PhD projects

PhD students are welcome to apply to work on project themes.  You can find information on scholarships offered by the department of Philosophy at Leeds here. Contact j.r.g.williams@leeds.ac.uk if you wish to discuss this further.

The tradition in philosophy is for PhD proposals to be generated in the first instance by the incoming student—and this is also the idea here. You can find out more about the kind of topics that would fit with the project by looking at the “Project Themes” page.  But to get ideas going, here are some suggestions that would make nice PhD topics:

Philosophy of language

  • Knowledge-based radical interpretation: an investigation of the claim (due to Timothy Williamson) that the principle of charity is best understood not as truth-maximization constraint, but as a knowledge-maximization constraint. Can a more satisfactory account of meaning be built on such a foundation?
  • The nature of words. Theories of meaning give a story about the relation that connects words to the world. But kinds of things are these words? Are they just phonetic or figurative types, or should they be more thickly individuated, say in terms of the purposes for which they are created? Can a richer metaphysics of symbols help develop a more satisfactory theory of meaning.
  • Epistemology of meaning. We know what our words mean—and this fact explains and rationalizes why we use them as they do. But how do we come by this knowledge? A story based on selecting a theory based on behavioural evidence, or looking at causal correlations between word and world, might be appropriate to the structure of our justification for speakers of an “alien” language. But it seems very odd as an account of our knowledge of the meanings of our own words. So what is the structure of this knowledge, and what constraints does this impose on theories of meaning?

Philosophy of mind. 

  • Lewis on mental representation. Lewis sketches an account of the foundations of linguistic content in some detail (presupposing that we already have a fix on what an agent believes and desires). But his account of mental content is far less clear. In particular, although he often emphasizes that the real work to be done by “eligibility constraints” is in fixing mental content, he is never clear exactly how the constraint comes in. This thesis would investigate his account, compare it to recent interpretations (for example, one due to Brian Weatherson) and evaluate its tenability.
  • Objectual thought. Beliefs and desires are propositional attitudes—we believe that something is the case or desire it to be so. But folk psychology also involves attitudes to objects (love, attention, etc). Are such objectual attitudes fundamental, or can they be understood in terms of more basic propositional attitudes? And what does this teach us about the success-conditions of a theory of content?
  • Belief vs. degrees of belief.  Everyday explanations of behaviour often appeal to whether or not something is believed. Many more theoretical explanations (in psychology or economics, for example) want to appeal to degrees of belief. What is the relation between these two notions? Can one be reduced to the other? And what are the implications of this issue for our theory of the foundations of doxastic content?

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