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Philosophers and linguists studying communication typically focus on face-to-face communication, where a speaker explicitly presents a piece of information to an addressee. A sailor says to his mate, for instance, “I see dry land”. Accordingly, the standard model of communication holds that such a speaker manages to explicitly say something to the addressee because the speaker acts openly with a communicative aim: that of, for instance, instilling a belief in the mind of the addressee. My aim is to deepen the standard conception in such a way as to shed light upon public and political uses of language, where often there is not some determinate piece of information the speaker explicitly intends to share with some determinate audience. It is hard to see, for instance, how the model can characterize the speech performed on Twitter or similar online platforms, or what a politician does during a televised speech or debate, since both the audience and the information are much less determinate.

My core proposal is that individuals’ speech acts must be characterized by appeal to the broader social activity of which they are a part. Human social life, especially in modern society, is full of collective activities, wherein large groups of individuals are bound together in pursuit of a common goal. Think of an automobile factory: the workers on the assembly line moving in harmony. Consider the countless clattering keyboards that make up a corporate or governmental bureaucracy. So my aim, more specifically, is to replace the idealizing assumptions of the standard model of communication with appeal to institution, in such a way as to account for communicative acts with social significance that have been largely ignored by theorists.

Presentists believe that only present things exist. Their theories, at first glance, seem to offer many admirable features: a simple ontology, and a meaningful, objective status for key temporal phenomena, such as the present moment and the passage of time. So intuitive is this theory that, as John Bigelow puts it, presentism was “believed by everyone… until at least the nineteenth century”. Yet, in the last 200 years presentism has been beset by criticisms from both physicists and metaphysicians. One of the most significant criticisms is that presentists cannot provide an acceptable system of truthmaking. If there is no past, how can there still be truths about the past?

In this paper, I introduce a new theory of presentism, which addresses this problem in a novel way: by simply denying that there are any truths about the past. While prima facie an unintuitive position, I will argue that a sensible presentist philosophy of this kind can be described, so long as it is accompanied by an appropriate system of physics. I will also indicate at certain points that adopting presentism could allow us to understand fundamental physics in new, more intuitive ways. By the end of the paper, I hope to not only show that hard presentism is a defensible theory of time, but also that it could offer a number of advantages to the physicist and the philosopher alike.

Did you know that only 30% of registered architects in Ireland are women? This is in spite of the fact that for decades as many women as men qualify with degrees in architecture.

This research is about finding out why this is happening, why people leave architecture, and what alternative occupations they choose. We also want to get a clear picture of the gender breakdown within architecture alongside attitudes towards gender equality. As part of this, we will also look at working cultures and conditions within architecture and whether there is a gender dimension to people’s experiences. 

We want to understand why women seem to be leaving the profession of architecture in Ireland. This research will help us discover why this is happening, and what we can do to change to improve gender equity in Irish architecture. 

This project aims to investigate the roots of European values such as egalitarianism and democracy, in order to contribute to popular and scholarly debates on these subjects in an informed way. Addressing the historical relationship between religion and ideas of modernity, the research will provide a better understanding of laypersons’ contribution to the development of ‘the Enlightenment’, when democratic concepts gradually emerged as basic rights. Blending social history, gender history, history of ideas and political philosophy methodologies, the research addresses particularly the history of a religious minority in seventeenth century Europe, the Dutch Collegiant movement, with the aim of revealing how the practice of enlightened concepts and the participation of women in free-discussion meetings co-created the development of enlightened values.

Completed Projects

In this project, Hume’s account of how we respond to philosophical reasoning is far from a historical curiosity. I seek to establish whether an account like Hume’s iscorrectby evaluating the degree to which his positions conform with prevailing psychological theories and can be experimentally confirmed. Three papers from the project are presently under review at journals, and one more will join them this fall.

