Alan Walter Richardson

Professor

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
Philosophy as conceptual engineering : inductive logic in Rudolf Carnap's scientific philosophy (2015)

My dissertation explores the ways in which Rudolf Carnap sought to make philosophy scientific by further developing recent interpretive efforts to explain Carnap’s mature philosophical work as a form of engineering. It does this by looking in detail at his philosophical practice in his most sustained mature project, his work on pure and applied inductive logic. I, first, specify the sort of engineering Carnap is engaged in as involving an engineering design problem and then draw out the complications of design problems from current work in history of engineering and technology studies. I then model Carnap’s practice based on those lessons and uncover ways in which Carnap’s technical work in inductive logic takes some of these lessons on board. This shows ways in which Carnap’s philosophical project subtly changes right through his late work on induction, providing an important corrective to interpretations that ignore the work on inductive logic. Specifically, I show that paying attention to the historical details of Carnap’s attempt to apply his work in inductive logic to decision theory and theoretical statistics in the 1950s and 1960s helps us understand how Carnap develops and rearticulates the philosophical point of the practical/theoretical distinction in his late work, offering thus a new interpretation of Carnap’s technical work within the broader context of philosophy of science and analytical philosophy in general.

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Making up knowers : objectivity and categories of epistemic subjects (2011)

The aim of this dissertation is simple: to defend the epistemic concept of objectivity as one that has done and continues to do good ethical and epistemic work for some communities. Because of this good work, I argue, in contrast to philosophers like Richard Rorty and Lorraine Code, that objectivity should not be removed from epistemic discourse—it is a valuable ideal to have. Relying on work from Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, I will identify objectivity as a concept with a layered and changing history. There are multiple different conceptions of the concept of objectivity currently identified, and more new conceptions being suggested. So, when I claim that objectivity is a valuable ideal to hold, what I mean is that specific conceptions of the concept of objectivity have had ethical and epistemic virtues in their times and places, and there are current suggested conceptions of objectivity that also seem to have ethical and/or epistemic virtues. These virtues are a result of the effect that the role of objectivity as an ideal has on epistemic subjects who adopt it. I will defend objectivity as an ideal, not as an attainable epistemic perspective. I argue that all conceptions of objectivity share a structure that unifies them under the concept of objectivity. All conceptions of objectivity aim at overcoming something identified as problematically subjective (What this thing is will vary in given times and places). This recognition of the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity allows me to give an analysis of how different conceptions of objectivity yield different conceptions of the epistemic subject. Relying on work done by Ian Hacking, I will argue that the ideal of objectivity serves as a mechanism for making up knowers. Self-reflection and self-policing are at the heart of this method by which categories of knowers are created. Using the examples of the U.S. suffrage movement and Marine-Protected Areas, I will demonstrate that the ideal of objectivity obligates self-reflective persons which has been and continues to be both ethically and epistemically beneficial.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Clarifying the mechanisms by which psychedelics achieve therapeutic efficacy (2018)

The potential psychotherapeutic value of psychedelic drugs has recently generated much scientific and public interest. Many comparative trials have suggested that these drugs can produce significant benefits for individuals suffering from various treatment-resistant psychological disorders. However, recent work in the philosophy of medicine has emphasized the importance of complementing evidence produced by comparative trials with “mechanistic evidence”. Mechanistic evidence is evidence that is produced by reasoning about the causal pathways (or mechanisms) by which treatments achieve their effects. It is important, therefore, to have a strong understanding of the mechanistic evidence for the therapeutic efficacy of psychedelics. This thesis seeks to strengthen the understanding of the mechanistic evidence for the therapeutic efficacy of psychedelics. By surveying past and contemporary proposals about how psychedelics produce benefit, I articulate two broad views that dominate contemporary understandings of the mechanistic evidence. According to “mind-manifesting” views, psychedelics are therapeutically useful because they facilitate access to unconscious content. On the other hand, according to “mind-modifying” views, psychedelics are therapeutically useful because they disrupt rigid thought patterns and increase psychological flexibility. I argue that these two views are sometimes conflated or not clearly distinguished by contemporary researchers, and that they need to be teased apart to generate a stronger understanding of exactly how psychedelics produce beneficial outcomes. I then explore the viability of using “psychedelic testimony” to help tease these views apart.

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The trouble with neurodiversity : etiologies, normativity, and the autistic struggle for identity (2014)

Scientific research into the etiology of autism has lead to an explosion in proposed agents implicated in the development of autism over the past 70 years. Genetics, neurotoxins, vaccinations, viral infections, parenting practices, neurological abnormalities, among others, have been proposed to explain what increasingly appears to be a heterogeneous and overdetermined condition. These proposed etiologies and the treatments they suggest pose a peculiar problem for the neurodiversity movement, an activist group of autistics and nonautistics who hope to promote a positive understanding of autism. In broad terms, the neurodiversity movement opposes cure-oriented research and activism typical of the scientific community and mainstream autism advocacy organizations. They hope to counter this trend by promoting autism as a positive identity – a normal human variation, rather than a pathology.The tension between these two modes of thought provides a rich terrain for exploring the possibilities of identity formation even as human behaviour increasingly falls under the rubric of medical science. The scientific research discussed in this thesis simultaneously constructs and is constructed by an understanding of autism as a pathology, and in so doing challenges the claims of the neurodiversity movement both directly and indirectly: reproductive technologies and proposed treatments for autism force parents to make judgements about the worth of autistic persons, for example. This thesis draws on literature from bioethics, philosophy of medicine, and disability studies to situate both the neurodiversity movement and the scientific community in debates about normality, normativity, suffering, and the nature of disease. I argue that while the neurodiversity movement's emphasis on normality is ultimately misplaced, the movement nevertheless has much to teach us about rights, identity, authority, and self-determination.

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In the belly of the (blond) beast : Nietzsche's dietetic critique of philosophy (2011)

Nietzsche’s account of “life” and his deployment of the language of digestion and diet tend to receive little attention from contemporary philosophical commentators. Yet, he invoked both “life” and dietary-digestive language explicitly and frequently. A particular understanding of life came to prominence in Nietzsche’s writings of the 1880s, which coincided with his intensive reading of physiology and honing of the critical project of revaluating values. This thesis will seek to demonstrate the relevance of the dietary and digestive language that Nietzsche used in his critique of truth for life, and situate it amongst his reading of physiological literature. Nietzsche drew from the work of nineteenth-century physiologists like Michael Foster, Wilhelm Roux, and William Rolph for his understanding of healthy life. These theories, particularly in their focus on the behavior of protoplasm, privileged the ideas of assimilation and digestion in their conceptions of life. Digestion and diet provide Nietzsche with a vocabulary with which to criticize philosophy and outline the possibility of a healthier form of philosophy that would better serve what he, along with many of his peers, saw as a degenerating modern humanity. His engagement with nineteenth-century physiology and concerns about degeneration place Nietzsche firmly in the intellectual context of his day, rendering his critique of truth an “untimely” project executed with the use of “timely” resources. The methodological framework informing the approach on offer here is indebted to Science Studies, and the meta-argument of this paper is that if we wish to understand Nietzsche’s critique of truth in his own terms, we cannot afford to ignore the language in which he articulated it.

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