Philosophy Theses and Dissertations

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    Essays on the Epistemology of Polycentriicty and Democracy
    (2023) Manor, Aylon; Kogelmann, Brian; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation investigates the epistemic properties of two institutional types, polycentricity and democracy, and explores how these ideals can be translated into concrete plans for institutional design. The dissertation consists of four papers, with the first two papers investigating the epistemic case for polycentricity and its relation to moral arguments, while the remaining two papers investigate the epistemic properties of democracy. The first paper argues that the epistemic case and moral case for polycentricity point toward different polycentric arrangements, while the second paper highlights two dimensions through which polycentric arrangements can generate epistemic value. The third paper proposes a two-stage political process using a Wikipedia-inspired platform to filter for quality information and allow all citizens to participate, while the fourth paper argues for the normative significance of "epistemic equality" in voting methods and explores its implications for alternative methods. 
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    A Theory of Leadership and Its Applications
    (2023) Schwab, Leisa Elizabeth; Horty, John F; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    No system of laws and political institutions is without gaps, and leaders are required—often in the face of uncertainty and under a heavy burden of risk—to fill them. This project adopts a view of individual leadership that finds its roots in the ancient world with Plato, but which speaks to modern problems like the role of appointed administrative officials in a complex democracy and the problems of autonomous weapons. It is composed of a series of papers exploring this gap-filling leadership activity in a modern democratic state from both normative and descriptive perspectives. The first paper, “Making Ourselves Accountable: An Ethics for the Administrative State” addresses the discretionary decision making by un-elected officials through which many of our society’s important leadership decisions are made. It argues for the necessity of these leaders and recommends criteria to guide their decision making in conformity with contemporary democratic ideals. The second paper, “Seeking Standards for Leadership Reasoning in the Executive Branch by Analogy to Representation and Judicial Reasoning,” looks deeper into the work of such leaders to better understand the place of their role in shaping the law alongside legislative representation and judicial discretion. The third paper, “A Different Kind of Responsibility Gap: Trust and the Burden of Risk as a Limit on Military Automation” considers the problem of autonomous weapons in the context of this theory of the individual leader as a necessary component within the legal and institutional system. Inspired by ancient notions of the activity of governing as an activity fundamentally about leaders before it is about laws, it argues that even fallible human leaders who fall short of the ideal remain necessary no matter how sophisticated or accurate an automated system we may devise.
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    Memory, Time, and Temporal Experience
    (2023) Pan, Shen; Carruthers, Peter; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation puts forth a series of empirically-grounded theoretical proposals about memory and temporal awareness. After an introductory chapter setting up the stage, Chapter 2 concerns episodic memory. According to the standard view, episodic memory is both distinctively metarepresentational and, relatedly, uniquely human. I argue that the standard view conflates two closely connected yet distinct senses of `episodic memory'. More specifically, I argue that even if the phenomenally conscious contents of episodic recollective experience are metarepresentational, that does not require that the episodic memory system have a metarepresentational structure. After arguing for a first-order account of the memory system, I show how the system-experience distinction helps to render the task of demonstrating episodic memory in non-human animals empirically tractable. Chapter 3 concerns altered temporal phenomenology in life-threatening danger. I argue that the phenomenon colloquially known as `time slowing down' turns out to consist of three distinct elements --- subjective time expansion, slowing down of perceptual motion, and timelessness. Drawing on empirical findings from a range of related fields, I explore how each element departs from ordinary, `normal' temporal experience. Collectively, these individual accounts in turn further our understanding of passage phenomenology and temporal consciousness in general. Chapter 4 investigates the cognitive underpinnings of our intuitive belief that time passes. On my account, while this belief is less metaphysically weighty than sometimes assumed, it is still of significant theoretical interest not only because it is linked to a rich phenomenology, but also because time's dynamic character is a psychologically compelling phenomenon. Both of these features, I argue, are best accounted for by taking seriously the idea that we have something akin to an intuitive theory in the domain of time, with the belief that time passes serving as an inference-guiding principle shaping our `manifest image' of time.
