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Programme seminar series (2023): abstracts

October 11

TITLE: Revisiting Hume on Causation

SPEAKER: Alex Miller

In this talk, I’ll return to some of the issues discussed in my chapter on “Hume: Necessary Connections and Distinct Existences”, in the Routledge Companion to Metaphysics (2009). Assuming that Hume is an opponent of causal realism, what kind of non-realist view about causal judgement should he be regarded as supporting? I’ll suggest that there is at least a prima facie case for viewing him as a kind of Subjectivist Anti-Realist about causation (as opposed to viewing him as a Projectivist or as an Error-Theorist). I’ll also suggest that on one influential construal of Subjectivist Anti-Realism, Hume’s Subjectivism about causation would be undermined by some of the commitments he makes in his theory of concepts and representation.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, October 11, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

September 27

TITLE: Science Supervenes on Metaphysics

SPEAKER: Heather Dyke and James Maclaurin

We revisit the contentious relationship between science and metaphysics, reasserting our earlier view that much of analytic metaphysics is untethered from science in an unhelpful way. In this new paper we develop and defend a new account of the relationship between science and naturalistic metaphysics. We begin by disentangling characterisations of metaphysics in terms of methodology and subject matter. We argue that a recent focus on methodology is a red herring, and has led the discussion badly astray. In our view, metaphysics is better characterised in terms of its subject matter. We build on work by Guay and Pradeu (2020), showing how issues of methodology, subject matter, and aim, interact to produce a much more detailed, nuanced, and productive account of metaphysics. Finally we develop our account of the relationship between science and metaphysics: science supervenes on metaphysics.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, September 27, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

September 20

TITLE: Sand as Subject

SPEAKER: Christine Winter (Politics, Otago)

Sand is a stand-in metaphor for the uncountable, the numerically huge, the infinite. Time passes like sand in an hourglass; and the disintegration of mountains to sand denotes the passage of long-time; or it can represent the ephemeral short-lived – written in sand; and the insecure – like quicksand; it even denotes the abrasive – a tongue like sandpaper. It is not a single grain of sand to which these metaphors attend, but rather sand en masse. That construction sand (en masse) is one of the world’s most rapidly depleting resources is well known.  That the conditions of its extraction trigger concerns of environmental, ecological and social justice are matters of increasing attention. Here I want to invert that gaze and focus on the subjectivity of sand. I ask: can sand be a subject of multispecies justice? I will argue that relationality can ground the idea of sand’s subjectivity.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, September 20, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

September 13

TITLE: Why we should be sceptical about internalism

SPEAKER: Neil Pickering (Bioethics, Otago)

Internalism is – on most accounts – the view that only the processes of decision-making are relevant when it comes to questions of decision-making competence.  This view is opposed to an alternative approach which is called externalism, which claims that we should expect higher decision-making standards of someone who is proposing to make a harmful choice.

Now, in fact, internalists typically make two claims: (1) That to assess someone’s decision-making competence we should attend only to their decision-making processes (and not at all to the outcomes of their decisions):  let’s call this the process claim.  And (2) that externalism is unacceptably paternalist by using values other than those of the decider to decide what is harmful:  let’s call this the values alignment claim.

Internalists regularly parade these two claims as if the first provided a basis for making competence assessments, and as if they were consistent with one another.  We will seek to make the case that it doesn’t, and they aren’t.

The process claim doesn’t provide a basis for assessment of decision-making competence because it fails to provide any standards by which competence can be judged.

And the process and the values alignment claims aren’t consistent with one another because the focus on the processes of decision making alone (claim 1) rules out any attention to values alignment (claim 2); and the values alignment claim, particularly if it is taken to provide a basis for competence assessment itself (which internalists do) rules out the need to look at decision-making processes.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, September 13, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

September 6

TITLE: Teaching Global Philosophy of Religion through Anselm’s Modal Ontological Argument

SPEAKER: Tim Mulgan (University of Auckland, University of St Andrews)

I am developing a new undergraduate philosophy of religion course at Auckland that is designed as a pluralist introduction to the work of philosophers operating within various religious traditions. The course explores two main topics: the nature of ultimate reality and life after death. In relation to ultimate reality, I contrast two particular philosophers: Anselm (1033-1109) and Nagarjuna (flourished 2nd century AD). Each is a monk – one Christian, one Buddhist – doing philosophy in a specific religious and philosophical context. Both rely on imagination, contemplation, and meditation as guides to possibility. Both are unquestionably doing philosophy and religion.

This talk focuses on the first part of the course, where I attempt to spin as many important debates in philosophy and religion as possible out of Anselm’s notorious ‘modal ontological argument’:
-    P1: God is the perfect being.
-    P2: The perfect being is a necessary being.
-    P3: The perfect being is possible.
-    Therefore, God exists.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, September 6, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

August 23

TITLE: The interpretation problems of quantum theory from the perspective of non-classical logics

SPEAKER: Fernando Cano-Jorge (postdoctoral fellow, Philosophy, University of Otago)

There are several competing interpretations of quantum theory, each with its own philosophical commitments, and there is no agreement in the scientific community regarding which of them are the best accounts of the dynamics and nature of objects and their interaction at the most basic level. The commitments of these interpretations involve taking some stance on debates like determinism vs. indeterminism, realism vs. idealism, skepticism vs. omniscience, platonism vs. fictionalism, and many more, whence naturalistic philosophers expecting to get some insight about ontology from this theory may be disappointed. To make things worse, it is known that standard quantum theory and general relativity theory are incompatible, and yet both have experimental support and well established predictive power, which deeply troubled Einstein and his colleagues. Since quantum theory seems to be the most unorthodox or perplexing theory, it has attracted the interest of logicians since the 80s. However, such approaches limited themselves to some particular algebraic structures; moreover, about 40 years later, we now know more about non-classical logics which can do a good job at revisiting quantum theory and explaining why classical logic cannot be the underlying logic of this physical theory and its mathematics. In this talk I will outline some of the problems involved in these discussions and present the most important results I obtained by the end of my PhD.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, August 23, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

August 16

TITLE: Epistemic Impartiality and Inquiry

SPEAKER: Jack Warman (Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington)

Impartiality is often cited as a virtue of inquiry, but it’s not clear what it means for an inquiry to be impartial. I think impartiality is ultimately a matter of fairness.  I defend a novel account of epistemic impartiality, according to which an inquiry is epistemically impartial if and only if its design and execution are influenced fairly by considerations about the interests of the parties that will be affected by the epistemic outcomes of the inquiry.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, August 16, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

August 2

TITLE: Endocrine state is the physical manifestation of subjective beliefs

SPEAKER: Trent Smith (Economics, Otago)

Over the past two decades, economists have begun to incorporate evidence from neuroscience into applied economic research. While some progress has been made, the wider economics profession has yet to embrace the new field of ‘‘neuroeconomics.’’ I argue here that a broad reconciliation of emerging evidence from neuroscience with conventional economic decision theory can be achieved by emphasizing the critical role of neuroendocrine signaling molecules and their receptors. Many of these molecules are amenable to measurement and manipulation in laboratory settings, and most have – when viewed in light of their natural history – a parsimonious interpretation as representing what economists refer to as subjective beliefs.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, August 2, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

July 26

TITLE: Logic Doesn’t Oppress People, People Oppress People

SPEAKER: Patrick Girard, Taylor Fellow (University of Auckland)

Logic is often presented as a neutral tool for reasoning, but in reality, it can be used to uphold oppressive power structures. Can it? This talk will explore how logic can be wielded in ways that perpetuate inequality with a discussion of feminist critiques of logic by Andrea Nye and Val Plumwood, and a response by Gillian Russell.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, July 26, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

July 19

TITLE: Connecting presentism with process philosophy

SPEAKER: Patrick Dawson (University College Dublin)

In this talk I bring together two theories of time from different traditions. The first is presentism, the theory that only the present time exists. This view chiefly arises in 20th-21st century Western analytic philosophy, where it is pitted against the four-dimensional theories of spacetime popularised by modern physics.

The second theory is process ontology, versions of which can be found across several philosophical traditions, right back to the ancient Greeks. This view also has 20th century advocates such as Bergson and Whitehead. Process philosophers believe that reality is fundamentally composed of whole, interconnected processes, like ‘the changing of the seasons’. They caution against reducing those processes to their instantaneous parts, like ‘the yellow leaf at time A' or ‘the snowflake at time B’.

I explore how presentists could draw on process ontology to improve their view. These two groups of philosophers share many of the same concerns, particularly regarding the tendency of physicists to treat time as a quantified dimension, analogous to space. However, there are other elements of process ontology that presentists are likely to reject, since they might imply the reality of more than just the present.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, July 19, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

July 12

TITLE: (When) can we be wrong about what law is?

SPEAKER: Jan Mihal (Faculty of Law, Otago)

The methodology of general jurisprudence is commonly understood to be (modest) conceptual analysis. We jurisprudential theorists seek to (better) understand our concept of (or thought and talk about) law. This limits how surprising or revisionary theories in general jurisprudence can be – seeking to better understand our current concepts, we cannot accept theories which fail to account for what we take to be obvious truths about, or paradigmatic instances of, law.

In this paper, I suggest that when certain conditions obtain, such as persisting contradictions or vagueness relating to relevant concepts, we should expand the standards against which theories of law should be judged. I outline some of these conditions and suggest that they may obtain in modern contexts but, more importantly, that the onus is on the theorist doing conceptual analysis to show that such conditions do not obtain before we select against unexpected, revisionary theories of law.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, July 12, in Mellor Lab 2.15 (700 Cumberland Street)

May 31 (postponed until semester two)

TITLE: Is each of us a simple self?

SPEAKER: Andrew Moore (Otago)

This talk sympathetically examines the thesis that the self is a simple substance, distinct from its states, properties, etc, and also their bearer; and that each of us is such a self. What commitments does this ‘simple self’ account have, and what matters does it instead leave open? What are its relations to more prominent accounts of the self, such as dualism, animalism, psychological reductionism, and illusionism? Is it worthy of the attention those accounts get? This talk attempts to offer good answers to these questions.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, May 31; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)

May 24

TITLE: Connexive Logic?

SPEAKER: Zach Weber (Otago)

Aristotle held some principles of logic to be valid that are now deemed invalid, according to classical logic. Connexive logics are non-classical systems proposed in the 1960s that attempt to restore some (arguably) Aristotelian principles. In this talk I will introduce the basic philosophical and technical ideas of ‘connexivity’, and ways of extending to new kinds of quantifiers that (arguably) do a better job capturing some features of natural language. Was Aristotle right after all? Probably not—but maybe that's not the right question to ask. Let's find out.

[Joint work with Heinrich Wansing (Ruhr University Bochum).]

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, May 24; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)

May 17

TITLE: An Aristotelian Approach to Traditional Knowledge

SPEAKER: Grant Gillett (Emeritus Professor, Bioethics Centre, Otago)

‘Adaptive Resonance Theory’ (ART) is about the natural development of organisms. It acknowledges the contribution of the organism to the environmental niche it occupies. Indigenous thought has recognised this dynamic interaction for millennia, and has screened elements off from wholesale revision by considering them ‘Sacred’.

Scientific refinement and systematic testing can proceed in a ‘generalised’ conceptual space under ‘standardized’ conditions of ‘Truth’. Philosophy reflects on and sometimes mathematicises such Truth.

QBism in philosophy of science acknowledges the role of serious and reflective experimental science in defining, testing, and basing calculations and theory on actual experience, creating a ‘third way’ distinct from idealism and naive realism for philosophy of science. QBism recognises both the agent/subject and the encountered reality as contributing to the cognitive content an anti-reductive stance in philosophy of science.

This brings us close to Wittgenstein’s position on scepticism and rules by acknowledging that reasoning both expands the generality of and diversifies the applicability (abstract) of our ‘ways of going on’.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, May 17; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)

May 10

TITLE: An Aristotelian Approach to Traditional Knowledge

SPEAKER: Greg Dawes (Otago)

ἔχει γὰρ ἕκαστος οἰκεῖόν τι πρὸς τὴν ἀλήθειαν,
ἐξ ὧν ἀναγκαῖον δεικνύναι πως περὶ αὐτῶν
                   Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics 1216b31

There has been a lively debate about the status of the traditional knowledge found among indigenous peoples, in particular about whether it should be given equal status with science. This paper argues that traditional knowledge claims can be regarded as a species of what Aristotle called endoxa, ‘reputable opinions’. Traditional endoxa are forms of everyday knowledge, which can be distinguished from the systematic knowledge characteristic of the sciences. But endoxa have scientific value, as one of the forms of evidence on which scientists can draw when formulating and testing theories.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, May 10; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)

May 3

TITLE: Laws of Nature in Spinoza's Ethics

SPEAKER: Michael LeBuffe (Baier Chair, University of Otago)

Philosophers have frequently set out to explain nature by showing how effects follow from principles or laws of the nature or essence of the thing in which they occur. I will call any doctrine of this sort, essentialism. A different tradition in natural philosophy, which associates closely with the scientific revolution, emphasizes the effort to show that common features of things conform to nature without qualification. I will call any doctrine of this sort, unificationism. In the Ethics, I argue here, Spinoza defends comprehensive, exceptionless versions of essentialism and unificationism. The projects differ in their emphases and, perhaps, in the sort of explanation that they seek. Therefore, beyond showing that Spinoza maintains each view, I am concerned to show how it is that he maintains both at once.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, May 3; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)

April 26

TITLE: Universities, Treaty Partnership, and Allohistories of the Nation

SPEAKER: Miranda Johnson (History Programme, University of Otago)

Dominic O'Sullivan has recently criticized the idea of a "Te Tiriti-led" university, arguing that universities are not treaty partners and that the idea threatens institutional autonomy and academic freedom. So where has the idea come from? This paper argues that one of its roots is a particular interpretation of New Zealand history, an "allohistory" that reflects not so much the complex realities of the past, as what ought to have occurred, written with a view to enacting its ideals in the present. In this context, the writing of a critical and rigorous constitutional history is likely to be regarded as an act of bad faith. What is the historian to do?

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, April 26; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)

April 5

TITLE: Indigenous Philosophies and Intergenerational Justice

SPEAKER: Krushil Watene (2023 Dan and Gwen Taylor Fellow; Peter Kraus Associate Professor in Philosophy, University of Auckland)

This paper details several insights for the pursuit and realization of intergenerational justice that Indigenous philosophies contain. Following an explanation of some key Māori concepts in particular, the paper outlines an intergenerational orientation that situates these concepts in ways that chart pathways through complex intergenerational challenges. In this manner, the paper describes how Indigenous philosophies: enhance relationships through regenerative practices, invest in relational repair, and enable the ongoing transformation of concepts and ideas toward new imaginaries. This paper ends by articulating several practical implications that follow on from these philosophical insights - all of which are vital for enabling climate justice. The paper highlights how Indigenous philosophies support: empowering local communities, rethinking responsibilities, and enabling innovation. In so doing, the paper notes some of the ways that policies and processes can be such that they function to realize intergenerational justice and ground an enduring sense of responsibility to its pursuit and realization.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, March 22; in Terrace Lounge (upstairs in the Link/Union Building)

March 22

TITLE: Thought Experiments and the Role of Arguments

SPEAKER: Jussi Haukioja (NTNU, Norway)

Many philosophers think that intuitive judgements about hypothetical cases, typically elicited by thought experiments, are standardly treated as evidence for and against philosophical theories. Herman Cappelen and Max Deutsch have argued against this widespread conception. Based on textual analyses of a number of influential thought experiments in 20th-century analytic philosophy, both Cappelen and Deutsch find that judgements about hypothetical cases are justified by arguments, not appeals to intuition. One common response has been to claim that Cappelen and Deutsch misrepresent the role of arguments: that the arguments one typically finds in presentations and discussions of thought experiments do not aim to justify judgements about cases, but play a diagnostic or abductive role, instead. Cappelen and Deutsch have anticipated this response, and argue that it fails. In my talk, I will argue for a version of this response, and claim that their counter-arguments against it are unsuccessful.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, March 22; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)

March 15

TITLE: The scope of the right against mental interference

SPEAKER: Tom Douglas (Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Oxford)

