Philosophy

Graduate Research Activities

Winter 2017 Term


14 April 2017

Ka Ho Lam, “Why “is at”? -- Quine's critique of the Aufbau's radical reductionism in “Two Dogmas”

I shall discuss Quine's critique of Carnap's Aufbau in “Two Dogmas”. I shall argue that although Quine was right in pointing out that the switch to “general principles” did not provide Carnap with the translations needed for the construction of physical objects, he failed to demonstrate, as he claimed, that the Aufbau's reductionist project flounders “in principle”. By disambiguating the notion of “explicit definitions” in the Aufbau, I shall contend that Carnap, in retrospect, equally overlooked the possibility of formulating the “operating rules” Quine complained to be missing.


31 March 2017

Yuan-chieh Yang, “Metaphor and Chinese Thinking”

This talk will examine relationships between language and thought and provide some prima facie support for linguistic relativity, i.e. the claim that the structure of a language affects its users' way of thinking. In particular, I will focus on Chinese language and thinking.

Western sinologists and philosophers have been arguing that Chinese thinking may tend to be metaphorical, while Western thinking is more analytical. Traditionally, a popular approach to the metaphorical feature of Chinese thinking is to provide comparative examples to show that classical Chinese thinkers tend to use more metaphor or analogy in their arguments. However, in this paper I will adopt a linguistic approach to the distinctiveness of Chinese thinking. In short, the linguistic approach aims to examine the distinctive structure of the Chinese language and suggests that certain ways of thinking may be framed or limited by the linguistic structure.

The paper will consist of mainly two parts. First, based on Max Black's theory of metaphor and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's conceptual metaphor theory, I will examine the nature of metaphor and explain in what sense a linguistic structure can be a better medium for metaphorical expression and metaphorical thinking. Second, based on some recent research on the syntactical structure of the Chinese language, classical Chinese in particular, I will examine how the linguistic structure of classical Chinese can be a better medium for metaphorical expression and metaphorical thinking.


24 March 2017

Selcuk Kaan Tabakci, “Existence of Individual Natures and Positive Free Logic in Hale's "Necessary Beings"”

In "Necessary Beings", Bob Hale gives a Neo-Fregean account on metaphysics of essence. In this paper, I will briefly explain his theory and I will argue that Chris Menzel's counterargument to Hale's theory can be avoided, but a similar counterargument can be constructed with individual natures. Then, I will analyze the fundamental premises of his theory to find the root of the problem. Lastly, I will show that Hale can avoid this problem by using positive free logic with dual domains.


17 March 2017

Roxane Noel, “Normative Generics and Constructionism about Social Kinds”

Generic statements are the kind of sentences which express certain generalizations about kinds. They can either express a trait that is widely shared by members of a kind, such as in “Tigers have stripes”, or some kind of striking property possessed by a certain proportion of the member of the kind, however small, such as in “Raccoons transmit rabies”. In this talk, I concentrate on generic statements about social kinds, such as "Boys don't cry" and "Women are emotional". I start from Sarah Jane Leslie's account of the normative function of such statements to show that their function is not merely descriptive. Then, I draw from her work in psychology to show the detrimental effects that stem from our use of generics. Finally, I turn to Sally Haslanger's brand of social constructionism in an attempt to escape the gloomy conclusions reached by Leslie, and argue that any plausible solution to these problems will have to start by acknowledging the ways in which the descriptive and normative contents of generics are intertwined.


17 February 2017

Jay Worthy, “On the Sovereignty of Ontology: Spaces of Resistance”

In this paper I consider the critique of ontology as a totalizing philosophical project, forwarded in different ways by Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, and Jacques Derrida. Taking the notion of khōra as a common thread, I demonstrate how in each case an appeal is made to a kind of space that cannot be subsumed within the limits of traditional ontological analysis. My central claim will be that what resists ontology in this way does not merely have significance at the level of ontology, but will also have a political and normative upshot: It would not merely be a fact that ontology claims to be complete when it simply cannot grant status to everything and everyone; it would also be our duty to observe the hypocrisy of such a generalizing claim, and to identify the more specific differences it fails to acknowledge.


