Graduate Student Research Colloquia - Fall and Summer 2020

Fall 2020

November 6, 2020

Presenter: Eunhong Lee


In a theory of partiality, relationships views, including Kolodny’s and Scheffler’s, are criticized by opponents because the relationship itself cannot play an essential role in partiality. The opponents of relationships views say "even if the relationship itself can become a necessary normative reason, it seems not to be a motivational reason." However, I argue that the other theories of partiality can also have similar problems that relationships views have. I clarify the problem of standard relationships views, and criticize the other theories of partiality including projects views, individuals views, and the history view (the view that appeals to a history of so relating to someone). Finally, I argue for a modified version of relationships views.

November 6, 2020

Presenter: Zach Wrublewski

Title: "A Nozickean Argument for Universal Healthcare"


In general, left-Libertarian arguments in support of universal healthcare programs tend to rely, mostly, on a specific reading of the "Lockean Proviso," which is, generally, the idea that appropriation of property or resources is permissible so long as “enough and as good” is left for those not appropriating the specific properties or resources in question. Specifically, they tend to argue that leaving "enough and as good" for others should be understood such that others are entitled to a share of the benefits that result from the acquisition (though the specific reasons for this will be various). Right-libertarians, on the other hand, tend to accept weaker readings of the Lockean proviso, or outright reject it, which leads them to reject arguments for universal healthcare programs.

I contend that, while it might be the case that right-libertarians should reject arguments in support of universal healthcare programs on the basis of the strong reading of the Lockean Proviso outlined above, justification for such programs can be found in more humble assumptions (and entailments) of other things they would/do accept. While I think this is true, in general, in this presentation I will narrow my focus to one particular right-Libertarian system: the one outlined in Nozick’s Anarachy, State, and Utopia. I will argue, generally, that Nozick’s arguments justify certain types of universal healthcare programs; In particular, I will argue that Nozick’s justification for the "minimal state" would justify such programs, and that his arguments against the justification of states more robust than the "minimal state" would not rule out such programs.

October 30, 2020

Presenter: Zack Garrett

Title: "If Fermat's Last Theorem is False, then this is a Colloquium Talk"


Mark Jago argues that Ted Sider's world sentences cannot be used for an ersatz theory of impossible worlds. He claims that regardless of whether the world sentences represent their contents implicitly, through implication, or explicitly, by including a conjunct for every sentence, they are not usable for providing a semantics for counterpossibles — one of the main goals of creating a theory of impossible worlds. In this paper, I argue that world sentences can represent impossible worlds implicitly through implication and still be usable for providing a semantics for counterpossibles. This is accomplished by including in each world sentence a conjunct specifying what inferences are correct in that world. For logically impossible worlds, it need not be the case that ex falso quodlibet is valid, and so world sentences that implicitly represent impossible worlds need not be indistinguishable.

October 23, 2020

Presenter: Seungchul Yang

October 16, 2020

Presenter: Janelle Gormley

Title: Prohairesis and Philia: Aristotle on the Genesis of Friendship"


“In friendships based on excellence on the other hand, complaints do not arise, but the choice of the doer is a sort of measure; for in choice lies the essential element of excellence and character.” –EN 1165a20-24

Aristotle accepts psychological eudaimonism—the position that human beings desire to flourish. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims that in order to flourish, one needs friends. And if one needs friends, then getting clear on what it is to be a friend is paramount. Many authors have taken up this project of articulating what it is to be a friend. Scholars tend to argue that Aristotle thinks friendship is a shared activity, and each friend is reciprocating well-wishing and having good will toward the other. However, this articulation explains only what it is to be a friend once one is in a friendship. This account does not provide an understanding of how one becomes a friend. John Cooper’s “Aristotle on Friendship,” claims that this question goes unanswered by Aristotle. He writes that Aristotle “does not, except incidentally, have anything to say about how friendships are formed in the first place.” Further, “Aristotle’s theory does not imply any stronger connection than this [initial desire for pleasure, profit, or good] between these motives and the formation of the corresponding types of friendship. According to Cooper, the silence on Aristotle’s part is unproblematic because it fits with our ordinary intuitions about friendships in that the initial meetings of those that will be friends are highly accidental and contingent. In this paper, I will show that Aristotle does have the resources to provide an account of the genesis of friendship, and that, contrary to Cooper, this account will better capture our intuitions about how we come to the friendships we have.

