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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

Friday, February 13, 5:30 pm [RESCHEDULED]


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, 2:00 pm [RESCHEDULED]

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.


Mark Schroeder, Professor, USC

Graduate Conference Keynote Speaker: A Common Subject for Ethics

Friday, March 6, 5PM

Location: Eng/Phil 108

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to motivate, conceptualize, and explore what I will call the common subject project within metaethical theory. The common subject project is simple: to characterize the subject matter of normative discourse in a way that helps us to make sense of how we could all, with our diverse substantive normative views, be talking about the same thing. The common subject project is not new; as we will see, there are multiple research programs which we can see as contributing to it. Nor is it universal; on the contrary, many interesting metaethical views are motivated precisely by the goal of doing without such a common subject for normative discourse. But it is, I will argue, a worthwhile and important project, and it is well worth being clear and explicit about its motivations, goals, and prospects.


Sharon Lloyd, Professor, USC

Public Lecture: Not Your Father's Hobbes: Why What Hobbes Really Thought Matters Today

Thursday, March 26, 5:30PM

Location MCOM 57

Abstract: TBA


Sharon Lloyd, Professor, USC

Department Colloquium: Hobbes on the Duty Not to Act on Conscience

Friday, March 27, 3:30PM

Location PHIL 264

Abstract: TBA


Wayne Myrvold, Professor, Western Ontario

Physics Colloquium: Probabilities in Statistical Physics: What are they?

Thursday, April 9, 3:40PM

Location 234 Science

Abstract: There's something puzzling about the way that probabilities are treated in standard statistical mechanics texts. They are introduced because of incomplete knowledge of the state of a system, which suggest that the probabilities have to do with what we do and don't know, rather than with the physical system under investigation. On the other hand, they are used to generate testable predictions, which suggests that we think of them as something physical. In this talk, I will propose a reading of these probabilities that makes sense of both aspects and, I claim, does justice to the way we use probabilities in statistical physics.


Wayne Myrvold, Professor, Western Ontario

Colloquium: What happened to phlogiston? Reconsidering the Chemical Revolution
Friday, April 10

Location TBA

Abstract: Major theory-shifts in science, such as the transition in the late 18th century from a phlogiston-based chemistry to something more like modern chemistry, raise a number of philosophical questions. Among these are the question of accounting for the shift, and whether it can be regarded as rational. This talk looks at the so-called Chemical Revolution with these questions in mind. The shift involved a shift in multiple theoretical presuppositions, in commitments about the basic substances that make up the world, and also a shift in methodology. Philosophical attempts to account for the shift have tended to be holistic, following Kuhn who treated the case as one of rival paradigms to be embraced or rejected as package deals. However, the components are logically independent, and it is possible to accept certain aspects of Lavoisier's novel approach to chemistry while rejecting others. This is key to understanding the shift. I will argue that, for one key tenet of Lavoisierian chemistry, there was something like a "crucial experiment," and that, though acceptance of this tenet was not incompatible with retaining phlogiston, it eventually led to the downfall of the phlogiston theory.


Gregory Bakos, Professor, Sapientia College of Theology, Budapest

Department Colloquium: How To Think The Otherness of Medieval Thought: On Decortian Hermeneutics and Nicholas of Cusa's Manuductive Project

Friday, April 17, 4pm

Location: Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: Such great thinkers as Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, René Descartes, Benedictus de Spinoza, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Hadot all agreed that in order to become a philosopher one should undergo a radical change of perspective. This paper tries to effect such a change by reconsidering the traditional approaches toward medieval thought, i.e. Neo-Scholasticism, analytic philosophy and intellectual history, as well as introducing a corrective methodology. I mainly focus on the question of how we can approach the genuinely Other as the Other. I argue that a rationality that is able to think difference or transcendence is far from being the exclusive possession of post-modern philosophies. Based on an existential hermeneutics, in this respect we can still learn from medievals. My approach has been inspired by the work of Jos Decorte (1954–2001), a Flemish scholar at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) as well as the work of the medieval thinker Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464).