Philosophy Society Abstracts 2012/13

Abstracts of papers given at this year's Philosophy Society seminars will be added to this page as we receive them (so if an abstract to a paper you’re interested in is not yet here, it’s worth checking back later!)

John Bishop (University of Auckland, NZ)
Trusting Others, Trusting in God, Trusting the World
Is religious faith in God analogous to interpersonal trust? Is the analogy strong enough to show that faith in God can be reasonable in much the same way that trust in another person can be reasonable? I shall draw attention to significant disanalogies between trust in other people and trust in God. Even though personal relationship with God is central to Christian spirituality, especially in Protestant traditions, I shall argue that faith in God is best understood as trust that the world is such as to make reasonable a certain overall practical and ethical orientation towards it. Interestingly, this account converges with a recent attempt to defend a 'secular' spirituality for which 'cosmic trust' or 'trust in the world' is an essential component.

Seumas Miller (Charles Sturt University, Au)
Shooting to Kill: De Menezes and Collective Responsibility

Chris Tucker (University of Auckland, NZ)
If Dogmatists have a Problem with Cognitive Penetration, You do Too
Dogmatism holds that, if it seems to S that P, then S has prima facie justification for P. But suppose Wishful Willy is prospecting for gold. He sees a yellow object and his desire for gold makes it seem to him that it is a gold nugget. Can his wishfully-caused seeming provide his belief with prima facie justification? More generally, can seemings provide prima facie justification when they are cognitively penetrated (roughly: caused) by desires? Intuitively, the answer to these questions is no, which is a problem for dogmatism. Yet before you mock the speck in the dogmatist's eye, be sure that you don't have a plank in your own. Reliabilists have been quick to pounce on dogmatism for its implications regarding cognitive penetration, but they suffer from cognitive penetration problems that are even worse. Others have restricted dogmatism with the explicit aim of avoiding these (alleged) problems, and they still suffer from them. Your view probably has cognitive penetration problems too.

Daniel Greco (NYU, US)
Iteration and Fragmentation
That our mental lives are not transparent to us is one of the few Freudian doctrines that has been robustly confirmed by subsequent psychological research. Nevertheless, much work in the philosophy of language, as well as formal work in economics and computer science, assumes various “iteration principles” that can seem to conflict with this psychological truism. By “iteration principles” I have in mind principles like the following:
       (KK) If S knows that P, then S knows that S knows that P.
       (BB) If S believes that P, then S believes that S believes that P.
These principles tell us that certain epistemic and doxastic operators (knowledge and belief, in these cases) automatically iterate. In this paper I'll discuss a pair of paradigmatic examples of the opacity of the mental. Both can be seen as counterexamples to iteration principles like KK and BB. However, I'll distinguish two strategies for making sense of the examples, and only on one of these strategies, which I'll call the “anti-iteration” strategy, are the examples straightforward counterexamples to iteration principles. On the other strategy, which I'll call the “fragmentation” strategy, matters are more complicated, and there is the possibility of defending versions of iteration principles like KK and BB while acknowledging that our mental lives are not transparent to us. I'll ultimately argue that the fragmentation strategy provides a satisfying way of making sense of the opacity of the mental, while also saving what's attractive about iteration principles.

Thomas Porter (University of Manchester) 
What's wrong with practice-independence?
A theme in recent analytical political philosophy—at least that part of it that consists in responses to Rawls, which is most of it—is heightened self-consciousness about method in theorising about justice. A wave of criticisms and defences of Rawls have appeared that focus primarily on distinctions of method rather than on substantive normative claims, though the methods are supposed to have substantive normative upshots. One prominent such distinction contrasts ‘practice-dependent’ and ‘practice-independent’ approaches to theorising about justice. The distinctive feature of the practice-dependent approach is that it appeals to the nature of existing institutional relationships in the justification of applicable first principles of justice. In a slogan: the relationship is prior to the rights. The alternative is to theorise as if the rights are prior to the relationship, and go about justifying principles of justice for the assessment of existing institutions without appealing at all to the institutions’ nature. That is what practice-dependent theorists take G.A. Cohen, Larry Temkin, David Richards, Simon Caney, and others to be doing.

