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Current Dissertations


Sharon Berry

The Marriage of Rationalism and Empiricism: A New Approach to the Access Problem
If mathematics is about abstract objects like numbers or sets, how could material creatures like us have managed to learn so much about it? Given the impossibility of causal contact with mathematical objects, it can seem quite miraculous that there should be any relationship at all between our beliefs about mathematics and mathematical truth. Existing modal structuralist approaches, such as Hellman's account, attempt to solve this problem by reducing mathematics to some notion of logico-mathematical possibility but su er from an access problem of their own as well as a problematic dependence on second order logic, metaphysical possibility or other strong philosophical notions. I address these concerns by introducing a special kind of logico-mathematical possibility strong enough to capture the (non-first order) truth conditions for mathematical claims which I call combinatorial possibility. As a modal notion combinatorial possibility has the important feature that one can infer possibility from actuality. As a type of possibility, any fact about combinatorial possibility will constrain how any concrete objects can behave with regard to any relations, e.g., the claim that there are at most 8 objects which differ in how they satisfy 3 properties constrains the number of sundaes that can be made with 3 toppings as well as the number of people who can wear distinct combinations of 3 pieces of clothing. I argue that these properties allow experiences with concrete objects to explain our access to good (but incomplete) methods of reasoning about combinatorial possibility. The inference from actuality to possibility discourages the adoption of overly restrictive conclusions about combinatorial possibility while the need to elegantly explain regularities about many di erent kinds of objects and relations, like the example above, discourages the adoption of overly permissive conclusions about combinatorial possibility. Taken together, I argue, these considerations favor the adoption of correct methods of reasoning about combinatorial possibility and thereby explain our (partial) access to mathematical truth.

Colin Chamberlain

The Self-Body Problem in Descartes and Malebranche
Descartes and Malebranche famously argue that the self (or I) is an immaterial thinking substance. But this is only part of the story. My project puts the body back into the Cartesian self. Descartes and Malebranche hold that I experience one human body as my self in virtue of the fact that I experience this body as though it were the subject of my mental life. Surprisingly, Descartes and Malebranche claim that this experience contains an important core of truth. I argue that there is a way in which our bodies are parts of ourselves, insofar as the sensory and passionate aspects of our mental lives essentially depend on, and are shaped by, our bodies.

Patricio Fernandez

The Power of a Practical Conclusion
I defend the thesis, first advanced by Aristotle, that the conclusion of practical reasoning is an action, and argue for its philosophical significance. Opposition to the thesis rests on a contestable way of distinguishing between acts and contents of reasoning and on a picture of normative principles as external to the actions that fall under them. The resulting view forces us to choose between the efficacious, world-changing character of practical thought and its subjection to objective rational standards. This is a false choice.

From a reading of Aristotle’s own understanding of the thesis, I develop an alternative conception of practical reason on which it is at once a power to effect changes in the world and to get things right. Properly understood, the thesis is defensible and philosophically attractive. Indeed, I show that it allows us to do justice to the continuity and discontinuity that exists between the actions of human beings and those of other animals.

Chris Furlong

Skepticism, Deliberation and Responsibility
This dissertation is an extended argument against moral skepticism understood as the view that key features of ordinary moral practice are without justification.  I begin by addressing familiar arguments in the metaethical literature concerning the explanatory irrelevance of moral and other normative properties as well as neo-Humean arguments about the motivational irrelevance of categorical requirements.  To the latter, I offer a qualified concession that, in some of its uses, the concept of a reason is indeed rendered otiose by categoricity.  But I employ a broadly quasi-realist strategy to show that a number of key features of ordinary moral practice are unaffected by this concession.  Against the argument from explanatory irrelevance I argue that it misconstrues the central function of moral judgment.  Moral judgments are about about what to do, not about what is the case and so they oughtn't be held to the ordinary empirical standards of positing only what serves a genuine explanatory function.  But this strategy of response raises another worry.  Even if I'm right that moral judgments are about what to do rather than about what is the case and are therefore not directly incompatible with any empirically respectable view of what the world is like the prospect remains that the *activity* of moral judgment commits us to an empirically untenable view of ourselves.  Kant, for example, believed that one's own freedom is a necessary presupposition of the activity of practical deliberation; you might also think that another's freedom is a presupposition of the activity of moral assessment.  In the remainder of the dissertation I argue along broadly compatibilist lines that the activity of first-person practical deliberation as well as third personal moral assessment do not presuppose a naturalistically problematic conception of our own or of others' freedom.

