Philosophy Talks

Everyone is welcome to attend our talks. Refreshments are available before the talks, so come early, get acquainted, and have a bite to eat! The talks are 50 minutes in length, followed by a short break and then 30 minutes of Q&A. Unless otherwise specified, talks are held at 5:00 pm in B316 Tribble Hall.

Please call (336) 758-5359 if you will require special assistance.

Spring 2016

February 11 Kate Withy, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University
“The Self-Concealing of Being”

Martin Heidegger says a lot of mysterious things about being – and in particular about being’s mysteriousness. Readers of his work tend to stick with Heidegger’s own vocabulary, saying that being is intrinsically self-concealing, but they do not generally try to say what this really means or why it should be so. I will remedy this by explaining what it means to say that being conceals itself, and I will offer a reason for thinking that being does indeed conceal itself.

February 25  L. A. Paul, Professor of Philosophy at UNC-Chapel Hill
Paper Title: “Preference Capture”

Big life decisions are naturally framed using the first personal point of view, where we mentally model or imaginatively project different future lived experiences. Such decisions are often understood as depending on judgments about what these subjective futures will be like for us and for those around us. I will explore the way that making transformative decisions from this perspective can put us in the position of regarding our future selves as irrational, or at least, as epistemically and psychologically alien to our current perspective.

March 3  Marc Lange, Theda Perdue Distinguished Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill
Paper Title: “What is Explanation in Mathematics?”

There has long appeared to be a distinction in mathematical practice between proofs that explain why some theorem holds and proofs that merely prove some theorem without giving any reason why it holds. No one really understands the grounds of this (apparent) distinction! I will offer some examples and try to make some progress toward understanding it. No background (mathematical, philosophical, or otherwise) will be presupposed; the talk will give us an opportunity to brainstorm together. Topics that will arise include unification in mathematics, simplicity, mathematically natural properties, and mathematical coincidences.

March 24  Kwong-Loi Shun, Professor of Philosophy at University of California, Berkeley
Paper Title: “Ethics without Forgiveness”

In the Confucian ethical tradition, there is no concept of forgiveness, understood as a process of overcoming resentment or other forms of first personal anger through active efforts directed to altering the way one views and feels about the offender, the agent of wrongful injury of which one is the victim. What is it like to have an ethical view that does not work with a concept of forgiveness, and what are the grounds for such an ethical view?

The paper begins by arguing against ethical views that idealize forgiveness in the sense of regarding the readiness to forgive, in general or only under certain conditions, as a virtue. It then presents an ethical view that does not idealize forgiveness and that is grounded in certain ideas central to Confucian thought. On this ethical view, the virtuous person is above resentment and has no need to forgive; for someone less than virtuous and subject to sentiments of resentment, such sentiments are more appropriately addressed through a process of psychological inner-management than through forgiveness. While the main body of the discussion will be based primarily on philosophical considerations, the paper will conclude with a discussion of the Confucian roots of its main ideas.

April 7  T.M. Scanlon, Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity at Harvard University
Paper Title: “Tolerance and Immigration”

Professor T. M. Scanlon is the Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is one of the most important contemporary philosophers working in the areas of moral and political philosophy. In additional to the contractualist moral theory expounded in his major work, What We Owe to Each Other, Professor Scanlon is also well-known for his work in a wide range of topics including freedom of expression, the nature of rights, conceptions of welfare, theories of justice, tolerance, contract, responsibility and realism about reasons. Professor Scanlon has lectured at many universities all over the world. He delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford in 2010. In 1993 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (popularly known as “the Genius Grant”).

April 19 Robert Audi, John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy, Notre Dame University
“Toward a Theory of Deep Disagreement: Structure, Elements, and Paths to Resolution”

Disagreement is not necessarily a bad thing, but in the contemporary world it is frequently bitter and too often has bad consequences. Political and religious disagreements—though not the only important kinds—are pervasive and often violent. The kind of disagreement we most often find is more than a manifestation of pluralism. Some of the deep disagreements found in the contemporary world often bespeak not just difference in outlook and commitment but also fragmentation.  What might philosophical reflection contribute to finding a way to reduce disagreement where it threatens civic harmony?  This paper attempts to make such a contribution, particularly for cases in which disagreement concerns religion in relation to law-making. It does this by clarifying the nature of disagreement itself, identifying the main elements determining depth of disagreement, presenting a sharable moral framework as potential common ground in disagreements, and articulating a principle of tolerance for cases in which disagreement cannot be resolved.


