What is the Ockham Society?
The Ockham Society provides a forum in which graduate students and young academics in philosophy may present their work to their peers at the University of Oxford.
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 Aron Vallinder or Matthias Brinkmann (firstname.lastname(at)philosophy.ox.ac.uk).
A session of the Ockham Society typically lasts around 90 minutes. In the standard format, a presenter will talk for 45 minutes, with the same amount of discussion time. In the "Ockham Shorts" format, two speakers will each present for 20 minutes, with 20 minutes left for Q&A.
Programme for Hilary 2014
We will meet on Thursdays, 2-4pm in Meeting Room 4 in the Philosophy Faculty.
John Halstead (St Anne's)
The Impotence of the Value Pump
Many philosophers have argued that agents must be irrational to lose out in a ‘value pump’ or ‘money pump’. A number of different conclusions have been drawn from this claim. The ‘Value Pump’ (VP) has been one of the main arguments offered for the axioms of expected utility theory; it has been used to show that options cannot be incomparable or on a par; and it has been used to show that our past choices have normative significance for our subsequent choices. In this paper, I argue that the fact that someone loses out in a value pump provides no reason to believe that they are irrational. The epistemic position of the agent and the objective value of options determine rationally permissible choice. Practical losses have no bearing on either of these things. The VP is impotent. Importantly, one implication of my argument in this paper is that expected utility theory is false.
Maxime Lepoutre (Lincoln)
The (Adjusted) Argument from Objectivity's Implications
Enoch’s argument from the moral implications of objectivity supports moral objectivism by challenging the purported moral neutrality of metaethical positions. It aims to establish that non-objectivist, or response-dependence, metaethical positions have unacceptable first-order moral implications, and should therefore be rejected. Focusing on this argument’s application to a basic form of subjectivism, I argue that it is unsatisfying as it stands both because of its form and because of the content of its normative premises: the justification for one of Enoch’s normative premises is question-begging, while the other seems false. Nevertheless, I suggest a modification of these premises that makes them intuitively true, that preserves the validity of Enoch’s argument, and that safeguards its potential for generality. Finally, to forestall the objection that this resolution of Enoch’s problems is ad hoc, I present a non-question-begging Baylean justification for the more contentious of the two modified premises.
David Schroeren (Balliol)
On the Practical Necessity of Superempirical Virtues in Natural Science
In cases of underdetermination of theory choice by the empirical evidence, scientific realists contend that selecting theories based on their superempicial virtues is a matter of epistemic rationality, whereas empiricists construe this employment of superempirical virtues as a matter of instrumental rationality, in the sense that selecting theories based on superempirical virtues is rational because doing so is an effective means for achieving empirical adequacy.
However, it has been argued that superempirical virtues are too indeterminate to fulfil either of those roles. The purpose of this paper is to argue that this points to a misconstrual by both approaches of the normative status of superempirical virtues. On the view defend in this paper, the requirement to adopt simpler, more unified and more coherent theories is not a requirement of instrumental or epistemic rationality, but rather a Kantian categorical imperative. I interpret superempirical virtues in terms of Kant’s regulative principles and argue that Kantian ‘systematic unity’ is not a means to an end, but rather that it constitutes a rational end in itself which scientists ought to adopt. I propose that Kant’s regulative principle establishes an imperfect or wide cognitive duty, and hence that the indeterminacy of superempirical virtues is a natural consequence of their normative status.
Irena Cronin (UCLA)
The Links Between Self-Constitution and Kant’s Ethical Community
In passages 6:97 and 6:98 of Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, there is a leap made between a metaphysical notion of the human species’ self-constitution, which is internal, to the unity of the "whole" of the ethical community, which is external. To date, there has been very little scholarship devoted to explicating the rationale behind the seeming leap. This leap can be minimized by recognizing that Kant had a “constitutional” model of the human being that strongly correlates to Plato’s, which links directly to Kant’s idea of the ethical community. To show this, I discuss Plato’s model of a soul, in terms of its parts and unity, and its direct correlation to the city-state, in terms of its parts and unity. I then return to the passages of Religion 6:97 and 6:98 to illuminate the relevance of Kant’s theory with relation to his vision of an ethical community.
