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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

Nick Leonard

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

Hưng Nguyễn

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

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.

Dissertation Advisor: Cristina Lafont

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