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. Our aim is to provide every Oxford graduate student with the opportunity to present their academic ideas at least once during their time in Oxford. It is an ideal opportunity to gain feedback on your work, and to gain first experiences in academic presenting. Small, experimental and unfinished papers are just as welcome as more advanced papers.

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 Matthias Brinkmann (firstname.lastname(at)philosophy.ox.ac.uk).


A session of the Ockham Society typically lasts around 60 minutes. In the standard format, a presenter will talk for 30 minutes, with the same amount of discussion time. In the Ockham Shorts format, two speakers will each present for 15 minutes, with 15 minutes left for Q&A.

Call for Committee

Oxford Students (including incoming students): We’re also looking for new committee members. We are looking for people willing to bring in new and exciting ideas for the Ockham society. The responsibilities you’ll have normally come to no more than a few hours during a term.
We will aim to find more new committee members from the incoming students, and will have our first meeting in week 1. If you’re interested, and perhaps already have some ideas for the society, email Matthias Brinkmann. (You can decide spontaneously to come to our first meeting in Michaelmas, so it's not necessary that you commit now, but we appreciate early expressions of interest.)

Time & Location

In Michaelmas 2014, we will meet in Meeting Room 4 (Faculty, ground floor), on Thursdays, 1-2 pm, except in week 4 and 6, when we will be in the Lecture Room.

Programme for Michaelmas 2014

Week 1
16 October
Michael Price (Pembroke)
Frege and Grammatical Type Confusions
Call a grammatical type confusion (GTC) any ungrammatical string whose ungrammaticality is owed a mismatch of the broad syntactic types of its constituent expressions. Paradigm examples are strings consisting solely of first-level predicates (e.g `sings dances') and strings consisting solely of singular terms (e.g. `Frege the Baltic Sea'). GTCs are widely held to be meaningless. This view, however, has been challenged by Ofra Magidor (2009) who argues that on semantic theories of several kinds GTCs are naturally assigned meanings. Fregean semantics is one such theory. I discuss in detail, and in light of Magidor's paper, what Frege ought to say about the semantic status of GTCs. I show that the issue interacts in interesting ways with Frege's views on the ontology of linguistic expressions, his views on the conditions for identity of reference and identity of sense, and the paradox of the concept horse.
Week 2
23 October
Ole Andreassen (Lincoln)
Fairness and Mortgages
Since 2007 many homeowners have found themselves with underwater mortgages – mortgages worth less than their home. I argue that we ought to guarantee homeowners the opportunity to insure against underwater mortgages by signing mortgage contracts with walking away-clauses: clauses that give homeowners the right to transfer the property rights of their home to the bank in return for the remainder of their mortgage being excused. I present two arguments: i) mortgages without walking away-clauses being intrinsically unfair and ii) mortgages without walking away-clauses giving rise to morally objectionable inequality.
Week 3
30 October
Teru Thomas (St Cross)
Antihaecceitism and Possible Futures
A naive reading of certain physical theories suggests that physical laws are unattractively indeterministic. One strategy for avoiding this is to adopt the metaphysical doctrine of antihaecceitism. But it has been argued that this move leaves behind an unacceptable degree of de re indeterminism, and (more recently) that it cannot give the right account of de re objective chances. It looks like the antihaecceitist will have to bite some bullets, but which ones? After a gentle introduction to the issues, I will explain why some of the examples deployed against antihaecceitism don't work, and propose some better ones. Then I will suggest how some, but not all, of the remaining difficulties might be overcome by a more careful account of possible futures.
Week 4
6 November
Adam Kern (Corpus Christi)
A Simple Theory of Conscientious Accommodation
Note change of place: this week's Ockham Society will be in the Lecture Room.
Conscientious accommodation is the practice of exempting someone from a legal requirement, or not imposing that requirement in the first place, because that person believes that it would be morally wrong to comply with that requirement. Conscientious accommodation is intuitive but baffling. First, where does it end? If pacifists are entitled to accommodation, why aren’t principled murderers as well? Second, what are its grounds? How could someone’s false belief that he must ϕ justify a legal permission for him to ϕ? I answer both these questions.
Week 5
13 November
Thomas Moller-Nielsen (Balliol)
Was Leibniz a Generalist?
In this paper I respond to Cover & O'Leary-Hawthorne's (1996, 1999) claims that Leibniz did not construe the world as being fundamentally purely qualitative in character: in other words, that he did not think the world is in principle fully and perspicuously describable by general or "non-individual-involving" propositions alone (i.e. that he was not, in their terminology, a "generalist"). I begin by providing - and refining - the standard reasons given by theorists for thinking that Leibniz was a generalist. I then move on to present the reasons Cover & O'Leary-Hawthorne provide for doubting whether this "Received View" of Leibniz construed as a generalist is correct. I go on to argue that the textual evidence they cite in support of their thesis that Leibniz failed to conceive of the world as being fundamentally purely qualitative is not convincing, and I also claim they are importantly guilty of failing to properly situate many of these texts within their broader historical and dialectical contexts. Furthermore, I question whether their own attempted interpretative resolution to the (alleged) non-generalist strands in Leibniz's philosophy satisfactorily resolves the (apparent) difficulties they raise in interpreting Leibniz as a straightforward generalist, or indeed whether such a resolution is compatible with other important aspects of Leibniz's metaphysics. I conclude that the only reasonable inference to draw is that the Received View --- or what Cover & O'Leary-Hawthorne label the "natural interpretation" or "conservative reading" of Leibniz --- is in fact not only natural, but also probably correct, and is none the worse for also being conservative.
Week 6
20 November
Reserved for incoming philosophy students.
Note change of place: this week's Ockham Society will be in the Lecture Room.
Week 7
27 November
William Jefferson (Balliol)
A Moral Epistemology of Empathy
This paper aims to defend the value of empathy by arguing that it plays an important moral epistemic role. This does not mean that empathy (broadly construed as feeling what another person feels) is always good, but rather that a particular kind of empathy, used within a context of rational deliberation, can be very useful in informing moral decisions.
Week 8
4 December
Irena Cronin (UCLA)
Degrees of Belief, Factive Reasons and Actions
The notion that a reason should be based on factual considerations (pace Maria Alvarez, Clayton Littlejohn, and others) appears to be a reasonable one. Additionally, the notion that one could have degrees of belief (or credences) also appears to be a reasonable notion. However, if an accurate account of an action were to be given, it would be difficult to reconcile the notion of degrees of belief with the notion of factive reasons. For example, if a person acts off of a 60% credence and her reason for acting happens to non-accidentally be based on factual considerations, there is a gap between the solidity of her credence and the objective rendering of her reason. Given this, the temptation would be to declare that either the notion of credences or the notion of factive reasons must be incorrect. My claim is that neither is incorrect, but rather the gap is in need of further analysis and explanation, which I provide in my paper.
Past Sessions. Michaelmas 2012 | Hilary 2013 | Trinity 2013
Michaelmas 2013 | Hilary 2014 | Trinity 2014