Graduate Student Research Colloquia - Fall 2018

Fall 2018

December 7, 2018

Presenter: Chelsea Richardson

Title: "Ancestry Without Race"


Given my past assessments of ancestry as it pertains to race, that it naturalizes race, giving race an unjustified but science-like credence that shores race up as a heinous social juggernaut -- one might wonder if there's anything redeeming in ancestry at all. Additionally, one might wonder how to draw a distinction between ancestry as it pertains to race and ancestry as it pertains to anything else. In this essay I'll aim to develop substantive answers to some of these questions. Primarily, I'll use what I take to be a few meaningful categories of cases to develop a clear(er) distinction between ancestry as it pertains to race -- which I'll refer to as racial ancestry, and ancestry as it pertains to something other than race -- which I'll call non-racial ancestry. The categories of cases I'll focus on are those of finding one's biological parents, drawing one's family tree, and testing one's DNA. I'm choosing to focus on these categories not because each falls neatly within the bounds of non-racial ancestry or racial ancestry, but because they help to illuminate the distinctions between racial and non-racial ancestry. I will also discuss the normative conclusions that can be drawn about both racial and non-racial ancestry. Racial ancestry is something we would do well to eliminate, but to eliminate non-racial ancestry might be to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

November 16, 2018

Presenter: Zach Wrublewski

Title: "Subjunctives, Dispositions, and Rationality."


There is an ongoing debate about how rational requirements should be understood, when those requirements involve a conditional. Wide-scope theorists believe that the "ought" of rationality ranges over the entirety of the conditional -- or, in other words, the ought has "wide scope." Their opponents, the narrow-scope theorists, believe that the "ought" of rationality ranges over just the consequent of such conditionals -- or, that it has "narrow scope." As might be expected, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with each of these views. The wide-scope theorists generally have to grapple with what I call "easy satisfaction problems," while narrow-scope theorists must contend with a slightly more varied set of problems that I will call "bootstrapping problems." In this presentation, I will argue for a view which I'm currently calling the "subjunctive dispositional view" (though, this is subject to change if I find a flashier name for it.) In general, I will argue that understanding the relevant conditionals as subjunctive conditionals rather than material conditionals leads to a view that can avoid both types of problems mentioned above. Then, I will show that my specific version of this view, which relies on agents' dispositions in determining the truth values for the relevant subjunctive conditionals, is intuitive plausible and has the advantages of both the wide-scope and narrow-scope views.

November 9, 2018

Presenter: Jason Lemmon

Title: "Robust Moral Realism, Evidence, and the Evolutionary Debunking of Morality."


I will explore some of the central threads of the recent debate between evolutionary debunkers of morality and their opponents. One of the most pervasive responses to debunkers is that their main line of argument proves too much. The main debunking line, in short, is that since evolutionary forces have shaped our "moral faculties"/capacities to produce beliefs that were advantageous (rather than truth-tracking), it would be, probabilistically, basically miraculous if -- supposing for argument's sake, there really are mind-independent moral truths -- the aforementioned beliefs just happened to line up with the mind-independent moral truths. This would be a coincidence of monumental, and unacceptable, proportions; thus, we should accept that our moral capacities are (very, very likely) UNRELIABLE. Now, the response that the debunkers' main argument proves too much goes, roughly, as follows: The main debunking line can be applied to practically any mental capacity or faculty; e.g. swap out 'moral' with 'perceptual', and you get the result that our perceptual faculties are UNRELIABLE. Thus, the main debunking line leads to global skepticism. This response is given by Shafer-Landau, among many others. I argue that the response fails, on empirical grounds. The evolutionary accounts we have regarding the etiology of perception, or of our mathematical capacities, are of a quite different kind (perception) -- or non-existent (mathematics) -- than the etiology of our moral capacities. For the response to work, it cannot be given from the armchair -- instead, one must show, as with our moral capacities, that it really is likely that the deliverances of capacity X are beliefs that are either likely unrelated to the possible truths, or, are such that we must simply Withhold.

November 2, 2018

Presenter: Katerina Psaroudaki


Do white people owe compensation to black people in the context of race-based affirmative action? I will discuss various arguments and show that, the most tenable version of affirmative action, which best explains why white people owe compensation and why black people deserve compensation, is of the following shape: white people would not have developed the skills they currently possess if they had not been benefited by their membership to a socially privileged group, and, analogously, black people would not have suffered their present competitive disadvantages if they had not been subjected to racial discrimination. I will, then, defend a hybrid interpretation of the "principle of fair play" according to which: a) white people have not knowingly and willingly accepted the benefits of racial injustice, b) the benefits conferred upon white people do not clearly outweigh the cost they have to pay, c: the distribution of the compensatory benefits is not fair since the black people who have suffered the most from racial discrimination will not be the ones obtaining the affirmative opportunities, and d) the distribution of the compensatory burdens cannot be proven fair since the best qualified white people who will be paying the price have not necessarily gained the most from racial injustice. Through a series of thought experiments, I will conclude that only a very weak compensatory duty can be established in the context of affirmative action.

