Philosophy - Doctoral Theses

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    Coordinating minds: mindshaping, communication and technology
    (University College Cork, 2023) Finnegan, Colum; Ross, Don
    Traditional explanations of social cognition and coordination are under revision. Accounts that emphasise mindreading, the dominant, internalist and spectatorial framework, are challenged by accounts based on mindshaping, an externalist, interactionist concept. Mindshaping places the interpersonal regulation of minds at the root of coordination, and self-generation. However, if the profiles of selves are socially sourced, as mindshaping accounts claim, then structures that interact with these processes call for close examination in light of the new insights. One such structure, that now plays a crucial role in facilitating mindshaping, is digital communication technology. Due to the historical dominance of mindreading accounts, online communication has been primarily conceptualised in individualistic terms. As a result, the content of information communicated online (e.g. fake news, conspiracy theories) is seen as the primary driver of problematic outcomes. However, the mindshaping-based framework reveals that many pernicious features of online discourse are instead caused by the form of online communication and the incentive structures it creates for agents seeking to coordinate action. Specifically, as currently designed, online communication interferes with and modifies the types, range and effectiveness of signals deployed by agents to signal coordination suitability, changing the equilibrium dynamics of quotidian interpersonal coordination. In this new domain, I argue that mindshaping processes like imitation and conformism push agents to strategically adopt increasingly extreme belief sets. This in turn creates significant coordination noise and generates a perception of ecological threat – thereby undermining general social welfare and contributing to political stasis. These outcomes are in part the result of particular interface design choices which are responsive to the economic incentive structure within which online communication providers emerged and operate. However, this incentive structure could be reformed, and mindshaping-based explanations can play a crucial role in guiding such reforms, delineating specific causal dynamics that underpin dysfunctional online communication. I draw together literature from coordination theory, mindshaping, cultural evolution, political economy and online knowledge dissemination to show how the current digital ecology shapes minds in problematic ways but could be re-engineered by regulators to shape minds less perniciously.
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    The phenomenology of psychedelic experiences
    (University College Cork, 2023) Forde, Danny; Salice, Alessandro; Krueger, Joel
    Over the past couple of decades, empirical research into the clinical and therapeutic application of psychedelic drugs has shown great promise in treating a wide range of psychiatric conditions. While there is an ever-expanding literature concerning empirical questions about these drugs and the experiences which they engender, it is only in recent years that an in-depth philosophical analysis of the psychedelic experience has begun to flourish. The aim of this dissertation is to fill an important gap in this nascent philosophical literature by offering a thorough phenomenological analysis of psychedelic experiences under the specific conditions of psychedelic-assisted therapy. This entails taking into account the fundamental structure of conscious experience and seeing how the psychedelic experience modifies each individual aspect of this structure. I will argue that the basic structure of conscious experience is maintained during psychedelic experiences and that they provide the subject with a deeply felt sense of oneness with the cosmos (generally associated with the phenomenon of ‘ego-dissolution’) and the sense that this experience is as real, if not more real, than normal reality. My central claim is that these experiences feel real because they do in fact disclose mind-independent features of reality and offers the subject a direct apprehension of what the mystics call the Ground of Being. I call this position psychedelic realism. The dissertation defends a bundle of four interconnected claims. My first thesis is that a minimal sense of self is maintained even during the most turbulent experiences of ego-dissolution. This leads into my second thesis which argues that rather than being purely hallucinatory, the psychedelic experience can reveal aspects of reality which would not otherwise be disclosed, i.e., as the ego dissolves one gains a view of the world which I call ego-free seeing. My third thesis is that the psychedelic experience can open the subject to the essential nature of reality. Here I will claim that the mythopoetic archetypical phenomena encountered during the peak of the psychedelic experience are best comprehended in terms of essences. Lastly, I argue that the psychedelic experience is a bona fide transformative experience and offers a distinct way of apprehending the Ground of Being.
