Graduate Student Research Colloquia - Spring 2019

Spring 2019

April 19, 2019

Presenter: Genessa Eddy

Title: "Conventionality of Math."


The numbers zero through nine are the basic symbols of our number system. You can make an infinite amount of unique numbers by just combining these ten symbols in different ways. Therefore, a finite amount of symbols can make up an infinite amount of complex numbers in our number system.

What if we make this finite amount of basic symbols infinite? Let's replace the symbols "1" and "one" with a new symbol " ⚀ ", "2" and "two" with " ⚁ ", "3" and "three" with " ⚂ " and so on to infinity. Thus, we would no longer have an infinite amount of numbers made up of a finite amount of symbols but instead an infinite amount of numbers made up of an infinite amount of symbols.

By doing this we are able to assign new symbols to numbers and can see that there must be a separation between numbers and their symbols. Does this separation show us anything about the existence of numbers of mathematics itself? I claim that it does and what it shows us is that numbers, and other mathematical objects, may be metaphysical objects but also that the symbols of mathematics are merely conventional objects that happen to track these metaphysical objects quite well. The proof of this is in our ability to separate numbers from their symbols which we can arbitrarily assign.

April 12, 2019

Presenter: Adam Thompson

March 29, 2019

Presenter: Jeffrey Schade

Title: "The Simplicity of the One."


The paper argues that we should take seriously Neo-Platonist assumptions such as the ontological primacy of mindful consciousness over matter, and the "Principle of Simplicity", which states that that which is simplest is that which is most perfect. This principle is consistent in many ways with Proclan metaphysics; however, the Proclan Rule creates problems for the Principle of Simplicity. These problems might be resolved by a conception of causation as "grounding by subsumption", as well as by making a distinction between perfect and imperfect on the one hand, and better and worse on the other. The paper then argues that Proclan metaphysics is consistent with an immaterial or non-corporeal conception of matter upon which form is imposed by Intellect, or Consciousness.

March 29, 2019

Presenter: Kevin Patton


Georgi Gardiner has argued that all modal conditions on knowledge ultimately get 'swamped' -- that is, they fail to provide any additional value to what knowledge is beyond what is already contributed by mere true belief. She offers three brief arguments in support of this thesis. Despite the force of her arguments, I argue that her thesis is too broad. I motivate this by attempting to explore a belief that is false, but almost true (i.e. the basis for the false belief was almost producing a true belief). These kinds of beliefs, though false, seem to be quite valuable. Why? Because the process that formed them almost got us to the truth. But wait, Gardiner will exclaim, that just proves that those modal conditions, even ones that almost provide true beliefs, are only valuable insofar as we care about truth! While it is true that they may be instrumental to truth, I claim that they are still quite valuable. There are a number of ways to motivate this position. Here is one example.

Motivation: let's consider a reliable drill used for a job. The safety/reliability of the drill leads to the building of the solid shelf. Now, it's certainly true that once I have the shelf, I no longer need the drill for that job. In Gardiner's terms, the value of the shelf swamps the safety/reliability of the drill. The next time that I need to build something, however, I'm going to pick up the safe/reliable drill again and again, and will continue to do so anytime that I need to build something. This tells me something important that the swamping problem gets wrong. Namely, that I do value safety/reliability even when it's instrumental. Why? Because if I used a harbor freight drill (usually an inferior product), my shelves would be less well built, would take longer periods of time to build, and would be more frustrating to construct. In other words, I value the errors that the safe/reliable drill avoids. Sure, this is a practical consideration. But certainly those are valuable when building shelves, or constructing beliefs! When my beliefs are formed by a safe belief forming process, then I will arrive at truth while avoiding numerous pitfalls. Does this mean that the value which a safe process provides is swamped? I think not. I want to be an epistemic agent that not only arrives at the truth, but does so efficiently. I am, after all, limited in the time that I have to be a belief forming agent. A true belief's value cannot swamp this because efficiency is independent from truth and belief -- even if it's instrumental.

Or so I currently think.

March 1, 2019

Presenter: Zach Wrublewski


Many philosophers are skeptical of the claim that the "ought" of rationality is normative in the sense that the requirements involved are necessarily accompanied by reasons to conform to them. Some believe that requirements of rationality are no more normative than the requirements of chess or the requirements of etiquette. Others, such as John Broome, accept that rationality is normative, but also hold that there are no good arguments to establish this conclusion. In The Normativity of Rationality, Benjamin Kiesewetter takes on the ambitious project of defending the normativity of rational requirements with an interesting, novel solution to the so-called "normativity problem." In short, Kiesewetter argues for a view that holds that reasons are evidence-relative facts, and that rational requirements are "non-structural" in the sense that they do not concern combinations of attitudes that an agent holds, but rather the reason(s) one has for (or against) holding particular attitudes. Crucially, Kiesewetter's project depends on the necessary link between the requirements of rationality and one's reasons, such that one always has a reason to do what rationality requires of her. To make this connection, Kiesewetter argues for a "backup view" of reasons.

