Graduate Student Research Colloquia - Fall 2017

Fall 2017

December 8, 2017

The Graduate Student Research Colloquium will not be held this week due to the Faculty-Grad Colloquium. Andy Spaid will present.

December 1, 2017

Presenters: Joseph Dante, C. L. Richardson, and Adam Thompson.


Presenter: Joseph Dante ABSTRACT: To be announced.

Presenter: C. L. Richardson
ABSTRACT: In previous chapters I've argued that there are two types of ancestry. First, there's the type we think we're using when we define racial categories. I call this Biological Ancestry or BA for short. Second, there's the type we're actually using when we define racial categories. I'll call this Social Ancestry or SA. BA is the location and appearance of one's past genetic relatives. SA is the position in a social hierarchy that one inhabits as a result of events in human and natural history which assign social meanings to markings on one's body. These markings are taken to manifest as a result of the location and appearance of one's past genetic relatives. This chapter aims to show that the moral value of Ancestral Pride (feeling some sense of empowerment, connectedness, or self-satisfaction associated with the appearance and/or location of one's past genetic relatives) can be distinguished by appealing to the distinction between BA and SA. I argue that Ancestral Pride is morally permissible (in the sense that it is beneficial to some individuals or at least not harmful to them) when it concerns BA, or SA that involves overcoming or enduring oppression done by the hierarchy. Ancestral Pride is not morally permissible (it may even be blameworthy) when it celebrates SA that involves oppression done by the hierarchy either directly or indirectly. I'll offer a variety of cases in order to make this argument.

Presenter: Adam Thompson Title: "Children of Men: Dissolving the Paradox of Self-Ownership"
ABSTRACT: Many moral libertarians adhere to Self-Ownership: Every person is initially a self-owner; and Fruits-of-Labor-Ownership: Every person morally owns the fruits of her labor. Coupled with the fact that everyone is the fruit of someone's labor, the theses of Self-Ownership and Fruits-of-Labor-Ownership entail that no one owns herself. Hence, there appears to be a paradox at the heart of moral libertarianism. After getting clear on the so-called Paradox of Self-Ownership, and showing that the most prominent attempts at a solution fail, I dissolve it.

November 17, 2017

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "Fundamentality and Significance."


I believe that there are metaphysical and theoretical pressures to accept an austere ontology. One perplexing metaphysical pressure is discussed by Peter Unger in "I Do Not Exist" (1979), where he argues that any complex object or entity (i.e., that which has parts), is vulnerable to a sorties paradox argument and, therefore, does not exist, Indeed, Unger argues that minds, thinkers, and their thoughts do not exist. And so, I do not exist. Of course, this intuitively seems disastrous. Recently, in their book Austere Realism: Contextual Semantics Meets Minimal Ontology (2008), Terrance E. Horgan and Matjaz Potrc have made similar arguments. They agree with Unger's conclusion, but argue that one can still be a realist about minds, thinkers, and their thoughts, if one adopts a distinction between a Direct Correspondence theory of truth (DC), and an Indirect Correspondence theory of truth (IC).
I will argue that they fail to show how sentences or judgments about minds, thinkers, and their thoughts can be true if these do not exist as the needed relata for any correspondence theory of truth. Additionally, I argue that Horgan and Potrc fail to give an adequate account of how we can think about non-existent objects, which does not assume the existence of minds, thinkers, and their thoughts. As such I believe that, if one accepts Unger's conclusion, as Horgan and Potrc do, then they should abandon the project of attempting to give an adequate theory of truth in favor of a distinction between fundamentality and significance. Once this distinction is adopted, then one can accept that minds, thinkers, and their thoughts do not exist, insofar as they are not ontologically fundamental, while still accepting that minds, thinkers and their thoughts "exist" insofar as they are ontologically significant.

November 10, 2017

Presenter: Alfred Tu

Title: "Wielenberg on Egoism in the Nichomachean Ethics."


In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle gives a full account of what is a virtuous person and what they would do in various situations. According to Aristotle, a virtuous person would choose a course of action that promotes eudimonia. The problem is, would a virtuous person always promote his own eudimonia? If we can give an interpretation of Nicomachean Ethics such that a virtuous person would always maximize his own eudimonia, then it seems that Aristotle's account would be a kind of egoism. In "Egoism and Eudaimonia-Maximization in the Nichmachean Ethics" (2004), Eric Wielenberg argues for his egoistic interpretation of Nicomachean Ethics and against Richard Kraut's anti-egoistic interpretation of Nichomachean Ethics. In this paper, I am going to argue that Wielenberg's interpretation would have some peculiar results in some situations and Kraut's interpretation can handle these situations better.

November 3, 2017

Presenter: Jason Lemmon


Some have recently argued that belief/desire psychology is not fundamental to practical reason. This work is fairly limited in range, especially among philosophers (though less so among psychologists.) I will examine the main philosophical proposals and argue that they are quite implausible. The main thrust of these proposals is that results from empirical psychology, such as 'framing effects' and 'ongoing unrelated experiences,' affect our decisions in ways that purportedly cannot be explained by the belief/desire model. As an example of an ongoing unrelated experience, holding a teddy bear affects the way a subject judges other people in social settings; but the teddy bear, it is claimed, has no bearing on the subject's beliefs and desires. Opponents of the belief/desire model admit that proponents have responses to make here, but opponents go on to argue that all plausible responses boil down to either positing an extra, unnecessary mental state, or else admitting that a nice, warm teddy-bear-caused mood, say, influences our beliefs; we must reject the former by parsimony and reject the latter because it is purely ad hoc. In response, I will show that the latter is not only not ad hoc but that it is just what we would expect from a reasonable belief/desire model.

