Philosophy Talks 2021-22
Fall 2021 Speaker Series
Sally Haslanger, (MIT)
Department Colloquium: On Being Part of a Social System: Coordination and Resistance
Friday, August 27th, 4:00-6:00 pm
Abstract: Societies are complex systems that reproduce themselves: their hierarchies, their culture, their practices, and their structures. Most, if not all, societies reproduce profound injustice. How can the process of social reproduction be effectively disrupted and replaced so that better systems emerge? In order to answer this question, I will begin by considering how agents are embedded in social systems and participate in their reproduction. I will argue that once we see how both cognition and agency are shaped for the purposes of coordination, the philosophical strategy of promoting justice through argument and deliberation, i.e., the non-coercive appeal to reason, is not as promising as it might initially seem. Although deliberative processes are useful to gain allies in the state, effective and legitimate social change requires that we employ tools of both disruptive and everyday activism to change the material and cultural conditions of agency. Practices change when we do things differently, together. Nothing is ever promised by community activism, but it is morally wrong to wait for the state and its elite allies to keep their promises.
Ashley Atkins (Western Michigan University)
Department Colloquium: Grief at the Edge of the Living World
Friday, September 10th, 4:00-6:00 pm
Abstract: Researchers studying attachment have introduced 'searching grief' as a label for a range of puzzling, albeit common, responses to the death of a significant other, including looking for the dead, awaiting their return, and at times even sensing their presence. The guiding idea behind this research is that we cannot immediately relinquish our ties to the living person and that, until we do, death is experienced as a separation that might be overcome. Within the philosophical literature, there is disagreement concerning whether this type of explanation must be supplemented with the assumption that we are motivated to deny the reality of such a death, raising concerns about the rationality of grief. This paper challenges the assumption common to these views, namely, that we search because our attachments to the other are preserved. We search, I argue, because those ties are severed. Those who respond to loss in these ways are not insulated from the death of their significant others and, in fact, often find themselves closer to the dead than the living. I argue that this experience of dwelling among the dead helps to reframe and clarify discussions around the rationality and even sanity of grief.
Isidora Stojanovic (Institut Jean Nicod)
Department Colloquium: Exploring Valence in Aesthetic Judgments
Friday, October 22nd, 4:00-6:00 pm
Abstract: The aim of this talk is twofold. First, I will be interested in adjectives that are neither clearly positive nor negative, such as 'intense' and 'surprising'. Such neutral adjectives can nevertheless be used in judgments of taste and in aesthetic judgments, and give rise to evaluations that can be positive or negative, depending on the context. Second, I will look at adjectives such as 'harrowing', 'disturbing', 'terrifying' and 'shocking', which have a negative valence, since they express emotions and experiences that are considered to be negative. Nevertheless, when used to assess works of art, they tend to express positive evaluations. I will explore different mechanisms, semantic and pragmatic, that allow neutral terms to acquire their valence in context, and negatively valenced terms to give expression to positive evaluations.
May Sim (College of the Holy Cross)
Department Colloquium:Epictetus and Zhuangzi: Indifference Toward Health
Friday, November 12th, 4:00-6:00 pm
Abstract: This essay compares the views of a Stoic (Epictetus) and a Daoist (Zhuangzi) toward the concept of health. Despite their agreement about how bodily health is not the main focus of living well, they disagree about the reasons why. Their differences are traceable to differences in their metaphysics, which in turn affect their respective views of ‘nature' as well as ethics. By comparing Epictetus's and Zhuangzi's metaphysics, nature and ethics, I show how their concepts of ‘health' stem from their respective philosophies, and how their views can help us rethink our current presuppositions about health.