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    (2023) Masciari, Christopher; Carruthers, Peter; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation provides a defense of reductive representationalism about consciousness. After an introductory chapter, chapter 2 provides a representationalist account of olfaction. In the literature, Burge’s (2010) account of representation is widely endorsed. According to his account, perceptual representation represents “objectually”, that is, it represents features of the world, as objective. This depends on perceptual constancies. Many authors attempt to defend representationalism about olfaction by showing that there are olfactory constancies. I argue that there are none. Instead, I show that representationalism regarding olfaction is correct by showing that olfaction represents minimally. I then argue that representations in Burge’s sense are constructed when minimal olfactory content is embedded in object-files that contain other non- olfactory properties that meet Burge’s criteria for representation. In chapter 3, I defend a particular reductive representationalist account of consciousness—the global workspacetheory—against an alternative which suggests that consciousness is richer than the global workspace theory claims. I argue that experience is richer than is standardly suggested by proponents of the global workspace theory, but less rich than the alternative theory suggests. I argue that there are additional resources available to defenders of the global workspace theory in accommodating intuitions of richness that have yet to be fully appreciated by participants in the debate. In chapter 4, I defend reductive representationalism against a new objection presented by Adam Pautz (20172020). He recently suggested that there are several constraints on experience, known as “The Laws of Appearance,” that put pressure on the representationalist thesis about conscious experience because they suggest that experience is constrained in ways that representations are not. Since the representationalist claims that experience just is a matter of representing the world to be a certain way, the representationalist owes us an explanation, or else representationalism is false. I argue that the laws are not genuine laws, but that we have the intuition that they are because of the limits of imagination. As a consequence, I show that representationalism is not threatened.
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    (2023) Fyfe, Andrew Thomas; Kerstein, Samuel; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Kantian ethicists maintain that morality applies to all agents irrespective of an agent’s particular circumstances, interests, or concerns. That is, morality applies to an agent categorically rather than hypothetically. Kantian ethics attempts to prove this categoricity by deriving morality from the constitutive conditions of action. If such an argument could be made to work, then morality would follow from the constitutive preconditions or “logic” of agency and thereby apply categorically to all agents regardless of unique eccentricities concerning an agent’s particular circumstances or interests. As a result, an argument for Kantian ethics typically adheres to the following formula: (1) providing a theory of agency that (2) entails that all agents are committed to a Kantian ethical outlook. My focus in this dissertation is one of these arguments for Kantian ethics. Specifically, the argument of Christine Korsgaard. I cannot fully defend her argument here in its entirety, but with this dissertation I hope to provide the background work developing the necessary theory of agency in order for Korsgaard’s argument for Kantian ethics to succeed. Specifically, I aim to put forward, develop, and defend the sort of non-standard, teleological theory of agency upon which Korsgaard’s argument for Kantian ethics crucially depends. Moreover, with this dissertation I aim to attack the more widely accepted Davidsonian, causalist theory of agency which Korsgaard’s Aristotelian-Wittegenstienian-Anscombian teleological theory of agency opposes and I argue we should adopt instead.
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    Repositioning Cognitive Kinds
    (2022) Roige Mas, Aida; Carruthers, Peter; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation puts forward a series of theoretical proposals aimed to advance our understanding of cognitive kinds. The first chapter introduces the general debates that provide the philosophical underpinnings for the topics addressed in each of the following chapters. Chapter two compares and distinguishes between modules of the mind and mechanisms-as-causings, arguing that they should not be conflated in cognitive science. Additionally, it provides a novel “toolbox” model of accounts of mechanisms, and discusses what makes any such account adequate. Chapter three addresses the question of whether there is a role within the new mechanistic philosophy of science for representations. It advances a proposal on how to carve working entity types, so that they may include representational explanans. Chapter four offers an account of mental disorders, one that captures the regulative ideal behind psychiatry’s inclusion of certain conditions as psychopathologies. Mental disorders are alterations in the production of some mental outputs (e.g. behaviors, beliefs, emotions, desires), such that their degree of reasons-responsiveness is extremely diminished with respect to what we would folk-psychologically expect it to be.
