Philosophy Colloquia


Spring 2024

Ray Briggs Stanford University 
January 19, 2024
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403 

Title: Science Fiction Double Feature: Trans Liberation on Twin Earth

Abstract: What makes someone a woman, a man, or nonbinary?  What are the essential properties of gender categories? How should we judge questions of gender category identity and distinctness? And what makes something a gender category in the first place? In this collaborative work with B. R. George, I aim to provide both negative answers to some of these questions (for example: there is no substantive essence of womanhood common to individual women or essential to the woman category) and sketch positive alternatives that address all four of them.

Mathias Frisch Leibniz Universität Hannover 
March 1, 2024
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403 

Title: Precautionary Reasoning, Pandemic Restrictions and an Asymmetry of Control

Abstract: The precautionary principle is often put forward as a potentially useful guide to avoiding catastrophe under conditions of uncertainty. But finding an adequate formulation of the principle runs into a problem when needed precautionary measures also have potentially catastrophic consequences – the imperative to avoid catastrophe appears to recommend both for and against the measures. Drawing from the early pandemic, I suggest a way around this “problem of paralysis” in a particular class of cases in which there exists an asymmetry between alternative courses of action, concerning possibilities of later intervention.

Fall 2023

Taylor Davis Purdue University
September 8, 2023 
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403 

Title: Norms in the Scientific Image: A Precis

Abstract: Norms are studied across the social sciences, in all kinds of disciplines and sub-disciplines, which have a wide range of different goals, and which employ a wide range of different theories and methods. Not surprisingly, then, the scientific study of norms has become a Tower of Babel, conceptually speaking. Specific theories and studies can be distilled into four major traditions, but the traditions don’t fit together. They have only partly overlapping scopes, and make many conflicting claims about what norms are and how to explain them. I am working on a book that aims to unify, or integrate, these traditions, constructing a single theoretical framework that can serve as a lingua franca for scientists studying norms from any field. Here I’ll describe the project, and discuss some implications for two important types of norms: moral norms and norms of sustainability.

Amy Reed Sandoval University of Nevada, Las Vegas
October 27, 2023 
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403 

Title: Feminism and the Open Borders Debate  

Abstract: The motivating question of the open borders debate--namely, do states have a prima facie right to maintain coercive borders and restrict immigration into their territories?--has not been taken up from an explicitly feminist perspective, and this presents difficulties for understanding the complex relationships between borders and gender justice. I argue that there are many reasons for this, among them a reluctance on the part of many feminist and decolonial scholars to present their ethical positions in universal terms. In this paper, I begin to develop a universal border ethic that, I argue, helps us to consider the open borders debate from a feminist, decolonial perspective. First, I explore a series of important, possible objections feminists may make to the framing of the open borders debate. Second, I respond to these objections by recasting the open borders debate in terms of what Serene Khader has called "non-ideal universalism" in her recent book, Decolonizing Universalism. Reframed in this way, I argue that immigration ethicists should not argue for a bordered or borderless world as an idealized end-state. Rather, we should explore the complicated relationship between borders and oppression. In so doing, we should consider established open borders debate arguments not as universally-applicable theories, but rather, as possible policy goals that may, or may not, reduce oppression in particular contexts.

Hanna Kiri Gunn University of California, Merced
November 17, 2023
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403 

Title: Why there can be no politically neutral social-epistemology of the internet

Abstract: In this talk, I present recent work on a feminist epistemology project about content moderation and attempts to regulate information consumption online. I argue that there can be no politically neutral social-epistemic response to the internet, and that we ought to see responses to the epistemological crisis online as part of a collective political project aimed at creating a particular epistemic community. In analyzing common responses to the epistemological crisis, I argue that there are problematic moves toward epistemic individualism that risks undermining efforts to achieve social cohesion and social resilience in liberal democracies. I argue that these individualistic commitments arise partly from an implicit commitment to what I will call a "neoliberal epistemology". In its place, I propose we should be seeking ways to promote a substantive democratic epistemology that prioritizes the health of the epistemic community over the rights of individual members.

