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.

We meet Wednesdays 1PM in the Radcliffe Humanities Building, Lecture Room. During Week 1, we will feature four 20min presentations (roughly, 10min talk and 10min Q&A); this session is designed to give speakers quick feedback on ideas and to develop communities of philosophers working on related topics. Presentations Weeks 2-7 are 45min; these may feature distinct talk and Q&A sections, or may run workshop style with Q&A occurring during the talk itself. Sometimes there will be two 45min presentations on related topics.

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

Programme for Trinity 2017

We meet Wednesdays 13:00-14:30 in the Radcliffe Humanities Building, Lecture Room.

Week 1
26 April

James Matharu (New), chaired by Chris Fowles
Picture Things
I argue that when we look at depictions of objects, we see objects which are neither mere drawings nor the objects those drawings are depictions of. We can see objects that are neither imagined nor represented. Thus when we see a duck-rabbit picture, we see can a rabbit whose eye is a dot of ink. Such an eye is not to be conflated with a mere part of a drawing of a rabbit, nor with the eye of the rabbit depicted. This expands the ontology of perception and thought: picture-things are not intentional objects. It also opens up possibilities for understanding non-literal but nonetheless non-metaphorical presentation of objects in the world. I consider this by a case-study of Picasso's Guernica..
Raphael Milliere (Magdalen), chaired by Chris Fowles
Consciousness and Inner Awareness: A Critical View
There is a venerable tradition in Western and Eastern philosophy holding that consciousness always involves awareness of awareness - a claim arguably defended by Aristotle, Locke, Dign?ga, Descartes, Arnauld, Locke, Brentano and Sartre among others. One version of this claim is the Inner Awareness Thesis (IAT): For any mental state M of a subject S, if M is conscious, then S is aware of M. Several contemporary theories of consciousness are committed to (IAT), including self-representationalism (defended by Uriah Kriegel) and adverbial theories (advocated by Joseph Levine, Amie Thomasson and Dan Zahavi). I would like to clarify the meaning of this thesis, and suggest that none of the arguments which have been advanced to defend it are convincing. More specifically, I will argue that (1) there is no compelling a priori argument for (IAT), (2) abductive arguments for (IAT) rely on controversial assumptions, and (3) (IAT) is underdetermined by phenomenological evidence. Although this does not completely rule out the truth of (IAT), it considerably undermines the appeal of theories of consciousness which are committed to it.
Week 2
3 May
Rissa Willis (Wycliffe Hall), chaired by Jay Jian
The New Gamer's Dilemma: Rephrasing the Gamer's Dilemma as a Question of Enjoyment
Luck's Gamer's Dilemma begins with a question: "Is it immoral for a player to direct his character to murder another within a computer game?" I propose that Luck's question is not quite right, and is not what interests us when discussing games. This is because when we talk about immorality in games we must remember that there is a difference between depicting immorality and depicting it improperly. I will present a new version of the much debated gamer's dilemma by asking instead if it is immoral for a player to enjoy directing their character to perform a certain action within a computer game. While I will not fully solve this new dilemma, I will draw on previous responses to Luck to show how it is already part of the discussion, and demonstrate the difference that such a change in question makes in the investigation of the ethics of gaming.
Hochan Kim (Lady Margaret Hall), chaired by Jay Jian
Collective Responsibility and Racial Inequality in the U.S.
Some commentators claim that although racism as a prejudiced attitude is dwindling in the U.S., a variety of structural and institutional factors systematically harm black Americans and maintain de facto racial inequality, i.e. systemic racism. They further claim that white Americans collectively bear some responsibility for addressing this inequality given their role in perpetuating these structures. I propose an account of collective responsibility sensitive to these claims, all the while considering the following theoretical question: how should collective responsibility be understood in contexts of structural injustice? First, I explain the difficulties of extending the so-called liability model to collectives - particularly in structural contexts - using the example of systemic racism. Second, I argue that Iris Marion Young's social connection modelprovides a better framework of responsibility for structural injustices, even though she explicitly rejects collective responsibility in favor of what she calls shared responsibility. Finally, I propose a view of collective responsibility based on the social connection model that is compatible with shared responsibility despite Young's misgivings. This view, I argue, not only improves upon the social connection model, but is better attuned to the normative reasons that support the claim that white Americans are collectively responsible to confront systemic racism.

