the postgraduate session
Due to uncertainty about to possibility of international travel and large gatherings in July, the Mind Association, the Aristotelian Society and the local organisers at the University of Kent have decided to change the 94th Joint Session from a physical conference to an online one. We will still hold the conference from 17.00 on Friday 10 July to 19.00 Sunday 12 July (all times BST), but now the Plenary Sessions, the Postgraduate Sessions, and the SWIP Sessions will be pre-recorded videos that we release at the start of the conference, with speakers finding time to respond to your comments and questions over the course of the weekend.
Please visit the official 2020 Joint Session website for further information.
All submissions for the postgraduate sessions are blind reviewed and a maximum of eight are selected for presentation. Only current postgraduate students (including those who have obtained a postgraduate degree within the past year) can submit for the Postgraduate Session. Exemplary papers for the Postgraduate Session will be published in next year's Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.
Chloé de Canson (LSE)
The thought that agents ought not assign extremal credences to propositions they think could be either true or false is intuitively appealing to many. In the Bayesian literature, it has been captured by a putative norm of rationality called regularity. However, arguments against regularity abound, and arguments in its favour are notoriously unsatisfactory. In this paper, I argue that the thought is best captured by a weaker claim, which I call humility. I argue for humility by showing that it follows from what it means to be rational.
Chloé is completing a PhD at the London School of Economics, and, in September 2020, will start as an assistant professor in the Department of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Groningen. She works mainly in epistemology. She is working on two research projects; one on the relationship between an agent’s means of inquiry and what it is rational for her to believe; and another on the nature of agential perspective, its relationship to objectivity, and the rationality of perspectival change. She holds a BSc in Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method from LSE, and an MPhil in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge.
Are Citizens Causally Responsible for the Actions of their Political Leaders?
Christina Nick (Leeds)
Are citizens morally responsible for the outcomes of political decisions taken by their leaders? To answer this question, we have to establish how citizens could be causally implicated in the outcomes of actions taken by the state. They could stand in the required causal relationship either as a collective or individually. Recent accounts have primarily taken the collective route because of a major obstacle to using an individualistic approach, namely, the problem over-determination. The actions of each citizen do not make an individual difference to the overall political outcome and therefore they cannot be a cause of it. I begin by examining Kutz’s (2007) and Lepora and Goodin’s (2013) accounts of complicity and how they have attempted to show that individuals can be complicit in the outcomes of collective action despite not having made an individual difference to it. I then argue that both attempts ultimately fail and instead I suggest, drawing on suggestions by Parfit (1984) and Wright (1985), that we should allow for the idea that individuals can be causally responsible not only in virtue of making a difference to an outcome as an individual, but also in virtue of making a difference as part of a set of agents. I will apply this to the case of voting in order to show that individual citizens can indeed be causally responsible for the outcomes of political decisions. I therefore conclude that we can overcome the problem of overdetermination for the individualistic approach and that it merits further investigation.
Christina Nick is a lecturer in applied ethics at the University of Leeds, where she has also recently completed her PhD. She previously studied for an MPhil in Political Theory at the University of Oxford and a BA in Philosophy and Politics at the University of Manchester. Her PhD research, which was supervised by Carl Fox and Rob Lawlor, focussed on giving an account of the problem of democratic dirty hands; i.e. understanding situations in which democratic politicians have to commit moral violations for good moral reasons. In particular, she is interested in examining the extent to which we can ascribe moral responsibility to, and maybe even hold accountable, both political actors as well as citizens in cases of moral conflict.
The Nature and Erasure of Epistemic Labour
Emilia Wilson (St Andrews/Stirling)
The term ‘epistemic labour’ is used in various fields yet there has, to date, been no attempt to offer a definition. This raises two concerns. Firstly, the current uses of the term vary significantly. With such diverse uses of the term, it is an open question whether a single concept can do all of the work required. Secondly, terms like ‘work’ and ‘labour’ often carry implicit appraisals and consequently the work performed by marginalised groups has historically been erased. In the absence of a unified theory of epistemic labour, we are likely failing to recognise much of the labour performed by these groups.