Fall 2015

October 8  Win-chiat Lee, Professor of Philosophy and Chair, Wake Forest University
“Anarchy, World State and International Criminal Law”

International criminal law (ICL) is enforced through the exercise of jurisdiction that lacks political authority. In that sense it is anarchic. However, it does not follow that ICL is illegitimate. The legitimacy of the universal jurisdiction exercised in ICL is based on the legitimacy of vigilantism where there is no relevant legitimate political authority to address problems of impunity. Nor is ICL necessarily anarchic in the sense of being disorderly. Legitimate vigilantism is subject to ethical constraints that explain certain orderly features of international criminal law. Vigilantism, even when practiced within ethical bounds, still creates problems of injustice. That is what justifies the existence of the state and its exercise of political authority to begin with. However, we cannot overcome the problems of possible injustice associated with ICL by entering into a world state that has political authority over all of the states and all of humanity.

October 22  Agnes Callard, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago
“Can You Choose Who To Be?”

How do we acquire our deepest commitments, values, and ideals? On the one hand, it seems we cannot rationally choose our new values. For what could be the basis for such a choice? If the answer is that we had a prior commitment to a value entailing the new one, then the question simply gets pushed back: how did we acquire that commitment? If the choice has no rational basis, then it does not seem that the acquisition of the value is truly an expression of our agency. And this is equivalent to saying that our values are something that happen to us rather than the products of anything that we do. In this talk, I defend the view that we do indeed have a hand in answering the question as to what things in the world are important to us; and that our answers need not be, and typically are not, arbitrary or random. I will show this can be done without inviting a regress as to how we arrived at the materials for generating the answers we give.

November 5  Amie Thomasson, Professor of Philosophy and Cooper Fellow at the University of Miami
“What Can We Do, When We Do Metaphysics?”

November 12  Sharon Street, Associate Professor of Philosophy at New York University
“Constructivism in Ethics and the Problem of Attachment and Loss”


Spring 2015

February 12  Ann Cudd, University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of Kansas
“What is Equality in Higher Education?” — CANCELLED

March 26  Jon Garthoff, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Tennessee
“Animal Punishment”

An account of punishment must confront the fact that we punish creatures, such as dogs and one-year-old children, who lack the capacities of reflection and critical reason. These are ordinary instances of punishment, not deviant cases or mere metaphors. In this essay I distinguish three categories of animals by their respective mental capacities and I discuss the different types of punishment appropriate for animals of each category.

This exercise has multiple purposes. One is to illuminate the punishment of animals, a neglected domain of ethics. A second purpose is to illuminate each type of punishment through comparison and contrast with the others. This forestalls the overintellectualization of punishment in general due to viewing humans as the only paradigm and forestalls the underintellectualization of human punishment due to making no essential reference to their critically rational capacities. A third purpose is to argue that these observations support a unified account of human punishment, an account where the three traditional justifications for punishment – retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation – are united by a single overarching purpose.

April 9  Susanna Siegel, Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University
“Salience Norms” – CANCELLED

We evaluate newspapers according to two dimensions: whether their stories are well-researched and accurate (did the reporter check their facts?), and which stories they choose to print in the first place (are the stories relevant to the public? newsworthy? important?). Could an analogous distinction apply to the representational states in an individual’s mind? We use epistemic norms to evaluate beliefs according to whether they are true and well-founded.

But discussions of which thoughts should populate the mind in the first place are far less common in epistemology. I discuss whether there are norms of salience that apply to the mind, and if so, what kinds of norms these might be.

April 23 Nicholas Smith, Instructor in Philosophy, Wake Forest University
“Rightness as Overall Virtuousness”

The target-centered account of right action, a creation of Christine Swanton, is, for at least three reasons, a highly promising candidate for the most plausible virtue-ethical account of right action.  The target-centered account claims that an action is right just in case it is overall virtuous and that an action’s hitting the target of a virtue contributes to its being overall virtuous while an action’s missing the target of a virtue contributes to its being non-overall-virtuous.  In this paper, I focus on the target-centered account’s claim that an action is right just in case it is overall virtuous – the claim that makes the target-centered account a virtue-ethical account of right action but that can be consistently denied by virtue ethicists.  I argue that this claim is attractive by showing both that it is well-motivated and that it can be successfully defended from important objections.

