UT Austin Methodology Workshop

August 12 - August 16, 2008

Workshop Sessions 


Derek Ball – Conceivability

Philosophical orthodoxy has it that the conceivability of zombies and  
their ilk shows that even a physically omniscient being could not know  
the phenomenal facts without further empirical investigation.    
Physicalist orthodoxy has it that this fact is compatible with the  
phenomenal being nothing ontologically over and above the physical.  
We'll examine the methodology implicit in arguments for these views.  
Then I will develop a doubly heterodox approach: the truth of  
physicalism requires the in principle deducibility of phenomenal facts  
from the physical facts on the basis of linguistic competence and  
armchair reasoning, but this is compatible with a substantive  
explanatory gap. 


Ned Block and Robert Stalnaker, "Conceptual Analysis, Dualism and the Explanatory Gap", Philosophical Review 1999

David J. Chalmers and Frank Jackson, "Conceptual Analysis and Reductive Explanation", Philosophical Review 2001 

Colin McGinn, "Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?" Mind 1989


John Bengson – The Theory of Intuition 

The main issues, arguments, and views in the theory of intuition will be
introduced. Topics include: the putative role(s) of intuition in
philosophical method; eliminativist, reductivist, and nonreductivist views
of the nature of intuition; and various skeptical vs. nonskeptical positions
regarding the epistemic status of intuition.


Dan Bonevac – Reflective Equilibrium

A number of objections, often thought to be decisive, have been raised
against Kant's ethics as presented in the Groundwork.  One revision of his
system suffices to answer them.  Taking a clue from Rawls (1989), we should look at the Groundwork as proposing a procedure for assessing moral rules akin to the process of reflective equilibrium famous from Rawls (1971).  Bonevac (2004) argued that Rawls offers no argument for the assumption that reflection will lead to equilibrium, and delineates models in which it cannot do so.  In those very models, no moral rules at all pass Kant's test.  Defeasible moral principles do.  I develop a defeasible, dynamic version of  Kantian ethics, moving it in a pragmatic, intuitionist direction, which addresses not only the most common objections to Kant's ethics but
objections to pragmatist and intuitionistic ethics as well.

Optional reading:
Rawls 1989, "Themes in Kant's Moral Philosophy"
Bonevac 2004, "Reflection Without Equilibrium"


Josh Dever – Steps Toward a Linguistic Idealism A Damn Sight Better Than Carnap's 

Here is a metaphysical claim: a complete inventory of the contents of
reality includes chairs. And here is a metametaphysical claim: that
metaphysical claim, while true, is subject to defeat, but only in
certain ways. I would be convinced to retract the metaphysical claim,
for example, in light of powerful evidence supporting the theory that
there is systematic action by the Chair-Containing Earth Society, which
distributes cleverly-painted gourds throughout the environment to create
the visual impression of chairs, and whose roving agents repeatedly
distract and then induce false chair-involving memories in all those who
intend to sit in a chair. On the other hand, I would not be convinced to
retract the claim in light of any evidence in favour of the theories
that there are no chairs because there are no mereologically complex
objects, or that what we take to be chairs are merely the chairing of
the Absolute, or that there are only superpositional quantum states that
have a chairish operator projection.

The question then is how to obtain a metametaphysics -- in particular, a
metaontology -- that produces this metametaphysical claim. One tempting
approach is to adopt some form of linguistic idealism -- a view which
combines the two thoughts that (a) ontological commitments can be read
off of the linguistic forms of one's beliefs and (b) the semantic theory
for those linguistic forms makes them sensitive to some but not other
kinds of evidence. Carnap serves as the paradigmatic exemplar of this
linguistic idealism, in which (for example) some threats to the
existence of chairs turn out to be external, and hence not rationally or
epistemically pressing, while other threats are internal. But linguistic
idealism has always been fraught with difficulties: it teeters between a
problematic ontological relativism and a problematic ontological
universalism, and it seems to require an unfashionable semantic
verificationism. We will attempt to map out the conceptual landscape in
this area, and examine prospects for a more acceptable linguistic idealism.

Quine's "On What There Is" and Carnap's "Empiricism, Semantics, Ontology" are the ur-texts for the discussion, and Sider's "Ontological Realism" and Chalmer's "Ontological Antirealism" will guide much of the
discussion. Depending on how things go, Chapter 4 of Evans's Varieties
of Reference may also get into the mix.


