Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • The Responsibilities of Reason: Kant and care

    Author:
    Ornaith O'Dowd
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Sibyl Schwarzenbach
    Abstract:

    I argue that care, as a moral value and a practice of moral significance, should have a place in Kantian ethics. There is neither and ethic of care nor an ethic of justice as such but rather simply ethics, which includes care and justice, as well as other values. Kantian ethics has been criticized in the care literature for allegedly devaluing emotion, exalting abstraction over attention to context, and offering a flawed conception of persons. I argue that a close reading of Kant's texts reveals these objections to be unsuccessful. I show how care can be understood in a Kantian theoretical framework. Finally, I examine care as a political value and the caring society as a model of social, political, and economic organization.

  • Deflationism about Truth and Meaning

    Author:
    Onyoung Oh
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Paul Horwich
    Abstract:

    The aim of my thesis is to defend a deflationary view of truth and meaning. I characterize the view as a doctrine holding that truth is a purely logical notion, and truth-theoretic notions don't play a serious explanatory role in an account of meaning and content. We use truth-terms (e.g. `true') everywhere, from the discourse of ordinary conversation to those of the hard science and morality. The ubiquity of truth-terms gives rise to the impression that truth is a profound notion playing substantive explanatory roles. This impression, say deflationists, is unduly inflated--the ubiquity of truth-terms is not a sign of the richness but thinness of the concept of truth. In my thesis, I aim to defend this view by responding to some of its well-known objections. To defend a view often involves a modification, which is especially relevant to the case of deflationism due to the plethora of its variants. I have chosen two variants--Horwich's and Field's--in order to find out what features are to be had by a well-rounded variant of deflationism. My special interest is on the merits of a deflationary theory of truth as it is applied to an account of meaning and content. The specifics of each chapter are summarized in the following. In chapter 1, I discuss the background of a deflationary theory of truth by examining the problems with a correspondence theory of truth. I divide a correspondence theory into two kinds: a fact-based theory and an object-based theory. As examples of a fact-based correspondence theory, Russell's and early Wittgenstein's theories are given a critical examination. I then turn to Tarski's semantic definition of truth. I argue that Tarski's definition has offered a way to develop a correspondence theory without invoking a fact or fact-like entity. I argue, however, that even a correspondence theory of a Tarski-style is vulnerable to a certain problem--the problem raised by Field. I then turn to reductive/physicalistic theories of reference--Kripke-Putnam's causal theory of reference, the information theory, and the teleological theory of representation. By arguing against each of these theories, I conclude that the prospect of a correspondence theory of truth is dim. I end this chapter by discussing how the dismal prospect of a correspondence theory of truth has motivated a deflationary theory of truth. In chapter 2, I embark upon the core project of my thesis--developing and defending a deflationary theory of truth and meaning. I devote chapter 2 mainly to the discussion of Field's pure disquotational theory of truth. According to this view of truth, the concept of truth is at bottom purely disquotational. In this chapter, I try to elaborate and clarify the central ideas underlying this radical version of a deflationary theory of truth. To do so, I focus on some objections leveled against this view: that it cannot accommodate the modal properties of truth and logical derivations involving an attribution of truth to sentences that one does not understand. After criticizing Field's solutions to these problems, I propose my own solutions. The topic of chapter 3 is the success argument against a deflationary theory of truth, according to which a deflationist cannot make sense of the explanatory role of truth in an account of the success of behavior or theories. In the first half of this chapter, I examine Nic Damnjanovic's supervenience/compatibilist objection to deflationism. I argue that a supervenience approach to truth is incompatible with a deflationary theory of truth. In the second half, I discuss Kitcher's realist objection to deflationism. Drawing upon the role of truth in an account of the success of scientific theories, Kitcher contends that realism requires a non-deflationary--correspondence--concept of truth. I criticize Kitcher's argument on the grounds that it conflates the objectivity requirement with the systematicity requirement. I argue that only the first is needed to accommodate the role of truth in an account of the success of a scientific theory. In chapter 4, I aim to defend a deflationary theory of meaning and content. To this end, I carry out three projects--first, defending Horwich's use theory of meaning against Kripke's skeptical challenge; second, bringing out the commonalities between Horwich's and Field's views of meaning and content; and third, arguing for Field's deflationary analysis of the role of truth-conditions in psychological explanations. More precisely, I try to bring out the core ideas running through some deflationists' views of meaning and content such as late Wittgenstein, Horwich, and Field. By doing so, I aim to explain what it involves to state that truth-theoretic notions don't play a central role in an account of meaning and content, which is the main thesis of Horwich's and Field's deflationary views. I end this chapter by defending Field's view of truth-conditions--not only truth but also truth-conditions are expressive, not explanatory, devices aiding generalization.

