Relevant Degree Programs
Graduate Student Supervision
Doctoral Student Supervision
Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.
A considerable part of human life is structured around appreciative pursuits, including but not limited to our dealings with the arts. While these pursuits are vastly heterogeneous, they share some general psychological underpinnings. This dissertation investigates those underpinnings. Firstly, I argue that theories of appreciation in aesthetics have been unduly constrained by the dominance of hedonist accounts of aesthetic value. Aesthetic hedonism posits a constitutive link between the value of appreciative experiences and the aesthetic values of their objects. But once alternatives to hedonism are taken seriously, and this link is no longer taken for granted, new avenues open up for theorizing about appreciative engagement, and its relevance to value theory beyond aesthetics comes into clearer view. Secondly, I revisit the aesthetic attitude theorists’ much maligned idea that appreciation involves a distinctive mode of attention. Drawing on recent work in the philosophy of games, I develop a novel account of this distinctive attentional mode, in terms of a nested hierarchy of goals by which attention is guided in appreciative episodes. Finally I argue that our thinking about how self-awareness figures in appreciation should be more thoroughly informed by empirical work on human metacognitive capacities. I review two bodies of empirical literature on the subject and use them to develop a proposal about the role of metacognition in our appreciative encounters with the world.
What does the expert have that the novice does not? One component of expertise may be perceptual, involving a change in what we are able to perceive. Experts develop the ability to taste the subtle flavours of a wine, hear minute variations in pitch imperceptible to novices, or distinguish shades of red that are indistinguishable to novices. More controversially, experts perceive a bird to be a northern flicker, a shadow on an x-ray to be a tumour, or a painting to be beautiful. This is controversial because a competing explanation is that experts merely apply their extensive background knowledge to selectively attend to the relevant aspects of their perceptual experience, and then make such judgments in cognition. On this explanation there is no substantive change in perceptual experience between novice and expert. In this dissertation I argue against this alternate explanation of expert ability and defend the perceptual expertise thesis: through perceptual learning experts come to perceive high-level properties imperceptible to novices. I do this in part by appealing to empirical studies of perceptual learning and perceptual expertise. The positive account of perceptual expertise I build here allows for the resolution of a puzzle in aesthetics regarding the role of training, and a clarification of the epistemic significance of perceptual learning.
A No-Object theory of fiction denies that there is any sense of “object” in which theobjects of fiction are objects at all. This is conjunction of two fundamental assumptions. Thefirst is a metaphysical principle that asserts that there is nothing that does not exist. The secondasserts that the individuals and events that figure in works of fiction do not exist. I call theseassumptions “Parmenides’ Rule” and the “Non-Existence Postulate”. The No-Object theoryalso raises what I call the subject-matter paradox. If the objects of fiction are nothing, how can it bethat we refer to them, ascribe properties to them, and draw inferences about them?My dissertation dissolves the subject-matter paradox by providing an explanandum forphilosophical theories of fiction. A theory of fiction must explain how we can know that thereare no objects of fiction, while we respond as though there are. In order to better understandthese responses to fiction, I consider recent empirical work in psychology. This work supportsthe claim that fictional narratives impact our beliefs and attitudes about both the fictional andthe actual worlds and shows that we do in fact accept and act as though fictional statements aretrue, even when we are aware of their falsity. Empirical data concerning our responses to fictionsupports a number of claims. First, fictions have objects. Second, we refer to, make true claimsabout, and draw correct inferences about the objects fiction. The Rule and the Postulate seem tocost us the truths of these two claims; given the Rule and the Postulate are true the claims mustbe false. If we accept the No-Object view, we shouldn’t feel philosophically obliged to honourour linguistic intuitions. What the data also show, however, is that the very people whoseintuitions the No-Object view tramples have other commitments that actually support theseintuitions. It is this seeming contradiction that a theory of fiction must accommodate. It mustaccount for the fact that our responses to fiction are double-aspected. I provide acharacterization of these double-aspected responses.
