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)


  • 9:00–10:15: Donald C. Ainslie (Toronto), "Hume and Motives to Justice"
  • 10:45–noon: Rachel Cohon (Albany), "Promise and Practice in Hume's Treatise"
  • 1:30–2:45: Lauren Kopajtic (Columbia), "A Missing Shade of the Blues? Hume and Varieties of Emotional Experience"
  • 3:00–4:15: Jonny Cottrell (Wayne State), "What is Humean Reasoning?"
  • 4:45–6:00: Don Garrett (NYU), "Skepticism Meets Dogmatism: Evidence and the Correction of Doubts in Hume's Enquiry"


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, "Metaphors in Our Lives: 'I Love You for Yourself'" (Bernath Auditorium—NOTE UNUSUAL LOCATION)

Abstract: What is the difference between our impersonal relationships, like the relationship we have with a barber or a waiter, and the relationships we have with our friends? A central difference is that we can explain what it is that we like about a particular barber or waiter but we find it close to impossible to explain exactly why we love our friends: nothing we say comes close to expressing the depth of our feelings. One way we express this difficulty is to say, for example, "I like my barber because of the way he cuts my hair," which is clear and informative, while the best we can do with our friends is to say that we like (or love) them "for themselves," which is cryptic and obscure. What, then, is it exactly that we love when we love our friends for themselves? What is the self that we love? That is the question this lecture will try to answer.


November 29: Paul Taylor (Penn State), "The Ferguson Rebellion, Five Years On; or, Philosophy and the Event, American-Style" (Philosophy and African American Studies joint event—location TBD)

Abstract: Next year will mark the fifth anniversary of the day Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In the aftermath of that day, "Ferguson" seemed to be the name not just of a place but also of an event, in the fullest sense of that term. The word stood for something momentous, like Appomattox or Selma or Stonewall (the inn and the 1969 riots, not the man). It marked one of those periodic occasions that push people to reflect on the demands of justice, the art of living well, and the burdens of living well together. Now, though, every passing day presents some new outrage or controversy that pushes this occasion farther away from the living present, and threatens to diminish its claim to relevance.

"The Ferguson Rebellion, Five Years On" explains what it means to treat Ferguson as an event, and to take that event seriously even now as a contemporary barometer of important social conditions. The temptation to forget is dangerous, but it is also entirely predictable in light of the conditions that Ferguson brought to light. Provoked but not constrained by Alain Badiou's influential work on the philosophy of the event, this talk will build on suggestions from Alice Walker and James Baldwin to suggest an approach to the upheavals in Ferguson that is both appropriate to the moment and properly responsive to the burdens of ethical life.

 ↑ back to top