SSHRC Research Award Success for MA Program Grads

August 18, 2020

The Department of Philosophy congratulates MA Program students, Daniel Polillo and Jenna Yuzwa on their recent Canada Graduate Scholarships—Master’s Program awards.

After writing a full research proposal for their own work, Jenna and Daniel first went through an internal competition then a nation-wide competition. Not all applicants are automatically forwarded to Ottawa. The awards, which are highly coveted, grant a full year of generous financial support from the SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council).

Please read their research summaries below.

Daniel Polillo: The Early History of Formal Epistemology

"Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge and belief. Formal epistemology studies knowledge and belief using formal logic and probability. The field of formal epistemology is very young; it is less than one hundred years old, having begun in the 1920s and 30s with philosophers such as Rudolf Carnap and Frank Ramsey. The field only became mainstream in the 1960s, thanks to Jaakko Hintikka’s 1962 “Knowledge and Belief”. As a result, there is very little historical scholarship on the early development of the field as a research tradition in philosophy.

The aim of my proposed project is to set the stage for a history of the early phase of formal epistemology up to 1962, while the field was still developing into a stable research tradition. It would investigate why philosophers began using formal methods to study epistemological questions, and why they used the kinds of logics and theories of probability that they did. I will investigate how different features of their theories, such as methodology and values, evolved to produce the discipline as it was in 1962."

Jenna Yuzwa: Recognizing an Important Distinction Between Moral Responsibility and Blameworthiness

“Bernard Williams' introduction of the term 'moral luck' (1976) seriously calls into question the intuition that an agent can only be held responsible for that which is in their control. Since one cannot completely guard themselves against bad luck, even the most cautious individual cannot guarantee that their action will not result in dire consequences. Despite the abundance of literature on moral luck, there is virtually nothing written that attempts to apply this notion to collective moral responsibility and it is this gap in the scholarship that I wish to fill.

I will argue that the occurrence of an immoral act is often brought about by multiple people rather than a single individual, with some of these individuals being morally responsible and others being morally blameworthy. Additionally, moral responsibility plays a direct role in bringing about the occurrence of an immoral act, while moral blameworthiness plays an indirect role, and this will be illustrated by addressing two types of moral luck, constitutive luck (Nagel 1976) and circumstantial luck (Nagel 1976). Circumstantial luck will be discussed with reference to Adams’ (1992) case study and I will suggest that the individual in the border guard trial who fired the fatal gunshot is properly called morally responsible since he played a direct role in the death of the person who was attempting to cross. However, the individuals who played an indirect role – the guard who ordered the shooting, those who established a system that unjustly required guards to shoot immigrants, and those who failed to challenge this system, among others – in this death are properly called morally blameworthy.

Also, constitutive luck will be discussed with reference to Delgado’s (1985) case study in order to suggest that while the individual who turns to violent crime is morally responsible for their actions, those individuals who played a role in depriving them of a healthy environment to develop in are morally blameworthy.

This project seeks to illuminate our understanding of the distinction between moral responsibility and moral blameworthiness. Such clarity is imperative, since our understanding of moral responsibility and moral blameworthiness have serious implications for the way in which we punish an agent for wrong-doing.”