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Sabrina Aggleton

Research Interestes: 20th Century Continental Philosophy, Feminism, Ethics and Sexual Violence

Teaching Interests: Feminist Philosophy, Phenomenology, Ethics, History of Philosophy

My research falls within the areas of phenomenology, embodiment, gender studies, and sexual violence. Primarily I use the resources of contemporary Euro-American feminist philosophy and 20th Century French philosophy. I am currently investigating the commonplace overrepresentation of women’s vulnerability to sexual violence through a critique of our current understanding of vulnerability. More specifically, I argue that this understanding remains entrenched in a neoliberal conception of risk management that perpetuates ontologically erroneous and ethically objectionable beliefs about vulnerability to sexual violence. In the neoliberal regime of thought, women’s burdens for prevention produce subjects who are shaped by the daily obligation to take preventative measures. While I critically examine the mechanisms that homogenize and exaggerate women’s vulnerability, I consider whether risk reduction and other ‘practical’ prevention efforts successfully dissolve or rather reinscribe prevailing misconceptions of vulnerability.

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Website: https://sabrinaaggleton.academia.edu ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Alex Feldman

Dissertation: "Foucault and the Problems of History: A Critique of the Concept of Historicization"

Alex Feldman completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at Penn State in the spring of 2017 and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University. His specializations include 19th and 20th century continental philosophy and social and political philosophy; competencies include philosophy of race. Elaborating on the themes developed in his dissertation, Foucault and the Problems of History: A Critique of the Concept of Historicization, his current research focuses on the structure and norms of historical modes of self-understanding, especially as they relate to systems and practices of domination. He is also using this work as a springboard for a project on the theme of “Race and History” in Francophone philosophy. In the past, he has taught social and political philosophy, existentialism, bioethics, and introductory philosophy with an historical approach, and he is currently teaching a seminar on the problem of evil as transformed by the experiences of genocide, decolonization, and apartheid.

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Sam Gault

Research Interests: Early Modern Philosophy (esp. Rationalism); 20th Century Continental Philosophy (esp. Phenomenology)

Teaching Interests: Ethics; Sociopolitical Theory; Early Modern Philosophy; 19th and 20th Century Continental Philosophy

Dissertation: “Dialectic of Institution: Merleau-Ponty’s Overcoming of the Modern Rupture Between Freedom and Necessity”

My dissertation proposes an original reading of Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of la chair (“flesh”), oriented toward his reconceiving of “freedom” and “necessity” as two dimensions of a single process of being, and driven by a close reading of his transformative deployment of the onto-phenomenological concept of Stiftung (“institution” or “instituting”). I approach Merleau-Ponty’s thought obliquely, taking as my starting point Descartes’s thought in particular, and, in general, the modern tendency to conceive notions of “free choice,” on the one hand, and causal or logical “necessity,” on the other, in an antinomous relation (i.e., a relation wherein two contradictory terms lay equal claims to affirmation); traditionally, “free choice” serves as the ground for “subjective” or “lived” meaning, whereas “necessity” serves as the ground for “objective” truth. Because this modern iteration of the freedom-necessity antinomy is co-originary, in Descartes’s writings, with the antinomies of “mind-body” and “self-others,” I therefore turn to Merleau-Ponty’s account of the co-genesis of the latter terms in the world of living perception. I argue that Merleau-Ponty’s taking up of the concept of “institution” amounts to an ontologization of genetic Husserlian phenomenology distinct from, although in dialogue with, Heidegger’s effort to recover the question of the being of beings. By tracing this concept’s development over the course of his writings, I simultaneously follow the passage of his thought beyond the freedom-necessity dichotomy in and through his articulation of the “flesh” of beings: the ontological processes of intertwining-individuation whereby sensible and sentient beings accomplish, in a single movement, their own co-advent, and the advent of sense. Finally, drawing on this conception of flesh as interwoven processes of institution, I argue that Merleau-Ponty’s outline of a new ontology is also the outline of a general style of ethical comportment: an articulation of the intertwining of the descriptive and the normative.

Dissertation Advisor: Leonard Lawlor
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Kristopher Klotz

Research Interests: Social and political philosophy, critical theory, and 19th and 20th century continental philosophy

Teaching Interests: I’m currently teaching Introduction to Social and Political Philosophy. In the past, I’ve taught Critical Thinking, Ethical Leadership, Introduction to Ethics, Introduction to Philosophy of Law and Legal Ethics, Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Love and Sex, and Symbolic Logic.

