Job Market Candidates
Research Areas: Metaethics, Philosophy of Law
Dissertation: “When We Ask What Law Is”
Analytic jurisprudence is the field organized around the “What is law?” question. When most scholars approach the “What is law?” question, they suppose that the goal of such inquiry is to discover, or to accurately represent, the true nature of law. Consequently, these scholars reject the notion that the goal of such inquiry is to develop a definition of law in order to serve a set of practical interests. The first view, which claims that the field should aim at accurate description, is what I call representationalist jurisprudence. The second view is what I call pragmatist jurisprudence. I argue that pragmatist jurisprudence is the better approach for two reasons. First, given the state of our knowledge, we cannot give a very detailed answer about the true nature of law; thus, if we are to continue talking about the nature of law, we ought to select a definition of law that suits our practical interests. Second, several of the most prominent jurisprudence scholars have been miscategorized as representationalists when they are, in fact, pragmatists; thus, if we want to carry on their projects, we, too, should adopt pragmatist jurisprudence.Dissertation Advisor: Kyla Ebels-Duggan
A. K. Flowerree
Research Areas: Epistemology, Ethics, Metaethics
Dissertation: "The Practical Foundations of Epistemic Normativity"
We often criticize others for believing in a way that is dogmatic, biased, or wishful. What, exactly, is wrong with these beliefs? Many epistemologists accept that such believing is problematic because it is not appropriately responsive to epistemic reasons. But why care about negative epistemic evaluations? Or, to put it another way, what grounds the authority of epistemic normativity? Some argue that the nature or concept of belief itself makes epistemic evaluation appropriate: it is a conceptual truth that a belief is correct just in case it is true. Others argue that epistemic evaluation has its force because it is a special instance of a more basic normative principle, the principle of instrumental reasoning. Contrary to both of these views, I argue that the normative force of epistemic assessment comes from the nature of agency. Epistemic normativity is not instrumental to our practical ends; it is constitutive of our very ability to formulate and pursue those ends.
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
Research Areas: 19th and 20th Century Continental Philosophy (especially Heidegger), Kant, Social and Political Philosophy, Ethics, Ancient Philosophy
Dissertation: “Heidegger on Kant and the Concept of Cause”
My dissertation uses Heidegger's interpretation of Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" to challenge the account of event perception offered in the Second Analogy, where Kant argues that we must use the concept of cause to identify a series of perceptions as an event. Extending Heidegger's interpretation, I argue that Kant captures what it is like to perceive an event observed from a theoretical perspective, but he does not do justice to our identification of the events that humans initiate, nor does he capture our identification of the events that we encounter when engaged in technical activity. I argue for this objection through an immanent critique of Kant's text and a reconstruction of the various contexts of event perception. In addition to defending Heidegger’s often-dismissed interpretation of Kant, my dissertation clarifies the scope of Kant’s argument, and offers a novel account of event perception that does not rely on the concept of cause.
Research Areas: Epistemology, Cognitive Psychology, Metaphysics, Ethics
Dissertation: “Rational Indeterminacy”
My dissertation investigates cases in which rationality breaks down – cases in which fundamental epistemic principles conflict such that we are rationally required to hold beliefs that are contradictory, or akratic, or unsupported by our evidence. But clearly rationality should never require one to have beliefs that are patently irrational in these ways. Thus, something has to give.
Traditionally, epistemologists have argued that these conflicts either force us to abandon some seemingly indispensible epistemic principles or else to accept the existence of rational dilemmas. I argue that both views are mistaken and develop and defend a novel solution according to which there can be genuine rational indeterminacy; it can be indeterminate which principles of rationality one is subject to and thus indeterminate which doxastic states one is permitted or required to have.
This view provides a unified solution to a wide variety of epistemological problems, breaks new ground at the intersection of ethics and epistemology by revealing some surprising differences between moral and rational dilemmas, and sheds new lights on the extent to which normative theories can provide rational agents with epistemic guidance.Dissertation Advisor: Jennifer Lackey
Kurt C. M. Mertel
Research Areas: 19th and 20th Century Continental Philosophy (esp. Phenomenology and Hermeneutics), Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy (esp. Frankfurt School Critical Theory). Critical Philosophy of Race.
