Graduate Student Research Colloquia - Fall 2019

Fall 2019

December 13, 2019

Presenter: Zach Wrublewski

Title: "Reason and Being Rational"


In his most recent article, "Normativity versus Rationality," John Broome analyzes some of the most recent work on the connection between reasons and rationality. In the course of this analysis, Broome offers two things: The intuitive idea that the faculty of reason and the property of being rational are linked, and a formulation of this connection that I will call the "additive" conception of the link between the reason and the property of rationality. Broome formulates the connection as follows: "[...][S]atisfying requirements of rationality is sufficient for possessing the property of rationality: if you satisfy all the requirements of rationality you are fully rational. Moreover, the degree to which you satisfy requirements of rationality is the degree to which you have the property of rationality. These degrees are partially ordered. For example, if in one possible situation you satisfy all the requirements of rationality that you satisfy in another, and you satisfy at least one more, you are more rational in the first situation than in the second."

My project has two major components: First, I'll agree that there does seem to be an intuitive link between reason and the property of being rational, but object to Broome's formulation of the link. Second, I'll outline a few reasons to think that a theory of rationality like Fogal's "pressure view," one which rejects rational requirements, better explains the connection between reason and the property of being rational.

November 22, 2019

Presenter: Jason Lemmon

Title: "On Weakness of Will"


On the standard (contemporary) account of weakness of will, the phenomenon occurs when one acts, intentionally and freely, contrary to what one judges to be the overall better option. Recently, the standard account has been challenged. Weakness of will actually occurs when one fails to act on one’s prior intentions – when, that is, one loses one’s resolve to see their intentions through. Richard Holton and Alison McIntyre are two of the main proponents of this novel account (and their work forms the basis for my defense of this view). Despite the new account’s having garnered serious attention, the standard account has remained the dominant view. I examine why this is so — in particular, I examine (what I have found to be) two of the more prevalent arguments in the literature against the new account. I argue that the new account has the resources to handle these arguments and that, more generally, it constitutes a plausible alternative to the standard account.

November 15, 2019

Presenter: Ryan Turner

Title: "Men First? — Asking for Directions to Egalitarian Gender"


Critiques of masculinity’s implication in systems of oppression tend to offer hope in egalitarian redefinitions of masculinity. Gender abolitionism recommends, for similar reasons, that we eliminate gender categories altogether. Each view has difficulties. It is not obvious that we can replace masculinity with something resembling masculinity but better, even leaving aside essentialist claims that gender is an immutable characteristic. Properly substantive accounts of what features could distinguish such a progressive masculinity from toxic or hegemonic masculinity have been thin on the ground. The necessity and utility of the project for wider egalitarian aims are just tacitly assumed. Abolitionism for its part neglects two valuable redeeming qualities of gendered identities. The first is the obvious fact that gender identities are for many people a cherished source of self-understanding, including many trans identities that have been subject to harmful — and, charitably, inadvertent — hostility from abolitionist critics of gender. Secondly, identifying as a member of a subordinated group such as a gender, race, sexual orientation, and so forth has itself historically been, for countless people, an enabling precondition of resistance to oppression. Here I seek to reconcile these two views by defending abolitionism in a limited form. By this "strategic abolitionism" I argue two major claims. Surveying literature in masculinities studies, I first show that progressive revisions such as Black and gay masculinities are superfluous to resistance of the respective oppressions to which they are responses. In each case, solidarity within the subordinated group as such is enough to understand the success or potential of resistance to its oppression. Masculinity qua masculinity can be divided through, leaving no significant remainder; progressive masculinities are an empty concept. Finally, I argue that the liberatory potential of gender abolitionism can be salvaged if we recognize an asymmetry in its practical demands of different, actually existing genders.

