Graduate Student Research Colloquia - Spring 2016

Spring 2016

April 29, 2016

Presenter: Christopher Richards

Title: "Grounding and Univocity."


In this paper, I argue against what I call the Koslicki-Wilson objection to grounding..

April 15, 2016

Presenter: Joey Dante

April 8, 2016

Presenter: Alfred Tu

Title: "Grounding and Primitiveness."


Grounding has become a central topic of metaphysics in recent years. According to Daly, in various theories of grounding, they hold some general features: grounding is intelligible, grounding is primitive, and grounding is useful. Some grounding skeptics argue against grounding theories and they claim it is not the case that these general features can apply to grounding. This paper has two parts. The first part includes my concerns about grounding skeptics’ strategies and why some grounding theorists claim grounding is primitive. In the second part, I try to argue that Jonathan Schaffer’s novel contrastive account of grounding is not well integrated with his general claims of grounding relation. It seems implausible to accept the contrastivity – an unorthodox and counter-intuitive formal property – as one formal property of a primitive notion. Therefore, either Schaffer cannot take grounding as a primitive notion or grounding does not have contrastivity.

April 1, 2016

Presenter: Lauren Sweetland

Title: "A Question of Justice for Indigenous People and Environment."


Principles of climate mitigation in environmental ethics often draw on either considerations of fairness and forward-looking concerns, or on justice and backward-looking concerns. That is, according to some theorists, considerations of the current distribution of climate benefits and burdens are foremost, while others take repairing historic wrongs as paramount. Some theorists integrate considerations of fairness and justice to formulate hybrid climate principles. Such an integrative approach is promising particularly in the context of environmental harm to indigenous subsistence peoples, who are among those suffering the most from climate change. I argue that existing integrative climate principles tend not to sufficiently emphasize considerations of backward-looking justice. This is a problem for indigenous peoples seeking reparations for environmental harm and violations of their human rights, according to Rebecca Tsosie. I argue that the current climate situation facing some Native people is unfair according to Rawls' second principle of justice. In addition, the situation is unjust as indigenous people suffer from emissions by others and few attempts are made for reparations. Thus, Rawlsian fairness combined with reparative justice provide a befitting theoretical framework. I conclude that an acceptable climate principle will adequately integrate considerations of both fairness and justice, both forward-looking and backward-looking considerations.

March 18, 2016

Presenter: Zachary Garrett

Title: "The Structure of Higher Order Vagueness."


Take a sample of native English speakers and a line of men with differing numbers of hairs on their heads. Arrange the men in order by the number of hairs they have. Start with the man with 0 hairs and end with a man of 150,000 (50% more than average). Now, as you walk the English speakers along the line of men ask them to determine whether or not the man they are currently looking at is bald. At the two extremes we should expect the participants to confidently answer either bald or not. As we get closer to the middle, though, we expect that it will become more and more difficult for the participants to answer. There are some cases that are neither clearly bald nor clearly not bald. We call these borderline cases. Now, instead of asking whether some man x is bald we ask whether or not it is clear that he is bald. Just like how it is hard to tell when we move from bald to not bald, it is hard to tell when we move from clearly bald to borderline bald. The same thing can be repeated for the move from clearly clearly bald to borderline borderline bald. This procedure has led many to believe that there is a hierarchy of higher order vagueness.
This hierarchy has been objected to in two different ways. First, Mark Sainsbury and Diana Raffman, have argued that higher order vagueness is incoherent. Sainsbury has argued that the hierarchy collapses into three clear sets, contradicting accepted features of vagueness. Sainsbury argues that the failure of higher order vagueness reveals a problem with classical approaches to vagueness. He goes on to provide a non-classical analysis of vagueness. Raffman provides similar arguments and tends to agree with Sainsbury’s analysis. Raffman goes on to argue for a way of making sense of higher order vagueness, but one that is only uninterestingly hierarchical. Second, Susanne Bobzien argues for higher order vagueness, but rejects a hierarchical view. Bobzien claims that vagueness just is higher order vagueness, and so if it is clear that A, then it is clear that it is clear that A. Similarly, if it is borderline that A, then it is borderline that it is borderline that A. She calls this view columnar higher order vagueness.
In this presentation I will defend hierarchical higher order vagueness. Sainsbury and Raffman’s arguments against higher order vagueness make use of what Bobzien calls the in-between borderlineness, which is the understanding of borderlines as classes falling in between clear classes. I will follow Bobzien and argue for undecidability borderlineness, which says that borderline cases are ones that cannot be decided one way or another. Under undecidability borderlineness Sainsbury and Raffman’s objections can be handled. Next I will argue that Bobzien’s columnar higher order vagueness is built off of the wrong understanding of clearness. Where Bobzien’s understanding of clearness comes from the way that individual rational agents would respond to sorites paradoxes, she should look at how large numbers of rational agents would respond.

