Philosophy Theses

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This collection is made up of doctoral and master theses by research, which have been received in accordance with university regulations.

For more information, please visit the UCD Library Theses Information guide.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 5 of 6
  • Publication
    'Are we doing the right thing?' Moral Agency in Paediatric Healthcare: Healthcare professionals' actions in response to moral conflict, and the associated enablers, barriers and outcomes
    (University College Dublin. School of Philosophy, 2021) ;
    Paediatric health care professionals (HCPs) may experience moral conflict if they are required to deliver care which is not aligned with their moral values. While much research has been conducted to understand the causes and effects of situations which cause moral conflict, how HCPs actually act in these situations has received scant research attention. This study addresses this gap. A qualitative research approach incorporating the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) was used to explore the actions of paediatric nurses and doctors when faced with moral conflicts, the enablers and barrier of these actions, and participants’ perceptions of the outcomes of their actions. Semi-structured interviews were held with a sample of nurses and doctors (n=19) from a large tertiary children’s hospital in Ireland. Data was analysed using a process of thematic analysis, underpinned by the traditions of CIT. Trustworthiness was enhanced through the provision of a clear audit trail and the use of participants’ voice throughout the findings. The participants’ experiences were reflected in ten overarching themes. The causes of moral conflict were captured in the three themes of Conflicts in decision-making, reconciling their Professional role Vs children’s outcomes and the equitable Use and Allocation of resources. Participants’ moral actions emerged as three themes which involved Questioning Decisions, Seeking alternative approaches and Advocating for the child and family. These actions reflected a preference for facilitating negotiation and consensus with the healthcare team and parents as a means of preventing decisional-conflict and achieving mutually acceptable outcomes. The findings challenge notions of powerlessness and adversarial nurse-doctor representations, and instead revealed participants’ strong sense of moral agency. The enablers and barriers of their moral agency were collectively reflected in the themes of Environment of care factors and Personal factors. Moral agency was enabled by participants’ experience and knowledge and working within positive and respectful professional relationships. In contrast, inexperience, hierarchical decision-making structures or apprehension about jeopardising professional relationships impeded moral agency. The outcomes of participants’ action emerged in two themes: Influencing the outcome for the child, family and professionals, which participants’ judged by the extent to which relationships with these parties were preserved and Influencing self which reflected how they themselves were influenced personally and professionally. The participants’ capacity to take moral action appears to have provided a mediating effect against the negative implications of moral conflicts and contributed to their moral resilience. These findings have implications for theory, practice and education, and support the argument that the exploration of moral conflicts and moral agency should extend beyond the existing focus on barriers to understanding how moral agency can be enabled. The narratives offer numerous suggestions for organisational and clinical processes, ethics supports and educational resources to develop HCPs’ ethical competence and create opportunities for them to collaboratively engage with moral issues. As paediatric healthcare will continue to be characterised by increasing medical and technological advancements, and influenced by wider socio-cultural factors, it is unlikely that the situations which generate moral conflict for HCPs will ever be eliminated. It is crucial therefore, that there is a commitment to establishing an ethical climate which nurtures the moral agency of HCPs, enabling them to positively and constructively engage with the moral issues they encounter in practice.
  • Publication
    Towards an Existential Ethics
    (University College Dublin. School of Philosophy, 2020)
    Most people live under some class of legal system. The laws flowing from these systems shape not just society, but individuals’ lives and behaviour. While some people do break the law, most people, most of the time, comply. There are various explanations of legal compliance; fear of punishment, fairness, and the common good, to name a few. However, this dissertation suggests that most people comply in order to escape the overwhelming freedom and responsibility of the individual’s existential condition. Adopting Sartre’s ontology of the individual as For-Itself, I suggest that most individuals live in bad faith as what I refer to as the Law-Abiding Citizen. The Law-Abiding Citizen attempts to hide from their existential freedom and responsibility in what I refer to as the Everyday World. However, freedom is inescapable. Bad Faith will always fail. If freedom is inescapable, perhaps the individual ought to embrace it and attempt to live authentically. An authentic individual, within the Everyday World, will likely be labelled as an Outlaw, as a threat to the system. From within the Everyday World, an authentic community, which would result if each individual were to act authentically, does not sound like an appealing place to live. However, if we understand that the authentic individual is labelled as Outlaw through the lens of bad faith, and we show that the individual is not as radically free as Sartre sometimes suggests, we can move towards an existential ethics that supports an authentic community. This dissertation weaves together the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, primarily their respective Being and Nothingness and The Ethics of Ambiguity. The core of the work will focus on Sartre’s concepts of the For-Itself, bad faith, and authenticity. Sartre and Beauvoir heavily influenced each other. However, reading their work separately can leave the reader feeling at a loose end. Sartre appears far too radical in certain respects and Beauvoir appears to have built an ethics on a foundation which she never fully explains. Read together, they balance each other out, forging a plausible path towards an existential ethics.
