Philosophy Department Speaker Series
Fall Term, 2017
Unless announced otherwise, all lectures are held on Fridays at 3:30pm
DeGroot School of Business B107
September 15: Ronald de Sousa (University of Toronto)
“Muses, Fluffers, and the Curse of Satisfaction”
Abstract: Plato was perhaps the first but certainly not the last philosopher to take a dim view of desire. Lust, in particular, offers a model of desire reducible, in Shakespeare’s famous phrase, to ‘expense of spirit in a waste of shame’: and other poets and philosophers have argued that desire is essentially pain, that its object is often not what we think it is, and that satisfaction (in the limited measure in which it is even possible) only makes it worse. This talk begins by distinguishing semantic satisfaction (getting what you thought you wanted) from emotional satisfaction (actually enjoying what you are getting). It discusses some findings of recent brain science and psychology, due to Kent Berridge and others, that show that the natural and expected correlation between wanting something and getting pleasure from it can be disrupted. This helps to explain the phenomenon of ‘dust and ashes’—the absence of emotional satisfaction following semantic satisfaction—as well as other ways in which ‘satisfaction’ can fail to prove satisfying. Such explanations, however, don’t altogether resolve the problem of the ‘curse of satisfaction’.
September 22: Richard T.W. Arthur (McMaster University)
“Monads as Constituents of Bodies in Leibniz’s Metaphysics”
Abstract: One of the enduring puzzles about Leibniz’s metaphysics is how Leibniz could claim that monads, understood as immaterial, could constitute the material bodies of experience. In this paper I sketch how I think Leibniz intended this to be understood. First, I situate his introduction of his monads as a solution to the problem of the composition of the continuum. With this in place, I distinguish Leibniz’s notion of constitution from composition, and show how this can be construed to deliver his conclusions by constructing a kind of “characteristic” using his definitions and symbols.
September 29th and October 6th: No Talks Have Been Scheduled
October 20: Claudine Verheggen (York University)
“Davidson’s Treatment of Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox”
Abstract: The aim of this paper is first to show that Wittgenstein and Davidson both argue for semantic non-reductionism, the rejection of any account of meaning that does not invoke semantic notions, in similar ways, and that consequently they conceive of the use they both take to be essential to meaning in a similar way. Both think that a full account of meaning requires us to consider this use within a semantic context, so that we cannot say what speakers mean by their words, and what words mean, without saying what speakers use their words to mean, and we cannot answer the question what makes it possible for someone to have a language without thinking of her as already having one. However, whereas Wittgenstein makes only very general remarks about the kind of use that is essential to meaning, Davidson has much more to say about the topic and, as a result, provides a significantly richer and more constructive way to address the paradox about meaning and rule-following developed by Wittgenstein.
October 27: Doreen Fraser (University of Waterloo)
“The non-miraculous success of formal analogies in physics”
Abstract: When physicists develop a successful new theory, philosophers often infer that the new theory is approximately true in some respects. This is the core intuition of scientific realism, captured by the ‘no miracles’ argument: that success in science is explained by getting something right about the world. However, a heuristic strategy that has been successfully deployed in quantum theory undermines this realist intuition. New quantum theories have been developed by drawing on purely formal analogies to theories that apply in different domains (i.e., the formal analogies are guided by the mathematical structure shared by the two domains, but the mathematical structure is given entirely different physical interpretations in each domain). For example, the Higgs model in particle physics was developed by analogy to models of superconductors. I will argue that the success of formal analogies in quantum theory is explicable, and that the explanation carries lessons about both the shortcomings of scientific realism and the role of analogical reasoning in science.