In this presentation I address these issues in turn. Firstly, I provide a conceptual analysis of the term ‘epistemic labour’. I use this to develop a procedural theory of epistemic labour as a subset of cognitive labour. Secondly, I examine the erasure of women’s epistemic labour. Both theoretical and empirical research indicate that the broader erasure of women’s labour extends to epistemic labour. I argue that the epistemic aspect of women’s labour, and correspondingly female-coded work, is specifically erased by the construction of women as emotional. Female-coded work is thus alienated from the epistemic competence it demands.
Emilia Wilson is a PhD Candidate on the St Andrews/Stirling Graduate Programme (SASP), working primarily in Social Epistemology and the Philosophy of Language. Her thesis is supervised by Derek Ball and Sanford Goldberg. Emilia previously completed an MLitt in philosophy and a BSc in philosophy and mathematics also from the University of St Andrews. Her other research interests include Social Construction, Network Epistemology and Conceptual Ethics.
Generalism without Dependence
Ezra Rubenstein (Rutgers)
I distinguish two versions of generalism: permissive generalism holds that truths about individuals express non-basic worldly facts (individuals depend on purely general basic facts); strict generalism holds that truths about individuals are non-perspicuous (reality in itself is entirely general).
I argue that permissive generalism faces a serious problem concerning almost-symmetric worlds: none of the available options for characterising the dependence of individualist facts on the general facts at such worlds seems plausible. This problem is solved by switching to strict generalism, which allows for indeterminacy in the way that individualist truths are made apt by the underlying general truths. I illustrate this alternative approach by proposing a supervaluationist strategy for accommodating individualist truths in a purely general world.
In addition to showing how generalism can meet a central challenge, my discussion serves more broadly as an illustration of two importantly different approaches to one of metaphysics’ central tasks: the task of explaining the non-fundamental in terms of the fundamental.
Ezra Rubenstein is a PhD student at Rutgers University, with research interests in metaphysics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind. He previously completed an MMathPhil and a BPhil at the University of Oxford. His thesis, supervised by Jonathan Schaffer and Ted Sider, focuses on metaphysical explanation and the idea that the world is fundamentally qualitative. His other work is on probability, causation, the metaphysics of mind, and the foundations of quantum mechanics.
A Choice Pump Argument for Adaptive Preferences
Annalisa Costella (Erasmus)
Since Elster’s (1983) seminal work on “sour grapes” - the supposed irrationality of adaptive preferences - scholarly contributions on the topic have thrived. The vast majority of scholars agree with Elster that a preference can be rational only if it is autonomous. This consensus, I argue, stems from conflating the rationality of adaptive preferences with their contribution to an individual’s well- being. It is doubtful whether autonomy is a satisfactory criterion of rationality. In the paper, I put forth an alternative criterion for the rationality of adaptive preferences, which I label the "opportunity pump argument". I argue that adaptive preferences are irrational if they are subject to being opportunity-pumped. An opportunity pump induces the agent to strictly prefer having the opportunities offered by her final restricted set of options to the ones of her initial set. And thus, adaptation is irrational for an individual when, by adapting her preferences over the options, the individual also adapts her preferences over the opportunities provided by those options.
Annalisa Costella is a first-year PhD student in Philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She works at EIPE, the Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics. Before starting her PhD, she completed a BSc in Economics at Bocconi University Milan, an MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences at the LSE, and a Research Master in Philosophy and Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Currently, she is working on the relationship between individuals’ preferences and freedom of choice. She investigates in what ways (if at all) an individual’s preferences affect her freedom (to choose) and, conversely, in what ways (if at all) expansions or restrictions of freedom influence the formation of preferences. The goal of her research is twofold, both descriptive and normative. She aims to offer a descriptive account of how preferences and freedom (of choice) interact as well as investigate how they ought to do so. Her broader research interests include decision theory, axiomatic approaches to freedom of choice, and the welfare implications of behavioural economics.
