Philosophy
School of Histories, Languages and Cultures

Current research students

Our research students also organise colloquiums as a way of sharing their research.

Name

Working title; abstract

Joshua Gray

'Wittgenstein on Subjectivity: A phenomenological Perspective'

 

When undergraduates begin to study the later Wittgenstein, they are taught to read the private language argument as a systematic rejection of the kind of inner, private mind that the Cartesian maintain is our own. Without outward criteria for correctness, there is no saying whether I am using my inner language correctly: or rather, there is no such thing as correctness here because whatever seems right to me is right. Wittgenstein, therefore, rejects the inner mind. Is he then to be considered a behaviourist? It would seem not. He explicitly denies such allegations claiming that there is indeed a difference between pain behaviour with pain and pain behaviour without pain, a difference with the behaviourist cannot accept. So what is left? What picture of subjectivity are we to take from Wittgenstein’s writings on the mind and the self? This is the topic of my thesis. I suggest that the flaw in both these accounts is that they detach us from ourselves and from our relation to the world and to others. By turning towards the phenomenological tradition, particularly Merleau-Ponty, I help reintegrate these aspects of human life into our picture of subjectivity and show how this was also the project of the later Wittgenstein.

Mehdi Nassaji

'The Plurality of Truth'

 

Supervisors: Dr Stella González-Arnal and Professor Kathleen Lennon

 

In my Ph.D. thesis I have argued that there can be a number of different true claims which are not directly comparable to, or mutually translatable into, each other. Certain truth claims may also only be available (that is graspable and able to be established as true or false) from certain social/historical/material positions; so not all truths will be, even in principle, available to everyone. I have suggested that putting Davidson’s and Heidegger’s work together allows us to hold this position without requiring us to adopt idealism (in the sense that the world is reducible to our ideas about it) or making truth itself a relativist notion.

Year 2 Full-time PhD Student

'Who Owns Renewable Energy?'

 

As the use of renewable energy becomes more commonplace, it will become increasingly more important to ask the question ‘who owns renewable energy?’ Philosophical research can help by looking at the amount of energy generated, the impact upon society, the rights to own the resource, the rights to convert the resource and the responsibilities such processes entail.  The results should reveal whether renewables should be communally-owned, state-owned, owned by corporations or even individuals. Furthermore new energy ownership types are needed as current sources of energy supply have breached the contract that existed between society and the consumer: initially by allowing power cuts and more recently by establishing an international market place in which some consumers cannot afford to purchase energy. Renewables offer a unique solution to the problem as they are abundant and the technology to harness them is present.  The thesis argues for a left-libertarian solution to the problem whereby individuals are awarded a share of worldly resources in order to generate their own energy and ensure their welfare.  Hence, energy generation rights should be akin to human rights.

Thomas K. Feldges

'Husserl & Varela – At the intersection of science and phenomenology'

 

Supervisors: Dr Stephen Burwood and Dr Stella González-Arnal

 

Scientific accounts regarding the working of the brain and various cognitive functions have made remarkable progress over the last decades. However, when it comes to attempts to account for consciousness or the experiential dimension of human mental life, philosophy as much as the empirical sciences are far from having agreed upon a shared methodological access-route to start conceptual or empirical investigations. Developed as a remedy for Chalmers’ hard problem of consciousness Varela proposed a novel method to investigate conscious experiences by utilizing aspects of Husserl’s phenomenology. Varela called his approach neurophenomenology. This project aims to analyse Varela’s methodological proposal along with his underlying theoretical assumptions in relation to the relevant aspects of Husserl’s phenomenology. This is done to substantiate an investigation to assess how far Varela’s suggested application of Husserl’s methods is possible – and if so, how far such an application may be able to contribute to a solution to access problem when trying to investigate consciousness.

Nicole Woodford

'The problem of moral luck: a philosophical defence of praise, blame and legal punishment'

 

Supervisors: Dr Antony Hatzistavrou and Prof Gerry Johnstone

 

My research focuses on the philosophical implications of moral luck and its impact upon the criminal law. In particular, I explore the problem of moral luck and its relation to moral and legal responsibility. In my dissertation, I shall defend the thesis that the problem of moral luck is illusory. I argue that the problem of moral luck emerges from a mistaken understanding of moral responsibility and moral judgement. I clarify and make the necessary adjustments to Aristotle’s “control” and “epistemic” conditions for moral responsibility. These amendments justify the different types of moral judgements we make in terms of outcomes and actions, devoid of any influence from luck.