Spring 2022 Speaker Series
Kevin Dorst (University of Pittsburgh)
Department Colloquium: Breaking Bayes
Friday, February 4th, 4:00-6:00 pm
Abstract: Standard Bayesianism says that rational opinions must both be probabilistic and update in a way that satisfies a standard “Reflection” principle. This theory is not only dominant in formal epistemology, but deeply embedded in the practice of social science: it is the basis on which economists justify markets, cognitive scientists model cognition, and psychologists decry human irrationality. But Reflective Bayesianism is wrong, for it entails Access Internalism: that rational people must always know exactly what rationality requires of them. Dropping that assumption, the foundational arguments for Bayesianism (Dutch books, accuracy, etc.) establish a weaker, qualitatively different theory—one that does not justify the inferences of social scientists. I'll illustrate by focusing on calibration: the assumption that rational credences will match objective frequencies. Psychologists have used this assumption to infer that since people are predictably miscalibrated, they must be systematically overconfident. But I'll show that we can expect rational people to be calibrated only if Access Internalism holds—without it, rational (Bayesian) opinions will often be predictably miscalibrated.
Karánn Durland (Austin College)
Department Colloquium: Analogies and Unobservables in Natural Philosophy, Natural
Theology, and Hume's “Of a Particular Providence"
Friday, March 4th, 4:00-6:00 pm
Location: English 001
Click here to access a Zoom recording of this talk.
Abstract: This paper examines analogical reasoning in natural philosophy and natural theology in the early modern period with an eye to assessing the threat that Hume's criticism of the design argument poses to it. Hume is widely credited with showing that the design argument is untenable, and natural philosophers were impressed enough with his critique to use it to distance themselves from natural theologians. But Hume's analysis has unappreciated implications for work in natural philosophy since early modern reasoning about unobservable natural phenomena resembles reasoning associated with the design argument in important respects. To the extent that Hume's assessment of the design argument shows that it should be rejected, the arguments of the natural philosophers should receive comparable treatment. In what follows, I highlight similarities between natural philosophers' and natural theologians' thinking about unobservable phenomena and then consider Hume's critique of the design argument as presented in “Of a Particular Providence.” I argue that although Hume raises important questions about analogical reasoning, he does not seriously injure the design argument or comparable reasoning elsewhere.
Francesca di Poppa (Texas Tech University)
Department Colloquium: Shaftesbury as a Virtue Epistemologist
Friday, April 1st, 4:00-6:00 pm [CANCELLED]
Location: English 001
Abstract: Stanford Encyclopedia defines epistemic virtues as “characteristics that promote intellectual flourishing, or which make for an excellent cognizer.” In its historical survey, it includes David Hume as a possible precursor, but it fails to include Shaftesbury. In what follows, I will argue for a reading of Shaftesbury as a virtue epistemologist. In fact, I will argue that in his philosophy moral virtues are epistemic virtues. For Shaftesbury, natural affections in the right balance (virtues) are other-oriented, although their excess no longer constitutes virtue. As I will argue, epistemic virtues also are other-oriented: by humbling our reason (as faculty of inference), they undermine skepticism, and enable a higher form of reason. This higher reason is both theoretical and practical, allowing to both contemplate and actively contribute to the harmony of the whole (a notion with Stoic roots). It is Philocles' virtue that enable him, under Theocles' guidance, to experience the “good” kind of enthusiasm, to understand the nature of the deity and of the universe, and to renounce his skepticism in the culmination of The Moralists. In Inquiry, Shaftesbury argued that, while it's possible to be a virtuous atheist, virtue and theism are connected. In The Moralist, Philocles illustrates this claim as his benevolence, integrity, and courage motivate him to reject bigoted enthusiasm, but make it impossible for him to resist the truth, beauty, and goodness of Theocles' divine enthusiasm.
Tim Williamson (Oxford University)
Department Colloquium: Knowledge by sight and knowledge by proof
Friday, April 8th, 4:00-6:00 pm
Location: English 001
Abstract: Knowledge by sight is a standard paradigm of a posteriori knowledge. Knowledge by mathematical proof is a standard paradigm of a priori knowledge. However, I will argue that the two types of knowledge have so much in common that the a priori - a posteriori distinction cannot go very deep.
Amy Flowerree (Texas Tech University)
Department Colloquium: TBA
Friday, April 29th, 4:00-6:00 pm [CANCELLED]
Location: English 001