Isabel Kaeslin

Title | Organization: 
Graduate Student | Ph.D. program in Philosophy
Student Year: 
5th Year PhD Student (Dissertation Phase)

I earned a BA in Philosophy and Sociology and an MA in Philosophy and Educational Sciences (summa cum laude) at the University of Basel, Switzerland, while spending one semester each at the University of Chicago and the University of Missouri St. Louis as a visiting student.

Areas of Specialization: 

My area of specialization is Philosophy of Mind, with important connections to Philosophy of Psychology, Theories of Rationality, Normative Epistemology, and Ethics.


Dissertation Abstract:

Is a stable life really the best life? When reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, one encounters the idea that for someone to be a virtuous agent, one needs to have a stable character. But, on the other hand, eudaimonia (as the central part of any good life) is an activity, he says, which seems to require a certain non-static disposition from which to act. From this, the question arises, both in Aristotle and more generally, how it is possible that we as human beings on the one hand should have a stable character, but on the other hand should also be able to always newly engage with the world and the situations we encounter in a non-static way.

By pursuing this question, I develop two main theses in my dissertation:

1) It is wrong to think that the more stable our character is, the more virtuous we are. On the contrary, we need a particular kind of flexibility in our psyche that allows us to deal with the changes in the world (and in us) appropriately. This includes a particular form of flexibility both in our belief-sets, and in our affective habits. If we don’t have this particular kind of flexibility, there are specific forms of problems that arise: e.g. dogmatism in the case of a lack of flexibility in one’s belief-set; different forms of weakness of will (akrasia) in the case of affective habits.

2) The (non-rational) affections play a distinctive, independent, and non-reducible role in obtaining and maintaining the right kind of flexibility of character. I want to understand the affections as a distinctively non-rational capacity of figuring out what to do and what to belief, which play an independent role in our moral intuitions just as much as in our perception of the world. Well-formed affections will hence preclude static moral perspectives just as much as they will preclude a static belief-set about the world. As a contrast to other similar suggestions, I don’t want to understand the ‘well formed’ affections to have been inculcated with rational structures, or to be unified with the rational capacities, as has been claimed by certain (Aristotle-inspired) philosophers before, such as McDowell or Nussbaum. Hence, I want to give the non-rational affections a more radically independent and non-reducible role in both ethics and epistemology.

Inspired by Aristotle, I am pursuing these two theses by looking at contemporary literature in metaethics, moral psychology, and the philosophy of psychiatry.

It is important to me to start from a perspective of ‘real life phenomena’, that is to say, from phenomena how they appear or might appear in folk psychology, folk metaphysics, or folk ethics. By including literature from the philosophy of psychiatry, I am also concerned with questions of methodology more generally, that is, questions about what, if anything, we can learn from empirical studies about psychological phenomena, and questions about how we can talk about a normative ‘good and bad’ in a situation where we have to deal with matters of degree, such as ‘more or less flexibility’ and ‘more or less stability’ of character.