October 25, 2019

Presenter: Mark Selzer

Title: "Reason-Implies-Can"


If one ought to do something, does it follow that one can do it? To answer yes is to affirm what is known as the ought-implies-can principle (OIC). Recently, opponents of OIC have raised strong counterarguments against the principle. Since we can plausibly construe why one ought to do as derived from what one has reason to do, one would expect an analogous principle to OIC, a reason-implies-can principle (RIC), to fall prey to the same objections. I shall argue that RIC evades the strong objections made against OIC and, in fact, provides the basis for a version of OIC that escapes the same objections.

October 18, 2019

Presenter: Zack Garrett

Title: "Vagueness and Luminosity"


In Knowledge and its Limits, Timothy Williamson argues that being in a mental state does not entail that one is in a position to know that one is in that state in Williamson's terminology, most mental states are not luminous. Some have claimed that Williamson's argument relies on the vagueness of our mental states or the vagueness of belief. These responses to Williamson fail for the very reasons that Williamson cites in Knowledge and its Limits. However, there are interesting points to be made about the connection between vagueness and luminosity. In this paper, I argue that if contextualists about vagueness are correct about the way that context shifts in sorites arguments, then Williamson's argument as it is written is unsound. Some changes to the argument are then sufficient to avoid this worry regardless of which theory of vagueness is correct. Finally, I argue that some theories of vagueness allow for some mental states to avoid this modified anti-luminosity argument. So, the generalizability of anti-luminosity is brought into question.

October 4, 2019

Presenter: Trevor Adams

Title: "Does Factivity Imply Certainty?"


The paper I will be addressing by Moti Mizrahi entitled "You Can’t Handle the Truth: Knowledge = Epistemic Certainty". The primary thesis of Mizrahi’s paper is that if his argument succeeds, then "epistemologists who think that knowledge is factive are thereby also committed to the view that knowledge is epistemic certainty" (p.225). The leading argument in the paper is the following:

1. If S knows that p on the grounds that e, then p cannot be false given e.
2. If p cannot be false given e, then e makes p epistemically certain.
3. Therefore, if S knows that p on the grounds that e, then e makes p epsitemically certain. (p.225)

My thesis is that Mizrahi’s definition of factivity is too strong, and that only with that definition in play does his argument work. If we replace it with a more standard and less demanding definition his conclusion doesn’t follow. Thus without an independent argument for why we should assume his analysis of factivity, we need not accept that knowledge is epistemic certainty. My argument is that the factivity of knowledge only requires that p be true but doesn’t require the following: it is necessary that p given e. Mizrahi’s definition of factivity just excludes fallibilism at the start, and thus a fallibilist need not accept it. Mizrahi takes his first premise to require no defense since he says it is "simply a statement of the thesis that knowledge is factive, which contemporary epistemologists generally accept" (p.226). This is the exact point I wish to dispute and thus I will try to show that premise (1) as stated is too strong. If we replace premise one with a more moderate form of factivity then we in fact get an argument that knowledge doesn’t imply epistemic certainty:

a.) If S knows that p on grounds that e, then p is true but not guaranteed given e.
b.) If p is true but not guaranteed given e, then e does not make p epistemically certain.
c.) Therefore, if S knows that p on grounds that e, then e does not make p epistemically certain.

September 27, 2019

Presenter: Adam Thompson

Title: "On Keeping the Blame in Blame"


Moral judgments play an integral role in the active and reactive phenomena that animate practical life. For instance, as constituents of the active they feature in deliberation about what to do and thereby aid in the development of intentional action. On the reactive end, moral judgments structure responses to intentional action and it’s agential sources. However, many hold that moral judgment cannot function as blame proper without aid from an emotion like righteous anger, resentment, or indignation. One way of articulating that idea is to argue that moral judgment alone lacks the opprobrium characteristic of blame — that is, as some put it, moral judgment alone cannot keep the blame in blame. I explore three ways of making that point and reject each.

