Philosophy Graduate Colloquia - 2021

Spring 2021

April 30, 2021

Presenter: Seungchul Yang

Title: "Against Justification from Justification"


According to Peter Murphy (2017), it is taken for granted, but there is no very clear argument for, Justification from Justification, the principle that a belief is inferentially (and doxastically) justified only if all of the beliefs from which it was actually and essentially inferred are (doxastically) justified. While my purpose is to argue against this principle, I show first that the counterexample Murphy suggested to refute the principle doesn’t work well and that even if his counterargument was successful, it couldn’t keep the principle from applying to general cases. Then, I maintain that, from a justified belief in a conditional proposition and an unjustified belief in the antecedent of that proposition, we can derive a belief in the consequent of that proposition which is inferentially justified; that is, JFJ is false in the usual case of Modus Ponens that is one of the typical cases the application of JFJ to is taken for granted.

April 23, 2021

Presenter: John Del Rosario

Title: "Actuality, God, and the Ontological Arguer"


In "Anselm and Actuality", David Lewis provides an appraisal of Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God, found in the second chapter of the Proslogion. He argues that the Anselmian ontological argument is beset with "modal headaches" and that translating the same into some non-modal expressions would help clarify its suppositions and claims (1970, 175). In the process of translating Anselm’s ontological argument into its non-modal expressions, Lewis adopts an indexical definition of actuality, consistent with the corpus of claims he makes in his possible-worlds view. Lewis maintains that the ontological arguer cannot appropriate an actuality that is superior to the actualities of the possible worlds. From the foregoing, he concludes that while there is some validity discernible, as it were, in the Anselmian ontological argument, it nevertheless cannot succeed in postulating the greatness of God for all possible worlds. My goal is to resist the radical relativization of actuality and so submit a rejoinder to Lewis’ criticisms of the ontological argument on Anselm’s behalf.

April 9, 2021

Presenters: Zack Garrett & Zach Wrublewski

Title: "Impossible Worlds and the Safety of Philosophical Beliefs"


Epistemological accounts that make use of a safety condition on knowledge, historically, face serious problems regarding beliefs about necessary truths. This is because necessary truths are true in all possible worlds, so such beliefs are trivially safe. The existence of trivially safe beliefs would undermine a major motivation for the condition itself: the ability to evaluate how well a belief tracks the truth. We call this problem the “Triviality Problem.” In a recent paper, Guido Melchior suggests that this problem may be ameliorated by allowing the close worlds considered in the definition of safety to include impossible worlds. Since beliefs that are necessarily true in the actual world can be false in impossible worlds, these beliefs would not be trivially safe. But, for this to work, many impossible worlds would have to be closer to the actual world than many possible worlds. Melchior argues that this seems implausible, and, thus, we should accept a similar version of sensitivity rather than safety (as sensitivity doesn’t require closeness, whereas safety does).

In this paper, we’ll show that according to various accounts of the similarity of worlds, many impossible worlds are incredibly similar to the actual world. So, contra Melchior, we contend that there is good reason to accept that many impossible worlds are closer to the actual world than many possible worlds. As such, we need not fall back to sensitivity to deal with the Triviality Problem. Further, we’ll argue that including impossible worlds in this way would mean that we can properly evaluate the safety of many philosophical beliefs— in particular, philosophical beliefs that, if true, would be necessarily true.

For many kinds of philosophical beliefs, e.g., beliefs about the correct logic, the correct ethical theory, the impossibility of phenomenal zombies, etc., we’ll argue that there are sufficiently many close impossible worlds to render these beliefs unsafe. So, we contend that many kinds of philosophical beliefs are unsafe. As such, we will be agreeing with philosophical skeptics, like Helen Beebee, that many of our philosophical beliefs do not amount to knowledge. But, we’ll resist the conclusion that philosophy cannot make progress toward knowledge. We’ll argue that the inclusion of impossible worlds in this discussion can help to explain what would need to change about specific philosophical methodologies in order to obtain safe beliefs; and, even if we cannot get safe beliefs through these methodologies, we can make progress toward safer beliefs.

April 2, 2021

Presenter: Bjorn Flanagan

Title: "A Dogma of Epistemology"


We draconic epistemologists seek to accumulate a horde of justified knowledge objects and know them, but to what end? There is a dogma that persists about knowledge and it is this dogma that I contend is the root of the problem surrounding justification in contemporary epistemology. The dogma is that knowledge is a class of objects defined by a truth value and where justification provides a link to that value. These objects have been called beliefs, knowledge, sense datum, facts, etc. and they have predominately been characterized as propositions where the property of truth or falseness is evaluated by some justificatory function. I argue that this dogma of knowledge, that objects of knowledge are the target of justification, is a mistake and I will draw upon John Dewey’s criticisms of knowledge and religion to show how this mistake produces an unbridgeable gap in contemporary theories of knowledge.

March 19, 2021

Presenter: Alfred Tu

Title: "On Professional Expertise"


Issues of expert and expertise have become important topics in recent social epistemology. We can categorize experts into different kinds through different faculties involved in expertise. One rough taxonomy is dividing experts into three categories: perceptual expert, cognitive expert and motion expert. Perceptual experts, such as seasoned birdwatcher and radiologist, are primarily rely on their perception when they are exercising their expertise. Nevertheless, some experts might be a sub-kind of perceptual expert due to the subjectivity involved in their performance. For example, gastronomic experts, such as food critics and sommeliers, their expertise – tasting, seems to be inherently subjective and henceforth their reviews, tasting notes, or critique are subjective. If this is the case, then we can easily come up a skepticism to these ‘experts’. However, to deny that a bunch of expertise exists that is de facto recognized as expertise is not a good sign of an expert theory. Instead of narrow ingdown the range of expertise, it would be better if we can preserve more intuition here. In this paper, I am exploring some problems that a perceptual expert theory might engage and propose a straightforward way to explain why (subjective) perceptual experts are (still) experts.

