Arts

Department of Philosophy

PhD defences

Evidence for Causal Claims in Medicine and the Mental Health Sciences - Sydney Katherine Green-Hovda (25/05/2020)

Sydney Katherine Green-Hovda

  • 25 May 2020
  • Supervisor: Bert Leuridan

Abstract

This dissertation explores current debates concerning the evidence used to establish causal claims, with a particular focus on claims made in medicine and the mental health sciences. It consists of three parts:

First, I provide an analysis of the use of evidence hierarchies within evidence-based medicine (EBM). I focus on two kinds of systems for evaluating evidence – systematic ranking schemes like the OCEBM’s Levels of Evidence and GRADE, and Sir Austin Bradford Hill’s informal ‘characteristics’ for demonstrating causation – and weigh the relative merits of each. I also analyze the debate over EBM’s preference for randomized trials. I discuss the major arguments against the primacy of randomization, but ultimately, I argue that, while randomized trials are far from perfect, they nevertheless generally deserve their place at the top of evidence hierarchies. Finally, I move from the theoretical underpinnings of EBM to actual practice. I discuss one area of research in which the primacy of randomized trials – and the methodology of EBM in general – has been challenged, namely, psychotherapy. I dissect the arguments that have been made against using the EBM model in psychotherapy, demonstrating that they do not hold water. I end by proposing and advocating a piecemeal approach to measuring the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic interventions.

Second, I explore the role of mechanistic evidence in establishing causal claims. I analyze the debate over the relative importance of statistical and mechanistic evidence, focusing on the arguments of Federica Russo and Jon Williamson on the one hand and Jeremy Howick on the other. Ultimately, I propose and defend the wRWT, a weakened version of the Russo-Williamson Thesis. Finally, I explore the implications of this debate within the context of psychiatry, using the monoamine hypothesis for depression as a case study to show the importance of mechanistic evidence. Returning to psychotherapy, I argue that the failure of the monoamine hypothesis demonstrates that biomedical explanations for depression should be deemphasized and that our focus should be directed toward furthering the pursuit of a psychosocial understanding of the disorder instead.

Third, I move to evaluating the epistemic value of current approaches to evidence amalgamation. I look at two major organizations that perform evidence amalgamation: the Cochrane Collaboration and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). I ask whether evidence amalgamation in practice should try to satisfy Carnap’s principle of total evidence. Ultimately, I argue that we should not try to satisfy the PTE simpliciter since it is not a rational principle. However, more nuanced, local, and contextualized versions of the PTE can be rational and should be used.

The International Crisis in Taxation: A Critical Analysis from a Natural Law Perspective - Jo Badisco (03/07/2019)

Jo Badisco

  • 3 July 2019
  • Supervisors: Willem Lemmens and Bruno Peeters

Abstract

This doctoral dissertation investigates from a philosophical point of view the contemporary crisis in international tax law. In the past decades it has become clear how multinational corporations and persons of considerable wealth are organizing and planning their taxes to pay as little as possible by using mechanisms such as for example double non-taxation (i.e. the exploitation of double tax treaties to avoid paying taxes in either country). These findings have caused the legitimacy of the international tax framework to be questioned by specialists as well as by the larger public. The wide-spread tax avoidance has not been without answer and there have been efforts from the OECD (action plan against base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS)) as well as the EU (The Anti-Tax Avoidance Directives (ATAD)) to combat the issue. 

This dissertation is sub-divided in two distinct parts. The first part is of a fundamental philosophical nature and it defends a specific position in (legal) philosophy: natural law theory. The second part applies this framework of natural law to the contemporary landscape of international tax law by formulating a set of principles that should be adhered to in the international realm of tax law as well as an evaluation of contemporary efforts to combat tax avoidance.

The first part gives an argument for the position of natural law. Natural law (contra legal positivism) is more than a theory of law, it is a theory of ethics and political philosophy that encompasses a theory of law. In this first part I develop such a theory of natural law and I explicate how it overcomes certain shortcomings of other theories. 

The second part zones in on the issue of international tax law and has as its goals: (a) the formulation of a set of principles that should underlie the international tax law framework, (b) the evaluation of the measures already taken by the OECD (and the EU) and (c) the formulation of a set of limits of what can be dictated by ethics or philosophy.

