Philosophy research student profiles

PhD students

Nicky Drake

Thesis Title: Prosociality Without Morality: A Humean Constructivist Approach to Prosocial Practical REason for Moral Skeptics.  Supervisor: Richard Joyce and Simon Keller

Moral skepticism (the lack of belief that there are true moral facts) is often assumed by philosopers and lay people to mean that there are not sufficient practical reasons for systematic prosociality (consistent and long-term behaviour involving voluntary actions intended to benefit others).  My thesis argues against that view and gives an account of prosocial practical reasons for moral skeptics.

Chiara Ferrario

Thesis Title: 'Evolutionary significance of imitation and social learning in hominid lineage'. Supervisors: Richard Joyce and Kim Sterelny

Katharine Hamilton

"I am currently completing an PhD in Philosophy after completing a BSc(Hons) in Psychology in 2011. What I like about studying Philosophy is the huge diversity of subject matter it includes, which means that it relates to so many different areas and can be tailored toward individual interests. I am particularly interested in areas where Philosophy and Psychology intersect, such as how cognition relates to the philosophical views we form. My PhD capitalises on this intersect as the focus is on experimentally testing the intuitions people have regarding their use of different language terms with the aim of informing on the philosophy of language.

"Studying Philosophy has introduced me to a number of new ideas and has helped me develop the skills to form, challenge and evaluate my own thoughts about them."

Anton Killin

Anton Killin
Thesis Title: 'Understanding Music: Ontology and Causation'. Supervisors: Stuart Brock and Kim Sterelny

The main research area of my PhD lies at the intersection of music, metaphysics, and cognition and evolution. In my thesis I investigate ontology of musical works and I develop and motivate a fictionalist framework for ordinary discourse about musical works and musical practices; I also look at evolutionary explanations for the emergence of musical practices and shared systems of representation of music. My research also dabbles in philosophy of language, mind and cognition, aesthetics, ethnomusicology, and philosophical methodology.

Before completing my BA (Hons) in Philosophy at VUW, I completed an MMus in Composition at the New Zealand School of Music; my supervisors were Associate Professor Jack Body and Michael Norris. My MMus thesis is entitled 'Projects in Cross-Cultural Composition' and it is accompanied by a portfolio of new compositions. I continue to be a practicing musician - I am a SOUNZ represented composer, a core member and co-director of SMP Ensemble, and a member of three Wellington-based gamelan ensembles. In 2010 and 2011 I co-convened the 29th and 30th Composers Association of New Zealand Nelson Composers Workshops. I also play in alternative and experimental bands.

Agata Orlowicz

Thesis Title: 'Wittgenstein on Scepticism'. Supervisors: Ed Mares and Cei Maslen

Steven Riley

Steven Riley
Thesis Title: 'The Moral Status of Treaties'. Supervisors: Simon Keller and Ramon Das.

My main areas of interest are Political Philosophy and Ethics. I am also interested in Critical Theory, especially the work of the Frankfurt School and their successors. My MA thesis was on ethno-cultural pluralism and fairness requirements in the liberal democratic state.

I have been in New Zealand for a few years having relocated from the UK with my partner, Laura, who is from New Zealand. As there are still lots of places I have yet to visit in New Zealand, I am fortunate to be able to combine my enjoyment of travel to new places with a drastically reduced income. Other than travel and political philosophy I enjoy watching cricket and participating in a range of other bourgeois pursuits.

Vanessa Scholes

Thesis Title: 'The Ethics of Statistical Discrimination in Commercial Activity'. Supervisor: Ramon Das

Is there anything wrong if an employer, reading statistics suggesting that smokers are less productive than non-smokers, discards all job applications from smokers? This practice of statistical discrimination will likely increase as research on the risks or benefits associated with particular features of groups increases. Vanessa is considering the ethics of commercial decisions discriminating against people on the basis of statistical information about a group to which they belong.