Dissertation: “Liberating the Self-Relation from Reification and Alienation: Towards an Appropriative Approach”
It is widely held that reflexivity is the defining feature of selfhood: the ability of the self to stand in a certain relation to itself. The question of how exactly to theorize this self-relation, however, has been the source of ongoing debate, leading to many different accounts being offered. In my dissertation, I develop and defend an social-ontological account of this self-relation based on a novel reconstruction of Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, which I call “the appropriative view”. The appropriative view challenges the cognitivist view that the self’s relation to itself is essentially a knowledge relation on the one hand, and the constitutivist view that we truly realize ourselves only in the activity of reflective self-constitution, on the other. I argue that the former’s emphasis on the ‘passive’ and the latter’s emphasis on the ‘active’ dimension of this self-relation, not only fail to capture its complexity and irreducibly social character, but also lead to reifying and alienating consequences. Re-conceptualizing the self’s relation to itself in terms of (self) appropriation, which involves situating it within a broader social ontology, enables the appropriative view to avoid the problems of the cognitivist and constitutivist approaches and to provide the basis for a critique of self-reification and alienation as social pathologies, a possibility unavailable to rival views. The end result is to establish the exegetical and philosophical foundations for a Heideggerian Critical Theory that aims to revive and fulfill the original promise of the early Herbert Marcuse’s attempt to fuse Marxism with phenomenology.Dissertation Advisor: Cristina Lafont
Research Area: Ancient Philosophy
Dissertation: “Birth in Beauty: Truth, Goodness, and Happiness in the Platonic Dialogues”
We are all intensely attracted to beauty — but why is beauty valuable? Plato answers that human beings are able to give birth (or bring forth) only in beauty but not in ugliness. He claims that giving birth to children and generating poems, constitutions, and philosophical theories are all instances of birth. In my dissertation I offer a new understanding of Plato’s doctrine of birth in beauty, which shows the unity of these apparently disparate activities. I argue that (according to Plato) beauty is the property that makes things exist in harmony with intelligible forms. He claims that the best human life is guided by knowledge. And beauty is valuable because of its epistemological function in all instances of human creativity: the harmoniousness of the beautiful thing increases the harmony of psychic motion, which in turn increases the soul’s power of understanding. With this increased power, the soul understands forms in the intelligible realm, which it cannot do without beauty. These intelligible forms are in turn models of organization for the offspring. The soul (human or divine) then brings into being an artifact (an account or human bodily nature) by imposing organization onto the appropriate material.
Dissertation Advisor: Richard Kraut
Carlos Pereira Di Salvo
Research Areas: Social and Political Philosophy, German Philosophy (esp. Kant and Hegel), Critical Theory (esp. Habermas), Ethics, Philosophy of History, Philosophy of Language, Logic.
Dissertation: “The Kantian Cosmopolitan Project: An Interpretation and Defense”
A central political question of our time is whether democracy can survive the challenges of globalization, either in its nation-state form or in transnational forms that might emerge alongside it. My dissertation gives an affirmative answer to this question. I propose an institutional structure of global governance that eschews the centralized, hierarchical executive power of a federal world republic but preserves its legislative and judicial powers. Such a structure, I argue, is both required for addressing contemporary global challenges and compatible with standards of democratic legitimacy. My position steers a middle path within the Kantian cosmopolitan tradition between its founder, who defended the ideal institutional structure of a federal world republic, and prominent neo-Kantians, who reject that ideal whole cloth, opting instead for heterarchical structures modeled on the present UN System or the European Union.
Research Areas: Epistemology, Philosophy of Min, Early Modern Philosophy, Ethics
Dissertation: “A Puzzle about Desire: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of What we Want”
In this dissertation I pose a new puzzle about desire, one grounded in three plausible but jointly inconsistent propositions. According to the standard view in metaphysics, (1) all desires are dispositional states. Epistemologists, though, think that (2) we have privileged access to some of our desires. But (3) it is very difficult to see how we could have privileged access to any dispositional state. In this work, I explore this disconnect between the metaphysics and epistemology of desire. I argue that we need a new metaphysical account of desire—one that captures its phenomenal character. I then argue that it is on the basis of the unique phenomenology of desires—what I call attraction— that we come to possess epistemically secure, uniquely first-personal knowledge of our desires.
Dissertation Advisor: Baron Reed
Tyler J. Zimmer
Research Areas: Political Philosophy, Ethics, Philosophy of Race, Feminism, Philosophy of Economics
Dissertation: “Relational Egalitarianism: An Interpretation and Defense”
I defend the view that equality is fundamentally about securing social relationships free of domination, rather than about making sure everyone possesses equal amounts of goods. I explain the wrongness of unequal relations by appeal to the idea that we shouldn’t treat agents as if they were mere objects or tools for our use. Using these premises, I argue that inequality is synonymous with domination— that is, with relationships whereby one person is subject to the arbitrary power of another. I argue that this account best captures the wrongness of contemporary forms of inequality— especially gender subordination, racial oppression, and class disparities. Equal social and political relations, then, turn out to be relationships whereby persons engaged in cooperation or political decision-making can participate alongside one another as peers.