Graduate Student Research Colloquia - Spring 2017

Spring 2017

April 28, 2017

Presenters: Zachary Garrett, Andrew Christmas, and Adam Thompson

Zachary Garrett, "Semantic Nihilism and Supervaluationism"
ABSTRACT: In recent years, David Braun and Ted Sider as well as John MacFarlane have attempted to revitalize semantic nihilism, a theory of vagueness that rejects the truth-evaluability of sentences containing vague words. Both views make use of things resembling supervaluationism's admissible precisifications, but they reject the identification of truth with supertruth. In this paper, I argue that Braun and Sider and MacFarlane have not given a sufficient reason for avoiding the identification of truth with supertruth. Supervaluationism fits the story for how vague communication works just as well as these new forms of nihilism, but with the added bonus that it can account for our everyday intuitions about truth. I begin by objecting to arguments for semantic nihilism and then respond to the objections Braun, Sider and MacFarlane level at supervaluationism.

Andrew Christmas, "Kant's Theory of the Good and the Justification for Agent-centered Constraints"
ABSTRACT: David Cummiskey argues that Kant's ethical theory is normatively consequentialist. Cummiskey focuses most of his effort on showing that the second formulation of the categorical imperative could allow for the sacrifice of some rational beings if it meant promoting the existence of more rational beings and that Kant provides no justification for agent-centered constraints on our actions. I argue that Cummiskey's argument presupposes an agent-neutral theory of the good that fails to provide an adequate account of Kant's ethical system. I also argue that Kant's conception of the good does provide justification agent-centered constraints and does not allow for the sacrifice of innocent people even if that sacrifice would save the lives of more.

Adam Thompson, "Against GTA Restraint: Why GTAs Should Practice Learner-Centered Pedagogy (and How to Do So)"
ABSTRACT: Graduate student teaching assistants (GTAs) typically begin their assistantships playing a supporting role in a course prepared by someone else. It is typical for GTAs to believe that they can only use a very limited subset of the full range of teaching strategies. Call that belief, the GTA Restraint Belief. Though this belief is often supported through (explicit or implicit) advocacy by the discipline and professionals in it, the GTA Restraint Belief stands as a major obstacle to student learning and GTA-pedagogical growth. For one, it is used by many in academia as an excuse for GTAs to essentially ignore the literature on effective pedagogy. For another, the GTA Restraint Belief is leaned on as a reason for GTAs to forgo trainings focused on improving their pedagogy. Thus, typically, the students served by GTAs are unacceptably underserved as are the GTAs with respect to their professional development. On those grounds and others, this essay (a) argues that the GTA Restraint Belief should be rejected and (b) shows how GTAs can discharge the obligation to reject that belief and permissibly practice effective pedagogical strategies.
April 21, 2017

Presenter: Aaron Elliott

Title: "What Naturalism Is, What Non-Naturalism Isn't"


Non-Naturalists need to be able to explain exactly what their view is. While perhaps an obvious requirement, the need is made salient in two ways. The first is objections from non-reductive naturalists, like Sturgeon, who challenge non-naturalists to say what it is that excludes the normative from the broader class of the natural. Since, he says, we have good reason to think normative properties are causally efficacious, we have good reason to include them along with physical, biological, and chemical properties. Until we are given an explanation for what excludes them from this group, we have a presumption of naturalism.
The second is a dialectical concern inside of debates about the viability of non-naturalism. There are two overarching objections to non-naturalism (that I care about—queerness is either unmotivated or collapses into one of the two), the metaphysical and the epistemic. Both are basically "we need an account of X, but non-naturalism can't deliver." I think the better way of framing this objection is "the minimal commitments it takes to offer an account of X entail naturalism." So, in order to assess this in principle claim, we have to be clearer on what marks the difference between these families of views, and which commitments are strictly incompatible with each. Allowing no connections means non-naturalism cannot respond to the metaphysical and epistemological challenges. So, the non-naturalist is on the hook to show which connections between the normative and the natural come with a presumption of naturalism and which don't. Clearly, identity between normative properties and natural properties would revoke a theory's non-naturalist credentials. But we need to consider other relations, and whether something could defeat a presumption of naturalism.
In light of these two related concerns, I will develop an account of non-naturalism that respects the distinctness of the non-natural without foreclosing the possibility of responding to the metaphysical and epistemological challenges.

April 14, 2017

Presenter: Joseph Dante

Title: "Panpsychism?"


I will be 'arguing' that if all entities are fundamental then panpsychism is plausible.

Flat-worldism: All entities that exist are fundamental; there are no entities whose existence depends on more fundamental entities.

Panpsychism: All entities are minded.