Jeff King – Kinds of Analysis and Questions of Unity

In a famous (or is it infamous?) passage in Principles of Mathematics,  
Russell puzzled over something he called "the unity of the proposition":

"Consider, for example, the proposition <A differs from B>.  The  
constituents of this proposition, if we analyze it, appear to be only  
A, difference, B.  Yet these constituents, thus placed side by side,  
do not reconstitute the proposition....A proposition, in fact, is  
essentially a unity, and when analysis has destroyed the unity, no  
enumeration of constituents will restore the proposition.  The verb,  
when used as a verb, embodies the unity of the proposition, and is  
thus distinguishable from the verb considered as a term, though I do  
not know how to give a clear account of the precise nature of the  

I claim that there are various quite distinct, though perhaps related,  
problems/questions all of which can plausibly be said to be  
problems/questions regarding the unity of the proposition.  I discuss  
three of them and show how the theory of propositions defended in my  
recent book The Nature and Structure of Content addresses them.

If I have time, I'll throw in a discussion of philosophical analysis.

Reading:  chapters 1, 2, and 7 of The Nature and Structure of Content
(focus on 2 especially).

Optional reading:  Scott Soames, ''The Unity of the Proposition', on his website


Dan Korman – Paraphrase in Metaphysics 

Van Inwagen paraphrases claims about what there is in terms of arrangements of mereological simples. Lewis paraphrases claims about what there isn't in terms of what isn't in some restricted domain of quantification. Kripke paraphrases claims about what could have happened in terms of what our qualitative duplicates might have truly said. Our topic will be (i) how one is to understand the relation between these paraphrases and the contents of our utterances and intuitions, and (ii) strategies for critically assessing paraphrases.

Hirsch, "Against Revisionary Ontology" sections 1-2
van Inwagen, Material Beings chapters 10-11
Merricks, Objects and Persons chapter 7
The Wussy/Bad-ass Criterion for Philosophical Views

Optional reading (most of the presentation will be drawn from these):
Korman, Eliminativism and the Challenge from Folk Belief
Korman, Unrestricted Composition and Restricted Quantification

Marc Moffett – Epistemic Conservatism

Broadly speaking, the topic is epistemic conservatism.  Other material that will crop up in the course of discussion includes:

(i) A discussion of the appropriate primary level of epistemic evaluation. I am pushing for the view that this is doxastic acts (e.g., belief formation, retention, etc.) and that this might shed some light on the discussion over the basing relation. 

(ii) I will probably have some discussion concerning intuition and evidentialism. This is related to Mike Huemer's work on "phenomenal conservatism".

(iii) I will also probably touch on the issue of justification and "truth conduciveness".

(iv) Finally, if I have time, I will talk a bit about some issues concerning epistemic development (standard change) and meta-epistemology.


Roy Sorensen – What Makes Something Interesting 

We'll take on the issue of what makes something interesting.  It connects with trivialist results, the paradox of analysis, and a puzzle about academic hiring raised by David Lewis.

Reading:  Sorensen, "Interestingly Dull Numbers" (manuscript)


Ernest Sosa – Intuitions in Philosophy

The session will take up (a) objections to the place of intuitions in
philosophical methodology from the side of experimental philosophy,
and also (b) a more positive development of an account of intuitions.
The main readings will be Stich's "Reply to Sosa," Weinberg's "How to
Challenge Intuitions Empirically," my chapter from A Virtue
Epistemology, and Boghossian's critique of my positive account of


Ernest Sosa, "Rational Intuitions" (manuscript)

Ernest Sosa, "Hopeful Intuitions" (manuscript)

Optional Reading: 

Ernest Sosa, "A Defense of Intuitions in Philosophy," forthcoming in
Stich and His Critics, ed. by Michael Bishop and Dominic Murphy (Wiley/
Blackwell, 2008).

Stephen Stich, "Reply to Sosa," ibid.

Joshua Alexander, Jonathan M. Weinberg, “Analytic Epistemology and
Experimental Philosophy,” Philosophy Compass 2 (1), 56–80.

Jonathan Weinberg, “How to Challenge Intuitions Empirically,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy (XXXI (2007): 318-43.

Ernest Sosa, "Intuitions," Ch. 3 of A Virtue Epistemology (OUP, 2007).

Paul Boghossian, "Sosa on Intuitions," manuscript.




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