Department of Philosophy

Colloquium Series: 2020-2021

Talks will be on Zoom on Fridays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted. Events are updated throughout the semester. Please check back often.

Fall 2020

November 6, 2020

Professor Amijee, Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, will be speaking on:

Why Inquiry Commits Us To The Principle of Sufficient Reason

According to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (‘PSR’), every fact has an explanation for why it obtains. I argue that we ought to be committed to this principle because it is indispensable to what I call ‘structural inquiry’, a species of inquiry whose participants seek explanations for facts. I first show that participating in structural inquiry commits one to the PSR. I then show that we ought to participate in structural inquiry, and so ought to be committed to the PSR. My argument parallels explanatory indispensability arguments in the philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of science: just as these other arguments support an ontological commitment to mathematical or scientific entities, I show that a practical indispensability argument applied to inquiry supports a commitment to the PSR.  

November 20, 2020

Professor Gartner, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wellesley College, will be speaking on,

Seneca on Anger, Revenge, and Punishment

I first reconstruct Seneca’s cognitivist account of anger, explaining why, according to the
stoics, anger is never rational. Once we understand why the stoic sage will not be subject to anger, I
present a worry for Seneca’s view: given that the sage cannot be harmed, what justifies the sage in
punishing wrongdoers, or those who sought to cause her harm? I then explicate Seneca’s stance on
punishment, which he analogizes to medical treatment. Permissible punishment is always forwardlooking, aimed at correction and rehabilitation of the soul, though he allows a role for deterrence.

Finally, I consider two objections from the perspective of Seneca’s Aristotelian opponents—
objections which we are likely to share. We might worry that, while it can be taken to excess, anger
can serve as a useful tool, motivationally, as well as in rectification and remediation, and that,
consequences aside, anger is sometimes an appropriate response to injustice. However, Seneca
argues in reply, given the ubiquity and severity of injustice one encounters in the world, once we
accept that the virtuous agent will rightly experience anger at injustice, we end up with a chronically
irate moral exemplar (On Anger 1.14.1). Even if we concede this rather unpalatable consequence, and
allow that the virtuous agent might have an angry and miserable life, Aristotle cannot, since he
conceives of virtue as a component of well-being. In sketching Seneca’s theory of anger and treating
these objections, I hope to suggest that this prima facie counterintuitive view has more to recommend
it than it might initially seem.

Spring 2021

February 5, 2021

Professor Ritchie is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. She will be speaking on...

Essentializing Inferences

Predicate nominals (e.g., ‘is a female’) seem to label and categorize their subjects, while their predicate adjective correlates (e.g, ‘is female’) merely attribute a property. Predicate nominals also elicit essentializing judgments about inductive potential as well as stable and explanatory membership. Semantic data and research from developmental and cognitive psychology support that this distinction is robust and productive. I argue that while the difference between predicate nominals and predicate adjectives is elided by standard semantic theories, it ought not be. I then develop and defend a psychologically motivated semantic account that takes predicate nominals to involve attributing kind membership and to trigger a presupposition that underpins our essentialist judgments

March 5, 2021

Professor Morton is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a senior fellow at the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She will be speaking on...

 Resisting Pessimism Traps: The Limits of Epistemic Resilience

Members of marginalized groups who desire to pursue ambitious ends that might lead them to overcome disadvantage often face evidential situations that do not support the belief that they will succeed. Such agents might decide, reasonably, that their efforts are better expended elsewhere. If an agent has a less risky, valuable alternative, then quitting can be a rational way of avoiding the potential costs of failure. However, in reaching this pessimistic conclusion, she adds to the evidence that formed the basis for her pessimism in the first place, not just for herself but for future agents who will be in a similar position as hers. This is a pessimism trap. Might believing optimistically against the evidence offer a way out? In this paper, I argue against practical and moral arguments to turn to optimism as a solution to pessimism traps. I suggest that these theories ignore the opportunity costs that agents pay when they settle on difficult long-term ends without being sensitive to evidence of potential failure. The view I defend licenses optimism in a narrow range of cases. I suggest that the right response to many pessimism traps is not to be found through individual epistemic resilience.

March 19, 2021

Professor Tal is a visiting assistant professor at Brandeis University, Department of Philosophy. He is interested in Epistemology, Metaphysics, Epistemic Normativity, Formal Epistemology, Epistemological Theories, Skepticism, History of Western Philosophy, and Philosophy of Psychiatry. He will be speaking on:

Epistemic Akrasia: Irrational or Worse?

Epistemically akratic agents believe both p and that believing p is irrational for them. Some of the costs of thinking that epistemic akrasia can be rational are clear. It is hypocritical, and outright weird, to have beliefs that we consider irrational, let alone to reason with or act on those beliefs. However, as Maria Lasonen-Aarnio (2018) and Brian Weatherson (2019) have argued, the weirdness of akrasia does not obviously tell against its rationality. Here I argue that views permitting epistemic akrasia fare worse than previously thought. These views imply that we should sometimes have beliefs that we know for certain are either irrational or false. And while having a belief that we know to be irrational is straightforwardly irrational, the additional possibility that the belief may be false cannot make having it any more rational.

April 23, 2021

Professor Dreier is the Judy C. Lewent and Mark L. Shapiro Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. His research lies in the areas of metaethics, moral theories, and decision theory.  Some of his recent graduate seminars have been about moral realism, expressivism, and measuring value. He will be speaking on:

Do de re necessities express semantic rules?

Amie Thomasson’s Modal Normativism offers a broadly expressivist, pragmatist account of the meaning of metaphysical modality claims in terms of semantic norms that we express when we make these claims. Thomasson addresses the problem of accounting for claims of de re necessity, famously leveled against mid-twentieth century conventionalist theories of modal talk, by restoring conceptual content to names and natural kind terms, and introducing conditional norms into their semantics. I argue that the plan fails, and investigate the prospects of fixing it.