P1: Some entities are minded (assumption)
P2: All entities are fundamental (assumption)
P3: If some entities are minded and all entities are fundamental then all entities are minded.
Therefore: All entities are minded.

I assume P1 and P2. Argument for P3:
Assume for reductio that all entities are fundamental and that some but not all of the fundamental entities are minded.
Then, there must be a non-arbitrary criterion to distinguish the non-minded from the minded entities.
There is no non-arbitrary criterion to distinguish the minded from the non-minded entities (as we cannot employ any notion of emergence or grounding, arguing that some are minded due to their relation/interaction with other entities.)
Therefore, If some entities are minded and all entities are fundamental then all entities are minded.

April 07, 2017

The Graduate Student Research Colloquium will not be held this week due to the Faculty / Graduate Student Colloquium. Professor Jennifer McKitrick will present. Her title is "Whites, Women, and Witches: Analogies and Disanalogies among Social Kinds".

March 31, 2017

Presenter: Kiki Yuan

Title: "Perception and Perceptual Inference"


Is perception a bottom-up or a top-down processing? It seems that the top-down processing is a more plausible theory. If so, what's the mechanism of top-down approach? Psychologists and philosophers have offered many modules to show the top-down mechanism of perception. Gregory and his "Charlie Chaplin Optic Illusion" case has offered a good demonstration of perception as a cognitive mechanism. Similarly, Helmholtz suggests that perception is mediated by unconscious inference and that inference is the same as that for ordinary reasoning and scientific inference. With the development of modern psychology, many scholars' modules of perception separated perceptual inference from the cognitive inference that associates with reasoning or knowledge, such as Rock and Fodor. Based on modern psychology study, I will argue that the separation of two kinds of inference is more plausible. In addition, I will discuss the role of perceptual inference in moral perception and how it distinguishes moral perception from other moral cognitive activities, such as moral reasoning or moral knowledge.

March 17, 2017

Presenter: C. L. Richardson

Title: "Ailefs and Singularity"


Non-doxastic attitudes are a subject of little concern in most of the singular thought literature. However, it's becoming clear to theorists who work in this area that specific accounts of singular thought for a variety of non-doxastic attitudes are crucial for motivating the view that we can have singular thoughts at all. One interesting candidate for such an account is Tamar Gendler's notion of Ailef. Ailefs are non-doxastic, sometimes-propositional, mental states that appear to go a long way in explaining social biases and marginalizing treatment of certain groups of people. In an influential analysis, Robin Jeshion claims that providing an account of de re belief (i.e. singular thought) compels us to answer the questions of what it is to believe, and what the conditions are on believing a singular proposition. [1] Insofar as providing an account of de re ailef requires one to address similar questions, I'll aim to meet Jeshion's challenge. This paper will be concerned with two major questions with respect to the concepts of ailef and singular thought: 1) Can ailefs refer singularly to their objects? 2) Can ailefs be explained in terms of mental files? I'll argue that ailefs do refer singularly and that they can be explained in terms of mental files. I'll provide an account of file dynamics for ailef-type mental files. Additionally, I'll explain how my account serves to inform and potentially motivate more general views of singular thought and implicit bias.

[1] Robin Jeshion, New Essays on Singular Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 54.

March 10, 2017

Presenter: Mark Diep

Title: "The Implausibility of Bratman's No-Regret Condition"


In his 1999 book, Michael Bratman argues that his No-Regret condition solves problems of rationality that he argues sophistication theory and resolution theory can't. He argues that the main problem for both theories is that they fail to account for the fact that we are temporal and causal rational agents. His No-Regret condition, he claims, solves the problems by accounting for these features of rational agents. In this paper, I argue that Bratman's No-Regret condition is not a plausible condition of rational agency. I shall show that there are cases where the No-Regret condition offers recommendations that we normally find difficult to follow. The primary problem, I shall argue, is the regret feature of the No-Regret condition. There are times when an agent is faced with a future regret that does not factor into the agent's decision on whether or not to follow through with prior plans. In the cases that I will discuss, if there are future regrets that don't align with the agent's current preferences, she is still rational to act contrary to those future regrets that the No-Regret condition recommends her to take seriously. Since the No-Regret condition always recommends that an agent acts on the bases of preferences of these future selves in these cases, the No-Regret condition is implausible.
Lastly, I present a case where an agent's possible future choices are in conflict. Despite conflicts in these choices, Bratman's No-Regret conditions claims that the agent is rational if she forms a plan about these conflicting choices and acts on the plan. I show that No-Regret's recommendations in this case show that No-Regret is incoherent.

