Tracking and Controlling Persons: Identification for Control in Cognitive Behaviours and Cultural Practices

  • Author / Creator
    Bullot, Nicolas J.
  • This research aims (i) to demonstrate the unity of the phenomena of person identification and control and (ii) to propose the first philosophical theory that uses a single conceptual framework to describe and explain these phenomena. Chapter 1 introduces the philosophical significance of the topic and the psychohistorical framework defended in the book. In chapters 2, I open my enquiry with an investigation of the complexity of the skills and practices enabling the identification and control of persons. This complexity leads me to propose that both everyday judgments of identification (chapters 2 and 6) and scientific research on identification (chapter 3-5) rely on heuristics. I understand heuristics as rules and patterns of thought and action that facilitate human learners’ decision-making about complexity. In chapter 3, I derive my account of heuristics from research developed by philosophers of science and cognitive scientists, which demonstrates that heuristics generate both explanatory insights and reasoning biases. Arguments from the history of science and the philosophy of explanation suggest that scientists have adopted antagonistic heuristic strategies in their attempts to explain how persons are identified and controlled. In chapter 4, I focus my analysis on demonstrating that the psychological and cognitive sciences of person identification are typically guided by mechanistic heuristics. In particular, I argue that the reductive explanations proposed by prominent mechanistic models of face perception are biased by individualistic heuristics and psychological universalism. These mechanistic models fail to account for the important role played by social cooperation and cultural transmission in the learning of person-identification skills. By contrast, in chapter 5, I show how in the social sciences and the humanities research on person identification and control is guided by heuristics aimed at providing rich (“thick”) interpretative description of context-specific phenomena. These contextualistic heuristics prioritise the description of technical innovations and cultural contexts supporting identification practices. However, this focus on cultural phenomena has resulted in other biases associated with social constructionism and the rejection of mechanistic explanations. I conclude from chapters 2-5 that theoretical integration in the sciences of person identification has been hindered by the antagonism between mechanistic and contextualistic heuristics. To integrate mechanistic and contextualistic programmes, I use chapters 6-9 to present a philosophical framework that combines contributions from both traditions: the psychohistorical theory of person identification and control. In chapter 6, I show that this theory satisfies three requisites for theoretical integration in research on person identification. First, the theory combines (i) an ontological model of individual persons and person kinds with (ii) an account of how human learners use person-tracking mechanisms to become sensitive to the ontic characteristics of individual persons and person kinds. Second, the ontological model of the theory adopts a contextualistic and historical understanding of the kinds of person that can be tracked and identified. Third, in integrating contextualistic hypotheses about persons with psychological and epistemological hypotheses about identification mechanisms, the theory generates a series of novel hypotheses. In particular, the theory posits that it is important to distinguish three different kinds of person identification: recognition-based, heuristic-based, and explanation-based identification. In chapter 7, I illustrate the productivity of the psychohistorical framework by using the psychohistorical theory to analyse the social control of persons. To this end, I integrate a mechanistic argument about the causal control of persons with contextualistic research on the history of social control. I argue that the integrative tracking of target persons provides controllers with sensitivity to the mechanisms that cause the persistence and behaviour of these targets (i.e., personal persistence mechanisms, or “person-making” mechanisms). Such sensitivity facilitates robust causal interventions on the targets’ persistence mechanisms. I argue that historiographical and sociological evidence regarding the history of social control in modern states supports this argument, which further vindicates the psychohistorical approach. In chapter 8, I demonstrate that the psychohistorical approach can be integrated with important research on cultural learning and transmission. Furthermore, I argue that the psychohistorical framework makes important contributions to the science of cultural learning. In chapter 9, I demonstrate the advantages of the psychohistorical theory over individualistic models for explaining acts of violence and radical forms of social control. Specifically, I provide a detailed analysis of honour-related violence and argue that individualistic models do not provide an adequate explanation of this type of behaviour. Chapter 10 summarises the arguments presented in the preceding chapters and provides conclusive thoughts about the applications of the psychohistorical framework.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Philosophy
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Wilson, Robert A. (Philosophy)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Westbury, Chris (Psychology)
    • Wimsatt, William C. (Philosophy, University of Chicago)
    • Brigandt, Ingo (Philosophy)
    • Dawson, Michael R. W. (Psychology)