  • More Important Than Your Life: War, Individualism, and Justice

    Author:
    Graham Parsons
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Omar Dahbour
    Abstract:

    Modern systematic just war theory since the 16th century has been committed to both individualism and anti-individualism at the same time. This is revealed after it is recognized that modern just war theory has two inconsistent components. First, there is a theory of public war wherein the political sovereign has unique moral responsibility for the justice of war while political subjects can be obligated to serve in war upon command. Second, there is a theory of discrimination wherein it is permissible to deliberately target combatants waging an unjust war but it is impermissible to target the innocent. These two components of just war theory posit two conflicting views of the distribution of responsibility for just war within political communities. This conflict is the result of the confused place individualism has had in modern just war theory. The theory of public war has its roots in the anti-individualist theories of justice in Augustine and Aquinas. Many theorists have attempted to reconcile the theory of public war and the theory of discrimination with individualism. Three such theories are examined. These are the theories of Vitoria, Grotius, and Walzer. Each of these attempts fails because the theory of public war is inconsistent with individualism. The only theory of just war that can be consistent with individualism is a theory of private war wherein all participants in war are responsible for the justice of war and no one is obligated to serve upon command. McMahan's theory of just war is an example of such a theory. The individualist theory of private war has troubling implications for political society, however, in that it renders the realization of political authority impossible. It is concluded that anti-individualist theories of just war ought to be considered and one such theory is articulated though not systematically defended.

  • Cosmopolitanism and Colonialism: Kant on Marriage, Race, and the Philosophy of the Family

    Author:
    Jordan Pascoe
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Sibyl Schwarzenback
    Abstract:

    As concerns with global interconnectedness have moved cosmopolitanism to the center of political philosophy in the last two decades, interest in Kant's cosmopolitan arguments has surged. Kant's vision of cosmopolitanism and his claims to universalism have been attacked by feminist theorists, critical race theorists, postmodernists, and African philosophers, and have been defended -- just as adamantly -- by contemporary moral and political philosophers who argue that his mature cosmopolitanism involves both a rejection of his racist views and a critique of European colonialism. This project counters those claims through an examination marriage and the family as central elements of the institutional order that shapes Kant's political vision. By asking how, concretely, Kant thought a juridical cosmopolitan world might be achieved and examining his own vision of the transformations necessary to achieve global juridical cosmopolitanism, this project shoes that while Kant criticizes the colonial practices of his day, his cosmopolitan vision involves a justification of the colonial processes that would emerge a century later, and thus fails to meet his own standards of universalism. Marriage is, at first glance, an odd pathway into an interrogation of Kant's universalism. I argue that, to understand Kant's universalism, we must examine the institutions that organize his political thought and condition his account of personhood, independence, and equality. By focusing on Kant's philosophy of the family, which I understand as a particular construction of marriage, labor, and the household that organizes political spaces and subjectivities, I am able to show how the domestic realm plays a central role in Kant's political arguments, by operating as an enclosed juridical space within which rights and responsibilities are radically transformed. All intimacies and interdependencies are contained within the domestic realm, which in turn allows the Kantian political subject to emerge as independent and fully rational in the public sphere. Because Kant's political subject is conditioned by the domestic sphere in this way, his account of political rights and freedoms is dependent upon a particular juridical order and on the invisible labor of wives and domestic servants to maintain the illusion of external freedom in the public sphere. This analysis of the family offers a new vantage point from which to understand the role of race in Kant's political philosophy: if Kant's political subject is conditioned by a particular construction of marriage and the family, then the exclusions that undermine his universalism depend not simply on his own racist and sexist views, but on a structural argument internal to his account of the rightful political state. In other words, personhood in Kant's political philosophy is institutionally structured. This move towards an institutionally organized account of personhood suggests that the theory of race that undergirds Kant's mature cosmopolitanism has shifted away from the forms of racism that organized colonial rule in the New World and instead presages the "colonial racism" developed in colonial Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. Building on this analysis of the philosophy of the family and the role of race in Kant's arguments, this project asks how, concretely, Kant thought a united cosmopolitan world might be achieved. By tracing Kant's own account of the necessary features of a cosmopolitan world, this project argues that the juridical cosmopolitanism Kant envisions might take a form strikingly similar to the forms of colonial rule developed in Africa in the late 19th century. To make this case, it imagines Kant's cosmopolitan arguments in Africa by examining the colonial transformations wrought by Indirect Rule in colonial Nigeria, and by focusing on the transformations of the household, the family, and of the position of women produced by the introduction of "rightful" European rule. By exploring this transformation from the perspective of the African women who were most disenfranchised by the new institutional order it entailed, this project argues that, owing to the cooperation of colonial racism and a patriarchal philosophy of the family, Kant's vision of a rightful juridical order would in fact produce a radical reduction of the rights of women. In making this argument, it shows how contemporary Western and feminist projects have replicated Kant's cosmopolitan assumptions by introducing schemes of rights that continue to depend on a hidden and often sexist philosophy of the family. Thus, this project shows, first, that Kant's political subject is conditioned by a particular construction of family and the domestic sphere, and that the exclusions that undermine his universalism depend not simply on his own racist and sexist views, but on a structural argument internal to his account of Right. Second, by introducing a distinction between colonial forms of racism, and by highlighting the differences between early and late colonial practices, it demonstrates that Kant's mature cosmopolitanism is not a rejection of colonialism but a move towards the emerging logics of late colonialism. It argues that contemporary theorists who draw on Kantian claims about the importance of well-functioning institutions to cosmopolitanism must engage with the raced and gendered assumptions built into Kant's account of institutions, and consider alternative institutional constellations. By offering African feminist challenges to Kant's philosophy of the family, this project suggests one method for a more radically inclusive de-colonial cosmopolitan philosophy.

