Sharon Street (NYU): Meditation, Metaethics and The View From Nowhere

In The View From Nowhere, Thomas Nagel gives an account of ethical objectivity that is highly suggestive but also obscure. In this talk, I briefly review Nagel's proposal and raise some criticisms of it. I then argue that an appeal to the form of attention cultivated in meditation practice might be able to shed light on what Nagel calls the 'objective standpoint' relevant to ethics. I close with a sketch of a constructivist metaethical proposal that draws on these ideas, and which, if it could be made to work, would vindicate a strong form of ethical objectivity without metaphysical and epistemological mystery.

Quassim Cassam (Warwick): Vices of the Mind

In this talk I'll be outlining and defending what I call an 'obstructivist' view of epistemic vice. Obstructivism says that an epistemic vice is a reprehensible or otherwise blameworthy character trait, attitude or way of thinking that systematically obstructs the gaining, keeping or sharing of knowledge. Examples of such vices include closed-mindedness, prejudice and wishful thinking. I'll explain what is distinctive about my view of epistemic vice and contrast it with motivational approaches. I'll ask and answer a series of questions about obstructivism and illustrate this approach by reference to recent political events. Susan Stebbing wrote in 1939 that 'there is an urgent need today for the citizens of a democracy to think well'. My talk will be about some of the specific ways in which we and our political leaders fail to think well and the consequences of this failure.

Student speakers

Derek H.C. van Hoonen (Groningnen): As if Tricked By Pleasure: Pleasure, Illusion, And Hedonic Ignorance In Republic IX (53b1-585a7)

In the Republic (53b1-585a7), Plato's Socrates argues that ordinary people often conflate neutral states with pleasurable states so that, as a consequence, they are mistaken about their hedonic experiences too. The argument, succinctly construed, looks as follows: (1) There are three mental states: pain, a neutral state of quietude, and pleasure. (2) The neutral state might be experienced as pleasant by someone who is coming from a painful state, although, in fact and by definition, this state is neither pleasant nor painful. (3) It is possible, therefore, to be mistaken about pleasure. We can think we are experiencing pleasure, when in fact we aren't.

Many readers have been perplexed by the deception argument and have either tried to find a conciliatory interpretative way around it or have rejected it straightaway: Plato's Socrates either means something else than what he seems to be saying, it is said, or Plato's Socrates is just plainly wrong. Of those who think Socrates is plainly wrong, most draw on Cartesian notions of infallibility and incorrigibility about our own mental states to dismiss the idea of hedonic mistakes. If I think I am experiencing pleasure, the critics suggest, I am experiencing pleasure. Or as J. O. Urmson writes: 'Does anyone ever confuse the absence of a pain with a pleasant feeling? I doubt it. [...] There is no error or illusion involved at all, so no ground for stigmatizing the pleasure as unreal.'

In sharp contrast to these critical readers, my aim in this paper is to take the argument at face value and defend or at least elucidate the idea that it's possible to make mistakes about one's very own current experience of pleasure. Drawing on recent work by M. Erginel (2004) and J. Moss (2006) and (2008), I offer a new reading of the deception argument and come up with a new diagnosis of the mistake about pleasure. This hedonic mistake, I'll argue, is roughly similar to other cases of illusion or deception in which S thinks they are seeing, feeling, or hearing x as being F, although, in fact x is not F. This reading is corroborated by the fact that Plato locates both our proneness to optical and other illusions and our susceptibility to pleasure in one and the same non-rational, appetitive part of the human mind - a part that is limited to the uncritical acceptance of appearances, be they sensory or evaluative. When we compare cases of hedonic mistakes to Berkeley's famous puzzle about warm and cold water or illusions of self-motion, we see what Plato is aiming at: in all these cases, a certain x appears F to S although x is not F, and in all these cases it makes sense to say that on a deeper level S is mistaken about his current hedonic experience, irrespective of Cartesian notions of incorrigibility and infallibility.

Joseph Bowen (St Andrews & Stirling): The Interest Theory of Rights and Harmless Wrongdoing: What Else is of Interest?

Rights are important. Perhaps rights gain this importance because they protect us from harm - they protect our interests. Intuitions such as these might be seen as the motivating force behind the Interest Theory of Rights.

Interest Theory. For X to have a right to F held against Y, an interest of X's must be of sufficient weight for Y to be under a duty to F.

