2017/2018 Colloquium Series


Fall 2017 Colloquia

Friday, September 15 :: WMC 3510
John Campbell (UC Berkeley): The Mind-Body Problem in Psychiatry
This paper proposes a way of reframing the mind-body problem.  Insofar as it is explicitly formulated, the mind-body problem is usually thought of in terms of some belief in the unity and comprehensiveness of science:  the idea is that mentalistic phenomena must be covered by science, and that science must be thought of as unified. Then the main options are thought to be some kind of physicalist reduction of the mental, or some (e.g. panpsychist) expansion of fundamental science to accommodate the mental.

When it’s set up in this way, the mind-body problem faces some obvious lines of dismissal.  One is to say that the mental is not properly thought of as an object of scientific study at all.  The other is to say that there can be no a priori presumption of the unity of science; perhaps science is pluralistic, even if there are sciences of the mind.
These ways of framing the mind-body problem and the lead responses to it seem to me to miss the inescapable problem:  what to make of mind-body causation.  We know how to interpret talk about physical causation of the mental, or mental causation of the physical, in terms counterfactuals about what would have happened under interventions.  But we also seem to need a conception of cause in terms of processes and mechanisms. And while we can make sense of the idea of specifically mental processes, and we can make sense of idea of specifically physical processes, we have no way of explaining what might be meant by physical-mental causal processes.
This issue comes up anyway, but it comes up with particular force in psychiatry, where we need to be able to talk in terms of physical-mental causal processes.  And the problem is not addressed by either panpsychist dualism or reductionist identities. We need a third way of thinking about causal processes.

Friday, September 22 :: WMC 3510
Karen Detlefsen (Penn): Emilie Du Châtelet on Methodology in Natural Philosophy

A number of entries in Diderot’s and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers are replicated virtually verbatim from Emilie Du Châtelet’s works. Perhaps most famous among these is the entry on hypotheses. Du Châtelet’s evaluation of the proper nature and role of hypotheses in natural philosophy puts her at odds with many of her contemporaries, especially given the influence of Newtonian thought in eighteenth century France. In this paper, I examine Du Châtelet’s claim that both Cartesians and Newtonians have taken stances toward hypotheses that impede natural philosophy – Cartesians make excessive, and improper use of them while Newtonians wrongly eschew the use of them altogether. Her resulting theory of the proper nature and use of hypotheses is among the first scientifically powerful accounts of hypotheses in the history and philosophy of science.
More information:  https://philosophy.sas.upenn.edu/people/karen-detlefsen

Tuesday, September 26 :: AQ 6106
Jacqueline Broad (Monash University): U
ndoing Bayle’s Scepticism: Astell’s Critique of the Pensées Diverses
Today, historians of philosophy are divided into those who think that the French thinker Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) is a coded atheist, someone whose reasoning ineluctably leads to atheist conclusions, and those who construe Bayle as a fideist, someone who embraces religious beliefs on the basis of faith alone and not reason. Some scholars believe that Bayle will remain an enigma largely because of his Academic Scepticism. Like the ancient sceptics, he uses reason as a negative methodological tool to examine, question, and ultimately annihilate any reason-based position—religious or otherwise. In this paper, I examine English feminist Mary Astell’s unique argumentative strategy against Bayle in a little-known manuscript source: her marginal notes in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s personal copy of Bayle’s Pensées Diverses (1682). Scholars have long known that Astell (1666-1731) wrote a short diatribe against Bayle in the opening flyleaf of this book. But it is not so well known that the same volume contains hundreds of annotations in Astell’s handwriting, on 160 of 312 printed pages. Taken as a whole, this 7000-word commentary constitutes a lengthy critique of Bayle’s text. In my analysis of this commentary, I show that Astell aims not only to unmask Bayle as an atheist but also to turn his own destructive use of reason against him. More specifically, I demonstrate how Astell uses philosophical argument to ‘undo’ Bayle’s religious scepticism by pointing to at least three different errors in his reasoning: the straw man fallacy, the fallacy of equivocation, and the problem of dialectical self-refutation. The rediscovery of this marginalia is valuable, I maintain, for shedding light on a little-known Anglican response to Bayle in the early modern era, but also for enhancing our appreciation of Astell as an astute philosophical reader of her contemporaries.

