All Spring 2021 colloquia will take place online (via Zoom) Wednesday afternoons, 4:00 – 6:00 pm, and will feature faculty members in UB’s Philosophy Department. If you are not a member of the UB Philosophy Department, and wish to attend one or more of the online colloquia, please contact David Braun, firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Braun, (University at Buffalo)
“Questions and Answers”
Propositions are the semantic contents of declarative sentences, such as ‘Alice sings’ and ‘Some people sing’. They are also the things that agents believe and assert. Questions are the semantic contents of interrogative sentences, such as ‘Does Alice sing?’ and ‘Who sings?’. They are also the things that agents ask and wonder about. In the mid-twentieth century, most philosophers who thought about questions argued that they were just propositions “in disguise”. Today, however, there is an alternative view of questions that is so widely accepted that it deserves to be called the received view. The received view denies that questions are propositions. But it says that two questions are identical if and only if exactly the same propositions can fully answer them. On strong versions of the received view, each question is identical with the set of propositions that can completely answer it. In this talk, I criticize the received view, and present an alternative theory of questions and interrogative sentences. On the theory I favor, questions are not propositions, and a theory of questions need not, and should not, include a theory of answers.
“Defining Intelligence” The presentation recording is here.
The talk addresses three central questions:
The classical psychological definitions of intelligence are:
We will provide some details as to both A. and B., and show that the standard AI definition of intelligence is a version of A. formulated in mathematical terms. We will then criticize this standard AI definition, and show why it is entirely unsuitable for use as a benchmark of success in regard to achievement of human-level intelligence on the part of the machine. We will conclude by providing the sketch of an argument to the effect that human-level intelligence can be achieved at best only along certain narrow paths, for example mastering games, such as Go or Chess, which have well-defined rules.
Duane Long (University at Buffalo)
“The Relation between Reason and Spirit in the Nicomachean Ethics VII.6”
In the argument of Nicomachean Ethics 7.6, Aristotle argues that there is some tighter connection between temper (thumos) and reason (logos) than between appetite (epithumia) and reason, despite characterizing both temper and appetite elsewhere as non-rational. This paper seeks to explain what the connection between reason and temper is and why Aristotle would posit it via a close analysis of the text. Along the way, a number of other recent proposals for understanding the claim are considered and rejected, either because they fail to make sense of Aristotle's claim that when temper manifests it is as if the person has engaged in syllogizing or because they fail to explain how it would be that only temper and not appetite does so.
March 5, 2020 Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Hagop Sarkissian (CUNY Grad Center / Baruch College)
Works in X-Phi, moral psychology, and Chinese philosophy. This talk is co-sponsored by the Confucius Institute.
On-campus events, previously scheduled during 2020 were cancelled on March 11, 2020, as per SUNY-wide campus closure.
August 29, 2019
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Samantha Matherne (Harvard)
"Edith Landmann-Kalischer’s Moderate Objectivism About Aesthetic Value"
Moderate objectivism about aesthetic value attempts to combine a recognition of the seemingly objective status of aesthetic value as part of the world with a recognition of its essential connection to the response of subjects. In defending this view, theorists, like McDowell and Wiggins, have drawn on the alleged analogy between secondary qualities and aesthetic value. However, prospects for this view have been called into question in light of the disanalogy between perceptual and aesthetic judgments with respect to normativity and autonomy. I argue that the early phenomenologist, Edith Landmann-Kalischer provides a more satisfying defense of moderate objectivism that avoids these disanalogies.
Bio: "I work primarily in the history of philosophy, focusing on Immanuel Kant and his influence on Post-Kantian traditions, especially Phenomenology and Neo-Kantianism. Of special interest to me is how figures in these traditions conceive of the interrelations between perception and aesthetics. My volume on Cassirer for the Routledge Philosophers Series is due to appear in 2019." I am currently at work on a systematic interpretation of Kant's theory of imagination. I am also exploring the neglected work of the phenomenologist, Edith Landmann-Kalischer. See Matherne's website.
September 12, 2019
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Keith Hankins (Chapman University)
"Social Choice and the Tradeoff Between Utilizing and Imputing Information"
The need to make decisions in (or as) groups inevitably gives rise to debates about the best mechanisms for aggregating individual preferences in order to make collective choices. This paper argues that a tradeoff between maximizing the use of available information and excluding irrelevant information lies at the heart of many of these debates. While the importance of this tradeoff has long been recognized, and has received lots of attention in the form of debates over what the best way to characterize relevant information is, in this talk I provide an explanation for why the tradeoff arises that casts the problems it poses in a new light. More specifically, I show that we confront the tradeoff between maximizing the use of available information and minimizing the influence of irrelevant information because rules that utilize more information must also make more assumptions about the nature of that information. This means that the problem we face when making collective decisions is not primarily a matter of insulating our decision procedures from real, but irrelevant information. Rather the real problem concerns how we can insulate our decision procedures from imputed information that may be misleading.