The Interest Theory holds that an individual's rights are grounded in the protection of that individual's interests. It gives a good account of why Y owes her duty to X - the duty owes its existence to features about X. It offers a plausible account of why, through failing to respect her duty, Y does not merely act wrongly but wrongs X - Y has failed to respond to morally salient duty-grounding features about X.

This paper examines a range of cases in which we might want to attribute rights (and right-violations), and yet it appears to be the case that the right-holder is not harmed by the violation of that right. These cases are known as harmless wrongdoings. At first glance, one might think that an interest cannot be said to be protected by the right under question because the agent is not harmed in such casesthe necessary condition set for the ascription of a right is not satisfied.

Plane Crash (Overdetermination). Dana is about to board a plane. Erica, a flight attendant, denies Dana admittance onto the plane because of her ethnicity. Upon departure, the plane crashes and everybody on board dies.

Surgeon (Harmless Discrimination). Surgeon is operating upon Patient. Patient will die without the Surgery. Because of Patient's ethnicity, Surgeon does not want to help Patient survive. Surgeon knows that her superiors will be suspicious if Patient were to die and so performs the operation, though not to the best of her ability. The operation is successful, though not as successful as it would have been had Surgeon performed the operation to the best of her ability.

Roulette (Pure Risk Imposition). Beth is asleep. Her housemate, Carla, comes into her room and decides to play Russian roulette with Beth. Luckily, no bullet is fired. Carla, content with her game of roulette, will never play roulette again.

In these cases we might, intuitively, want to say that Dana, Patient, and Beth have their rights violated. However, Dana is better off in the world in which her putative rights are violated than that in which they are not; Patient is actually better off than she would have been had Surgeon not performed the surgery; and Beth's life is as it would have been had Carla not made Beth the subject of her risky behaviour. Our victim's interests are not protected by their putative rights that appear to be violated-the necessary condition set for a right-attribution on the Interest Theory is not satisfied. This paper offers a principled solution to this Problem of Harmless Wrongdoing for the Interest Theory, the Safety Condition.

Lucy McDonald (Cambridge): Hermeneutical Resources

Miranda Fricker claims that the exclusion of certain groups from a society's meaning-making processes leads to lacunae in that society's collective hermeneutical resources (2007). Consequently, excluded groups find themselves unable to render important experiences intelligible to themselves and to others. They experience 'hermeneutical injustice'. Fricker gives the following two scenarios as examples:

Carmita experiences sexual harassment at work, but because her society lacks the concept of sexual harassment, she is not able to understand her experience, nor articulate it on an employment insurance application form.

Marge's partner goes missing, and she thinks (correctly) that their mutual friend murdered him. Yet when she tries to articulate this suspicion to her partner's father, she is dismissed because her emotional expressive style is taken as evidence of irrationality.

Hermeneutical injustice is said to involve a structural 'lacuna' (2007:150) or 'gap' (2007:160) in society's 'collective understanding' (2007:158) or 'collective hermeneutical resource' (2007:155). Fricker suggests that because they are hermeneutically marginalised (as women in the 1970s and 1950s respectively), Carmita and Marge find society's collective hermeneutic resource inadequate for their purposes; it does not contain the tools they need to understand and communicate experiences important to them. This absence affects them more negatively than it affects groups who are not hermeneutically marginalised, an asymmetry characteristic of hermeneutical injustice.

Unhelpfully, however, Fricker offers only minimal definitions of 'hermeneutical resource'. She originally claims a hermeneutical gap 'might equally concern not (or not only) the content but rather the form of what can be said' (2007:160). She later refines this distinction, suggesting the two types of hermeneutical resource are 'conceptualised content' and 'expressive form' (2012:1319-1320). 'Conceptualised content' includes both concepts themselves and their names (Fricker 2007:159-160). 'Expressive form' refers to the characteristic expressive style of a group. Fricker suggests that the way a group speaks, not what they say, can also hinder communication. Carmita faces a hermeneutical gap concerning content, Fricker suggests, whilst Marge faces a hermeneutical gap concerning the 'characteristic expressive style of a given social group' (2007:160).

I think Carmita and Marge face real problems, but Fricker's accounts of the precise nature of these problems fall short, because her account of hermeneutical resources is inadequate. Fricker tells us Marge's problem relates to expressive style. This seems right, but it would be wrong to say that just as Carmita lacks an adequate concept, Marge lacks an adequate expressive style. There is nothing wrong with how Marge communicates. Rather, her society lacks an adequate appreciation or understanding of the expressive style she uses. This indicates that Fricker should include receptive communicative contexts in her definition of hermeneutical resources.