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    (2022) Zhang, Yichi; Pacuit, Eric E.; Santorio, Paolo P.; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Inquisitive semantics offers a unified analysis of declarative and interrogative sentences by construing information exchange as a process of raising and resolving issues. In this dissertation, I apply and extend inquisitive semantics in various new ways. On the one hand, I build upon the theoretical insight of inquisitive semantics and explore the prospect of incorporating other types of content into our conception of information exchange. On the other hand, the logical framework underlying inquisitive semantics is also of great interest in itself as it enjoys certain unique properties and is thus worth further investigation. In the first paper, I provide an account of live possibilities and model the dynamics of bringing a possibility to salience using inquisitive semantics. This account gives rise to a new dynamic analysis of conditionals, which is capable of capturing what I call the Extended Sobel Inference. In the second paper, drawing on the fact that disjunction in inquisitive semantics is understood as introducing a set of alternative answers to a question, I propose a Questions-Under-Discussion-based account of informational redundancy to tackle various Hurford sentences. In the third paper, I explore the prospect of cashing out the theoretical intuition behind inquisitive semantics using a non-bivalent framework. I develop a new logic which invalidates the Law of Excluded Middle just like inquisitive logic, but unlike inquisitive logic, it employs a negation that vindicates Double Negation Elimination.
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    Philosophy and Translatability
    (2021) Enos, Casey; Rey, Georges R; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Can anything that can be said in one language be translated, without loss of meaning, into any other? Katz, inspired by Frege and others, argued for an affirmative answer to this question and proposed a Principle of Translatability. Since then, this alleged principle has come under scrutiny from linguists, who have proposed a number of counterexamples. While the consequences for Katz’s exact formulation of his principle are severe, the interpretation of the empirical data is often difficult and it is unclear whether slightly weaker principles may obtain. In my dissertation, I examine the literature discussing translatability and argue that it has suffered from a lack of precision regarding key terms, especially meaning and language. I propose that putting the question of translatability in terms of what Chomsky called I-languages allows better theoretical traction, although the exact question that we end up with looks very different from the one that we started with.
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    Semantics and pragmatics in a modular mind
    (2021) McCourt, Michael Sullivan; Williams, Alexander; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation asks how we should understand the distinction between semantic and pragmatic aspects of linguistic understanding within the framework of mentalism, on which the study of language is a branch of psychology. In particular, I assess a proposal on which the distinction between semantics and pragmatics is ultimately grounded in the modularity or encapsulation of semantic processes. While pragmatic processes involved in understanding the communicative intentions of a speaker are non-modular and highly inferential, semantic processes involved in understanding the meaning of an expression are modular and encapsulated from top-down influences of general cognition. The encapsulation hypothesis for semantics is attractive, since it would allow the semantics-pragmatics distinction to cut a natural joint in the communicating mind. However, as I argue, the case in favor of the modularity hypothesis for semantics is not particularly strong. Many of the arguments offered in its support are unsuccessful. I therefore carefully assess the relevant experimental record, in rapport with parallel debates about modular processing in other domains, such as vision. I point to several observations that raise a challenge for the encapsulation hypothesis for semantics; and I recommend consideration of alternative notions of modularity. However, I also demonstrate some principled strategies that proponents of the encapsulation hypothesis might deploy in order to meet the empirical challenge that I raise. I conclude that the available data neither falsify nor support the modularity hypothesis for semantics, and accordingly I develop several strategies that might be pursued in future work. It has also been argued that the encapsulation of semantic processing would entail (or otherwise strongly recommend) a particular approach to word meaning. However, in rapport with the literature on polysemy—a phenomenon whereby a single word can be used to express several related concepts, but not due to generality—I show that such arguments are largely unsuccessful. Again, I develop strategies that might be used, going forward, to adjudicate among the options regarding word meaning within a mentalistic linguistics.
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    (2021) Kalewold, Kalewold Hailu; Darden, Lindley; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation advances the new mechanistic philosophy of science by developing novel accounts of activities and good parts. In the first chapter, I develop a Hybrid Account of activities that integrates production and difference-making approaches to causation, enabling the identification and individuation of causally productive activities. In the second chapter, my account of good parthood grounds being a good part in the role parts play in mechanisms as activity-enablers as well as their inclusion in what I call the explanatory mosaic of science. This account is robust enough to characterize parts of mechanisms throughout the life sciences. In the third chapter, I apply the account I develop to the case of the use of race in epidemiology and biomedicine. I show how the mechanism discovery approach, and the accounts I develop in earlier chapters, offer a normatively and explanatorily attractive methodology to researching, diagnosing, and treating complex trait disorders. The dissertation applies these accounts to case studies from the life sciences to show how they solve outstanding problems in philosophy and biology.