The empirical viability of Hume’s unique blend of philosophy and psychology hasimplicationsnot only for Hume scholarship but also for pedagogy, public outreach, and research trends in philosophy more generally. One might think that the soundness of an argument is sufficient to convince—that people will accept the truth if only they fully understand it. But the often-limited effect of philosophers in convincing each other and shaping public opinion indicates otherwise. Hume proposes a systematic set of explanations for this gap between argument and belief. As I argue in my recentHume Studiesarticle, Hume’s acceptance of the existence of sound philosophical arguments for conclusions that we cannot stably believe plays a central role in his core argument in Book 1 of hisTreatise. If the Humean perspective is right, then philosophy should be understood as an austere application of the light of reasonandas a science of persuasion within social contexts, with an emphasis on the latter. I am motivated by the prospect of uncovering new strategies to persuade through and in concert with philosophical argumentation.

This project engages with a specific problem and its attempted solution in the work of G.W.F Hegel. Hegel is committed to the idea that the discipline of logic cannot rely upon principles or axioms derived from other sciences. But he is at the same time committed to the idea that it would be unacceptably dogmatic to begin to set out a system of logic on the basis of mere assumptions or hypotheses. His own Science of Logic begins by considering the concept "pure being" (reines Sein), and from this point claims to rigorously derive a system of fundamental logical categories and an explicit account of the method of logic, among various other things. The obvious question that arises is that of the justification for beginning a science of logic by considering this particular concept, especially if it can be neither merely asserted as the right place to begin, nor presuppose the contents of some other discipline for its proof. Hegel inserts an essay entitled "With what must the beginning of the science be made?" after the introduction to his Logic in order to discuss and attempt to solve this problem.

This project sets out and examines the historical influences on Hegel's "problem of beginning", especially his engagement with the Pyrrhonian Sceptical tradition, and work on the justification of a fundamental principle from post-Kantian idealists like Reinhold and Fichte in the 1790s. It also sets out the form of Hegel's proposed solution to his problem of beginning and claims to discover two principal versions of this solution in his works, in his Science of Logic and in his Encyclopaedia Logic. Ultimately, the second of these solutions, appropriately developed, is found to be the better candidate for justifying the beginning of Hegel's logical project. 

Modal normativism is the view that the function of modal claims is to convey normative rules. According to the modal normativist, the claim made by uttering the sentence ‘Necessarily, (Michelangelo's) David does not survive a drastic change in shape’ conveys the semantic rule ‘One ought not re-apply 'David' after a drastic change in shape' (the semantic rule specifies a condition under which it is not permitted to re-apply the term). The theory is attractive because it is (1) compatible with traditional possible worlds semantics, (2) demystifies the epistemology of metaphysical modality by characterizing metaphysical modal knowledge as a form of conceptual or linguistic competence (sometimes supplemented by straightforward empirical knowledge), and (3) does not need to posit strange entities that leave it entirely unclear how we come to know modal truths. The aim of this project is threefold. First, given that modal normativism is developed today to account for metaphysical modality, the project will further extend this position by capturing physical modality as well. Secondly, it will offer a detailed account of one notable historical predecessor of this view, Wilfrid Sellars, who has been primarily concerned with physical modality. Thirdly, the project will investigate the consequences of this view for our understanding of persistent disagreement in contemporary metaphysical debates, debates concerning the truth or falsity of metaphysical modal claims. 

We all need food, water, shelter, social contact, freedom and myriad other things. Such needs generate moral obligations we have to each other and make up the political duties of states. But what exactly are needs? Despite being a vital part of understanding what it is to live a flourishing and ethical life, philosophical work concerning the concept of need has been inadequate. Philosophers have recognised the link between need and necessity: e.g. humans need to drink water insofar as it is necessary for them to do so. The first phase of this project develops a precise analysis of the kinds of necessity involved in need which is missing from the literature. This analysis will be informed by contemporary work on modality in metaphysics and linguistic semantics. The second phase of the project explores questions about the ontology of need with a view to understanding their contribution to causal explanation. 

