You will find in this collection Doctoral dissertations authored by our graduate students since 2011.
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Moral Ontology in the Age of Science: A Philosophical Case for the Mystery of Goodness(Institute for Christian Studies, 2018-07-16)In this dissertation, I attempt to convince an audience of modern naturalists that Socrates’ famous moral thesis—that we should prefer to suffer injustice rather than inflict it, because it is impossible for an unjust person to be happy—is true. Rather than logical proof, however, I focus on questions of rhetoric and of spiritual practice. In short, I argue that the existential truth of Socrates’ claim only begins to manifest for those who adopt a particular curriculum of spiritual training, which combines the pursuit of moral goodness with the pursuit of self-knowledge; this training, however, needs to be undertaken under the aegis of a philosophical rhetoric that first opens us to at least the possibility that Socrates might be right. In the first two chapters of this dissertation, therefore, I focus on rhetoric, as the attempt to destabilize the common naturalist confidence that their own scientific worldview is grounded on the true nature of reality, and that this unprecedented understanding shows Socrates’ moral thesis to be nonsense. Following this, from chapters three to five, I present the aforementioned spiritual curriculum: the “spirituality from above,” oriented towards moral goodness, in contradistinction to the “spirituality from below” that is oriented toward self-knowledge. After presenting the logic of this bivalent practice in chapter three, I then explicate it with reference to the philosophies of David Hume and Richard Rorty (chapter four), and then Plato and Nietzsche (chapter five). Finally, in chapter six, I consider what accepting the truth of Socrates’ moral thesis would mean for the way we live our everyday lives, under conditions of peace, in which the question of whether to suffer or inflict injustice will likely not be a pressing existential concern, and the question of what it actually means to be just will always be unclear and disputed.
The Way of Love: Practicing an Irigarayan Ethic(Vrije Universiteit, 2016-02-17)This thesis defends the argument that Luce Irigaray's work on sexual difference from the Continental tradition provides a rich analysis of human subjectivity, ethical responsibility and well-being as citizens. This thesis pays specific attention to Irigaray’s work in relation to ecological feminism, animal welfare and religious pluralism in democratic societies. Her work is singular because, although it places the emphasis on sexual difference, resisting a contained definition of what it means to be a woman. Instead, the thesis highlights Irigaray’s ongoing process and ethical task to undertake an "intermediate" by which men and women can interact in reciprocity and respect the way of love. The limit, or the negative of the sexes,forms an ethical boundary, and this thesis explores this limit with humans and non-humans. The thesis contends that the limit makes it possible to establish the right relationships between specific and limited selves in an economy of love, rather than between authoritative, independent or absolute subjects in an economy of mutual exchange. Her philosophy, this thesis contends, allows us to ask more fully how to live well so we can share the resources—such as water, air, healthy food—that promote well-being and meaningful work. Such resources provide us physically and spiritually with a good life. The demand for a good life is further extended to other non-human animals and environments. The dissertation concludes with the suggestion that Irigaray's politics of difference can help democratic societies themselves to respond to questions of inclusion, hospitality and respect for different people, particularly within an increasingly multinational and global world. The thesis suggests that Irigaray's work is all the more relevant and meaningful in that it offers a discourse by which we can respect differences, going beyond token gestures, and moves toward substantial protection of all.Irigaray's ethics and politics provide both secular and fundamental principles that are universal and that can be found in the bodies of people who breathe properly and in the kind of practices that we undertake to distribute the resources of human and non-human others. Her work allows us to materially investigate in inventive and imaginative ways and calls us to share our world with love and responsibility.
Narrative companionship: philosophy, gender stereotypes, and young adult literature(Institute for Christian Studies, 2016-03)This dissertation contends that North American culture is in the grip of a reductionism that neglects plurality while seeking after pseudo-universality and pseudoindividuality, exemplified by the apparently contradictory tendencies to take as normative what can be generalized and to deny universally applicable normativity. I pay special attention to gender stereotypes, in which the particular (individual) becomes irrelevant, ignored, or perceived as a threat unless it can be treated as part of the general (stereotype). I argue that philosophical fiction—and, in particular, young adult fiction— contributes to a principled plurality in both lived and academic philosophy. It does so through its imaginative power to enlarge perspectives, criticize from the margins, and galvanize readers to engage with injustice. I focus on young adult fiction because of its wide reach, relevance for ethical formation, and exceptional tendency to question stereotypical understandings of human existence. After explicating the distinction between lived and academic philosophy and situating my project in the larger conversation about fiction and philosophy, I argue for the ethical significance of philosophical interaction with story. In conversation with Martha C. Nussbaum and Hannah Arendt, I draw together three themes—the integrality of form and content, the ability of storytelling to act as critical thinking in context, and the key role of particularity in the context of plurality—in order to emphasize the need to approach fiction in its intrinsic plurality without losing the possibility of shared criteria. A causal model is insufficient in this regard. Drawing on Lambert Zuidervaart’s conception of imaginative disclosure, I show that art both suggests and requires interpretation and that fiction’s ethical contribution to philosophy needs to be understood as thoroughly hermeneutical. I settle on “narrative companionship,” a variation of Wayne C. Booth’s metaphor of stories as friends, as a helpful noncausal metaphor for interaction with fiction. Then I seek to demonstrate the fruitfulness of this metaphor, in contrast to academic philosophy’s traditional approaches to fiction as either a tool or an example, by commenting on several stories that have informed my own lived philosophy.