March 11, 2016

Presenters: Chris Gibilisco and Adam Thompson

Title: "Quiddistic Individuation Without Tears"


In a recent paper, Deborah C. Smith notes that quidditism comes in two varieties, I-quidditism and R-quidditism. I-quidditism is a view about how properties are individuated, while R-quidditism is a view about how properties may be recombined. In this paper we present and defend a novel version of I-quidditism that doges the traditional problems with other versions of I-quidditism on the market. Further, our view is extremely ecumenical: it is consistent with R-quidditism of all varieties, causal structuralism, immanent realism, and trope theory.

March 4, 2016

Presenters: Aaron Elliott

Title: "Why Non-naturalists Need Something Else to Explain Supervenience"


Non-naturalists are supposed to explain why the normative supervenes on the natural. Since supervenience is a phenomenon of property distributions, an explanation for supervenience requires an explanation for the distribution of normative properties. I provide a taxonomy of frameworks for such an explanation, in terms of the elements the explanation appeals to. I then rule out options that employ only natural elements on the basis of losing the non-naturalist commitment, and options that fail to employ natural elements on the basis of being unable to explain supervenience. This leaves a core set of non-naturalist frameworks. I argue that the framework that employs only features of normative properties and features of natural properties fails, thus leaving only frameworks that employ in addition some element that is external to both normative properties and natural properties. I show this by considering two prima facie plausible models, identifying why they fail, and why these reasons generalize to other models in this framework.

February 26, 2016

Presenter: Shane George


Adaptive preferences arise when one changes their goals based on events in their life, or realizations of limitations (unexpected or otherwise.) These potentially cause a problem for accounts of autonomy. While my inability to be a Jedi is likely an innocuous feature which urges me to change my life goal preferences, my being enslaved is not. Structuralist accounts of autonomy have argued that the key feature for determining innocuous and problematic instances of adaptation centers on the relational properties and contexts that cause these adaptations. These accounts cannot then be value neutral as they have to evaluate said contexts. Proceduralists disagree and present value neutral accounts of autonomy which seek to center the issue squarely upon the processes one undergoes to maintain/achieve autonomy. Christman argues that due to asymmetries in the social context of selected cases, structuralist solutions do not provide the correct answer to these problems. I will argue that Christman's account also fails, and perhaps a stronger structuralist inspired response is required.

February 12, 2016

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "A Critique of Moore's Anti-Skeptical Argument in 'Proof of an External World.'"


In this paper I will argue that a philosophically important distinction needs to be made between skeptical arguments that involve our everyday empirical knowledge of ordinary objects and those that involve ontological explanations of such knowledge. Once this distinction is established, I argue that the proponent of G. E. Moore's anti-skeptical argument, as it is presented in "Proof of an External World", faces the following dilemma: she can either (i) accept that the argument misses its intended target of ontological skepticism; or (ii) accept that it does engage with its intended target of ontological skepticism. If she chooses the first horn, then the argument fails to answer the skeptic's challenge insofar as the argument focuses on epistemic skepticism. If the second horn is chosen, then the conclusion goes far beyond the scope of its premises insofar as the conclusion is ontological in nature while the premises are epistemic in nature. In both cases, I argue, Moore's response to the skeptic's challenge is inadequate.
In Part 1, an exposition of G. E. Moore's anti-skeptical argument will be offered. This will be followed by a consideration of Anthony Rudd's distinction between epistemic and ontological skepticism, as well as its relevance for the traditional skeptic's challenge. Then, in Part 2, some common objections to Moore's anti-skeptical argument will be considered, as well as Peter Baumann's responses. There I examine Baumann's argument that the best response to these objections involves interpreting Moore as being focused on ontological skepticism rather than epistemic skepticism. Prior to concluding in Part 3, I offer a final objection grounded in the above dilemma, consider several potential problems with the dilemma, and defend a version of ontological skepticism regarding the external world in support of the above dilemma.

January 15, 2016

Presenter: Adam Thompson

Title: "Reasonable Fear Is Killing Justly and What You Should Do About It."


The primary justification offered for not indicting a police officer for murder in connection to their involvement in killing an individual while on-duty is that the officer reasonably feared for their life. Recently, the failure to charge on-duty police officers who kill non-white individuals with murder has sparked nation-wide and world-wide outrage. Much of that outrage targets and rejects the claim that it was reasonable for the officer to fear that they, a fellow officer, or an innocent bystander would likely suffer serious bodily harm. This paper argues that the problem is not the truth-value of a claim of reasonable fear. Rather, the problem is that so many are apt to fear non-white individuals and so many others are disposed to accept the claim that the fear was reasonable as true. Here, I diagnose why, in the current U.S. climate, it makes sense (a) for so many to feel fear when encountering non-white individuals and (b) for so many to accept the reasonable-fear defense when cops kill. I go on to offer strategies for positive change.