Master of Arts students

Mai-Tal Kennedy

Thesis Title: 'Copyright and the functions of Art'. Supervisor: Sondra Bacharach

Matthew Macdonald

Thesis Title: Epistemic Circularity.  Supervisor: Simon Keller

A peice of reasoning is epistemically circular if it involves justifying the reliability of a source of belief by using that source. Epistemically circular reasoning looks like obviously bad reasoning.  But the problem is that plausible explanations for the reliability of our most basic belief sources work out to be epistemically circular.  I'm looking at whether this problem is genuine and whether it gives us reason to rethink our aversion to epsitemically circular reasoning.

Johnny McDonald

Thesis Title:‘The Moral Limits of Enhancement’. Supervisor: Nicholas Agar

The promise of Human Enhancement is that we can live for longer, improve our intelligence, and lead more fulfilling lives by improving our capacities. Transhumanists argue that we ought to utilise technology to enhance ourselves and achieve these ends, some going as far as to say that we should aim to radically improve our capacities (for example, making ourselves vastly more intelligent). My thesis examines whether we should in fact radically enhance ourselves. I defend and expand upon Nicholas Agar’s thesis in Truly Human Enhancement that, contrary to the arguments of Transhumanists, Radical Enhancement is likely to be bad for us. Focusing specifically on Radical Cognitive Enhancement, I argue that radically enhancing ourselves would have a negative effect on our relationships with other human beings, and on our ability to form and fulfil life plans. These consequences have been overlooked in the enhancement literature and give us reason to reject radical enhancement.’

Morgan Wisheart

Thesis Title: Moral Bioenhancement, Intuitions, and Cooperation. Supervisor:Nick Agar

My thesis will discuss the potential of biomedical technology for causing people to act more morally, in order to prevent future catastrophic harm.  I propose a somewhat novel strategy, focusing on larger-scale cooperation as a goal for moral bioenhancement and suggesting manipulation of moral intuitions as a way to accomplish it.

Recently Submitted PhD Theses

Kasper Christensen

Kasper Christensen
Thesis Title: 'A Natural History of Necessity.' Supervisors: Ed Mares, Max Cresswell and Adriane Rini (Massey)

So far the main focus of my PhD has been on the concept of logical consequence, where I have been asking sneaky questions about the origin (if such there is) of the modal component that we normally understand to be a part of the logical consequence relation.

Before coming to New Zealand I was living in The Netherlands where I obtained my MSc in Logic at the Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation at the University of Amsterdam. Before that I was living in Denmark, which is, by the way, my home country, where I studied at the University of Aarhus to obtain my BA in Philosophy with a minor in Mathematics.

My areas of interest are mainly: Philosophy of Logic, Philosophical Logic, Metaphysics, and Philosophy of Language.

If ever I am not found in my office (it happens!), you can probably find me at home, relaxing with my flatmates, or somewhere exploring the awesomeness of the city of Wellington.

Matt Boyd

Matt Boyd
Thesis Title: 'As We Build our World We Build our Minds: The Casual Role of Technology in the Development and Evolution of Human Psychological Traits'. Supervisors: Kim Sterelny and Ben Jeffares.

Matt now works as a Lecturer at Auckland University's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

David Gilbert

David Gilbert
Thesis Title: 'A Two-Dimensional Approach to Modal Logics Containing an Actuality Operator'. Supervisors: Ed Mares and Rob Goldblatt (Mathematics)

My primary academic interests lie in the field of logic. I particularly enjoy thinking about, and working with, modal logics. For me, this involves considering philosophical issues (those arising in the area often referred to as the 'metaphysics of modality', for example) as well as mathematical ones. My PhD was concerned with quantification in modal logic.

When I am not in my office, I can most often be found at the beach or playing basketball.

Dan Weijers

Dan and Eli Weijers
Thesis Title: 'Hedonism and Happiness in Theory and Practice'. Supervisors: Nick Agar and Ramon Das.

PhD Topic: My PhD thesis examines various topics at the intersection of happiness and philosophy. Most chapters are interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from psychology, economics and other disciplines.

