Grad Research

Graduate students participate in a rich research environment, with regular department colloquia, productive small workshops, and opportunities to collaborate with faculty. Most students who envision going on to the PhD choose to write a Professional Paper, which usually begins as successful paper from a graduate seminar and is later honed into a writing sample over the course of a term, working with their supervisors. Abstracts for recent professional papers are below, organized by topic.

Incoming students are given a travel budget of $1200. They are encouraged to submit short papers to conferences and/or attend workshops in their areas of interest. Conference/workshop funding for MA students is a new addition to our program and to date students have had overwhelmingly positive experiences using their travel funds.

Professional Papers and Theses

Early Modern and Kant

Kant on the Unity of Spontaneity by Haley Brennan

Abstract: Kant describes absolute spontaneity as an act of transcendental freedom.  It is generally taken that this concept of spontaneity is meant to apply to acts of the autonomous will, not extending beyond practical philosophy.  On this view then, when Kant uses the concept 'spontaneity' to refer to the understanding in his theoretical philosophy it must be a different (thinner or qualified) kind.  I argue that this view is mistaken.  Instead, spontaneity is a unified concept for Kant, one that is always equivalent to transcendental freedom in both practical and theoretical contexts.  I defend this view against two possible objections: (1) that the understanding is causally determined and so cannot be genuinely free, and (2) that this violates Kant's claims about our epistemic limitations.  In doing so, I articulate the way that the understanding is spontaneous, and how we are genuinely free in our rational activity.

A Lawful Freedom: Kant’s Practical Refutation of Noumenal Chance by Nicholas Dunn

Abstract: This paper asks how Kant’s mature theory of freedom handles an objection pertaining to chance.  This question is significant given that Kant raises this criticism against libertarianism in his early writings on freedom before coming to adopt a libertarian view of freedom in the Critical period. After motivating the problem of how Kant can hold that the free actions of human beings lack determining grounds while at the same maintain that these are not the result of ‘blind chance,’ I argue that Kant’s Critical doctrine of transcendental idealism, while creating the ‘conceptual space’ for libertarian freedom, is not intended to provide an answer to the problem of chance with respect to our free agency. I go on to show how the resources for a refutation of chance only come about in the practical philosophy. In the 2nd Critique, Kant famously argues for the reality of freedom on the basis of our consciousness of the Moral Law as the law of a free will. However, Kant also comes to build into his account of the will a genuine power of choice, which involves the capacity to deviate from the Moral Law. I conclude by showing that this apparent tension can be resolved by turning to his argument for the impossibility of a diabolical will. This involves a consideration of the distinct kind of grounding relationship that practical laws have to the human will, as well as the way that transcendental idealism makes this possible.

Kant on Givenness and the Phenomenological non-Presence of Space and Time by Rosalind Chaplin

Abstract:  A number of contemporary Kant scholars hold that Kant believes space and time are ‘given’ as phenomenologically present to the mind in sensibility alone. I argue that Kant in fact denies that either space or time is epistemically accessible to us in mere sensibility and that his considered position is that we depend on synthesis for awareness of the basic properties of space and time. However, this is not to say that space and time themselves depend on synthesis. As I argue, Kant believes that our epistemic access to space and time depends on synthesis, but this is compatible with the claim that space and time are ‘given’ in sensibility alone. In the context of his discussion of space and time, Kant takes ‘givenness’ to be a metaphysical notion rather than an epistemological one, and part of what is distinctive about Kant’s theory of space and time is his effort to pull metaphysical and epistemological priority apart. 

Kant’s Transcendental Exposition of Space and the Principles of Intuitive Reasoning by Christopher Palmer

Abstract:  The Transcendental Exposition of the Concept of Space occupies a peculiar place in Kant’s theory of geometry. Clearly, the Exposition tries to connect his thoughts on space and geometry. What is challenging is understanding the precise connection Kant is drawing. Philosophers have historically interpreted the Exposition as containing an argument regarding our representation of space that is premised upon the epistemic status of geometrical judgments: Because synthetic a priori cognitions of geometry are possible, space must be a pure intuition since no other representation is suitable for these judgments. Modern Kant scholars interpret the arguments of the Transcendental Exposition to present Kant as arguing in roughly the opposite way; his account that space is a pure intuition is a premise to an argument that affirms the possibility of the synthetic a priori cognitions of geometry. From the conclusions about space in the Metaphysical Exposition, Kant (on this reading) already has the material necessary to prove how the kinds of judgments unique to geometry are conceivable.  While I agree with the modern interpretation’s general point that Kant is arguing from a particular conception of space to a claim about geometry, I do not think that he is attempting to prove the possibility of a certain category of cognitions. Alternatively, I will argue that Kant in the Transcendental Exposition is demonstrating how a particular method or procedure is possible for cognizers to attain synthetic a priori cognitions. The arguments of the Exposition establish a principle regarding the a priori determination of concepts, and this principle is indispensable for construction and intuitive reasoning, which is how Kant thinks cognizers attain such synthetic a priori cognitions.

