Departmental Colloquium

Spring 2019

February 7, 2019, Andrea Borghini
Thursday, 4pm – 6pm
141 Park Hall

March 7, 2019, David Shoemaker
Thursday, 4pm – 6pm
141 Park Hall

March 14, 2019, Macalster Bell
Thursday, 4pm – 6pm
141 Park Hall

April 11, 2019, Richard Bett
Thursday, 4pm – 6pm
141 Park Hall
Co-sponsored with Classics

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Fall 2018

September 13, 2018
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Michael Moehler (Philosophy, PPE, Virginia Tech)

“Diversity, Stability, and Social Contract Theory”
The topic of moral diversity is not only prevalent in contemporary moral and political philosophy, it is also practically relevant. Moral diversity, however, poses a significant challenge for moral theory building. John Thrasher (forthcoming), in his discussion of public reason theory, which includes social contract theory, argues that if one seriously considers the goal of moral constructivism and considerations of coherence and stability, then moral diversity poses an insurmountable problem for most public reason theories. I agree with Thrasher that moral diversity poses a significant challenge for orthodox multistage social contract theories. In fact, I even add a further problem for such theories under the assumption of deep moral diversity. Nevertheless, I argue that my (Moehler 2018) recently developed multilevel social contract theory overcomes these problems. I focus on some of the underexplored features of this theory to show that multilevel social contract theory offers one conceptually coherent and plausible way to render social contract theory viable and relevant for modern diverse societies.

September 27, 2018
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Gillian Russell (North Carolina—Chapel Hill)
“Speech Acts and Speaking Up”
Russell works on the analytic/synthetic distinction and other issues in the philosophy of language, barriers to logical consequence like Hume’s Law, various issues in the philosophy of logic, such as logic’s epistemology, the normativity of logic, pluralism in logic etc.

Spring 2018

  • February 1, Thursday, 4:00, p.m., Park 141
    John Greco (Saint Louis University)
    Title: "Intellectual Humility and Contemporary Epistemology: A critique of epistemic individualism, evidentialism and internalism"
    Abstract: Contemporary epistemology has moved away from the epistemic individualism of internalism and evidentialism, in favor of externalism, virtue epistemology, and social epistemology.  This paper explores how these various movements in epistemology are related to the notion of intellectual humility. The central idea is that, whereas intellectual pride is characterized by ideals and illusions of self-sufficiency, intellectual humility is characterized by a realistic estimation of one’s own abilities and an appreciation of one’s epistemic dependence on others.

  • March 1, Thursday, 4:00, p.m., Park 141
    Charles Goodman (SUNY Binghamton)
    Title: "How Emotions Deceive: Śāntideva's Moral Psychology Today"
    Abstract: Most of us strongly favor our own interests, and those of the people we care about, over even the urgent needs of distant others.   When people we care about are wrongly harmed, most of us feel anger towards the wrongdoers and believe that they deserve to suffer.  Many philosophers endorse these patterns of thought and feeling, regarding them as rational, appropriate, and even virtuous.  The Buddhist philosopher Śāntideva (late 7th – mid 8th cent. CE) would disagree, claiming that such thoughts and feelings are cognitively and normatively distorted and erroneous.  Several arguments will be considered that support Śāntideva’s views on these questions.

    Śāntideva may have been the first author in history to state a version of utilitarianism clearly and develop its implications systematically.  We now know that utilitarianism often has counterintuitive implications in contexts involving aggregating benefits and burdens across numerous sentient beings.  The question of aggregation will be considered in light of Frances Kamm’s “one billion birds” example from Intricate Ethics, Richard Wilbur’s poem “Advice to a Prophet,” and the empirical phenomenon of “compassion collapse.”  This discussion reveals a possible role that poetry could play in defending consequentialist ethics.

