Shimer College

April 29, 2014

Samples of Senior Theses

Read abstracts from a selection of theses from this year’s graduating class

Speak What We Feel, Not What We Ought To Say:
The Ontological Implications of Shakespearean Tragedy
Jonathan Gill

Close attention to the key words and ideas employed in King Lear reveals a curious phenomenon. “Fool”, “nothing”, kingship, sight, fathering, and “legitimate” all follow a basic movement in which their meanings change. First they have their usual, commonplace understanding. But the evil forces of King Lear imbue to this usual understanding a highly ironic usage, giving the words or ideas a meaning opposite of what they initially referenced. Later in the play, after having been stripped of their everyday use, the words get affirmed with a positive meaning, now with a metaphysical basis for their validity. This same movement—what approximately may be called the paradox or dialectic of tragedy—is illustrative of the progression of the protagonists’ journeys, which must be understood in reference to the primary value of the world, love. This progression is one which comes about only through the suffering of tragedy, whose catharsis is one of enlightenment into the validity of things (V.iii.16). The movement can be structured as: (1) unexamined and superfluous necessities, (2) madness, and (3) tragic insight, which is also moral vision.

This tragic movement is also seen in the play’s primary theme: King Lear’s tragedy is a tragedy of love. He begins with only a superficial understanding of love: of wanting to be loved. With this understanding, he accepts Goneril’s and Regan’s flattery and rejects Cordelia’s genuine love, believing it to be “nothing”. By the time of the tempest scenes (Act III), the suffering he has endured has revealed the fallacy of his values. The primary suffering he experiences is the knowledge of his folly—his culpability. Having been stripped of his high opinion of himself, Lear is able to relinquish his need for self-love and begins to care for others (III.ii.67-71, and especially III.iv.23-36). Eventually he is forgiven by Cordelia, and he sees his true necessity is love, seen with a vibrancy and saturation hitherto unknown to him. Genuine love in the play’s world is represented by the “legitimate” children.

Gloucester, Lear’s tragic counterpart, also undergoes a tragedy of love. His suffering is caused by his initial adultery—depicted as a privation of love within the Lear world—and the evil it has begot. Suffering for one’s one folly does not end in pain—though this is a necessary step—but love encountered through enlightenment. Gloucester’s catharsis is completed, like Lear’s, when he is restored to his legitimate child, the child of love.
This process of cathartic redemption through the movement of tragedy enables moral growth. “Sight” ultimately is associated with moral insight. Tragedy is the necessary condition for this growth. Until one is forced to examine one’s actions and valuations, one lives with a straightforward reasoning, one which deals with values as quantities and conceives of justice as retributive. I argue that the suffering brought by tragedy forces one to reconceive how one understands value. One must think in terms of foolery—that is, one must think in paradox. The paradox of tragedy makes possible the understanding of value— love being the foundational value of the Lear world—in qualitative terms. Unless a qualitative reasoning is begotten, the tragic protagonist will only see negativity in his tragedy and be blind to the positive potencies tragedy enables. One must come to affirm the foolery which says that something can come from nothing.

Fathering, embodied in the two tragic protagonists, becomes a crucial metaphor for the play, compactly expressing and interpreting the play’s major significances. “Fathering” ties together the ideas of love and moral responsibility. One begets one’s suffering from one’s misaligned love, and one begets one’s redemption by true love. When this force of fathering is understood, only then can Edgar’s beautiful but troubling commentary be understood in its significance: “The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices / Make instruments to plague us. / The dark and vicious place where thee he got / Cost him his eyes” (V.iii.173-6). The suffering one begets causes one to lose the eyes which kept one blind to one’s true values. The gods’ justice is not retributive but one in which free will is bound to consequence. The consequences can bring one to the vision which can understand true value. Tragedy can bring one to understand love.


How Christof Koch’s Panpsychism and the Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness Are Not the Same Thing
Dorian Gomberg

John Searle (Searle 2013) criticizes panpsychism as presented by Christof Koch (Koch 2012) for not being able to determine the “units of consciousness” (the boundaries of conscious systems) and for claiming that consciousness is “everywhere.” He then extends this criticism to the integrated information theory of consciousness (IIT) (Tononi 2008) that Koch claims to represent. This paper shows how Searle’s criticisms of Koch’s panpsychism (which Koch derives from the IIT) do not apply to Tononi’s original theory. It points out inconsistencies of Koch’s panpsychism within his own book as well as contradictions between Koch’s panpsychism and basic tenets of the IIT. I aim to show that Searle is mistaken in treating Koch’s and Tononi’s views as one and the same by demonstrating the explicit differences between them. Additionally, I point out a subtle, but important difference between Koch’s and Tononi’s discussion of the “consciousness” of a single photodiode, a controversial topic (Searle 2013, Koch 2012, Tononi 2008, Koch and Tononi 2013). I argue that although both Koch and Tononi claim that a single photodiode is in some way “conscious,” they assert this claim with different ends in mind. I show how Koch brings it up to support his formulation of panpsychism, whereas Tononi brings it up to emphasize the gradation of consciousness, that idea that consciousness comes in degrees and is not an all-or-nothing property. In arguing that, according to the IIT, even a binary photodiode enjoys “exactly 1 bit of consciousness” Tononi problematizes our commonsense notion of “consciousness.” We know in a very real sense that a photodiode can’t be conscious in the way that we are. But what does “consciousness” even mean? And how do we measure it? The IIT begs these questions. Tononi wants to provide us with a more precise way to define and measure consciousness and he proposes the integrated information theory as a way to do so. Although the possibility of a certain kind of panpsychism stemming from Tononi’s IIT remains open, Koch’s presentation of panpsychism should not be treated as representative of the integrated information theory of consciousness. Tononi says that all conscious systems are integrated, while Koch suggests that all integrated systems are conscious.