Ethics and Meta-Ethics

Fitting a Square Peg into a Eudaimonic Hole:  LeBar, Virtue Ethics and the Second-Person Standpoint by Graham Robertson

Abstract:  A fairly well known objection to virtue ethics is that it is unable to provide the proper sort of reasons that a moral theory ought to: those commonly known as ‘victim-focused’ as opposed to those focusing on the flourishing of the agents themselves. In his paper ‘Virtue Ethics and Deontic Constraints’, LeBar attempts to meet this objection by incorporating Darwall’s second-person standpoint—a metaethical view of moral reasons—into the normative component of a eudaimonic virtue theory. In this paper I argue that LeBar fails to properly incorporate victim-focused reasons, due to the fact that he is unable to account for second-person reasons possessing normative force relative to other reasons that is based solely on the authority of second personal claims.

The Phenomenology of Becoming a Moral Agent by Emily Hodges

Abstract:  While we often assume that individuals are essentially capable of being moral agents, it is not the case that we are all automatically moral. In fact, many of us feel that being a moral agent is not just something that we ought to do, but something we ought to commit to even if we do not always get it right. Perhaps becoming a moral agent is a process that takes time, hard work, and commitment. In this paper I argue that becoming a moral agent involves a process comprising two critical moments. To understand this process, I explore the moments of becoming a moral agent as described by Kant and Levinas. In the Kantian moment, the individual becomes a moral agent when she realizes the objective authority of the moral law, which subjectively grounds moral action through the experience of respect. Yet the Kantian account does not seem able to grant others the full dignity they deserve as ends-in-themselves. I therefore explore Levinas’s account wherein the individual experiences the other as the ground of moral obligation. Though such grounding grants the other dignity, the Levinasian account cannot give us a moral standard or self-respect. I conclude that the two moments can be synthesized into a single process of moral cultivation. Here, the moral law is created through the individual’s encounter with a “second-personal demand.” However, it is only upon conscious self-legislation of the moral law that the agent takes on the higher vocation of being a responsible interlocutor that answers the ethical demand of the other respectfully. As the self is here transformed into a moral agent, the subjective motivation is self-respect as well as respect for the other. The moral self is connected intrinsically to the other, grounding morality in the dignity of both the self and other.

Epistemology

Smart Shopping for Inductive Methods by Matthew Maxwell

Abstract:  Conciliatory theories of disagreement state that in the face of disagreement one must reduce one's confidence in the disputed proposition.  Adam Elga claims that this conciliatory principle falls to a self-undermining problem; when the disagreement is about whether or not one ought to be a conciliationist, we find that conciliationism recommends its own rejection.  In order to protect the conciliatory principle from self-undermining, Elga insists that we must be dogmatic about inductive methods and principles.  In this paper I contend that there is no need to do this.  The conciliatory principle does not necessarily fall to the self-undermining argument and, even if the principle could possibly fall to the self-undermining problem, dogmatism is unwarranted.  Because dogmatism is unwarranted we will need a new way of defending conciliationism.  Finally, I argue that the conciliatory principle is best defended empirically.  

A Substantive-Argument Alternative to Arguing from Insufficient Evidence by Berman Chan

Abstract:  The first section of this paper will argue that arguing from insufficient evidence may be legitimate in arguments that are meant to encourage some practical outcome. However, in that section I will distinguish those cases from philosophical arguments which are mostly concerned with evaluating arguments for their own sakes, in which I argue that the use of burden of proof is not legitimate. The second section discusses some arguments from insufficient evidence which superficially seem to use burden of proof. I give reasons for approving of some of these arguments, developing and defending a method for these arguments which employ substantive arguments, thus avoiding using burden of proof.