Gabrielle Jackson

Gilbert Ryle and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Adverbialist Theory of Mind
My thesis develops Gilbert Ryle and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s “adverbialist” theory of mind and demonstrates its relevance to contemporary theories of action and embodied cognition and perception.

The folk concept of physical actions, whereby our minds cause our bodies to move, can be formulated as the “Two-Part” view.  The Two-Part view answers the question, “what is the difference between an action and a mere bodily happening?” in terms of their causal histories: an action is caused by a mental event internal to the agent herself (e.g., an intention, a volition, a willing); a mere bodily happening is caused by a non-mental, physical event.  The Two-Part view also answers the question, “what particular action does the agent perform?” in terms of the content of the mental event that causes the behavioral event.  I aim to undermine the Two-Part view by developing a theory whereby mentality and bodily behavior form inseparable non-causal unities in physical actions.  I do this through a close historical study of the theories of Ryle and Merleau-Ponty.

In Chapter One, I challenge the commonly held belief that Ryle and Merleau-Ponty could not be more different by first demonstrating that each targeted the Two-Part view—a view they (rightly or wrongly) attributed to René Descartes.  They both identified a Cartesian notion of physical actions whereby the soul wills the body to move and, owing to a causal connection, the body so moves.  This Cartesian notion persisted into the 20th century without much scrutiny, Ryle and Merleau-Ponty argued.  To illustrate the significance of their claim even into the present-day, I relate their Cartesian notion of physical actions to contemporary causal theories of action. 

In Chapter Two, I present Ryle’s critique of the Two-part view.  Ryle claimed that mental events cannot cause behavioral events without generating two logical regresses.  He argued that this is because mental events and behavioral events, as conceived by the Two-Part view, are not the right logical types to be causally related to one another.  Ryle posited a new category of “mental-conduct concepts” in which the mental and the behavioral are united in “adverbial” actions.  So constituted, adverbial actions create no logical muddles. 

In Chapter Three, I present Merleau-Ponty’s critique of the Two-Part view.  He described characteristics of normal and pathological experiences that exist only if mental life is structured in a particular way.  The views that emerged from this phenomenology have a feature in common: they eschew the dichotomies and causal explanations supposed by the Two-Part view.  Merleau-Ponty proposed a “hybrid theory” consisting of “motor-intentional” actions in which the mental and the behavioral are inseparably unified.

In Chapter Four, I combine Ryle’s logic and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology to formulate an adverbialist theory of skillful physical actions.  Ryle wrote of adverbial actions, the paradigm case of which was “knowing-how.”  Merleau-Ponty wrote of motor-intentional actions, specifically of “the knowing-body.”  So, on the combined view, for physical actions subsumed under the title “skillful,” mentality and bodily behaviors form inseparable non-causal unities.  Ryle and Merleau-Ponty’s adverbialist theory of mind is significant in its own right as a viable alternative to the Two-Part view.  But it also prefigures contemporary theories of embodied cognition and perception that reject a causal relation between mentality and bodily behavior, but have been unsuccessful in justifying the constitutive relation they wish to posit in its stead.  I argue that Ryle and Merleau-Ponty’s idea of skillful physical actions can correct this shortcoming.  Thus, today’s theories of embodiment should take heed of Ryle and Merleau-Ponty’s adverbialism about the mind.

Dave Langlois

The Normativity of Structural Rationality

Many of us take for granted that rationality requires that we have our attitudes structured in certain ways. For example, we ought not to hold inconsistent beliefs or intentions, and we ought to intend the means we see as crucial to our ends. But attempts to justify claims like these face two problems. First, it is unclear what unifies the rational domain and determines what is (and is not) rationally required of us. This is the content problem. Second, as philosophers have been unable to find any reason for us to have the relevant combinations of attitudes, it is unclear why we ought to comply with these putative requirements in the first place. This is the normativity problem.

I offer a theory of structural rationality which solves these problems. I argue that the entire domain of rational requirements can be derived from a single ultimate requirement demanding that we not have sets of intentions and beliefs which cause their own failure in a specific way. This General Requirement of Structural Rationality explains the unity of the rational domain and directly solves the content problem. But it also solves the normativity problem. When we violate the General Requirement we are engaged in a form of criticizable self-undermining. This is enough to ground the claim that we ought to comply with the General Requirement’s demands. This conclusion is secured as long as we accept the thesis of normative pluralism, according to which there is more than one fundamentally distinct kind of normative ‘ought.’