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    A New Theory of Individualized Evidence
    (2021) Barclay, Charles Arthur; Horty, John F; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Theories of individualized evidence have been offered to show why, inter alia, we are not justified in finding a defendant legally responsible on the basis of mere statistical evidence even if the probability of his guilt is very high. Yet, there is little discussion of properties that we would want in a robust theory of individualized evidence. In my dissertation, I have four primary goals. First, I propose four desiderata that a robust theory of individualized evidence ought to possess. Then, I show how many contemporary theories of individualized evidence do not possess all four of the desirable properties. I then develop, what I call, legally relevant alternatives (or, LRA for short) - a theory of individualized evidence that is rooted in the relevant alternatives account of knowledge in epistemology. Finally, I show how LRA does satisfy the aforementioned desiderata.
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    A Groundwork for Perspectival Quantum Mechanics
    (2020) Dascal, Michael; Bub, Jeffrey; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    There has recently been a renewed focus on ‘perspectival’ quantum theories. which simultaneously maintain the existence of single measurement outcomes and the universality of unitary evolution. At the same time, these theories have come under attack with results by Frauchiger and Renner, Baumann and Wolf, and others. This dissertation aims to respond to a number of these attacks by providing a groundwork for these types of theories. To lay this groundwork I focus on encapsulated measurements, which involve an isolated observer and a superobserver (who measures the observer). I first distinguish between invasive and non-invasive measurements. Each leads to a possible inconsistency: In non-invasive measurements, the observer is certain of the superobserver’s measurement outcome while the superobserver’s physics predicts multiple possible outcomes. In invasive measurements the superobserver can be certain of his measurement outcome while the observer predicts non-zero probabilities for all possible outcomes. I argue that in the case of non-invasive measurements, the perspectivalist avoids diffculty by denying that the observer’s result has any impact on the physics experienced by the superobserver. Consistency is then maintained between them by looking to the unitary evolution of the superobserver’s measurement. This response leads to a detailed discussion about the metaphysical commitments of the perspectival approach. Here I argue the perspectivalist must accept one surprising result – there is a significant divorce of fundamental ontological states from physical dynamics. Turning to invasive measurements, I argue that the concern here is entirely misplaced. Arguments that raise worries about invasive measurements assume the observer should describe herself to be in a quantum state of having observed her measurement outcome when predicting the superobserver’s measurement results. I argue that this is incorrect. Rather, I explain that it is impossible for any observer to know her quantum state and so she should never describe herself as being in any quantum state at all, let alone use such a description to make predictions about a superobserver’s measurement. To conclude, I explain how the perspectivalist responds to concerns raised about entanglement and the possibility of action at a distance. Combining this with the results above brings into focus how the perspectivalist may develop a consistent, single-world picture of quantum mechanics.
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    The Existence of Time and Its Relationship to the Reality of Temporal Passage
    (2020) Ewing, Kyley; Stairs, Allen; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    The starting point of my dissertation is the deeply rooted tension between our everyday pre-theoretic experience of time and our leading metaphysical and physical theories of time. Prime examples of this tension can be found in both discussions surrounding the ontology of the past, present, and future and debates over the fundamental nature of the passage and direction of time. While united by the search for the correct understanding of the relationship between our experience, the metaphysics, and the physics of time, my project is divided into four parts: "Temporal Passage in a Fragmented World" looks at the relation between fragmentalism and the passage of time. As it was introduced by Fine in “Tense and Reality” (2005), fragmentalism is an A-theoretic view that divides the world into incompatible fragments of tensed facts. I begin by explaining how the Fineian fragmentalist can respond to claims that their theory is only able to offer an irredeemably incoherent account of time. I then argue that, even if sense can be made of the general picture of time it presents, Fineian fragmentalism is unable to supply a passable account of the mind-independent passage of time in line with our experience. The conclusion from this will be that Fineian fragmentalism is a subpar tensed A-theoretic account. Lipman (2018) provides a recent modification of Fineian fragmentalism based in a tenseless fragmentalist framework. My suggestion, however, is that Lipman’s attempt to supply a tenseless account of genuine fragmentalist temporal passage is ultimately unmotivated. One underexplored option open to the fragmentalist is to argue that time does not really pass in a fragmented universe. "Norton’s Objective Temporal Passage" considers one unique solution to the puzzle of temporal passage in the block universe. Norton (2010) argues that, although a precise description of its workings is currently