Bio: Keith Hankins (Ph.D. University of Arizona, M.A. Rutgers University) is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Scholar in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise. He is also a faculty member in the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy. His research interests lie at the intersection of philosophy, economics, and social psychology. He is especially interested in the ethics of economic growth, the costs and benefits diversity, and the norms that mediate collective decision making and our responsibility practices. His recent articles include, "Searching for the Ideal: The Fundamental Diversity Dilemma" (w/ Jerry Gaus in Political Utopias 2017), "Adam Smith's Intriguing Solution to the Problem of Moral Luck" (Ethics 2016), and "When Justice Demands Inequality" (w/ John Thrasher in Journal of Moral Philosophy 2015). Dr. Hankins teaches courses in political philosophy, business ethics, and decision theory (including game theory and social choice theory), as well as courses in the Humanomics program.
October 3, 2019
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Yasuo Deguchi (Kyoto University)
"Self-as-We and Its Implications"
Being inspired by an East Asian traditional idea of true self, that is holistic, embodied and non-dual, this talk will explore a new idea of self; self-as-we, that is holistic, enactive and heterogeneous, according to which self is primarily plural and therefore to be denoted as ‘we’ rather than singular ‘I’. This pluralistic idea of self is based on a phenomenological observation on entrustment and distribution of somatic agency, as we call it, and an ethically and existentially motivated interpretation of it. After a brief sketch of the observation and interpretation, this talk will see how self-as-we differs from other contemporary ideas on self, what implications it has for such related notions as agency and autonomy as well as ethical issues.
October 24, 2019
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Stephen Grimm (Fordham)
Works on question about the nature of epistemic normativity and epistemic concepts other than belief, like understanding and wisdom.
November 1, 2019
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
"The Internet: A Political Approach"
We will defend the view that the internet in particular and social media in general represent a form of realized communism -- that we are today living in a society which is closer to communism than any society that history has ever known. As Marx defined it, communism means: the workers have control over the means of production, there is no more alienation and division of labor, society is classless and stateless. All these characteristics are very common in many contemporary societies that believe themselves to be capitalist.
Think about it. We all have mobile phones, with which we create data (i.e. wealth). The data belongs to us, just like the car we use when we work for Uber: we are the owners of the means of production. Hence the end of alienation: the difference between working time and leisure time has vanished; we all do a large number of things all of the time instead of being forced to spend our days engaging in repetitive, monotonous tasks. The difference between intellectual work and manual labor is disappearing as more and more people in Western societies use their arms and legs to keep fit, and their fingers to work the keyboard. The bulk of physical work is done by machines and we all only have one job, that of living and consuming. Hence the populism that is taking hold in Europe and America. This is just the realization of that intermediate phase between bourgeois society and communism that Marx called the dictatorship of the proletariat.
November 7, 2019
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Donald Baxter (UConn)
"Hume's Empiricist Metaphysics"
Hume's empiricist reason for rejecting "school metaphysics" makes it natural to assume that Hume rejects all metaphysics. However, Hume only rejects the aprioricity of metaphysics, and not the science itself. For Hume metaphysics is an empirical science, the foundation of which is his science of human nature. I will argue that his science of human nature supports three basic metaphysical principles.
(1) The Contradiction Principle: The clearly conceivable implies no contradiction.
(2) The Conceivability Principle: The clearly conceivable is possible.
(3) The Conceptual Separability Principle: Things are different if and only if distinguishable, and distinguishable if and only if separable in conception.
On these principles the rest of Hume's metaphysics is based, including his atomistic ontology and his regularity theory of causation.
April 11, 2019, Thursday, 4 – 6pm, 141 Park Hall
Co-sponsored with Classics
“Humor as Philosophical Subversion, Especially in the Skeptics”
Abstract: Positive philosophical projects and humor do not generally go together. When humor is used, it is often to draw attention to where one might go wrong: someone or something is made fun of. This is first illustrated with cases in Aristotle. But if this is a major function of humor in philosophy, it offers special opportunities to those whose entire approach to philosophy is critical rather than constructive - those who are suspicious of the whole project of philosophy. This chapter examines a number of instances of this subversive form of humor in philosophy. For the reason just stated, it concentrates on the ancient Greek skeptics, both Academic and Pyrrhonian, with a particular focus on Sextus Empiricus, the only Greek skeptic of whom we have compete works. But Stoics and Epicureans (and, in passing, Plato) also receive some attention, and there are occasional comparisons with examples in more recent philosophy (Gettier, Nietzsche).