Since completing his PhD, Dan now has secured a position as Assistant Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Sacremento.

For more information, including publications, teaching experience, and wellbeing links, please see his personal website.

Emma Wood

Thesis Title: Prospects for Moral Success Theory. Supervisors: Richard Joyce and Simon Keller

Recently submitted MA theses

Robin Aldridge Sutton

Thesis Title: 'Experimental Philosophy on the Compatibility of Free Will and Determinism'. Supervisor: Ken Perszyk

Robin is now an English teacher in a language academy in Daegu, South Korea.

Liina Bårdsen

Thesis Title: 'A Theory of Human Flourishing for Company Decision-making'. Supervisor: Simon Keller

“An MA by thesis is a wonderful opportunity to bring together study, work and life experiences in one reflective piece of work.”

After completing a BA(Hons) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, Liina worked in management consultancy, business strategy and international education. These jobs caused her to wonder about the subdued role of ethical considerations in economic decision-making. When an opportunity emerged to examine this topic academically at Victoria, Liina decided it was time to step out of the world of work for a period and bring together the first eight years of her career.

In her MA in Philosophy Liina has developed a suggestion, rooted in virtue ethics, for what human well-being could consist of. She further argues why and how well-being could become a worthy goal for business organisations. Case studies with innovative Wellington-based companies have been an exciting addition to her theoretical work.

A native of Finland, Liina sees New Zealand, Wellington and Victoria as an ideal study environment. The great outdoors, a vibrant city and a lively, open-minded yet rigorous university community stimulate new thoughts.

Joseph Bradley

Thesis Title: 'Aquinas and the Trinity'. Supervisor: Ken Perszyk

Daniel Burkett

Thesis Title: 'Time-travellers shouldn't believe in presentism'. Supervisor: Simon Keller

Terence Davidson

Thesis Title: 'Should Oscar Pistorius be allowed to compete at the Olympic Games?'. Supervisor: Nick Agar

South African 400m runner Oscar Pistorius is the first double-below-the-knee amputee to compete in an athletics event at the Olympics. Pistorius runs on a pair of J-shaped carbon fibre blades, and holds multiple Paraolympic world records. My thesis examines issues of unfair advantage, positive discrimination, and how we define sports. My argument is that his eligibility to compete hinges on whether or not what he does can be considered running, and whether he upsets the balance of excellencies on display in 400m running.

Jenny Gosnell

Thesis Title: What is the I that I am? An enquiry into the Self. Supervisors: Richard Joyce

Martin Gray

Thesis Title: 'Cave Art and the Evolution of the Human Mind'. Supervisors: Kim Sterelny and Nick Agar

Michael Hemmingsen

Thesis Title: 'Post-Modern Cosmopolitanism and Discourse Ethics'. Supervisors: Jay Shaw and Kate Schick

Ewan Kingston

Thesis Title: 'The Just Allocation of Climate Change Burdens'. Supervisor: Ramon Das

Gareth Leniston-Lee

Thesis Title: 'On the Compatibility of Determinism and Future Contingency'. Supervisor: Max Cresswell

Udayan Mukherjee

Thesis Title: 'The Social Foundations of Normative Judgement'. Supervisor: Richard Joyce

Justin Ngai

Thesis Title: 'Abstract Objects in the Casual Order'. Supervisor: Stuart Brock

Kim Shaw-Williams

Thesis Title: 'The relevance of track-way reading (TWR) to the evolution of human cognition culture and language'. Supervisors: Kim Sterelny and Ben Jeffares

Kim is now a PhD Candidate at ANU.

Brendan Vize

Thesis Title: 'Do androids dream of electric shocks? The possibility of rights for machines'. Supervisor: Nick Agar

Brendan is now a PhD Candidate at Monash University.

Piripi Whaanga

Thesis Title: 'Maori values give Aotearoan flavour to bicultural harmony'. Supervisor Jay Shaw