Programme for Michaelmas 2013

All sessions of the society in Michaelmas were held on Thursday, 2-4pm.

Week 1
17 October
Kian Mintz-Woo (Linacre)
Discounting for Epistemic Reasons
When accounting for long-term policies, as in the case of climate change, the question of whether it is reasonable to discount future well-being has significant importance. In this talk, I offer a defence of a positive utility discount rate. I argue that our status as agents with bounded epistemology limits our moral responsibility and that it is rational to discount that which we are not morally responsible for when evaluating policies. Thus, given our epistemic limitations, it is both normatively and rationally defensible to discount intergenerationally. I also address objections from Parfit and Broome against discounting.
Week 2
24 October
Ockham Shorts
Janine Gühler (St Andrews)
Escaping Mathematical Platonism with Aristotle
Aristotle’s view on mathematical objects is a response to Platonism. While admitting that mathematics is a study of forms, Aristotle insists that (1) mathematicians treat mathematical objects only as if they were separate from physical objects and (2) mathematical objects exist only potentially. In Metaphysics M 3, this line of thought is build up by the assertion that mathematical objects exist in a matterlike way [hulekos]. I show that this matterlike aspect only concerns mathematical properties of physical objects and should not be confused with Aristotle’s introduction of intelligible matter of mathematical objects in Metaphysics Z 10. Finally, I argue that it is legitimate that Aristotle admits that mathematicians are concerned with forms without running the risk of Platonism.
Alexander Moran (University)
The Remnant Person Argument: Animalism’s Undoing?
Animalism claims that human beings are animals, and must be animals whenever they exist. Mark Johnston has recently argued that this thesis is false. He thinks certain hypothetical cases involving entities that he calls “remnant persons” show that, contra Animalism, a human being might exist as an animal at some time in its career, and yet continue to exist as a non-animal at some later time in its career. In this paper, I offer a novel response on behalf of the Animalist, which involves making the surprising claim that, in certain situations (namely, in Johnston's remnant person case), a surviving cerebrum may come to be the thinker of the thoughts it produces. I conclude that, pace Johnston, the remnant person argument does not in fact amount to "Animalism's undoing"
Week 3
31 October
Matthew Bird (Pembroke)
Chancy Counterfactuals: The Alternative to CEM
Combined with some plausible counterfactual-machinery, indeterminism raises two problems for counterfactuals -- the might problem and the similarity problem. I concern myself mainly with the latter. Those put off by the troubling metaphysic required by the otherwise attractive CEM-lover view seem to have two alternatives: to follow Bennett's (2003) suggestion and weaken 'would', or to join Lewis (1986) in arguing that bizarreness counts towards dissimilarity. However, both strategies are vulnerable to the criticisms of Hawthorne (2005), and also, to being committed to the unsatisfactory dogmatic-answer to the might problem. I argue that the 'quantifier account' of counterfactual contextualism – a modi?cation of Lewis' dissimilarity approach which has affinities with the would-weakening strategy – is immune to the problems Hawthorne (2005) suggests and is able to solve the might problem and similarity problem without dropping any of the plausible counterfactual machinery with which we began.
Week 4
7 November
Andreas Ditter (New)
Why Intellectualism Still Fails
Intellectualism about knowledge-how is the view that knowing how to do something amounts to knowing a fact. The version of intellectualism defended by Jason Stanley and Timothy Williamson holds that knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-wh, i.e. knowledge-where, -when, -who etc. It draws its major motivation from the uniformity between ascriptions of knowledge-how and ascriptions of knowledge-wh in English, being all infinitival embedded question constructions. My aim in this paper is to challenge intellectualism of this sort. I argue that the linguistic motivation of the view is not preserved across languages and that it cannot be sustained from the perspective of other languages. I will show this by examining ascriptions of practical knowledge and knowledge-wh in Russian, Turkish and German. The cross-linguistic data further suggest that ‘know how’ is polysemous in English. Moreover, it will be used to refute an argument for the propositionality of knowledge-how. In the end, I will give two counterexamples to intellectualism independent of the foregoing points, questioning the internal cogency of the view.
