Postgraduate Sessions Talks

Nikhil Venkatesh (UCL)

Nikhil is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at University College London, and a fellow of the Forethought Foundation for Global Priorities Research. His research focuses primarily on utilitarianism and socialism, with his doctoral thesis arguing that recognising the social nature of persons makes utilitarianism more defensible. He is also interested in problems relating to effective altruism (in particular, collective action, population ethics, demandingness and the long-term future), in Marxism, in the ethics of data, in the philosophy of race and gender, and in the nature of normativity, morality and politics.

Inefficacy, Pre-Emption and Structural Injustice

Many pressing problems are of the following kind: some collection of actions of multiple people will produce some morally significant outcome (good or bad), but each individual action in the collection seems to make no difference to the outcome. These problems pose theoretical problems (especially for act-consequentialism), and practical problems for agents trying to figure out what they ought to do. Much recent literature on such problems has focused on whether it is possible for each action in such a collection to make such a tiny impact on the world that it makes no expected difference to the outcomes with which we’re concerned. I argue that even if this is impossible, there are cases in which each action makes no difference, not because it has such a tiny effect on the world, but because if it were not performed, a similar action would be. This recognition allows us to connect these problems with discussions of structural injustice.

Petronella Randell (St. Andrews/Stirling)

Petronella is a second-year PhD student on the St Andrews/Stirling Graduate Programme. She is working on transformative experience, decision theory, and authenticity under the supervision of Professor Philip Ebert and Dr Justin Snedegar. Her PhD thesis investigates the problem that transformative experience poses to decision theory and the interplay between rationality and authenticity that it highlights. She is also a member of the AHRC-funded Varieties of Risk research project. She holds a BSc. in Psychology and Philosophy from the University of Nottingham and an MLitt in Philosophy from the St Andrews/Stirling Graduate Programme.

The Value of Risk in Transformative Experience

Risk is inherent in many, if not all, transformative experiences. For instance, the risk of losing our current values, our current selves, and important relationships. Transformative experiences carry significant risks to those who choose to undertake them. This aspect of transformative experience has thus far been ignored, but carries important consequences for those wishing to defend decision theory from the problem transformative experience poses to it. This point will be demonstrated using the Pettigrew’s (2019) decision theoretic response to the problem. I argue that a critical problem lies in the standard method decision theorists use to cardinalise utilities – the von Neumann-Morgenstern (vN-M) method – which measures how much an agent values an outcome by asking them to find a gamble which is equally as good as getting the outcome for sure. I will argue that this method of measuring utilities is unsuited for use in transformative contexts because part of the value of transformative experience is rooted in the risks inherent to them. Removing the uncertainty and risk involved in transformative outcomes will distort the value we assign to transformative outcomes, thus the standard vN-M method will not allow us to accurately measure how much an agent values a transformative experience.

Ane Engelstad (Sussex)

Ane recently completed her PhD in political philosophy at the University of Sussex. She holds a BA in Philosophy from King’s College London, and an MPhilStud from University College London. Her research is concerned with the intersections of political philosophy, feminist philosophy, and social epistemology. Specifically, in her PhD thesis, she asks whether victims of injustice have reliable and unique access to knowledge about the injustices they experience, and explores the ramifications this might have for the ways in which we political philosophers conceptualise justice.

Should Political Philosophers Attend to Victim Testimony?

Treating victim testimony as epistemically and morally significant has gone from a niche practice within some left-wing political activist circles to one also employed in mainstream public and academic discourse. Analytic political philosophers, however, overwhelmingly do not engage with victim insights and perspectives. In this paper, I will discuss the two best available justifications for this, and I argue against them in turn. In so doing, I show how our thinking about justice could be improved if we draw on feminist social epistemology; attending to victim testimony can enrich our theories of justice in an epistemically acceptable way, and also go some way in correcting for potential biases.

Lauren Miano (Oxford)

Lauren is completing her MSt in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Before coming to Oxford, she did her MA at Tufts University and her BA at Colgate University. Lauren is mainly interested in ancient Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle’s ethics and moral psychology. She also has interests in contemporary ethics and philosophy of religion.

A Novel Interpretation of True Pleasure in Republic Book IX

In what follows, I give a novel interpretation of the second half of the second pleasure proof in Book IX of the Republic, where Socrates gives an account of true pleasure. True pleasure is standardly interpretated as a filling of only the rational part of the soul with certain fillers that meet his criteria for counting as “more real.” However, I argue that based on the examples of more real fillers that Socrates provides, it is more compatible with the text to understand true pleasure as a filling of the whole soul, including each of the parts individually, with these more real fillers. My reading will have consequences for how we answer bigger questions about Plato’s conception of pleasure in the Republic, as well as about the relationship between pleasure, virtue, and happiness in this dialogue, and it is my hope that this interpretation can begin to set a foundation for this future work.