Disagreement:  What’s It Really Good For? by Jesus Moreno

Abstract:  In this essay I will argue that the practice of inquiry presupposes the possibility of seeing each other as disagreeing on normative matters. If inquiry is a constitutive feature of being the kind of beings that we are, that is if inquiry is indispensable to us insofar as we cannot fail to engage in it, then the possibility of seeing each other as disagreeing on normative matters must be part of the picture presented by our theoretical accounts of normativity. I will base my argument on a distinction between a) first-person and third-person perspectives of cases of agreement/non-agreement, and b) agreement/non-agreement (in either of the two forms mentioned above) and conflict. Conflict, which I shall characterize as incompatibility of preferences, is shown to be neither necessary nor sufficient for either form of disagreement. I will focus on cases of first and third-person disagreement, arguing that they are neither necessary nor sufficient for one another (we can be disagreeing without knowing so, and we can think we are disagreeing without being in third-person disagreement). It is the first-person form of disagreement which I argue proves indispensable for inquiry. I will attempt to show that first-person disagreement on normative matters cannot be reduced to a conflict of preferences – for in cases where such reduction is attempted we would fail to see ourselves, and others, as disagreeing. If an account of normativity entails the dismissal of first-person disagreement on normative matters then such accounts cannot be consistently held – for either it would lead us to employ, in the very practice of inquiring whether the account can be held, what is being dismissed (which is inconsistent) or it would lead us to quietism.

Doxastic Normativity Without Epistemic Justification by Syeda Komal Gilani

Abstract:  This paper sketches a type of justification for beliefs that does not aim for the truth, namely phenomenal justification. The type of justification suggested is structured by experience alone, and not by truth, utility, perfection, or any other traditionally recognized source of doxastic normativity. In making a case for phenomenal justification, I explicate and motivate the problem of the criterion, and show how phenomenal justification has an advantage over epistemic justification in avoiding the problem.

Is Conciliationism Incoherent? by Mike Perry

Abstract:  Conciliationism—according to which whenever you find yourself in disagreement with an epistemic peer about a proposition, you should significantly shift your credence in that proposition in their direction—is an epistemic rule that is both intuitively compelling and useful. Adam Elga has argued, however, that Conciliationism is incoherent because it is self-undermining (it sometimes says that you should reduce confidence in itself). After a brief discussion of epistemic rules in general, I explain and evaluate Elga’s argument. The argument, it turns out, threatens not only Conciliationism, but almost any epistemic rule that it’s sometimes rational to doubt. Thankfully, it is persuasive only if we ignore an important distinction between different senses in which it can be true that someone “should” do something. Conciliationism does not emerge unscathed, however. Although the argument doesn’t show that Conciliationism is incoherent, it does show that it’s not as useful as it might initially seem.

Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics

The Role of Audience in Mathematical Proof Development by Zoe Ashton

Abstract:  The role of audiences in mathematical proof has largely been neglected, in part due to misconceptions like those in Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969) which bar mathematical proofs from bearing reflections of audience consideration. In this paper, I argue that mathematical proof is typically argumentation and that a mathematician develops a proof with his universal audience in mind. In so doing, he creates a proof which reflects the standards of reasonableness embodied in his universal audience. Given this framework, we can better understand the introduction of proof methods based on the mathematician’s likely universal audience. I examine a case study from Alexander and Briggs’s work on knot invariants to show that we can fruitfully reconstruct mathematical methods in terms of audiences.

On Logical Revision: Field, Maddy, and a Hybrid Proposal by Matthew Harrop

Abstract:  I begin this paper by exploring two approaches to logical revision – one broadly motivated by ‘rational’ considerations and the other by ‘empirical’ considerations. First, I consider Hartry Field’s proposal to adopt a paracomplete logic (FPL) in order to overcome the Liar and Curry Paradoxes. I then examine Penelope Maddy’s proposal, which takes a weak “rudimentary logic” to capture both the logical structure of the macro-world of our everyday experience and the logical structure of our cognition.  After pointing out and attempting to overcome particular difficulties faced by these two accounts of logical revision, I sketch a conception of logic that involves a novel combination of what I take to be the plausible elements in Field’s and Maddy’s views – namely that the logical structure of the macro-world has influenced the logical structure of our cognition via natural selection and that our choice of which all-purpose logic to adopt is settled in large part by an evaluation of how well these logics allow us to achieve our epistemic goals. One of the upshots of this hybrid account is that it takes seriously the problem of modesty – a conceptual puzzle associated with the rational revision of logic – while still allowing for the rational revision of logic. Another upshot is that it allows the rational revision of logic to be motivated by either ‘rational’ or ‘empirical’ concerns. I conclude the paper by considering challenges to my proposal, specifically those stemming from its (in)ability to accommodate dialetheism.

