Jessica Brown – Inaugural address
Jessica Brown is currently professor of philosophy in the Arché philosophical research centre at St Andrews University. Since her Ph.D. at Oxford University, she has worked on a wide range of topics within philosophy of mind, epistemology, social epistemology, and the methodology of philosophy. She has published two monographs (Anti-Individualism and Knowledge, MIT 2004; and Fallibilism, OUP 2018). In addition, she has co-edited several collections for Oxford University Press (Knowledge Ascriptions, 2012; Assertion, 2011; Reasons, Justification and Defeat, 2021). She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She currently holds a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust.
In this paper I investigate what it is for a group to believe something for a reason. I defend a non-summative account on which a group can believe that for a reason even though none of its members believe that p for that reason. By contrast, a summative account would hold that the reason for which a group believes that p is a function of the reason(s) for which its members believe that p. I argue that the proposed non-summative account deals better with cases in which members of a group believe that p for different reasons. I also defend it against a range of objections, including that it conflicts with epistemic norms for assertion and action.
Main symposia speakers
Symposium I: Identity Theories of Truth
In a recent book, Robert Trueman develops a version of the identity theory of truth, the theory that true propositions are not in some kind of correspondence with, but are rather identical with, facts. He claims that this theory ‘collapses the gap between mind and world’. Whether it does so will obviously depend on how the theory is to be understood, which in turn depends on the argumentative route to it. Trueman’s route is clear, rigorous, and free of extravagant assumptions. Perhaps because of those merits it seems obvious that it falls short of the claim he makes for it. But there are difficult questions about the nature of the shortfall and about what in the character of Trueman’s philosophical approach prevents him from appreciating it. The paper explores those questions through a comparison with Moore’s ‘original’ identity theory and the Idealist philosophy he directed it against.
Robert Trueman is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York. He is the author of numerous articles on philosophical logic, metaphysics, and early analytic philosophy, in journals including Philosophical Studies, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, and Mind. In 2021, he published a book, Properties and Propositions (CUP), in which he defends a Fregean brand of realism about properties, and an Identity Theory of truth and facts.
According to the Dependency Theory, truth asymmetrically depends on the world, in the following sense: true propositions are true because the world makes them true. The Dependency Theory strikes many philosophers as incontrovertible, but in this paper I reject it. I begin by presenting a problem for the Dependency Theory. I then develop an alternative to the Dependency Theory which avoids that problem. This alternative is an immodest Identity Theory of Truth, and I end the paper by responding to Dodd’s charge that immodest Identity Theories are incoherent.
Symposium II: Kataleptic Impressions
Katja Maria Vogt is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. She specializes in ancient philosophy, ethics, and normative epistemology. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including Desiring the Good (2017), Belief and Truth (2012), Law, Reason, and the Cosmic City (2008), and is currently working on a monograph entitled The Original Stoics. Vogt co-edited Epistemology After Sextus Empiricus (with Justin Vlasits, 2020) and Pyrrhonian Skepticism in Diogenes Laertius (Greek-English, 2015) and serves as an editor of Nous and a North-American editor of the Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie.
The Stoics’ theory of kataleptic impressions looks different once we attend to their analysis of the Sorites paradox. In defending this view, I reject the long-standing assumption that the Stoics develop their theory by focusing on sensory impressions. The Stoic approach to vagueness shows, for example, that non-sensory impressions can be seemingly indistinguishable by belonging to a series. It also draws attention to an understudied dimension of Stoic theory: in aiming to assent only to kataleptic impressions, one aims to avoid not only assent to false impressions but also assent to those that are neither true nor false.
Tamer Nawar is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. His work focuses on diverse issues in ancient and medieval philosophy as well as epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language and logic, and has appeared in journals including Mind, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy, Philosophers’ Imprint, The Philosophical Quarterly, and Phronesis.
There is a long history of philosophers granting a privileged epistemic status to cognition of directly present objects. In this paper, I examine three important historic accounts which provide different models of this cognitive state and its connection with its objects: that of the Stoics, who are corporealists and think that ordinary perception may have an epistemically privileged status, but who seem to struggle to accommodate non-perceptual cognizance; that of Augustine, who thinks that incorporeal objects are directly present to us in ‘intellectual perception’, and that, by way of contrast, ordinary sense-perception does not have a privileged epistemic status; and that of William of Ockham, who allows for unmediated action at a distance and is fairly generous about what counts as being directly present.