  • Publication
    Radical Conceptual Change: From Inference to Semantic Drift
    (University College Dublin. School of Philosophy, 2021)
    This thesis investigates the conditions that must be in place in order to account for radical changes of meaning in time. The radicality of changes in meaning will be examined in the context of language as living social activity. This project’s culmination is that the most convincing way to account for conceptual change is through Jacques Derrida’s notion of ‘iterability’ that results in what he calls ‘essential drifting’. Through ‘iterability’ displacement and break with the context become possible which makes for a narrative of radical changes in meaning. The first part stages a dialectical confrontation between Wilfrid Sellars’ account of meaning as rule-following and Robert Brandom’s re-working of it. Sellars’ conception of pattern-governed behaviour, I argue, makes it seem that apart from explicit or deliberate authoring of conceptual change (e.g., in scientific theory construction), there may be no genuine alternative for theorising changes in meaning. Brandom’s re-conception of normativity enables him to describe shifts in meaning as resulting from practices of reciprocal recognition of authority and responsibility both synchronically and diachronically. Norms, be they explicit or implicit, are constantly reinstituted by turning on precedents and serving as precedents for future linguistic practitioners. Toward the end of my thesis, I move to a Derridian framework to address the question of the extent to which the subject is authoritative in these linguistic practices, if normative practical attitudes are unreflective for the most part. Crucial here is the distinction between ‘radical’ changes and ‘revolutionary’ changes. In the former case, such changes are seen as semantic drifts due to the contextuality of meaning. In the latter case, subjects seem to play an active role in bringing about change. My contention is that prior slippage in a particular linguistic configuration due to the contextual nature of meaning prompts subjects to actively introduce new concepts and actively influence the status quo. There seems to be two aspects to meaning: impersonal replicability and personal appropriation of concepts. Such distinction shows how certain norms can be replicated and massively produced unreflectively and impersonally, on the one hand, and how these same norms can be resisted through active reconceptualisation, on the other.
  • Publication
    Zombies and their possibilities
    (University College Dublin. Department of Philosophy, 2003)
    This thesis is a critical examination of the basis of some arguments in contemporary philosophy of mind against a materialist view of phenomenal consciousness, as proposed by David Chalmers (1996) in his book The Conscious Mind. I address Chalmers' "zombie" argument in particular, disputing the soundness of the argument itself and its basis, and examining some of the salient concepts involved. I argue that logical possibility claims only carry as much weight as the background framework against which the claim was made. I propose therefore that Chalmers only succeeds in showing the epistemic possibility of zombies (i.e. they only seem logically possible given our current ignorance in the area) and this, I contend, is not strong enough to refute materialist claims with respect to consciousness. In addition I try to show that he does not adequately answer objections to his argument from a posteriori considerations since I argue that logical entailment of a given phenomenon by its (physical) basis is generally something that only begins to emerge during the process of discovery of what that phenomenon is a posteriori . I explore Chalmers' notion of a zombie and propose that it suffers from a basic incoherence which arguably places a question mark over its logical possibility. I also query Chalmers' claim that the essence of phenomenal consciousness is not explainable in terms of function/structure and, consequently, in physical terms. I suggest that by analysing our mental life into phenomenal and psychological aspects whereby the latter is associated with mental functioning, Chalmers already prejudices the question of whether there could be a function of phenomenal consciousness. Arguably experience may be essential for our kind of functioning and may be at least partially so explainable.
  • Publication
    Metaphysical possibilities
    (University College Dublin. School of Philosophy, 2010)
    Saul Kripke's famous proposal for the necessity of a posteriori identities applies not only to proper names but also to natural kinds, according to Kripke, thus theoretical identifications like 'Water is H2O' are metaphysically necessary truths. He explains the illusion of contingency concerning this necessary identification by suggesting that, while water could not have turned out to be anything other than H2O, it is nevertheless possible that there could have been a phenomenon very like water that was not H2O. David Chalmers' two dimensional semantics provides a framework for the systematic treatment of this possibility concerning what he terms 'watery stuff', such that it is a metaphysical possibility that 'Watery stuff is not H2O' be true. Indeed many other philosophers also view this as metaphysically possible. In this thesis, against both Chalmers and Kripke, I argue that there could not be a phenomenon very like water that was not H2O. After initially analysing each philosopher's claim for the possibility of (non-H2O) watery stuff, I ascertain that it must bear a strong likeness to water and be able to interact with us in a similar manner. Thus, examining what kind of possible world would be required for the claim that there could be watery stuff, I conclude that metaphysically possible, but nomologically impossible, worlds cannot give us watery stuff since nothing in those worlds could be similar enough to water. As for the nomologically possible worlds, nothing other than H2O in those worlds does give us anything like water. Consequently I conclude that there are no metaphysically possible worlds with a phenomenon very like water that is not H2O. I further conclude that the characterisation of Chalmers' primary intension is based on the way the actual world is and, therefore, considering another world as 'actual', contrary to what he claims, has little effect on what extension should be picked out in that world. I briefly examine Kripke's other examples of necessary a posteriori identities and conclude that, in some cases, the possibility which is supposed to explain our illusion of contingency concerning such identities, is also not a genuine possibility. This detailed investigation of the water example, I argue, demonstrates the indispensability of considerations of the properties and laws of the actual world to metaphysical possibility judgements concerning actual phenomena (or similar).