What I want to know is: just what’s wrong with that? My aim is to try to attain some clarity about just what it is about practice-independence that that turns off the many advocates of practice-dependence. I argue that two major criticisms of practice-independence don’t constitute adequate explanations, and offer instead my own version of what turns out to be the common charge that practice-independent theorists can’t really be talking about justice. Unlike most of those who advance that charge, though, I also consider just what kind of an approach practice-independent theorists must be proposing, in that case, and consider what practice-dependent theorists

Jules Holroyd (University of Nottingham)
The relationship between distributive and punitive justice 
Philosophical debates about punishment and the distribution of resources or opportunities across society often proceed independently. However, a few authors have suggested that there are normative preconditions for state punishment; namely, that it (the state) must first fulfil certain distributive obligations. I am sympathetic to this conclusion. I tease out two different strategies for arguing for this: a legitimacy argument, and a justice argument. I argue that the legitimacy arguments are defective, and that the normative precondition claim is best established by pursuing the second line of argument.

Kalle Grill (Umeå, Sw) 
Six Conceptions of Freedom of Choice – a Defence of All-options Probabilism
Conceptions of freedom of choice can be specified along several dimensions according to what sort of obstacles count as limiting choice and so decreasing freedom. Bob Goodin and Frank Jackson have recently provided a mapping of one such dimension: Obstacles can be actual, probable or possible. They argue for probabilism, and I agree. However, Goodin and Jackson propose that freedom is maximized if the probability of interference is minimized, thereby allowing, implausibly, that preference adaptation can increase freedom. Goodin and Jackson implicitly commit to a one-option conception along another dimension of freedom: Obstacles can be to the preferred option, or to any option. Combining the two dimensions we get six conceptions of freedom. I discuss the different options and defend the combination of all-options probabilism, in the spirit of Isaiah Berlin. Along the way I consider Philip Pettit’s defence of all-option possibilism. I also consider critique of Pettit by Matthew Kramer and Ian Carter and defend Pettit’s starting points, if not his end points.

Phillip Meadows (UWE, Bristol)
Holes Cannot Be Counted As Immaterial Objects 
In this paper I argue that the view that holes are immaterial objects faces an objection that has traditionally been thought to be the principal difficulty with its main rival, which construes holes as material parts of material objects. Consequently, one of the principal
> advantages of identifying holes with immaterial objects is illusory: its apparent ease of accounting for truths about number of holes. I argue that In spite of this we should not think of holes as material parts of material objects. This is because the theory that holes are properties does not face the same difficulties as either of these theories which  construe holes as objects of some sort

Ben Colburn (University of Glasgow)
Authenticity, as I understand it, is a property possessed by all and only those preferences whose satisfaction contributes to our lives going well. The property in question is this: our preferences are authentic just in case they do not have covert explanations, which is to say when the true third-personal explanation of our preferences is necessarily hidden from our first-person perspective.
My argument is as follows. I start (in the spirit of Edward Craig and Bernard Williams) by offering a constructive genealogy for a theory of authenticity. Asking why we need such a theory in the first place allows us to identify a general concept of authenticity, functionally defined by the role that it plays in our moral thinking. That the concept is functionally defined allows us moreover to derive a set of desiderata against which particular conceptions of authenticity can be judged. Having established this, I go on to discuss various attempts to formulate such conceptions, and show why they fail. Drawing on the lessons of those failures, in I set out my own conception - the one advertised above - and show it meets the desiderata that its rivals don't. Finally, I explain why my conception of authenticity seems uniquely well-placed to meet those desiderata, and hence why this seems to me the best chance for a defensible theory of authenticity in preferences.

Jane Friedman (University of Oxford)
Inquiry Inquiry and Agnosticism
In this paper I aim to bring together and discuss a class of inquiry-related attitudes that I call Interrogative Attitudes -- inquiry, curiosity, wondering, agnosticism/suspension of judgment and some others. My plan is to first present a central norm for these attitudes, and so for inquiry in general. I will then use this norm to try to argue that suspension of judgment plays a fundamental role in inquiry: I will argue that it is the attitude at the centre of any inquiry, or that it is the core Interrogative Attitude. I will discuss some objections to the view and draw out some consequences for inquiry and for suspended judgment.