September 20, 2019

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "In Defense of Inflationism "


The Phenomenal Intentionality Theory (PIT) claims that there are phenomenally intentional mental states and that all other forms of intentional mental states are either grounded in or in some way arise from these more basic phenomenal mental states. However, this view of intentionality faces an apparently obvious problem: it seems as though there are intentional mental states, such as standing beliefs and desires, that are not phenomenally conscious. Proponents of PIT must give some plausible explanation of how these nonconscious intentional mental states get their intentional content. In The Phenomenal Basis of Intentionality (2018), Angela Mendelovici considers and rejects several attempts to show that nonconscious intentional mental states such as beliefs and desires get their intentional content derivatively. Mendelovici then argues in support of eliminativism about genuinely intentional standing states (169). While it might be the case that a thinker can be in a mental state such that they have a disposition to have an occurrent belief or desire, according to Mendelovici, such states are not genuinely intentional (99).

I argue that Mendelovici’s eliminativism about nonconscious intentional mental states should be rejected in favor of inflationism. On the view of inflationism proposed in this paper, some standing states, such as the disposition to be in a diachronic episode of thinking, can be both genuinely intentional and faintly phenomenally conscious. Moreover, I argue that there are good reasons to think that there are no occurrent phenomenally conscious beliefs, but only diachronic phenomenally conscious episodes of thinking (See Crane, 2013, “Unconscious Belief and Conscious Thought”). These considerations put into focus the primary purpose of this paper: to demonstrate that Mendelovici assumes that there is a genuine distinction between standing intentional mental states that are not phenomenally conscious, and occurrent intentional mental states that are phenomenally conscious. I argue that this distinction should be rejected, because, at least in the case of beliefs, there are no occurrent beliefs, and in the case of standing intentional mental states, the claim that these cannot be phenomenally conscious is false.

Mendelovici thinks that once the derivativist solutions has been ruled out, there are only two live options left: eliminativism and inflationism. And since, according to Mendelovici, “it is implausible to maintain that allegedly nonconscious intentional states are in fact phenomenally conscious”, the only solution available to the proponent of PIT is to articulate a salient version of eliminativism (169). But why must we think that an inflationist solution is simply implausible?

The apparent implausibility of inflationism is really just an artifact of accepting that there is a genuine distinction between unconscious standing intentional mental states and phenomenally conscious occurrent intentional mental states. No philosophical considerations of the inflationist solution are ever provided by Mendelovici. But, it will be shown that there are reasons to be skeptical of this distinction, and that the inflationist solution is not implausible. Therefore, proponents of PIT, such as Mendelovici, cannot simply reject without any argument the plausibility of the inflationist solution.

The paper is structured in the following way: In part one I offer several reasons to think that Mendelovici’s eliminativist solution collapses into self-ascriptivism, which is supposed to be a default position and which, I argue, is consistent with the inflationist solution argued for in this paper. Part two argues for the claim that, at least in the case of beliefs, there are no phenomenally conscious occurrent beliefs, only phenomenally conscious diachronic episodes of thinking. This is because, given the plausible claim that a crucial (though not definitional) feature of beliefs are the role they are supposed to play in our folk-psychological explanations and predictions of behavior, then arguably, a necessary condition for P to count as a belief is that P must able to persist beyond the initial moment P was acquired. If P lacks this condition, then P will not count as a belief. Since occurrent beliefs seem to lack this condition, occurrent beliefs do not count as genuine beliefs. Finally, I argue that dispositional mental states are both intentional and not necessarily unconscious. That is to say, it is not the case that there is nothing it is like to be in an intentional mental state of being disposed to experience a diachronic episode of thinking that such and such is the case. In conjunction with the claim that there are no occurrent beliefs, this is sufficient to show that the distinction between unconscious standing intentional mental states and phenomenally conscious occurrent intentional mental states should either be rejected, or at the very least, one would need to provide a positive argument in support of the distinction.