Adam Smith and Corporate Social Responsibility as a Master Virtue - Regimon Cherian (19/12/2018)

Regimon Cherian

  • 19 December 2018
  • Supervisors: Prof. Luc Van Liedekerke and Prof. Hendrik Opdebeeck

Abstract

In this dissertation the thesis is developed that Adam Smith (1723-1790), the founder of commercial society would endorse virtue ethics-based Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) despite his support for self-interest, free market and limited government. The first chapter is an enquiry into the political economy of Smith that promotes the free market for its overall benefits. The second chapter looks into the evolution of market economy sans moral character that brought Smith unjustly under fire and necessitated invoking CSR. The third chapter explores the Smithian virtue ethics proviso as explained in his moral philosophy. The fourth chapter evaluates the reactions against the Smithian Thought including the “Adam Smith Problem.”
Finally, the fifth chapter arrives at the conclusion that Smith the virtue ethicist who advocated a more benevolent and responsible society, would definitely stand for CSR as a master virtue. Adam Smith called for a competent regulatory environment that encourages virtue, and a virtuous culture which is both voluntary and mandatory, and which relies on both benevolence and self-interest. The efficiency of the system is in discovering the right mix of regulations and freedoms, or self-interest and benevolence. Virtue alone prevents the “corruption of self-love” that could flow from commercialization of society as this malaise is part of a deeper transformation of character. Sympathy should guide the commercial society. Social responsibility being a master virtue in accordance with the unity of virtues and stemming from the ethic of responsibility, Smithian virtue ethics is a solid foundation for CSR. Smith would not simply leave individuals’ and organizations’ “tendency to avarice’’ to the impersonal market forces. Instead, he would ask the commercial society to encourage its members’ benevolence to protect those who suffer the brunt of their insensitivity, through education and institutions. Nature has provided humans with the passions and filters to consciously choose to be a wise and virtuous ‘sociologus’ who seeks higher virtues for their own sake. It is not impossible to remedy the ills of commercial society and make use of its greater benefits, as virtues are teachable and vices redeemable. Though depending on others’ self-interest is the surer bet to satisfy one’s needs rather than waiting for others’ benevolence, Smith in TMS directs the greedy and selfish to be benevolent and praiseworthy for human flourishing.

The greatest challenge today is to initiate a cultural change predicated upon a revolution in education aimed at convincing a new generation to put virtue above success and others before themselves. The first step toward it is to admit the human capability for altruism which could become a social culture by reinforcement. Until it evolves into a full bloom virtuous society that lives the spirit of the law even in the absence of law, it should develop a CSR culture which relies on benevolence as well as self-interest, which is voluntary and enforced by a government that encourages virtue.

Ecological Psychologies as Philosophies of Perception. On Explaining how we Perceive what we can Do - Jan Van Eemeren (26/06/2018)

Jan Van Eemeren

  • 26 June 2018
  • Supervisor: Prof. dr Erik Myin

Abstract

In Ecological Psychologies as Philosophies of Perception two perspectives on the concept of perception are discussed. The naturalistic perspective, which aims to conceive perception in such a way that it is amenable to naturalistic, scientific explanation is analysed. It is contrasted with the epistemological perspective that constrains the concept of perception such that it might support empiricism, the idea that all knowledge ultimately originates in perception.

These two perspectives play defining roles in Ecological Psychology, the approach to the psychology of perception founded by American psychologist James J. Gibson. Three Ecological Psychologies are distinguished. First, there are the works of Gibson himself. Second, there is the branch of Ecological Psychology led by Michael Turvey and Robert Shaw, which is referred to as “Neogibsonian”. And third, there is a modest but growing branch of research that takes its inspiration from Gibson, but rejects aspects of Neogibsonian orthodoxy. These rejections are fuelled by diverging assumptions about naturalism and epistemology, and the roles they play for the concept of perception.

The philosophy of Willard V. Quine is used as an analytic tool to assess the concepts of knowledge that shape the epistemological perspectives in the three ecological approaches, as well as to assess their naturalistic credentials. It is argued that the epistemological perspective in the Neogibsonian branch is coloured by a concept of knowledge that comprises the idea of “certainty”. The decisiveness with which this view is advanced by the Neogibsonians entails a demotion of the naturalistic perspective. The third, heterodox branch of ecological research—we focus on the work of Alan Costall, Rob Withagen and Anthony Chemero—attributes more weight to the naturalistic perspective, including considerations from evolutionary biology, and it minimises the role of traditional epistemological concerns. This dissertation aims to contribute to the philosophical support for this “evolutionary-ecological” approach.