Bart Streumer (University of Reading)
Unbelievable Errors 
This talk is part of a book manuscript entitled Unbelievable Errors, in which I argue that the truth about normative judgements seems to be an error theory but that we cannot believe this error theory. In this talk, I will concentrate on my argument for the claim that we cannot believe the error theory. I will try to explain why we cannot believe the error theory by defending the following two claims: (B1) We cannot fail to believe what we believe to be entailed by one of our own beliefs, and (B2) We cannot have a belief while believing that there is no reason for this belief. I will end by asking whether we can believe that we cannot believe the error theory.

Corine Besson (Birkbeck, University of London)
Interpreting What Achilles Said to the Tortoise
An important question in the epistemology of logic concerns the relation of logical knowledge to deductive reasoning. It is widely accepted that Lewis Carroll’s regress argument in “What Achilles Said to the Tortoise” sets up a constraint on what logical knowledge has to be like, if it is to account for deductive reasoning. The constraint is that it cannot be wholly propositional. In this talk, I will discuss three fundamental ways in which the relation between logical knowledge and deductive reasoning can be spelled out, which any account of logical knowledge has to do justice to. I will argue, against the orthodoxy, that Lewis Carroll’s argument, or successive interpretations of it, poses no threat to a propositional account of logical knowledge; and I will show how such an account can do justice to the relation between logical knowledge and deductive reasoning in any of the three fundamental ways of understanding it

Lilian O’Brien (UCC, Ireland)
Actions, Reasons, and Presuppositions

The dominant view of action explanation is that it is a species of causal explanation. One reason for the enduring appeal of “causalism” is the powerful but simple challenge that Davidson presents to would-be non-causalists in “Actions, Reasons, and Causes”. If Davidson is right, the desires, beliefs, or other psychological states that explain actions must have causal features if they are to play their explanatory role. I argue that these causal features are relevant only to whether the presuppositions of action explanation hold. We can thus accommodate the appeal of Davidson’s challenge without conceding that action explanation is a species of causal explanation. Avoiding this concession is important, not only for understanding how action explanation works, but for avoiding the problem of explanatory exclusion.


Meanwhile, here are abstracts of some of the papers we hosted in 2011/12:

Alice Drewery (Reading)

Species of necessity

Necessary truths are those which could not fail to hold, but if such truths include more than just logical truths, we are owed an account of natural necessity. In this talk I canvass various accounts, and the related notion of a law of nature. In particular I discuss Marc Lange's conception of 'stability' and the controversial extension of this concept to special science laws found in his recent book Laws and Lawmakers (OUP, 2009). I will ask whether we need an account of (restricted or relative) necessity to account for special science laws and if so, discuss what prospects there are for finding one.


Klaas J. Kraay (Ryerson University, Canada)

On Preferring God’s Non-existence

The question “Does God exist?” has been much debated. Rather less attention has been paid, however, to this distinct axiological question: “Would God’s existence be a good thing?” In two important new papers, Guy Kahane tackles this latter question. He argues that (a) God’s existence would make the world far worse in certain respects, though probably not overall, and that (b) there are people whose lives, through no fault of their own, would be far worse overall if God were to exist. We first distinguish a wide array of axiological positions concerning the value of God’s existence. In light of this, and using the machinery of possible worlds, we then attempt to clarify exactly what claims like (a) and (b) assert. Next, we show that Kahane has failed to establish both claims. We conclude with some suggestions for further exploration of the axiological consequences of God’s existence.


Andrew Sepielli (Torronto, Canada)

The Law's "Majestic Equality"

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
- Anatole France, The Red Lily
      Laws like those mentioned in this ironic aphorism are open to at least two criticisms. The first criticism is that they forbid conduct that oughtn't to be forbidden. The second criticism is that they unfairly place greater burdens of compliance on some (here, the poor) than on others (here, the rich). It may be onerous for the poor to comply with the law against, say, sleeping under bridges; not so for the rich.
      It is this second criticism that I read France as expressing. And it is the reach of this criticism that I want to explore in this essay. Specifically, I want to ask whether the second criticism may apply to a law even if the first criticism does not ? whether there can be laws that are good in the sense that they forbid behavior that really, genuinely ought to be forbidden, but that are nonetheless unfair in the distribution of compliance burdens they yield. Some examples may tempt us to say "no". It may be more burdensome for thrill-seekers than for the rest of us to comply with laws against speeding, but that does not make speeding laws unfair. It may be more burdensome for pedophiles than for the rest of us to comply with laws against child pornography, but this inequality, too, is morally unproblematic. But I will argue that the answer is "yes". Good laws can, and surprisingly often do, yield unfair distributions of compliance burdens.


