Bio

I received a B.A. in Philosophy (with Honors) and Linguistics from Stanford University in 2011 and a PhD in Philosophy from Princeton University in January 2018.

My research interests are in the history of late modern philosophy, beginning with Kant and tracing his influence through early neo-Kantianism to certain late 19th century figures who are not typically thought of as successors to Kant: Nietzsche and the American Pragmatists, particularly William James. I am especially interested in late modern philosophers’ attitudes toward science, including both epistemological views (on its methods, its limitations, what sort of philosophical foundation it has or needs) and ethical views (on the proper place of science in the life of individuals and societies). Aside from these large-scale, programmatic interests, I also have more specific interests in the details of Kant's, Nietzsche's, and James's philosophical writings. I am especially interested in the similarities and historical connections among their respective epistemologies, as well as in the way aesthetics is closely tied to other parts of their philosophy (to epistemology in the case of Kant, and ethics in the case of Nietzsche and James).

My dissertation, "The Will to Truth and the Will to Believe: Friedrich Nietzsche and William James Against Scientism," brings into conversation two thinkers who are seldom considered together and highlights parallel strands in their philosophy—specifically, their critical responses to scientism, an attitude that was just as prevalent in late 19th-century intellectual culture as it is today. I analyze this attitude as consisting of two linked propositions. The first proposition, which Nietzsche refers to as "the unconditional will to truth," is that the aims of science, discovering truth and avoiding error, are the highest human aims; and the second proposition is that no practice other than science can achieve them. I uncover considerable overlap, which has previously gone unnoticed, in Nietzsche's and James's challenges to both propositions of scientism. Both philosophers criticize the unconditional will to truth on the grounds that it privileges a transcendent ideal over the demands of human life. The unconditional will to truth regards truth as valuable in itself and demands that we pursue it under all circumstances—even if that demand comes into conflict with other values. I lay out the ways in which Nietzsche and James view the value of truth and the imperative to pursue it as conditional on its promotion of human flourishing. In response to the second proposition of scientism, both philosophers argue that science can neither tell us what we should value, nor fully account for the value we in fact find in certain objects, activities, and experiences. And crucially, science cannot tell us whether or why its own goal of attaining truth is valuable. Nietzsche and James come to different conclusions about what is in fact valuable, and whether traditional religious belief is defensible in light of the discoveries of science. Nonetheless, the hitherto unappreciated similarities that my analysis reveals in their arguments against scientism show that principled opposition to scientism need not be associated with any particular moral or religious viewpoint. This analysis, I contend, is not only of historical interest: those who consider scientism to be ill-founded and intellectually confining can take some cues from our 19th-century predecessors' strategies for combating it.

 

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