Talk Schedule 2014

March 7  Paul Bernier (Université de Moncton)

Basic Phenomenal Concepts, Subjective Character and Physicalism


According to the phenomenal concepts strategy, the strong intuitions underlying the main antiphysicalist arguments depend on how we conceptualize our conscious phenomenal states. The distinctness of phenomenal concepts would explain why antiphysicalist arguments are intuitively compelling, but these arguments would nonetheless be unsound, because phenomenal concepts are compatible with physicalism. Chalmers (2007) has argued that any attempt to debunk the antiphysicalist arguments with the phenomenal concept strategy is bound to fail, because phenomenal concepts will either be physically inexplicable or, else, they will not account for our epistemic situation. I argue that we should distinguish two kinds of phenomenal concepts: basic phenomenal concepts (or egological phenomenal concepts) and hetero-phenomenal concepts. While the former are necessarily specified with respect to the subjective character of conscious experience, which includes the “for-meness” aspect of conscious experience, the latter are not. I argue that basic phenomenal concepts, thus characterized, adequately explain one’s epistemic situation vis-à-vis one’s own phenomenal states, in a way which is compatible with physicalism.

March 28 Riccard Baldissone (Birkbeck)

Materialism: A Caring Obituary

This genealogical exploration traces the trajectory of the modern claims of materialism. Such claims emerged as the daring and defiant reversal of a term of reprobation, materialism itself, into a proud assertion of intellectual and political autonomy. And yet, the reversal entailed the implicit acceptance of the lexical and conceptual horizon devised by the counterpart. Inasmuch as materialist thinkers emphasised their ontological rupture with the theological tradition, they inadvertently shared the metaphysical terrain of this tradition, and they enacted the mechanism of substitution of a metaphysical centre, god, with another metaphysical centre, nature. Of course, radical materialists strove to steer away from the ontological trap of metaphysics by keeping as a reference morals, as Meslier did, or epistemology, as La Mettrie and Diderot, or politics, as in the case of Marx: nonetheless, their deserving efforts were jeopardised by their inability to transcend the horizon of the modern metaphysics of nature. A different theoretical path was heralded by Stirner and opened by Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s philosophical horizon no longer relied on the dichotomy of subjects versus objects, but it took rather the shape of a huge network of practices. This new horizon was later put at work by thinkers such as Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida and, more recently, Latour and Stiegler. I suggest that these Nietzsche-inspired philosophies of practices no longer need to be supplemented with a materialist ontology, whose recovery risks instead favouring elitist expertise over political processes. However, paraphrasing Adorno, radical thinking can’t help feeling solidarity with materialism in the moment of its collapse.

April 2 Richard Eldridge (Swarthmore College)

Acknowledging the Moral Law: Kantian Historical Constructivist Realism – A Defense


Derek Parfit and, especially, Bernard Williams have raised questions about the availability and value of the morality system in modern life. In particular, they have wondered why, if at all, the values of impartiality and respect for persons deserve our rational allegiance, given the thickness and value of our relations with quite particular others. Unfortunately, neither of their own addresses to this question is satisfactory. With their question in view, however, we can see that Kant, especially in his writings on history and religion, explicitly acknowledges that the availability and value of commitment to the morality system has both individual-developmental and social-historical presuppositions. This essay develops and defends this line of thought, without, however, reducing commitment to the morality system to a mere effect of history. This argument involves a new reading of what Kant meant by the fact of reason or our consciousness of being bound by the moral law.

April 11 Daniel Halliday (University of Melbourne)

Egalitarian Justice and Inherited Wealth 


Contemporary discussions of egalitarian justice pay little attention to inherited wealth. Egalitarians have normally been content to state that unregulated bequest is an affront to equality of opportunity, and end the analysis there. This gives the impression that studying inheritance is philosophically uninteresting, or irrelevant to mainstream disagreements within the egalitarian project. Such impressions are misplaced. Different conceptions of equality’s value, when examined, reveal much about what sort of egalitarian treatments of inheritance are possible. This proves instructive as to which foundational conception of equality’s value is overall most attractive. It turns out that conceptions of equality founded on the distinction between personal choice and personal circumstances struggle to explain why justice requires substantial regulation of bequest. A leading alternative conception – relational egalitarianism – does better. The most promising egalitarian case against bequest should rely not on bald appeals to equality of opportunity, but on subtle features of the relation between distributive inequality and concentrations of non-financial capital. Closer examination of this relationship suggests that intergenerational transfers of wealth, rather than unequal distribution of wealth per se, account for relevant oppressive social hierarchies whose removal is the chief goal of relational equality. 