 

Ecologische Psychologie als Filosofie van Waarnemen bespreekt twee perspectieven op het begrip “waarnemen”. Het natuurwetenschappelijke perspectief dat tracht waarnemen te definiëren zodat het op een naturalistische, wetenschappelijke wijze kan worden bestudeerd en verklaard, wordt geanalyseerd. Daarnaast neemt het het kentheoretische perspectief onder de loep. Dat perspectief bakent het begrip van waarnemen af zodat het de stelling van het empirisme − dat alle kennis zijn oorsprong vindt in waarnemen − kan ondersteunen.

Deze twee perspectieven spelen een bepalende rol in de Ecologische Psychologie, een benadering binnen de waarnemingspsychologie, in het leven geroepen door de Amerikaanse psycholoog James J. Gibson. Drie vormen van Ecologische psychologie onderscheiden zich. Ten eerste, de werken van Gibson zelf. Ten tweede, de tak binnen de Ecologische Psychologie, aangevoerd door Michael Turvey en Robert Shaw, die als “Neogibsoniaans” wordt aangeduid. En ten derde is er een bescheiden maar groeiende tak van onderzoek naar waarnemen, die haar inspiratie ontleend aan Gibson maar bepaalde aspecten van de orthodoxe Neogibsonianen verwerpt. Deze afwijzingen vinden hun grond in onenigheid over de aanspraken die het naturalistische en het kentheoretische perspectief kunnen en mogen maken op het begrip van waarnemen.

De filosofie van Willard V. Quine wordt ingezet als een analytisch instrument om te verduidelijken hoe “kennis” wordt begrepen in de kentheoretische perspectieven van de drie ecologische benaderingen, en tevens om hun naturalistische geloofsbrieven te evalueren. Het resultaat van deze analyses is dat het begrip van kennis dat het Neogibsoniaanse denken kleurt, wordt bepaald door de notie van “zekerheid”. Uit de vasthoudendheid waarmee het deze gedachte verdedigt, volgt dat de Neogibsoniaanse benadering op gespannen voet staat met het naturalistische perspectief op waarnemen. De derde, heterodoxe strekking binnen het ecologische veld − belichaamd door onder meer Alan Costall, Rob Withagen en Anthony Chemero − hecht meer belang naturalistische overwegingen, met name aan argumenten uit de evolutionaire biologie. Mede daarom beperken zij de rol van het klassieke kentheoretische perspectief in hun begripsvorming van waarnemen. Dit proefschrift heeft als doel deze evolutionair-ecologische benadering wijsgerig te schragen.

Mind, Mechanism and Meaning: Reclaiming Social Normativity within Cognitive Science and Philosophy of Mind - Farid Zahnoun (25/06/2018)

Farid Zahnoun

  • 25 June 2018
  • Supervisor: Prof. dr Erik Myin

Abstract

The dissertation, titled Mind, Mechanism and Meaning, critically investigates two central assumptions of mainstream cognitive science and philosophy of mind: the commitment to the notion of internal representation on the one hand, and to the idea of the multiple realizability of the mental on the other. With regard to the notion of internal representation, the dissertation argues that this notion is ultimately untenable in that, to the effect that internal representations are understood as content-carrying vehicles with causal explanatory power, the notion is grounded in a confusion between the descriptive and the prescriptive/normative. The thesis is defended that all content-carrying entities, including representations, are socio-normatively constituted and should therefore be excluded from non-normative causal explanations of cognition. The results of the research support a non-representational approach to mind and cognition, as exemplified in various forms of E-Cognition, particularly in radical enactive/embodied approaches. Understanding human cognition requires taking into account the whole subject, that is, the subject as ‘embrained’, embodied, and embedded within an enacted normative intersubjective niche.

With regard to the idea of the multiple realizability of the mental, the dissertation argues that the idea can only be made intelligible against a particular metaphysical background, one that does not sit well with the intersubjective normative notions the idea of multiple realization conceptually relies on (types). Furthermore, it is argued that, even if we were to accept such a metaphysics, multiple realization is still not capable of providing the argument against identity theory which  has come to be so widely accepted. The thesis is defended that there really is no argument against an identity theory, and that, in addition, assuming a strict identity between the mental and the physical is still a viable, perhaps even the only viable approach to the Hard Problem of Consciousness.

