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What is the Ockham Society?

The Ockham Society provides a forum in which graduate students in philosophy - whether BPhil, MSt or early DPhil - may present their ideas to their peers at the University of Oxford. Our aim is to provide every Oxford graduate student with the opportunity to present their ideas in a friendly environment at least once during their time in Oxford. It is an ideal opportunity to gain feedback on your essays, and to gain first experiences in academic presenting. Small, experimental and unfinished papers are just as welcome as more advanced ones.

While the majority of speakers are from Oxford, the society welcomes papers from graduate students and young academics from other universities. If you would like to present a paper to the society please contact Bradford Kim (firstname.lastname(at)philosophy.ox.ac.uk).

Programme for Hilary 2016

We'll meet Wednesdays 13:00-14:00 in the Radcliffe Humanities Building, Lecture Room.

Week 1
20 January
Ben Brast-McKie (St. Cross), chaired by Alex Roberts
A State Semantics for Ground
This paper provides a second-order state semantics for metaphysical ground that is compatible with necessitism. In §1, I consider Williamson’s (2013) appeal to grounding in explaining why necessitism appears to clash with common sense. §2 shows that Fine’s (2012c) truth-maker semantics for ground is incompatible with necessitism, arguing that ground should be able to accommodate necessitism. In §3, I pry apart what is essential to Fine’s truth-maker semantics for ground from what is inconsistent with necessitism, developing a second-order state semantics for ground that is consistent with necessitism.
Week 2
27 January
Gabe Shapiro (Princeton), chaired by Bradford Kim
A Problem for Grounding: The Failure of Totality Facts
A totality fact is a fact that says, roughly, “this list of things includes all the things that there are.” Grounding theorists (Gideon Rosen and Kit Fine) and Truthmaker theorists (David Armstrong) rely on such facts to resolve a number of metaphysical puzzles. Totality facts are, for instance, meant to help ground general facts, e.g. [all swiss swans are white], and non-existence facts, e.g. [there are no dragons]. Here I argue that totality facts do not do their job: they cannot solve the problems for which they were introduced. Solutions must lie elsewhere.
Week 3
3 February
Fergus Peace (Magdalen), chaired by Ben Lange
Consequentialism and "Just Plain" Goodness
An attractive consequentialist principle says we should do whatever will maximise the good. Almotahari & Hosein (2015) argue that there's no such thing as goodness simpliciter - only, for example, good knives or good cars, or things that are good for someone - and so nothing for the consequentialist to maximise. I criticise their argument and develop a positive account to remove their confusion about what we mean when say things like 'pleasure is good'.
Week 4
10 February
Harry Alanen (New), chaired by James Matharu
Aristotle and the Philosophy of Action
Many consider Aristotle to be the father of philosophy of action. However, philosophy of action wasn't established as a distinct field until the 20th century. While true that he discussed similar questions contemporary philosophers engage with, he did not do so in a systematic fashion, nor did he dedicate any single work on the topic. This makes it difficult to work out what exactly he has contributed to the field. Nor is it clear that he approached the explanation from action in the same way as contemporary philosophers do. In this paper I argue that philosophy of action as typically conceived of today is influenced by two major developments in the history of philosophy: a post-Cartesian view of mind-body dualism, and a post-Humean conception of causation. I aim to show how these developments influence the way in which questions about mind and action are now standardly raised, and then argue that Aristotle shares neither the post-Cartesian or post-Humean assumptions. This sets his approach to the explanation of action apart from certain contemporary approaches.
Week 5
17 February
Sybilla Pereira (St Edmund Hall), chaired by Harry Alanen
Between Theoria and Praxis: On the Flourishing of a Divided Soul
The Nicomachean Ethics might deservingly be counted among the greatest plot-twists in the history of philosophy: after nine books of detailed analysis and high praise of the life of virtue as the most flourishing life for a human being, Aristotle in book X crowns the life of contemplation as the happiest and most perfect activity. What appears as a seemingly unexpected change of mind has understandably created a great interpretative difficulty, notably aggravated by the fact that Aristotle does not seem to acknowledge any tension, but expresses himself with the confidence of self-evidence and universal agreement. Through an attentive reading of the text I wish to indicate that the Aristotelian account is considerably more consistent than it might at first appear. I shall deflate its tensions and consider other Aristotelian passages which collocate this vision of eudaimonia in the context of his understanding of the soul and its faculties and, most importantly, of political inquiry. I will contend that Aristotle does indeed consider the life of contemplation as the best life for a human being, but that it does not in any way commit him to deny the role the character virtues have in our flourishing. I shall argue nonetheless that the possible undesirable opposition between the demands of the virtuous life and the needs of the life contemplation signals an important structural and methodological failure in Aristotle’s ethical theory.
Week 6
24 February
Alexander Heape (St Edmund Hall), chaired by Chris Fowles
Trustworthiness and Safety
Most accounts of trustworthiness suggest that it consists in complying with a kind of norm. I present a number of hypothetical cases and argue that no available account can explain our intuitions in all of them. I then present an account that can. According to this account, for A to be trustworthy with respect to B is for A to benefit B ‘safely’. I then argue that safe beneficence requires that one performs a specific act type: ‘altruistic action’. The property of performing such act types is ‘altruism’. Trustworthiness thus requires altruism.
Week 7
2 March
Andy Yu (Oriel), chaired by Alex Roberts
'True' as Polysemous
In increasing order of controversiality, it has been suggested that the semantic paradoxes show that the predicate “true” of sentences is vague, context-sensitive, or ambiguous. In this paper, I propose that the semantic paradoxes show that “true” is polysemous, which I take to be a kind of ambiguity.
Week 8
9 March
Collis Tahzib (Queens), chaired by Ben Lange
Do total-blockage Frankfurt-style cases refute the Principle of Alternative Possibilities?
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