Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Systematics and the Selection of Species

    Author:
    Leonard Finkelman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Massimo Pigliucci
    Abstract:

    The last Tasmanian wolf, a male popularly named "Benjamin," died in captivity in 1936. Thylacinus cynocephalus, the species that Benjamin represented, was soon thereafter declared extinct; however, one may advance the argument that the species was already extinct when the last of Benjamin's conspecifics died, leaving him a member of an extinct species. This raises the "species problem": what, if anything, is a species? Resolution of the species problem is complicated by the fact that species are considered "fundamental units" of biological theories in at least two senses. Species are units of taxonomy: they are the smallest "real" groups into which organisms can be classified. Species are also units of evolution: they are the entities that change over time due to Natural Selection. Following Darwin, philosophers of biology traditionally argue that these units can only be identified if species are nominal entities. More recently, paleontologists suggest that species may be "fundamental units" in a third sense: as units of selection in a higher-order process of differential speciation and extinction. Species selection would therefore have a place in a hierarchy of selection processes. At lower levels of selection, units of selection emerge from former units of evolution due to intrinsic functional integration. If species emerge as units of selection in the same way, then the species that participate in species selection would not be coextensive with units of evolution: since functional integration had broken down within T. cynocephalus, Benjamin would be part of the latter unit, but not the former. Nominal entities are defined by extension, and so--contrary to the received view--species meeting these criteria cannot be nominal entities. I therefore argue that species must be natural kinds if they emerge as units of selection in a hierarchy of selection processes. Given the simultaneous identity of units of selection, units of evolution, and units of taxonomy, I suggest an application of the Kripke/Putnam model of natural kinds that is consistent with the theory of Natural Selection. I also consider a reading of Darwin's work that demonstrates the viability of this model.

  • PERCEPTION AND SKILL: THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR A SCIENCE OF PERCEPTION

    Author:
    Ellen Fridland
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    David Rosenthal
    Abstract:

    I argue in my dissertation that if diachronic cognitive penetration is caused by skill, then such changes in perceptual processing are legitimate instances of cognitive penetration. As such, perceptual processing is not modular. I argue this by (1) presenting a detailed analysis of the definition of cognitive penetration, (2) arguing that propositional knowledge cannot account for practical know-how, and (3) providing a definition of skill that highlights its practical and irreducibly cognitive nature. Taken together, these considerations amount to an argument for the possibility of a genuine instance of cognitive penetration, which results from the regular instantiation of skill.

  • Essays on Identity: A Defense of Logical Orthodoxy

    Author:
    Sergio Gallegos
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Richard Mendelsohn
    Abstract:

    My dissertation defends a commonly accepted package involving a certain number of theses that lie at the intersection of metaphysics, philosophy of language and philosophy of logic. The package, which includes (i) the classical thesis that identity is a one-one relation that is absolute, necessary and determinate and (ii) the Kripkean theses that true identity statements involving only rigid designators are necessary and that proper names are rigid designators (along with the consequences of these two theses such as the view that true identity statements involving only proper names are necessary), occupies a central role in many philosophical discussions where it functions both as a sanction of certain avenues of inquiry and as a constraint on the development of others. In spite of its inner consistency and overwhelming persuasiveness, the package has been criticized from many different angles. For instance, some philosophers claim that there are many different identity relations relativized to different sorts of things rather than an absolute identity relation because the latter view is undermined by paradoxes. Others maintain that, pace Kripke, there are true contingent identity statements involving only proper names because the reference of a proper name in a counterfactual situation is given by a sortal concept associated to it. Furthermore, some hold that identity is indeterminate in certain circumstances because the strongest arguments that aim to show the inconsistency of the view that identity is indeterminate may be blocked successfully. The first chapter of my dissertation is concerned with answering the challenge raised against the absolute character of identity. After reviewing the traditional considerations put forward by relative identity theorists as well as some novel arguments, I conclude that identity is absolute. In the second chapter, I consider in detail some of the most prominent arguments given to maintain that there are true contingent identity statements involving proper names as well as an argument given to show that the proof of the necessity of identity involves a vicious circularity and I show that all the arguments involve serious flaws, thus clearing of doubts the Kripkean portion of the package. The third chapter vindicates the view that indeterminate identity is inconsistent by providing a defense of Evans' argument for the inconsistency of indeterminate identity against a number of objections that have been addressed to it.