Spring 2023

Pekka Vayrynen University of Leeds
January 18, 2023
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Normative Explanatory Pluralism

Abstract: Some theorists of normative explanation argue that we can make sense of debates between first-order moral theories such as consequentialism and its rivals only if we understand their explanations of why the right acts are right and the wrong acts are wrong as grounding explanations. Others argue that the standard form of normative explanation is, instead, unifying generalization. Neither sort of explanatory monism can account for all the explanations that first-order normative theorists actually seek to state and defend. I argue that we can do better if we accept normative explanatory pluralism, the view that one and the same normative explanandum can have more than one type of correct complete explanation.

Vida Yao Rice University
February 3, 2023
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Who I Am With You

Abstract: It is a commonplace thought that the giving of private information about oneself can secure or perhaps even constitute interpersonal intimacy between the giver and receiver of such information. Within the philosophical literature, both historical and contemporary, this basic idea is typically taken to be so obvious as to not be worth much attention or defense. Others, however, have raised doubts about the close relationship between exchanges of private information and interpersonal intimacy. Such skeptical doubts encourage a closer examination of what the activity of self-disclosure can consist in, what its relationship to interpersonal intimacy is, and what the nature of the intimacy it can sometimes achieve is. Standard understandings of this activity, I will argue, do not capture the ways in which a person can, through sharing something “private” about herself with another, not just reveal that fact about herself, but come to acknowledge that fact about herself. Thus, it is possible through such exchanges not just that two people feel closer to one another, but that they become intimate with one another in the very specific sense that their selves or self-conceptions become partially integrated with one another. This intimacy between the person telling and the person told comes to exist not fundamentally because the teller simply reveals herself to the told, but because, as I’ll describe, the told may reveal the teller to herself, and thereby partly constitute who she now acknowledges she is.

Rosa Cao Stanford University
February 24, 2023
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Do swampmodels have inner representations? 

Abstract: Neural network models have come to play a significant role in neuroscience, as well as, more recently, in our broader cultural life.  These models produce increasingly sophisticated behaviors that call out for explanation: from classifying novel images to manipulating language in ways that we find meaningful. Are these systems promising models of how the brain enables human vision and language?  Or are they doing something completely different from us on the inside?  In humans we take sophisticated behavioral capacities to require internal representations -- but on what basis can we assess whether neural network models have internal representations at all? To address these questions, I'll introduce a synchronic notion of function that highlights similarities between evolution by natural selection and the processes by which these systems are produced. The goal is to find a unified way of looking for representational content in humans, animals and machines.

Branden Fitelson Northeastern University
March 3, 2023
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Bayesianism & Explanationism 

Abstract: In the recent literature, two opposing ways of thinking about the relationship between Explanationism and Bayesianism have emerged. On one side are authors including van Fraassen and Douven who have tried to accommodate Explanationist intuitions via revisions of the fundamental structural Bayesian requirements of rationality. On the other side are authors including Roche & Sober and Lange who have proposed that Bayesians should understand Explanationism in substantive, confirmation-theoretic terms. I will begin by explaining the difference between structural vs substantive Bayesian rationality. Then, using this distinction, I will discuss the two opposing ways of reconciling Explanationism & Bayesianism. In the end, I will side with those who take Explanationism to be a substantive -- rather than a structural -- Bayesian constraint. I will also explain why I disagree with the skeptical arguments of Roche & Sober regarding the prospects of reconciling Explanationism and Bayesianism.

Rima Basu Claremont McKenna College
March 24, 2023
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Bullshit Inquiry: An Argument for Publishing With Belief

Abstract: The problem of fake news and the spread of misinformation has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. The problem, however, is not one unique to journalism. In this paper I highlight an unflattering similarity between the incentives that reporters work under, and the incentives that we, as researchers, also work under. This unflattering similarity gives rise to our own problem of misinformation: the problem of bullshit inquiry. To combat bullshit inquiry I argue that we need a belief norm on publishing.