Week 5
14 November
Ockham Shorts
Frank Abumere (Erasmus Mundus)
Ockham’s Notion of Property Right: A Means to Minimise the Causes of Resource Curse
In political theory it is generally accepted that sovereignty lies with the people rather than the government; the government is a mere agent while the people are the principal. The agent cannot be a representative of the principal without the consent of the principal, and the agent should not act contrary to the intention of the principal. The agency of the agent is derived from the principal and the principal has authority over, and retains a right to withdraw, the agency. So the resources of the state belong to the people. It is the people who give the government agency to manage the resources on behalf of the people and for the interest of the people. When this agency does not come from the people or when the people cannot withdraw this agency or when the government utilizes the resources contrary to the intention of or against the interest of the people, then the agency is illegitimate or null and void. In the context of resource curse the corrupt politicians/military dictators are the illegitimate agents while the people are the rightful principal. But the global institutional order is on the side of the ‘illegitimate’ agents rather than respecting the property rights of the rightful principal. My position is that if the global institutional order respects Ockham’s notion of property right, the causes of resource curse will be minimized and the problem alleviated.
Pablo López-Silva (Manchester)
Schizophrenia and the Self-Presenting Character of Experience
Some phenomenologists and psychiatrists claim that all conscious experiences have a self-presenting character (SPC) i.e. a minimal form of self-awareness is integral to the way in which experiences are consciously given. The main argument relied on by these theorists is that the property of ‘being mine’ (sense of mineness) is a part of the structure of every experience and this property presents the self as the subject of every experience. In this paper, I assess the SPC claim by commenting on cases of abnormal experiences of conscious thinking (specifically, cases of thought insertion) in schizophrenia. I examine the standard reply in defence of the SPC claim and the consequences of these pathological cases for the SPC claim. I conclude that, although the reply on behalf of the SPC claim adds interesting elements to the general discussion, it fails to adequately account for the pathological cases.
Week 6
21 November
John Maier (Cambridge)
'Can' and Quantification
I propose that making sense of certain entailment patterns between 'can' sentences requires us to reject the view of Angelika Kratzer, on which the truth-conditions of such sentences quantify over worlds, and propose instead a view on which they quantify over acts. I explain how the proposal can be unified with Donald Davidson's account of action sentences, and make some suggestions about the behavior of modal auxiliaries more generally.
Week 7
28 November
Amanda MacAskill (NYU)
New Problems for Expansionist Solutions in Infinite Ethics
Worlds that are potentially infinite create many problems for aggregative ethical theories like utilitarianism. A class of solutions to these problems, which I refer to as expansionist solutions, attempt to overcome these problems by looking at the utility at finite temporal or regional expansions at a world, instead of merely looking at the total utility of the world. In this paper, I show that there are three types of problems in which even the most promising time-first versions of expansionist solutions get incorrect results. In light of these problems, I consider agent-first variations of expansionist views as a means of solving these problems. However, I show that although we can construct agent-first expansionist rules that handle 'infinite populations' cases, it is less clear how we should construct agent-first expansionist rules that can handle 'infinite lives' cases. And so while time-first expansionist views seem unacceptable given the cases I construct, agent-first expansionist views seem at best incomplete in their recovery of aggregative ethics in potentially infinite worlds.
Week 8
5 December
Edit Anna Lukács (Vienna)
The Void in Fourteenth-Century Oxonian Discussions
The void was the subject of much debate in fourteenth-century Oxford, which permitted questioning and slightly reshaping the Aristotelian world view both in the philosophical and the theological context. In this paper, I will first present an overview of the Oxonian positions on the void, then focus on the theses of two thinkers, Thomas Bradwardine and Thomas Buckingham, in the case of the latter drawing on manuscript evidence held at Oxford. I will further analyse Buckingham’s opposition to Bradwardine regarding the extramundane void space, and will outline his reasons as well as his aims.