Jan. 12, 2024

Pragmatism and the Problem of Mind in Nature

Brandon Beasley's PhD thesis argues that the philosophical tradition of pragmatism has insights that can help resolve the philosophical problem of mind in nature

Congratulations to Brandon Beasley for successfully defending his PhD thesis, “Pragmatism and the Problem of Mind in Nature” on January 10, 2024. His committee members were Mark Migotti (supervisor), Marc Ereshefsky, David Liebesman, Elizabeth Ritter (Linguistics), and Robert B. Talisse (Vanderbilt University).

We asked Brandon to provide us with some insight into his thesis and his graduate studies experience in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary.

Tell us about your thesis topic:

In my dissertation I argue that the philosophical tradition of pragmatism has insights that can help resolve the philosophical problem of mind in nature. That problem, as I take it up in my project, is the problem created by the facts that we human beings are both animals, products of nature in nature, and beings whose minds are essentially structured by conceptual meanings, unlike any other creature in nature, and which is also potentially in conflict with the ‘disenchanted’ conception of nature we owe to the natural sciences, which seems to have no room for such things as meanings, reasons, and norms. Pragmatism tries to understand how conceptual meanings can be a part of nature by showing how conceptual mindedness is a kind of, and development of, the more basic mindedness seen in goal-directed, purposive activity. Namely, pragmatism argues that meanings grow out of, and are embodied in, that natural purposiveness of organisms and, in particular, the difference that language and linguistic practices make to that natural purposiveness in the human context. I canvass the history of the pragmatist tradition of wrestling with this question in order to understand the nature and scope of the problem, the useful tools which pragmatism has given to us to construct a solution, and to propose a new way to put these tools to use that has a better chance of resolving the problem than existing approaches.

What was the most valuable outcome of the Graduate program for you?

Firstly, the collegiality and supportiveness of the UCalgary philosophy department is second to none. I have made many good friends among the other graduate students that have come through the department, and developed good relationships with many of the professors, who both challenged me and supported me so that I could become a better philosopher. Secondly, the travel funding offered by the program was absolutely essential to my success, in that it enabled me to travel to conferences where I could interact with scholars working on similar topics, and develop a professional network of people who are interested in my work, and whose work is also of interest to me. If you want to pursue a career in academia, this is an essential part of helping you succeed.

What are the next steps/plans for you?

This semester I am teaching at both UCalgary and Mount Royal University, and I expect to continue teaching as I work to publish more of my research -- including, hopefully, a book based on my dissertation – and pursue a tenure-track job in philosophy.