Departmental Colloquium

2021 Online Events.

Join us for the Philosophy Department Colloquium. Our events take place on selected Friday afternoons, from 4:00 to 6:00pm, in the Philosophy Seminar Room, Park Hall 141. Contact Prof. Lewis Powell,

Fall 2024

FRIDAYS, 4:00 P.M.

Fall 2024 program forthcoming.

2023 - 2024

September 15, 2023
Helen McCabe 
(University of Nottingham)

September 29, 2023
John Martin Fischer  (UC Riverside)

November 10, 2023
Daniel Greco
 (Yale University)

April 5, 2024
Lisa Downing 
(Ohio State University)

April 26, 2024
Sarah Clark Miller 
(Penn State University)

Colloquia, 2014 to present

FALL 2022

Friday, September 30, 2022
John ThrasherChapman University
Park Hall 141, 4:00 – 6:00pm
"Ownership and Convention"
Abstract:  “Who gets what?” is one of the central questions of political philosophy; “why?” is the other one. These questions about the ownership of property have been debated intensively within political and moral philosophy. One of the fundamental philosophical divides regarding property concerns whether property rights are the products of human convention or are in some sense pre-conventional or “natural.” One prominent view holds that people have property rights even in a state of nature before the development of social agreements or conventions. Such natural property rights are independent of any convention and are to be contrasted with “artificial” rights that only exist because of some convention. To make progress on this question, our research turns to the methods of cognitive science to examine the psychological and cultural bases for ownership. Previous work on the moral/conventional distinction indicates that people do not treat stealing property as conventional (e.g., Nucci and Turiel 1993; Tisak and Turiel 1984; Dahl and Waltzer 2020). However, these studies explicitly assume that one person owns the property that another steals. This doesn’t help us understand if property rules are generally considered to be conventional. Across several experimental studies, we find good evidence for thinking that property norms are conventional rather than "natural." Even so, there also seem to be important restrictions on what kinds of conventions can be genuine property norms and rights. This, we argue, is good evidence in favor of a generally Humean theory of property.


Friday, October 14, 2022
Elisabeth Camp, Rutgers University
Park Hall 141, 4:00 – 6:00pm
“Nicknames as Tools for Navigating Social Space”
Abstract: Nicknames are names: they are used to identify and track individuals. But they also mark and modulate relations of social face and intimacy; and they frame their referents by purporting to ‘fit’ them in some intuitive way.  These sociosemantic functions make them especially potent rhetorical devices, but also especially challenging to model within orthodox theories of meaning.

Fall 2021

October 1, Friday, 4:00 – 6:00 pm
In-Person:  Knox 4, North Campus; Also via Zoom as noted below*
Jobst Landgrebe (Cognotekt, software company)
“Ethics: From Aristotle to Contemporary Ethics of Principle”
Abstract: Since Aristotle first formulated a theory of ethics, Western thought has developed many such theories, which can be classified as eudaimonistic, formalistic, axiological, Christian and anti-Christian (Nietzsche, Bataille) – deviating from but overlapping with the classification scheme dominating in contemporary Anglo-Saxon philosophy: virtue ethics – consequentialism – deontology. This talk describes how Western ethics evolved from the classical eudaimonistic ethics of Aristotle and others to the subjectivist and formal ethics of principle (Gesinnungsethik) introduced by Kant (heavily influenced by Christian ethics). It reached its most differentiated and sophisticated theory in the phenomenological value ethics proposed by Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann. Finally, the talk will describe the ethics of principle that dominates the contemporary humanities. Here, a special focus is placed on neoformalism in ethics (Habermas), socialist ethics of principle (Rawls) and deep relativism (Derrida, Butler).

*Zoom option: If you wish to attend Dr. Landgrebe’s talk via Zoom, and you are not a member of the UB Philosophy Department, please contact Prof. David Braun at in advance for a Zoom link.


