Graduate Students Warren Herold and Alex Silk have been awarded Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships for 2012-13. Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships are extremely competitive and prestigious. The Fellowship supports outstanding doctoral students who have achieved candidacy and are actively working on dissertation research and writing. It provides awardees with a stipend for three terms of support, candidacy tuition, registration fees and health and dental coverage. Warren and Alex will be honored at reception held at Rackham in April. Please join us in congratulating this great achievement.


Warren Herold: AOS: Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, History of Ethics

Dissertation Title: Empathy, Agency, and the Imagination: Themes from Adam Smith

Dissertation Abstract:

I develop and explore a novel account of imaginative perspective-taking and moral evaluation. My methodology combines historical exegesis with contemporary research. After examining and critically evaluating Adam Smith’s great work of moral philosophy, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I revise and expand Smith’s account in light of recent work in ethical theory, social and developmental psychology, the philosophy of mind, and aesthetics. My research yields two primary results. First, by correcting past interpretive errors and examining unexplored aspects of Smith’s account, my research yields a more accurate and complete understanding of Smith’s moral psychology. Second, by revising and expanding Smith’s account in light of recent research, my work moves beyond historical exegesis to produce something new: not just a new interpretation of Smith’s theory, but a new Smithian theory of imaginative perspective taking and moral evaluation – one with the potential to shed new light on a host of contemporary problems.


Alex Silk: AOS: Metaethics, Language, Ethics, Moral Psychology

Dissertation Title: The Meanings of Normative Terms and Why It Matters for Ethical Theory

Dissertation Abstract:

My dissertation defends a linguistically informed metaethical theory of the meanings of various types of normative expressions, and then uses this theory to illuminate several otherwise puzzling phenomena in ethical theory. Chapter 1 motivates and develops what I call a “condition semantics” for ethical terms: Unlike ordinary factual sentences, ethical sentences function not to carry information about the world, but to distinguish among, or place conditions on, ethical standards. Chapter 2 argues that deontic betterness between possibilities cannot be assessed independently of which possibilities are considered live; this hypothesis helps generate an improved semantics for claims about what we should do given our evidence. Chapter 3 defends a response to the “detaching problem”: Unembedded ‘ought’-claims can be derived (“detach”) from hypothetical imperatives and their antecedent conditions. These “detached” ‘ought’-claims play a crucial role in practical reasoning. Chapter 4 develops a novel, improved semantics for claims about what is “good relative to” an agent. By adopting this semantics, “agent-relative” forms of consequentialism can counter charges of being unable to coherently capture certain deontological intuitions.