Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

Filter Dissertations By:

 
 
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • A NEO-HUMEAN BUNDLE THEORY: A REDUCTIONIST ACCOUNT OF PERSONAL IDENTITY, CONSCIOUSNESS AND SELF-CONCERN

    Author:
    Sinem Elkatip
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Michael Levin
    Abstract:

    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.

  • A NEO-HUMEAN BUNDLE THEORY: A REDUCTIONIST ACCOUNT OF PERSONAL IDENTITY, CONSCIOUSNESS AND SELF-CONCERN

    Author:
    Sinem Elkatip
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Michael Levin
    Abstract:

    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

    Author:
    John Farley
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Sibyl Schwarzenbach
    Abstract:

    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.

  • IN FAVOR OF TELEOSEMANTICS: A Millikanian Treatment of the Intentional Content of Mental Representation

    Author:
    Pierre Faye
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Michael Devitt
    Abstract:

    IN FAVOR OF TELEOSEMANTICS: A Millikanian Treatment of the Intentional Content of Mental Representation Theoretical attempts to naturalize mental contents, that is, to explain how wholly physical organisms manage to represent the external world to themselves, are mostly conducted in accordance with causal-informational and/or functionalist approaches based on nomic physical correlations. In 1984, Ruth Millikan and David Papineau simultaneously, though independently, injected new life into the naturalist program by introducing a divergent approach known today as "teleosemantics." In first approximation, teleosemantics purports to naturalize mental content by substituting for the former concept of nomic correlations found in causal and/or functionalist models, the biological concept of etiological functions resulting from natural selection. Since its introduction, teleosemantics has been an object of constant misunderstanding and resolute opposition. The goal of this dissertation is to demonstrate that, when properly conceived, teleosemantics is indeed a coherent project capable of responding to the central objections raised against it. Offering a defense of teleosemantics is of critical value to the general program of naturalization of mental content because the spirit of the teleosemantic approach resonates best with the deepest philosophical tenets of the naturalist enterprise. I want to argue that only a teleological perspective, that is an analysis of etiological functions grounded in the actual history of selected beneficial mechanisms for generating mental representations, is able to explain the real nature of intentional content. Millikan's models of teleosemantics will function as my main frame of reference: her model represents the best contemporary program of intentional realism developed in strictly naturalist terms. This dissertation develops into four chapters. Chapters one and two present a criticism of causal-functionalist models and an analysis of their inability to overcome the challenge of misrepresentation, giving reasons to look for an alternative perspective. Chapter three introduces teleosemantics as a potential candidate for such an alternative model, focusing on Ruth Millikan's perspective, with the ambition to alleviate the many misunderstandings and confusions generally attached to this view. Chapter four addresses the apparently powerful objections against the historical dimension of teleological functions and the controversial role this historical dimension is supposed to play in fixing the intentional content of mental representations in teleosemantics.

  • 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.

  • MORAL MOTIVATION AND THE AUTHORITY OF MORALITY: A DEFENSE OF NATURALIST MORAL REALISM

    Author:
    Lily Frank
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Steven Cahn
    Abstract:

    Moral realism has been continuously accused of positing the existence of queer properties, facts, judgments, and beliefs. One of these queer features is supposed to be the normative force of morality-that is the way in which morality guides our actions. Critics of moral realism argue that nothing else in the world has this feature. This is a reason to doubt that moral facts and properties exist at all. This objection can be interpreted in at least two ways. One way to interpret it has to do with moral motivation, this is the internalism objection. The other has to do with the authority of morality. In this essay I defend naturalist moral realism against these two objections, the internalism objection and the authority objection. I argue that the internalism objection and the authority objection are independent of each other. Whether and how morality motivates us to act does not bear on the place that morality should have in our lives and decision-making. We may have no motivation to do things that we should do, and we may be extremely motivated to do things we should not do. The conflation of these two objections is widespread in the literature and is the source of some of their apparent persuasiveness. At the same time, I make a case for the opposite view, externalism, which is the view that moral judgments do not necessarily or inherently motivate, nor can they motivate by themselves. Instead moral judgments are only contingently connected with motivation. The specific form of externalism that I argue for is a pluralistic externalism, which I argue can meet the objections that are usually made against externalism better than any alternative form of externalism. The authority objection to naturalist moral realism is that morality has a certain kind of authority over us and that naturalist moral realism precludes this kind of authority. Therefore, naturalist moral realism must be false. The authority of morality can be understood in a variety of ways. For example, the importance that moral demands have in directing our lives or the way in which moral reasons seem to override other reasons for action. The authority of morality is supposed to be a problem for naturalist moral realism because the realist identifies moral facts and properties with complex natural facts and properties. The authority objection asks: why should any set of natural facts or properties have authority over our behavior? In other words, the naturalist moral realist seems to lack a convincing response to this kind of moral skeptic. I respond to the authority objection by defending a limited account of authority. Second, I argue that once properly understood, the authority of morality is no more a problem for naturalist moral realism as a metaethical theory than any other meta-ethical theory. Every metaethical position is faced with the difficult task of explaining this aspect of normativity and we have no reason to think this is a special problem for realism. Finally, I put forward a defensible version of naturalist moral realism, spelling out the commitment to objectivity and to naturalism.

  • 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.

  • 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.