Will Stafford (Irvine)

Will completed his PhD at the University of California, Irvine in 2021 supervised by Kai Wehmeier and Sean Walsh and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Czech Academy of Sciences (Prague). He works in the intersection of philosophy of mathematics, logic, and language, with his recent research focusing on proof-theoretic semantics. This research examines the nature of meaning and the source of our knowledge of logic and mathematics by exploring proof-theoretic validity. He also writes on the nature of proof and neologicism. He holds a BA from the University of Stirling and an MPhil from the University of Warwick.

Following All the rules; Intuitionistic Completeness for Generalised Proof-theoretic Validity

Prawitz conjectured that the proof-theoretically valid logic is intuitionistic logic. Recent work on proof-theoretic validity has disproven this. In fact, proof-theoretic validity is not even closed under substitution. In this paper, we make a minor modification to the definition of proof-theoretic validity found in Prawitz 1973 and refined by Schroeder-Heister 2006. We will call the new notion ‘generalised proof-theoretic validity’ and we will show that the logic of generalised proof-theoretic validity is intuitionistic logic.

Chiara Martini (Oxford)

Chiara is a DPhil candidate in Philosophy at the University of Oxford (St. Anne’s college), under the supervision of Ursula Coope and Michail Peramatzis. Before starting the DPhil, she obtained a BPhil in Philosophy from the University of Oxford, and a MA and BA in Philosophy from the University of Bologna. Chiara’s main research interest is in ancient philosophy of physics and mathematics. Her thesis examines how Aristotle’s ideas on philosophy of geometry relate to his physical views, in particular to his theory of place and of spatially extended magnitudes. This is part of a broader interest in ancient and non-standard theories of space, in the relation between physical and geometrical modality, and in the applicability of geometry to the physical world.

Geometrical Changes: Change and Motion in Aristotle’s Geometry

It is often said that Aristotle takes geometrical objects to be absolutely unmovable and unchangeable. However, Greek geometrical practice does appeal to motion and change, and geometers seem to consider their objects apt to be manipulated. In this paper, I examine if and how Aristotle’s philosophy of geometry can account for the geometers’ practices and way of talking. First, I illustrate three different ways in which Greek geometry appeals to change. Secondly, I examine Aristotle’s ontology of geometrical objects and argue that although the truth-makers of geometrical statements are in fact unmovable because they are properties of sensible objects, geometers ‘separate them in thought’ and treat them as substances apt to be modified. Finally, I examine whether allowing the possibility of manipulating these semi-fictional geometrical individuals create problems for the applicability of geometry. I find that it does not, insofar as one accepts that geometry is not meant to track physical change but merely to study the instantaneous geometrical configuration of sensible bodies, and is thus only applicable at the instant.

Angela O’Sullivan (Edinburgh)

Angie is a third year PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, specialising in epistemology. Her work focuses on epistemic scepticism and antirealist theories of knowledge, particularly fictionalism, metaphor and ideals theory. She is also interested in the relationship between epistemic antirealism and the function of knowledge. Her thesis, which is supervised by Martin Smith, Matthew Chrisman and Aidan McGlynn, defends a novel fictionalist account of knowledge. She also has interests in meta-ethics, philosophical methodology (especially genealogies and function-first philosophy) and the philosophy of risk. Angie is a co-founder and oragniser of the Scottish Epistemology Early Career Researchers (SEECRs).

Knowledge as a Regulative Ideal

This paper aims to make plausible the claim that knowledge is a regulative ideal. Like other ideals such as justice, beauty, truth and perfection, the concept knowledge regulates our practices – and does so despite denoting an unachievable state. The paper’s central argument rests on drawing parallels between knowledge and less controversial examples of regulative ideals. In particular, I argue that knowledge appears to function as a regulative ideal: the concept knowledge gives direction to our epistemic practices, enables us to evaluate epistemic progress, and bolsters our commitments to acquiring epistemic goods. Not only does the concept knowledge functioning like an ideal give us reason to think that knowledge is in fact an ideal, but the view explains why scepticism is compelling, while avoiding three main objections typically thought to make scepticism unviable.

J. Jace Snodgrass (St. Andrews/Stirling)

J. Jace is a PhD candidate in the Arché Philosophical Research Centre at the University of St Andrews, where he is supervised by Aaron Cotnoir and Francesco Berto. His research interests are mainly on topics in metaphysics—specifically, the nature of properties, identity, modality, and hyperintensionality. His thesis is about the ‘status’ of a hyperintensional conception of properties: is this conception of properties merely a conception of how properties are represented in language or thought, or is it also a conception of how properties are regardless of how they might be represented in language or thought? The central project of his thesis is to defend the claim that a hyperintensional conception of properties extends beyond how we represent properties, and into how properties themselves are.

Property Identity: Applying Leibniz’s Law to Properties

In this essay, I examine the prospects of using Leibniz’s Law to assess the identity of properties. I argue that this use of Leibniz’s Law confronts two problems: on the one hand, it is subject to an infinite regress if properties are typed, and on the other, it turns out to be circular if properties are untyped. I also suggest a few replies for how to resist these arguments. The main upshot of this examination is that, once this use of Leibniz’s Law is understood in light of typed and untyped properties, it has important implications for the metaphysics of the properties of properties.