The Aristotelian Society

The Aristotelian Society

est. 1880

Symposium IV

What Brains-in-Vats Can Know

Chaired by Mike Martin

Ofra Magidor | Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Oxford

How Both You and the Brain in a Vat Can Know Whether or Not You Are Envatted

Ofra Magidor (Oxford)


Epistemic externalism offers one of the most prominent responses to the sceptical challenge. Externalism has commonly been interpreted (not least by externalists themselves) as postulating a crucial asymmetry between the actual-world agent and their brain-in-a-vat (BIV) counterpart: while the actual agent is in a position to know she is not envatted, her BIV counter-part is not in a position to know that she is envatted, or in other words, only the former is in a position to know whether or not she is envatted. In this paper, I argue that there is in fact no such asymmetry: assuming epistemic externalism, both the actual world agent and their BIV counterpart are in a position to know whether or not they are envatted.


Ofra Magidor is Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Oxford. She completed a BSc in Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a BPhil and DPhil in Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Prior to her current appointment she was Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow at Balliol College and the University of Oxford, and a Junior Research Fellow at Queen’s College, Oxford. Her research focuses on Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, and Philosophical Logic.

Aidan McGlynn | Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Oxford

‘This Is the Bad Case’: What Brains in Vats Can Know

Aidan McGlynn (Edinburgh)


This paper explores certain facets of Christine Korsgaard’s paper, ‘Prospects for a Naturalistic Explanation of the Good’ (2018). Korsgaard’s account requires that an animal be able to experience ‘herself trying to get or avoid something’. The claim that animals possess such self-awareness is regarded by many as problematic and, if this is correct, it would jeopardize Korsgaard’s account. This paper argues that animals can, in fact, be aware of themselves in the way required by Korsgaard’s account.


Aidan McGlynn is a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, having previously worked at the Northern Institute of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, and having studied at the University of St Andrews and the University of Texas at Austin. He recently completed a series of papers and a monograph on knowledge first approaches to epistemology and the philosophies of language and mind. Since then, he has been working on evidence, first-person thought and self-knowledge, epistemic entitlement, pornography, epistemic injustice, silencing, and objectification.

further info

future joint sessions

2019 joint session:

july 2019

2020 joint session:

july 2020

2021 joint session:

july 2021

supplementary volume

The inaugural address and symposia for the Joint Session are published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, which is published digitally and in hardcover every June. The Supplementary Volume is sent to subscribing members of the Society in categories 4 and 5.

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The 2018 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | Cardiff University

past conferences

2017 joint session:

14 - 16 july 2017

2016 joint session:

8 - 10 july 2016

2015 joint session:

10 - 12 july 2015

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