Friday, October 6 :: WMC 3510
Anjan Chakravartty (Notre Dame): 
Belief and the Rationality of Scientific Disagreement
Even among those whom we might regard as epistemic peers, scientists often disagree. Some philosophers hold that given some evidence and assuming epistemic peerage, there is only ever one rational option regarding what to believe. One might thus infer that either there is significant irrationality in scientific practice, or the uniqueness thesis is false. I distinguish two cases for thinking about this: relatively transient disagreement (RTD); and relatively intransient disagreement (RID). I suggest that cases of RTD are better characterized in terms of things like contrary hopes, best bets, and heuristic commitments than contrary beliefs per se. In cases of RID, I argue that disagreement does not generally take the form of contrary beliefs but rather contrasts between belief and agnosticism, which point to underlying commitments that are not themselves propositional or evidential but that are nonetheless rational. The upshot is the falseness of uniqueness and the rationality of much scientific disagreement.

Friday, October 27 :: WMC 3510
Alex Guerrero (Rutgers)
 Should We Select Our Political Representatives By Lottery, Rather Than Election?
Aristotle said, roughly: if you want oligarchy, have elections; if you want democracy, use lotteries.  In this talk, I bring this idea into the 21st century, arguing that 5 pathologies of electoral representative democracy prevent us from having real democracy, from having the State work for all of us, rather than just the most powerful of us.  I argue that these problems with electoral representative democracy run deep, stemming from foundational concerns about ignorance and the mechanism of electoral accountability, so that even politically unlikely reforms with respect to campaign finance, lobbying, gerrymandering, and so on, would not be enough to make a significant improvement.  One of the striking things about the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign was that both Sanders supporters and Trump supporters agreed on this basic idea: the political system is broken; it works for the wealthiest of us, not for all of us.  I agree with them on this score.  In the second part of the talk, I offer a tentative way forward, introducing what I call "lottocratic" government.  In this system, law is made by issue-specific legislatures, rather than generalist legislatures (like Congress), and the members of these issue-specific legislatures are chosen by lottery from the general citizenry.  I introduce these systems of government, discuss some relevant examples of institutions of this kind, and discuss some of their possible advantages and disadvantages.

 Friday, November 17 :: WMC 3510
Graham Hubbs (Idaho):
 Individualism, Psychologism, and Collective Intentionality 
ABSTRACT: Over the past several decades, philosophers have sought to explain the difference between individual intentional actions and acts of collective intentionality. The questions of whether and how two or more individuals can share an intention have been central to this discussion. The predominant strategy for explaining collective intentionality has been individualistic and psychologistic: it starts from the presumption that all intentional phenomena are to be explained in terms of the psychological states of individuals, and it seeks to explain collective intentionality in terms of the contents of a collection of individual psychological states. The inadequacies of this strategy, I argue, should lead us to embrace its main competitor, whose champion is Margaret Gilbert, which I call the normative approach. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, I think the lessons of this debate apply generally to accounts of intentionality, so we should abandon psychologistic accounts of individual action across the board and favor instead alternatives that take the normative approach. G. E. M. Anscombe’s view is, I argue, the exemplar of this alternative. The upshot: if we accept the superiority of Gilbert’s view to its competitors in the debates surrounding collective intentionality, we should in turn accept Anscombe’s view to those that analyze intentions primarily in individualist psychological terms.

Background Reading:

Bratman, Michael. (1992) “Shared Cooperative Activity.” The Philosophical Review, 101, 327-41. (This is the locus classicus of the psychologistic approach.)

Bratman, Michael. (1999) “I Intend That We J.” In his Faces of Intention (Cambridge UP), 142-61. (Bratman defends the intelligibility of a person intending that a collective to which s/he belongs do something, which is a basic problem of the psychologistic approach.)