Fiction as Philosophy: Reading the Work of Christine de Pizan and Luce Irigaray to Write a Hermeneutics of Socially Transformative Fiction-mediated Philosophy(Institute for Christian Studies, 2011-06)This dissertation proposes to examine the work of scholars Christine de Pizan and Luce Irigaray in order to develop the possibilities of fiction in philosophy for the purposes of social transformation. Using four of her major narrative texts (The Mutacion of Fortune, the City of Ladies, the Path of Long Study and the Vision) I show how Christine employs the complex array of hermeneutical tools available to her in fictionalized ways as a means of training her readers into re-writing their understanding of themselves and their contexts. Alongside such re-writings, I show that she understands herself to have a particular vocation for educating the powers of France towards ethical action in their governance, and that she does so in these works in the form of philosophically oriented fictionalizations. I use the work of Luce Irigaray to explore a philosopher from the twentieth and twenty-first century who uses narrative and hermeneutical tools that bear a family resemblance to Christine's. Tracing Irigaray's formulations on the necessity of sexual difference I show how she re-tells stories from myth and history in such a way as to develop the sexual difference she desires. Finally, having engaged with these two philosophers, I use the hermeneutical work of Hans-Georg Gadamer to present my own work on how well-crafted fiction can be used to build philosophical concepts and understandings that are not yet available in our world, but which become available to us through our participation in the new fictionalized contexts and fictional worlds we create. I show how it is through understanding the possibilities this kind of philosophical and fictionalized utopic thinking holds that social transformation rooted in the world-building capabilities of individual persons can occur.
Brandom and Hegel on Objectivity, Subjectivity and Sociality: A Tune Beyond Us, Yet Ourselves(Institute for Christian Studies, 2011-07)This dissertation is an exposition and critique of Robert Brandom's theory of discursive objectivity. It discusses this theory both within the context of Brandom's own systematic philosophical project and, in turn, within the ideas and questions characteristic of the Kantian and post-Kantian tradition in German philosophy. It is argued that Brandom's attempt to articulate a theory of the objectivity of discursive norms (and hence also of the content of discursive attitudes) resembles J.G. Fichte's development of themes central to Kant's philosophy. This "Fichtean" approach to the problem of objectivity is then compared and contrasted to that of G.W.F. Hegel. Though Brandom, Fichte and Hegel share the desire to derive an account of the conditions of objectivity from the social character is discursive practices, Hegel offers a version of this project that differs with respect to the nature of self-consciousness, sociality and truth. It is then argued that Brandom's theory suffers significant internal inconsistencies that could be avoided by adopting a more "Hegelian" approach to these three themes. More specifically, Brandom's own project requires that he recognize the necessity and irreducibility of firstperson and second-person discursive attitudes, as well as that he recognize the role of "I-We" social practices for discursive objectivity. Furthermore, he must include in his explanations some form of natural teleology and hence he must abandon his deflationary approach to semantic explanation. However, Brandom's methodological and metaphysical commitments prevent him from doing so.
Democracy Without Secularism: A Pragmatist Critique of Habermas(Institute for Christian Studies, 2012-12)Jürgen Habermas has argued that democracy depends on all citizens recognizing the legitimacy of the law. Therefore, political argument must appeal only to public reason which is secular. Religious citizens must translate their reasons into a secular language accessible to the public. This dissertation argues that religious arguments are justified in public discourse if they refrain from dogmatism. Moreover, there is nothing inherent in secular reasons that make them publicly accessible or likely to generate consensus among members of a pluralistic society. If we treat religious arguments as simply arguments with controversial premises, it becomes less clear why religious arguments are singled out as particularly problematic for liberal democracies, since many secular political arguments share this feature. Granted, religious reasons are unlikely to secure consensus, but this does not count against them if consensus is not the goal of democratic discourse. This dissertation makes the case that Habermas, and other liberal theorists such as Rawls, have placed too much emphasis on consensus as the goal of democracy. Moreover, what they refer to is not practical consensus achieved pragmatically through compromise, but an idealized consensus that is the achievement of secular reason. This is problematic for two main reasons: there is no normative reason to think we ought to attain such consensus and such consensus is unlikely to be achieved in practice. Thus, there seems to be no normative force to the claim that religious citizens out to translate their arguments in secular language.
Foucault, Levinas and the Ethical Embodied Subject(Institute for Christian Studies, 2011-07-05)This dissertation attempts to interrogate whether the postmodern anti-essentialist approach to the body can truly recognize the ethical value of the body. For the postmodernists, the value of the human body has long been repressed by Cartesian rationalism and dualism that privileges the mind over the body. Dualism is a form of reductionism that reduces either the mind to the body or the body to the mind. It not only fails to recognize an interaction between mind and body, but also privileges one side at the expense of the other. For instance, rationalism is a dualist reductionism since it always explains the body and matter in terms of mind or reason. Thus, dualism not only refers to a split or separation between mind and body, but also refers to a reductive relation between mind and body.