March 3, 2017

Presenter: Alfred Tu

Title: "Modal Skepticism and Similarity"


In Modal Epistemology, Peter Van Inwagen argues that anyone who accepts Yablo's theory should become a modal skeptic. Modal Skepticism, in Van Inwagen's term, is a conservative epistemological position that believes we can have "basic" modal knowledge, such at "It is possible that Lincoln has an earthquake" or "It is possible that I will have pasta as dinner tonight." But it is not the case that we can have "remote" modal knowledge, such as "It is possible that transparent iron exists" or "It is possible that purple cows exist." Modal skepticism has one obvious theoretical advantage: we can keep most of our ordinary, commonsensical modal knowledge, but we can refute some puzzling philosophical arguments that build on remote possibilities (Van Inwagen 1998, Hawke 2016). Van Inwagen's modal skepticism is defended and developed by Peter Hawke later (Hawke 2010, 2016). Nevertheless, I think the crucial point of modal skepticism is that modal skeptics must give us some principals that can adequately differentiate remote possibilities from basic or uncontroversial possibilities, and deny we can have knowledge of remote possibilities. And I am going to argue that Hawke's work is not satisfactory for adequately differentiating remote possibilities and ordinary possibilities.

February 24, 2017

The Graduate Student Research Colloquium will not be held this week due to the Speakers' Series. The guest speaker is Lucy Allias. Click here for more information

February 17, 2017

Presenter: Lauren Sweetland

Title: "Cooperation: From Joint Intention to Evolutionary Explanation."


How can the notion of joint or we-mode intentions be incorporated into theories of social science? In particular, how can joint intentions fit with Tooby and Cosmides' Integrated Causal Model, according to which social behavior is a product of evolved information-processing systems? How can joint intentions fit with Henrich and Henrich's Dual Inheritance Theory? According to this view, human biological/psychological adaptations produce prosocial cultural behavior.
I argue that the notion of joint intention, with modifications, may be incorporated into an analysis of Dual Inheritance Theory and the Integrated Causal Model. Both Searle and Tuomela argue that individual (not group) intentions are crucial for understanding joint action. For Searle, individuals have intentions "in the we-mode": psychological states with the content of we-actions. For Tuomela, joint action involves we-mode intentions in the form of team reasoning, where each agrees to promote the ends of the group by cooperating and coordinating with other members. To accommodate joint intentions into these broader models, we should forego two assumptions contained in the notion of joint intentions. First, we should give up the assumption that there is a large divide between the social and the natural sciences (akin to a divide of mental and physical). Second, we might give up the assumption that the social level cannot be reduced to the individual level. In addition, a notion of joint intentions should meet several criteria: i) Henrich and Henrich's Core Principle, ii) Tooby and Cosmides' description of the frame problem and iii) the evolvability criterion, and iv) Hamilton's rule.

February 10, 2017

Presenter: Zach Wrublewski

Title: "Conceivability, Abduction, and Modal Knowledge."


In his paper "Is Conceivability a Guide to Possibility?" Stephen Yablo analyzes several existing conceptions of conceivability before ultimately offering a positive account of conceivability that he believes better gives us prima facie knowledge of possibility. In this paper, I will argue that while Yablo might be successful in ruling out the relevant conceptions of conceivability as methods for reliably gaining modal knowledge, he is unsuccessful in offering his positive account of such a method. To show that this is the case, I will offer an objection to Yablo's account of conceivability that centers on a problem with the completeness of conceived worlds that plagues his account. Furthermore, I will argue that one of the conceptions of conceivability that Yablo rules out can still be useful if applied in the generative step of a two-step theory of abductive inference about modal knowledge, while his preferred positive account of conceivability cannot be used in such a way.

February 3, 2017

Presenter: Mark Albert Selzer

Title: "The Latent Capacity Interpretation of the Explanatory Constraint."


In 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 Paakkunainen argues for the Actual Capacity interpretation of EC:
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 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:
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 reasons the akratic or the person with a poorly developed character has.

January 20, 2017

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "Heilian Truthmaking."


John Heil's account of truthmaking, what I call "Heilian Truthmaking" (HTM), fails to avoid several significant objections. This claim depends on a controversial interpretation of Heil's view of truthmaking, one that interprets it as a primitive concept. I will consider whether or not it is fair to interpret HTM as primitive and the consequences that follow from such an interpretation. It will be shown that the proponent of HTM faces an important dilemma, which is stated below:

  1. Either HTM is a primitive concept or not.
  2. If HTM is a primitive concept, then there are missing truthmakers.
  3. If HTM is not a primitive concept, then it fails to avoid Kit Fine's three objections.
  4. Therefore, whether or not one interprets HTM as a primitive concept, one has good reason to reject it.
This shows that Heil owes us an account of truthmaking that can adequately address the objections in each horn. Moreover, if such an account cannot be given, then it is not clear how Heil can maintain that he holds a realist ontology. It will be argued presently that such an account is not even on the offing. Therefore, it is reasonable to reject Heil's account of truthmaking.