Can there be a non-secular democracy? My answer is ‘yes,’ and my research seeks to show how. I am concerned with the place religion should occupy in the democratic public realm in order to best realize emancipatory ideals of freedom, equality and justice. Sympathetic both to contemporary criticisms of theories predicting the retreat of religious influence on political life and those defending the neutrality of secular politics, I rethink the relationship between politics and religion with a view to opening a conceptual space for a new model of non-secular democracy. In doing so my research contributes to a conception of politics that speaks to an enormous growth in international migration, together with an unpredicted rise in religious revivalism.

A healthy democracy preserves and promotes the process of democratic will-formation in the public sphere through public reasoning. The increased presence of various religious convictions and practices, however, raises serious challenges concerning the boundaries and function of public reasoning. In support of a robust pluralism I defend the requirement of non-authoritarian reasoning, which excludes certain ways of reasoning but not particular reasons. In addition, I give public reasoning a direct and influential role in the application and specification of norms, including legal ones. These features of public reasoning play a central role in my overarching aim of developing a pluralist model of democratic politics that allows for the most expansive communal right to political self-determination, while simultaneously preserving and promoting individual capabilities for identity-formation and self-realization.

This research project aims to recover and defend analytical and normative uses of cynicism for political analysis. Beginning with a conceptual reconstruction of cynicism (understood as a radical mode of disaffection, evincing a unique normative perspective, and tied to a definable set of political tactics and rhetorical techniques), I will develop an interpretive framework for engaging with contemporary manifestations of cynical distrust and estrangement. In the view of many theorists and pundits, cynicism remains one the gravest ills to befall any democratic society: injecting a virulent estrangement which leaves its sufferers unable to trust elected representatives and unwilling to participate in collective action. The central critical claim of my project is that this alarmist view serves only to widen the gap between the professed ideals of democratic institutions and the lived experiences of democratic publics. By conducting a more attentive and sympathetic reading of cynical disaffection, I aim to demonstrate the constructive potential of its critical ethos—which otherwise tends to be pathologised as a self-defeating, anti-democratic, and illegitimate basis for political action and protest. My project will proceed along two tracks of inquiry: (1) a normative/conceptual reconstruction of cynicism, to elucidate the differences between constructive and self-defeating forms of political disaffection (2) qualitative analyses of case studies, to facilitate the development of an empirically-based framework for assessing the relative effectiveness of cynical ‘tactics’ versus other modes of political action and protest. In a non-ideal world, replete with institutional failures and democratic deficiencies, distrust and disenchantment are not necessarily counterproductive. Cynicism’s constructive potential expresses a non-defeatist strategy for coping with the uncertainties, betrayals, and false promises that are constant features of our social and political existence.

The following can be thought of as an exercise in the rectification of names. That is to say that what the Kyoto School is understood to be today is divorced from what it actually was when it flourished as a philosophical beacon in the ‘dark valley’ of wartime Japan. Rectification of the name is needed to restore what the Kyoto School was in its original context, and to show how it has subsequently acquired other meanings. This reorientation of perspective can contribute to the on-going process of recovering and broadening the conception of the Kyoto School, and its contribution to political thought. Revitalization of its original reality can in turn contribute to fulfilling its intellectual potential. The chapter outlines the post-war creation of the image of the political thought of the Kyoto School before moving on to a consideration of the ambiguity strategy of ‘anti-systemic collaboration’ pursued by most of the Kyoto philosophers, and the interpretive problems that arise from it. The final section highlights a selection of political theoretical themes developed by the Kyoto School thinkers and discusses their relevance for contemporary theorising in light of recent trends in the history of political thought, political theory and international relations. The fulfilment of the intellectual potential of the Kyoto School political thought requires breaking out of its relative isolation by inserting it into new, and arguably more relevant and hospitable, disciplinary fields than the established traditions of comparative philosophy of religion and Japanese history.