Logical Pluralism & Normative Contradictions
James Skinner (St Andrews)
This paper articulates a novel argument showing that many species of logical pluralism are inconsistent with the normativity of logic for reasoning. I begin by arguing for a 'thick' conception of the normativity of logic on which logic is not only normative for the combinations of beliefs we may have, but also for the methods by which we may form them. I then develop an argument - the normative contradiction objection - which shows that a wide variety of logical pluralisms are inconsistent with this thick conception of logic's normativity. This is because together they entail contradictory claims about how one ought to reason whenever one ought to believe a set of propositions, X, and C follows from X on one of the pluralist's logics but not another. Accordingly, if logic is normative for reasoning, these pluralisms are untenable.
James Skinner is a second year MPhil student at the University of St Andrews, where he is writing a dissertation defending logical monism - the thesis that there is exactly one correct logic - under the supervision of Kevin Scharp and Francesco Berto. Besides the philosophy of logic, James takes a keen interest in formal epistemology, political philosophy, and ethics. Prior to his MPhil, James did his undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford, where he started life as an Economics and Management student before seeing the light and switching to Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.
Passionate Belief: Religious Practice and Social Explanation in Hume
Peter Faulconbridge (UCL)
In the essay ‘Of Superstition and Enthusiasm’, David Hume claims that superstitious religious movements are more stable than enthusiastic movements, due in part to the former’s involvement with ‘rites, ceremonies, and holy observances’. Why might such religious practices help to sustain religious belief, and why should this phenomenon be particularly associated with superstitious religion? In this paper I outline two ways of answering these questions which can be found in Hume’s work. The first approach, drawing on well-known passages from the Treatise, invokes the transfer of force from sensory impressions generated by participation in a ritual, to associated religious ideas, via their resemblance. This provides a narrow explanation of the belief-sustaining role of practice, but I argue that it falls short in the context of Hume’s richer explanatory hypotheses in ‘Of Superstition and Enthusiasm’. The second approach to religious practice is drawn from Hume’s Natural History of Religion, and it reserves a key role for the passions, especially fear. This passion-based approach takes a little work to unearth, but I argue that it provides a much richer explanation of Hume’s initial hypotheses concerning the dynamics of superstition and enthusiasm. It also exemplifies an important form of social explanation more generally, whereby the unintended consequences of an action are shown to reinforce the very conditions which gave rise to that action in the first place.
Peter Faulconbridge recently completed his PhD at University College London (UCL). His core research concerns how individual agents relate to their social and cultural contexts. His doctoral thesis defends a novel ontology of social conventions, and argues that attention to such ontological issues is crucial for a proper understanding of the explanatory and justificatory role of social practices more generally. His current research focuses on clarifying the relationships between the different roles which the concept 'social practice' plays in a variety of fields, including philosophy, the social sciences, and political discourse. His broader research interests include philosophy of action, philosophy of mind & psychology, and philosophy of social science.
Self-Transformation and the Varieties of Prudence
Simone Gubler (Texas Austin)
L.A. Paul and Nilanjan Das’ account of an intrapersonal analogue for the non-identity problem cannot be sustained on its own terms. It falls prey to an unfortunate equivocation. There is, nonetheless, a way forward available to Das and Paul. But to secure it, we must entertain the possibility that prudence is a disjunctive category, and that there are distinct forms of prudential care for self and person. Pursuing this suggestion will be of independent interest to moral philosophers, for, quite apart from preserving the integrity of the problem that Das and Paul present, it motivates significant new questions of value.
Simone Gubler recently finished her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, where she was supervised by Jonathan Dancy, Kathleen Higgins, and Galen Strawson. She now works in a postdoctoral position, as a Research Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In the final year of her doctoral studies, she was a Visiting Student Research Collaborator at Princeton University. Her work addresses questions at the intersection of moral psychology, normative ethics, and political philosophy. Much of her research deals with the concept of forgiveness. Against the prevailing view that forgiveness is a positive value, her work urges a skeptical attitude. Forgiveness is not always morally valuable, and never morally obligatory; and it should occasion particular concern when drafted into roles in public discourse and legal institutional contexts. In addition to her philosophical qualifications, Simone is admitted to practice as a lawyer in Australia, and maintains active interests in international human rights law and criminal justice reform.
10–12 July 2020
University of Kent
Kent CT2 7NZ
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