Aubrial Harrington (Grad student talk)
March 31, 2023
3-5 p.m.
Coor Hall 4403

Title: The Nature of Border

Abstract: Societies contain fringe spaces where social, political, and economic rules and norms manifest in complex ways. The people inhabiting these spaces face unique circumstances, challenges, and injustices. Borders and the spaces around them (borderlands) are an important class of these spaces. To understand borders/borderlands and make sense of the experiences of the people who inhabit them, we need a descriptively rich framework that can capture the borders/borderlands phenomena which extend through the different dimensions of human society. This paper has two aims, first to provide an outline of a few key dimensions of the borderlands and second, to provide a preliminary discussion of some of the many different senses in which the borderlands interact and affect individuals and groups in terms of issues specific to the context of the U.S./Mexico border/borderlands.

Michael White  Arizona State University
April 14, 2023
3-5 p.m. 
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Second-Order Logic (SOL): Logic or “Set Theory in Sheep’s Clothing”?

Abstract: This talk will consider two related but distinct issues. The first issue is whether second-order logic (SOL) really should be considered as a ‘true logic’, on all fours with familiar first-order logic (FOL), or whether SOL is actually set theory masquerading as logic. The second issue is the dispute between logical monists and logical pluralists. I argue that the incompleteness of SOL has the same source as the undecidability of FOL and, further, that the theoretical limitations of axiomatizations of FOL and SOL need to be distinguished from (and are, in some ways, less important than) the practical limitations of those axiomatizations. I also argue that the very fact that set theory is used in the standard semantic specification of the logical-consequence relation for both FOL and SOL means that the camel of set-theoretic ‘entanglement’ already has its nose under the tent in the case of FOL: although there is an undeniable difference in degree, the kind of set-theoretic entanglement is the same for both FOL and SOL. I interpret Väänänen’s claim of the essential equivalence between SOL and set theory formulated in FOL when employed as foundations of mathematics as suggesting that it is equally correct/incorrect (and equally inconsequential) to characterize SOL as set theory in sheep’s clothing and to characterize first-order set theory as logic in sheep’s clothing. 

For an extended abstract, click here

Preston Werner Hebrew University of Jerusalem
April 21, 2023
Coor Hall 4403

Title: How Naive is Contentful Moral Perception? 

Abstract: According to contentful moral perception (CMP), moral properties can be perceived in the same sense as tables, tigers, and tomatoes. Recently, Heather Logue (2012) has distinguished between two potential ways of perceiving a property. A Kantian Property (KP) in perception is one in which a perceiver's access involves a detection of the property via a representational vehicle. A Berkeleyan Property (BP) in perception is one in which a perceiver's access to the property involves that property as partly constitutive of the experience itself. (Traditionally, representationalists believe all perception is Kantian, while naive realists believe all perception is Berkeleyan.) In this paper, I set aside generalized arguments in favor of one view or another, and instead ask whether proponents of CMP have reasons to understand moral perception as Kantian or Berkeleyan. While none of the arguments I consider are conclusive, where one falls on this debate will have broader metaethical implications.

Fall 2022

Darrel Moellendorf Goethe-Universität-Frankfurt am Main
Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022
Noon-1:30 p.m.
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Hope in the Time of Climate Change

Talk sponsored by Philosophy Faculty, SHPRS, Environmental Humanities Initiative, GFL

Andreas De Block Ku Leuven
Kristien Hens University of Antwerp
Friday, Sept. 23, 2022
3-5 p.m.
Coor Hall 4403

Title: "Causes or Cures: What makes attention issues (real) disorders? Results of a Study in Experimental Philosophy of Medicine." 

Alex Jackson Boise State
Friday, Oct. 14, 2022
3-5 p.m.
Coor Hall 4403

Title: The Fundamental Facts Can Be Logically Simple

Gil Hersch Department of Philosophy and Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, Virginia Tech
Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022
11 a.m.
Coor Hall 4581

Title of talk: On Hardships and Expectations

Abstract: Imagine you are an athlete training for an upcoming competition by lifting weights, a musician practicing a piece for an upcoming concert, or a philosopher burning the midnight oil working on a book manuscript. Perhaps, in all of these cases, your life is going badly. At the moment, your well-being seems low because you’re engaged in difficult, strenuous, time-consuming tasks. Your activity still has expected prudential value, since you hope these tasks will pay off in the future. But it seems that you are sacrificing your well-being now for the sake of later gains. That is one way to think about it. But often we do not judge our lives in this way. Often, we look back at period of training, practice, or sacrifice, and say that these were good times, even though they were difficult. Many of us think that we benefit not just from the reaping, but from the sowing, too.