Week 3
10 May

Rhys Borchert (St Peter's), chaired by James Matharu
A plurality of Quantum Worlds?
David Lewis claimed that there exists a plurality of worlds. He argued that these worlds - and their inhabitants -are suited to play certain theoretical roles (e.g. in application to modality). Modal Realism has few followers, but a different philosophical view which also claims the existence of a plurality of worlds - the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics - has an increasing number of followers. In this talk I explore a view which claims that the many worlds of quantum mechanics are suited to play the kinds of theoretical roles Lewis argued his worlds are suited to play. I argue that this view, Quantum Modal Realism, can better respond to many of the traditional objections to Lewisian Modal Realism.
Week 4
17 May
Kacper Kowalcyk (Wolfson), chaired by Benjamin Lange
Population Axiology, Indeterminacy and Personal Identity
Many theories in population ethics are sensitive to facts about personal identity. But personal identity may be indeterminate. How should these theories respond? In my talk I explore various options and their problems: (i) quarantining indeterminacy, (ii) indeterminacy in value facts, (iii) appealing to indeterminacy-generated credences.

Korbinian Rueger (Balliol), chaired by Benjamin Lange
Thoughts on McMahan and the Number of Aggressors
In a recent article Jeff McMahan has defended the intuition that while there is no limit on the number of fully responsible killers one might permissibly kill in self defense, there is a limit on the number of minimally responsible killers one might permissibly kill in self defense. I here argue that to defend this intuition we have to deny the method of backward induction as a plausible form of moral reasoning or deny that it is permissible to kill even a single minimally responsible killer in self defense.

Week 5
24 May
Alexander Gilbert (St Anne's), chaired by Guus Eelink
An Argument for Necessitism from State Spaces
In this talk I will defend necessitism, the view that necessarily everything exists necessarily. Williamson has extensively defended the view by arguing that it allows for a simpler and stronger quantified modal logic than its rivals. Some critics have responded by questioning why we should suppose that the correct logic of metaphysical modality should be simple and strong. More recently, Williamson has developed a new line of argument from the theory of state spaces that can be used to answer such methodological criticisms. In brief, our best scientific theories presuppose the existence of merely possible objects. I will highlight an analogy with the indispensability argument in the philosophy of mathematics in order to see how contingentists might respond. Firstly, I will assess the response that merely possible objects can be eliminated from our best theories. Secondly, I will consider the reply that we are not in fact ontologically committed to the merely possible posits of our best theories, even if they cannot be eliminated. Both contingentist manoeuvres fail.
Alexander Roberts (University), chaired by Guus Eelink
On Pluralities of Worlds
Timothy Williamson (2013) argues that quantified contingentist S5 with identity and even higher-order quantification is not the correct logic of metaphysical modality. Despite its expressive strength, its users are incapable of formulating metaphysical modal claims which by their own lights ought to be intelligible. This paper argues that contingentists can remedy this shortcoming by increasing the expressive capacity of their theory with multi-modal resources. It is argued that these modal devices allow contingentists to simulate the entirety of necessitist discourse by providing a recursive mapping of the latter to the former..
Week 6
31 May
Tomi Francis(Somerville)
A Framework for a more permissive Consequentialism
Traditionally, consequentialism is taken to be the position that an act is right, or permissible, if and only if its consequences are maximally good. I develop a framework for consequentialism which has a laxer sense of permission: sometimes, it can be permissible to perform an action even though one might have done better. The purpose of this framework is to allow for moral theories which respond to three objections to maximising act consequentialism: that it is too demanding, that it gives us little or no moral freedom, and that it cannot account for supererogation. The core idea is this: an act is permissible just in case there is some appropriate way of weighing moral considerations against non-moral considerations such that the act turns out to be one of the best, all things considered. I argue that this framework allows for moral theories which can better accommodate our intuitions regarding permission, while retaining a consequentialist character.

