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March 2021

Alexander Bird (Cambridge): “Against Empiricism”

30 March 2021, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Online via Zoom + Google Map

Most philosophers of science are realists. Most philosophers of science are, at least implicitly, empiricists. But, I argue, it is not reasonable to be both an empiricist and a realist, because empiricism is motivated by epistemological internalism and realism requires the rejection of internalism. Nor is instrumentalism a reasonable position. So an empiricist should be an outright sceptic about science. Conversely, someone who wishes to have a positive attitude to at least some parts of science, should not be an empiricist. I conclude by pointing out that scientific practice is at least prima facie inconsistent with empiricism.

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June 2021

Ingrid Robeyns (Utrecht): “Why Limitarianism?”

1 June 2021, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Online via Zoom + Google Map

In this paper I aim to expand and further develop the idea of ‘limitarianism’, which, in one formulation, is the idea that no-one should be excessively rich (Robeyns 2017). Since introducing that term, several worries and critiques have been voiced, both in (forthcoming) papers as well as through conversations. Do we really need ‘limitarianism’ if we already have the idea of egalitarianism? Is limitarianism not simply a version of sufficientarianism? What, if anything, makes limitarianism distinctive? In this paper I address these critiques by providing a more precise formulation of limitarianism, and hence providing an answer to the question: “Why limitarianism?”

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October 2021

Susanna Siegel (Harvard): “The phenomenal public”

26 October 2021, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Online via Zoom + Google Map

What modes of mentality can be used to grasp the idea of the ‘body politic’? A standard view is that within a polity, it is not possible to perceive the public – instead one has to imagine it. I argue that this view is wrong in letter but may be correct in spirit. Against the letter of the standard view, it is possbile to perceive the public, but as per the spirit of some of its motivations, this appears to be possible only in ways that inhibit democracy.

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November 2021

Giacomo Giannini (LSE): “Relational Troubles: Structuralist Worries for an epistemology of powers-based modality.”

9 November 2021, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Online via Zoom + Google Map

Dispositionalism is the theory of modality that grounds all modal truths in powers: all metaphysically possible and necessary truths are to be explained by pointing at some actual power, or absence thereof.

One of the most enticing and often cited reasons to endorse dispositionalism is that it promises to deliver an especially desirable epistemology of modality, one that is i) realist, ii) anti-(radically) skeptical, iii) anti-exceptionalist, and iv) able to deliver a good solution to the Integration Challenge. This is the challenge to “reconcile a plausible account of what is involved in the truth of statements of a given kind with a credible account of how we can know those statements, when we do know them”. The crucial idea is that adopting a powers-based theory of modality allows us to perceive at least some modal facts, by making certain affordances genuine features of reality.

Unfortunately, the pairing of a perception-based, empiricist epistemology of modality and Dispositionalism is not as unproblematic and natural an union as it might first appear.

I’ll present a few worries that stem from a conflict between the sketched epistemology of modality and one of the core principle of powers metaphysics — namely that dispositional properties have a relational essence and must be understood in structuralist terms, and draw some consequences for the project of Dispositionalism and powers ontologies more broadly.

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December 2021

Kristin Andrews (York University, Toronto): “A new framework for the psychology of social norms”

7 December 2021, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Online via Zoom + Google Map

Social norms are commonly understood as rules that dictate which behaviors are appropriate, permissible, or obligatory in different situations for members of a given community. Many researchers have sought to explain the ubiquity of social norms in human life in terms of the psychological mechanisms underlying their acquisition, conformity, and enforcement. Existing theories of the psychology of social norms appeal to a variety of constructs, from prediction-error minimization, to reinforcement learning, to shared intentionality, to evolved psychological adaptations. In this paper, we propose a novel methodological and conceptual framework for the cognitive science of social norms that we call normative pluralism. We begin with an analysis of the (sometimes mixed) explanatory aims of the cognitive science of social norms. From this analysis, we derive a recommendation for a reformed conception of its explanandum: a community level behavioral construct that we call “normative regularities”. Our central empirical proposal is that the psychological underpinnings of social norms are most likely realized by a heterogeneous set of cognitive, motivational, and ecological mechanisms that vary between norms and between individuals, rather than by a single type of process or distinctive norm system. This pluralistic approach, we suggest, offers a methodologically sound point of departure for a fruitful and rigorous science of social norms.

