What is the Ockham Society?

The Ockham Society provides a forum in which graduate students in philosophy (particularly BPhil, MSt, and PRS students) 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.

For Michaelmas 2017 we meet Fridays 9:00 - 10:30 AM in the Radcliffe Humanities Building, Ryle Room.

Update: the week 6 meeting will be on Monday, not Friday.

If you would like to present a paper to the society please send a title and abstract of 150 words maximum to Charlotte Figueroa (firstname.lastname(at)philosophy.ox.ac.uk). Oxford DPhil Philosophy students are highly encouraged to present at the DPhil seminar.

Programme for Michaelmas 2017

We meet Fridays 09:00 - 10:30 in the Radcliffe Humanities Building, Ryle Room.

Week 1
13 October

Manveer Sohota (St. Anne's), chaired by Michael Bruckner
What is the most viable solution to the mind-body problem?
Knowledge of the physical has been sought throughout history. From Leucippus' theory of atomism to current research in String Theory, understanding the physical fundamental constituents of the universe has been paramount. In addition, many philosophers, from Plato to Descartes, have sought to understand the nature of the mental and the enigma of consciousness. However, equally fascinating is the relationship between these two areas, the mental and the physical. One manifestation of this is the 'mind-body problem' which, as implied, questions the relationship of the mind to the body. The solutions to this problem have been debated for over a millennium and are still being pursued by many philosophers, and even some scientists, today.
Ruby Shao (Exeter), chaired by Michael Bruckner
The Moral Wager: A Theory of the Ethics of Belief
Sections I and II will defend the Moral Wager, which says that if the evidence will never justify believing or denying that p, and believing that p has a higher expected moral value, then the agent should believe that p. Section I will show that whether one morally ought to believe that p determines whether one all-things-considered ought to, or should, believe that p in the cases under consideration. Section II will frame the Moral Wager as an improvement on Pascal's Wager. So will end my defense of the Moral Wager. To complete the account, Sections III through VI will suggest that believing that p has a higher expected moral value by better promoting one or more of the following: 1) The agent's intellectual virtues 2) Morally good actions 3) The likelihood of p, where p has a higher expected moral value than does ~p. Section VII will present applications of the Moral Wager to news and religion. The conclusion will suggest avenues for further research.
Week 2
20 October
Laurenz Casser (Oriel), chaired by Milena Bartholain
Pain Perception and its Objects: Considerations in Defence of Perceptualism about Pain
Perceptual theories of pain, according to which the feeling of pain is the perception of a physical particular, have recently attracted a considerable amount of criticism. Based on their arguments, opponents of perceptualism have drawn both a weaker and a stronger conclusion: the weaker is that certain concrete perceptual theories fail; the stronger is that pain is not perceptual, wherefore any perceptual theory of pain must fail. I reject the stronger conclusion. As I argue in this paper, opponents of perceptualism who endorse the stronger conclusion rely on a limited and metaphysically loaded conception of what constitutes a perceptual object? a conception the perceptualist by no means has to, and most likely should not, be tied to. Indeed, the metaphysical and empirical possibilities of what may constitute the objects of perception far exceed the grasp of the anti-perceptualist's arguments, wherefore she cannot secure her stronger conclusion. I conclude that opponents of perceptualism about pain are far from showing that pain experiences aren't perceptual.
Alfredo Vernazzani (Ruhr-Universität Bochum), chaired by Milena Bartholain
Philosophy of Perception as Model-Building
What kind of contribution philosophers make to our understanding of perception in age of science? In this contribution, I articulate an answer to this neglected question. I argue that philosophers engage in a process of model-building. I call the products of this philosophical activity 'Models of Perceptual Content' or 'MoPs' for short, and distinguish them from other forms of theorizing. I spell out the most salient features of MoPs and argue that MoPs are better understood as phenomenological models, i.e. models that do not provide scientific explanations. Even though they are not explanatory, MoPs are nonetheless interesting, as they may play different roles in interaction with the sciences of perception, like: individuating regularities or dependencies among contents. More specifically, I examine the potential roles of MoPs in relation to the problem of the ontology of visual objects and the perception of boundaries.