March 12, 2021

Presenter: Janelle Gormley

Title: "What is the Reason?"


In "Love as Valuing a Life," Kieran Setiya offers a response to the question regarding what reasons we have for partiality. His argument would not only offer justification for those in special relationships to act partially, but shows why strangers are justified in choosing one over others. Partiality, for Setiya is grounded in responding to the needs of another’s humanity, and this response is the reason that justifies an agent’s saving one over others. In this way, Setiya suggests that he offers a practical principle that would govern partial behavior, including acting partially toward strangers. However, if the sufficient reason for acting partially is another being’s humanity, then this reason seems arbitrary since in principle, all agents possessing this quality counts as a reason that is weighed equally in an agent’s deliberation. And if all count equally, partiality loses its force and instead, one being justified in saving one or the other is impartiality posing as partiality. In this way, the principle does not capture partiality, but instead, is an impartial principle. I argue that Setiya’s position in not one that captures partiality, but rather, it offers a practical impartial principle that governs only those without special relationships.

February 26, 2021

Presenter: Eunhong Lee

Title: "The Internalism and Externalism of Reasons for Love"


In this presentation, I will argue that there are reasons for love, and it belongs to the realm of rationality. I argue that we should directly start with explaining reasons for love rather than explaining whether the love itself metaphysically exists or not. This is because it seems difficult and even impossible for us to find out the metaphysical essence of love.

February 19, 2021

Presenter: Mark Selzer

Title: "Give Me a Reason"


What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for an action-guiding normative reason? I shall argue for two jointly necessary and sufficient conditions: justification and motivation. Both conditions are internal to the agent. On this view, irrationality is possible and likely to occur. Furthermore, it is possible for someone to lack any normative reasons to do things we consider morally obligatory. On this account, we have a great responsibility to work together to create normative reasons in support of prosocial behavior.

February 12, 2021

Presenter: Christopher Stratman

Title: "Ectogenesis and Misogyny"


Ectogenesis involves transferring a fetus from a human womb to an artificial womb where gestation continues until it reaches full-term. Some philosophers have argued that this future technology offers a plausible way to dissolve the abortion debate (e.g., Mathison and Davis 2017; Hendricks 2018; Blackshaw and Rodger 2019; Stratman 2020). The idea is this: if the fetus can be safely removed from the human womb and gestated in an ex utero environment without violating a pregnant person’s right to bodily autonomy, then there is no “moral” right to the death of a fetus. But even if this is true, one might reasonably think that the advent of ectogenesis should not be chaperoned by new, blanket legal restrictions or prohibitions on a pregnant person’s legal ability to obtain a lethal abortion.

Why is this a problem? We can appreciate the significance of the problem by considering what appears to be a jointly inconsistent triad of highly plausible statements: (A) NO VIOLATON OF AUTONOMY—Given ectogestation, a fetus can be safely removed from a human womb without violating the pregnant person’s right to autonomy or killing the fetus; (B) NO MORAL RIGHT TO FETAL DEATH—Given ectogestation, there is no moral right to the death of the fetus; (C) NO NEW LEGAL RESTRICTIONS—The advent of ectogestation should not lead to the implementation of new legal restrictions on a pregnant person’s ability to obtain a safe and legal, lethal abortion. The goal of this paper is to show that (A), (B), and (C) are not jointly inconsistent.

I shall develop an argument that purports to show that (C) is true, which does not hinge on the negation of (A) or (B). The basic idea is this: The problem of abortion has traditionally been understood, roughly, as a conflict between a pregnant person’s right to autonomy and the alleged right to life possessed by a fetus. But this approach to the problem of abortion is mistaken. Arguably, the real problem of abortion is intimately tied to systemic misogyny. If so, then we can accept (C) without rejecting either (A) or (B). Here is how: Appealing to Manne’s (2018) ameliorative analysis of what misogyny is—as a law enforcing authority or mechanism within a patriarchal social context—reveals how systemic misogynistic behaviors and expectations within a society shape its legislation in such a way that it aims to control a pregnant person’s mind and body. Such laws are inherently misogynistic and, therefore, immoral. So, we have grounds to accept (C), which do not hinge on the negation of (A) or (B). Laws restricting lethal abortions are inherently misogynistic, and this will be true even in the absence of a fundamental “moral” right to the death of the fetus. I shall conclude the paper by considering how legal questions associated with ectogenesis reveal how deeply reasons rather than rights are rooted in and cannot be divorced from the social context and systems in which they are embedded.

February 5, 2021

Presenter: Talhah Mustafa

Title: "A commentary on ’Judging the Goodness of Childhood’"


I will argue first that the most common ways of framing questions about the putative goodness of childhood are unlikely to be fruitful. The question "Is childhood a good state to be in?" suffers from a number of ambiguities. Sorting out these ambiguities reveals a set of questions that are unlikely to admit of meaningful answers. I will then defend an alternative way of asking what makes childhood good that avoids these ambiguities while offering a more promising way of thinking about the issues that ultimately make the question important.