Dissertation: “Reasonable Agonism”

My dissertation develops a conception of reasonableness that can adequately respond to agonistic critiques of liberal proponents of public reason. Such proponents understand reasonableness as a capacity of citizens, which allows them to determine or affirm political principles of cooperation and thereby overcome the conflicts inherent to their divergent forms of life (including, for example, their moral, philosophical, and religious beliefs). According to the agonistic position, the liberal view fails to recognize properly the antagonistic nature of politics and the exclusionary nature of the orientation toward consensus required by the liberal conception of reasonableness. Nonetheless, this dissertation affirms the importance of reasonableness to democratic theory and identifies an implicit commitment to a form of reasonableness within agonistic democratic theory. The primary goal will be to construct an agonistic conception of reasonableness, or “reasonable agonism,” in light of the agonistic tradition’s critiques of liberal political philosophy.

Dissertation Advisors: Amy Allen and John Christman
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William M. Paris

Teaching Interests: Existentialism and European Philosophy, African-American and Africana Philosophy, Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, and Black Feminism

Dissertation: “The Value of Invention: On the Ungendering of Black Life in Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter, and Hortense Spillers”

Dissertation Description: My aim in “The Value of Invention” will be to develop a more complex understanding of “Black Life” and the problem of value through the historical events of European colonialism and Transatlantic slavery. No longer can we be content with conceptualizing the lives of Black women and men, in the past and present, as mere shadows, photo negativities, or analogies to our inherited Euro-U.S. understandings of identity. Black thought—as articulated by Fanon, Wynter, and Spillers—reveals enslavement and colonialism constructed, at best, an uneasy relationship between Black life and the privileges of gender as a fact of humanity and, at worst, made that relationship impossible. It was in this way that violence against the Black body could be interpreted as the imposition of false, inhuman values. This recurrent historical violence forced many Black people to search for the possibility of inventing new values that would alter their socio-political realities. Apprehending the proximity of crisis and invention in the thought of Fanon, Wynter, and Spillers would demand nothing less than new evaluative paradigms for “Black Life” within the discourses of race, gender, sexuality, and class. These three thinkers of value and invention allow us to construct a different model of reason and confront anew the challenge of a politics of freedom.

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Daniel Smith

Research Interests: Continental Philosophy; Kant and German Idealism

Teaching Interests: Early Modern Philosophy; Social and Political Philosophy; Ethics; Medical Ethics

Dissertation: "The Concept of Evil in Kant, Fichte, and Schelling"

This dissertation traces the development of the concept of evil in German idealism, beginning in Kant, and running through Fichte and Schelling. I argue that these figures mobilised the concept of evil as a response to what I call the “crisis of autonomy,” namely a problem that some early critics noticed with Kant’s account of freedom as autonomy. If one equates morality and freedom as Kant does, such that free action just is moral action, then immoral action must be understood to be action that is unfree. If such an action was not truly free, but resulted rather from some natural cause external to the autonomous agent (“inclinations,” in Kant’s terminology), then it cannot be imputed to the agent. This means, then, that Kant has no way of assigning blame to those who do not follow the moral law. After examining the origins of this criticism in the first part, I then move to an examination of Kant’s attempt to address it through his concept of “radical evil.” Kant’s essay, I argue, is an attempt to construct a “positive” theory of evil that would understand it as the result of a free choice of the agent. This theory thereby breaks with the dominant tradition of understanding evil in “negative” terms, as something non-existent in itself, or as resulting from limitation, negation, or finitude. After examining the promise but also the difficulties Kant’s account, I turn to the conception of evil in Fichte’s System of Ethics. Fichte aims to extend Kant’s account, addressing some of its outstanding issues, including its notorious “missing proof” of the purported universality of “radical evil.” In the place of Kant’s strict either-or “rigorism,” Fichte proposes a stage-based account of moral development, according to which evil is the “inertial force” that holds one back from progressing to the next stage. In the final part, I show how the problems that still remain in Fichte’s account lead Schelling to adopt a new conception of freedom as freedom for good and evil in his Freiheitsschrift. This conception, I argue, is the only one that adequately addresses the issue I raised in the opening sections, but also that it has far-reaching consequences for the systematic project of German idealism in general. Specifically, Schelling shows that the only way to take the reality of evil seriously is to abandon the Kantian project of grounding ethics in autonomy. I argue that the Freiheitsschrift should therefore be understood not only as providing neglected resources for a contemporary theory of evil, but also as a crucial historical turning point which marks the end of the idealist project and the opening onto the post-idealist philosophy of the nineteenth century.

Dissertation Advisor: Robert Bernasconi
Email: djs565@psu.edu

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