If we judge that these difficult times in our life are good for us, this seems to create a problem for those who, like us, defend a momentary conception of well-being as opposed to lifetime or episodic conceptions of well-being. In this paper we solve this puzzle by appealing to the concept of expectational momentary well-being, which is a component of momentary well-being that offers a way of integrating the expected value of future success during the moment in which we are undergoing the hardships necessary to achieve them.

Jeanine Weekes Schroer University of Minnesota Duluth 
Friday, Oct. 21, 2022
3-5 p.m.
Zoom only
Email for Zoom address

Title: Critical Race Theory Is Coming to Get You! Making a Steel Man Out of Anti-CRT Sentiment

Abstract: From a certain perspective, it is easy to dismissAnti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) arguments.  They often seem to not understand what CRT is and even more frequently (at least in the public discourse) are given in bad faith.  While accurate, these criticisms don’t effectively penetrate anti-CRT sentiments.  This paper aims to shift perspective and imagine good faith concerns lurking in anti-CRT sentiments. “Steelmanning” anti-CRT arguments is not simply a rehearsal of a long-cherished principle of good critical thinking (charity): aspects of CRT have permeated and are altering our culture in ways that require a reckoning. The steelmanned anti-CRT argument developed here highlights the value of steelimanning as a tool, while identifying a real concern for the project of addressing racism in the US. 
Karen Stohr Georgetown, Political Philosophy
Friday, Nov. 4, 2022
3-5 p.m.
Coor Hall 4403

Title: How Not to Value Your Ends: Smugness as a Kantian Vice

Abstract: Smug people are annoying. In this paper, I argue that smug people are also exhibiting a vice. I employ Kant’s account of vice to explain what smugness is and what makes it morally objectionable. To be smug, I argue, is to place incorrect value on yourself as a setter of ends. It is thus an expression of self-conceit. I distinguish smugness from the nearby vice of arrogance, as well as from appropriate self-respect. 

Spring 2022

Nathan Ballantyne Fordham University
Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022
3 p.m.
Coor Hall 4403 or Zoom 

Title: Do Your Own Research

Jake Nebel University of Southern California
Friday, Jan. 21, 2022
3 p.m.

Title: The Sum of Well-Being
Abstract: Philosophers sometimes use numbers to represent how good things are for people. The sum of these numbers is often said to represent a sum of well-being. I want to understand what, if anything, this means. There are sums of masses and of lengths, but not of beauty or of times. Why should we think that there are sums of well-being? In this talk I explain what it would take for well-being to be the kind of quantity that can be summed across individuals, and explore some ways of showing well-being to be that kind of quantity.

Erin Beeghly University of Utah POSTPONED
Friday, February 11, 2022

Title: TBA
Abstract: TBA

Jonathan Ichikawa University of British Columbia
Friday, March 18, 2022
3 p.m.

Title: Obligations to Believe

Abstract: Epistemologists focus a lot on negative epistemic norms, which prohibit belief in particular circumstances. We should pay more attention than we do, I’ll argue, to positive epistemic norms, according to which it is an epistemic error in some cases not to believe. Epistemologists sometimes acknowledge the existence of such norms — often following William James — but most tend to underemphasise them. Some epistemologists have gone so far as to argue that there can be no positive epistemic norms. I’ll respond to those arguments, affirming and articulating an approach to epistemic duties to believe. I think the emphasis on the negative represents an undue bias in epistemology, against belief, and towards the skeptical. I’ll also argue that this bias is tied up with conservative political instincts and deference to the status quo.