October 26, 2018

Presenter: Mark Selzer

Title: "Importing Reasons from Other Worlds (without Tariffs!): or the Latent Capacity Interpretation of the Explanatory Constraint."


n his influential article, "Internal and External Reasons" (1979), Bernard Williams argues for the Explanatory Constraint:

EC: The fact that p is a normative reason for A to Φ only if A can Φ because p.

There is a problem with EC: if 'can' means that there is some possible world where A can Φ because p, then almost anything would count as a normative reason for A to Φ. Therefore, a plausible interpretation of EC must avoid such a 'bare possibility' interpretation of 'can'.
In "Internalism and Externalism about Reasons" (forthcoming), Hille Paakunainen argues for the Actual Capacity interpretation of EC:

AC: The fact that p is a normative reason for A to Φ only if A has an actual present capacity to Φ because p.

First, I argue that AC is an unsatisfactory interpretation of EC because it conflicts with the normative reasons that the akratic or the person with a poorly developed character has. Second, to address these shortcomings, I argue for the Latent Capacity interpretation of 'can' in EC:

LC: The fact that p is a normative reason for A to Φ only if A has a latent capacity to Φ because p.

LC is an account that is not trivialized by a bare possibility interpretation of EC—yet, contra AC, LC remains in harmony with the normative reasons the akratic or the person with a poorly developed character has.

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October 19, 2018

Presenter: Andrew Spaid


Some have recently argued that, given how different pleasure and pain are from one another, hedonism cannot lay claim to the theoretical advantages monistic theories of value are thought to have over pluralistic ones, such as explanatory adequacy and commensurability. Some have also suggested that this is a reason to prefer the desire satisfaction theory over hedonism (since the former has these theoretical advantages.) As I try to show, however, the argument reveals only that the extent to which hedonism has these advantages over standard pluralist views is smaller than previously thought, not that hedonism lacks the advantages altogether. I also argue that the desire satisfaction theory faces a similar challenge.

October 12, 2018

Presenter: Adam Thompson

Title: "Challenging Hybrid Accounts of Race."


So-called hybrid accounts of race aim to offer a compromise between social constructivism about race and views that hold race to be biologically real. The idea is that race has a dual nature insofar as it is a socially constructed, biological reality. Of course the view that there are some genetic divisions in the human population corresponding to our racial categories that might interest scientists or aid in the identification of skeletal remains is not completely unreasonable. But the inferences that underwrite a move from that fact to the claim that race is biologically real are fallacious. To show this, I'll look at the three most prominent types of hybrid accounts to make the case that they cannot establish the dual nature of race. As it stands then, it appears that, ontologically speaking, race is at best merely a social construction.

October 5, 2018

The Graduate Student Research Colloquium will not be held. Instead, we will have the Fall 2018 Faculty and Graduate Student Colloquium. Christopher Stratman will present.

September 28, 2018

Presenter: Aaron Elliott

Title: "Non-Naturalist Moral Perception: An Exploration"


Non-Naturalists have an epistemological problem. Their metaphysical commitments make them particularly susceptible to geneological debunking challenges, which charge that there is something about the etiology of our normative beliefs that prevents them from being in good epistemic standing. I will explain what I take to be the strongest version of the challenge (as a Gettier challenge), and then explore some options for non-naturalists to get out of it. Many standard Gettier cases (e.g. the sheep in the field case) depend on a deviant explanation of the justified true belief -- the truth does not explain the belief nor its justification. This seems to be the non-naturalist's position with regard to moral beliefs, as they hold that normative facts don't causally explain natural facts and facts about beliefs are natural facts. Third-factor explanations, where the belief and the fact that it is about are both explained by the same third fact, aren't viable either. Even if they can have a natural fact explain our beliefs and the normative facts they're about without undermining their non-naturalist commitments (they can), the structure of explanation they give would have to resolve Gettier cases (it doesn't).
My research will be on whether non-naturalists can offer an account where the normative facts explain our beliefs, but without violating causal inertness. Fortunately, there is philosophical precedent for non-causal perception. Cognitive penetration is the purported phenomenon of our natural kind concepts "penetrating" our perceptual content in an (often) epistemically acceptable way. A standard example is our ability to see the property 'pine tree' (or the fact that there is a pine tree), despite 'pine tree' not causally affecting our visual systems.
So, I will be exploring the viability of this avenue. There are several problems to resolve to make this work (and I hope that you'll point out more.) The first is the problem of requiring our concepts to accurately refer, as would be required for cognitive penetration to do the work I want. The second is an increased worry about accommodating moral disagreement. The third is that cognitive penetration isn't always epistemically benign.