It is standardly thought, in both medical and sexual ethics, that all persons enjoy a right against bodily interference, sometimes referred to as a right to bodily integrity or a right against bodily trespass. The existence of such a right, many would hold, helps to explain why it is generally morally impermissible to conduct medical procedures on people without their consent, to physically assault them, or to subject them to unwanted touching.
Much less commonly considered or endorsed is the thought that we also possess a right against mental interference--against interference with our minds. But there are good reasons to think that we might. First, the considerations standardly invoked in support of a right against bodily interference seem to provide equal, if not stronger, support for a right against mental interference. Second, there are intuitively wrongful forms of mental influence whose wrongfulness is difficult to explain without positing a right against mental interference.
However, the thought that persons possess a right against mental interference raises some very thorny questions about the scope of this putative right. What is mental interference, exactly? And which mental interferences infringe the right against it? In this paper, I begin to answer these questions. I first argue against three accounts of the scope of the right that can either be found in the literature or seem prima facie plausible. I then motivate my own preferred alternative account, and defend it against two objections. On my account, whether a mental influence infringes the right against mental interference depends centrally on whether it operates via a reasons-sensitive process within the influencee.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, March 15; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)

April 19

TITLE: Rational Belief Revision About Logic

SPEAKER: Isabella McAllister (University of Auckland, University of Otago)

Abstract: Is it possible to rationally revise one’s beliefs about the laws of logic? Orthodox philosophy suggests that the answer to this question is “no.” In my talk I explain why orthodoxy, with respect to this matter, is wrong. I begin by considering concrete examples of belief revision about logic, a surprisingly common phenomenon, and extrapolate from these examples some general features of belief revision about logic. I then go on to suggest some additional rationality principles that we might expect of someone revising their beliefs about logic. All up, I outline three different (but related) forms of belief revision about logic and their guiding rationality principles. Along the way, I consider various philosophical challenges to my suggestions and how they might be resolved. The talk is accessible to a general philosophical audience with no background in logic.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, April 19; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor); rescheduled from March 8

March 6 (one-off Monday seminar)

TITLE: Pass it on! The channeling method in consumer ethics

SPEAKER: Ewan Kingston (College of Charleston, USA)

Abstract: How should consumers respond to the numerous ethical concerns about products they might want to buy?  The standard method of analytic philosophers is to approach this problem piecemeal.  For example, philosophers consider the ethical status of purchasing goods tainted by high carbon footprints, sweatshop labor, or by animal welfare concerns.  Typically, these approaches look intractable when we try to combine them to provide practical advice for actual consumers.  In this talk, I propose a method that can act as a supplement to, or alternatively a substitute for, the standard method.  The outputs of this “channeling method” are intended to guide consumers who purchase tainted products and benefit from these purchases; they suggest consumers channel the benefits they gain in this way towards suitable causes.  I explain the role that NGOs would need to play in making this account work and defend the view against the objection that it is overly demanding for the poor.

TIME AND LOCATION: 5:15pm-6:30pm, MONDAY, March 6; in Burns 5 (please note different location; Arts Building ground floor)

March 1

TITLE: No-Ought-From-Is, Prior’s  Paradox  and Gillian Russell’s Solo Solution

SPEAKER: Charles Pigden (Otago)

Abstract: In 1960 the Otago-trained philosopher Arthur Prior developed a dilemma which was designed to show that you CAN get an Ought from an Is.  If the statement ‘Tea-drinking is common in England or all new Zealanders ought to be shot’ is moral, then it can be derived from a non-moral premise (‘‘Tea-drinking is common in England"). If it is not moral, then a moral conclusion can be derived from it in conjunction with another non-moral claim  (namely ‘Tea-drinking is not common in England’). Either way, we have an Ought from an Is. In 2003 Gillian Russell read a paper at Otago pointing out that other inference-barrier theses – Hume’s 2nd Law that you cannot derive claims about the future from claims about the past,  Kant’s Law that you cannot derive claims about the necessary from claims about the contingent and (Bertrand) Russell’s Law that you cannot derive general conclusions from particular premises – are all subject to Prior-type counterexamples.  But they should not be rejected on that account.  Rather we should reformulate and prove Prior-resistant versions of these barrier theses whilst remaining true to the underlying idea.  Her first solution (devised in tandem with Greg Restall) does not quite satisfy since it leaves too many propositions (eg ‘Every citizen ought to vote’) in a non-descriptive, non-normative limbo. In this talk I critically discuss her solo solution, as set out in her forthcoming book Barriers to Entailment.

TIME AND LOCATION: 11am–12.30pm, Wednesday, March 1; in Burns 4 (Arts Building ground floor)