Fall 2014

  • September 25: Stavroula Glezakos – Associate Professor/Associate Chair of Philosophy, Wake Forest University

“Harmful Words”

In this talk, I will argue that, contrary to the well-known saying, words can sometimes hurt us. Moreover, a word can harm even if its user does not intend any harm in using it. My aim will be to explain why this is the case, to show that the class of harmful words is, unfortunately, wider than we perhaps recognize, and to consider what options might be available to those who wish to avoid causing such harm.

  • October 15: Christine Swanton – Department of Philosophy, University of Auckland, New Zealand

‘Dwelling Love’

What has been called by Julian Young Heidegger’s ‘ethics of dwelling’ has been deployed in the service of environmental ethics. In the analytic tradition environmental ethics is characteristically understood as a species of applied ethics, but Heidegger’s views on dwelling are fundamental to his philosophy as a whole, since for him, the essence of human beings is to dwell. If we do not properly dwell, realize our essence as dwellers, we have a fundamentally wrong orientation or attunement to the world as a whole. This paper explores this attunement: “dwelling love.”

  • October 30: Alison Denham – Associate Professor, Tulane University

“Representing Ethical Estrangement: Pictures, Poetry & Epistemic Value”

Contemporary meta-ethics has developed under the spectre of moral nihilism: scepticism about the very existence of moral values. However, it has seldom addressed the experience of such scepticism – the first-personal loss of, or estrangement from, our most fundamental evaluative commitments.  That task has typically been left to the arts.  I examine how certain artworks exploit strategies of ‘experiencing-as’ and ‘experience-taking’ to convey the phenemenological dimensions of evaluative thought.  I introduce the phenomenon of ethical estrangement as it is articulated by the essayist and survivor, Jean Amery.  I then turn to a work of visual art by Anselm Kiefer, the installation Chevirat Ha Kelim and a related poem by Paul Celan, Psalm. I argue that the epistemic value of these works turns in part on their use of aesthetic form to reorient the spectator’s first-personal perceptual and affective responses.

  • December 4: Rebecca Copenhaver – Professor of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

Spring 2014

  • January 23: Our first talk of the semester, “An Argument for Open Borders,” will be presented by Professor Chris Freiman of William and Mary. Professor Freiman will be a guest of our Philosophy Club, who chose him as their speaker of the year. An event not to be missed!

Abstract: I argue that, all else equal, immigration restriction and deportation are prima facie wrongs of the same magnitude and for the same reason. Consequently, there is an equal presumption against both. I then argue that many of the principles invoked to defeat this presumption and thus to justify immigration restriction also justify the deportation of at least some citizens and nationals. Given that deporting these citizens and nationals on the basis of the proposed principles is intuitively impermissible, we should reject the principles and, in turn, immigration restriction.

  • February 6: Rebecca Kukla, Georgetown University. “Medicalization, ‘Normal Function’, and the Definition of Health”

Abstract: The concept of health is surprisingly difficult to define in a rigorous and satisfying way. I argue that biologically based ‘normal function’ accounts and thoroughgoing social constructionist accounts of health are both deeply unsatisfying, particularly if we want the concept of health to play a substantial role in policy and social justice projects. I propose what I call an ‘institutional’ definition of health, and argue that it retains the objectivity that is appealing in biological accounts, along with the social constructionists’ important insight that health and disease are partially constituted by social context and by contingent, historical processes of medicalization.

  • February 20: Steve Nadler, University of Wisconsin. “Why Was Spinoza Excommunicated?”

Abstract: In July of 1656, the twenty-three year old Baruch de Spinoza received the harshest writ of herem (excommunication) ever issued by the Amsterdam Portuguese-Jewish congregation. Full of vitriol and curses, the ban was final; Spinoza never reconciled with his community. But why was Spinoza punished with such extreme prejudice? The ban document mentions only his “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds”, without telling us what exactly they are. Spinoza had not yet published anything. So there is a bit of a mystery here. On the other hand, for anyone familiar with his mature philosophical treatises, there really can be no mystery as to why one of history’s most original and radical thinkers was ostracized by Amsterdam’s rabbis and the Jewish community’s lay leaders. In this talk, we will look at some of the main theses of Spinoza’s philosophy, in order to get a better sense of what so troubled his contemporaries.

  • March 20: Robert Audi, University of Notre Dame. “Aesthetics as a Foil for Ethics: Generality and Justification in Moral and Aesthetic Judgment”

Abstract: Moral properties such as being wrong or being obligatory are not brute; they are based on other kinds of properties, such as (for acts) being a lie or being promised. Aesthetic properties such as being graceful or being beautiful are similar to moral properties in being based on other kinds of properties, but they are different in that, for aesthetic cases, it may be impossible to specify just what these grounding properties are. Does any single property ground poetic beauty in the way promising to do something grounds obligation to do it?

