Events and Lectures, Fall 2018

Unless otherwise noted, all lectures are held at 4:30 pm in the Philosophy Department Seminar Room (5057 Woodward, 12th Floor, Room 12212.1).


September 13: Stephen Biggs (Iowa State), "Toward an Abductive Epistemology of Philosophy"

Abstract: How should philosophical theorizing proceed in the face of disagreement? Put another way, what is the ultimate arbiter of philosophical disagreements? Using modal epistemology as a case study, I compare the merits of a standard answer, according to which conceiving is the ultimate arbiter, to the merits of an increasingly-popular-but-still-minority competitor, according to which abduction (i.e., inference to the best explanation) is the ultimate arbiter, finding that the latter is superior along several significant dimensions. More specifically, I proceed as follows. First, I clarify what it is to be the ultimate arbiter of disputes in a domain. Second, I sketch the view that conceiving is the ultimate arbiter of modal disputes, and then the view that abduction is the ultimate arbiter of modal disputes—emphasizing that, for my purposes, the view centering on conceiving could be replaced with one centering on imagination, modal intuition, or rational insight. Third, lest one think that the appeal to abduction appears from nowhere, perhaps reflecting a commitment to anti-philosophical scientific naturalism, I identify two historical precursors to an abduction-based approach—in Kant and Carnap. Fourth, I explain why an abduction-based approach hasn't gained the traction that it deserves, despite its impressive roots, by articulating and responding to a major obstacle, the widespread-but-mistaken assumption that abduction is an a posteriori mode of inference, and as such cannot generate modal beliefs (at least many of) which are supposed to be justified a priori. Fifth, I argue that an abduction-based approach has crucial advantages over a conceiving-based approach, including its making sense of substantive philosophical disagreement about, and progress in determining the status of, modal claims. Finally, I consider generalizing the antecedent discussion from modality to other areas of philosophy.


September 20: Kristen Hessler (University at Albany), "Adjudicating Human Rights in International Courts: Lessons for Theory"

Abstract: I argue in this paper that paying attention to what human rights can do, in particular in international courts, yields important lessons for theorizing about what human rights are. My goal is to explore a case study method for theorizing about human rights, to see what we can learn from looking at how a specific case in international human rights law might be relevant to philosophical theorizing. The particular theoretical issue of interest in this paper is whether and how to justify the existence of human rights to substantive (not merely formal) social and political equality for women, with a focus on rights against rape and sexual assault. Bringing these two strands together, I consider what lessons we can draw from a landmark case for women in international law: the Akayesu case before the International Criminal Court for Rwanda. I'll argue that an analysis of this case provides some empirically-grounded reasons (in addition to other more theoretical reasons) for calling into question some familiar arguments against the existence of robust human rights to substantive social and political equality.


October 5, 9:00am–6:00pm: Workshop on Hume's Philosophy (Undergraduate Library, 3rd Floor, Community Room—NOTE UNUSUAL TIME AND LOCATION)

Speakers: Donald C. Ainslie (Toronto), Rachel Cohon (University at Albany), Jonny Cottrell (Wayne State), Don Garrett (NYU), Lauren Kopajtic (Columbia)


October 18: John Corvino (Wayne State), "Masterpiece Cakeshop, Sexual-Orientation Discrimination, and the Metaphysics of Cakes" (Undergraduate Library, 3rd Floor, Community Room—NOTE UNUSUAL LOCATION)

Abstract: In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to create a cake for a same-sex wedding despite a state law prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination in public accommodations. In the concurrences, especially those of Kagan and Gorsuch, there is a lively debate about what counts as denying "the same cake" to different customers. In this paper I explore that question.


November 16: Alexander Nehamas (Princeton), Seymour Riklin Memorial Lecture (Bernath Auditorium—NOTE UNUSUAL LOCATION)


November 29: Paul Taylor (Penn State), Philosophy and African American Studies joint event


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