Ahmad Elabbar (St Cross)
Deterministic Chance: A Proof of Concept

I propose a definition of objective probabilities, or chances, that captures most (if not all) of the important, commonly accepted attributes of chance. Furthermore, the definition is useful in that it can demarcate chance candidates in a way that a purely functional definition cannot, while refraining from metaphysical claims about the nature of chance that go beyond what we can know beyond reasonable doubt from our studies of different chance candidates in the world. I analyse the three species of chance that can satisfy the proposed definition and show that, in addition to stochastic chances and Humean chances, deterministic chances also satisfy the definition. Thus I argue that a commonly held belief that has dominated the discussion of chance and determinism is flawed: chance and determinism are not incompatible. I substantiate this argument, explicitly, by discussing the notion of chance that emerges in the deterministic theory of Everettian quantum mechanics.
Week 7
7 June
Sam Carter (Rutgers), chaired by Guus Eelink
Higher-Order Ignorance inside the Margins
This paper presents a novel argument against the KK-Principle, the thesis that knowledge freely iterates. The principle has been claimed to be defensible on a broad conception of knowledge as essentially dependent upon facts about normality. After surveying this argument, I demonstrate that, instead, on the most plausible version of this way of conceiving of knowledge, it will be possible to motivate rejection of the KK-Principle without needing to assume that any 'margins-for-error' thesis. I first formulate two versions of the KK-Principle and present Williamson's Margins-for-Error argument against it; I go on to discuss a defence of the KK-Principle due to Greco (2014b) and show that Greco's argument depends upon an untenable assumption about logical principles governing iterated normality statements; finally, I argue that a weakened version of Greco's constraint on knowledge is plausible and demonstrate that this weakened constraint will, given uncontentious assumptions, systematically generate counter-instances to the KK-principle.

Giada Fratantonio (Edinburgh), chaired by Guus Eelink
On the Skeptical Implications of Infallibilism
Infallibilism about knowledge has gained a bad reputation amongst epistemologists, for it has been thought of as leading to skepticism. In a nutshell, the problem is that the epistemic standards required by the infallibilist in order to have knowledge seem just too high to be realistically achieved. Hence, the skeptical threat immediately arises. Here, I focus my attention on Dodd's argument against Williamson's theory of evidence, which equates one's evidence to all and only one's knowledge (E=K) (Williamson, 2000). According to Dodd (2005), E=K is committed to the infallibilist thesis that if S knows that p, then the evidential probability of p is 1. Crucially, infallibilism leads to the skeptical conclusion, when taken together with the (allegedly) plausible underdetermination thesis that for virtually everything we believe the evidential probability of the believed proposition is less than 1. Dodd presents his argument in the form of a dilemma: either Williamsons rejects the underdetermination thesis, or he embraces the skeptical conclusion. None of the options seems very promising. In this paper, I argue that Dodd's dilemma is a false one. After developing a taxonomy distinguishing varieties of infallibilism and underdetermination theses, I argue that E=K is indeed an infallibilist position. However, it is one which does not lead to skepticism, and which is compatible with a plausible underdetermination thesis.

Week 8
14 June
Laurenz Casser (Oriel), chaired by Chris Fowles
The Vanity of Existence: Time and Nothingness in Schopenhauer's Pessimism
This paper aims to make an important distinction within Schopenhauer's pessimism, namely the distinction between its existential and its traumatic aspect, and to explore the relationship between them. It will be argued that, as emphasised by this distinction, there is a nihilistic element in Schopenhauer's pessimism, advanced through the concept of vanity, which adds a further level to his account of the world's suffering, and which ought to be addressed when considering his pessimism as a whole.

Sam Filby (Wolfson), chaired by Chris Fowles
The Puzzle of Life and Style in the work of Bernard Williams
Throughout his corpus, Bernard Williams expressed an underlying concern with the style in which we do moral philosophy. For Williams, contemporary moral philosophy so often seemed 'empty' and 'boring,' a consequence of its seeming inability to 'discuss moral issues at all.' This is because the style of contemporary moral philosophy operates with 'certain interpretations of reason and clear understanding as a discursive rationality' that consequently has 'damaged ethical thought itself and distorted our conceptions of it.' Moreover, such a distorted conception of ethics and the style that promotes it are but 'the most abstract expressions of a deeply rooted and still powerful misconception of life.' Yet while links between philosophical style and conceptions of life are suggested, Williams never offers an explicit account of how the two properly connect. At the same time, a close reading of a text like Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy conveys an intimate coupling between style and life. In the following paper, I offer a reading of Williams that hopes to reveal a way in which our conception of life, together with our philosophical self-image, contributes to the style we find most appropriate in