If aesthetic properties do differ from moral properties in this way, may we conclude that, although ethics is like aesthetics in being a realm of intuitive and perceptual knowledge–or at least intuitive and perceptual sensitivity–it is unlike aesthetics in being a realm of rules and guiding principles that connect grounding properties with aesthetic properties? Are there any such generalities in aesthetics, or even aesthetic generalities connecting aesthetic properties with other aesthetic properties? If there are, how much like or unlike rules and principles in ethics are they?

This presentation will explore all these questions in the light of examples from the arts, with poetry as the main case study.

  • March 27: Kieran Setiya, University of Pittsburgh. “Does Moral Theory Corrupt Youth?”

Abstract: Moral theory corrupts the youth. The epistemic assumptions of moral theory deprive us of resources needed to resist the challenge of moral disagreement, which its practice at the same time makes vivid. The talk concludes by sketching a kind of epistemology that could respond to disagreement without skepticism: one in which the fundamental standards of justification for moral belief are biased towards the truth.

  • April 3: Steve Grimm, Fordham University. “What Is Wisdom?”

Abstract: What is it that makes someone wise, or one person wiser than another? I try to explain what it is that the wise person knows in a way that sheds light on these questions. I also try to explain why contemporary philosophers have had so little to say about wisdom, in contrast to their ancient and medieval predecessors.

Description: Knippers is a well known representational artist who often paints Biblical scenes.  His work has sometimes been controversial because these scenes regularly depict the biblical characters in the nude.  Indeed, his work has been called sacrilegious by some religious observers.  On the other hand, many critics find the depiction of traditional Christian themes outdated or otherwise objectionable.  In this discussion, we will talk with Mr. Knippers about art, sacrilege, modernism, interpretation, and other ideas central to both art and philosophy.

  • April 25: The talk by Professor Verity Harte of Yale University, has been canceled.

Fall 2013

  • October 17: Kit Wellman, Washington University in St. Louis. “Procedural Rights”

I will argue that, absent special circumstances, there are no moral, judicial procedural rights.  I divide this essay into four main sections. First I argue that there is no general moral right against double jeopardy.  Next I explain why punishing a criminal without first establishing her guilt via a fair trial does not necessarily violate her rights.  In the third section I respond to a number of possible objections.  Finally, (if time permits) I consider the implications of my arguments for the human right to due process.

  • November 1: Kevin Schilbrack, Western Carolina University. “Religious Disagreement as a Process.” Co-sponsored with Department of Religion. Please note that this talk will be held at 3:30 pm in Wingate 302.

Abstract: Given the cultural and ideological divisions of the present day, disagreement has become an important topic among philosophers.  In this paper, I propose that philosophers study disagreement not simply as a static conflict between those who hold contradictory views, but also as a navigable process of cognitive dissonance and its resolution.  Doing so lets us see that important philosophical questions about disagreement arise not only when the disagreement is between epistemic peers, but also earlier in the process before one has assessed the other’s evidence or logic.  In this paper, I argue that even before one has assessed the other’s reasons, the mere fact of disagreement usually ought to move a person to reduce confidence in one’s belief.  I defend this claim and show its implications for religious disagreements.

  • November 7: Sarah Robins, University of Kansas. “Remembering, Relearning, and (Temporarily) Forgetting”

What does remembering require? It is common to think that remembering requires not only an accurate representation of a past event, but also a representation that is brought about in the right way. According to the Causal Theory of Memory (CTM), the right way involves a memory trace. But what are memory traces? Recently, Bernecker (2010) has proposed that memory traces are mental states that form an uninterrupted causal chain between learning and remembering. I argue that this view cannot distinguish remembering from relearning, or tell the difference between temporarily and permanently forgetting something. I conclude by presenting an alternative view of memory traces as capacities.

  • November 14: Valerie Tiberius, University of Minnesota. “Well-Being as Value Fulfillment: an Argument for Well-being Holism”

In this talk I present an overview of a theory of well-being that takes values rather than desires or preferences to be the key to well-being. According to the value fulfillment theory, a person’s life goes well to the extent that she pursues and fulfills or realizes things that she values where those values are emotionally suitable and seen by the person to make her life go well. This theory is holistic in the sense that it takes the contribution of individual moments of fulfillment to well-being to be determined by their role in an overall “value-full” life. I argue for holism on the grounds that a holistic theory provides us with the right critical perspective on our current desires and values.