Philosophy of Mind and Neuroscience

A Comparison of William James and Nietzsche on Consciousness and Will by Vera Yuen (Note: this is a thesis)

Abstract:  My thesis compares William James’ and Friedrich Nietzsche’s construals of consciousness and will, two of the core notions in both philosophy and psychology. I delineate the elements that are significant in their respective accounts of the notions, and show that there are interesting and significant parallels in their views. An appreciation of the affinities in James’ and Nietzsche’s accounts of consciousness and will facilitates an appreciation of their remarkably parallel contributions in both philosophy and psychology. It also enhances an appreciation of James as a philosopher with a rich background and expertise in psychology, and an appreciation of Nietzsche as an original, important philosopher-psychologist. Furthermore, the parallels I draw between their views provide materials that substantiate the construal of a strand in contemporary psychology that is philosophically informed, pragmatist, and which embraces a radical version of empiricism.

Enactivism: Filling in the Gaps by Nicole Pernat

Abstract:  Enactivism is an anti-representationalist version of embodied cognition that aims to explain visual perception and perceptual presence. It states these are grounded in tight couplings between sensory input and motor output called “sensorimotor contingencies (SMCs). I argue that enactivists Kevin O’Regan and Alva Noe are unclear on the nature of SMCs and their mastery. Explaining such theoretical constructs requires describing their physical mechanisms (Andersen, 2011; Machamer, Darden, Craver, 2000), which in turn requires clarifying what mastery, in this case, is. I outline four possible interpretations and show why the first three do not serve the enactivists’ purpose. Grush (2007) provides the fourth interpretation: emulation. He provides necessary details on the nature of sensorimotor processes, and convincingly argues that mastered SMCs are emulators – which are representational. Enactivists cannot detail their view sufficiently to explain perceptual presence and remain anti-representationalist. I conclude, contra enactivists, that mastered SMCs must probably be representational.

The Argument From Perceptual Variation Reconsidered by Jane Chen

Abstract: Jonathan Cohen argues for relationalism about colour by what he calls ‘the argument from perceptual variation’. Cohen’s relationalism claims that whether a stimulus has a particular colour or not depends on who perceives the stimulus and the viewing conditions under which the stimulus is perceived (including illumination, background and so on). For example, if a single spectral light appears pure green to Subject A and bluish green to Subject B, then it is pure green to Subject A and bluish green to Subject B. To support this position, his argument from perceptual variation argues that there is no principled reason to choose between the two distinct perceptual effects (that are usually called “phenomenal appearances”/ “experiences”/ “visual states”) of the two subjects, and that anti-relationalism implies a selection between them and therefore involves stipulation, which should be avoided when possible. To criticize this argument, I argue that there is at least one coherent and plausible anti-relationalist account of colour that does not imply a selection between the two perceptual effects and thus also avoids stipulation. To make my point, I construct a hypothetical case called “the L box” which exactly parallels the case of perceptual variation of colour and argue that a relationalist conclusion about the L properties does not follow. I anticipate three objections with regard to colour terms. My conclusion is that perceptual variation should not pose a problem for anti-relationalism in the case of colour.

Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Biology

On the ‘Evolutionary Contingency Thesis’ Debate by Tiernan Armstrong-Ingram

Abstract:  John Beatty developed the ‘Evolutionary Contingency Thesis’ – that all outcomes of evolution are contingent – in support of the conclusion that there are no laws in biology. Contra Beatty, Elliot Sober has argued against the move from contingency to lawlessness. Lane Des Autels criticizes Sober’s reply to Beatty, claiming that Sober admits of too many laws.  Here, I argue three points relevant to this tripartite debate: First, Sober’s attempt to circumvent the contingency problem strips away the causal element found in Beatty’s account of contingency. Second, Des Autels has unfairly characterized Sober as granting law-hood to any contingent generalization we might choose, when Sober is merely arguing that contingent generalizations should not be systematically excluded from consideration for law-hood. Third, Sober’s response to Beatty only succeeds if one also holds Sober’s conception of what constitutes a law, which Beatty does not. Fundamental to their disagreement is a difference in how Beatty and Sober conceive of what does or does not count as a ‘law’, and that issue extends well beyond biology and the philosophy thereof.

