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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 Trinity 2016

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

Week 1
27 April
Alex 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 2
4 May
James Matharu (New), chaired by Harry Alanen
Manifest Imagining: A Shamelessly Scholastic Proposal

I propose that certain imaginings are comparable to objects of vision in relationist accounts of perception. On these accounts, a subject stands in relation to something outside themselves. However, I suggest that in some imaginings the thing qualifies as a form of changing. This form ‘informs’ the subject as, and on condition of, the form’s being partially substantiated in objects and further deeds involving the subject.

I illustrate this account by appeal to Kant’s notion of the mathematical sublime. On my account, successive failures to measure some object can be, with the object, manifestations of the form increasing of measurement-standards. This form is that of a changing. Its telos is appropriately characterised using a present-continuous tensed verb (‘increasing’) rather than a noun for some accomplished change or act (e.g. ‘a measurement’). Each failure presents itself as substance to this form of changing. It is in the nature of certain things actual and fully en-mattered (the failing and the object) to be parts of this form, and we’re acquainted with them as such.


On this view, what Kant called the ‘motion’ of imagination in a judgment of the sublime is the form revealed in the passing through of failures. This requires changing, rather than a mere constitutive ‘event’ or ‘moment’ of the change, to be underway. So while the form of change is not fully en-mattered (and never can be, for the changing is an infinite potential), there is full acquaintance with it: imagining can be in-forming by means of actual change.

Week 3
11 May
Aileen Luo (St Hilda's), chaired by James Matharu
Space and Apperception in the B-Deduction
This paper aims to provide an interpretation of the notoriously difficult footnote B160-1n that Kant appended to §26 of the B-Deduction in the Critique of Pure Reason. In the considered footnote, Kant makes a distinction between space as a form of intuition and as a formal intuition. Accordingly, the former merely gives a manifold, whereas the latter gives the unity of the manifold. Kant claims that this unity of space that he first attempts to prove in the Transcendental Aesthetic now turns out to be a determination of the sensibility by the understanding. However, he also insists that the unity belongs to space and time and not to the concepts of the understanding. I argue that we can make sense of Kant’s elusive characterization by showing that the categories are merely the sufficient conditions—and not, as commonly construed, the necessary conditions—of the unity of apperception. I aim to show that the understanding as thus characterized in terms of apperception is the source of the unity of space.
Week 4
18 May
Bradford Kim (St Cross), chaired by Harry Alanen
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics on the Value of Friends
In Book IX, Chapter 9 of the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle argues that the happy person needs (dein) friends, where this need is connected somehow to the choiceworthiness (haireton) of friends. I will suggest that Aristotle cashes out this choiceworthiness in terms of fineness (kalon), where we are to understand this fineness aesthetically (in terms of order, symmetry, definiteness, per Metaphysics 1078a31-b1).
Week 5
25 May
Sam Carter (Rutgers University), chaired by Alex Roberts
Vagueness without Sorites Susceptibility
Vagueness and susceptibility to sorites reasoning appear intimately related. It is widely assumed – whether implicitly or explicitly – that an expression is vague if, and only if, it gives rise to sorites paradoxes. Endorsement of this biconditional is sometimes accompanied by the stronger claim that giving rise to a sorites paradox is constitutive of vagueness (e.g., Bueno and Colyvan (2012)). This paper challenges the biconditional (and, a fortiori, the constitution claim). A number of examples are given of vague expressions which are not susceptible to compelling sorites reasoning. I then consider various related putative necessary and sufficient conditions for vagueness and show them to either over-generate, under-generate, or both. Finally, I conclude by presenting a brief diagnosis of why accounts of vagueness which appeal to sorites reasoning fail in general.
Week 6
1 June
Max Kiener (St Peter's), chaired by Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette
Doxastic Voluntarism versus Doxastic Responsibility
Empirically speaking, we often end up believing irrational or inconsistent propositions. Nevertheless, every time we engage in a discussion, we experience ourselves as being required to believe something only for reasons and to justify what we believe. All this motivates the thought that we must enjoy some kind of control, or more generally some kind of freedom in believing, if normative commands are to make sense. In this paper, I argue against the widespread assumption that the failure of voluntary control over our beliefs, viz. control exercised by the will, abandons the possibility of normative commands concerning our beliefs. I will develop an account of doxastic responsibility which does not resort to the ‘will’ but rather to a proper responsiveness to reasons only. I will first show that a proper responsiveness to reasons is a necessary condition of responsibility, both in the realm of acting and believing. I will then argue that – in the case of beliefs – reason-responsiveness is also a sufficient condition of responsibility. Although we may not be able to believe something irrespective of whether it is true or not, our responsiveness to reasons for belief is incompatible with us being merely passive objects, for example objects of some kind of causal impact. In contrast, we actively acknowledge normative authority of reasons and thereby exert control. By means of a modified open-question-argument I will draw a distinction between acknowledging normative authority and considering oneself to be exposed causal impact. As in adopting a belief there is no way to reduce these notions to each other but only to adhere to the former, there is no specific reason for denying doxastic responsibility, even if there was no voluntary control at all.
Week 7
8 June
Michael Prinzing (St Anne's), chaired by James Matharu
A Functional Account of Conceptual Identity and Revision
Sometimes, in the light of new discoveries, we see fit to revise old concepts (as we did with, e.g., "momentum" and "water"). Other times, we see fit to discard concepts as somehow fundamentally flawed (e.g., "witch" and "phlogiston"). Many philosophers have attempted to explain this difference by employing a distinction between "negotiable" and "non-negotiable" conceptual commitments. However, very little attention has been paid to what makes a conceptual commitment negotiable or otherwise. In this talk, I will attempt to fill the lacuna by giving an account of conceptual identity and revision. On my view, conceptual identity is functional equivalence, and so concepts are revised (as opposed to replaced) so long as their function is maintained.
Week 8
15 June
Jon Andersson (Mansfield), chaired by Ben Lange
Step Theory: Moving Forward with Persistence
I will propose an account of persistence and temporal parts that starts off from the work on Stage Theory by Sider and Hawley. Instead of assuming unrestricted mereological composition, I will use a restricted notion of parthood, building on work by Kit Fine. I will outline the proposal, give an argument for it and discuss some interesting implications regarding de re modality, causation and the nature of time, as these stand in relation to issues about persistence.
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