Week 3
27 October

Caspar Jacobs (Exeter), chaired by Sean Troxel
A New Single-Factor Account of Delusions
Attempts to explain delusions usually posit at least two factor, one of which is the presence of an abnormal experience. The latter is regarded insufficient on its own for two reasons: firstly, there have been cases recorded of patients with abnormal experiences, but without delusions, and secondly, if delusions seem to be too absurd to be rational responses to any kind of experience, which leads to the positing additional reasoning deficit. Despite these objections, I develop a single-factor account of delusions, drawing from considerations from the philosophy of science regarding the nature of explanation and 'factors'. I will show that this single-factor account is empirically successful in explaining a number of features of delusions.
Week 4
3 November
Michael Bruckner (Merton), chaired by Tomi Francis
Here is One Normative Truth, and Here is Another: Evolutionary Debunking and Moorean Facts
Sharon Street's 'Darwinian Dilemma' challenges normative realism, i.e. the view that there are mind-independent normative truths (MINTs). She starts from the assumption that truth-indifferent selection pressures have had a rampant influence on our normative beliefs. An epistemic fluke would hence be required to make them track MINTs. My paper looks at a particular way in which several realists have tried to resist the sceptical conclusion that this argument presses, viz. by assuming that some of our normative beliefs do in fact align with MINTs. With reference to Matthew Bedke's analogy, I call this approach 'Moorean Anti-Debunking'. Since substantive normative assumptions look unacceptably question-begging in response to the Darwinian Dilemma, Moorean Anti-Debunking is controversial. Several attempts have been made to either show that it begs no questions after all or else strong-arm Street into permitting it anyway. I defend the Darwinian Dilemma against these arguments. The only promising line for the realist to take is a partners-in-crime argument, designed to force Street into external world scepticism. (If we refuse to allow the Moorean strategy against evolutionary debunking arguments, how can we permit it against external world scepticism?) However, this argument presupposes that the Moorean Anti-Debunker's substantive normative assumptions are Moorean facts, similar to 'Here is one hand, and here is another'. I raise doubts that they are.
Thierry Schutz (Harris Manchester), chaired by Tomi Francis
What is the 'punishment' of capital punishment? A critique of Matthew Kramer's Purgative Rationale
I examine Kramer's justification of the death penalty, which aims to avoid the major shortcomings of traditional justifications: inability to explain why a lesser sentence (lifelong imprisonment) would be equally justified, and inability to rule out more severe treatment (e.g. torturing someone to death). After giving an outline of how Kramer intends to meet the challenge of justifying *exactly* capital punishment, I present a trilemma: there are three options as to what one might consider to be the punishment of capital punishment. Although Kramer does not discuss the matter, each option poses a problem for his justification: either Kramer's argument falls short of justifying the death penalty, or it also justifies more severe treatment, or it yields the conclusion that capital punishment is illegitimate after all.
Week 5
10 November

Rhys Borchert (University of Arizona), chaired by AJ Gilbert
Four Beauties and Everettian Evidence
Sleeping Beauty (SB) has made her way into the realm of quantum mechanics; specifically, the Everett interpretation. Lewis (2007) has argued that Everettians must be halfers, and this is a bad thing. Bradley (2011) has argued that Everettians must be halfers, but this is a good thing. Wilson (2013) has argued against the analogy of the original SB and the quantum version of the grounds of chanciness. I claim that all are mistaken. I argue that, in the original Sleeping Beauty problem, Beauty does gain evidence upon awakening. This has two nice results: (1) we can use ordinary conditionalization to arrive at the thirder solution in the original SB, and (2) the analogy between the original SB and the quantum version is broken on straightforward evidential grounds.
Week 6
13 November
Udit Bery (Magdalen), chaired by Chiara Martini
Aristotle and the Dead

In this paper, I take up a traditional puzzle in Aristotle's hylomorphism. Aristotle says that the dead body is not a body except homonymously. This raises problems about (i) the analogy between the artefact case where the relation between matter and form is contingent and the case of living organisms, where it seems essential; (ii) a problem about persistence; and (iii) a problem about composition. I propose two relations between a thing and its matter, matter-for and matter-of and two corresponding hierarchies of material arrangement, the staccato and the legato. I begin by taking up matter-for and analyses it in term of the being-in-potentiality relation. This suggests that the 'homonymy principle' applies both to artefacts and organisms. There is a distinction between matter and subject and matter as adjective and this suggests that these relations correspond to the layers of my two hierarchies. Looking at some thorny passages in Metaphysics Zeta 3 and Theta 7, I hope to resolve the problems that I diagnose.
Week 7
24 November
Kuizhi Wang (Hertford), chaired by Rhys Southan
Role of Teleology in Kant's Theory of History
In this paper, I discuss the question of the role teleology, or the principle of teleology, plays in Kant's philosophy of history. In other words, the question at stake is that when we judge or reason about history, how we should treat a teleological theory of history. I argue that teleology is a principle that is subjectively necessary for each of us to assume in reasoning about history, though it tells us nothing about objective truth of history; furthermore, it has both theoretical and practical values. I will argue this through an analysis of relevant passages in the third Critique. The structure of the paper goes as follows: in section I, I make a brief sketch of Kant's teleological theory of history; in section II, I turn to relevant passages in the third Critique and point out the relationship between the third Critique and Kant's philosophy of history. The role of teleology will be argued in section III.
Tena Thau, chaired by Rhys Southan
Global Inequality and the Unfair Advantage Argument Against Doping
In this paper, I consider the issue of global poverty and how it interacts with the unfair advantage argument against doping in sport. I argue that the unfair advantage argument presupposes a general principle about distributive justice. From this principle and basic observations about global inequality, it follows that that many of the core features of professional sport are unjust. This leaves anti-doping advocates with the following dilemma: either give up the view that athletes who dope wrongfully gain an unfair advantage, or admit that the whole enterprise of professional sport is morally corrupt.

Week 8
1 December
James Kirkpatrick (University), chaired by Matt Hewson
Generic Conjunctivitis
Theorists have recently pointed out some puzzling facts about the behaviour of non-sentential conjunctions embedded in certain generic sentences. For example, the sentences 'Elephants live in Africa and Asia' and 'Peacocks have colourful tails and lay eggs' seem true, even though they involve mutually incompatible characteristic properties, none of which are satisfied by a majority of the kind. These sentences pose a prima facie problem for an orthodox treatment of generic sentences as expressing claims that a property is characteristic for a contextually salient majority of a kind. This paper develops an explanation of these puzzling facts about conjunction within an orthodox framework.