Machine Learning as Experiment by Kathleen Creel

Abstract:  Scientific inquiry increasingly depends on massive data sets, such as the data produced by the Large Hadron Collider or by government agencies for study of the social sciences. While the epistemic role and experimental status of computer simulation has been recently discussed, the relationship between these datasets, the computational techniques used to find patterns in them, and the phenomena the datasets describe require more extensive philosophical analysis. I propose that machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence research that focuses on algorithms designed to improve their performance at tasks over time, and its algorithms, do not merely detect patterns in data, as has been suggested. Rather, two types of machine learning, genetic programming and deep learning, deserve the epistemic status of experimental methods. By analyzing patterns in data, genetic programming and deep learning enable us to discover broader range of phenomena than traditional techniques of investigation can. These varieties of machine learning possess a characteristic cluster of the features of experimentation and contribute to scientific inquiry in their disciplines in ways similar to the contributions of experiments in other disciplines. Because of these two factors, which I suggest constitute a definition of experiment, scientific activities that include these types of machine learning have the epistemic status of experiment.

The Referent of ‘Reference’ and the Philosophy of Philosophy by Brent Stewart

Abstract:  Naturalism suggests two types of constraints on inquiry. The first is that lower and higher level theories should be able to be integrated. For example, if one theory assumes something that another theory rules out – then something has to give. The second (foregrounded by Huw Price) is that the results of the human sciences should be used to calibrate the process of inquiry itself. The human being is the most basic instrument of inquiry and what we learn about ourselves has direct relevance for the methodology of inquiry. Using the first constraint, I explore what impact the success of enactive cognitive science might have on theories of linguistic reference. I argue that the two main contenders – the descriptive and causal-historical theories – do not mesh well with the basic tenets of enactive cognitive science. In response, I propose a sketch of a new theory – attentional theory – that fares better. Next, using the second constraint, I look at how adopting attentional theory might change philosophical practice. The result, I argue, is a change in how philosophers can appeal to language in constructing arguments and a subsequent refocusing of what makes for a good philosophical target.  

What is rationality good for?  A game theoretic perspective by Kino Zhao

Abstract:  Game theory is sometimes defined as “the study of interactions among rational agents”. This perspective has proven successful in many disciplines, such as economics, behavioral psychology, and evolutionary biology. It also faces some challenges, many of which relate, in one form or another, to how rationality is defined and utilized. Why does game theory need rationality? Or does it? In this paper, I examine the roles rationality plays in three subfields of game theory: classical, epistemic, and evolutionary. In particular, I look for roles that seem to require rationality, and question whether they can be played by any alternatives. I later develop two examples to explore the possibility of using game theoretic models without assuming players to be rational. Using the examples, I argue for my two theses: 1) the rational reasoning process should not enjoy any “privilege” over heuristics when used to interpret player behavior, except when they differ in their predictive outcomes; 2) discrepancies between rational predictions and experimental evidence should be treated as a call for alternative perspectives, instead of as a reason to discredit the use of game theoretic modeling.

Social and Political Philosophy

The Relational Conception of Equality by Devon Cass

Abstract:  A prevailing assumption in political philosophy is that equality essentially requires that individuals are entitled to a (pro tanto) equal distribution of goods. Critics claim that this view misses the point of equality and argue that its value should be understood as involving the quality of social relationships more broadly. This paper examines the distributive implications of this ‘relational’ conception of equality. I argue that the existing proposals of ‘relational equality’ offered by Samuel Scheffler and Elizabeth Anderson have overly ambiguous or implausible implications for distributive justice. In turn, I develop an account of relational equality that addresses these issues.

Territorial Rights and Cultural Attachment by Joshua Ogden

Abstract:  Sovereign states exercise territorial rights:  to control jurisdiction, borders, and resources. While theorists have long discussed the justification of state rights over people, the justification of state rights over territory has, until recently, been largely taken for granted. In this essay, I argue that the state is not the ultimate holder of territorial rights; nor have territorial rights been transferred to the state from individuals.  Rather, states exercise territorial rights on behalf of nations – a type of cultural group. I propose an account that differs from other such nationalist accounts, for one, by being entirely present-oriented in its justification – denying, for instance, the quasi-Lockean thesis that a nation’s history of ‘developing’ the land can, in itself, directly generate territorial rights. I argue instead, from a principle of treating people as equals, that territorial rights ought to be assigned to nations on the basis of present cultural attachment to their respective homelands.

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