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Philosophy Colloquia

Douglas Portmore (ASU)
August 25, 3:30pm
COOR Hall 4401

Opting for the Best

We ought to select the option that’s best in terms of whatever ultimately matters. So, if, for instance, the only thing that ultimately matters is how much happiness there is, then we ought to select whichever option would result in the most happiness. Of course, this thought isn’t going to be very helpful to us unless we know what ultimately matters. What’s more, just knowing what matters isn't going to be enough. We also need answers to the following two questions. First, what are our options? Is my typing out the cure for cancer an option? If it is, my typing out these words instead can't be my best option. Second, which options do we assess in terms of how good they are and which do we assess in terms of the goodness of the options that entail them? My both eating and exercising more entails my eating more. But assume that, although it would be best for me to do both, it would be terrible for me to do one without the other. And let’s suppose that, as a matter of fact, I wouldn’t exercise more even if I were to start eating more. Given this, should we think that I ought not to eat more? Or should we think that I ought to eat more in order to do what’s best, which is to both eat and exercise more? Now, I'll argue that, by setting aside the question of what ultimately matters, we can better address these other two questions and that doing so is essential to solving certain puzzles concerning what we ought to do.


Justin Snedegar (St. Andrews)
September 22, 3pm
COOR Hall 4403

Overlapping Reasons

It is a commonplace that reasons for and against options interact to explain what you ought to do. However, it has not been widely recognized that some reasons – perhaps the majority – fail to make any difference at all in this explanation. This is because many reasons overlap with each other. In an overlapping set of reasons, only one reason, the contributor, plays an explanatory role in determining what you ought to do. We argue that ‘bottom-up’ theories of reasons – those which explain reasons in terms of some kind of facilitation relation to some normatively significant property of the action or its outcome – are well-placed to explain overlap and a range of closely related phenomena. We argue that Reasons Fundamentalism – the view that some reasons facts do not admit of explanation – has serious difficulties explaining these phenomena. We don’t argue that Reasons Fundamentalism cannot account for these cases. Much of the constructive work of the paper is in the service of Reasons Fundamentalism. But, in the end, an abductive argument supports explanations of reasons from the bottom up. 


Sinan Dogramaci (Texas)
October 20, 2017, 3pm
COOR Hall 4403

The Ordinary Language Argument Against Skepticism---Pragmatized

"In this talk, I'll offer a version of the ordinary language response to skepticism.  In my version, the argument is based on premises about the practical functions served by our epistemic words. The argumentative strategy is to start with some existing views, borrowed from Edward Craig and others, about the functions we serve by using epistemic language, and from those premises infer anti-skepticism as a conclusion. I hope to also talk a bit about the ways in which it is viable and desirable to try to make a non-question-begging argument for anti-skepticism."


Aness Webster (Nottingham)
October 27, 2017, 3pm
COOR Hall 4403

Underexplored Harms of Racism: The Emotional and Cognitive Costs of Shame

One common emotional response to racism is shame. However, this phenomenon seems puzzling. According to common sense view of shame (as well as many existing accounts of shame), the target of racism has nothing to feel shame about.  I seek to explicate the nature of shame that is felt in response to racism. Inspired by David Velleman’s analysis of shame, I claim that when an individual is racialised as non-white and stereotyped in a racist incident, she can (justifiably) feel shame about her inability to choose when her racialised identity is made salient. Focusing on the phenomenology of those who are on the receiving ends of racism directs our attention to the emotional and cognitive costs of racism that have their root in the shame that one experiences in response to racism. This contributes to a better understanding of the impact of racism as well as yielding a fuller picture of what is morally objectionable about racism.


James Joyce (Michigan)
November 17, 2017, 3pm
COOR Hall 4403

Three Paradoxes of Uncertainty

The theory of “imprecise credences” provides one common way of representing extreme epistemic uncertainty. I will discuss three paradoxes that arise within the theory: dilation, willful ignorance, and belief inertia. The dilation paradox concerns situations in which acquiring evidence causes a believer to move from having a completely precise credence in some proposition to a state of complete uncertainty in which her credence for that proposition is entirely indeterminate. The paradox of willful ignorance concerns the fact that, consistent with the imprecise theory, it can be rational to pay to avoid receiving information that one knows will affect one’s decisions. The paradox of belief inertia is the fact that the imprecise theory sometimes prevents believers from ever learning anything. I will show, contrary to what some philosophers suggest, that none of these paradoxes pose any real problem for the imprecise theory.  No familiarity with imprecise credences will be assumed, and the discussion will be largely carried out at a non-technical level.


Anat Schechtman (Wisconsin)
February 9, 2018, 3pm
COOR Hall 4403

Three Infinities in Early Modern Philosophy

Many historical and philosophical studies treat infinity as an exclusively quantitative notion, whose proper domain of application is mathematics and physics. The main aim of this paper is to disentangle, by critically examining, three notions of infinity in the seventeenth century, and to argue that one—but only one—of them is quantitative. One of these non-quantitative notions concerns being or reality, while the other concerns a particular iterative property of an aggregate. These three notions will emerge through examination of three central figures: Locke (for quantitative infinity), Descartes (ontic infinity), and Leibniz (iterative infinity).


Carolina Sartorio (Arizona)
March 23, 2018, 3pm
COOR Hall 4403

Causal Theories of (Free) Action

I argue that an “actual sequence” view of metaphysical freedom (a view according to which freedom is just a function of the actual causes of behavior) can be seen as an extension of the popular causalist view about agency. I then discuss some issues that this realization can help illuminate, including the role played in such theories by the concept of causation and by causation’s grounds.


Daniel Hausman (Wisconsin)
April 6, 2018, 3pm
COOR Hall 4403

Well-Being and Preferences

This essay argues that preference-satisfaction theories of well-being are untenable. A state of affairs that is not otherwise good for an individual does not become good for the individual because the individual desires it. Discussions of preference satisfaction theories have offered responses to the problems posed by false beliefs and by preferences that appear to have nothing to do with the agent. But they have not addressed the problem for preference satisfaction theories posed by preferences among actions that do not aim to promote the agent's own well-being and may even be intended to sacrifice it. Satisfying such preferences may enhance the agent's well being, but there is no reason to believe that this is always the case, nor that in preferring an action that an agent believes to contribute less to her well-being than an alternative, the agent always deludes herself.


Chiara Cordelli (Chicago)
April 20, 2018, 3pm
COOR Hall 4403 

Title: TBA

Abstract: TBA