Graduate Student Research Colloquia - Fall 2016

Fall 2016

December 2, 2016

Presenter: Andrew Spaid

Title: "Desire Theory: How to Measure Well-being."


Desire theorists about well-being accept the following view about how to measure a person's level of well-being: a person is well-off to the extent that they are getting what they want. There are two options for making this view more precise. According to the first, your level of well-being is represented as a ratio of satisfied desires over total desires. According to the second, your level of well-being is represented as an integer equal to the number of your satisfied desires minus the number of your frustrated desires. I believe more turns on which of these two options the desire theorist accepts than desire theorists have tended to notice. I explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of each option and argue that, for most desire theorists, the first option should appear the most attractive.

November 18, 2016

Due to the Speaker's Series, the Graduate Student Research Colloquium is cancelled this week. The guest speaker is Karen Bennett, her topic is "Causing"Click here for more information

November 18, 2016

Due to the Speaker's Series, the Graduate Student Research Colloquium is cancelled this week. The guest speaker is Neil Sinhababu, his topic is "Empathic Hedonists Escape Moral Twin Earth". Click here for more information

November 4, 2016

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "Why I Am Not A Color Realist."


I am not a color realist. I do not believe that colors exist independent of one's phenomenal experience of them; they are not a part of the correct ontology; they are not a part of the way the cosmos looks from the perspective of the ontology room; they are not in the book of the world; they are not fundamental. Our commonsense perception of the world around us errs when it tells us that ordinary objects are colored. I don't think that ordinary objects are colored, because I don't think that ordinary objects exist. In this paper I will consider the Sorites Paradox and several issues concerning material constitution in order to demonstrate that there is good reason to believe that mereological nihilism is true. The aim of this paper is to argue that color realism is false by showing that mereological nihilism is true. Consequently, mind-independent, color properties that are possessed by ordinary objects don't exist. Hence, there is good reason to deny color realism. The astute reader will notice, however, that it is technically incorrect to say that "I" am not a color realist. The correct way to make this point would be to say that, simples arranged "I—wise" am not a color realist. After presenting the main argument against color realism I will consider similar challenges and argue that such worries are benign.

October 21, 2016

Presenter: Joseph Dante

Title: "Contra Sound as Disturbances."


I will be offering various considerations that call into question Casey O'Callahan's recent work on Sounds. O'Callahan argues that sounds are disturbance events. I will argue that O'Callahan fails to meet his own desiderata for any adequate theory of sounds. And further that his arguments to suggest that sounds cannot occur in a vacuum fail. He wants his theory to be neutral with respect to the proper metaphysics of events yet also he wants sounds to be causally powerful. I will argue that either his theory allows for sounds to be epiphenomenal or else he must be committed to the thesis that every event has only one cause (namely he would have to be committed to a controversial theory of event individuation). Either way his own desiderata are not met. Further, he argues that because there are no audible qualities in a vacuum there is no sound in a vacuum. I will point out flaws in this way of arguing. Namely, the premise "If there are no audible qualities in X then there are no sounds in X" will either commit O'Callahan to saying that there are no sounds in places where his theory should allow or else leave room for sounds existing in vacuums.

October 7, 2016

Due to the Speaker's Series, the Graduate Student Research Colloquium is cancelled this week. The guest speaker is Alex Rosenberg, his topic is "The Program of Strong Scientism and its Challenges". Click here for more information

September 30, 2016

Presenter: Zachary Garrett

Title: "The Epistemic Theory of Vagueness."


Epistemicism is a theory of vagueness that makes two claims: (i) all vague predicates have sharp cutoff points and (ii) for any borderline case we cannot know whether the predicate applies or not. The primary proponents of epistemicism are Timothy Williamson and Roy Sorensen. Williamson, unlike Sorensen, attempts to give an account of how predicates get their sharp borders. He claims that our uses of predicates set the cutoff via some very complicated procedure. He does not spell out the procedure itself. The plausibility of our uses setting unique cutoff points for vague predicates has been questioned extensively. Even attempts to set the cutoffs via other means have come up short. As for Williamson’s version of (ii), he explains our limited knowledge to a margin for error principle. Essentially, we lack knowledge in borderline cases because we could have easily been wrong. Sorensen thinks that Williamson is misguided in his efforts to give an explanation of the procedure that sets sharp borders. Instead, Sorensen argues that we are forced to accept the existence of sharp borders by virtue of the fact that the sorites argument is invalid. He claims that this is enough reason to accept sharp borders. Sorensen explains our ignorance as a result of a lack of truthmakers for propositions about borderline cases. Since the propositions are not linked to the world in any way we cannot come to know them. I argue that Sorensen’s explanation of our ignorance is worse than Williamson’s. Since Williamson’s explanation of how vague predicates get their borders is problematic I consider a hybrid view that utilizes both Sorensen’s optimism about the existence of cutoffs and Williamson’s account of our ignorance. I finally argue that this account also fails because it gets the direction of explanation between logic and the phenomenon of vagueness wrong.