9 February 2017

Esther Rosario, “Are Feminists Obligated to be Vegetarians? A Contextualist Response

In this presentation, I argue that feminists may be obligated to be vegetarians or vegans given their social location. If persons who identify as feminists lack geographical, financial, socio-cultural, physical, or accessibility constraints preventing them from practicing vegetarianism or veganism, then they are obligated to refrain from consuming meat and other animal products as much as possible. I contrast two prominent views within the literature: feminist ontological vegetarianism and feminist contextual vegetarianism. I contend that ontological vegetarianism is an approach that unacceptably ignores differences in social locations among feminists, which can lead to the further marginalization of groups including Indigenous feminists, feminists of colour, and feminists with disabilities. I adopt a contextualist view and claim that meat and animal product consumption is a significant matter of feminist concern that must be considered in light of other social and environmental justice issues.


Fall 2016 Term


25 November 2016

Peter Andes, “Sidgwick’s Dualism of Practical Reason, Evolutionary Debunking, and Moral Psychology”

In “The Point of View of the Universe” Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer offer an articulation and defense of Henry Sidgwick’s ideas about ethics. They seek to demonstrate a number of ways in which his work can inform contemporary debates in the field. Sidgwick’s seminal text “The Methods of Ethics” left off with an unresolved problem that Sidgwick referred to as the dualism of practical reason. The problem is that employing Sidgwick’s methodology of rational intuitionism appears to show that there are both reasons for egoism and utilitarianism – reasons to adopt both Sidgwick’s principle of rational prudence and his principle of rational benevolence – such that reason alone cannot decide what we ought to do when these two principles conflict.

Lazari-Radek and Singer offer a solution in the form of an evolutionary debunking argument: the appeal of egoism is explainable in terms of evolutionary theory. We can provide an evolutionary explanation for why it would be beneficial that we care about our own interests, and thus why thoughts like those expressed in the formulation of Sidgwick’s principle of rational prudence would appeal to us. This is not the case, Lazari-Radek and Singer allege, for rational benevolence. If this solution succeeds, it undermines egoism, leaving utilitarianism standing as the correct theory of normative ethics and resolving Sidgwick’s dualism of practical reason.

In this paper I explore the success of this treatment of Sidgwick’s dualism. I begin by outlining Sidgwick’s approach before turning to Lazari-Radek and Singer’s debunking solution. I then consider whether we can offer similar debunking arguments for rational benevolence. Ultimately, I argue that like rational prudence, rational benevolence is subject to debunking arguments and so problematic, but also – and more importantly – that debunking arguments are irrelevant in the debate over the dualism of practical reason on the view of reason and rational intuitionism that Lazari-Radek and Singer embrace. I pose a dilemma for their position such that either rational benevolence is exposed to debunking arguments, or it is insulated from them completely, with this latter state of affairs being irreconcilable with their own debunking solution that attempts to eliminate rational prudence. Either both rational prudence and rational benevolence are subject to debunking arguments, or neither are. If I am right, this dilemma presents a serious obstacle for Lazari-Radek and Singer’s solution to the dualism of practical reason.


14 October 2016

Octavian Ion, “Interpreting Metaphors”

The paper unpacks and assesses some of the views one might take with respect to how metaphorical language functions. Emphasis is largely on whether one must take metaphorical sentences to be literally meaningful.


23 September 2016

Jay Worthy, “Of Ontology and Alterity: Rereading Merleau-Ponty after Fanon and the ‘Flaw that Outlaws any Ontological Explanation’”

In this presentation, I explore how Frantz Fanon’s criticisms of ontology as a universalizing philosophical practice provide useful context for Merleau-Ponty’s transition from his earlier notion of the “body proper” to his later account of “the flesh”. My principal claim is that what the former denies, and what the latter allows, is an account of the experience of alterity as an experience of the alienation of one’s capacity for self-determination.

Beginning with Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of the body proper in the “Phenomenology of Perception”, I show how this model invokes a dialectics of self and world which always already tends toward synthesis and identity, such that there can be no experience of an “other” that would not ultimately be revelatory of my body as something universal, “placed at the origin of everything” (Merleau-Ponty, “Phenomenology of Perception”, p. 264). By contrast, I highlight Merleau-Ponty’s later appeal to the “flesh” a model that, while still essentially dialectical, fundamentally rejects the possibility of synthesis, such that the slightest revelation of “my” body would intrinsically depend on its exposure to what is irrevocably other than it –  an experience that in this sense must be refused the universality of a “place at the origin of everything”, without being denied access to its own being altogether.