John Bigelow (Monash, Australia)

Why timetravel is impossible

In the materialist metaphysics of David Lewis, Quine, Armstrong and others it is very important to see time as fundamentally very like the other three dimensions of spacetime. So it was of some significance to David Lewis to argue for the internal logical consistency of at least some stories about time travel.
      I will argue that, within Lewis's own framework, all time travel stories are internally self-contradictory. But the inconsistency is hard to pin down. The hidden inconsistency is like the inconsistency of asserting the conjunction of every sentence in a book and then adding that of course at least one of those sentences is false.
      I will argue that according to Lewis a time travel story is essentially committed to the truth (in the fiction) of a string of counterfactuals. If counterfactuals were transitive, these counterfactuals would collectively entail a contradiction. Counterfactuals are not transitive: but they are "quasi-transitive": (p -> q) and ((p&q) -> r) does entail (p -> r). I will argue that this quasi-transitivity is enough to make time travel internally inconsistent.


Stephan Torre (Barcelona, Spain)

Actuality and Mere Possibility

There are white swans, but there might not have been. John McCain did not win the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, but he could have. It is commonplace within the metaphysics of modality to accommodate intuitions such as these by drawing a distinction between actuality, on the one hand, and mere possibility, on the other. I consider two realist ways of drawing this distinction, Lewisian realism and Leibnizian realism, and argue that neither one succeeds in doing justice to the original modal intuitions. I then suggest an alternative way of understanding the distinction within the realist framework and argue that it has clear advantages over the two realist views considered.


Christian Piller (York)

Knowledge and Achievement: Three Accounts of Epistemic Normativity

I discuss Greco's idea that knowledge is an achievement and as such a good thing. I find this idea implausible. I contrast it with Sosa's attributive account of epistemic normativity and with my own conditional-good account.


Ann Whittle (Manchester)

The Power to Choose

In this paper, I defend the claim that substances can be causes. My hope is to show that this view is not as implausible as is often thought.


Lee Walters (Oxford)

The Metaphysics of Fictions and their Characters

Marcello Oreste Fiocco

Truth, Modality and Time

In contemporary metaphysics, it is widely accepted that a true claim is not so in itself, but rather is *made true* by certain features of the world. It is also widely accepted that metaphysical possibility and necessity are not epistemic or conceptual phenomena; rather, what is possible or necessary *simpliciter* is determined by the natures of things in themselves. I embrace both views. I argue that accepting the two has significant consequences for the modal status of features of the world in time. In particular, the two views together seem incompatible with the contingency of the past and present. Many take it for granted that Aristotle might not have been a philosopher or that I now might not have been wearing a white shirt (when, in fact, I am); however, I argue this is incorrect. Moreover, I argue that if these two views are combined with another one that is widely held—to wit, that there are many moments of time, all of which are equally real—then there is a straightforward argument for the fatalistic conclusion that there is no contingency in the world, at every moment the world must be as it is and at no moment could it go differently than it in fact does. Insofar as one accepts that all truth is grounded and that what could be and what must be are determined by the natures of things, contingency in the world can be preserved only by adopting a different view of the world in time.

Charles Pigden (Otago, New Zeeland)
No-Ought-From-Is and the Promising Game or John Searle, William Godwin and the Duke of Wellington. 
The paper argues that we can no more derive a moral obligation from the fact that a promise has been made than we can derive a duty to fight from the fact that a challenge has been issued.

Kristopher McDaniel (Syracuse, USA)
Degrees of Being
Consider the following technical terms employed in many contemporary metaphysical debates: "naturalness" as used by David Lewis (1986), "fundamentality" or "structure" as used by Ted Sider (2009, forthcoming), "grounding" as used by Jonathan Schaffer (2009, forthcoming) and others, and the ubiquitous "in virtue of". I will argue for the following. First, I will argue that, given certain plausible assumptions, the notion of degree of being can be analyzed in terms of these notions. Second, I will argue that, given certain plausible assumptions, each of these notions can be analyzed in terms of the notion that being comes in degrees.

