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Philosophy Talks 2013-14

Fall 2014 Speaker Series

Jonathan Dorsey, Texas Tech University

Department Colloquium: Four conceptions of the hard problem of consciousness

Wednesday, September 24, 4:00 pm

Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: Though widely discussed, the hard problem of consciousness is surprisingly difficult to pin down. In fact, one may see that not just a couple of plausible conceptions of the problem exist but rather four do. After providing some background for the hard problem, I present and clarify these four conceptions of it. I close by providing some considerations for and against each of the four conceptions without passing final judgment on any of them.


Anna Christina Ribeiro, Texas Tech University

Department Colloquium: The Musilanguage Hypothesis and the Origins of Poetry

Friday, October 10, 4:00 pm

Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: An intentional-historical formalist definition of poetry such as the one offered in Ribeiro (2007) inevitably raises the question of how poetry first emerged, and why. On this view, repetitive linguistic patterning is seen as a historically central feature of poems, and one that has both an aesthetic and a cognitive dimension (e.g. in being pleasing to the ear and easier to remember). Combining the Darwinian idea of a musical protolanguage with analyses of 'babytalk', I suggest that this central feature of poetic practices first emerged as a vestige of our prosodic proto-speech and of our earliest form of communication with our caregivers. Conversely, I suggest that the existence and universality of 'babytalk', together with the universality and antiquity of poetic practices, argue in favor of the musical protolanguage hypothesis over its competitors, lexical and gestural protolanguage. One consequence of this proposal is a reversal of how we understand poetic repetition: rather than being justified in terms of the mnemonic needs of oral cultures, it is now understood as an aesthetically pleasing exploitation of features already found in speech. Further, on the basis of the recently proposed 'serial founder effect' in the phonemic diversity of languages, I offer the empirical prediction that poetic form will become more 'musical' the fewer phonemes a language has, to compensate for phonemic loss. The late advent of rhyme is offered as evidence of this possibility.


Alex Grzankowski, Texas Tech University

Department Colloquium: A Relational Theory of Non-Propositional Attitudes

Friday, November 14, 4:00 pm

Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: The 'standard theory' of the propositional attitudes is well received and well motivated. According to it, propositional attitudes are two-place relations holding between subjects and propositions. It would be nice to extend this theory to the non-propositional attitudes. Doing so would bring unity to the attitudes and, as I'll argue, many of the same considerations that make the relational view of propositional attitudes attractive arise for the non-propositional attitudes. Unfortunately, the non-propositional attitudes present special challenges. I'll argue that they can be overcome, but there are various costs that must be taken into consideration.


James Weatherall, Associate Professor, U.C. Irvine LPS

Physics Lecture: The Physics of Wall Street

Thursday, November 20

Location: TBA

Abstract: I will discuss how three mathematical physicists contributed to the development of the first mathematical model for pricing options contracts, and how one of them used a strategy based on the model to start the first modern quantitative hedge fund. I will then discuss how work by Benoit Mandelbrot, presented very early in the history of options pricing, revealed a way in which one of the central assumptions underlying this model could fail. I will conclude by discussing what this example reveals about physicists' contributions to finance.


James Weatherall, Associate Professor, U.C. Irvine LPS

Department Colloquium: Inertial Motion, Explanation, and the Foundations of Classical Space-time Theories

Friday, November 21, 4:00 pm

Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: There is an influential view in physics and philosophy of physics, originating with Einstein and Eddington, that holds that general relativity is distinctive in the history of physics because it can be used to "explain" inertial, or unforced, motion. In this talk, I will describe how a reformulation of Newtonian gravitation may be used to provide insight into claims concerning the (allegedly) distinctive explanatory resources of relativity theory. I will then argue that Newtonian gravitation can be understood to explain inertial motion in much the same way as general relativity. However, a careful comparative study of the status of inertial motion in the two theories reveals that neither explanation is as clean or straightforward as adherents to the view noted above believe. I will conclude by presenting a view about the interdependencies of the central principle of physical theories that I will argue provides some insight into a sense in which inertial motion is explained in both of these theories.


Spring 2015 Speaker Series

Alva Noë, Professor, UC Berkeley

Department Colloquium: Beyond agency: Reflections on Intellectualism and Its Limits

Tuesday, January 27, 3:30 pm [CANCELLED]

English/Philosophy 264

Abstract: TBA


Alva Noë, Professor, UC Berkeley

Public Lecture: See me if you can! Art and Human Nature

Tuesday, January 27, 7:00 pm [CANCELLED]


Abstract: TBA


Pamela Hieronymi, Professor, UCLA

Public Lecture: The Intuitive Problem of Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Thursday, February 12, 7:00 pm


Abstract: We will consider the traditional, intuitive problems of free will and moral responsibility. My main goal is to tease apart different ways in which we come to worry about whether we are free and responsible, and show how they differ. Having teased them apart, I will consider the merits of each. We will see that some threats to our freedom are both real and avoidable—and so should be avoided. Other threats depend on the assumption that we are other-worldly souls—an assumption I think we should avoid. But, I will argue, certain features of our agency make that assumption very tempting—or, at least, make tempting the thought that we cannot understand or explain our own agency in scientific or "theoretical" terms. Once we see how this temptation arises, I think it goes away. Even avoiding that temptation, though, an intuitive problem with freedom remains—one that comes from our ordinary but, I think, impoverished sense of what it is to be in control of something. We won't, in the end, solve this remaining problem—that is what I am trying to do in other work. But I hope we will have narrowed our target.


Pamela Hieronymi, Professor, UCLA

Department Colloquium: The Embodiment of Agency

Friday, February 13, 4:00 pm

Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: In this paper I defend the claim that certain states of mind, such as belief and intention, states which are often thought of as dispositions, are themselves activities—in particular, that they are, or embody, the activity of settling a question (or set of questions). This strange-sounding claim underwrites the strategy I have been advancing for avoiding the problem of free will and moral responsibility. In this paper I will briefly sketch that strategy before turning to the central task of providing additional clarification of and support for this underlying claim. I support it with two moves: First, I hope to show it far less costly than it might appear. We can help ourselves to it by freeing ourselves from the assumption that all activities must involve unfolding processes of change—that activities must be dynamic. Second, I hope to show that denying it is costly. Not only does its denial ensnare us in the free will problem (a point I detail elsewhere), but it also leaves us with an alienated picture of our relation to those states of mind for which we are answerable.