In this way Merleau-Ponty in his later work refuses the sort of universalizing move that Fanon critiques, while apparently retaining an ontological account of the experience of alterity Fanon describes. By way of conclusion, then, I provisionally consider the implications of Merleau-Ponty’s account as suggesting a radically “plural” ontology.


Winter 2016 Term


8 April 2016

Yuan-chieh, “Collingwood, Kitsch, and Sentimentality”

One of the most popular criticisms of kitsch is to condemn it as involving sentimentality and distorted emotion. In this paper, I will focus on this particular category of kitsch, which I will name sentimental kitsch, and argue that previous theorists generally do not provide satisfactory explanation of sentimental kitsch because they fail to explain clearly why and how sentimental kitsch leads to distorted emotion and aesthetic inadequacy. I will then introduce R. G. Collingwood's theory of expression and his conception of emotion in order to provide a more in-depth explanation of sentimental kitsch. This theory could equip us to properly explain what it means to elicit distorted emotion, such as simplified, superficial, or easy emotion, in an artwork, and why philosophers usually think that kitsch elicits distorted emotion. Moreover, based on Collingwood's insights, I will argue against the common view that sentimental kitsch implies moral corruption.


1 April 2016

Sina Azizi, “Epistemic Capability and the Problem of Divine Hiddenness”

If God exists, why do people fail to recognize him? This question has sparked a substantial debate in philosophy of religion as to whether the existence of a “perfectly loving God” is compatible with the existence of nonbelievers, especially when such people are not resisting God and are capable of recognizing him and believing in his existence. This issue has turned into an argument for atheism, which is known in the literature as the problem of divine hiddenness.

In this paper, I bring into play the epistemology of unobservable entities from philosophy of science as well as the epistemology of certainty from Quran, and try to demonstrate how this affects the argument from hiddenness formulated by Schellenberg.


18 March 2016

Octavian Ion, “Moral Inferentialism & Expressivism: Or How I learned to stop worrying and changed the subject”

I discuss some of the problems constituting Metaethical Expressivism's semantic crisis, whether Inferentialism has the credentials to replace it as the leading non-cognitivist metaethical position, and more.


11 March 2016

Danielle Brown, “Moral Defect and Aesthetic Deformity: Moralism in Hume's ‘Standard of Taste’”

In this paper, I examine two related puzzles in Hume's essay “Of The Standard of Taste” (1757). The first puzzle is that Hume identifies the aesthetic merit of a work of art with the consensus of expert judges, whose opinions are to be relied on, in part, for their absence of prejudice, particularly when it comes to evaluating works of different ages of cultures. However, Hume also says that artworks of this sort that exhibit incompatible moral values ought to be exempt from this requirement, and that an expert judge is at no fault for taking moral defects in a work of art to be aesthetic flaw. The second puzzle is that on the one hand, Hume expresses doubt that anyone, even an expert judge, could legitimately enter into the sentiments of artworks exhibiting incompatible moral values. On the other hand, Hume recommends against the very attempt to do so on the basis that the judge risks some degree of moral corruption from engaging with immoral artworks. In this paper, I argue against a reading of Hume that emphasizes the inability of the expert judge to engage with immoral artworks, and suggest that Hume is more concerned with the effects such artworks may have on the judge's sentimental disposition.


4 March 2016

Charles Rodger, “The Aporia of our Time: Materialism and Phenomenology”

This paper is a portion of a larger essay entitled “the Copernican Turn of Intentional Being”, a submission for a volume on Jeff Mitscherling's “Aesthetic Genesis” under publication review. In this portion of the essay, I argue that philosophy in our age has reached an aporia. This aporia is articulated in terms of a critique of scientistic materialism on the one hand and the phenomenological movement on the other. I will conclude by briefly suggesting how this aporia might be overcome by way of a new “Copernican turn” in phenomenology


Fall 2015 Term


20 November 2015

Yuan-chieh Yang, “Emotion Reconsidered: an Aesthetic Approach”

Most contemporary philosophical theories of emotion adopt a functional approach to emotion. This approach primarily aims to explain emotion in terms of its functional role in human reactions to external worlds. For example, cognitivist theories of emotion aim to argue that propositional attitudes which link our internally emotional states to external objects are constitutive of human emotions. However, by merely focusing on functional aspects of emotion, theorists may overlook the phenomenology of emotion, i.e. the qualitative experience or “what it is like” experience of emotion. Peter Goldie (2009) has criticized that theorists who adopt the functional approach usually presupposes fundamental separation between the cognitive intentional state and the feeling state (the phenomenological state), and adds them on later without doing justice to the phenomenology of emotion.