beyond our understanding, time really passes. After introducing Norton’s account, I argue that it both implies a counterintuitive relationship between the “now” and passage and that it leads to an unlikely relationship between our experience and reality. I then propose that, even if one is willing to accept these consequences, there is reason to question whether Norton builds a convincing case for the claim that, since we are not able to find any of the identifying characteristics of an illusion in the case of temporal passage, the passage of time is not an illusion. "A Defense of the B-Theoretic, Block Universe" offers a defense of the B-theoretic, block universe theory of time. I begin by motivating the connection between, on the one hand, the B-theory and the block universe and, on the other hand, the A-theory and dynamic views such as presentism. With this connection in place, I argue that the overall weight of experiential, metaphysical, and scientific considerations support the B-theoretic, block universe. My conclusion is that, although there is reason to favor the B-theoretic, block universe over A-theoretic, dynamic views, there are still important and unanswered questions surrounding the B-theoretic, block universe. "Non-Dynamic Temporal Passage" presents an account of the mind-independent and non-dynamic passage of time that is consistent with the block universe theory and central features of our experience of time. In explaining the passage of time, I appeal to the temporal boundaries of the block universe and argue that the passage of time explains both the earlier than relation and the direction of time. Although a minimalist account of temporal passage, it provides substantial answers to the following core questions about temporal passage: What is the basis of the passage of time? What does the passage of time itself amount to? What does the passage of time explain?
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    Defeasibility in Epistemology
    (2020) Knoks, Aleks; Horty, John F; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation explores some ways in which logics for defeasible reasoning can be applied to questions in epistemology. It's naturally thought of as developing four applications: The first is concerned with simple epistemic rules, such as ``If you perceives that X, then you ought to believe that X'' and ``If you have outstanding testimony that X, then you ought to believe that X.'' Anyone who thinks that such rules have a place in our accounts of epistemic normativity must explain what happens in cases where they come into conflict —such as one where you perceive a red object and are told that it is blue. The literature has gone in two directions: The first suggests that rules have built-in unless-clauses specifying the circumstances under which they fail to apply; the second that rules do not specify what attitudes you ought to have, but only what counts in favor or against having those attitudes. I express these two different ideas in a defeasible logic framework and demonstrate that there's a clear sense in which they are equivalent. The second application uses a defeasible logic to solve an important puzzle about epistemic rationality, involving higher-order evidence, or, roughly, evidence about our capacities for evaluating evidence. My solution has some affinities with a certain popular view on epistemic dilemmas. The third application, then, is a characterization of this conflicting-ideals view in logical terms: I suggest that it should be thought of as an unconventional metaepistemological view, according to which epistemic requirements are not exceptionless, but defeasible and governed by a comparatively weak logic. Finally, the fourth application is in the burgeoning debate about the epistemic significance of disagreement. The intuitive conciliatory views say, roughly, that you ought to become less confident in your take on some question X, if you learn that an epistemic equal disagrees with you about X. I propose to think of conciliationism as a defeasible reasoning policy, develop a mathematically precise model of it, and use it to solve one of the most pressing problems for conciliatory views: Given that there are disagreements about these views themselves, they can self-defeat and issue inconsistent recommendations.
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    (2020) ADAIR, HEATHER; Carruthers, Peter; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation puts forth a series of arguments about the role of affect in everyday cognition. I begin in chapter 1 by developing a generalized philosophical and scientific account of what “affective” states—a term encompassing emotions, moods, pleasures/pains, and felt desires—are and how they arise. From there, I address a number of debates in moral psychology, aesthetics, and philosophy of art that revolve around the function of affective states. In chapter two, I weigh in on a long-standing disagreement about the automaticity of empathy; I contend that different so-called “kinds” of empathy are not in fact automatic, and that an explanatorily robust model of empathy must account for the influence of affectively-laden “underlying values.” In chapter three, I focus on the “processing fluency” view of aesthetic pleasure, which equates aesthetic pleasure with ease of perceptual processing. I critique and amend this view by highlighting the ways in which perceptual disfluency and negative affect also contribute positively to aesthetic appreciation. And, in chapter four, I attempt to redress the so-called “paradox of fiction” by claiming that emotions do not require belief-states to be considered real and theoretically rational instances of emotion. To do this, I point to research on affective prospection and mind-wandering to argue that emotions must in principle be distinguished from our beliefs.