In this presentation, I will argue that Kiesewetter's backup view, as sketched, is problematic, and should be rejected. After sketching the basics of Kiesewetter's view, I will offer a counterexample to it. Also, I will consider potential ways in which Kiesewetter might amend his view to avoid the problems associated with my counterexample, and conclude by suggesting that Kiesewetter should either amend his view of evidence, or give up the view that reasons are evidence-relative facts.

February 22, 2019

Presenter: Andrew Christmas

February 15, 2019

Presenter: Zack Garrett

Title: "Precisifications"


Semantic nihilism is the position that sentences containing vague components like "Winston is bald" are not truth-apt. The theory has been thought to be, at best, too revisionary, and, at worst, self-undermining. Since natural language is riddled with vagueness, only a small portion of sentences will count as truth-apt. Even the sentences used to express semantic nihilism will not be truth-apt since they contain vague words like "vague." These objections appear to be devastating to semantic nihilism, but David Braun and Theodore Sider, as well as John MacFarlane, have recently attempted to rehabilitate the theory.

In this chapter, I argue that semantic nihilists (i) fail to avoid some serious intuitive costs, even if they can avoid some of the worst objections, and (ii) they do not have a sufficient reason for rejecting the truth-evaluability of sentences containing vague components.

February 8, 2019

Presenter: Trevor Adams


In David Lewis's paper Logic for Equivocators Lewis gave an example of something he called "fragmentation". Lewis was attempting to describe what is going on when someone holds two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and how. In that work, Lewis gave an example of how he himself once had contradictory beliefs, saying "I used to think that Nassau Street ran roughly east-west; that the railroad nearby ran roughly north-south; and that the two were roughly parallel" (p. 436). The problem for Lewis was that the different fragments of this triple would come into use and guide his behavior at different times but that, "the whole system of beliefs never manifested itself at once" (p. 436). But, "once the fragmentation was healed, straightaway my beliefs changed" (p. 436). This example has now become the classic example of a phenomenon called fragmentation.

What I want to do in this paper is give some clarity to the fragmentation discussion and also defend the fragmentation thesis from objections. First, I will propose one interpretation of belief fragmentation. Next, I will state and explain Aaron Norby's objections from his paper Against Fragmentation, by giving some evidence of fragmentation from cognitive science. Lastly, I will consider another objection to fragmentation Norby offers and by showing how fragmentation is in fact a substantive thesis about belief.

February 1, 2019

The Graduate Student Research Colloquium will not be held. Instead, we will have the Spring 2019 Faculty and Graduate Student Colloquium. Joey Dante will present.

January 25, 2019

Presenter: Mark Selzer

Title: "Importing Reasons from Other Worlds: the Latent Capacity Interpretation of the Explanatory Constraint."


This is a heavily revised version of a paper I presented last semester. I've modified it to provide a stronger intuitive appeal for my explanation of motivating reasons, and I've also added some features that protect my view against several objections. The revisions required me to develop my account in three important directions. The view is now committed (or further committed) to moral rationalism and diachronicity and globalism about reasons. For those who are interested, below is a copy of my abstract from last time.

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 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.

January 18, 2019

Presenter: Adam Thompson

Title: "On Balance and Teaching Philosophy"


As with many things that lend meaning, support, and significance, balance in nearly any context where it is called for is difficult to realize let alone recognize or understand. This essay focuses on these difficulties as they pertain to the design and implementation in philosophy courses. It offers a strategy for finding the right distribution of content coverage and skill development. The strategy begins with the observation that developing an evaluative grasp of philosophical material is to understand a complex of, among other things, subtle distinctions, analyses, relations of support, and normative implicature as well as interrogative statements and declarative ones. Further, it is to understand elements like those through a dialogical narrative wrapped in difficult prose.
Hence, first we must dissect this complex and helpfully arrange its elements. This essay organizes the elements intertwined in philosophical material along a multifaceted continuum. At one extreme is pure first-order content. There we find things like the most austere declarative and interrogative sentences. At the other is pure-second order content which comprises forms of, say, inference, fine distinction, and evidential support. Striking the right balance involves focusing attention on the right blend of first-order and second-order content at the right time and for the right reasons. This essay shows that learner-centered, integrated pedagogy and other best pedagogical practices can secure a proper blend and application schedule.
An interesting upshot is that the appropriate blend for most, if not all, undergraduate courses and in some places early graduate courses is second-order heavy. This should immediately raise the worry that the majority of our undergraduate courses must focus exclusively on things like natural deduction, the vagaries of induction, or the multitude of informal fallacies.
To assuage this concern, I show how to design and implement a second-order heavy introductory course as well as a junior-level course in ethical theory. The essay uses these examples to help us understand how to develop higher level courses with second-order heavy content-blends. However, my primary aim is to advance our understanding of cultivating a pedagogically effective, well-balanced course. The essay concludes with a discussion of concerns for the strategy as well as the fringe benefits that result from using it.