The idea of art in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben - Virginia Tassinari (05/02/2018)

Virginia Tassinari

  • 5 February 2018
  • Supervisors: Prof. Vivian Liska and Prof. Peter Reynaert

Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to study the role of art in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben. An extensive study of the secondary literature on this contemporary Italian philosopher shows that this thesis is possibly the first study to specifically address the role of art in his body of work. After the publication of Homo Sacer, scholars around the world – from Eva Geulen (Geulen, Kaufmann and Mein 2008) to Andrew Norris (Norris 2005) – paid a great deal of attention to Agamben as a political philosopher, but relatively little attention has been paid to his early writings, in which he speaks of art (The Man Without Content, Stanzas and Infancy and History). 

In writing this thesis I have been inspired by the scholar Leyland de la Durantaye, who claims that Agamben’s most recent books should be read as a continuation of his early ones (de la Durantaye 2009, P.10). Specifically, he recognises the idea of ‘potentiality’ as a key topic of Agamben’s philosophy that can be traced back to Agamben’s first book, The Man Without Content: i.e. ‘the possibility for a thing not (cursive in the original) to pass into existence and thereby remain at the level of mere – or “pure” – potentiality’ (ibid., P.5). For Agamben, this is the originary, unmystified idea of ontology, one he juxtaposes with the traditional one, which to him is the ontology of a human subject acting in linear history. According to de la Durantaye, Agamben’s views on art offer a ‘most promising means of envisioning potentiality’ (ibid., P.47). While agreeing with this position, I add that this is also the case for Agamben’s idea of ‘messianic state’, the unmystified idea of history that he juxtaposes with the traditional idea of history, i.e. history considered as a line running from the past towards the future.

In his first book, Agamben argues that both these understandings of history and ontology are today manifested by artworks. There he says that – although art’s original vocation is to communicate the ideas of history and ontology - artworks were until now not able to fulfil this vocation, as what they communicated were not the originary, unmystified ideas of history and ontology, but rather the mystified ones (i.e. linear history and ontology of the subject) (Agamben 1999a, pp.110-111); this, however, is no longer the case. According to him, art’s vocation is now finally fulfilled: today artworks are finally able to communicate the unmystified ideas of history and ontology (Ibid., pp.114-115).

In my opinion, the idea of art that Agamben introduces here does not find a match in the theories of other scholars. He tries to justify it on the basis of his personal reading of some examples arbitrarily chosen from the history of art to prove himself right. In this thesis, I argue that this approach affects the truthful, universal character which he attributes to this concept. The latter is therefore “instrumental” for him to underpinning his philosophy. I strongly disagree with this “instrumental” positioning of the idea of art, as in my opinion it deserves to be researched more in depth rather than being used in such ways.

Another potential obstacle is that Agamben does not explain in his first book what provides artworks today with this possibility. In order to understand his line of reasoning, one needs to make use of concepts that are not explicitly formulated in his first book but are nevertheless indispensable in order to fully understand how artworks can in his opinion succeed today in manifesting the originary ideas of history and ontology. The reader therefore needs to work as an archeologist and find in his first book traces of topics that he will only develop later, and yet cannot be overlooked if the idea of art formulated there and its implications are to be fully understood. Not only do I agree with de la Durantaye that to understand Agamben’s philosophy as a whole one needs also to look at his idea of art and to consider the latter in sequence with the other topics he introduces in his following books (de la Durantaye 2009, P.10), but also the other way around: to fully understand his idea of art, in my opinion, one needs to look at his philosophy as a whole. 

Another difference with de la Durantaye’s approach is that I recognise that the analysis of Agamben’s topic of art brings to light a dogmatic character in his philosophy. In my opinion Agamben does not succeed to prove that artworks today can manifest the ideas of messianism and potentiality: he simply believes it. As these assumptions play a key role in his philosophy, I argue that this gives a dogmatic character to his philosophy. A philosophy based on belief is, in my opinion, not acceptable. I assert that the study of Agamben’s idea of art therefore provides the possibility to critique his philosophy.

Furthermore, not only do I find the manner in which to assess these ideas of ontology and history problematic, but I also have difficulty with their meanings. While de la Durantaye does see some hope in Agamben’s philosophy (de la Durantaye 2009, P.17), I contend that Agamben’s ideas of history and ontology leave no hope. The messianic state - being for him the unmystified idea of history - and therefore also the idea of being in the messianic state envisioned by Agamben are not meant for humans. To him, salvation is only for that which precedes humans: the pre-human. My critique of this idea of salvation is to question what its relevance might be.

Thus, my thesis shows how a closer assessment of Agamben’s views on art also exposes key problematic points in his philosophy in general.