  • April 5, Thursday, 4:00, p.m., Park 141
    Janice Dowell (Syracuse)

    Title: "The Linguistic Case for Expressivism Reconsidered"
    Abstract: A notable absence in the metaethical defense of expressivism about normative language has been distinctively linguistic data. In a series of recent papers, Yalcin aims to fill this gap, arguing against any descriptivist semantics for epistemic modal expressions, on the grounds that it is unable to fit with our judgments about sentences of the form ‘j and might not j’ and ‘the F might not be F’. From the need for a non-descriptivist semantics for epistemic modals, Yalcin argues for a complimentary semantics for the deontic ones. Here I provide new data against which to test Yalcin’s claims, showing how Kratzer’s canonical contextualist semantics, a form of descriptivism, is compatible with the full range of data. Thus, Yalcin’s data do not provide new, linguistic grounds for expressivism.
  • April 19, Thursday, 4:00, p.m., Park 141
    Karen Bennett (Cornell)

    Title: "Kinds of Kinds"
    Abstract: Philosophers and ordinary people talk about kinds all the time. Yet the philosophical literature has almost entirely focused on natural kinds. People just help themselves to the notion of a kind, and fret about what naturalness might be. In this talk, I back up a step and ask, what are kinds, anyway?
    Bio: Professor Karen Bennett works largely in metaphysics, with occasional excursions into philosophy of mind. She is the author of a variety of articles on constitution, modality, mereology, metametaphysics, and the like. Last summer, her book Making Things Up came out with Oxford University Press. It is about the family of relations whereby less fundamental things are generated from more fundamental things, and about what that kind of fundamentality talk comes to.

  • May 3, Tuesday, 4:00, p.m., Park 141
    Pamela Hieronymi (UCLA)
    Title: "I'll Bet You Think This Blame Is About You"
    Abstract: There seems to be widespread agreement that to be responsible for something is to be deserving of certain consequences on account of that thing. Call this the “merited-consequences” conception of responsibility. I think there is something off, or askew, in this conception, though I find it hard to articulate just what it is. The phenomena the merited-consequences conception is trying to capture could be better captured, I think, by noting the characteristic way in which certain minds can rightly matter to other such minds—the way in which certain minds can carry a certain kind of importance, made manifest in certain sorts of responses. Mattering, not meriting, seems to me central. However, since I cannot yet better articulate an alternative, I continue in the merit-consequences framework. I focus on a particular class of consequences: those that are non-voluntary, in a sense explained. The non-voluntariness of these reactions has two important upshots. First, questions about their justification will be complex. Second, they are not well thought of as consequences voluntarily imposed upon the wrongdoer by the responder. By focusing on merited consequences and overlooking non-voluntariness, we risk misunderstanding the significance of moral criticism and of certain reactions to moral failure.

    Bio: Pamela Hieronymi is a Professor of Philosophy at UCLA. She has published widely in ethics, philosophy of action, and philosophy of mind. Currently she is writing a book on moral responsibility and free will, titled Minds that Matter.


Fall 2017

  • September 28, 2017, Thursday, 4:00, p.m., Clemens 106
    Meena Krishnamurthy (Michigan) White Blindness.

    At the most general level, Professor Krishnamurthy’s work addresses three questions: What are just political institutions? Why are current political institutions unjust? And, how ought we progress from unjust to just political institutions? Learn more.
  • October 19, 2017, Thursday, 4:00, p.m., Park 141
    Matthew Slater (Bucknell)
    What does the phrase "tree of life" make you think of? It depends on your background, culture and perspective. Read more.

  • November 2, 2017, Thursday, 4:00, p.m., Park 141
    Terence Cuneo (Vermont)
    Cuneo's research focuses on metaethics and early modern philosophy, especially the work of Thomas Reid. He has, however, strong interests in philosophy of religion, epistemology, and political philosophy.
  • November 30, 2017, Thursday, 4:00, p.m., Park 141
    Nick Zangwill (Hull/Tulane)
    "Moral Dependence and Supervenience"


Spring 2017

  • February 16, Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
    Tuomas Tahko (University of Helsinki)
    Title: "Where Do You Get Your Protein? (Or: Biochemical Realization)"

    Abstract: Biochemical kinds such as proteins pose interesting problems for philosophers of science. They can be studied both from the point of view of biology and chemistry, but these different perspectives may result in different classificatory practices. I will examine the tension that such classificatory differences produce. We will see that the reducibility of the biological functions of biochemical kinds to their chemical structure is a key question here. This leads us to a more general discussion of multiple realizability and realization at the biology-chemistry interface. The conclusion is that genuine multiple realizability may be rare at this interface.