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    Epistemic "Might": A Non-Epistemic Analysis
    (2019) Harr, Quinn; Williams, Alexander; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    A speaker of (1) implies that she is uncertain whether (2), making this use of might “epistemic.” On the received view, the implication is semantic, but in this dissertation I argue that this implication is no more semantic than is the implication that a speaker of (2) believes John to be contagious. (1) John might be contagious. (2) John is contagious. This follows from a new observation: unlike claims with explicitly epistemic locutions, those made with “epistemic” uses of might can be explained only with reference to non-epistemic facts. I conclude that they express a relation, not to relevant information, but instead to relevant circumstances, and that uncertainty is implied only because of how informed speakers contribute to conversations. This conclusion dissolves old puzzles about disagreements and reported beliefs involving propositions expressed with might, puzzles that have been hard for the received view to accommodate. The cost of these advantages is to explain why the circumstantial modality expressed by might is not inherently oriented towards the future, as has been claimed for other circumstantial modalities. But this claim turns out to be false. The correct characterization of the temporal differences reveals that the modality expressed by might relates to propositions whereas other modalities relate to events. Neither sort is epistemic.
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    Some Epistemological and Practical Challenges to Moral Realism: Evolutionary Debunking, Overgeneralization, and Afterward
    (2019) Licon, Jimmy Alfonso; Carruthers, Peter; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    In this dissertation, I examine epistemological and practical challenges to robust moral realism – the view that moral facts are independent of actual or idealized minds, and causally inert (hereafter moral realism). Following an introductory chapter, in the next two chapters, I examine an epistemic challenge to moral knowledge (given moral realism) emanating from the so-called 'evolutionary debunking arguments' (EDAs). In the second chapter, I argue that capacity approaches are more plausible than content approaches in that the (i) capacity approach is a more pernicious threat to moral realism; and, (ii) the content approach faces a greater explanatory burden. In the third chapter, I argue that the overgeneralization objection to EDAs – they viciously overgeneralize to domains like the epistemic – faces a dilemma: either EDAs don't overgeneralize as there is an independent reason to trust our beliefs in such non-moral domains; or, they benignly overgeneralize to non-moral domains, if we lack an independent reason, and evolution would plausibly be distorting, in that domain. Either way, EDAs don't viciously overgeneralize. In the last chapter, I evaluate moral fictionalism: the view that we have practical reasons to think and act morally (e.g. it enhances self-control), despite holding skeptical or deflationary metaethical views. I argue that there are good philosophical and empirical reasons to think that (a) discarding beliefs is far harder than fictionalists claim; and, (b) robust moral dispositions one would need to effectively think and act morally would inculcate belief, pace moral fictionalism. Finally, I argue that keeping moral beliefs mitigates moral risk: there is a live epistemic possibility that (a) we could be wrong in our skeptical or deflationary metaethical views, and (b) if our views about such matters are mistaken, but we act on them, we risk acting seriously wrongly. This is another practical reason to think and act morally. And we must be motivated to act morally to mitigate moral risk – so we should preserve our moral beliefs. So, we have practical reasons to keep our moral beliefs, instead of morally pretending.
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    Mindreading for Cooperation: a moderately minimalist approach
    (2019) Schoenher, Julius; Carruthers, Peter; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation puts forth a series of arguments about the extent to which human cooperative interaction is fundamentally shaped by mindreading; i.e. the capability to reason about the psychological causes (e.g. intentions, beliefs, goals) of behavior. The introduction to this dissertation discusses the broad philosophical underpinnings that lay the foundations for more specific philosophical issues under discussion in subsequent chapters. In chapter two, I argue that a thorough interpretation of the relevant empirical evidence suggests that mindreading is fast, effortlessly deployed, and operative sub-personally. For this reason, mindreading is principally well-suited to enable most everyday cooperative interactions. In the appendix, I (in collaboration with Evan Westra ) elaborate on this picture, arguing that the cognitive mechanisms operative in social interactions are, in all relevant respects, similar to those operative in non-interactive situations. While chapter two and the appendix defend the idea that the cognitive faculties responsible for mindreading are fit to enable cooperative interactions, chapters three and four take this perspective for granted and discusses whether human cooperation is crucially dependent on a form of reciprocal attribution of mental states that is often labeled common knowledge. In chapter three of this dissertation I address, and reject, the oft defended idea that truly performing an action together with others requires that all parties commonly know their intended goals. I argue that this view is fundamentally mistaken. Successfully acting together with others often requires not knowing these goals. Chapter four explores reciprocal belief attribution in the context of coordination problems. Humans often coordinate their actions by replicating successful past choices; they reason based on precedent. Philosophers have often claimed that solving coordination problems by relying on precedent presupposes common knowledge that all parties rely on precedent in trying to coordinate their actions. Chapter four points out that this assumption is erroneous: Coordinating behavior on the basis of precedent is broadly incompatible with any higher-order knowledge (or beliefs) about the other agents’ choices.