October 15, Friday, 4:00 – 6:00 pm
In-Person, Knox 4, North Campus
Muhammad Ali Khalidi (Graduate Center, CUNY)
“Language and Social Ontology: From Refugees to Rideshare Drivers”
Abstract: Some philosophers of social science consider speech acts, and linguistic communication more generally, to be central to the ontology of the social domain. For them, social kinds must be explicitly or implicitly represented as such in language. But many social kinds seem not to be dependent on acts of linguistic communication and are not constituted or created by linguistic representations, including social kinds like povertyunemploymentimmigrationsuburbrefugee, and kinship. While thoroughly mind-dependent, such kinds seem to be individuated by their causal-functional profile rather than by certain speech acts that constitute them or bring them into being. Moreover, even when it comes to language-dependent social kinds, they cannot be created and their individual tokens cannot be instantiated by linguistic fiat. This can be illustrated by reflecting on the process of introducing new social categories and the process of reclassifying individuals from one social category into another. In both cases, speech acts must be accompanied by social uptake to effect a change in social ontology.


October 29, Friday, 4:00 – 6:00 pm
In-Person, Knox 4, North Campus
Lauren Kopajtic (Fordham University)
“Failure to Feel: The Problem of Affective Difference for Hume’s Moral Theory”
Abstract: Hume’s moral theory presupposes a universal moral psychology. More specifically, in his emphasis on sympathy as the foundation for moral sentiments and the basis for moral evaluation, Hume presupposes that all human beings are capable of sympathy. But there is another, more problematic presupposition upstream from this one, the presupposition that all humans feel all the same feelings. After establishing that Hume presupposes affective universality in his major moral works, this paper argues that there is good reason to think this presupposition is not met and that failing to meet it has significant consequences for Hume’s moral theory. Individuals who are incapable of one of the original affective kinds will be excluded from the Humean moral community, rendered incapable of sympathizing with or morally evaluating the feeling they are lacking. The paper concludes by considering whether a solution may be found in the recent scholarship on the differences between the Treatise and the second Enquiry. If, as has been argued, the sentiment of humanity provides an original, universal basis for moral evaluation, then Hume’s moral theory hangs on the narrower and more plausible presupposition that there is one universal sentiment required for moral evaluation.


Spring 2021

February 17, 2021

Barry Smith (University at Buffalo) and Jobst Landgrebe (Cognotekt)
“Defining Intelligence”  The presentation recording is here.

Presentation Abstract:

The talk addresses three central questions:

  • What are the essential marks of human intelligence?
  • What is it that researchers are trying to do when they talk of achieving ‘Artificial Intelligence’?
  • To what extent can AI be achieved?

The classical psychological definitions of intelligence are:

  • A. The ability to adapt to new situations (applies both to humans and to animals)
  • B. A very general mental capability (possessed only by humans) that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.

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.

March 3, 2021

Duane Long  (University at Buffalo)
“The Relation between Reason and Spirit in the Nicomachean Ethics VII.6”

Presentation Abstract:  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.

April 14, 2021

David Braun (University at Buffalo)
“Questions and Answers”

Presentation Abstract:

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. Faculty profile.

Spring 2020

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.

2020 NOTE: On-campus events, previously scheduled to be held throughout 2020 were cancelled on March 11, 2020, as per SUNY-wide campus closure requirements.

Fall 2019

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
Maurizio Ferraris 
"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.


Spring 2019

April 11, 2019, Thursday, 4 – 6pm, 141 Park Hall 
Richard Bett
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.

Fall 2018

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.

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

Spring 2015

  • Thursday, February 12, 2015
    Caspar Hare, MIT
    “Wishing Well to All”
  • Thursday, March 26, 2015
    Jessica Wilson, University of Toronto
    "Grounding, Unity, and Causation"
  • Thursday, April 9, 2015
    Tad Brennan, Cornell University
    "Psychology in the Middle Books of the Republic"
  • Thursday, April 23, 2015
    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"