There are several reasons why this result is interesting. First, the notions naturalness, fundamentality, or structure are ones that most contemporary metaphysicians grant are intelligible, whereas the claim that existence, being, or reality might come in degrees is regarded by many metaphysicians as being unintelligible. One way to assist a philosopher in grasping a notion that she regards as unintelligible is to show her how one can use that notion to define ones that she antecedently accepts as intelligible.

Second, it is widely believed by metaphysicians that at least one of the notions of naturalness, fundamentality, structure, or grounding is theoretically fruitful, whereas most contemporary metaphysicians see little use for the thought that existence comes in degrees. For example, metaphysicians such as David Lewis are willing to take the notion of naturalness as a primitive because they recognize that it can be used to define or partially characterize the following philosophically important concepts: objective similarity, intrinsic properties, laws of nature, materialism, meaning and reference, and so forth.   If we can define the notion of metaphysical naturalness in terms of degrees of being, then metaphysicians will have an equally strong reason to take the notion of degrees of reality as primitive, since it can do all of the work that the notion of metaphysical naturalness can do.

Third, whenever two notions are shown to be in some sense inter-definable (given certain assumptions) interesting questions arise. If, for example, degrees of being and naturalness are, in some sense, inter-definable, have metaphysicians been, in some sense, really committed to there being degrees of being all along? Can arguments be given that one ought to take the notion of a degree of reality as a primitive rather than metaphysical naturalness or vice-versa?

Elizabeth Ashford (St. Andrews)

Matthew Chrisman (Edinburgh)
Ought and Agency
It is commonly assumed in metaethics that the word 'ought' is ambiguous between a sense that is closely related to obligations and several other senses that seem to have nothing to do with obligations. This metaethical thesis is in sharp tension with the common view in theoretical semantics and deontic logic that the word 'ought' functions as a modal operator used to say what is true in all of some contextually specified range of possible worlds. Unfortunately, this semantic antithesis is not only in tension with the metaethical thesis about 'ought'; it also has a number of problematic consequences surrounding the connection between 'ought' and agency. In this paper I pursue some resolution of the tension between metaethical thesis and semantic antithesis with the hope of a satisfying synthesis.

Tadeusz Szubka (Szczecin University, Poland)
Two Approaches to Ontology: Fine versus Horwich
Roughly speaking, there are two main metaontological positions: maximalism and minimalism (or quietism). For proponents of the former while doing ontology and metaphysics one deals with very deep and profound questions which concern the fundamental structure and furniture of the world, and which admit nontrivial and objective answers. Such a view has recently been ingeniously defended by Kit Fine. His ontological maximalism has been met with an opposition of Paul Horwich, the staunch minimalist about truth, meaning and other key philosophical notions. He argues that if ontology is conceived as a philosophical discipline focused on the project of describing reality as it is in itself, then we should abandon it.

The paper discusses crucial ideas of Fine’s ontological maximalism, and subsequently presents the thrust of Horwich’s opposition to it. In general, the position defended by Fine appears more plausible and convincing. However, there are two major difficulties inherent in it. One is related to a rather unfortunate and simplistic framework of appearance and reality, employed by Fine to clarify the idea of maximalist metaphysics. The other problem is concerned with Fine’s recommendation that while doing metaphysics and trying to establish what reality in itself is like we need to restore ourselves to a state of metaphysical innocence. This sounds good but only until one tries to give a precise sense to the seemingly intuitive and unproblematic idea of reality as it is in itself. As various efforts to come to grips with this elusive idea show, it seems almost impossible to give any specific content to it.Nigel Dower (Aberdeen)
Cosmopolitanism and Community: To what extent should cosmopolitanism take into account the claims of patriotism and other communitarian considerations?
A cosmopolitan global ethic makes claims about universal values and about transboundary responsibilities. As such, does it have to be in conflict with claims about diversity of values and about particularist obligations? I shall argue that that it does not and offer a middle ground account of how the two ethical perspectives can be integrated. A moderate context-sensitive cosmopolitanism and a critical globally oriented patriotism, for instance, may have more in common and be more reasonable than either a strong cosmopolitanism or a strong patriotism.

Catriona McKinnon (Reading)