Arturs Logins (Geneva)
Public Evidence and Evidential Internalism
According to Evidential Internalism, evidence that a subject possesses supervenes on how things appear from subject's own internal perspective. In this paper, I present an argument against evidential internalism. My argument makes crucial use of the existence of public evidence. In short, I argue that, if evidential internalism is true, then no contingent evidence can count as evidence in the sciences or in other public fields. However, some pieces of contingent evidence can count as evidence in the sciences or in other public fields. Therefore, evidential internalism is false.
Nicolas Lema Habash (Somerville)
Agōn and Language in Nietzsche’s Early Writings on Rhetoric
In this paper I focus on a set of texts on language and rhetoric written by Nietzsche between 1869 and 1873. I hope to show that Nietzsche’s ideas on language entail a reconsideration of the political sphere as intimately related to the human’s animal life. Partially following Herder, Nietzsche thinks of language as an instinct. As such, it is the development of language that leads to the development of human conceptual schemata and consciousness, and not vice versa. Therefore, I propose to interpret Nietzsche’s views on language as a human animal power holding different layers or modes of expression; modes of expression that are in constant struggle with one another, mutually undermining each other, but also building on one another. I interpret the distinction Nietzsche establishes in his lectures on rhetoric between a language of epistēmē (knowledge) and a language of doxa (opinion) as a re-staging of his views of the different layers of language as a political issue. Nietzsche highlights the fact that Greek political culture was based, according to him, on a kind of language that fosters public discussion in terms of an agonistic dispute based on the exchange of doxai.
Joseph Carlsmith (Merton)
Dispositional Hypocrisy and the Standing to Blame
It is widely agreed that your own previous wrongdoing can undermine your standing to blame others for similar behavior. If Bob is cheating on his wife Sally, it is inappropriate for him to blame Sally for cheating on him, even though Sally remains blameworthy for doing so. Call this the NO ACTUAL HYPOCRISY condition on the standing to blame. My purpose in this paper is to propose and defend another, more radical condition, which I call the NO DISPOSITIONAL HYPOCRISY condition. Say that Bob is disposed to cheat on Sally in circumstances relevantly similar to those in which she is cheating on him. This, I argue, can be enough to undermine his standing to blame her, even if he is not cheating, has never cheated, and will never cheat in future. In Section I, I formulate this condition and attempt to motivate it. In Section II, I sketch an account of why it holds. In Section III, I address potential objections.
Thomas Moller-Nielsen (Balliol)
On the Invariance Principle
Physicists and philosophers have long claimed that the symmetries of our physical theories -- roughly speaking, those transformations which map solutions of the theory into solutions -- can provide us with genuine insight into what the world is really like. According to this "Invariance Principle", only those quantities which are invariant under a theory's symmetries should be taken to be physically real, while those quantities which vary under its symmetries should not. Physicists and philosophers, however, are generally divided (or, indeed, silent) when it comes to explaining how such a principle is to be justified. In this paper, I attempt to spell out some of the problems inherent in other theorists' attempts to justify this principle, and sketch my own proposed general schema for explaining how -- and when -- the Invariance Principle can indeed be used as a legitimate tool of metaphysical inference.
Johanna Schnurr (St Hilda's)
A Sceptic at the Races: against Universal Suspension
Pyrrhonian sceptics urge us to suspend belief in all areas of investigation. Behind this normative motto lies the, often implicit, assumption that it is possible to suspend belief about everything. I call this the “Universal Suspension Thesis”. I will criticise this thesis by drawing on cases where suspending belief about specific combinations of propositions has deeply problematic consequences. One such case concerns suspending belief about two incompatible propositions and their disjunction. By means of a Dutch Book argument, I show how adopting neutral credences (as resulting from suspension) towards all three is irrational in ways that should trouble even a Pyrrhonist.