October 9, 2020

Presenter: John Del Rosario


William Alston argues that it is “ill-advised” to think of epistemic justification in terms of deontology. He thinks that deontology “does not hook up in the right way with an adequate truth-conducive grounds.” Instead, Alston maintains that truth conduciveness is what guarantees that p is true and not false for believer S. In the process, Alston dismisses the most defensible form of indirect doxastic voluntarism, and then argues that even that is not enough to put S in an epistemic position such that her belief in p is true on adequate objective grounds. My paper on Kant will seek to address Alston’s two-fold worry. The provisionary thesis that I have written for my paper goes like this:

My view is that the Kantian account of belief can help us posit a strong case epistemic agency in belief formation; meaning, under Kant’s framework, S is an agent whose will is to be construed both as:

(EA1) the ultimate causal and imputable source of doxastic attitudes; and

(EA2) always, a potential explanation for why S is able to hold such doxastic attitudes.

The ultimate goal of this paper is to show that, to the extent that S’s will is both (EA1) and (EA2), it would become infelicitous for Alston (and Pojman) to diminish the plausibility of justifying belief in terms of deontology or epistemic responsibility.

As it stands, I feel that my thesis addresses the worry on indirect doxastic voluntarism and epistemic responsibility (which is the main point). But it is not yet explicit how my thesis would address Alston’s truth-conduciveness challenge (which is a legitimate point).
October 2, 2020

Presenter: Chen Xia


In “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” Frankfurt claims that the ability to form second-order desires distinguishes humans from other creatures. But Watson points out that one can be a wanton with respect to one’s second-order desires and volitions, so assent is not necessary (1975). I will defend second-order desires by arguing that to form second-order desires is not equal to simply choosing one from two conflicted first-order desires to be the effective desire that moves someone to act. What works here is not choosing, but reflective self-evaluation. We will be alienated from first-order desires because we regard them as objects not belonging to us when we evaluate them. But we will not be alienated from second-order desires or higher-order desires where we end, because we acknowledge them to motivate our actions after deliberate reflection and evaluation based on what we are concerned with. Also, I do not think infinite regress is a problem here.

September 25, 2020

Presenter: Trevor Adams


Hope is a very common attitude. Our family and friends express hopes for one another, businesses hope for their own future growth, and both politicians and religious leaders call for hope in the face of hard times. In philosophy much discussion of hope has been in the field of ethics, but this paper will explore the epistemic aspects of hope. Recently there has been a lot of literature on the nature and rationality of hope (e.g. Mathew Benton ( 2019), Adrienne Martin (2013), Michael Milona (2018), Katie Stockdale (2017), Luc Bovens (1999), Ariel Meirav (2009), etc.) which has many epistemic insights. However, the relationship between hope and knowledge has been explored much less. In this paper I will explore this relationship and some of the unique ways in which hope interacts with knowledge. It has mostly been taken for granted that people do not hope for things to occur that they know will occur. However, I will be giving an argument that hope and knowledge are compatible and I will defend that argument against objections. More specifically, I will argue that someone can hope that p is true and know that p without being irrational.

September 18, 2020

Presenter:Talhah Mustafa

Title: "The White Oppressor"


The experiences of White men have molded this society into what it is through the subordination of Black Americans. That subordination has evolved into other forms by invalidating and aggravating the experiences of the Black community. White supremacy ideologies continue to influence today’s society and are now more dangerous than ever. This paper will explore how the evolution of White supremacy invalidates and aggravates all Black experiences. This paper will explore how Black experiences are not politically meaningful in the context of White supremacy because in political discourse, meaning-making is in the purview of Whites.

September 11, 2020

Presenter: Mark Selzer

Title: "Reasons from Higher Order Abilities"


In his influential article, “Internal and External Reasons” (1979), Bernard Williams introduces 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’.

Building from Hille Paakkunainen’s interpretation of EC (2018), I shall argue for an interpretation of EC that avoids the bare possibility problem and provides a plausible account of reasons based on higher order abilities. A key advantage of this account is that it explains a wide range of cases better than first-order accounts

September 4, 2020

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "On the Incoherence of Phenomenal Mental States"


In previous chapters we discussed how, according to the Phenomenal Intentionality Theory (PIT), all genuine intentional mental states are either identical to or in some sense partly grounded in phenomenal mental states. In chapter two, we discussed several motivations and arguments that have been advanced in support of PIT, which assume the existence of phenomenal mental states. In chapter three, I showed that reductive versions of PIT falsely predict that the phenomenal content involved in a subject’s perceptual experience never outstrips the phenomenal content involved in a subject’s directly perceived visual perception. But, when we consider cases of what Kind (2018) calls "Imaginative Presence," a subject’s perceptual experience can have absent phenomenal content that outstrips or lingers beyond the phenomenal content of a subject’s directly perceived visual perception. Thus, reductive accounts of PIT are empirically inadequate. I then argued that, if one restricts their account of PIT in order to avoid this problem, it will not count as a fully general theory of intentionality, and, therefore, it will not count as a theory of the deep, metaphysical nature of what intentionality is.