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    Normative expectations and subjective beliefs: an incentivised experimental study
    (University College Cork, 2022-12-12) Wang, Cuizhu; Ross, Don; Harrison, Glenn; Georgia State University; University of Cape Town
    This thesis is an experimental study to investigate the operationalisability of the theory of social norms provided by Cristina Bicchieri. In Chapter 1 I critically summarise a main theme from recent literature and distinguish the accounts of norms based on social preferences from accounts based on social structure. I also summarise different theorists’ accounts of social norms as a social construct, in addition to surveying some issues scholars have raised empirically. Chapter 2 reviews the conceptual analysis of social norms by Bicchieri as a social structure based account. Bicchieri’s conceptual analysis introduces three kinds of condition for norm identification. I review these in detail, and suggest hypothesis testing corresponding to each kind of condition. Chapter 2 briefly analyses a critical problem for Bicchieri’s theory. Chapter 3 provides philosophical background that supports the intentional concepts applied in Bicchieri’s analysis of social norms. I suggest that the Dennettian account of Intentional Stance is the best philosophical framework for Bicchieri’s account of social norms. I also argue that Revealed Preference Theory from economics is an application of the Intentional Stance. I conjecture that adopting the Intentional Stance and applying Revealed Preference Theory to empirical data can allow for improved operationalisation of Bicchieri’s conceptual analysis. In Chapter 4 I provide critical review of some key experimental work by Bicchieri and co-authors applying her conceptual analysis of social norms. I then provide a critical review of a widely used toolbox from the current economic literature for norm elicitation. Then I introduce a more rigorous experimental protocol for investigating social norms understood following Bicchieri’s analysis. The toolbox suggested in my thesis addresses limitations identified in Bicchieri’s empirical work. Chapter 5 presents design of the experiment administered as the core element of the thesis. Chapter 6 shows and analyses the results from the experiments described in Chapter 5. It also introduces the statistical models used in my thesis to assess the extent to which Bicchieri’s analyses successfully guides experimental identification of social norms. Chapter 7 offers concluding theoretical reflections, and discusses possible extensions of the research presented in this thesis.
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    Early modern masters of suspicion
    (University College Cork, 2022) Di Carlo, Andrea; Dockstader, Jason; Leask, Ian
    This thesis interprets Niccolò Machiavelli, Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, and John Milton, casting them as Masters of Suspicion. The category of ‘Master of Suspicion’ was introduced by Ricœur (1970) to describe how Marx, Nietzsche and Freud approached their respective economic, epistemological and medical contexts. After a recap on the thinking of Ricœur’s own Masters of Suspicion, I will move on to analyse the thinking of Machiavelli, Montaigne, Bacon, and Milton, whom I define as “early modern Masters of Suspicion”, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Bacon, and Milton. In the same way Ricœur analysed the context of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, I will do the same with Niccolò Machiavelli, Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, and John Milton. Machiavelli claimed that politics should not be driven by moral constraints; politics, as such, is a realm independent of morality. Montaigne created a new philosophical and literary genre, the essay, to examine a world that needed to reconsider its foundations. Unlike Machiavelli, he believed that different moral ideas could come together. Bacon claimed that scientific inquiries should not constrained by dogmatic interpretations of Aristotle. As a consequence, he set out to outline a novel method of scientific investigation. I argue in this thesis that Milton, like Machiavelli, Montaigne and Bacon, acted in a similar manner. He reassessed long-standing ideas of sovereignty by showing that even medieval political practices should be reconsidered in the midst of the English Civil War. He emphasised the necessity, like Montaigne, of a more personal “realm” where he could study himself and the changes of his time. Like Bacon, Milton believed that the epistemological obstacles of dogmatic Aristotelianism had to be overcome to allow science to freely flow. By framing Machiavelli, Montaigne, Bacon, Milton as Master of Suspicion, this thesis reconsiders their reception by exploring new possible avenues of research on their political, moral and scientific ideas.
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    Implementing machine ethics: using machine learning to raise ethical machines
    (University College Cork, 2022) Kaas, Marten H. L.; Walmsley, Joel
    As more decisions and tasks are delegated to the artificially intelligent machines of the 21st century, we must ensure that these machines are, on their own, able to engage in ethical decision-making and behaviour. This dissertation makes the case that bottom-up reinforcement learning methods are the best suited for implementing machine ethics by raising ethical machines. This is one of three main theses in this dissertation, that we must seriously consider how machines themselves, as moral agents that can impact human well-being and flourishing, might make ethically preferable decisions and take ethically preferable actions. The second thesis is that artificially intelligent machines are different in kind from all previous machines. The conjunction of autonomy and intelligence, among other unique features like the ability to learn and their general-purpose nature, is what sets artificially intelligent machines apart from all previous machines and tools. The third thesis concerns the limitations of artificially intelligent machines. As impressive as these machines are, their abilities are still derived from humans and as such lack the sort of normative commitments humans have. In short, we ought to care deeply about artificially intelligent machines, especially those used in times and places when considered human judgment is required, because we risk lapsing into a state of moral complacency otherwise.