Placement Candidates

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Benjamin Elzinga

Areas of Specialization: Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, Free Will

Areas of Competence: Competence: Philosophy of Language, Kantian Philosophy,
German Idealism, Social and Feminist Epistemology

Dissertation: Get Good: Self-regulation, Education and Epistemic Agency

I specialize in epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and the problems of free will. A renewable source of passion and interest for me is the nature of intelligent performance. Within the last 20 years, philosophers and cognitive scientists have challenged the received wisdom about know how and skillful action. Within the strand of the debate focusing on know how, the core concern is that the concept cannot be captured in terms of mere ability as Gilbert Ryle once proposed. Know how is an intelligence concept, but the expression of a mere ability isn’t an expression of intelligence.

My contribution focuses on an idea that cuts deeply into core issues in epistemology and the philosophy of mind. The key concept is self-regulation. To self-regulate, simply put, is to modify one’s performance in response to feedback. In contemporary cognitive science, this simple yet powerful idea is central to neuro-computational theories distinguishing between habitual and goal-directed behavior, more recent hybrid approaches to cognition, and related machine learning approaches to artificial intelligence. In philosophy, the concept of self- regulation is expressed through a diverse range of ideas both historical and contemporary, including Aristotle on the development of virtue, John Dewey on active habits developed through education, and Daniel Dennett on why the “law of effect will not go away”. I argue that the intelligent character of know how is best captured in terms of self-regulation (published as “Self- Regulation and Knowledge How” in Episteme and “Intellectualizing Know How” in Synthese).

Since the core idea behind the concept is error-responsiveness, my view accommodates more basic animal know how, like the navigational capacities of rats and bees, while providing a basis for understanding the social and self-conscious forms of human know how without appeal to propositional knowledge. In a more recent paper, I argue for an even stronger claim about the relationship between know how and propositional knowledge (see “Knowing How to Know That” in Erkenntnis). Not only is it possible to know how to do something without knowing facts about how to do it, but as it turns out propositional knowledge requires know how as a constitutive condition. This means that Ryle’s critics get the dependence relationship between the two kinds of knowledge precisely backwards.

My current research projects build upon this foundation, offering an account of epistemic agency in terms of self-regulation. Over the next couple of years, I plan to write a book developing this thesis and demonstrating its usefulness for addressing core topics in epistemology and the philosophy of mind. In the short term, I am also preparing manuscripts for publication on the nature of epistemic dependence in education, an experimental paper on existentialist epistemology, and finally a defense of my conception of know how in light of criticisms it has
received in print.


I have taught courses including (but not limited to) introduction to philosophy, logic, epistemology, philosophy of language, free will, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind. I am prepared to teach topics in philosophy of education, Kantian philosophy, and post-Kantian philosophy

Sara Kolmes

Areas of Specialization: Bioethics, Epistemology

Areas of Competence: Aesthetics, Environmental Ethics, Political Philosophy

Dissertation: Epistemological Hermeneutics in the Clinic

My dissertation analyzes methods for knowledge-transfer between epistemological strategies, with conversations between patients and medical professionals as a guiding example. I have called this strategy epistemological hermeneutics: the practice of making ones epistemological strategy understood. by people who do not share it. This is the process of learning from people who know differently than you.

Sometimes, people using different epistemological strategies have to work together on a shared project. In these cases, the differences between their evidence-evaluation strategies and what they think counts as evidence may make it difficult for one party to understand  knowledge the other party tries to share. Especially in the context of shared projects, it is sometimes inappropriate or impractical to normatively intervene on the epistemological strategies other people are using. In this kind of situation, knowledge must be ‘translated’ so it can be shared. It must be made intelligible within new epistemological contexts. 

In a clinical encounter, physicians and patients share a goal of maintaining a patient’s health. However, patients may know their symptoms in different ways than medical professionals have been trained to learn. Patients who do not share a medical professional’s religion, culture, or worldview may use very different epistemological strategies for evaluating medically relevant facts. In clinical conversations, it is often inappropriate to convince a patient to change their cultural, religious, or personal knowing-strategies. This means epistemological hermeneutics is necessary. Using examples of clinical encounters in which this becomes the root of bioethical dilemmas, I develop a method for identifying when communicating past epistemological barriers is possible, and a heuristic which facilitates this communication.This will also highlight when knowledge-sharing is impossible:  some epistemological strategies, such as those used by vaccine-denialists, do not admit of sharing knowledge with medical professionals. 

I am also interested in the aesthetics of popular culture. Specifically, I am interested in the value in ‘pulp’ popular culture, like romance novels and comic books.  In my forthcoming paper  “Harlequin Resistance: ‘Romance Novels as a Model for Resisting Objectification” in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, I argue that the highly-artificial plot structure of romance novels in part serves to ensure that the romantic heroine cannot be objectified during sex.  There are significant implications of truly non-objectifying sex as a genre trope in romance novels. If a generic kind of ‘non-objectifying’ sex can be described, this is relevant to discussions of pornography as silencing, and may begin to answer questions about truly non-objectifying pornography. Ultimately, I believe that in democratic art forms like self-published romance novels, self-published comics, and fanfiction, truly non-objectifying erotica already exists. 

I have designed and taught courses in Bioethics and topics in Ethics. I am also prepared to teach Aesthetics, Introduction to Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Epistemology, the Philosophy of Science, and Environmental Ethics. 

Madeline Ward

Areas of Specialization: Feminist Philosophy, Oppression

Areas of Competence: Metaphysics, Bioethics, Philosophy of Mind, Disability

Dissertation: “With All Due Deference: Marginalized Knowers and What They’re Owed”

My dissertation, supervised by Quill R. Kukla, develops a unique feminist epistemology that combines rich, rigorous feminist analysis with empirical neuroscience. I argue that marginalized people have an ‘orientation’ to the world, which explains how one’s social identities affect knowledge production; roughly, socially-salient properties of the world affect perception and cognition and thereby change the brain’s structures. My view explains some puzzles in feminist epistemology, unifies conceptions of ‘understanding’, and explains the feminist claim that marginalized people have epistemic advantages; namely, marginalized people have epistemic advantages perceiving some properties or using inference rules unavailable to privileged people.

A marginalized knower’s epistemic advantages make them an expert about marginalization. The second half of my dissertation argues that this expertise demands deference from the privileged in the form of epistemic humility and a principle of charity. Additionally, I offer practical Grice-style conversational principles to guide privileged people in conversations with marginalized people.

My research also explores the intersection of embodiment and bioethics. In my paper “On Fat Oppression”, published in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, I develop the first analytic philosophical argument that fat people are oppressed. Additionally, I write public philosophy about things like clinical bioethics and fatphobia.

I have designed and taught ten courses as the instructor of record, including Bioethics, Bioethics and Disability, Gender and Feminism, and Metaphysics and Epistemology.