  • The Psychological Import of Syntactic Theory

    Author:
    David Pereplyotchik
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Michael Devitt
    Abstract:

    My primary goal is to assess whether, and in what sense, the rules or principles of grammar are psychologically real. I begin by casting doubt on a received view in generative linguistics, according to which a true theory of the syntax of natural language would, ipso facto, be a theory of a psychological state or mechanism. I argue that a nominalist construal of linguistic theory is a viable alternative to the dominant Chomskyan view that linguistics is a branch of psychology. If this is correct, it follows that there are substantive issues about whether the theoretical constructs of formal linguistics play any role in psychological processes, and, if so, what role they play. To address these issues, I examine a range of behavioral and neurocognitive data from psycholinguistics. The data strongly suggest that the human language processing mechanism constructs mental representations of the syntactic properties of incoming linguistic stimuli. I then survey a number of computational models of human language comprehension. While all such models account for an impressive range of data, they make use of the rules or principles of a grammar in one of two very different ways--either by explicitly representing them in a data structure or by embodying them in the form of hardwired procedural dispositions. It is reasonable to suppose, then, that grammars are psychologically real in one of these two ways. But which? To answer this question, I go on to sketch a theoretical framework for thinking about represented and embodied rules, distinguishing embodiment from mere conformity to a rule. I then argue that embodied rules are typically implemented by simpler mechanisms, and that embodiment is, therefore, the more parsimonious hypothesis (ceteris paribus). Furthermore, I argue that we have no principled grounds, at present, for asserting that grammars are represented, rather than embodied, in the human brain. From this, I conclude that a common claim in generative linguistics, i.e., that grammars are represented in the minds of competent language users, must be seen as either as a conflation of the notions of embodiment and representation, or as an attractive but as-yet-ungrounded hypothesis.

  • Meaning and Morality

    Author:
    Brian Robinson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Philosophy
    Advisor:
    Stephen Neale
    Abstract:

    Our ability to use language meaningfully derives in large part from our status as moral agents. The role of value and normativity cannot be separated from meaning and language use. Paul Grice's seminal work on implicature introduces the intuitive distinction between what is said and what is meant. What is implicated is supposed to fill this gap. As has been previously noted, Grice's theory relies heavily on unexplicated notions of rationality, cooperation, and intentions. This dissertation seeks to explore these notions, grounding them in a theory of moral psychology, and then examining what modifications to the theory of implicature are then needed. I begin with a review of suggestive, but unsystematic remarks left by Grice on psychology and ethics. From these comments, I construct a novel, quasi-Gricean theory of moral psychology I call Rational Virtue Theory, which is an egoistic moral psychology that falls under the rubric of virtue ethics, given its emphasis on eudaimonia (or happiness). This theory posits various End Selection Rules and Behavioral Principles. End Selection Rules are designed to guide one in constructing one's goals for life in pursuit of eudaimonia. Behavioral Principles are ceteris paribus strategies for action capable of repetition and replication, and which are stable and rational. With this theory of moral psychology, I take on the issue of cooperation, first arguing for its status as a behavioral principle. Cooperation in language use, however, I contend is distinct from cooperation in general. I then argue that there are two distinct notions of cooperation in language use: conversational cooperation and communicative cooperation. Though Grice appears to endorse the former, I assert that the latter is the actual source of Grice's conversational maxims and necessary for implicature and successful communication. Next, I argue for a variety of modifications to the theory of implicature, including allowing for moral implicatures and the role of moral maxims in working out what a speaker has implicated. As it turns out, the gap between what is said and what is meant is much larger than Grice initially conceived of, and understanding the role of rationality and normativity in language use helps fill in more of that gap.