  • February 23, Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
    Joshua Knobe (Yale University)
    Title: tba

Fall 2016

  • Thursday, September 29
    Neil Sinhababu (National University of Singapore)
    Title: “Humean Nature: The Wreckage of Time and the Persistence of Things"
  • Thursday, October 20
    Tom Hurka (Toronto)
    Title: “The Intrinsic Values of Knowledge and Achievement"
  • Thursday, November 10
    Brian Epstein (Tufts)
    Title: “A Framework for Social Ontology”
  • Friday, November 11
    Alison Simmons (Harvard)
    Title: “Descartes and the Modern Mind”
  • Thursday, December 1
    Paul Audi (Rochester)
    Title: “An Argument that Tropes Can Change”


September 29, 2016
Neil Sinhababu (National University of Singapore)
: "“Humean Nature: The Wreckage of Time and the Persistence of Things"Abstract: I defend a Humean theory of motivation on which desire motivates all action and drives all practical reasoning. First I lay out the significance for this view for metaethics, distinguishing it from Michael Smith's view. Then I lay out four properties of desire. It motivates action, causes pleasant and unpleasant emotions, directs our attention, and is intensified by more vivid images of things we associate with its objects. I present Humean accounts of how we succeed or fail in drawing conclusions in practical reasoning and the nature of the self. I also offer a Humean, externalist, and cognitivist account of moral motivation.
Neil Sinhababu is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. His book about how desire explains action, thought, and feeling, Humean Nature, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press. His previous work on this topic has appeared in Philosophical Review and Noûs. He has also published on philosophy of mind, epistemology, Nietzsche, and romantic relationships with people in other possible worlds. He received his Ph.D from the University of Texas at Austin and his B.A. from Harvard University.


November 10, 2016
Brian Epstein, “A Framework for Social Ontology”
This talk sets out an organizing framework for the field of social ontology—the study of the nature of the social world. I discuss the subject matter of social ontology, and present a model aiming to clarify a variety of projects that have been traditionally confused with one another. The model helps explain and situate, for instance, varieties of individualism, theories of the building blocks of the social world, and theories of convention and collective intentionality. It is built on the distinction between two different inquiries: the study of the grounding of social facts, and the study of how social categories are “anchored” or set up. In the talk I explore these inquiries and discuss some applications.


November 11, 2016
Alison Simmons, “Descartes and the Modern Mind”
It’s often said that Descartes invented the modern mind.  But what is the Cartesian mind?  And how new or modern is it?  The first question is harder to answer than you might think and so, therefore, is the second.  Descartes tells us that the mind is a thinking thing.  But there’s nothing new about that unless Descartes is changing the concept of thought.  What, then, is Cartesian thought?  Descartes is remarkably unhelpful, suggesting alternately that it’s obvious what thought is and that the matter so complicated “it would take whole days” to unpack the concept.  (!)  As interpreters, we have to engage in some rational reconstruction.  After by exploring some of the large-scale structural changes, Descartes introduces into the mind, an exercise that will give us some much needed  constraints for interpreting his concept of thought, I’ll consider three ways in which we might try to understand it:  two that are popular in the literature and one that I think gets it right.  I’ll conclude with a suggestion about what is old and what is genuinely new about this Cartesian mind.


December 1, 2016
Paul Audi, “An Argument that Tropes Can Change”
  I offer an argument for the view that tropes can change, and so are not individuated by their determinate qualitative character.  If this is right, while every trope will be, at any given time, a particular case of some property or other, it is not essential to a trope to be a particular case of a certain determinate property.  (It will remain open that tropes have their determinable character essentially, but this still allows them to change.)  This is a startling conclusion, given that it seems to be at the heart of the standard conception of tropes that they have their determinate qualitative characters essentially, and so cannot undergo genuine change.