September 21, 2018

Presenter: Joey Dante


I will be attempting to provide an abductive argument for the thesis that all value(-systems) is created via a process of social interaction. I take it that this implies, at the least, that there are no necessarily existent values and further, that no moral facts hold necessarily (at least in so far as moral facts supervene on or are grounded in moral value.)
P1: Some value-systems (like dog-show systems) are such that they arise as a result of social interactions (i.e. these value systems and the VALUES THEMSELVES would NOT exist unless said interaction occurred) and that any theory concerning these values must be one such that according to that theory, these values were created as a result of social interaction.
P2: A theory that offers a unified or homogeneous account of the means of generation (possible creation conditions) of some kind of entity, K, is more preferable to a theory that offers a radically dis-unified account of the possible creation conditions for K.
SUPPORT OF INTUITIVE PRINCIPLE BY ANALOGY: Suppose we find (biological/organic) life on some planet in the next galaxy over (Andromeda I think.) And suppose theory T offers an account as follows: (i) life on earth arose out of evolutionary processes and (ii) life on Andromeda arose by divine creation (or arose by some other means than evolutionary processes.) That theory would be LESS preferable, ceteris paribus, than a theory that gave the same explanation as to the creation of living things (i.e. said either that God created all life or that life results from evolutionary processes.)
Therefore, a theory that has it that all value-systems and the values thereof LITERALLY arise out of the result of social interaction is more preferable to one that has it that some values (moral values) are necessary existences and others (like etiquette-values) are contingent existences.
(A few hidden premises are hanging about but I hope we can see that the argument is more or less valid as stated.)

September 14, 2018

Presenter: Adam Thompson

Title: "On Keeping the Blame in Blame: Anti-Humeans Do What Humeans Cannot"


Recently, several accounts have emerged on which blame is neither confined to the emotional nor always affectless. Rather than focus on the emotional aspects of blame, these theories focus on its motivational features. Some construe blame along Humean lines insofar as they adopt the Humean idea that cognitive states cannot motivate absent aid from independent desire. Others allow that a moral judgment can motivate despite the fact that no independent desire lends a helping hand. A primary concern for those non-emotion-based accounts is that they take the blame out of blame. This essay looks at three different ways to understand that objection -- as taking emotion out, as taking implicit demands out, and as taking the deservingness out. I argue that all and only those accounts of blame's nature that appeal to the Humean idea fall to all three versions. Thus, only anti-Humean accounts of blame remain viable.

September 7, 2018

Presenter: Zack Garrett

Title: "The Logic of States of Affairs"


In this chapter, I describe a logic built from states of affairs that resolves the sorites paradox when vagueness is treated as a metaphysical phenomenon and provides a general account of metaphysical vagueness. The logic takes states of affairs as its atomic elements. States of affairs are made up of objects and properties. A state of affairs can obtain or fail to obtain, depending on whether or not its object instantiates its property. However, it may indeterminately obtain if its object indeterminately instantiates its property.
The standard logical connectives are treated as higher-order states of affairs that have as components other states of affairs. For example, a conjunction is a state of affairs that contains two states of affairs and the relation of co-obtaining.
The chapter also discusses how the logic of states of affairs handles higher-order vagueness. Higher-order vagueness in the logic of states of affairs involves states of affairs about the obtaining of other states of affairs that either determinately obtain, indeterminately obtain, or fail to obtain. For example, the state of affairs of the state of affairs of Mikhail Gorbachev being bald indeterminately obtaining may indeterminately obtain. That is to say, it might be indeterminate whether or not it is indeterminate that Gorbachev is bald. Finally, I discuss how the logic of states of affairs can handle higher-order vagueness better than supervaluationism can.

August 31, 2018

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "Ectogenesis and the Moral Status of Abortion"


Ectogenesis involves the gestation of a fetus in an ex utero environment. While we tend to think of such technology as mere science fiction, in the future this will likely change. Indeed, given the plausibility of ectogenesis, a number of morally significant questions arise. One such question concerns the moral status of abortion. The aim of this paper is to show that ectogenesis, which makes it possible to perform an abortion without the destruction of the fetus, provides a good reason to believe that it is nearly always morally impermissible to kill the fetus.