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February 2022

Jessica Keiser (Leeds): “Linguistic Conventions and Language Change”

8 February 2022, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Online via Zoom + Google Map

I argue that data about language change casts doubt on the following two theses of the Lewisian metasemantic picture: that the essential function of language is communication, and that people share a language in virtue of a common interest (namely, to achieve that particular function). I propose a novel metasemantic account which draws on Lewis’ insights by taking language to be a solution to a repeated strategy problem, while rejecting the idea that this strategy problem is always characterized by common interests. On this account, communication is a privileged function of language, but it is not unique; language also serves to establish and maintain social control and social identity.

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March 2022

Patricia Rich (Bayreuth): “Knowledge in Real-World Contexts: Not Glamorous, but Indispensable”

15 March 2022, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Online via Zoom + Google Map

During the past few decades, many epistemologists have argued for and contributed to a paradigm shift which repositions knowledge as the central concept in epistemology and the fundamental explanatory and normative force. For example, knowledge has been argued to provide the normative standard for assertion and action, and distinguishing knowers from non-knowers has been construed as a central task within epistemic communities. This theoretical primacy of knowledge in the abstract stands in sharp contrast to several recently developed arguments regarding specific aspects of our epistemic lives. This countervailing trend resists applying traditional epistemic norms – including strong knowledge norms – to real-world situations of interest. Specifically, I discuss recent arguments about the norms governing scientific pronouncements, expert testimony in a political context, and the argumentative approach to reasoning. In each case, knowledge initially appears to be dispensable at best. I will argue that knowledge does have a crucial role to play in each of these new accounts, but that its role has been rendered invisible by the framing and rhetoric surrounding them. Acknowledging the role played by knowledge not only allows us to reconcile the more theoretical part of epistemology with its more practical applications, but can help us to further develop the accounts in question.

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May 2022

Brian Hedden (ANU): “Counterfactual Decision Theory”

31 May 2022, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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I defend counterfactual decision theory, which says that you should evaluate an act in terms of which outcomes would likely obtain, were you to perform it. Counterfactual decision theory has traditionally been subsumed under causal decision theory as a particular formulation of the latter. This is a mistake. Counterfactual decision theory is importantly different from, and superior to, causal decision theory. Causation and counterfactuals come apart in three kinds of cases. In cases of overdetermination, an act can cause a good outcome without the latter counterfactually depending on the former. In cases of constitution, an act can constitute a good outcome rather than causing it. In cases of determinism, either the laws or the past counterfactually depend on your act, even though your act cannot cause the laws or the past to be different. In each of these cases, it is counterfactual decision theory which gives the right verdict, and for the right reasons.

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June 2022

Juliana Bidadanure (Stanford): “Demonization”

7 June 2022, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Online via Zoom + Google Map

In the age of individual responsibility, those at the bottom of the income hierarchy are routinely shamed. Out-of-work benefits claimants are subject to particularly severe forms of vilification, their unemployment being portrayed as resulting from personal failings. When these shortcomings are constructed as moral failings, we enter the space of what I call “demonization”. Demonization is the act of treating individuals as morally inferior or dysfunctional. Benefits recipients are demonized when they undergo sustained attacks on their moral character, when they are viewed as deliberately choosing idleness over hard work. The trope of the lazy free rider living at taxpayers’ expense is remarkably uniform across advanced economies and has been an effective strategy to undermine support for welfare. Despite its social significance, demonization has received little attention from political theorists. And yet, because demonization diminishes its target’s moral standing, it pauses a critical threat to our ability to stand as equals, which contemporary theorists allege to be an essential component of a just and democratic society. Starting from the example of benefits recipients, my paper analyses the definitional features of demonization, examines its social function, and characterizes what makes it wrongful.