There is an alternative solution that needs to be explored. If we adopt a view of intentional content understood in terms of experiential, first-personal mental events rather than phenomenal mental states, then, perhaps, we can avoid the problem of imaginative presence raised in the previous chapter. In this chapter, I shall begin to investigate this strategy, and argue that there is no coherent way to make sense of what a phenomenal mental state is. That is, our concept of a phenomenal mental state is, as it is typically deployed in theories of mental content, is confused. If this is correct, it will have significant consequences for numerous theories in philosophy of mind that posit the existence of phenomenal mental states, since they seem to be ineliminable posits in many of the views espoused in current debates in the philosophy of mind. These mental states occupy a fundamental place in contemporary philosophy of mind for, according to many accounts, they are a crucial part of our understanding of the mind. But phenomenal mental states are typically assumed not demonstrated, and the existence and nature of such states is rarely a topic explored. The time is right for submitting this issue to closer examination. The goal of this chapter is to present and defend an argument that purports to show that the concept of a phenomenal mental state is incoherent.

I shall call the argument to be defended in what follows the "Incoherence Argument" (IA), which can be stated as follows:

(P1) All phenomenal mental states are instantiations of experiential properties.

(P2) Experiential properties are either (a) events of some form or (b) facts about experiences construed in terms of events.

(P3) If (a), then we make a metaphysical category mistake by conflating events with states.

(P4) If (b), then phenomenal mental states are not phenomenal since there is nothing-it-is-like to be a fact (i.e., facts lack a phenomenal feel).

(P5) Therefore, there is no coherent way to make sense of what a phenomenal mental state is.

The primary concern in this chapter is to leverage this argument against reductive versions of PIT that posit phenomenal mental states as the fundamental constituent of intentional content. Much of the chapter will be devoted to defending (P2)—(P4), since these are the controversial premises.

Summer 2020

July 17, 2020

Title: UNL Philosophy Graduate Student Fall Teaching Session


This week, instead of meeting to discuss the work of a scheduled presenter, we will meet to brainstorm and discuss issues surrounding teaching and TAing our Fall 2020 courses.

July 10, 2020

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "Phenomenal Intentionality and the Problem of Imaginative Presence"


The Phenomenal Intentionality Theory (PIT) claims that all intentional mental states are either identical to phenomenal intentional mental states, or are partly grounded in phenomenal intentional mental states. I shall explore cases of what Kind (2018) calls "imaginative presence" in order to develop a novel challenge to PIT. In cases of imaginative presence, one’s perceptual experience outstrips what is immediately perceived. For example, if Alex sees a cup on the edge of the table, it has phenomenal intentional content C. But Alex can also imagine the cup falling off the table, which has the phenomenal intentional content C+. In such cases, the phenomenal intentional content C+ lingers beyond its reductive base of Alex’s visual perception and, therefore, resists reduction. PIT falsely predicts that a subject’s perceptual experience can never have phenomenal intentional content C+ that lingers beyond its reductive base. So, PIT cannot give an adequate account of imaginative presence.

July 3, 2020

Presenter: Talhah Mustafa


One of the great chasms in philosophy of mind has to do with perception, which is too great in of itself to remain as a subfield of mind. A contemporary debate amongst perceptionists has to do with perceiving and experiencing, and which of the two is more fundamental. Those that claim experience comes prior to an agent's perception (experience-firsters) argue that experiencing constitutes other perceptual states whereas perception-firsters claim that perceiving things as they are is metaphysically and explanatorily prior to other perceptual states. Perception-firsters, such as Lisa Miracchi in her Perception First, provide an alternative account in order to avoid an objection directed towards those who claim perception comes first. This paper will attack Misracchi's Competence View (the alternative account she proposes).