In this paper, I will suggest that to explore the phenomenology of emotion, we can benefit from R. G. Collingwood's aesthetic discussion of emotion: his theory of expression and his conception of emotion in his mature work of aesthetics “The Principles of Art”. I will argue that Collingwood's insights into emotion in his theory of expression are valuable for us to develop a more satisfactory theory of emotion which is faithful to the phenomenology of emotion. Through the explication of Collingwood's theory, I will also introduce theories of metaphor in order to fully explain how Collingwood's account of “expression” (i.e. the process in which one can individualize and articulate the phenomenological peculiarities of a certain emotion) can really work.


6 November 2015

Luke McNulty, “Wittgenstein, Humility, and the Other”

On ‘orthodox’ readings, Wittgenstein’s therapeutic philosophical method involves trying to refute a confused interlocutor (usually someone called ‘the metaphysician’). This attempt at refutation involves demonstrating to the interlocutor that her use of words violates the rules that regulate the use of those words in ordinary language. It does not occur to the Wittgenstein of this orthodox reading that his own sense of what the rules of ordinary language will and will not permit might be mistaken, and that his interlocutor’s apparently unruly use of terms might not be so unruly after all. Accordingly, this Wittgenstein places the blame for his failure to understand his interlocutor squarely upon her, overlooking his own possible contribution to that failure.

On the alternative, ‘austere’, reading of the therapeutic method there is no attempt to refute the interlocutor in the above, orthodox, way. I argue that this reading recommends a compelling view of Wittgenstein’s method as being informed by a greater humility both in his relation to the rules of language and in his relation to the interlocutor whose ways with words he finds hopelessly strange. I urge that austere readers should embrace this consequence of their reading more directly than they typically do.


9 October 2015

Octavian Ion, “Structured propositions, unity, and the sense-nonsense distinction”

Back in the Good Old Days of Logical Positivism, theories of meaning were part of a normative project that sought not merely to describe the  features of language and its use, but so to speak to separate the wheat from the chaff. In this paper I side with Herman Cappelen (2013) in thinking that we need to rethink and reintroduce the important distinction between sense and nonsense that was ditched along with other normative aspirations during Logical Positivism's Spectacular Demise. Like Cappelen, I believe that sentences containing terms which lack content are nonsense, however my goal in the present paper is to argue that a more controversial set of sentences (category mistakes) also fit the bill. To this end I provide an account of nonsense that covers both cases and address some of the challenges raised for such an account.


25 September 2015

Brad Fehr, “The Role of Culture in Art Criticism”

This paper synthesizes Noel Carroll's evaluative criticism, as outlined in his book “On Criticism”, with Arthur Danto's non-evaluative criticism, as described in his paper “Fly in the Fly Bottle: The Explanation of Critical Judgement of Works of Art”. This synthesis gives grounds to challenge the objectivity within Carroll's model of art criticism by highlighting one aspect of his theory in particular, that the art critic can ultimately serve a social function.

Jay Worthy, “The Space of the Flesh: On the Dialectics of Orientation and the Absurdity of the Origin”

In this paper I explore Derrida’s reading of khōra as a way into what I provisionally term a “normative politics” at stake in the notion of the democracy to come. This normativity, I claim, could be expounded through Derrida’s notion of the “right to irony in public space,” which suggests a pre- or non-legal “right” that functions as a normative unconditioned, amd which would ultimately trouble the authority any one normativity. I expound both the possible risks and rewards implicit in the right to irony by briefly considering a reading it allows with respect to prevailing government narratives surrounding the events of the Québec student protest movements of 2012 and 2015. The right to irony in public space, I ultimately argue, must imply a certain need to resist narrative closure in public space: A normativity that would therefore take place “within and against” normativity itself.


11 September 2015

Thomas Mathieu, “Cognitive Merits and Aesthetic Value”

In this paper my aim is to present a defense of aesthetic cognitivism against the objection that cognitive merits of artworks are often so banal as to be devoid of value. While agreeing with Gaut’s response to this objection, which claims that cognitive merits lie in descriptions of particulars instead of general statements, I further his response by elucidating this process using a modified version of Wollheim’s idea of thematizing activity.