 

Moral Luck occurs when an individual has a moral judgement made against them despite the fact that their action, or the outcome of their action, is influenced by luck. It is often assumed that luck has no bearing on morality; however, Bernard Williams’ (1981) and Thomas Nagel’s (1979) articles regarding moral luck attempt to demonstrate how this notion could be erroneous. When making moral judgements it is usually understood that we abide by the ‘Control Principle’; which is where we make moral judgements against an individual only in cases where the individual was in control of their action.

 

The problem of moral luck occurs because many moral judgements are produced in conflict with the Control Principle. This is disturbing; since if it is shown that agents are not in control of their actions, then reasoning would suggest that by abiding by the Control Principle no moral judgements could correctly be made against any individuals. This research is therefore necessary because an adequate defence of our current practices of praising and blaming is required.

Rocky Webb

'The Theory of Intellectual Expertise'

 

The topic of my dissertation concerns the nature and structure of intellectual expertise. I argue that intellectual expertise does not presuppose the possession of knowledge, where knowledge is understood to imply justified true belief. I argue that in lieu of knowledge, intellectual expertise can find foundation in epistemically rational belief.

 

I further argue that these considerations invite us to question the nature of epistemic success. Epistemic success is usually taken to mean getting something ‘right’, where by right we mean coming to an answer which is true. However there may be a second sense to epistemic success which does not presuppose the truth of our answers. I argue that epistemic success can be understood as coming to conclusions which are epistemically rational given the information at hand.

 

I consider some of the implications of these two positions for political philosophy. In particular, these two positions may require us to rethink the place and purpose of intellectual experts within the political arena, the nature of epistemic authority and what it means for any government to be epistemically successful.

Daniel Walters

'Other Minds: an interrogation of the epistemological question of other minds'

 

This thesis interrogates positions within the theory of mind debate; namely theory- theory, simulation theory and claims of direct perception. By contrasting these accounts with those offered by Merleau Ponty and Wittgenstein it is suggested that those engaged in the theory of mind debate have made a mistake in regarding our relations to others as being fundamentally an epistemic relation.

Angela Shepherd

'De Beauvoir and Marx: the social position of women as a test case for the tensions and connections between, historical materialism, phenomenology and existentialism'

 

Supervisors: Dr Stella González-Arnal and Dr Gill Jagger

 

“One is not born a woman but becomes one” This famous phrase from de Beauvoir endorses the claims of gender as a social construct, which in her view results in oppressive consequences for all women.

 

De Beauvoir utilises historical materialism and makes use of Marx theory of ideology to theorise the means by which material differences have a causal and formative impact on the self. In doing this she anticipates post-structural thinking, whereby the power of discourse is an analytic tool used for theorising the position of women in society. Unlike many theorists of the concept of ideology, but like thinkers such as Foucault, she sees ideology is all pervasive and central to the construction of the self. It is within this framework that she articulates her famous claim that ‘woman is Other’.

 

Equally fundamental is the way Beauvoir draws attention to lived experience; the phenomenological experience of embodied identity and the day to day living as a woman. The nature of lived experience shapes identities and what people see as possibilities for themselves, and so people make choices accordingly. Internalising ideology frames and informs lived experiences, which for women is an experience of oppression and inferiority.

 

Reconciling these insights with her existential commitments, however, brings with it tensions, particularly around the area of freedom.

Sue Walsh

'Mind the Gap'

 

The area of my doctoral project is that of cultural identity and political agency. The title refers to the ‘gap’ which exists between two ways in which the politics of identity is addressed in the literature. One way stresses formal and normative political principles which are then applied to questions of difference. The other addresses the construction of difference within a discursive field, including the field of political theory. This approach sees the need for critique and intervention at the level of representation. My starting point will be from within this second approach, with Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other , or the Prosthesis of Origin. This text considers how the workings of neo-liberalism have served to construct difference as an inverse of our own identities. I will consider this claim in relation to a range of neo-liberal texts and also look at how Derrida’s account can make sense of recent racial tension in France. While my work considers how such discursive approaches to the politics of identity can be put to work I also wish to raise the question of the limitations of such approaches with regard to the question of political agency . Returning to Derrida’s interrogation of Marx , I will explore the interrelation between the discursive and the material and economic in this area. The problems in France were not just a result of the exclusions hidden within the claim ‘we are all French.’ It was the way such exclusions had material and economic consequences, which also has to be addressed.

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