Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • Self-Determination and Moral Responsibility

    Author:
    Ezra Fried
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Peter Simpson
    Abstract:

    "Self-Determinism" is the claim that we can originate acts - that someone can be the first source of his act. It is often thought that freedom and moral responsibility require the ability to originate acts. I argue that this is not so. However, there is a special kind of moral responsibility that we can have for an act only if we have originated it or might have originated another. Someone has this "pure" moral responsibility for his act just in case he deserves that we take the purely moral attitude toward him of liking or disliking him as a person in considering the act, as opposed to our also considering and explaining his performance of it in an objective, scientific way. I argue that the origination of an act can be understood in a way that preserves the dominant view of causation according to which events (including acts) are always caused by other events. A beginning-less series of originative acts terminates in the final originated act. This is an origination because the agent is the subject of every act in the series. I advocate a moderate, moral self-determinism according to which an agent's personality restricts the range of acts that he can originate, and according to which he originates them only for the sake of their rightness.

  • 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.

  • Conceptual Roles and Conceptual Explanation: How Internalism Can Provide Everything We Need From A Theory of Concepts, and Why Externalism Can't

    Author:
    Cressida Gaukroger
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Jesse Prinz
    Abstract:

    This dissertation attacks externalism about concepts. It argues that attributions of mental state content that posit externally individuated concepts lack explanatory power. Only the intrinsic or local properties of mental states are relevant to causal explanations of behaviour - relational or non-local properties of mental states do not have causal power. This dissertation focuses on expanding upon this argument, and showing that it has significant consequences for those who assert the externalist position. I begin by setting out the primary criticisms levelled at internalist theories of concepts. These include the claims that a theory that individuates concepts purely internally will be unable to explain linguistic communication, or shared categorisation activities; it will not be able to account for intuitions we have about the nature and structure of our own concepts; and concepts, so conceived, would not be able to track objects in the world, nor would they be truth evaluable. I address these concerns systematically by asking how well externalism would respond to such requirements on a theory of concepts. I argue that the failure of attributions of mental state content that posit externally individuated concepts to explain behaviour, also means that externalism will be unable to explain behaviours such as linguistic communication. I challenge the value of externalist intuitions, particularly those generated by Twin Earth style thought experiments. I also argue that one can substitute an internalist-compatible account of conceptual utility and accuracy for a requirement of concepts having truth-evaluable properties, and thereby have a theory of concepts that provides a better link between our mentally representing the world, and our interacting with it. I conclude that only the local or internal features of concepts will be able to account for the observable phenomena that concepts are believed to explain.

  • 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.