September 23, 2016

Presenter: Jason Lemmon

Title: "Aristotle on Non-Contradiction: Logical, not Metaphysical"


In book IV, chapter 4 of the Metaphysics, Aristotle defends the principle of non-contradiction (PNC) -- namely, that it is impossible for something both to have some feature and to not have that feature, at the same time and in the same respect. Edward Halper, among others, denies that Aristotle is concerned to defend PNC. He complains that many philosophers have treated Met. IV 4 "as an island of logic in a sea of metaphysics." He argues that Aristotle's project in IV 4 isn't to defend PNC; rather PNC is being used by Aristotle as an assumption in an argument for the conclusion that beings have essential definitions. Thus, says Halper, Met. IV 4 consists of metaphysics, not logic, and should be seen as continuous with Aristotle's main concerns in subsequent books of the Metaphysics. I argue that Met. IV 4 is indeed an island of logic in a sea of metaphysics. I offer four main arguments against the metaphysical reading (and the claim that PNC functions as a premise). One of my arguments, for example, includes the claim -- borrowing from Jonathan Lear, and ultimately Carroll -- that PNC, as a principle of inference (acceptance of Fx is all it takes to reject ˜Fx), can no more constitute a premise in an argument than Modus Ponens can.

September 16, 2016

Presenter: Aaron Elliott

Title: "Avoiding Bruteness Revenge."


In this paper I examine Tristram McPherson's presentation of the supervenience challenge for non-naturalism in metaethics, and focus on the issue of brute necessary connections. The Challenge is that non-naturalists must either: i. allow that the supervenience of the normative on the natural entails an unexplained necessary connection between distinct existence; ii. accept an explanation for the necessary connections that is committed to naturalism; or, iii. reject supervenience. I explain why McPherson concludes that any non-naturalist explanation for supervenience must rely on positing some further brute necessary connection, and therefore makes no progress towards discharging the explanatory burden. I then argue that McPherson's account conflates two kinds of bruteness, and show that in light of this distinction explanatory progress is possible. There are brute necessary connections and there are brute absences, and commitment to each is a cost to a view. Due to this distinction, I replace Hume's Dictum with a principle against positing brute impossibility, because this better captures the concern over both kinds of bruteness. We can decrease the amount of bruteness a non-naturalist is committed to by eliminating brute connections without positing further brute connections or additional brute absences. This reduces the cost of supervenience to non-naturalism, and makes explanatory progress, even if some commitment to brute absence remains.

September 9, 2016

Presenter: Kevin Patton

Title: "The Psychology of Skepticism."


The thesis of this presentation will be mostly fragmented. The idea behind this presentation will be to frame the first (eventual) chapter of my (eventual) dissertation. The goal/project for the first chapter will be to recast the challenge of epistemic skepticism in positive, rather than negative terms. Nearly every author I have surveyed addresses epistemic skepticism as a challenge that needs answering. This has the effect of producing combative attitudes toward both skepticism and the core issues the skeptic is focused on. I want to view skepticism as a welcomed friend, not as a foe to be vanquished. The skeptic is someone who desires certainty and any theory of knowledge which does not produce such certainty is faulty - or so says the skeptic. This reframing of the debate in positive terms will help me address some naturalized epistemologists who have attempted to refute the skeptic (probably chapter 2 of the dissertation?)

September 2, 2016

Presenter: Adam Thompson

Title: "How Anti-Humeans Keep the Blame in Blame (and Why Humeans Cannot)."


Recently, several accounts have emerged on which blame is neither confined to the emotional nor always affectless. These accounts seem antithetical to popular Reactive Attitudes Accounts on which blame is constitutively tied to certain emotions. This essay shows that only a subset of those emerging accounts run contrary to Reactive Attitudes Accounts. It primarily argues that those accounts of blame's nature that appeal to the Humean idea that cognitive states cannot motivate absent aid from independent desire should be rejected. Thus, if we reject Reactive Attitudes Accounts of blame, we should adopt an anti-Humean construal of blame. The key idea is that only anti-Humean accounts capture the essence of the reactive emotions. Hence, only anti-Humean accounts keep intact the aspects of the reactive attitudes that render them paradigmatic of blame. In other words, it shows how anti-Humeans keep the blame in blame and explains why Humeans cannot.