The structure of the paper will be divided into two parts: In part one I will consider Heil's general approach to ontology and his appeal to truthmaking. In order to get a better grip on why one might interpret HTM as a primitive concept I will consider the second horn of the dilemma first. It will be argued that the only way the second horn of the dilemma can be avoided is by interpreting HTM as a primitive concept. In part two I will consider the first horn, arguing that interpreting HTM as primitive undermines Heil's realist ontology because we will not be in a position to know what makes our sentences true. I will consider how Heil might respond to this objection prior to concluding.
January 13, 2017

Presenter: Joey Dante

Title: "Controversial?!"


I will be discussing Sarah McGrath's "Moral Disagreement and Moral Expertise." McGrath argues that, at least many of, our moral beliefs do not amount to knowledge. McGrath argues that "CONTROVERSIAL beliefs do not amount to knowledge." (page 92). Where "CONTROVERSIAL" is understood as follows: "Thus your belief that p is CONTROVERSIAL if and only if it is denied by another person of whom it is true that: you have no more reason to think that he or she is in error than you are." (page 91). She then argues that many of our moral beliefs are indeed CONTROVERSIAL. As such, many of our moral beliefs do not amount to knowledge.

I will be discussing whether or not her argument overgeneralizes. She maintains that her argument does not overgeneralize. I will argue that she has not given compelling reason to suppose that her argument does not overgeneralize.

Let us focus on one of the beliefs that she focuses on; namely, the belief that there is an external world. McGrath maintains that that belief is not CONTROVERSIAL.

She supposes that one or a few (highly intelligent) dissenters should not tip the scales in such a way that we should be skeptical about that belief. Lack of unanimity should not render a belief CONTROVERSIAL. She supposes that there should be substantial disagreement before a belief is rendered CONTROVERSIAL.

Now, she does not give criteria for what substantial disagreement would be but it seems that she relies on the thought that if a vast number of more or less equally epistemically situated people disagree with a very small number of equally epistemically situated people then that kind of disagreement does not render the relevant belief (of the vast number of people) CONTROVERSIAL.

She gives a case: if you and I disagree about when the train departs (and we are peers in the relevant sense) then my belief concerning the departure is rendered CONTROVERSIAL. However, if 10 people all agree the train will depart at time X and I (and only I) believe that the train will depart at time Y then the 10 people's beliefs are not rendered CONTROVERSIAL (although my belief is rendered CONTROVERSIAL).

This is supposed to illustrate that numbers can make a difference as to whether or not a belief is rendered CONTROVERSIAL due to disagreement among peers. She is thinking that because there are so many people that disagree with me concerning the train departure I should feel as if I am more likely to be in error and as such that the others are less likely to be in error.

My Worries:

  • (i) The example she gives may not generalize. Maybe ordinary beliefs such as when a train is departing are such that numbers matter more than other kinds of beliefs.
  • (ii) Who is the relevant class of people that should matter when considering whether or not disagreement renders a belief CONTROVERSIAL? One could feasibly think that the average everyday person's beliefs, let's say concerning religion or souls or the external world, shouldn't matter as much. If we can coherently limit the relevant class of peers then it seems that it is not merely a very small minority (a few geniuses) that deny that we have knowledge or the external world.
  • (iii) What people believe is contingent. As such, it is perfectly possible that everyone (aside from a few geniuses) believe that there is no external world. In this case the relevant CONTROVERSIAL belief would be that there IS an external world. Of course, this is not really an objection since it will be contingent whether or not I have knowledge concerning a particular belief. But it seems that a vast majority of people could believe something false. This isn't saying much since what is at issue here is whether or not the mere fact that you know someone disagrees should alter your credence in your disparate beliefs; but it seems that someone (like some imminent thinker that is going against the status quo) who denies the status quo position loses knowledge about their revolutionary theory merely because the vast majority of people disagree. (Let's take geo versus heliocentric theories and the thinkers who wanted to push for heliocentrism; is it really the case that some of those thinkers in fact never had knowledge in their lives concerning the truth of heliocentrism, merely because they were aware that the vast majority disagreed?)
  • (iv) Let us grant that the belief in the external world is not rendered CONTROVERSIAL. That does not mean that her argument does not overgeneralize. I imagine that McGrath herself would NOT want her argument to extend to this belief: that perception is a reliable indicator of the truth. However, her argument does indeed extend to such a belief. That is because many people from different ways of life and different cultures across time have denied this (think of some religious traditions that think everything is an illusion, philosophical traditions.) Or at least, she cannot explain why that belief is not CONTROVERSIAL by appeals numbers in the way she does with the belief about the external world.