual), practical, and methodological knowledge. Given that scientists take progress to consist in the accumulation of scientific knowledge, I argue that naturalists should articulate an account of progress that does justice to this scientific practice. Taking a naturalistic stance on the question of scientific progress, we want an account of progress that meshes with the history of science and the actual practices of scientists. I propose the epistemic account of scientific progress as such an account. The epistemic account simply says that scientific progress consists in the accumulation of scientific knowledge. Why is it that philosophers of science have largely ignored the epistemic account of progress? I think this has to do with skeptical arguments, particularly against theoretical knowledge, advanced by the likes of Thomas Kuhn and Larry Laudan. I argue that these arguments do not provide compelling reasons for skepticism and pessimism about the accumulation of scientific knowledge. In order to address these skeptical arguments, I propose to (a) focus on individual claims to knowledge, rather than whole theories, as the units of progress, and (b) give up the distinction between `knowing that' and `knowing how'. If we take practical and methodological knowledge to be types of scientific knowledge, as scientists do, then there are good reasons to be optimistic, rather than pessimistic, about the growth of scientific knowledge.

  • Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances: An Essay in Moral Epistemology

    Author:
    David Morrow
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Catherine Wilson
    Abstract:

    Recreational killing strikes most of us as wrong. Such "moral appearances," in which the world appears to us to be a certain way, morally speaking, play an important role in moral epistemology, usually in the guise of "moral intuitions." Moral appearances are natural phenomena, however, and scientists are discovering the psychological mechanisms underlying them. Recent research suggests a "developmental sentimentalist" model of moral appearances, on which moral appearances arise from "moral sentiments," which develop through a process of emotional conditioning. This naturalistic account of moral appearances allows us to explain our moral appearances without supposing that their intentional content is true. This explanatory irrelevance gives us a prima facie reason to discount moral appearances when deciding which moral claims to endorse. Sensibility theory and rational intuitionism attempt to validate the use of moral appearances in the face of their explanatory irrelevance. I argue that neither theory succeeds. But it seems that moral appearances cannot be discounted altogether, for it is unclear how we could justify moral claims without them. I introduce the notion of "practical coherence"" as a basis for deciding between alternative systems of evaluative claims, including both moral and nonmoral claims. I assume that evaluative claims have, as at least one function, the prescription of actions. A system of evaluative claims is practically coherent to the extent that, given current circumstances, performing the actions prescribed by any one evaluative claim in the system increases, or at least does not reduce, the probability of being able to perform the actions prescribed by other claims in the system. Because the practical relations between different actions are determined by the world, not by what we think, practical coherence ties evaluative systems to the world. This dependence on both the values that we hold and the attitude-independent relations among various actions yields an unusual combination of limited ethical relativism and moderate moral realism. But more importantly, practical coherence leads to a multidisciplinary method of ethical inquiry that will allow us to devise more satisfying answers to the central question of ethics: How should one live?

  • A Defense of Corporal Punishment: A Humane Alternative to Incarceration

    Author:
    Kevin Murtagh
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    John Kleinig
    Abstract:

    If we hold that severe punishment is sometimes justifiable, as almost all philosophers do, then we hold that it is morally permissible for the state to cause criminal offenders to experience substantial suffering. It is generally taken to be permissible to punish in ways that cause quite significant psychological suffering extended over vast amounts of time. Imprisonment, currently the most popular severe punishment, does this. However, in contemporary Western societies, causing suffering by inflicting even a moderate amount of physical pain is generally taken to be morally wrong, perhaps even beyond the pale. In many circles, seriously questioning this latter assumption is taboo, since it is taken as obvious that corporal punishment is an unfortunate relic of a less civilized past. In my view, this assumption is anything but obvious. Punishment inevitably causes suffering, and the psychological suffering caused by currently popular methods of punishment can be, and often is, severe and devastating. Corporal punishment can be imposed in a way that does not break the skin, scar, or cause any permanent physical damage. If these conditions are met, certain forms of corporal punishment can be shown to have significant morally relevant advantages over currently popular forms of punishment, especially imprisonment. Corporal punishment is more humane than imprisonment, since the amount of pain caused can be precisely calibrated, which enables the punisher to avoid causing a disproportionate amount of suffering. With imprisonment, this cannot be done, and the amount of suffering experienced by offenders with formally equivalent sentences often varies immensely. In the dissertation, I discuss this and other advantages of corporal punishment and I defend the practice against objections that claim that it is cruel, inhumane, inhuman, and degrading. Particular attention is paid to the issue of degradation, since most philosophically-developed objections to corporal punishment claim that the practice is degrading.

  • The Nature of Agentive Awareness

    Author:
    Myrto Mylopoulos
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    David Rosenthal
    Abstract:

    The way in which we are subjectively aware of our passive movements stands in stark contrast to the way in which we are typically aware of our actions. Following Bayne and Pacherie (2007), I call the latter type of awareness agentive awareness. A robust literature on agentive awareness has recently emerged, but there is as of yet no consensus as to its underlying nature. The goal of this dissertation is to give a complete account of agentive awareness that is sensitive to a range of theoretical and empirical considerations. There are three main questions that frame theorizing surrounding agentive awareness. The first is the question of what kind of awareness is agentive awareness--in other words, in virtue of what kind of mental state (e.g., sensory, cognitive) is one aware of oneself as acting? In Chapter 2, I argue that no sensory approach to agentive awareness is workable. In particular, I argue that if one is agentively aware in virtue of being in suitable sensory states, then such states must be the outputs of some sensory modality. But there is no sensory modality within which to locate these states. Second, there is the question of how agentive awareness relates to action control. Is it a function of low-level, sensorimotor control, as some have argued? Or high-level, intentional control, as others maintain? In Chapter 3, I argue against dominant low-level accounts of agentive awareness that are pitched in terms of a popular neurocomputational model of sensorimotor control developed by Chris Frith: the comparator model. I evaluate the empirical case for this approach, and argue that it fails to support it. Moreover, I argue that there are dissociations between sensorimotor control and agentive awareness that raise doubts about the success of any low-level account of agentive awareness. A third question pertains to the psychological mechanisms underlying agentive awareness. What events must take place at the psychological level in order for agentive awareness to arise? There is a broad consensus among theorists that agentive awareness arises out of a matching process between our intentions and our actions. The most influential version of this view has been championed by Daniel Wegner. In Chapter 4, I argue against Wegner's view, and matching accounts in general, on the grounds that (i) the empirical evidence cited in their favor does not, in fact, hold up, and (ii) they are not sensitive to the reliable character of our intentions, and (iii) there are cases in which agentive awareness arises in the absence of a match between an intention and an action. These considerations point in the end to an account of agentive awareness on which it is non-sensory, located at the level of intentional control, and does not require a match between an intention and an action to arise. In Chapter 5, I develop a novel account of agentive awareness along these lines, arguing that one is agentively aware in virtue of being in suitable cognitive states, i.e., thoughts, which are formed on the basis of executive intentions, i.e., intentions to do something here and now. This account does justice to pre-theoretical desiderata, as laid out in Chapter 1, avoids the pitfalls by which other accounts are hindered, and enjoys ample empirical support.