Spring 2016

  • Thursday, February 25, 2016
    Carolyn Korsmeyer (University at Buffalo)
    Title: The Wreckage of Time and the Persistence of Things (see abstract, below)
  • Thursday, March 3, 2016
    Paul Thagard (Waterloo)
    Title: Brain Mechanisms Explain Emotion and Consciousness (see abstract, below)
  • Thursday, April 7, 2016
    David Schmidtz (Utah)
    Title: Corruption (see abstract, below)
  • Thursday, May 5, 2016
    L. A. Paul (University of North Carolina)
    Title: Preference Capture (see abstract, below)


Feb 25  Carolyn Korsmeyer (UB): The Wreckage of Time and the Persistence of Things
Why do people want to visit ancient sites or displays of artifacts that have survived from the past? Why are skillful replicas that are perceptually indiscernible from originals not good substitutes? I argue that genuine things can deliver an aesthetic encounter of a distinctive sort, one that can put us in the presence of the past. I contend that the sense of touch covertly operates in such experiences, as this sense conveys the impression of being in contact with the “real thing.” This is the case despite the fact that old objects are unlikely to be the exactly the same as they were at their original making, having been damaged and restored over time.

However, that very damage and repair changes the material composition of the thing valued, requiring careful consideration of what qualifies an object to be the real thing over long periods of time. I offer a partial set of criteria that count towards being genuine, which also represent diminishing possibilities for encounters with the past. I end the paper with a query about whether my defense of the genuine runs aground on some standard ontological assumptions about artworks and artifacts.

March 3  Paul Thagard (Waterloo): Brain Mechanisms Explain Emotion and Consciousness
Is love a judgment, a body process, or a cultural interpretation?  Emotion theorists dispute whether emotions are cognitive appraisals, responses to physiological changes, or social constructions.   That emotions are all of these can be grasped by identifying brain mechanisms for emotions, including representation by groups of spiking neurons, binding of representations into semantic pointers, and competition among semantic pointers.   Semantic pointers are patterns of firing in groups of neurons that function like symbols while incorporating sensory and motor information that can be recovered.   Emotions are semantic pointers that bind representations of situations, physiology, and appraisal into unified packages that can guide behavior if they outcompete other semantic pointers.   Social and linguistic information is incorporated into cognitive appraisal.   This view of emotions is supported by computer simulations (using Chris Eliasmith’s Semantic Pointer Architecture) that model dynamic appraisal, embodiment,  interaction of physiological input and appraisal, and reasoning about emotions.  Unlike traditional theories, the semantic pointer theory of emotion can also explain why people have conscious experiences such as happiness and sadness. 

Eliasmith, C. (2013). How to build a brain:  A neural architecture for biological cognition.

Thagard, P., & Schröder, T. (2014). Emotions as semantic pointers:  Constructive neural mechanisms. In L. F. Barrett & J. A. Russell (Eds.), The psychological construction of emotions (pp. 144-167).

Thagard, P., & Stewart, T. C. (2014). Two theories of consciousness:  Semantic pointer competition vs. information integration. Consciousness and Cognition, 30, 73-90.

April 7  David Schmidtz (Utah): Corruption
Western philosophy arguably dates back to a book, Plato’s Republic, that was a sustained reflection on the topic of corruption of the soul and the city.  Yet, for several generations now, philosophers seem to have written hardly anything of a sustained nature on the topic of corruption.  I know of no recent book by a philosopher, or even any recent articles by philosophers specifically on the topic (although Emanuela Ceva and Maria Ferretti are, I've just learned, writing a book on it). I think that if corruption were treated as a topic of foundational philosophical importance, political philosophy could not carry on as it recently has: that is, by talking about what is ideal, ignoring social science, ignoring principal-agent problems when theorizing about what principals and agents ought to do, and barely paying lip service to incentive problems (although virtually no philosopher would recognize himself or herself as ignoring such problems). 