Megan Thomas Penney (Bristol): Are Phase Transitions an analogy for the Quantum-Classical Transition?

In Jeffrey Bub's Information-Theoretic (IT) interpretation, the quantum universe is described by noncommutative mechanics and the non-classical structure of quantum information. Bub proposes an analogy between the phase transition in statistical mechanics and the quantum-classical transition. In looking more closely at this analogy, and applying it more generally to the quantunm-classical transition, I state that this is a formal analogy, and argue that as a formal analogy it does not work, due to the failure of two of its premises. I will look particularly at the analogy's failings in regards to semiclassical mechanics, using Alissa Bokulich's book and real experimental examples.

First, I look at the analogy itself in detail and state that it is a formal analogy. In comparing it to Hesse's and Bartha's defintions of material and formal analogies, this phase transition analogy only works as the latter. In structuring it more clearly, I then argue that, due to two flawed premises, the analogy is not successful.

I show that the third premise, 'the infinite limit for phase transitions in statistical mechanics is both explanatorily unproblematic and unavoidable', is neither obviously either unproblematic or unavoidable, using the literature on phase transitions. Then I show that the first premise, 'the quantum-classical transition in the IT interpretation can be understood using an infinite limit', runs into problems when one considers semiclassical mechanics. The conclusion of the analogy, therefore - that the infinite limit for the quantum-classical transition is explanatorily unproblematic and unavoidable - is false.

In conclusion, while the two transitions may have some similarities, the analogy does not have the explanatory power required to solve the problem it is used for. I argue that this phase transition analogy is a formal analogy, and has two flawed premises, therefore invalidating the conclusion. The most important failure is that the analogy cannot account for the combination of classical and quantum theory in the mesoscopic realm, where the two theories overlap. Quantum systems can be as big as a fine grain of sand. Bub's IT interpretation tries to solve the 'small' measurement problem by describing the quantum-classical limit as like a phase transition. While there are similarities between the two transitions, the analogy does not work with semiclassical mechanics, and therefore does not have the required explanatory power.

Rhys Borchert (Arizona): Boltzmann Brains, Simulated Minds, and Cognitive Instability

Bostrom (2003) presents the Simulation Argument and argues that if we were to find ourselves in a civilization with operational ancestor simulations, then we would be rationally compelled to believe in the Simulation Hypothesis the hypothesis that we are currently living in a computer simulation. I argue that this is mistaken. Belief in the Simulation Hypothesis, on the basis of the Simulation Argument, is cognitively unstable. Thus, it cannot both be true and justifiably believed.

In section I, I review the Simulation Argument. In section II, I introduce cognitive instability in the case of Boltzmann Brainsconscious observers which have randomly fluctuated into existenceand I make the parallel to the Simulated Minds in section III. In section IV, I outline possible responses to this cognitive instability and conclude that if we were to find ourselves in civilization with operational ancestor simulations we would be compelled to reject at least one of the background premises of the Simulation Argument.

Samia Hesni (MIT): Illocutionary Frustration

This paper gives an argument against Rae Langton's (1993) notion of illocutionary silencing, and proposes a new category of linguistic harm: that of illocutionary frustration. Specifically, I challenge Langton's claim that silencing occurs when there is a lack of uptake of the speaker's illocutionary act.

I argue this by looking at two similar scenarios that Langton's view treats differently, and argue that these scenarios actually warrant the same kind of analysis; Langton's notion of silencing can't capture the difference she wants it to capture. I propose instead that we should look to a notion of illocutionary frustration to explain the phenomenon allegedly captured by silencing. My main claims are that (1) there's an internal coherence problem with Hornsby and Langton's (1998) notion of illocutionary silencing and (2) a better concept for understanding the linguistic and communicative harm in sexual refusal (and other) cases is illocutionary frustration.

Andy McKilliam (CEU): Materialists Need Not Explain What It Is Like

Here are two questions we can ask about a potentially conscious system:

1. Does it have experiences?

2. If it does have experiences, what are they like?

These two questions mark a distinction between two problems associated with consciousness. Conclusively answering the first of these questions requires uncovering the underlying basis (material or otherwise) of experience in general. It requires uncovering sufficient conditions for the existence of experience, and then determining whether those conditions are satisfied by the system in question. Conclusively answering the second requires not just uncovering the basis of experience in general, but also accounting for why particular experiences have the particular qualitative character that they do.

