September 29, 2016
Neil Sinhababu (National University of Singapore)
Title: "“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.
Bio: 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”
Abstract: 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”
Abstract: 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”
Abstract: 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.
Feb 25 Carolyn Korsmeyer (UB): The Wreckage of Time and the Persistence of Things
Abstract: 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
Abstract: 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
Abstract: 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
Abstract: 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?