June 26, 2020

Presenter: Adam Thompson

Title: "Moral Judgment Skepticism and Blame"


The approach to moral responsibility inspired by P.F. Strawson (1962) attempts to demonstrate that being morally responsible is based on our common practices: that is, that our attitudinal responses to (alleged) morally evaluable behavior are explicable in terms of appropriateness standards that apply directly to those attitudes and their expression. This is appealing due in part to the fact that the approach promises to avoid certain sources of skepticism. Roughly, if praise or blame of an individual’s act is appropriate by standards that develop(ed) through our interpersonal affairs as the Strawsonian approach alleges, there’s neither (a) a need to elaborate a type of freedom sufficient for being praiseworthy or blameworthy nor (b) a need to show how that freedom can be possessed by persons in a causally (in)deterministic world. Interestingly, however, the most prominent accounts of the attitudes constitutively linked to praise and blame harbor another skepticism at their core—namely, skepticism about moral judgment. I show that their skepticism about moral judgment is unwarranted.

June 19, 2020

Presenter: Zack Garrett

Title: "Glitchless Marathon"


There are many proposals for what constitutes the moral wrongness of performance enhancement in sports. In this paper, I argue that there are cases of performance enhancement that are controversial and that avoid all of the moral worries so far put forward. One such example is the use of Nike's Vaporfly shoe, which gives an advantage to any runner wearing them without any risk of harm. I argue for a different approach to the morality of performance enhancement that can adjudicate on any form of enhancement. The moral wrongness of some forms of enhancement comes from the moral wrongness in tyranny by the minority. When a minority of athletes decide to use a new form of performance enhancement, they force others to follow suit to stay competitive. If most athletes in a sport do not want to use the new form of performance enhancement, they have been forced to do something they do not want to by a minority of athletes. Forms of performance enhancement can be acceptable when a large majority of athletes in a sport are in favor of them. They are unacceptable when only a small minority is in favor of them. In the case where the athletes in a sport are divided on the use of a new form of performance enhancement, the best option is to split the sport into new divisions, one that accepts the new form of enhancement and one that does not.

June 12, 2020

Presenter: Trevor Adams

Title: "Egalitarianism and the Separation Problem"


Liberal egalitarianism in our contemporary western societies endorses the thesis that, with a few exceptions, all human beings are each other's moral equals. In the work Challenges to Human Equality, Jeff Mcmahan argues that liberal egalitarians have an unsolvable problem due to this thesis they endorse. This is because one component of this view is that all wrongful killings of human beings are equally wrong (with some exceptions) (81). A more refined way of putting this view is what Mcmahan calls the "equal wrongness thesis" which says that all wrongful killings of persons—which are individuals with "psychological capacities beyond a certain threshold of self-consciousness and minimal rationality"—are equally wrong (82). Mcmahan says that almost all egalitarians believe that nonhuman animals are not our moral equals (83). This view is commonly defended by referring to certain capacities that only humans are thought to have (83). Mcmahan thinks that if we attempt to base this thesis on certain capacities then we will both end up excluding a number of humans who lack some number of these capacities and elevating those who have these capacities to a greater degree (83). Both of these are in conflict with egalitarianism.

June 5, 2020

Presenter: Alfred Tu

Title: "Puzzles of Gastronomic Expertise"


In our culinary culture, some people such as food critics and sommeliers are commonly regarded as experts of food. Their judgment and suggestions seem to be enjoyed in more respects than judgments made by ordinary people as well as experts in other areas. There are various accounts of "expert," and according to Goldman (1991, 2001, 2011), a cognitive expert is someone who (1) possesses a substantial body of true beliefs in a certain epistemological domain, (2) has a capacity to deliver true answers to new questions posed in the domain, and (3) has an extensive body of knowledge on both primary and secondary questions in the domain. It is a common belief that gastronomic experts have more sensitive taste than ordinary people. Since they are capable of forming more true beliefs through tasting than ordinary people, their expert status seems to be able to fit into Goldman’s account of expert.

However, there remain some puzzles in this picture. For instance, tasting seems to be based on taste sensation. But in some people’s mind, taste is constituted by objective and subjective factors, if it is not purely subjective. Tasting results usually seem to have various subjective aspects, such as interpretation, metaphor and usage of figurative terms. And these subjective aspects seem to be the interesting, if not the most important, part of judgment of food. Therefore, it seems that proponents of the veritistic account of expert needs to either maintain a story to cover expertise include various subjective aspects or deny such expertise exists, which is against our practice. In this paper, I am going to argue that Goldman’s veritistic account of expert cannot be compatible with the understanding of taste sensation. Therefore, either proponents of veritistic accounts of expert need to revise their theory in order to cover gastronomic expertise or we need an alternative account to replace it.