What kind of experience do we refer to when we talk about self-esteem? How are our interpersonal relationships shaped by this experience? And what is the role played by high and low self-esteem in mental illness? While significant efforts have been made in the field of psychology to clarify some of these issues, the notion of self-esteem has been under-researched from a philosophical perspective. Surprisingly, this is the case also in current philosophy of emotion, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of psychiatry, where a number of concepts and dynamics relevant to the understanding of this form of experience have been investigated. With the aim of rectifying this situation, in this project I will endeavor to provide a philosophical account of self-esteem. More specifically, drawing on the insights and theoretical frameworks developed in classic and contemporary phenomenology, I will investigate three main thematic areas. (1) I will start by clarifying which types of mental states are constitutive of self-esteem, exploring in particular the idea that this predicament is best understood as a background affective orientation or "existential feeling". (2) I will then move to examine the connection between self-esteem and intersubjectivity, focusing on the various ways in which self-esteem influences and is influenced by interpersonal relationships such as friendship and love, and by particular forms of cultural and professional experience. (3) Finally, I will identify various dynamics through which alterations of self-esteem give rise to disruptions of affectivity and self-understanding in psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and narcissistic personality disorder, complementing and expanding existing phenomenological analyses of disturbances of emotions and the self.

The research focuses on affects (passions, feelings and moods) in Martin Heidegger's philosophy. Heidegger offers a systematic re-appraisal of affects – affects are not merely subjective, but they are constitutive of the world. Throughout Heidegger's works, affects (especially Angst) constitute the ground for meaningful disclosure and the origin of philosophical understanding.

The project offers a genealogical-exegetical reconstruction of Heidegger's phenomenology of affect, focusing on his lectures from 1919 leading up to the publication of Being and Time in 1927. The first part situates Heidegger's account of affects in relation to neo-Kantian challenges to philosophy, as well as in relation to Husserl's phenomenology. It shows how Heidegger inherits the 'problem of ground' from neo-Kantian philosophers and Husserl's phenomenological solution to this problem. The second part explores Heidegger's interpretations of St. Augustine and Aristotle, where the affective terminology of Being and Time is developed for the first time.

My work helps resolve persisting issues as regards Heidegger's phenomenology of affects: for example, it explains his focus on Angst in Being and Time, and his subsequent 'turn' to other affects, such as 'boredom' and 'restraint'. Commentators have argued that Heidegger's emphasis on affects constitutes a break from Husserlian phenomenology, whilst others interpreted his subsequent turn to other affects as a break from his phenomenology. I show how affects resolve methodological problems in Husserl: I identify the weaknesses and show how Heidegger resolves them. I argue that this constitutes a radicalization, rather than a repudiation, of Husserlian insights. I also argue that Heidegger's late philosophy of moods continues in the same transcendental path, and argue -contra the established interpretation- that Heidegger's subsequent shift to other affects is anticipated in earlier phenomenological work. The project is interesting to anyone interested in affective phenomena and how these constitute and determine theoretical and metaphysical understanding.

This project responds to the urgent need to understand and constrain human destructiveness. The timeliness of this project is underscored by two factors: firstly, the weakening and corruption of many of the traditional cultural structures whether social, religious or political, which have in the past served to constrain aggression, redress injustices and ameliorate inequities; secondly, by the rapid advances in social neuroscience and psychology furnishing much in the way of primary data about both destructive and prosocial behaviour. Interrogating the relationship between the 'I' and 'we' perspectives of primary subjectivity will shed new light on violence, destructiveness and ethical failure.

Relative to the vastness of the universe we are tiny, and so we have little power over what happens to it. That’s a kind of insignificance. But power isn’t valuable for its own sake, it’s valuable for changing things that we care about… And most of the things that we care about are right here on Earth.