Gilbert, Margaret. (1990) “Walking Together: A Paradigmatic Social Phenomenon.” Midwestern Studies in Philosophy, 15, 1-14. (This is the locus classicus of the normative approach.)

Hubbs, Graham. (2016) “Anscombe on Intentions and Commands.” Klesis, 35, 90-107. (I draw upon this in my discussion of collective intentionality, and it presents some of my views about how to understand Anscombe.)

Friday, November 24 :: WMC 3510
Fatema Amijee (SFU): 
Rationalist Revivalism
According to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (henceforth ‘PSR’), everything has an explanation. The PSR was a central tenet of the rationalist metaphysics of Spinoza, Leibniz, and other early modern rationalists. Yet, why should we believe it? Spinoza took the PSR to be an axiom. But classifying a principle as an axiom does not remove the need to justify our commitment to it. The early modern rationalists, I will suggest, do not seem to have compelling justifications for their commitment to the PSR. I take up this unmet early modern rationalist challenge in a contemporary metaphysical context. I argue first that versions of the PSR adopted by Spinoza, Leibniz and Kant are continuous with a PSR on which ‘everything’ ranges over facts and ‘explanation’ refers to metaphysical explanation. Second, I argue that we ought to be committed to this PSR because it is indispensable to metaphysical inquiry. I show that participating in metaphysical inquiry—the practice whose participants seek metaphysical explanations—commits one to the PSR. I then show that we ought to participate in metaphysical inquiry, and so ought to be committed to the PSR. 

Friday, December 1 :: WMC 3510
Nicholas Smyth (SFU):
Gender and Theory-Acceptance in Ethics
In recent years, moral theories have been subjected to psychological debunking arguments, which allege that an agent’s acceptance of the theory in question is influenced by untrustworthy or unreliable psychological processes.  Interestingly, deontological moral theories have been the primary target of such arguments, while very few philosophers have been willing to subject consequentialist theories to the same form of psychological debunking.  In this paper, I use statistical and social-psychological data to argue that the acceptance of one type of consequentialist theory—utilitarianism—is influenced by the theorist’s gender.  If I’m right, utilitarians must explain how gendered influences on moral theory can be epistemologically trustworthy or reliable.  After some investigation, I conclude that the hopes for a utilitarian standpoint epistemology are dim.

Friday, December 8 :: WMC 3510
Rosemary Twomey (SFU): 
The Analogy Between Acquiring First Principles and Acquiring Virtue
In Posterior Analytics, Aristotle claims that knowledge comes from demonstration, which he understands to be syllogistic reasoning employing premises that are explanatory of the conclusion. Those premises will themselves likely be known via other demonstrations, which themselves employ explanatory premises. These demonstrations cannot continue ad infinitum, however. There must be first principles, which are “true and primitive and immediate and more familiar than and prior to and explanatory of the conclusions” (An. Post. i.2 71b21-22). Since they are immediate, they cannot be learned. Yet Aristotle rejects Platonic nativism, so he needs some naturalistic explanation as to how they come to be known. He presents his solution in a notoriously compressed chapter at the end of Posterior Analytics. Here he describes a multi-stage process that takes us from perception through to memory, experience, and ultimately to the grasping of an account that presents us with a universal and first principle. In this talk, I clarify his picture by exploiting an analogy with a similar puzzle in the context of his ethics: how do we become virtuous without already being virtuous? Aristotle’s response in both cases is to appeal to a kind of repetition, which in the ethical case he calls “habituation”. Others have noted the similarities between moral and intellectual development in passing, but to my knowledge there is only one extended treatment of the analogy, and it claims that both approaches are incoherent. I contend, to the contrary, that the repetitions described can undergird a plausible model of intellectual development, one that avoids nativism but not at the cost of mysterianism. While the account of acquisition of the first principles that I offer is strictly empiricist, it does interestingly straddle the line between internalism and externalism.