Recent work at the intersection between ethics and aesthetics has focused on the interaction between ethical value and moral value. The philosophical work being done here arises from asking the interaction question: what is the interaction between moral and aesthetic judgment and value? Some questions are asked regarding the possible interaction between ethical de(merits) and aesthetic (de)merits; for instance, can an ethical flaw ever count as an aesthetic flaw in an artwork? While the work done here has paid off in interesting new positions and has also enlightened the long debate between the possible legitimacy of the ethical criticism of art, much of the work misses out on a more primary question. This dissertation, while at the intersection between ethics and aesthetics, will buck the interaction question in favour of the structural question: what, if any, structural features are shared between moral and aesthetic judgment? I believe there are three such structural similarities. The first is that ethical and aesthetic reasons share a common metaphysics: holism of reasons is true in both ethics and aesthetics. Ethical and aesthetic reasons are capable of changing their evaluative polarity across cases. The second similarity is that, given holism, the particular should be given priority when making appreciative moral and aesthetic judgments. Our appreciative judgments should be informed by the particulars of the case before us. Third, moral and aesthetic emotionism is true: ethical and aesthetic concepts are essentially related to the emotions. Given these three structural similarities, this dissertation argues that the skill of fine discernment is required in order to make appreciative judgments. Fine discernment makes good on the demand that the priority of the particular requires: in order to apprehend the evaluative property of the ethical situation or aesthetic object, we must discriminate and unify the discrete particulars into a coherent whole.
Imaging has become central to many branches of science. Ultrasound, PET, MRI, fMRI, CT, and various kinds of high powered microscopy are used biologically and medically and are taken to be extending the reaches of these sciences. I propose two features of imaging that need to be explained in order to situate these technologies in the epistemology of science: images are useful, and how imaging acts as a kind of visual prostheses. My solution is to appeal to pictorial representation in order to understand both how these images represent, and how we access the content of the images. I argue that imaging technologies take advantage of our ability to have visual experiences of three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional representations. In doing so they create images that are used for instrumentally aided perception into the body. My dissertation defends three theses: that imaging technology produces images as vehicles for seeing-in; that these images are visual prosthetics, they extend our perceptual capacities; and that images are used for instrumentally aided perception. I argue for these through both theoretical and pragmatic arguments. Throughout the dissertation I appeal to how the images are used and interpreted, and develop this through three case studies of MRI, ultrasound and fMRI.
My dissertation applies philosophical analysis to the problem of how we should cognitively characterize brain activity. Let us distinguish between high-level cognitive functions—e.g. decision-making, face recognition—and the lower-level computational operations that are carried out by discrete regions of the brain. One can assume that cognitive functions are assembled from interactions between relatively autonomous computational operations carried out by discrete brain regions. My thesis, stated very broadly, is that in order to be effective, the decomposition of a cognitive function into a set of interactions between localized computational operations may need to be specified domain-neutrally, and not in terms of a particular informational domain or stimulus class. Jerry Fodor’s influential work on modularity has sparked an industry of research that is based on the idea that the mind is, to a large extent, a configuration of domain-specific and relatively autonomous cognitive mechanisms, or modules. My treatment indicates how this modular approach must be modified in order successfully to decompose domain-specific cognitive functions into localizable computational operations. I proceed in two steps. First, I provide an analysis of the kinds of inferences that are used by cognitive scientists to postulate the existence of cognitive modules; I call these the modularity inferences. I offer a new characterization of these inferences, and argue that they can, and do, operate in three distinct modes in cognitive scientific research. Second, I present a general approach to the decomposition of a cognitive function into localizable computational operations. According to this approach, which I call the working zone approach, the contribution of a distinct brain region to a cognitive function is specified in terms of the type of operations that this region performs, and not in terms of a particular informational domain. I demonstrate the value of this approach in several research contexts within the cognitive sciences.