In support of this claim, the following reasons will be offered: (i) I argue for a distinction between what I call “Acute Phenomenology” and “Shadow Phenomenology” in order to show that the inflationist solution is not implausible. An example of shadow phenomenology would be when one looks at the front of an object such as a couch, right there in one’s acute phenomenology of the front-side of the couch there is also a kind of shadow phenomenology of the back-side of the couch. While this is typically understood as a kind of perceptual phenomenology, I believe it is intrinsically tied to our cognitive ability to imagine ourselves walking around to the other side of the couch to observe it. As such, there is room to argue that the shadow phenomenology involved in such cases can be extended to cases of standing intentional mental states.

(ii) I then appeal to work being done by philosophers such as Carruthers and Tye to show that, at least in the case of perception, there is a kind of shadow phenomenology associated with dispositional states. If this is correct, then (iii) it would provide proponents of PIT the recourses for a novel response to challenging cases that appear to involve mental states that are intentional but are not phenomenally conscious. That is, it will provide the basis for an inflationist solution to the problem of apparently unconscious standing states.

Februrary 13, 2019

Presenter: Steve Byerly

Steve is trying to flesh out a view he calls Knowledge as (Robust) True Belief.


Despite the popularity of either strengthening the justificatory condition, adding an additional condition, or modifying the parameters of justification, I will put forth 'Knowledge as (Robust) True Belief' (RTB), which is a theoretical account of knowledge.

I will reject what I'll call 'bare-propositional beliefs' (BPR): a BPR will be defined as a belief that is independent of justificatory provenance (I'm working on refining this definition; it needs work).
Robust belief def: A belief is a robust belief (i) iff the propositional statement/conclusion that is the locus of our potential knowledge is held together with the inferentially-prior propositions, through which, and in virtue of which, the conclusion is held to be true, and (ii) in conjunction with the implicit presuppositions, necessary to make the given argument make sense (stability, lack of deception, etc). RTB, then, is a holistic and interconnected doctrine. So, an article of 'knowlege' is in fact knowledge iff it is a soundly concluded argument, held together as a complex state-of-affairs, with all of its necessary presuppositions holding true.

Echoing the initial responses to Gettier cases, false premises in the inferential/dependent chain exclude a proposition from being the basis of a robust belief.

A distinction will be drawn between the pure theoretical account of knowledge in contrast to practical desiderata. The pure theoretical account does not offer a satisfactory way to guarantee that a given propositional statement is knowledge, but only an account of the meaning of a knower knowing something about a facet of reality. In these lights, an article of propositional truth may be abstracted in the mind, represented symbolically through a proposition, BUT to know something in a robust way, is to apprehend a facet of reality through the mind, held within an interconnected nexus of other facets. The whole gem, so to speak, is the intelligible landscape of reality. This view excludes 'feelings' of certainty, against the gambler; deception, against the barns; presuppositional errors, against Grabit's twin/delusions.

It is true that — practically — this is a very high bar to pass, and that we may not be able to grant our justificatory imprimatur on many of our alleged articles of propositional knowledge. Most of our so-called knowledge would be reduced to educated guesses. This view distinguishes what knowledge is per se, in general, from our practical ability to know which articles of belief are grasped, in particular (which I suspect most people are working on). A distinction will be maintained between 'what knowledge is', from 'how to know what you know, and whether you 'really' know something,' (though these are obviously related things). Since humans are clearly fallible, subject to both external and internal deception, only sound arguments devoid of deception, instability, and false-presuppositions, would qualify as knowledge. We enjoy speaking loosely of knowledge out of practical necessity, but it would be a mistake to confuse the weaker sense of knowledge (admixed with practical methods), with the robust account of knowledge. 

This is a work in progress. As an auxiliary, as one becomes frustrated with how 'impractical' this view is, I am considering the merits of different types of knowledge, their varying justificatory thresholds, and lightweight knowledge, which, I'm hoping, will fit with RTB.

Februrary 6, 2019

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