Tayler Burge UCLA
Saturday, March 26, 2022
Memorial Union, Arizona Ballroom (Room 221), ASU Tempe Campus

Title: A Map of the Lower Representational Mind

Abstract: TBA

Erin Beeghly University of Utah
Friday, April 8, 2022
3 p.m.
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Prejudice and the Problem of Statistical Stereotyping

Abstract: This talk uses the lived experiences and work of AIDS activists in the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s as a launching pad to explore what’s wrong with stereotyping. I begin with an observation. Activists often cited prejudice to explain why it was morally wrong to stereotype people with AIDS. Then I introduce a well-known problem with prejudice-focused explanations: not all wrongful stereotyping seems to be caused by prejudice. Statistical stereotyping is a prime example. When people engage in statistical stereotyping, they do so based on statistical information, not hateful, irrational beliefs about groups. Much of the talk is devoted to showing that prejudice can play a crucial causal role in morally wrongful statistical stereotyping—or wrongful statistical discrimination, for that matter—despite appearances otherwise. I argue that this result shows two things: (1) prejudice is far more epistemically insidious than meets the eye and (2) theorists should not summarily dismiss the explanatory power of prejudice simply because it appears to be absent in salient cases. I end by returning to activists’ thoughts on the matter and, drawing them out, sketch a pluralistic theory of morally wrongful stereotyping in which prejudice plays a role. 

Fall 2021

David Livingstone Smith  University of New England
Friday, Sept. 17, 2021
3 p.m. 

Title: Dehumanization, Gender, and the Folk-Metaphysics of Race

Abstract: There is an intimate connection between dehumanization and racialization. Although groups can be racialized without being dehumanized, dehumanized groups are almost always racialized. To understand why this is, it's necessary to unpack the folk-metaphysics of race and its relationship to certain underlying psychological dispositions. In this talk, I'll explore two crucial components of racialization and dehumanization--psychological essentialism and hierarchical thinking--and then go on to discuss why the most dangerous form of dehumanization, demonizing dehumanization, is highly gendered.

Allison Aitken Columbia University
Friday, Oct. 15, 2021
3 p.m.

Title: A Case against Simple-mindedness: Śrīgupta on Mental Mereology

Abstract: There's a common line of reasoning which supposes that the phenomenal unity of conscious experience is grounded in a mind-like simple subject. To the contrary, Mādhyamika Buddhist philosophers beginning with Śrīgupta (seventh-eighth century) argue that any kind of mental simple is incoherent and thus metaphysically impossible. Lacking any unifying principle, the phenomenal unity of conscious experience is instead an ungrounded illusion. In this paper, I present an analysis of Śrīgupta’s “neither-one-nor-many argument” against mental simples and show how his line of reasoning is driven by a set of implicit questions concerning the nature of and relation between consciousness and its intentional object. These questions not only set the agenda for centuries of intra-Buddhist debate on the topic, but they are also questions to which any defender of unified consciousness or a simple subject of experience arguably owes responses.

Sarah Moss University of Michigan
Friday, Oct. 29, 2021
3 p.m.

Title: A Contextualist Reframing of Encroachment

Abstract: This talk defends a contextualist theory of ‘knowledge’ ascriptions. I argue that in some sentences, the implicit argument of ‘knows’ is bound by a quantifier. The natural readings of these sentences can be generated by contextualist theories, but not by competing interest-relative theories of knowledge. In addition, I argue that the contextualist can explain distinctive patterns in our judgments about sentences in which 'knows' is embedded under change-of-state verbs. Along the way, I argue that the most common definitions of ‘encroachment’ and ‘interest relativity’ are seriously flawed.

Juan Comesana University of Arizona
Friday, Nov. 19, 2021
3 p.m.
Coor Hall 4403

Title: Revisiting the argument from illusion

Abstract: Philosophers like Descartes, Russell, and Ayer used the argument from illusion to conclude that in perception we are directly aware of inner objects, and at best indirectly aware of external objects. Many have objected to that use of the argument by claiming that it illegitimately draws a metaphysical conclusion from epistemic starting points, and that just because, in the bad case, we are wrong about external objects, that does not mean that we are right about internal ones.

The argument from illusion can also be used to draw a purely epistemic conclusion: that in both the good and the bad case we are justified in believing the same propositions (this new use of the argument from illusion forms the basis of Stew Cohen’s “new evil demon problem” for Reliabilism). Some followers of Williamson’s program of knowledge-first epistemology have objected to this new argument from illusion. In this talk I want to consider that objection. My conclusion will be that we have not been given good reasons to reject the conclusion that in both the good and the bad case we are justified in believing the same propositions.