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Philosophy Department Speaker Series

Winter Term, 2019

Unless announced otherwise, all lectures will be held on Fridays at 3:30pm

in Degroot School of Business B105

1 March: Jessica Gelber

“Could Aristotle countenance cross-kind teleology?”

Abstract: Despite an explicit claim in his Politics to the contrary, most scholars deny that Aristotle could have thought that teleological relations extend across different species of living organisms. After arguing that there is no good strategy for reconciling the remarks in the Politics with an ‘organism-centered’ interpretation of Aristotle’s natural teleology, I try to diagnose precisely what it is that appears problematic about cross-kind teleology, by Aristotle’s metaphysical lights, and argue that Aristotle in fact has the resources to address this. What emerges from seeing how Aristotle could coherently believe that some kinds are ‘for the sake of’ others is that his conception of essences is much richer than we might otherwise have thought.

8 March: Michael Giudice

“The Idea of Legal System: One Thought Too Many?”

Abstract: One prominent way for multiple legal orders to be organized, and in that way co-exist, is for one order to claim supremacy over the other(s).  This is of course a familiar state-centric view of law, and according to some, such as Hans Kelsen, H.LA. Hart, and Joseph Raz, it is part of the very nature of law that legal orders make systemic claims to supremacy.  Such a view depends heavily on a particular concept of legal system, which has been both observationally available in the practices of states (but not only states) and substantially developed in legal theory (eg, analytical legal philosophy).  However, this system-centred view of law comes with some significant costs: as an account of the nature of law with universal aspirations it faces descriptive-explanatory challenges in terms of its representation of the social facts of many instances of law, but it also often acts as an obstacle to politically-sensitive objectives.  I shall explore the way and extent to which the system-centred view of law is socially constructed, and therefore amenable to revision, as well as the political implications at stake in such revision.  Since political implications are best illustrated with particular contexts in mind, I shall draw on observations about the dynamic co-existence of state and First Nations legal orders in Canada, as well as relations between Community law and member-state law in the European Union.

15 March: Barry Allen

“Experience and Experiment: Themes from Empiricism”

Abstract: To follow

22 March: Violetta Igneski

“Fairness, Beneficence and Slack-taking”

Abstract: When groups of people share ends or are obligated to act together, individuals in these groups ought to do their fair shares.  Individual fair shares are typically determined on the assumption that all members will comply with their duties.  But what is required under conditions of partial compliance?  Focusing on our duties toward persons in need, I defend a version of the fair share view and argue against recent views in support of slack-taking duties.  I argue that questions about fairness and equality in the the context of distributing shares of collective duties should be distinguished from questions about demandingness and thresholds in the context of individual duties.  The consequence of distinguishing between these different types of duties is that we can consistently claim both that we do not have a duty to pick up the slack and also that our obligations are more demanding when others fail to comply with their obligations.


29 March: Sergio Tenenbaum
“Instrumental Virtues and Instrumental Rationality”
Abstract:Most theories of rationality take it for granted that rationality is always a matter of conformity to certain principles, or responding to reasons. I argue that (non-trivial) principles of rationality cannot fully capture the nature of our instrumentally rational powers. A full theory of rationality must also make room for what I call “instrumental virtues”. An agent suffers a defect of rationality insofar as she fails to have one of these virtues, or insofar as she manifests one of its corresponding vices. However, an agent can manifest instrumental vices without failing to conform to any principle of rationality. I argue that the virtue of courage is a paradigmatic instance of such a virtue.

4 April: Kit Wellman – THURSDAY ROOM KTH 109 @ 4:00pm

“Assisting Revolution”

Abstract: In this paper I argue that, if the proportionality condition could be satisfied, revolution in Syria would be justified, and it would be permissible for the United States to assist the Syrian rebels.  More controversially, I also argue that, if the proportionality condition could be satisfied, revolution in the United States would be justified, and it would be permissible for Syria to assist the American rebels.


5 April: Nicolas Fillion
“Conceptual and Computational Mathematics”
Abstract: This paper examines from a philosophical angle the consequences of the computer revolution that has importantly transformed modern mathematics. By comparing its repercussions on mathematics with those of the conceptual revolution that originated in the 19th century, I will stress the epistemological importance of practices that have to some extent been neglected. I argue that the key lesson to be drawn from the two revolutions that have shaped modern mathematics is an aspect of mathematical practice that is key to the effective and successful use of mathematics in science, namely, that good mathematical practice results from integrating the computational and conceptual styles of mathematics. Finally, I show that the methodology deployed by applied mathematicians in modern scientific computing is a paradigmatic instance of this key lesson.


Fall Term, 2018


Unless announced otherwise, all lectures will be held on Fridays at 3:30pm

Kenneth Taylor Hall 109


14 September: Katy Fulfer (University of Waterloo)

“Welcoming Refugees? Rootlessness, In-Betweenness, and Belonging”

Abstract: How do we responsibly welcome refugees into our political communities as active participants? Drawing on Origins of Totalitarianism, I begin with Hannah Arendt’s conception of rootlessness, which captures the experience of being geographically, culturally, and existentially uprooted from one’s place in the world. Some dimensions of rootlessness may persist when a refugee resettles in a new country, as resettlement does not guarantee political inclusion. Next, drawing on her 1943 essay “We Refugees,” I examine how assimilation is a strategy that refugees may employ to assert belonging. While Arendt reveals how assimilation perpetuates rootlessness, she tends to depict assimilation as a totalizing experience. To reveal possibilities for counter-resistance to forces of assimilation, I draw on Mariana Ortega’s (2016) phenomenology of in-betweenness, arguing that rootlessness is a mode of in-betweenness that can offer potential for resisting assimilation. Finally, I examine how memory and story-telling support refugees and welcomers in building political community together.


21 September: Waheed Hussain (University of Toronto)

“Pitting People Against Each Other”

Abstract: Many important institutions in liberal democracies today tend to be competitive, including labor markets, elections, and college admissions processes. Most people would agree that these arrangements are permissible, but most  would also agree that there are limits: a friendly competition is one thing; a life or death struggle is another. This paper develops a novel account of the political morality of competitive institutions. It shows that these institutions are sometimes morally defective simply in virtue of the intensity of their competitive character and that the defect cannot be explained simply in terms of familiar ideas, such as welfare, fairness or equality. It goes on to develop a new view. According to the fragmentation account, competitive institutions are morally defective when they seriously obstruct the form of solidaristic integration required by certain social relationships, such as marriage, academic collegiality or co-citizenship. The paper develops the political implications of the fragmentation account, showing how a “common good” conception of the political relationship can explain the moral limits on large-scale competitive institutions, e.g. college admissions.

28 September: Fabio Shecaira

“Methodological Deductivism in Argument Construction”  

Abstract. “Deductivism” is a broad label that has been used to identify various theories that emphasize the importance of deductive argument in contexts of rational discussion. This paper makes a case for a very specific form of deductivism, namely, methodological deductivism. The paper highlights the dialectical importance of advancing deductively valid arguments (with plausible premises) in natural-language reasoning. In the first two sections, I explain the various forms that deductivism has taken. Section 3 makes a case for methodological deductivism. Section 4 discusses the value of methodological deductivism in law. Section 5 concludes and acknowledges critical questions that need to be addressed more fully in future work.

5 October: No Speaker


12 October: Reading Week – No Speaker


19 October: Nicole Hassoun

“The Human Right to Health and the Virtue of Creative Resolve”

Abstract: The human right to health plays many important roles in national and international affairs. One such role is to inspire human rights advocates, claimants, and those with responsibility for fulfilling the right to try hard to satisfy its claims. That is, the right should, and often does, give rise to what I call the virtue of creative resolve. Hope supports this resolve which embodies a fundamental commitment to finding creative solutions to what appear to be tragic dilemmas. Contra critics, we should not reject the right even if it cannot tell us how to ration scarce health resources. Rather, the right gives us a response to apparent tragedy in motivating us to search for ways of fulfilling everyone’s basic health needs.

26 October: Nathan Adams

“Social Accommodation”

Abstract: David Lewis argued that scorekeeping in a language game is importantly different from scorekeeping in games like baseball because language follows a rule of accommodation. Accommodation is the phenomenon where a speaker’s utterance apparently violates some norm but the audience changes the conversational context such that the speaker is no longer in violation of the norm, allowing the conversation to proceed. This has most commonly been investigated with respect to presuppositions and the norm not to rely on unshared information. Rae Langton and others have extended Lewis’ idea to cover the accommodation of illocutionary acts and the norms governing felicitous illocution. I argue that we should continue this extension to the case of what I call social accommodation. Audiences will change the context, negotiating the speaker’s utterance, in order to render the speaker in conformity with social norms beyond those governing speech acts per se, including moral, religious, prudential, and many other types of norms. Social accommodation is one way that norms are implicitly imposed and sustained. This is especially important to see in the case of injustice, where pernicious norms can resist challenge in surprising ways.

2 November: Bob Guay

“What’s the Damage? Nietzsche on the Harms of Morality”

Abstract: Nietzsche’s critique of morality, especially in On the Genealogy of Morality, takes morality as one system of values among many possible alternatives, and then asks what the “value” of maintaining it is; this (dis-)value is explicated in terms of the genealogical analysis showing that morality is in some way harmful to humanity, and the harms give us a reason to reject moral values. His approach accordingly requires an explanation of what the past and ongoing harms that are distinctively attributable to morality are, and how they are conveyed. In this paper I consider a number of ways of trying to making sense of the harmfulness of morality, and then develop an account of the criteria that the harms of morality must meet on any adequate reconstruction of Nietzsche’s views. After reviewing and rejecting some of the preliminary accounts of the harms of the morality, I offer my preferred account, in terms of what I call “dynamic self-misunderstanding.” I argue, that is, that the ongoing harmfulness of morality is effected not primarily on occurrent psychological states or prevailing social relations – although these, too, are subject to harms – but on the conditions under which persons make sense of themselves.

9 November: Brad Shubert

“Fully Truth-Functional Modal Logic”

Abstract: Modal logic (the logic of possibility and necessity) is commonly understood as being non-truth-functional or, at best, only partially truth-functional. If so, this would mean we cannot make sense of modal claims using only truth-tables. Many-valued logic is entirely truth-functional but employs more truth-values than the classical division — true and false. This difference contributes to a common understanding of modal logic and many valued logic as distinct kinds of logic. In this paper I will demonstrate one method by which any normal modal logic can be expressed without loss as a many-valued logic and will thus make the case that modal logic can be understood as fully truth-functional after all. Throughout this discussion I will reflect on the notion of truth generally, as these techniques will suggest a broadening of what we ordinarily mean when we say of a statement that it is true or false.

This talk will assume only a minimal background in logic (e.g. a first course in symbolic logic)

16 November: Tony Reeves

“Contractualism as Solidarity: Risk, Hope, and the Agential Stance”

Abstract: How should contractualism address the acceptability of risk imposition? I argue that Scanlonian contractualism, even with recent modifications, cannot provide a plausible answer. Instead, we will have to draw upon more traditional contractualist strategies to find a viable approach that constrains interpersonal aggregation of advantage. The basic ideas is that each of us, as persons, has a higher-order interest in a morality that helps license an attitude of hope towards our endangered ends, so far as those ends are under the control of others. We share a common vulnerability as agents, and the moral world is partly about confronting that vulnerability together, such that responding to the above interest can be viewed as a kind of agential solidarity in our social relations. Acting in solidarity can legitimately compromise the lower-order interests (e.g., welfare interests) of persons in aggregate, even comparably important such interests.


23 November: Sandra Lapointe

“What Does It Mean For A Philosopher To Have Impact?” 

Abstract: There’s increasing pressure on academics to engage in their community. But what does this mean for experts whose specialisation lies in the most esoteric branches of philosophy, from formal ontology to the history of logic? Does your scholarly input and research ever inform change in the real world and should you care if it doesn’t? I want to argue that there is something wrong with existing models for academic impact and that the solution does not rest in more pressure on individual academics but in creating meaningful outlets for large scale engagement as well as the relevant incentive structure within our institutions. I present The Collaborative, the McMaster-led partnership I am leading, as one such outlet. —>


30 November: Rich Neels

“Opposites and Explanation in Heraclitus”

Abstract: In this paper I offer a new interpretation of Heraclitus’ use of opposites. I argue that Heraclitus’ use of opposites was a reaction against the way opposites were being used by his Ionian predecessors, Anaximander and Anaximenes. Opposites, for the earlier Ionians, seem to have been explanatory principles. For them, the physical world, which includes stuffs, things and events, was explained by a limited set of oppositional pairs (e.g. hot and cold, condensation and rarefaction). Heraclitus’ use of opposites, I submit, is best understood in relation to these earlier schemes of philosophical explanation. I argue that Heraclitus was the first to treat opposites, not as explanatory principles, but as problemata in need of explanation. Hence opposites are primarily explananda for Heraclitus, not explanantia. In addition to this, his Ionian predecessors seem to have held the explanatory principle of Strict Partial Order (whereby explanatory relations are irreflexive, transitive and asymmetric) following from a principle of Well-Foundedness (whereby for all x, x is either grounded by some fundamental entity or entities, or is itself a fundamental entity). Heraclitus seems to have held some explanatory principles which contrast these earlier Ionian principles. These are the complementary principles of Non-Well-Foundedness (whereby for all x, x is neither explained by some fundamental entity or entities, nor is itself a fundamental entity) and Reciprocal Explanation (whereby x partially explains y and y partially explains x). In other words, Heraclitus denies explanatory fundamentality, but promotes the idea of a cosmos whose various parts explain its other parts.

     Speaker Series 17-18

Speaker Series 16-17 Term 1

Visiting Speaker Series 2015-2016

Visiting Speaker Series 2014-2015

Visiting Speaker Series 2013-2014

Visiting Speaker Series 2012-2013

Visiting Speaker Series 2011-2012