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    Disadvantage in Context: From Microaggressions to Healthcare Policy
    (2019) Perez Gomez, Javiera Maximiliana; Kerstein, Samuel J; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Many dimensions of applied ethics appeal to consequentialist moral theories to evaluate the moral permissibility of an action, practice, or policy. But such an approach risks obscuring other, non-consequentialist concerns. In line with this worry, this dissertation seeks to clarify and morally examine three phenomena that may compound the disadvantages that members of historically and currently disadvantaged groups face: microaggressions, the promotion of prenatal testing for selective abortion, and the allocation of scarce medical resources. Chapter 1, “Disadvantage in Context,” describes the notion of disadvantage that is relevant to this dissertation and explains the relation between Chapters 2-4. Chapter 2, “Microaggressions: What’s the Big Deal?” argues that the standard view of microaggressions, which holds that microaggressions are harmful because they express devaluing messages about members of disadvantaged groups, is too underdeveloped both for identifying microaggressions and for explaining why they are morally objectionable. I then offer an improved account of microaggressions according to which it is the content of what is expressed that determines when microaggressions are morally objectionable. Chapter 3, “When Is the Promotion of Prenatal Testing for Selective Abortion Wrong?” addresses the imprecisions of the expressivist objection to prenatal testing, which maintains that when medical professionals promote the use of prenatal testing for abortion on grounds of disability, they express a harmful, devaluing message to and about extant disabled people. I then offer an improved formulation of this objection according to which the promotion of prenatal testing for selective abortion is sometimes wrong. Chapter 4, “Indirect Benefits and Double Jeopardy in the Allocation of Scarce, Lifesaving Resources,” examines the question of whether or not benefits to third parties, e.g., saving their lives or improving socioeconomic conditions, should count when resources are scarce and not all can be saved. By recruiting the notion of ‘double jeopardy,’ which, as I argue, can be understood in two distinct ways, I aim to give a stronger foundation for the idea that counting indirect benefits such as social contribution would be wrong—at least given certain social conditions.
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    The Nature of Governmental Authority
    (2019) Phillips, Cindy; Morris, Christopher W; Philosophy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation puts forward a series of arguments and theoretical proposals concerning institutional authority—particularly, governmental authority. I attend to conceptual debates regarding the function of legal systems and the nature of authority. Moreover, I cover a normative debate regarding the permissible use of political power. The overall view that I build is that governmental institutions have a decision-making authority over the status of certain normative relations in society, and they were designed to have this decision-making authority to serve the need of making group decisions, despite persistent disagreements about policy outcomes, in order to solve practical problems. Chapter 1, “My Overall Perspective,” provides a guide to my overall view regarding the nature of governmental authority. This PhD dissertation takes the form of the three-paper model, and a reader may not see the conceptual links between these papers. In this chapter, I present the view on the nature of governmental authority that comes out of these papers. Chapter 2, “The Presumption of Liberty and the Coerciveness of the State,” presents a challenge to skeptics who think that nearly all uses of political power is impermissible. I argue that a state can engage in permissible uses of political power over a broad range of domains without possessing any entitlements. Chapter 3, “What Authority Is, What It Is Not,” argues against the orthodoxy that authority is a species of power over others. I then build and defend the view that authority is a status that authorizes a person or entity to change one’s normative status. Chapter 4, “Law’s Function as a Decision-Procedure” provides an analysis of how we can determine the law’s essential function. I use this analysis to argue that the law’s essential function is a decision-making one. Each of these chapters is a standalone paper. None of these papers presupposes another one, and they can be read in any order.