Douglas Marshall

Investigations into the Applicability of Geometry
Philosophical reflection about the sciences from Aristotle onwards has given rise to worries that mathematics, while true of its own special objects, is inapplicable to the physical world. Drawing on the histories of philosophy and science, I articulate a series of challenges to the applicability of geometry based on the general idea that geometry fails to fit nature. I then examine how two early modern thinkers, Galileo and Leibniz, develop notions of approximation as a way of overcoming these challenges. I conclude with an argument that the applicability of geometry—which by present-day standards is an established fact in need of explanation—imposes substantial constraints on the relationship between geometry and nature.

Elizabeth Miller

No Metaphysics Within Physics?
How do we get metaphysical conclusions out of scientific theories? Attempts to "read off" metaphysical consequences from scientific theories may conflate distinct metaphysical and theoretical notions of structure. The popular non-separability argument, for example, purports to establish a holistic, or non-reductive, metaphysical conclusion from premises about the formal structure of quantum theory, but it does so by running together a squarely metaphysical notion of holism with a merely predictive one. While committed metaphysical holists can instead present their metaphysical conviction as the best explanation of quantum theory’s predictive structure, only those presupposing a view of explanation antecedently hostile to metaphysical reductionism will find this explanatory move compelling. A similarly hostile presupposition about the nature of explanation lies behind a charge of unexplanatoriness frequently leveled against the best-known reductive account of laws of nature (the ‘best-system’ account championed by David Lewis and others). There is a general moral: at least some disputes about the metaphysical consequences of physical theories actually turn on disagreement about the nature of explanation, which suggests that clarifying this nature is the next step toward metaphysical progress in these disputes.

Craig Nishimoto

Duties of Rescue: a Moderate Account
Rescue duties, which can be both positive and general, pose a unique and compelling threat of over-demandingness. While many of us resist the idea that our duties to strangers are, or may come to be, as shockingly demanding as Peter Singer advocates, justifications of that resistance are characteristically unsatisfying, failing to counteract the reasonable suspicion that they merely rationalize comfortable limitations on our potential responsibilities. I argue that the defense of a non-revisionist, “moderate” view of rescue duties requires us to explain why, and why only, a subset of such duties are especially stringent, possessing a combination of features commonly associated with negative and special duties, and with the so-called deontological constraints in particular.

The task of providing this explanation is both a problem and an opportunity. It is a problem because rescue duties lack many of the features to which other explanations of deontic features commonly appeal. It is an opportunity because deontic features remain puzzling in their own right, and the effort to explain their appearance within rescue duties forces us to approach these phenomena from a new angle. If the explanation of rescue duties can shed light on these more generally puzzling phenomena, then the moderate’s account may thereby counteract the suspicions endemic to that position. To this end I propose a moderate account of our rescue duties with more general implications for how we might understand the features of deontological constraints, special duties, and the limits of our moral duties.

Eylem Özaltun

Knowledge in Action
It is widely acknowledged that an agent is doing A intentionally only if she knows she is doing A. It has proved difficult, however, to reconcile two natural thoughts about this knowledge. On the one hand, the agent seems to know what she is doing immediately, simply by doing it. Her knowledge seems to rely upon no evidence, and indeed to rest upon no specifiable epistemic basis at all. On the other hand, the agent can be wrong about what she is doing; her knowledge is fallible. The difficulty is to see how an agent can be wrong about her action if her knowledge of it is immediate. My dissertation provides an account of the agent's knowledge of her own actions that reconciles these natural, but apparently conflicting thoughts.

Jiewuh Song

Global Institutions and Relations among Non-Co-Citizens
I examine the justifiability of global institutions in the areas of human rights, trade, and extraterritorial legal jurisdiction. My approach is to ask how the relevant global rules could be made justifiable to the international, national, and individual actors subject to these rules. The results are an argument for a human right to democracy, a pluralist framework for evaluating objections to inequalities in global economic interaction, and a novel justification for “universal jurisdiction,” or the legal permission for national courts to exercise jurisdiction over some violations of international law regardless of territorial or nationality connections.

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