September 15, 2015

Recent doctoral dissertations at Åbo Akademi

Recent doctoral dissertations at Åbo Akademi

During the last academic year three doctoral dissertations in philosophy were defended at my old department at Åbo Akademi, Åbo/Turku, Finland:

Ylva Gustafsson, Interpersonal understanding and theory of mind (19 September, 2014)

Summary: The claim that a “theory of mind”, is a fundamental cognitive capacity that grounds human social life is popular within both modern philosophical and psychological theorising on interpersonal understanding. This claim surfaces in evolutionary psychology, in theories of child development, in theories of autism as well as in philosophy on emotions and in moral philosophy. The aim of this work is to scrutinise certain psychological and philosophical theories on interpersonal understanding that are connected with empirical research. The author argues that the theories as well as the empirical research are often based on problematic philosophical assumptions about interpersonal understanding. The assumptions shape the theories and also shape the way empirical research is designed and the way results are interpreted.


Antony Fredriksson, Vision, Image, Record – A Cultivation of the Visual Field (9 January, 2015)

 Summary: The first part of this thesis delivers a genealogy of the image. It chronicles how the concepts of image, vision and the self evolved in relation to one another in a specific scientific and philosophical context, starting with the early Renaissance, which saw the invention of the perspectivist painting, up to the birth of Positivism and the photographic image. This development entailed a form of reductionism in which “the self” – the role of human psychology, our judgement, our attention and our will – was sidestepped. Within this intellectual tradition there is only a short step, from the understanding of the image as a representation of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface, to the idea of the image as a transparent picture, a window towards the world. By taking this short step one would easily lose sight of the role of the self in the practices of making and viewing images.
In the second part the author offers an alternative to the intellectual tradition described in the first part. The idea of depiction as a neutral “view from nowhere” would support a skeptical attitude towards communication, dialogue and human testimony, and therefore our reliance upon each other and consequently our reliance on ourselves. What was forgotten in this understanding of the image as a view from nowhere, was that the image is an aid in the task cultivating our visual field, an aid in sharing our views. Due to this function of sharing, the image becomes a guide as we find our orientation in this world. I might stand beside another person and see what she sees, but I do not necessarily know her reading of it. The image adds a dimension to this relation, since it does not only show me what the other sees. When an image works properly it also shows how that other person sees, and thus the image becomes an agent.
While the present thesis combines the fields of philosophical epistemology, history of science and visual studies, its main interest is philosophical. It engages with philosophical misconceptions of depiction as a mimetic art form, of knowledge as domestication and of perception as reception of data.


Mari Lindman, Work and Non-Work : On Work and Meaning (8 May, 2015)

Summary: It may seem self-evident that employment is crucial to a happy life and that job creation is a central societal concern. However, this dissertation suggests that work is neutralized when it is understood simply as a valuable societal asset or as an individual life project, while its existential, ethical and political significance in a specific life situation is ignored. One example of such neutralization is when the importance of work is reduced to the importance of “having a job”, whatever its practical content or purposes. To challenge such neutralizations, the author looks at the tension within the conceptions of work (necessity, hard work and self-realization are three examples) which underlie them. The danger of such neutralization is that political and existential worries about work and the working life are swept under the rug. The book aims to repoliticize work by looking at it as an essentially contested concept. The author suggests that important aspects of work are revealed within such contestations of the role of work in our lives and that tensions can be a fruitful point of departure for resisting neutralizations of work. All chapters are structured around dialogues with critical accounts of work, including those of Hannah Arendt, André Gorz, Kathi Weeks, Simone Weil, Raimond Gaita, Karl Marx and Richard Sennett. What does it mean to say that society has been invaded by necessity? What does it mean to imagine a society beyond wage labor? Is it a utopia or a dystopia to think about work as a limitless activity? What is at stake when work becomes a commodity on the market? What are the hazards of fragmentation of work?

September 14, 2015

Standing Before a Sentence

Yrsa Neuman is defending her doctoral thesis in philosophy at Åbo Akademi on Friday, 18 September (in Auditorium Arken, Fabriksgatan  2, Åbo/Turku), at 12 noon. The opponent (external examiner) is Dr Kevin Cahill, Bergen.

Short summary:
Standing Before a Sentence
Moore’s paradox and a perspective from within language

Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote to G.E. Moore that he had stirred up a philosophical wasps’ nest with his paradox, associated with the sentence “I believe it’s raining and it’s not raining”. The problem is that it would be odd for a speaker to assert this thought about herself, although it could be true about her, and although the sentence is well-formed and not contradictory.

Making use of the notion of a sentence having sense in a context of significant use (inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein), the author explores the responses of some of the “wasps” who responded to the paradox, and the background of their reactions.

By using the metaphor of philosophizing from within language rather than outside of language the author explores what she calls “the user perspective” on philosophical problems. In this investigation, Moore’s paradox functions as a test case, by which the author elucidates differences in view of the role and powers of philosophical terminology.

The contribution of this work is meta-philosophical in being concerned with philosophical method. Its point of departure is in the therapeutic strand of the tradition after the later Wittgenstein.

The full text of the thesis is found here: