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Programme seminar series (2022): abstracts

June 1

TITLE: Is Reasoning a Mental Action?

SPEAKER: Zach Swindlehurst (Australian National University)

It is widely taken for granted that reasoning (or inferring) is something that you actively do rather than something that merely happens to you. According to the mental action thesis, reasoning is a form of mental agency and thus a mental action. This paper reconstructs two prominent lines of argument for the mental action thesis and argues that they fail, before suggesting that the sort of agency at work in reasoning is of a more deflationary nature. First, there is the taking argument, according to which reasoning is a mental action because it necessarily requires you to take your premises to support your conclusion and to draw your conclusion because of this fact. Second, there is the rule-following argument, according to which reasoning is a mental action because it is a form of rule-following. But both arguments fail to substantiate an important distinction between mental action, on the one hand, and mere mental activity, on the other. The two arguments show, at most, that reasoning involves mental activity; they do not show that it is a mental action. The upshot is that we have no grounds for thinking that the kind of agency involved in reasoning goes beyond the kind of agency involved in responding to reasons (and responding to reasons as reasons).

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, June 1; in Otago Business School seminar room 1.19

May 18

TITLE: Objective List Theory

SPEAKER: Andrew Moore (Otago)

Derek Parfit presents Objective List Theory (OLT) as the claim that certain things are good or bad for us, whether or not we would want to have the good things, or to avoid the bad things. Guided by core ideas in Parfit’s account, this talk aims to make OLT more determinate, and more sharply contrastive with its subjectivist rivals. It also engages with other influential commentators analysts of OLT, including Arneson, Bradley, Lin, and Fletcher.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, May 18; in Otago Business School seminar room 1.19


May 11

TITLE: Human Essence in Spinoza's Ethics

SPEAKER: Michael LeBuffe (Otago)

I hope to arrive at a better understanding of Spinoza’s accounts of humanity in the Ethics by means of an emphasis on the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles (PII): "Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another either by a difference in the attributes of substances or else by a difference in their affections" (E1p4). Attention to the PII in the argument of the Ethics suggests, I argue, that Spinoza takes human essence to be a single, real thing.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, May 11; in Otago Business School seminar room 1.19


May 4

TITLE: Revision without revision?

SPEAKER: Zach Weber (Otago)

Paraconsistency in mathematics allows some contradictions. Classical mathematics does not. So there is a natural sense in which paraconsistency is revisionary, challenging or rejecting some aspects of conventionally accepted wisdom. Surprisingly, though, most of the (few) people who have worked in paraconsistent maths have not advocated for revisionism; they suggest various ways it is more conservative after all, and seek instead reassurance that no classical mathematics is lost. In this talk I consider whether paraconsistent maths is best thought of as revisionary, or not, by considering two detailed case studies in logic and computability theory. I argue that, if the paraconsistentist pursues revision without revision, this provides reassurance without reassurance.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, May 4; in Tower Block Lecture Room TG08 (155 Union Street East)


April 27

TITLE: Ways of Knowing: Posing the Question (moved from Weds 30 March)

SPEAKER: Greg Dawes (Otago)

Philosophers commonly regard truth as a necessary condition for knowledge. But this makes it difficult to make sense of the idea that there can be different ways of knowing. On this view, facts are facts, one either knows them or not. The paper examines this argument and outlines a way in which it could be answered. It offers an alternative understanding of what it is to know that allows radically different ways of representing reality to be instances of knowledge.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, April 27; in Richardson 7N10


March 9

TITLE: What Thrasymachus Should have Said

SPEAKER: Charles Pigden (Otago)

ABSTRACT: In the Republic Thrasymachus argues that ‘justice is the advantage of the stronger’, that is that the laws and conventions governing a society support the interests of  the rulers or the ruling class.   Hence acting justly – obeying those laws and customs of one's society in one's dealings with other people – is not necessarily, not usually or maybe not even ever in an agent’s best interests. This is a problem for Plato who wants to prove that it necessarily pays to be just. So his spokesman Socrates leads Thrasymachus into a trap.  Suppose (as surely happens from time to time) the rulers make a mistake and enact laws (or foster customs) that are not in their best interests. In that case justice won’t be to  ‘the advantage of the stronger’ and their subjects’ acting justly won’t be in the rulers’ best interests. Clitophon offers Thrasymachus a lifeline. Perhaps justice is what the stronger think is in their interests. But Thrasymachus won’t have a bar of it. If a ruler makes a law or issues an order that is not in his interests he thereby ceases to be a real ruler. So justice is always  to the advantage of the stronger , since if it isn’t, the stronger cease to be strong. This is both decidedly silly and gets him into a lot of dialectical trouble. I suggest on Thrasymachus’ behalf a Darwinian response which entails that justice is usually or at least often to ‘the advantage of the stronger’. This in turn in entails that it does not necessarily pay to be just, which negates Plato’s desired conclusion. My reconstructed Thrasymachus will be less of a proto-fascist and more of a radical democrat  than Plato’s Thrasymachus appears to have been.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, March 9, via Zoom


March 2

TITLE: Naturalising the Philosophy of Time

SPEAKER: Heather Dyke (Otago)

ABSTRACT: In the debate between the A-theory and the B-theory it is generally agreed on all sides that the B-theory, unlike the A-theory, is at least consistent with what physics tells us about time. The B-theory therefore looks to be the best candidate for a naturalistic metaphysical theory of time. However, the B-theory is prima facie inconsistent with our ordinary experience of time, which tells us that there is a privileged present moment, and that time flows. In this paper I argue that the B-theory can incorporate a naturalistic account of our ordinary temporal experience, and so offers a complete, naturalised metaphysics of time that coheres with both physics and temporal experience.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, March 2, via Zoom