April 25, 2019, Thursday, 4 – 6pm, 141 Park Hall
Thomas Holden (UC Santa Barbara)
“Hume on Modal Discourse”
Abstract: The surface appearance of our modal language can suggest a realist metaphysics. There are such and such necessities and possibilities, we say. It is a fact that there are. And there would be such necessities and possibilities whether or not we humans existed. So begins the hunt for an eternal and immutable order of mind-independent modal truth-makers, and for a human faculty that might reveal the mind-independent structures of the modal multiverse. Hume’s science of human nature suggests a different approach. Finding the putative representational content of modal talk systematically elusive, Hume turns his attention to the more tractable question of what kinds of circumstances actually prompt human beings to make modal pronouncements, and of what purpose such talk might serve in our lives. Eventually Hume arrives at his account of talk about causal necessity as a systematic expression of our habit-induced inferential dispositions—as a sign or display of the fact that we can no longer help but expect the one type of event upon the appearance of the other. And similarly, or so I argue, he also arrives at an account of absolute necessity as a systematic expression of our imaginative blocks—as a sign or display of the fact that we find certain propositions inconceivable. I develop this expressivist interpretation of Hume’s metaphysics of absolute modality, situate it against a wider understanding of Hume’s philosophy of language, and defend it against some recent objections.
May 2, 2019, Thursday, 4 – 6pm, 141 Park Hall
Donald C. Ainslie (Toronto)
“Leibniz and Hume on Rational Animals”
Abstract: Human beings are animals, though early-modern rationalists such as Leibniz argue that our rationality means that we are also more than animals; we are fundamentally immaterial spirits. Hume, in contrast, embraces our continuity with animals, especially by assigning them reason. I explore what Leibniz thinks that animals lack – abstraction, the grasp of necessary truths, and recognition of self-identity – and show that, in each case, Hume thinks that the imagination ultimately enables these kinds of cognition. There is no need for a faculty of reason different in kind from and superior to the imagination, and thus other animals can
February 21, 2019, Thursday, 4 – 6pm, 141 Park Hall
Karen Frost-Arnold (Hobart & William Smith)
"Epistemic Justice and the Challenges of Online Moderation"
Abstract: Online spaces and platforms are now thoroughly embedded in contemporary epistemic life. Social media sites, online encyclopedias, news sites, and crowd-sourcing platforms are just some of the online spaces where knowledge is produced and disseminated. This makes the moderation and governance of these spaces important epistemic work. I provide an analysis of the epistemic virtues that online moderators need to cultivate in order to maintain the trust of their community members and protect the truth and objectivity of online discourse. I focus on the virtues of testimonial justice and hermeneutical justice. I also discuss the ways in which the economic structure of the internet constrains moderators, making virtuous moderation difficult, if not impossible. For example, the outsourcing of moderation to underpaid and exploited workers around the world has a significant impact on the kind of moderation performed and the kind of virtues moderators can realistically develop.
February 28, 2019, Thursday, 4 – 6pm, 141 Park Hall
Andrea Borghini,] (Università degli Studi di Milano)
Abstract: All sorts of stuff are potential food to humans. The most common tools used to put order in such an edible jungle are recipes. Recipes are key tools in any culinary culture. They instruct diners on how to prepare dishes in a safe, nutritious, pleasing fashion; and they are used to communicate diets, menus, culinary preferences or restrictions, etc. Since the 1800s, recipes have come to have an increasing importance in the public sphere and today they are one of the most fetishized cultural items. This phenomenon, however, is not matched by a theoretical framework through which to adequately express questions and positions regarding them. Such a framework must be based on a metaphysics of recipes (the instructions for food preparation), of dishes (particular edible concoctions), and of the relationship between recipes and dishes. In this presentation, I outline a theory of recipes, dishes, and their relationship.“Outline of a Metaphysics of Dishes and Recipes”. See more.
March 14, 2019, Thursday, 4 – 6pm, 141 Park Hall
Macalster Bell (Bryn Mawr, Princeton)
Abstract: While social movements often use photographs to shape opinion and persuade others of the justice of their cause, contemporary ethicists working in the analytic tradition have largely ignored the moral and epistemic questions that arise when we think about these practices. Can photographs serve as tools of moral suasion? When someone is moved to undergo a change of heart concerning a moral matter on the basis of a photograph are they being manipulated or coerced? Is such a response sentimental or shallow? Can this sort of transformation be rational? I aim to briefly sketch out some answers to these and related questions in this paper.
September 13, 2018
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Park 141
Michael Moehler (Philosophy, PPE, Virginia Tech)
“Diversity, Stability, and Social Contract Theory”
Abstract: 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.
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?