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November 2022

Lillian Cicerchia (Freie Universität Berlin): ‘Value Pluralism Against Liberalism’

15 November 2022, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract: This paper challenges the common-sense idea in political philosophy that liberalism is the only normative framework that can make room for value pluralism. It diagnoses this common-sense idea as a product of the Cold War, rather than of liberalism’s inherent virtues. The central claim is that value pluralism is desirable, but that liberalism does not deserve its status as its…

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Samuel Fletcher (University of Minnesota): Science in Crisis? Reproducibility and the Philosophy of Science

29 November 2022, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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  Abstract: For several years now, psychology and other sciences have been facing a crisis of confidence: many results and support for theories cannot be reproduced in new experiments. But why is reproducibility important in science, when it is? I will reveal how key ideas from the philosophy of science can help us answer this question, so that we can recognize,…

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December 2022

José Luis Bermúdez (Texas A&M University): Frames, senses, and thought-equivalence

6 December 2022, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract: When are we rationally required to treat distinct thoughts equivalently? If I know, for example, that Hesperus = Phosphorus, then I seem to be rationally required to believe F (Hesperus) if and only if I also believe F(Phosphorus). This paper explores whether a comparable requirement holds for preference and value. Can it be rational to prefer A to B and…

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January 2023

Daisy Dixon (Cardiff University): ‘On immoral artists’

17 January 2023, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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An artist’s immorality often affects how we appreciate and interpret their art. My talk will do two things. First, I’ll show that ‘virtue-based’ approaches (Nannicelli 2020) and ‘empiricist’ approaches (Gaut 2007) to the relevance of the artist’s immorality cannot accommodate less easy cases like Hitler’s landscapes – and that they should. Second, after amending the virtue-based account to accommodate these…

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March 2023

Graham Priest (City University of New York): ‘The Looming Environmental Crisis: a Perspective from Buddhist Philosophy’

28 March 2023, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract: It is no secret that the world is facing an environmental crisis.  Why should one care? And what should we do? These are questions that concern any thoughtful person.  The answer to them depends, of course, on one’s philosophical views—most crucially, ethical and political. In this talk I will provide an answer to the questions from the perspective of Buddhist…

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May 2023

Felipe Romero (University of Groningen): ‘The conceptual origins of metascience: fashion or revolution?’

30 May 2023, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract. Ten years into the replication crisis, many scientists are experiencing a deep sense of worry and skepticism. In reaction to this problem, an optimistic wave of researchers has taken the lead, turning their scientific eyes onto science itself to make science better. These metascientists have made progress in studying the causes of the crisis and proposing solutions. They have…

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June 2023

Alan Hájek (Australian National University): ‘Consequentialism, Cluelessness, Clumsiness, and Counterfactuals’

6 June 2023, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract: According to objective consequentialism, a morally right action is one that has the best consequences. More generally, given a choice between two actions, one is morally better than the other just in case the consequences of the former action are better than those of the latter. (These are not just the immediate consequences of the actions, but the long-term consequences,…

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October 2023

James Muldoon (University of Essex): Artificial Intelligence in the Colonial Matrix of Power

17 October 2023, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract: This paper theorises how a system of coloniality underpins the structuring logic of artificial intelligence systems. Drawing on the analytic of the 'colonial matrix of power' developed by Aníbal Quijano and the Latin American modernity/coloniality research program, the paper develops a framework for critiquing the regimes of global labour exploitation and knowledge extraction that are rendered invisible through discourses…

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November 2023

Katharine Jenkins (University of Glasgow): ‘Ontology and Oppression: Race, Gender, and Social Reality’

7 November 2023, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract: This talk draws on the rich history of accounts of race and gender kinds that position these kinds as the products of histories of oppression. I will consider how we should understand the precise ontological and normative status of race and gender kinds in the spirit of these accounts whilst also taking into consideration the fact that many people value…

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Adam Lovett (LSE): ‘Democratic Failures and the Ethics of Democracy’

28 November 2023, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract: This talk will be an overview of my forthcoming book. The book is about the ways in which real-world democracies fall short of democratic ideals and why those shortfalls matter. The project is rooted in a vast body of empirical findings that political scientists have accumulated over the last seven decades. These are findings about political ignorance, voter behaviour, the policymaking process,…

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January 2024

Jessica Isserow (University of Leeds): ‘The Possibility of Moral Redemption’

16 January, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
LAK 2.06, Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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Abstract: Many moral wrongs fade into the past, leaving their agents free to move on from them. But others have a curious sort of staying power; they seem to stubbornly stick with their agents, despite the reparative steps that they’ve taken and the personal progress that they’ve made, affecting how others appraise and treat them in turn. In this paper,…

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