  • A Critique of Saul Kripke's "Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language"

    Author:
    Chrysoula Gitsoulis
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Paul Horwich
    Abstract:

    In Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, Saul Kripke presents a controversial skeptical argument, which he attributes to Wittgenstein's interlocutor in the Philosophical Investigations [PI]. The argument purports to show that there are no facts that correspond to what we mean by our words. Kripke maintains, moreover, that the conclusion of Wittgenstein's so-called private language argument is a corollary of results Wittgenstein establishes in §§137-202 of PI concerning the topic of following-a-rule, and not the conclusion of an independently developed argument in §§243ff of PI, as most commentators take it to be. In this work, I assess Kripke's skeptical argument both in its own right, and as an interpretation of the rule-following sections of PI. In its own right, I try to show that it is critically flawed. However, as an interpretation of the rule-following sections of PI, I try to show that it is essentially correct. I do this by showing that Kripke's interpretation squares with and supports the metaphilosophical framework developed by Wittgenstein in §§107-136 of PI, which immediately precedes his remarks on following-a-rule.

  • Physicalism, Substance, and the Shifting Locus of Fundamentality

    Author:
    Jonah Goldwater
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Barbara Montero
    Abstract:

    I demonstrate two main theses. First, the physicalist and Aristotelian worldviews are deeply incompatible, particularly in regards to the locus of fundamentality: where the fundamental level of reality is taken to be, which entities, processes, and facts are understood as fundamental, and, as a corollary, which are taken to be derivative or unreal. Second, the physicalist is committed to eliminativism about what the Aristotelian thinks is the fundamental basis of reality. And as these Aristotelian theses largely comport with a common-sense ontology, I thereby show that physicalism is far more revisionary than many have suspected.

  • PROBABILITY, SIMPLICITY, AND INFINITY: A CRITIQUE OF RICHARD SWINBURNE'S ARGUMENT FOR THEISM

    Author:
    Jeremy Gwiazda
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Steven Cahn
    Abstract:

    Richard Swinburne has presented an extended argument, spanning many works, the conclusion of which is that God likely exists. His argument is a cumulative argument, which means that he considers many pieces of evidence in arguing that God likely exists. The evidence he considers is evidence that is traditionally considered separately (or not at all) in arguments to God's existence. The purpose of this thesis is to analyze Swinburne's inductive, cumulative argument to the existence of God. In the course of analyzing Swinburne's work, I use his argument as a lens to focus on issues that arise in areas outside of philosophy of religion, such as philosophy of science and epistemology. Some main themes of Swinburne's argument for theism are that the infinite is simple, that God is infinite on several properties, and that simple entities are likely to exist. I closely analyze Swinburne's views on infinity and simplicity, and ultimately suggest that these concepts do not do the work that Swinburne claims they do. That is, by taking a careful look at infinity and simplicity, I suggest that Swinburne's argument fails to show that God most likely exists.

  • The Structure of Practical Rationality

    Author:
    Carl Hammer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Bernard Baumrin
    Abstract:

    Many pressing metaethical problems can be conceived as a need for placing a kind of meaningful and objective morality into an integrated and explanatory worldview, and this requires a constructive explanation of moral obligation. There are two major problems for giving such an explanation. On the one hand, moral obligations must be grounded in a general scheme of practical normativity; otherwise, they can have no authority. On the other hand, moral obligations must arise from social relations; otherwise, they lose their character as demands that a moral community has the authority to enforce. To explain practical normativity in general, I implement and refine a certain kind of explanatory strategy for normativity, which has been developed by J. David Velleman and Christine Korsgaard - constitutivism. To use this strategy, agency and action are conceptually analyzed in terms of a constitutive aim and it is argued that this aim has supreme authority for all who qualify as agents in this technical sense. I argue that a rational agent must aim at systematization of the agent's commitments, and that this aim has the authority to determine correct decision-making for the agent. To show how this can be worked into a theory of moral obligation with its special social character, I argue first for Stephen Darwall's conception of moral obligations as arising from second-personal accountability relations. Then I argue that having a commitment to participation in the moral community - the social group of individuals who jointly subscribe to mutual accountability - is a plausible condition of human nature (what most people are like). Further, it is also plausible, I argue, that for most people this commitment has an authoritative systematic position within one's scheme of commitments. Moral obligations arise directly from the accountability relations within the moral community, and so the authority of one's commitment to the moral community translates into the authority of moral obligations for that individual.

