Complete PhD Theses, 2009 - 10
Elizabeth Hannon - The Nurture of Nature: Biology, Psychology and Culture
In this thesis I explore what consequences taking development seriously in evolutionary considerations will have for how we understand the evolution of psychology and culture. I first explicate the relationship between development and evolution that informs a number of approaches to evolution, including neo-Darwinian evolutionary biology and evolutionary developmental biology. I argue that, to a greater or lesser extent, developmental processes have been misconstrued in these accounts and that the full role of development, from an evolutionary point of view, has not always been acknowledged. Instead, I suggest that a better model of the relationship between development and evolution can be found in developmental systems theory.
I explore the neo-Darwinian underpinnings of a number of accounts of the evolution of culture and psychology, including the branch of evolutionary psychology associated with the work of, among others, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, and the gene-culture co-evolutionary account of Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd. I argue that as well as being vulnerable to the same sorts of problems that plague neo-Darwinian evolutionary biology, they face other difficulties. These accounts suppose an internalist model of the mind, and this model is neither justified nor useful. The extended mind hypothesis offers a different model of the mind whereby cognitive processes can be partially constituted by structures in the environment. I sketch an alternative account of what the evolution of human psychology and culture by combining a developmental systems approach to evolution and development with the extended mind hypothesis. This will result in a very different understanding of the relationship between biology, psychology and culture.
Elizabeth McKinnell - Environmental Rights
Excerpt from Introduction
The idea for this thesis grew out of a dichotomy in the way that environmental problems are often discussed. Politically, there is an increasing demand that we frame environmental problems in the language of rights and justice, with ‗environmental rights' forming the content of declarations and bills of rights. This appears to clash with a view presented by some environmental philosophers that the language of rights is simply not up to the task of addressing environmental problems. It is claimed that the way that we characterise individual rights is part of the problem, not part of the solution. This is because rights are often formulated from an individualistic and overly humanistic stance which will not enable us to see beyond the concerns of white western human individuals.
Each of these views has a certain appeal. The everyday language of rights has a nuance of importance and urgency. It is one thing to say that we ought to protect the environment for the sake of the inhabitants of this planet, but to say that those inhabitants have a right that action should be taken sounds like a call to arms. This particular ‗ought' makes a special kind of moral and political demand that cannot be ignored. Rights have been employed to good effect in many struggles for equality, freedom and recognition, and it may appear that they should be employed in this way once again, especially when the scale of right-violations that might occur appears to be so great. Related to this is the fact that many environmental problems affect some communities and geographical areas to a greater extent than others. The inhabitants of some areas of Africa will probably experience the impact of climate change in a much more devastating way than the inhabitants of some areas of Europe. This suggests that the demands of justice call upon us to address these problems. Not to do so would be to exploit certain groups of people for our own material comfort, and to deny them their right to equal treatment, or to the kind of liberty that they would require to lead flourishing lives. This would suggest both that rights are an indispensible element of the way that we articulate environmental concerns, and that they could be a powerful tool in environmental activism.
The opposing view is also compelling. It might be suggested that we cannot address the environmental problems without looking to their root causes, and that one such cause is a dominant ideology based on putting the human individual ahead of community and global concerns, and ahead of our responsibility to other creatures, ecosystems and the planet. It might then be said that if the concept of rights is necessarily bound up with such a worldview, then we cannot properly address environmental concerns unless we either jettison the role of rights altogether or give them a much more minor role than they currently play in moral and political deliberation. There is a popular view in the field of environmental ethics that many conventional moral theories such as utilitarianism, Kantianism and so on are not the appropriate tools for considering the interaction between mankind and the natural environment. Instead, many environmental ethicists seek to employ ways of talking about our relationship with the world that are less humanistic, individualistic and anthropocentric. Rights theories occupy much of the same ground as these conventional moral theories, often epitomising the features that many environmental ethicists critique. They are generally centred on human activity and moral status (some theories do this more than others, as we shall see) and are usually concerned with the relationships between individual human beings with respect to aspects of the world, rather than with relationships between people and the natural world. As right-holders, people are to an extent alienated or set apart from other features of the planet, something which apparently contradicts the holistic nature of environmental ethics. Thus a consideration of the compatibility of rights-theories and environmental ethics might lead to further things we can say about the general question of which types of moral theory can properly be applied to environmental questions.
Donnchadh O'Conaill - Phenomenology, Philosophy of Mind and the Subject
I propose to develop a phenomenologically-informed ontological model of the subject of experiences. This model will attempt to explain how it is possible for a subject to have experiences with a subjective character, which are like something for their subject. It will also address how the subject can have experiences whose subjective character plays an intentional role, making the subject aware of objects.
The subjective character of experiences and their intentionality have both been widely discussed in the philosophy of mind. However, these discussions have focused on whether or not these features can be explained in naturalistic or physicalistic terms. As a result, there has been relatively little detailed description of the subjective character of experiences. In particular, complex experiential states such as those involving a combination of different kinds of experience have been neglected in the recent literature. There has also been little discussion of how we can be aware, not just of individual objects, but of situations, and indeed how our everyday awareness of objects involves an awareness of the world as the background to all our activities.
In order to provide detailed descriptions of the subjective character and the intentionality of experiences, I shall turn to the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Husserl developed concepts and techniques for studying the subjective character of intentional experiences independently of their non-experiential aspects. I shall use these techniques to focus on the subject qua experiencer, and on experiences as states or episodes which are like something for the subject.
By studying the subject in this way, I shall provide a model of subjectivity, the ontological relation holding between a subject and its experiences. I shall argue that subjectivity can be explained by appealing to the temporality of experiences, the way they flow in a stream of consciousness. Every subject has a temporal structure which is the form of its particular stream of consciousness. What it is for a subject to have an experience is for that experience to pass through this temporal structure.
I shall also examine how a subject can have experiences which are objective, that is, which make the subject aware of objects as having more than the features directly presented to the subject. One view is that to explain objectivity, we must adopt a special perspective on the world, allowing us to compare how objects appear to us with how they really are. I argue that we do not need to appeal to such a special perspective. Our everyday awareness of objects and of the world is essentially structured by a sense of objectivity.
Lastly, I shall address a problem that arises for any transcendental study of the conditions for the possibility of our awareness of the world. This is the paradox of subjectivity, the problem of understanding how the one subject can be both a part of the world and that which makes sense of the entire world. I shall argue that applying phenomenological techniques can help us to understand how the one subject can answer to both of these descriptions. This thesis will thus use phenomenological methods to develop an ontological model which can explain certain key features of the subject. In doing so, it will serve both as a contribution to the philosophy of mind, and as an illustration of what can be gained by applying phenomenological methods in this area.
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