October 27, 2017

Presenter: Lauren Sweetland

Title: "Descriptive Mental Files?"


What is the relationship between external objects and mental representation? How can we think of an object as one and the same even as it changes through time? Some people offer the notion of a mental file to explain how we track objects through changes in time and think of them as individual objects and not merely possessors of certain properties. A mental file is an acquaintance-relation based mental representation of some object. Mental files are typically construed as having essentially relational contents rather than descriptive contents. But are there some descriptive mental files? That is, can we think singular thoughts of an object via its relation to ourselves or via some description of that object? Or do we think of an object primarily via its (non-descriptive) modes of presentation? According to Recanati, singular thoughts are non-descriptive. According to Goodman, one can think a singular thought about an object not necessarily by accessing singular content, but by understanding the description conveyed by its name. Some, but not all, descriptive files are singular.
I will argue that if there are no descriptive mental files, then we will have a hard time explaining some cases of functional and communicative success in reference when one thinks with mistaken information about the object. If mental files are exclusively relational, and yet one successfully refers to an object on the basis of mistaken relational information, it seems a natural way to account for the mistake is by appealing to some description, at least in some cases. An answer to whether there are some descriptive mental files will help answer the larger question: Are all mental files singular thoughts?

October 20, 2017

Presenter: Samuel Hobbs

Title: "Augustine and the non-existence of the past."


Augustine argues that the present depends upon non-being since the present depends upon passing into the past and the past doesn't exist. Since, for Augustine, past, present, and future all depend upon non-being, then they must only exist simultaneously with perception. For Augustine's theory of time, the past exists in present memories, the present exists in present perception, and the future exists in present expectation. This paper argues that if the past merely exists in memory, then Augustine must accept metaphysically absurd events. To avoid this result, Augustine has to accept that the past depends upon existence. Since the past depends upon existence, and the present depends upon the past, then the present depends upon existence. This puts Augustine in a dilemma: either he must accept metaphysical absurdities, or else he has to reject his psychological view of time.

October 13, 2017

Presenter: Adam Thompson

Title: "(Un)Marginalizing Interests: Correcting Profession-Wise, Unjust Treatment of Those Interested in Studying Teaching and Learning in Philosophy."


The search for truth is best carried out by those well-equipped to critically interrogate and evaluate propositions, their perceptions, their memory, the testimony of others, etc. This should give pride of place to those primarily interested in effectively facilitating the development of those capacities. However, as is well-known, professional philosophy by-and-large marginalizes those interested in the study of teaching and learning. This essay argues that that marginalization is unjust and offers suggestions for correcting this wrong. Further, since this essay argues that, in most settings in higher education, it is a mistake to value interest in the search for truth above interest in how best to develop students' critical faculties, it explores explanations for the fact that many intelligent, well-meaning people make the mistake.

September 29, 2017

Presenter: Chelsea Richardson

Title: "Where is your family from originally?: A conceptual analysis of the role of ancestry in the philosophy of race."


Linda Martin Alcoff, Charles Mills, and Sally Haslanger each appeal to a notion of ancestry in their accounts of race. I will examine these appeals and argue that as a collective they face two key problems: the regress problem and the inference problem. The regress problem shows that the scope of ancestry as it is used for racial membership is ill-defined. Further, what can be inferred about racial membership on the basis of ancestry and its complex relationship with visible properties of the body is similarly ill-defined — the inference problem illuminates this. These two problems ultimately show that while ancestry plays a key role in our concept of race, both folk views and appeals by the philosophers I analyze do too little to converge on a clear account of what ancestry actually is. The way Alcoff, Mills, and Haslanger treat ancestry sometimes obscures our understanding of race and racial membership and potentially reinforces a folk view of ancestry (and, as it pertains, race) that, all of these authors agree is morally dubious. In the end, I present a view of ancestry that seeks to avoid the key problems I identify.

September 15, 2017

Presenter: Zack Garrett

September 8, 2017

Presenter: Joey Dante


As we all may be aware, J. L. Mackie famously argues that there are no objective values. I want to investigate Mackie's interpretation of what objective values indeed ARE, and then consider and attempt to understand (one of) his arguments against such entities. Specifically, I want to see whether his arguments apply to Kantian objective values. As such, this talk is as much an interpretation of Kant as it is of Mackie (at least in so far as I understand them.)
It seems that Mackie thinks objective values, if they exist, have strange causal profiles. Specifically, these entities have the POWER to cause in a subject that is aware of them a certain motivation (to comply with their recommendations, whatever that means.) Does Kant think the objectively valuable entities have such POWER? Is such power metaphysically strange?

September 1, 2017

Presenter: Kevin Patton

Title: "Safety and Skepticism."


Duncan Pritchard has advocated for a necessary condition on knowledge known as safety. Pritchard's definition of safety is an explicitly modal one in which a true belief is safe if and only if in all / nearly all close possible worlds to ours, the belief is also true, and we believe it on the same basis. Since Pritchard's 2005 book, there have been a flurry of powerful criticisms, some of which have resulted in Pritchard modifying his general framework. One criticism that Pritchard has not responded to is raised by Dylan Dodd. Dodd argues for the following conditional: if safety, as Pritchard contends, explains the lottery intuition, then skepticism follows. In this paper I will argue that Dodd's formulation of the problem can be easily addressed by a safety theorist such as Pritchard. In so replying, however a dilemma will result for Pritchard: either he must reject common sense cases of knowledge, or he must reject his stated motivations for safety.