This research proposes to investigate the connection between habit formation, practical reason, and empathy. While sociology and psychology have widely acknowledged the relevance of habits for collective social practices, the relation between habits, practical reason, and empathy constitutes a gap in the philosophical literature. My project aims to fill this gap by outlining the main principles of a phenomenology of habit. The overall aim is to provide comprehensive answers to the following two questions: What do habits tell us about personal identity and social sensitivity? How can a more nuanced approach to the role of habit in social interaction help us extend current understanding of empathy? I shall proceed as follows. In the first part of my research, I shall give a historical and theoretical outline of the main debates regarding habit formation. I shall show that largely negative accounts of habits do not consider how habits shape personal identity through synchronic adjustments that internalise the individual response to values. I will, then, employ the methodology of contemporary phenomenology to defend a positive view of habit. This strategy is based on the theoretical framework that conceives of habituality as embodied agency. Drawing on Husserl, Stein, and Merleau-Ponty, I shall argue that habits are fundamental for identity formation as well as to account for the way we respond to others through the internalisation of practical reason. With this approach the project seeks to contribute to an improved basis for both ethics and social cognition.

The goal of the project is to develop a novel theory of the nature and interpretation of confused or absurd beliefs, by looking at the interpretation of singular terms in natural language. What actually determines the meaning of a singular term on an occasion of utterance? Gricean intentionalism says it’s determined by speakers’ referential intentions. Intentionalism is successful and well supported by current work in semantics and pragmatics. Recently, however, many theorists have argued that it makes false predictions in crucial cases. Specifically, confused beliefs are thought to pose insurmountable problems for Gricean theories.

The working hypothesis is that these objections can be answered by combining insights from the opposing traditions of teleosemantics and intentionalism. Roughly, the optimal or proper function of singular terms requires that speakers are not confused about the identity of the objects to which they intend to refer. This opens up new avenues of research into the epistemology of confused or absurd belief more generally. Often, when two experts disagree, it is difficult to actually state the disagreement in terms acceptable to both parties. The project proposes that this is due to corruptive effects of confused belief on the proper interpretation of singular terms. An oversimplified illustration is when a speaker confuses two identical twins and uses a single name for both, posing both obvious and less obvious problems of interpretation.

One of the striking features of human language is that it puts us in contact with the world. Competence with a name such as ‘Mercury’ allows us to communicate about that planet, even when we are not able to directly perceive it. There is a tradition influenced by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege that takes word–world relations of this sort to be of central importance; this is often formulated as questions about the content of a name (or other expression) and the relationship between the contents of such expressions and the sentences composed out of them. A problem known then is still debated today: the problem of empty names. The essence of the problem is the existence of names that relate to no object. ‘Vulcan’, as we now know, does not name a planet. Does ‘Vulcan’ have a content, and if so what? If it doesn’t, what is the status of a sentence such as ‘Vulcan is a planet’? This is a particular problem for the popular Russellian view, which I accept, that the content of a name just is its bearer, and that the content of a sentence is an abstract object, a proposition, containing the contents of the words in the sentence. My goal is to develop a new solution to this problem. I will, over a series of papers, articulate and defend the claim that empty names do lack content, but are meaningful in a specific sense drawn from work on generative syntax. My project will be an example of interaction between philosophy of language and linguistics and will stimulate contact between these two areas of inquiry. It will be of interest to philosophers of language and philosophers of mind as well as anybody interested in the way that human thought and language work.

This project entitled "The Ethics and Politics of a Liveable Life", explores the institutional, discursive and interpersonal processes that make our lives liveable or, importantly, unliveable. This involves a synthesis of theories of power, normalisation and exclusion with perspectives on well being and philosophies of the self. In so doing, I consider the ethical questions that arise from our attempts at self- and social transformation. For example, I am currently examining the concept of regret and what it means to be able to affirm our lives. I also have long-standing interests in feminism, applied ethics and the history of political thought.

This project is a study of anxiety, which employs an interdisciplinary methodology involving philosophy, cognitive science, and psychoanalysis. While the concept of anxiety has assumed a central role in the history of philosophy since the time of Kierkegaard up to Heidegger, a sustained and rigorous study of anxiety and the bodily self remains incomplete. The TPAB project attends to this oversight. To achieve this, the project uses an original and novel methodology that combines a first-person perspective with theories of psychoanalysis as well as recent empirical work.

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