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Jonathan vandenburgh

Research Areas: Epistemology; Philosophy of Language

Dissertation: "Causal Models, Meaning, and Beliefs"

This dissertation develops a causal theory of the relevant alternatives in a situation and applies this theory to the semantics and epistemology of conditionals, the theory of knowledge, and the epistemology of stereotyping. The first chapter presents the theory, arguing that beliefs are causally structured and that the relevant alternatives in a situation are those consistent with the causal structure. The second chapter applies this theory to the meaning of conditional and counterfactual sentences, developing a semantic framework for conditionals with familiar logical properties. The third chapter argues that how people change their beliefs when learning conditional information depends on the causal background and provides a model for conditional learning. The fourth chapter uses the theory to develop a causal version of the relevant alternatives theory of knowledge, where something can be known only if it is true in all relevant alternative circumstances. The final chapter applies the theory to the epistemology of stereotyping, arguing that stereotypical judgments often rely on false causal models of group differences.

Dissertation Advisors: Sanford Goldberg and Fabrizio Cariani


Taylor Rogers

Research Areas: Social Epistemology (Epistemologies of Ignorance); Decolonial Feminisms; Critical Race Theory

Dissertation: "Epistemic Resilience, Racialized Ignorance, and the Feelings of Resistance"

My dissertation focuses on norms of emotional numbness in the academy and more broadly, and how such norms contribute to widespread ignorance and injustice. Specifically, I frame my dissertation with the following question from social epistemology: Why do harmful practices of judgment and knowledge production persist, even when they have been rationally demystified? Think here of a woman who knows she is statistically more likely to be attacked by a white man yet clutches her purse when a Black man walks by due to a resilient stereotype about Black criminality. I answer this question by turning to the role of affect, showing how both feelings and lack of feelings play a unique role in our epistemic lives. Furthermore, I think about the reparative potential of artwork and storytelling for developing emotional capacities that might resist these kinds of embodied racialized ignorance.
Providing theoretical insight is not my only research aim. I also seek to re-imagine scholarly norms which promote harmful emotional numbness in my home discipline and subfields. As such, I integrate approaches I’ve learned from being an artist and an activist (and from decolonial feminisms) into my own work through the inclusion of art, thereby embodying the theoretical commitments of my own scholarship. 


Dissertation Advisor: José Medina


Mark Thomson

Research Areas: Philosophy of Mind; Moral Psychology

Dissertation: "Emotions and the Subject’s Point of View"

In my dissertation, I argue that emotions are higher-order functions that holistically organize the mind around certain practical goals. They do so, I argue, by orchestrating patterns of mental change among many of a subject's non-emotional mental states and processes. In this sense, emotions occupy a very different place in the architecture of the mind than the perceptions, attitudes, and other mental states that traditional views identify with emotions. I bring together empirical work in psychology on emotion and philosophical work on consciousness and non-standard forms of cognition to develop this view. Then, I use it to address a longstanding puzzle about how to explain conflict between an agent's emotions and her considered judgments and I draw out an important consequence of the view for our understanding of the relation between rationality and conscious experience.

Dissertation Advisors: Sanford Goldberg and Michael Glanzberg (co-chairs)


CARRY Osborne

Research Areas: Epistemology, Social Epistemology, Ethics (Normativity and Responsibility)

Dissertation: "A Social Approach to Doxastic Responsibility"

We often hold one another responsible for our beliefs, even though they do not seem to be within our voluntary control. Rather than being a matter of control, I argue that this responsibility stems from the fact that agents are answerable to a demand for reasons for their beliefs. Responsibility for belief is therefore rooted in the social relations by which we depend on one another in our capacity as believers and the expectations we have of one another given those relations. This approach does better than other contemporary accounts in that it reveals the crucially social and interpersonal dimensions of responsibility for belief, and so allows us to do justice to how this responsibility is connected to our lives as social animals. 

Dissertation Advisor: Sanford Goldberg


Joshua Kissel

Research Areas: Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy


Dissertation: “Realizing Robust and Non-Moralized Freedom: Exit, Democracy, and an Egalitarian Ethos”

I defend an account of social freedom understood as the (robust) absence of (socially remediable) constraints. On this view, one is (completely) free just in case one is subject to no constraint or inability that could be alleviated by another agent. I use this conception of freedom to defend a set of social ideals: strong exit opportunities, democracy in collective institutions, and egalitarian social norms. Each ideal is justified ultimately as a means of limiting the constraints individuals are subject to. Exit and policies like open borders or universal basic income secure our freedom by ensuring we can leave those situations we reject. Democracy, whether in the form of a vote in one’s polity or union representation in one’s place of work, limits the constraints we must undergo in the institutions that are central to the functioning of our collective world. Lastly, the widespread realization of freedom must rely on informal norms that supplement, and sometimes even replace, formal legal mechanisms for the realization of freedom. In particular I argue that even where some individuals enjoy relatively superior status to others, an egalitarian ethos can prevent dominating unfreedom by the more powerful. Such an ethos, at its most powerful, makes it socially impossible to utilize one’s status in inegalitarian ways that would otherwise produce unfreedom in a way reminiscent of how effective sports teams deter ‘ball hogs.’

Dissertation Advisor: Kyla Ebels-Duggan


William cochran

Research Areas: Ancient Greek & Roman Philosophy; Ethics (esp. Virtue Ethics); Philosophy of Education


Dissertation: "Aristotle’s Notion of Teaching and Its Role in His Theory of Moral Education"


Aristotle says that intellectual virtues are “generated and developed mostly by teaching,” yet no substantive work has been done to figure out what, on Aristotle’s view, ‘teaching’ consists in. My dissertation fills this gap. First, I defend my interpretation: for Aristotle, teaching is the activity of instilling true accounts, grounded in explanatorily basic principles, in students ready to receive them. I then use this reading to argue, against some prevailing views in Aristotle’s ethics, that (1) habituation does not require teaching, and (2) Aristotle’s practically wise person possesses a philosophical conception of the human good. Finally, I use my interpretation to solve a problem for Aristotelian educational theory. I argue that Aristotle's educational program, contrary to what critics have claimed, does not rob students of their autonomy. 

Dissertation Advisor: Richard Kraut


David Benjamin Johnson

Research Areas: Aesthetics, Continental Philosophy, Philosophy of Film

Dissertation: “Color, Movement, Intensity: Aesthetics and Metaphysics in the Thought of Gilles Deleuze”

My dissertation develops an original account of the relation between metaphysics and aesthetics in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, focusing particularly on the concepts of intensity and sublimity. I argue that Deleuze’s aesthetics rests on a largely unstated principle, according to which the fundamental task of art is to provide sensuous access to the deep structure of sensibility. I show that Deleuze, drawing particularly on Leibniz and Kant, understands this structure in terms of the early modern concept of intensive magnitude, or qualitative degree. I reconstruct Deleuze’s interpretation of this concept, showing that he discovers in intensity a form of complex, generative order, which he argues must be understood as the determining ground of sensory quality and spatiotemporal form. Through readings of Deleuze’s texts on painting and cinema and my own analyses of drawings, paintings, and films, I argue that works of art compose sensuous elements—lines, colors, movements, sounds—in such a way as to make the intensive order underlying those elements itself sensible. I show that this radically sensualist aesthetics entails noetic effects as well, which Deleuze articulates in terms of a modified version of Kant’s concept of the sublime: the artistic encounter with sensuous intensities overwhelms or outstrips our conventional categories of thought and forces us to invent new concepts to account for what we sense. 

Dissertation Advisor: Penelope Deutscher



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