Christopher Mole

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Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
Extracting value: appreciative engagement as metacognition (2020)

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.

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Evaluating counterfactuals: case studies of modeling choices and their implications (2019)

Individuals and organizations often turn to counterfactual questions for actionable insight. The answers provided to such questions can have important consequences, therefore it is critical to examine their reliability. In this dissertation, I demonstrate that examining the reliability of these answers forces us to closely evaluate the choices and assumptions that are embedded in the lifecycle of a counterfactual query -- from its construction to its application. I argue that such an evaluation must proceed in a context-sensitive manner, as it must take into account the intended aim of pursuing counterfactual questions, and also the context wherein the answers to such questions will be used. I highlight the different manners in which our choices and assumptions shape the epistemic and ethical reliability of the answers we provide to counterfactual queries by examining three case studies: (1) the selectivity of imagination-driven counterfactual thought; (2) the use of agent-based models for simulating counterfactuals, specifically in the context of investigating the potential impact of diversity on group performance; and (3) the use of machine learning models for answering counterfactual queries, and the use of counterfactual metrics for assessing the ethical reliability of those models. I argue that making choices and assumptions is inevitable, and that the reliability of our dealings with possibilities depends on being transparent about the influence of these assumptions and choices. Such transparency enhances the epistemic quality of the endeavour wherein counterfactuals are put to use by allowing us to explicitly evaluate when a given choice is justified and why. It also improves our capability to formulate informed mitigation strategies in the face of epistemic and ethical complications.

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The skill of mental health (2018)

Psychotherapy is effective. Since the 1970's, meta-analyses have consistently shown a significant effect size for psychotherapeutic interventions when compared to no treatment or placebo treatments. This effectiveness is normally taken as a sign of the scientific legitimization of clinical psychotherapy. A significant problem, however, is that most psychotherapies appear to be equally effective. This poses a problem for specific psychotherapies: they may work, but likely not for the reasons that ground their theoretical explanations for their effectiveness. This dissertation explains the common efficacy of psychotherapies by developing novel skill-based account of mental illness and healing. According to the view defended here, mental illness, and the success of mental healing, is best explained as an issue of the breakdown and development of skilled action. This skill view of mental health attempts to resolve a number of long-standing metaphysical questions about the roles of biological dysfunction, the environment, and values in the conception of mental disorder.

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