May 2 Hartley Slater (UWA)

Propositional Identities and Implications


When Wittgenstein returned to philosophy in the late 1920s he realised that the propositional logic in his Tractatus, was incomplete.  For he realised that contrarieties between colour descriptions, and variant measures on a scale, could not form any part of his earlier propositional logic.  That something is red at some place entails that it is not green at that place, so not all elementary propositions could be independent, as he once thought.  In this way the synthetic a priori regained its place in Wittgenstein’s later language and logic. Colour exclusion relations are not verbal relations between sentences as in Kant’s notion of the analytic a priori.  Instead they are expressed by means of ‘that’-clauses, which refer to propositions made by sentences.

But Wittgenstein’s contemporaries, the Logical Empiricists would have none of this, explicitly disowning the synthetic a priori.  Indeed their formal languages contained no ‘that’-clauses, enabling not only the above matter to be obscured, but also major errors about Implication, and the identity of propositions to get entrenched.  Later mainline developments in Intensional Logic have not improved upon this situation, since these still have not incorporated ‘that’-clauses as substantival phrases, or other nominals with the same referents.  It will be interesting to see whether future logicians can move on from this very confused period.  In the meantime this paper runs through some of the changes needed to incorporate ‘that’-clauses as substantival expressions.

May 9 Barry Maund (UWA)

Predicates, Properties and Rigid Designation: Soames and Frege


There is an area in the philosophy of perception, where it is important to think about such properties as the look of a Bengal tiger, the sound of a nightingale, the taste of a full-bodied Shiraz, the feel of soft velvet, etc. To make progress, so I claim, we need to get clear about the way predicate expressions and general terms designate, rigidly or otherwise.

 One philosopher who has spent some time on this kind of issue is Scott Soames (Soames 2006, ‘Reply to Critics: Beyond Rigidity’, Philos. Studies, 128, 711-738). In this paper, Soames examines the task of extending Kripke’s treatment of the notion of rigid designation -- so as to apply more widely, specifically, to general terms and predicate expressions. (See also his Philosophy of Language 2010, pp.88-92.)

There is a puzzle to which my paper is addressed. Despite paying considerable attention, in his writings, to Frege’s views on the philosophy of language, Soames ignores Frege’s views on predicate expressions. I explore a way to accommodate the two approaches – which, unfortunately, seems to require a modification of both. (I hold, perhaps very courageously, that very little knowledge of Frege’s technical ideas is presupposed.)

 May 16 Daniel Nolan (ANU)

The Dangers of Pragmatic Virtue


Many people want to hold that some theoretical virtues—simplicity, elegance, familiarity, or others—are only pragmatic virtues.  That is, these features do not give us any more reason to think a theory is true, or close to true, but they justify choosing one theoretical option over another because they are desirable for some other, practical purpose.  Using pragmatic virtues in theory choice apparently brings with it a dilemma:  if we are deciding what to accept on the basis of considerations that are not truth-conducive, it looks like we should either refrain from believing what we accept, and adopt some sort of instrumentalist attitude to the theories we cherish;  or alternatively, we stand charged with engaging in theoretical irrationality in our belief formation.  This paper discusses the appropriate response to this dilemma.

May 23 Anne Schwenkenbecher (Murdoch University)

Making Sense of Moral Duties to Colaborate


Positive moral obligations are obligations that require us to improve states of affairs or to assist someone in need, even if we are not in any way responsible for their need to be assisted. The least controversial type of positive obligation is the obligation to assist others in an emergency, for instance, when their life is under threat and we can save it at little cost to ourselves. In many cases, however, we cannot assist those in danger without the help of others, because our individual ability to assist is insufficient. That is, we sometimes need to collaborate with others in order to successfully assist someone in need. There is an increasing number of philosophical literature discussing the way in which this fact should be reflected in our concept of moral obligation. Scholars have put forward the notion of collective moral obligation – a type of obligation that is not held by an individual but by a group of individuals. There are several different ways to spell out such obligations and this paper will compare different options with a view to how well they align with commonly held assumptions regarding the limits of ascribing moral duties; how well they reflect common intuitions; and the extent to which they produce action-guiding principles.

 May 30 John Kett 

Newcomb World Morality: Show Me the Money!


In Newcomb’s Problem the rewards go to the “irrational”. Causal Decision Theorists are sick of missing out and are entertaining strategies they previously dismissed as absurd just to get their hands on the money. (Strategies which even involve taking only one box in the (revealed) situation where the contents are known prior to the decision.)

This paper looks at the way decisions would be made on revealed Newcomb Worlds and models those decisions with a new general decision metric which allows of virtual resolutions. Then the case is made that the (predictor-like) forces which led to the development of social cooperation and biological altruism on our world make it sufficiently like a Newcomb world for these virtual resolutions to be applicable to our cooperation problems.

Parallels are drawn with the loss of Euclidean geometry’s a priori status. Is it time to give up the search for the holy grail of rationality and accept that appropriate resolution of the general decision metric is a purposeful technique depending on and changing with experience? Is it time to allow that we might act altruistically without being irrational?