To Each Superego Its Abject:
Polyphony and Psychodynamic Counterpoint in the Novel

Bryan Maddox

“The unconscious is structured like a language,” Freudian psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan famously said. It would be more accurate to say that the whole psyche is plagued by strife between two languages. While the conscious mind renders experience into a succession of signs intelligible within a symbolic network, the unconscious mind imputes different significances and values on those signs, a sexually fraught undercurrent that runs beneath everything. These ‘languages’ of the mind go beyond English and French: they are best understood as ‘ideologies,’ to borrow a concept from Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, ideologies that determine what ideas and values are intelligible and articulable. In Bakhtin’s analysis of everyday speech, dialects laden with implicit ideologies are endlessly interwoven to produce linguistically complex utterances. The so-called ‘language’ shared by speakers is no more unified or stable than the human psyche; both are inherently heteroglossic. Lacanian psychoanalyst and semiotician Julia Kristeva makes the case that since psychoanalysis has incorporated the ideas of structuralist linguists like Ferdinand de Saussure, it cannot ignore the implications of Bakhtin’s analysis of literary heteroglossia, which threatens to undermine structuralism. She synthesizes the ideas of Lacan and Bakhtin and extracts from this intercourse a post-structural theory that focuses on the perpetual turmoil of the structures of consciousness, sexuality, language, and society, structures predicated on the abjection and repression of dissonant elements by taboos and ideologies. In this paper I painstakingly review the foundations of Kristeva’s post-structural philosophy in Lacan’s castration theory of gender formation and Bakhtin’s sociological stylistics. Covering a lot of ground in two very different fields (sexual psychology and literary criticism), I show that the novel, an artistic medium uniquely suited to portraying heteroglossia, can be used to reveal and explore the precarious nature of the symbol systems that structure our sexuality and morality.

Force, Content, and Epistemic Contrastivism
Leo Carton Mollica

This paper is a criticism of Peter Hanks’ 2007 attack on the force-content distinction. Briefly, I contend that the central argument of the paper depends for its plausibility on the assumption that knowledge is a binary relation, an assumption, given the recent defence of ternary, contrastive accounts of the knowledge relation, to which he has no right. The paper is structured as follows. First, I introduce and briefly motivate the view that there is a distinction between the force and propositional content of speech acts. Second, I review Hanks’ chief argument against this position. Third, I explain and rehearse the motivation for a contrastivist account of knowledge, explaining how it appears to undermine Hanks’ argument. Finally, I respond to anticipated objections to my rebuttal on Hanks’ part, arguing that epistemic contrastivism, combined with some background assumptions, would undermine Hanks’ attempts to rescue his theory.

The Last 40 Years of the Global Female Genital Mutilation Debate:
Moving Beyond the Feminist/Cultural Relativist Dichotomy Toward Inclusive
and Participatory Methods of Reform
Netiya Shiner

The aim of this thesis is to provide an overview of the last forty years of debate regarding female genital mutilation as well as to examine the various attempts at reforming the practice that have occurred in this period of time. The thesis is divided into four sections in order to assist the reader in understanding the historical background of FGM in addition to the decades of debate surrounding the practice. The first section is a comprehensive overview of FGM, describing its historical origins, who is affected by it, how the practice is carried out, the reasons given for participating in the practice, and the potential consequences of participating in the practice. The second section details the beginning of the global FGM debate, focusing on two ideologies through which FGM has been commonly viewed: feminism and cultural relativism. The third section breaks down this dichotomy, illustrating the ways in which it is a false dichotomy, and consequently unhelpful in understanding the many nuances and complexities of FGM. The fourth section elaborates on international anti-FGM activism, describing a few different approaches to eradicating the practice of FGM. The overall thrust of this thesis is towards participatory and inclusive methods of enacting FGM reform, with an emphasis on including the individuals directly affected by the practice in the process of enacting change.

Brenton Stewart

A comic book script awaiting illustration