May 5, L. A. Paul (University of North Carolina): Preference Capture
Big life decisions are naturally framed using the first personal point of view, where we mentally model or imaginatively project different future lived experiences. Such decisions are often understood as depending on judgments about what these subjective futures will be like for us and for those around us. I will explore the way that making transformative decisions from this perspective can put us in the position of regarding our future selves as irrational, or at least, as epistemically and psychologically alien to our current perspective. A version of this idea is familiar from debates about the nature of scientific revolution: different conceptual and theoretical paradigms can be incommensurable. For example, many have argued that the conceptual framework supporting Newtonian mechanics is incommensurable with the conceptual framework supporting quantum mechanics.

We normally think of such incommensurability in third-personal terms, and worry about how to make rational transitions from one scientific theory to another. I will, instead, explore this question from the perspective of the individual who is about to undergo her own personal conceptual revolution: a case where a person is contemplating undergoing a radical epistemic and personal transformation. How should a person regard the possibility of adopting a new first personal perspective that is radically different from her current one? What sorts of questions and problems does this raise?

Fall 2015

Departmental Colloquia

  • Tuesday, September 8, 2015
    4:00 pm, Jeannette Martin Room, 567 Capen Hall
    Ludger Jansen, University of Rostock
    "Phase Sortals for Three-Dimensionalists"
  • Thursday, September 17, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Ryan Muldoon, University at Buffalo
    "Equality of Opportunity, Meritocracy, and
    Social Cohesion - Pick Two"
  • Thursday, October 8, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Berit Brogaard, University of Miami
    "Multisensory Perception and Cognitive Penetration"
  • Friday, October 30, 2015
    4:15 pm, Park 141
    Asa Kasher, Tel Aviv University
    "Combatants: Human Dignity and Life"
  • Monday, November 2, 2015
    3:00 pm, Jeannette Martin Room, 567 Capen Hall
    Randall Dipert, Barry Smith, Asa Kasher
    "Colloquium on Military Codes of Ethics"
  • Thursday, November 19, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Jerry Gaus, University of Arizona
    "Moral Learning in the Open Society:
    The Theory and Practice of Natural Liberty"

Spring 2015

  • Thursday, February 12, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Caspar Hare, MIT
    “Wishing Well to All”
  • Thursday, March 26, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Jessica Wilson, University of Toronto
    "Grounding, Unity, and Causation"
  • Thursday, April 9, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Tad Brennan, Cornell University
    "Psychology in the Middle Books of the Republic"
  • Thursday, April 23, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Jenefer Robinson, University of Cincinnati
    "Emotions as perceptions of affordances"

Fall 2014

Departmental Colloquia

  • Thursday, October 30, 2014
    3:30 pm, Park 141
    Antonia LoLordo, University of Virginia
    “Jonathan Edwards’ Immaterialism”
  • Friday, November 14, 2014
    4:30 pm, Park 141
    Jonathan Dancy, University of Texas, Austin
    Reasoning to Action

Spring 2014

Departmental Colloquia

  • March 10 (Monday): 4:00-6:00
    280 Park Hall, UB North Campus
    Maurizio Ferraris, University of Turin
    "The Ontology of Social Reality"
    (Special Ontology Event)
  • March 27 (Thursday): 4:00-6:00
    141 Park Hall, UB North Campus
    Christina Van Dyke, Calvin College
    "Looking for Joints in All the Right Places: Avicenna, Averroes, and Aquinas on Matter and Dimensions"
  • April 10 (Thursday): 4:00-6:00
    141 Park Hall, UB North Campus
    Susan Wolf, University of North Carolina
    "Responsibility, Moral and Otherwise"
  • April 25 (Friday): 4:00-6:00
    141 Park Hall, UB North Campus
    Kenneth Winkler, Yale University
    "Causal Realism and Hume's Revisions of the Enquiry"