Symposium III: Narrative and Personal Identity
In this paper I explore how and why personal identity might be essentially narrative in nature. My topic is the question of personal identity in the strict sense of identity—the question of which person you are, and how that person is extended in space, time, and quality. In this my question appears to contrast with the question of personal identity in the sense sought by teenagers and sufferers of mid-life crises who are trying to ‘find themselves’. But in fact it will be key to my argument that these questions are not distinct and independent. Whereas Parfit was concerned, in his work on personal identity, with how he was extended over time, the teenager who is finding themselves is concerned with how they are extended in quality. Indeed, the core of my argument is that because narrative is the key to understanding how we are extended in quality, and quality is just one more dimension along which we are extended, along with space and time, narrative must also be the clue as to how we are extended in space and time. You, I will argue, are the protagonist in the best story of your life.
In ‘Narrative and Personal Identity’, Mark Schroeder (2022) defends an important and exciting account of personal identity. This account starts from insights he finds in Locke and Frankfurt, but moves beyond them in ways that complicate and improve their respective notions of personhood and agency. I argue that he nonetheless retains too much from the views he rejects, especially an undue emphasis on the role of agency in personal identity and an impoverished picture of our embodiment. This paper explains the ways I think Schroeder does not go far enough, and offers an account that takes his insights a step further.
Symposium IV: Aesthetics and Intellect
Elisabeth Schellekens Dammann
Elisabeth Schellekens is Chair Professor of Aesthetics in the Philosophy Department at the University of Uppsala. She is the author of Aesthetics and Morality (Continuum), Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art (Routledge, with Peter Goldie), and several articles on aesthetic properties, the normativity of aesthetic judgement, Hume, Kant, aesthetic taste and sensibility, and the interaction of cognitive, moral, historical and aesthetic value in art. She has led several research projects, including on aesthetic perception and cognition, the philosophy of archaeology, the ethics and aesthetics of cultural heritage, and the philosophy of art criticism. Currently, she is working on a book manuscript on aesthetic value and epistemic gain. From 2007 to 2019, she was Editor (with John Hyman) of the British Journal of Aesthetics.
The main aim of this paper is to examine the practice of describing intellectual pursuits in aesthetic terms, and to investigate whether this practice can be accounted for in the framework of a standard conception of aesthetic experience. Following a discussion of some historical approaches, the paper proposes a way of conceiving of aesthetic experience as both epistemically motivating and epistemically inventive. It is argued that the aesthetics of intellectual pursuits should be considered as central rather than marginal to our philosophical accounts of aesthetic experience, and that our views about the relation between the aesthetic and cognitive domains should be reconfigured accordingly.
Arthur Danto argued from the premiss that artworks are essentially cognitive to the conclusion that they are incidentally aesthetic. I wonder why Danto, and the very many of us he persuaded, came to believe that the cognitive and the aesthetic oppose one another. I argue, contrary to Danto’s historical claims, that the cognitive and the aesthetic did not come into opposition until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, and that they were brought into opposition for reasons of art-critical expediency rather than philosophical necessity. I conclude that a robustly cognitive notion of the aesthetic remains an option for us.
Symposium V: Sneering
Lucy O’Brien is the Richard Wollheim Professor of Philosophy at University College London. Her research interests lie in the philosophy of mind and action, with a particular focus on self-consciousness and self-knowledge. She has more recently been working on self-consciousness understood in a broader setting—working on interpersonal self-consciousness, the nature of the self-conscious emotions, and self-consciousness and addiction. She is writing a book on interpersonal self-consciousness. She has published papers in a range of journals and collections, she is the author of Self-Knowing Agents (OUP, 2007) and co-editor, with Matthew Soteriou, of Mental Actions (OUP, 2009). She is co-editor, with A. W. Moore, of the journal MIND, and is Chair of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.
My aim in this piece is to understand what kinds of acts sneering acts are. I aim to look at what sneering acts do and what social function they perform. In particular, I want to mark them out as acts of ‘making people feel’. I explore the grounds on which we might criticize sneering acts, and ask whether the thing that we do when we sneer is always vicious.
In ‘“Sneering, or Other Social Pelting”’, Lucy O’Brien understands sneering acts as ways of making feel that are aimed at socially downgrading a target. Sneers are essentially expressions of contempt. Although typically thought of as vicious, O’Brien argues they can also be used virtuously to disrupt social hierarchies, especially when taken up by people with low social status. I examine satire as a potentially effective means of carrying out this virtuous activity. I examine O’Brien’s account while exploring the conditions that must obtain to make satire an efficacious tool for social recalibration.
Symposium VI: Mandatory Cooperation
Arthur Ripstein is university professor in the faculty of law and department in Philosophy at the University of Toronto. His most recent book is Kant and the law of war.
My aim in this paper is to develop a new model of the obligation to do your part in contributing to the provision of what are frequently described as ‘public goods’. I will situate my account in a broadly Kantian account of the state as a public rightful condition, which enjoys powers that no private person could enjoy, in the service of its distinctively public mandate. The exercise of those powers imposes special duties on the state, which require it to provide distinctively public goods. As an artificial person, the state can only act through natural persons; doing your part enables the state to achieve its distinctively public purposes.
Zofia Stemplowska is Professor of Political Theory and Asa Briggs Fellow of Worcester College, University of Oxford. Her research focuses on global and domestic justice and historical injustice. She is currently writing a book on duties of remembrance and commemoration.
Can states permissibly enforce mandatory participation in the provision of public goods? Usual justifications of state action here appeal to the fact that such goods are very good for people. Arthur Ripstein argues that states can compel provision of public goods, but that the best explanation of this is grounded, not in the costs and benefits of the provision to the compelled parties, but in the parties’ moral status as independent agents. I argue that Ripstein’s alternative account poses more problems than it solves. Our best hope in grounding mandatory cooperation is to do so with reference to the duties that we have to serve people’s interests, including interests in autonomy, welfare, and being respected on account of one’s moral status.
Society for Women in Philosophy Session
Lauren Grace Stephens
Lauren Stephens is a PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool researching existential approaches to museum ethics.
Artworks with problematic histories like the Benin bronzes are an interesting example of an ethical dilemma presently faced by cultural institutions. How is the British Museum able to defend having the Benin bronzes in its collection despite clear evidence of looting in the artworks’ history? I aim to explore this question using an existential philosophical framework as set out by Simone de Beauvoir. First, I will explain the existentialist ethical framework set out through Beauvoir’s ethics. Second, I will defend her ethics against those who claim it is ethical subjectivism. Then I will apply Beauvoir’s thought to ethical dilemmas within the artworld, such as the Benin bronzes.
Madeleine Kenyon is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Her research is primarily in feminist philosophy, philosophy of language, and carceral philosophy.
Exploring underdeveloped features of what Linda Martín Alcoff calls ‘male sexual subjectivities’ is an important project for philosophers interested in understanding and addressing the roots of rape culture. I argue that because of the tension between understanding oneself as a decent person and identifying oneself as a rapist, interpreting sexual violations as something less threatening works to relieve cognitive dissonance among (and about) men who have perpetrated sexualized violence. Attempts to understand oneself as the kind of person to commit sexual violations, I argue, are in tension with the intuitive draw to understand oneself as decent, because ‘perpetrator’ and ‘decent’ are often portrayed as foils. To understand one’s own acts as instances of assault or violation is to be alienated from one’s own sense of self as a sexual and moral being. The result of this relationship between identifying instances of sexual violation and maintaining a positive understanding of oneself as a sexual and moral agent is that male sexual subjectivities are improved by interpreting sexual violations as something less threatening. An instance of violence, then, becomes a misunderstanding, or else an embellished-story, or a retroactive change of heart by the victim. Ultimately, I argue that by learning to separate his own actions from the sphere of ‘rape’, the male sexual subject is able to protect himself from uncomfortable and possibly even incoherent narratives of himself as decent and rapist (or worse yet, rapist and therefore monster).