While this distinction (or a close analogue) is not uncommon in both the scientific and philosophical literature on consciousness, its implications for metaphysical arguments against materialism have been overlooked. The challenge of answering these two questions is typically conflated into a single hard problem for materialism. In this paper, I take some first steps towards exploring the relationship between experience in general and qualitative character and argue that seeing them as related via the determinable/determinate relation can go some way towards defending materialism against a class of anti-materialist arguments. I provide an argument that shows that being able to conclusively answer the first of these questions is sufficient to vindicate materialism. In other words, even if the materialist cannot tell us what a particular conscious system's experiences are like from the subjective perspective, if she can explain how a purely material system can constitute a subject of experience, then all forms of anti-materialism about consciousness can be rejected. Of course, providing such an explanation remains a seriously hard problem, but by not lumping these two tasks together we don't make the problem of consciousness harder than it actually is.

Cristóbal Zarzar (Cambridge): Epicurus on the truth of all perceptions: a phenomenal reading

Epicurus famously claimed that (i) all perceptions are true and that (ii) error comes from judgement. One of the reasons why this epistemological dictum strikes us as utterly counter-intuitive is that, prima facie, we take perception to be true insofar as its content represents its causal object accurately. Consider the following case. Tina and Tom are looking at the same tower from different places; while Tina is looking at the tower from a relatively close distance, Tom is looking at it from afar. As it happens, the tower is square but looks square to Tina and round to Tom. The claim that all perceptions are true strikes us as utterly counter-intuitive because illusions and hallucinations are cases in which perception does not represent its causal object as it is. On the face of it, we take Tom's perception as an illusion generated by the distance between him and the tower. On the other hand, if all perceptions are true insofar as they accurately represent their causes, then the truth of Tina's and Tom's perceptions would amount either to (a) the metaphysical view that the tower is both square and round (i.e. an instance of the Compresence of Opposites view) or to (b) the view that at least some primary qualities such as 'square' and 'round' are relative to the perceiver: the tower is square for Tina and round for Tom. But Epicurus does not hold that the tower is actually round and square (simpliciter), nor does he do away with the objective reality of sensible properties such as 'square' and 'round' What does Epicurus mean, then, when he affirms that all perceptions are true?

In his Letter to Herodotus, Epicurus explains that visual perception is caused by the impact of film of atoms (eidōla) cast off by ordinary objects. On one possible interpretation of this theory of perception (e.g. Taylor 1980; Everson 1990; Asmis 2009), all perceptions are true insofar as they infallibly report on the nature of their respective immediatecauses, i.e. the eidōla impinging upon the sense-organ. However, as I will contend, this reading does not fit well with the Epicurean claim that what is perceived via the eidōla are the ordinary objects themselves. Second, if the objects of perception are not the ordinary objects themselves, but the eidōla, then we have no way to confirm whether those entities do indeed correspond in a robust way with how the ordinary object is. After raising these criticisms, I will argue that Epicurus' position is best understood if we take the senses to report on how ordinary objects appear to us instead of on how they are. As I will go on to explain, although perceptual reports do not tell us how things are in themselves, they should not be regarded as trivial or uninformative, for it is precisely on the basis of the information provided by the senses that we can make, with the aid or reason, justified inferences that go beyond our own affections and establish how things are independently of how we perceive them.

Andrea White (Leeds): Processes and the Philosophy of Action

The concept event has been an important tool in our thinking about causation and action. Most theories of causation take causation to be a special sort of relation between events, and an important theory of action - the causal theory of action ' holds that actions are events with a certain causal history. The concept process has not been appealed to so readily. The orthodox view is that the differences between processes and events (if there are any) are not significant enough to warrant treating them differently in theories of causation or action.

However, recently, several philosophers have argued that the distinction between events and processes is of much greater metaphysical significance than previously thought. Many of these philosophers have suggested that recognising process as a distinctive ontological category is important for understanding action and agency. The theory of processes which has become popular amongst these writers, is a theory I call the 'temporal stuff view' of processes. According to the temporal stuff view, processes are the 'temporal stuffs' from which events are composed.

I propose an alternative to the temporal stuff view. I propose a theory of processes which holds that processes are a special kind of universal. I suggest that engaging in a process is analogous to instantiating a property, and that events are related to processes by an instancing relation - more naturally, events are instances of processes. On this proposal, a substance's engagement in a process is a special sort of state of affairs (a dynamic state of affairs). I argue that this alternative theory of processes does at least as well as the temporal stuff view when it comes to helping us understand agency.