November 3: David DeVidi (Waterloo)
“On what there is, what there isn’t, and none of the above”
Abstract: It is a philosophical commonplace that logic and metaphysics have been closely related disciplines “from the beginning.” The close relationship has survived, and indeed thrived, throughout the rapid evolution and diversification of logic over the past 150 years—including through rocky stages where logic was thought to be the key to rubbing out metaphysics altogether. While keeping formal details to a minimum, I will focus not on attempts to eliminate metaphysics, but on the suggestion that the tools of formal logic allow us to illuminate our metaphysical commitments. I will suggest that certain results in some non-classical logics have not yet received due consideration in the metaphysics literature. They yield a more nuanced picture of our metaphysical commitments, and thereby also a more nuanced picture of what is real, what is not, and what the other options are.
November 10: Lynne Tirrell (University of Connecticut)
Abstract: Applying a medical conception of toxicity to speech practices, this paper calls for an epidemiology of discursive toxicity. Toxicity highlights the mechanisms by which speech acts and discursive practices can inflict harm, making sense of claims about harms arising from speech devoid of slurs, epithets, or a narrower class I call ‘deeply derogatory terms.’ Further, it highlights the role of uptake and susceptibility, and so suggests a framework for thinking about damage variation. Toxic effects vary depending on one’s epistemic position, access, and authority. An inferentialist account of discursive practice plus a dynamic view of the power of language games offers tools to analyze the toxic power of speech acts. A simple account of language games helps track changes in our discursive
practices. Identifying patterns contributes to an epidemiology of toxic speech, which might include tracking increasing use of derogatory terms, us/them dichotomization, terms of isolation, new essentialisms, and more. Using this framework, I analyze some examples of speech already said to be toxic, working with a rough concept of toxicity as poison. Finally, exploring discursive toxicity pushes us to find ways that certain discursive practices might “inoculate” one to absorbing toxic messages,
or less metaphorically, block one’s capacity to make toxic inferences, take deontic stances that foster toxicity, etc.
“Disagreement, Deep Time, and Progress in Philosophy”
Abstract: The recent literature in the epistemology of disagreement examines the question of how one ought to respond to awareness of epistemic peer disagreement about her belief that P. There is an ever-growing body of literature on this topic that, ironically enough, represents widespread disagreement about how we should respond to disagreement. I will use the epistemology of disagreement to help address the question of whether there is any progress in philosophy. I argue that the widespread disagreement throughout the history of philosophy, and right up until the present day indicates that philosophers are highly unreliable at arriving at the truth. If truth convergence indicates progress in a field, then there is little progress in philosophy. I conclude that this need not make us give up philosophizing: That we are poor philosophers is a contingent, rather than necessary fact about the human species. Perhaps given the existence of deep time there will eventually will be truth convergence in philosophy.
November 24: Georgia Mouroutsou (Western University)
“Plato’s Phaedo: Are the Philosophers’ Pleasures of Learning Pure?”
Abstract: My question in this paper is whether the philosophers’ pleasures of learning in the Phaedo are pure of pain. This is a question that, though to my knowledge it has not yet been asked about this dialogue, is very important for the development of Plato’s critical project on pleasure, for the pleasures of learning are characterized as pure in both the Republic and the Philebus. In agreement with the analysis of the pleasures of learning in the Philebus, I will argue that necessarily, in contrast to bodily pleasures, the philosopher’s pleasures of learning are neither preceded nor followed by opposite pains. I argue, on the contrary, that it is their nature to be free, necessarily, of such pains. That said, the philosophers’ intellectual endeavors are not characterized by immunity from all intellectual pain, but by the philosophers’ particular attitude toward intellectual pain.
For my purposes, I will focus on the initial example of bodily pleasure that Socrates introduces (60b3-c7) and Socrates’ intellectual activities related to learning in his autobiography (the first voyage, 96a6-99d2), and will also consider the misology passage (88c1-91c5). If the picture and the conclusions I draw are accurate, then Plato’s philosophical project on pleasure is unified in the following respect: although we are far before the Philebus’ analysis of pleasure, Plato already in the Phaedo thinks of the relation to pain as fundamental to the nature of (different kinds of) pleasure.
December 1: François Tanguay-Renaud (York University)