Simon Kirchin is Professor of Philosophy at Kent and Director of the British Philosophical Association. As well as the usual academic whatnot, he is a fabulous pantomime dame.
“Is Drag Morally Objectionable?”: We are living through a golden age of drag, with drag kings and queens prominent in our society and media. Drag seems like fun, and a talk about drag at the Joint Session may seem as if philosophy is enjoying a jolly time away from more serious topics. However, drag also has a serious side. Some critics have accused drag of inherent sexism and misogyny, and this has extra bite in an age where concerns about cultural appropriation (and other, similar matters) are high. This talk will detail the challenge and argue that drag is not inherently morally objectionable.
Tasneem Alsayyed Ahmad
Mind Association Fellows and Students
Nicholas Shackel did his doctorate at the University of Nottingham, giving a Humean answer to the question of why we ought to be rational. He has lectured at the Universities of Nottingham, Warwick and Aberdeen and immediately prior to taking up his position at Cardiff I was a research fellow at Oxford University. He is now Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University, Distinguished Research Fellow in the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and was awarded the Mind Association Major Research Fellowship for 2021-22. His recent publications include ‘Uncertainty phobia and epistemic forbearance in a pandemic’ (Values and Virtues for a Challenging World forthcoming). ‘The Nothing from Infinity Paradox versus Plenitudinous Indeterminism’ (European Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 2022) and ‘Constructing a Moorean ‘Open Question’ Argument: The Real Thought Move and the Real Objective’ (Grazer Philosophische Studien, 2021).
“Bertrand’s Paradox and the Principle of Indifference”: Bertrand formulated his paradox to undermine anything but a finitist classical theory of probability by showing that the principle of indifference produces inconsistent probabilities when applied to infinite possibilities. Contemporary theories that use the principle continue to face the threat posed by the paradox and for that reason philosophers, physicists and mathematicians have continued to offer solutions.
In the talk I shall run over the main ideas that are developed in the early chapters of the book, ideas that play a role in all the subsequent analysis. In the book I give the first fully comprehensive and mathematically rigorous exposition and analysis of the paradox. We start by analysing the normative ground and structure of the principle of indifference and introduce elements of measure theory needed to articulate its application to infinite state spaces. This makes clear the need to distinguish two entirely different roles for measures in that application. We then turn to Bertrand’s four paradoxes for infinite state spaces in their first full translation into English, of which the paradox renownedly known as Bertrand’s paradox, namely, the chord paradox, is our topic. We identify a number of significant frailties in Bertrand’s procedure, each of which might justify rejecting the paradox. An extensive and mathematically rigorous reformulation of his cases shows that two can be well founded without any reliance on Bertrand’s own flawed procedures or any vulnerability to his frailties, and shows the third to be irreparably flawed. We then turn to discussing exactly how the paradox threatens the principle, articulating an explicit argument on Bertrand’s behalf (he gave none) from his chord paradox to the falsity of the principle of indifference. The analysis needed to formulate the argument leads us to categorizing the four strategies to solve the paradox. I shall finish the talk by outlining and analysing one of the radical mathematical proposals on the table.
Federico is a postdoctoral researcher in the faculty of philosophy at the University of Oxford, where he is funded by an award from the Mind Association. He completed his PhD at the University of Birmingham, under the supervision of Lisa Bortolotti, Ema Sullivan-Bissett, and Craig French. In 2019, he was a visiting scholar at Yale collaborating with Phil Corlett on research into Bayesian models of psychosis. He works primarily on issues at the interface of philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Much of his research concerns the nature and origins of delusions, as well as their epistemic standing.
“How Can Delusions be Beliefs?”: The Spinozan theory of belief fixation claims that people believe a proposition by default whenever they understand it. Doxasticism about delusions maintains that delusions are beliefs. Doxasticism has been criticised by many on the grounds that delusions do not abide by the standards of epistemic rationality which we expect beliefs to conform to. In this talk I shall argue that a Spinozan view of belief fixation improves the prospects for doxasticism. If belief fixation is Spinozan, then deviations from the norms of epistemic rationality are not just compatible with, but supportive of, the status of delusions as beliefs.