More specifically, proponents of the temporal stuff view suggest that this theory promises to facilitate an account of the causality of action which avoids the so-called 'disappearing agent problem' associated with standard theories of action, such as the causal theory of action. The causal theory of action holds that actions are events, namely bodily movements, and bodily movements count as actions when and only when they are caused, in the right way, by certain mental states of the agent or mental events involving the agent. However, it has been objected that an essential part of our concept of agency is that the agent herself brings about changes, and on the causal theory of action, the agent is merely the area within which mental states or events cause bodily movements. The philosophical payoff of the temporal stuff view is supposed to be that it facilitates an account of action which casts the agent as a causal player, rather than merely an area within which causation takes place. I argue that my theory of processes does as least as well as the temporal stuff view in this regard, and potentially does better, as only my theory is able to explain why actions depend for their existence on the agents that perform them.

Kian Mintz-Woo (Graz): On Parfit's Ontology

Parfit (2011, 2017) denies that the introduction of reasons into our ontology is a cost for his theory. He puts forth two positions to help establish the claim: the Plural Senses View and the Argument from Empty Ontology. I argue that, first, the Plural Senses View can be expanded to allow for senses which undermine his ontological claims; second, the Argument from Empty Ontology can be debunked by the Platonist. These arguments show the instability of Parfit's claimed metaethical advantages over naturalism.

James Goodrich (Rutgers & Stockholm): Harming Mere Members

It's fashionable to deny that

Membership Liability: Facts about group membership can play a role in grounding the liability of a given agent to a given harm.

At the risk of sartorial inelegance, I aim to defend Membership Liability against its skeptics. My defense has two parts. The first part presents cases in which it makes an intuitive difference to the just distribution of harm whether a person is a member of a relevant group. The second part of my argument lays out a novel account of the just distribution of harm that aims to explain why these intuitions may indeed be accurate. I call this account 'Modalism':

Modalism: An agent S can be morally liable to a harm H in virtue of S being morally responsible in nearby worlds for modal counterparts to an unjust threat that needs averting.

I will argue for Modalism by showing how it can capture and systematize a wide-array of intuitions accepted by moral philosophers working on the ethics of harm. If it turns out that Modalism presents us with the best systematization of our intuitions and it supports Membership Liability, we have good reason to believe Membership Liability is true.

Matt Leonard (Southern Californaia): What is it to be located?

What is it for a material object O to be located at a region of spacetime R? Call this The Location Question. In searching for an answer, I am not just interested in a necessary biconditional of the form: necessarily, O is located at R if and only if O bears some relation ? to R. I am looking for a metaphysical analysis of location; I am asking what location is. Philosophers who have written on questions involving location largely fall within two broad camps, and these camps suggest two natural responses to The Location Question. According to the first (primitivism), there is no informative metaphysical analysis of what it is for O to be located at R. According to the second (the identity theory of location), location just is identity.

But each theory is vulnerable to well-known problems. The identity theory is in tension with the plausible thesis that it is contingent where I am located. It is also in tension with the plausible thesis that a statue is distinct from the clay from which it is made, while sharing the same location. And the primitivist theory makes certain facts seem mysterious. Why is it that my body and its location must have the same size and shape? And why is it that if my arm is a part of my body, then my arm's location must be a part of my body's location? It would be nice to have a theory of location T with the following features:

1. T is consistent with contingent location.

2. T is consistent with two material objects having the same location.

3. T entails that necessarily, a material object has the same size and shape as its location.

4. T entails that necessarily, if x is located at R, y is located at S, and x is a part of y, then R is a part of S.

This paper explores a new theory of location and argues that it has all four features. On this view, though material objects are distinct from their locations, they are intimately related to them. Consider a statue and the lump of clay out of which it is made. Plausibly, the statue and the clay have different properties and so are distinct (by Leibniz's Law). And yet the relationship the statue bears to the clay is quite intimate. The precise nature of this intimacy is a matter of controversy. However, it is natural to at least think that the statue and the clay have the same shape and share parts with all of the same things. I am not saying that the statue is located at the clay; but according to the view to be explored, the intimacy between the statue and the clay is analogous to the intimacy between an object and its location. Being located at a region just is (what I will call) being mereogeometrically equivalent with the region.