The idea of art in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben - Virginia Tassinari (05/01/2018)

Virginia Tassinari

  • 5 January 2018
  • Supervisors: Prof. Vivian Liska and Prof. Peter Reynaert

Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to study the role of art in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben. An extensive study of the secondary literature on this contemporary Italian philosopher shows that this thesis is possibly the first study to specifically address the role of art in his body of work. After the publication of Homo Sacer, scholars around the world – from Eva Geulen (Geulen, Kaufmann and Mein 2008) to Andrew Norris (Norris 2005) – paid a great deal of attention to Agamben as a political philosopher, but relatively little attention has been paid to his early writings, in which he speaks of art (The Man Without Content, Stanzas and Infancy and History). 

In writing this thesis I have been inspired by the scholar Leyland de la Durantaye, who claims that Agamben’s most recent books should be read as a continuation of his early ones (de la Durantaye 2009, P.10). Specifically, he recognises the idea of ‘potentiality’ as a key topic of Agamben’s philosophy that can be traced back to Agamben’s first book, The Man Without Content: i.e. ‘the possibility for a thing not (cursive in the original) to pass into existence and thereby remain at the level of mere – or “pure” – potentiality’ (ibid., P.5). For Agamben, this is the originary, unmystified idea of ontology, one he juxtaposes with the traditional one, which to him is the ontology of a human subject acting in linear history. According to de la Durantaye, Agamben’s views on art offer a ‘most promising means of envisioning potentiality’ (ibid., P.47). While agreeing with this position, I add that this is also the case for Agamben’s idea of ‘messianic state’, the unmystified idea of history that he juxtaposes with the traditional idea of history, i.e. history considered as a line running from the past towards the future.

In his first book, Agamben argues that both these understandings of history and ontology are today manifested by artworks. There he says that – although art’s original vocation is to communicate the ideas of history and ontology - artworks were until now not able to fulfil this vocation, as what they communicated were not the originary, unmystified ideas of history and ontology, but rather the mystified ones (i.e. linear history and ontology of the subject) (Agamben 1999a, pp.110-111); this, however, is no longer the case. According to him, art’s vocation is now finally fulfilled: today artworks are finally able to communicate the unmystified ideas of history and ontology (Ibid., pp.114-115).

In my opinion, the idea of art that Agamben introduces here does not find a match in the theories of other scholars. He tries to justify it on the basis of his personal reading of some examples arbitrarily chosen from the history of art to prove himself right. In this thesis, I argue that this approach affects the truthful, universal character which he attributes to this concept. The latter is therefore “instrumental” for him to underpinning his philosophy. I strongly disagree with this “instrumental” positioning of the idea of art, as in my opinion it deserves to be researched more in depth rather than being used in such ways.

Another potential obstacle is that Agamben does not explain in his first book what provides artworks today with this possibility. In order to understand his line of reasoning, one needs to make use of concepts that are not explicitly formulated in his first book but are nevertheless indispensable in order to fully understand how artworks can in his opinion succeed today in manifesting the originary ideas of history and ontology. The reader therefore needs to work as an archeologist and find in his first book traces of topics that he will only develop later, and yet cannot be overlooked if the idea of art formulated there and its implications are to be fully understood. Not only do I agree with de la Durantaye that to understand Agamben’s philosophy as a whole one needs also to look at his idea of art and to consider the latter in sequence with the other topics he introduces in his following books (de la Durantaye 2009, P.10), but also the other way around: to fully understand his idea of art, in my opinion, one needs to look at his philosophy as a whole. 

Another difference with de la Durantaye’s approach is that I recognise that the analysis of Agamben’s topic of art brings to light a dogmatic character in his philosophy. In my opinion Agamben does not succeed to prove that artworks today can manifest the ideas of messianism and potentiality: he simply believes it. As these assumptions play a key role in his philosophy, I argue that this gives a dogmatic character to his philosophy. A philosophy based on belief is, in my opinion, not acceptable. I assert that the study of Agamben’s idea of art therefore provides the possibility to critique his philosophy.

Furthermore, not only do I find the manner in which to assess these ideas of ontology and history problematic, but I also have difficulty with their meanings. While de la Durantaye does see some hope in Agamben’s philosophy (de la Durantaye 2009, P.17), I contend that Agamben’s ideas of history and ontology leave no hope. The messianic state - being for him the unmystified idea of history - and therefore also the idea of being in the messianic state envisioned by Agamben are not meant for humans. To him, salvation is only for that which precedes humans: the pre-human. My critique of this idea of salvation is to question what its relevance might be.

Thus, my thesis shows how a closer assessment of Agamben’s views on art also exposes key problematic points in his philosophy in general.