  • Philia and Method: A Translation and Commentary on Plato's "Lysis"

    Author:
    Eric Hetherington
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Steven Cahn
    Abstract:

    This work presents a translation of Plato's dialogue on friendship and a commentary that explores the cultural, literary and philosophical aspects of the dialogue. The translation aims to provide readers with an English version of the dialogue that eschews word-for-word literalness but retains some formality and avoids modern idioms. The analysis of friendship offered in the dialogue is composed of two parts. In the philosophical arguments of the dialogue Plato explores self-directed reasons for friendship. In the literary setting, characters and situations Plato shows us the other-directed aspects of friendship. Only if we consider these two aspects of friendship can we reach a complete understanding of it. The dialogue presents friendship as a voluntary relationship based on caring for the other for the benefit of both friends and their ability to come to know the good. Friends are fungible on Plato's account because what is important is the character of the friend not the person. The dialogue can also be studied for the methods of argumentation that Plato employs. In some of the dialogue's arguments Plato criticizes argumentative strategies that were prevalent in Greek thought before him. One of the dialogues central arguments, that concerning the `proton philon', has a form similar to the `third man' argument from the "Parmenides" and other arguments in Plato that struggle with the nature of Platonic forms. Thus, my commentary explores not only Platonic ideas about friendship but Platonic argumentative methodology as well. The dissertation contains two appendices. In one I examine Vlastos's interpretation of the "Lysis". His interpretation has been influential, but my argument aims to show that his interpretation is not conclusive when we consider the evidence for it in the dialogue alone. It requires Vlastos's chronological understanding of the Platonic corpus. In the second I examine a recent argument about the literary aspects of the dialogue that suggests that Socrates should be considered an unreliable narrator. I argue that there is little evidence for that reading within the text and there are good philosophical reasons for not thinking of Socrates in this way.

  • Marx's Democratic Idea: Communism's Relation to Liberal Theory

    Author:
    Morgan Horowitz
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Sibyl Schwarzenbach
    Abstract:

    My dissertation, "Marx's Democratic Idea: Communism's Relation to Liberal Theory," focuses on working out the undeveloped connections between Marx's economic theory and his political critique. I develop a conception of Marx's work which demonstrates that his critique of the republican political state and capitalist private property relations led to a demand to develop communal, discursively empowered agency over economic relations. I argue that the communist project thus should be viewed as inseparable from a concern about both just social relations (non-coercive, non-exploitative relations) and the maintaining and empowering of democratic, political procedures. I then critically appropriate the work of John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas to fill out a normative standpoint which makes clear structural demands that must be fulfilled to realize a commitment to equality, but also notes that a part of justice is fulfilling the preconditions of discursive relations which should serve to consciously reproduce social relations (and allow citizen self-monitoring of the provision and maintenance of just relations). I then connect the conception of "citizen," which entails state granted protections, rights, and privileges, to Marx's early, descriptive standpoint of democracy, which simply refers to or emphasizes the location or place of each member of society in social reproduction. A connection is found then between a "non-ideal" social theory, which asks one to note the practices and relations which are found in and maintain a society, and an ideal theory of democracy which asks social relations to be consciously or discursively guided. Justice demands are then seen as inseparable from a communist perspective which critiques the alienated and exploitative relations of wage labor to capital; not as transcended in communist relations, but instead, as inherent to their construal and maintenance.

  • The Stratification of Nature

    Author:
    Kristian Kemtrup
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Michael Levin
    Abstract:

    Herein, I suggest that contemporary nonreductive materialsm, the view originated by Fodor (1974) and Putnam (1975), and traditional British emergentism, the view advocated by Alexander, Morgan, and Broad, share a commitment to the existence of higher level properties. I identify all of the arguments and evidence cited in favor of belief in higher-level properties, including evidence culled from composition, multiple realization, projectable predicates, and higher-level ceteris paribus laws. Finally, I argue that all of the evidence cited in favor of the existence of higher-level properties can be explained without positing higher-level properties as long as we accept some plausible assumptions about predicates and properties, most importantly that singular predicates can pick out clusters of properties and that singular predicates can pick out different properties in different objects.