2020 Postgraduate Colloquium

Department of Philosophy, University of Adelaide » July 22–23

We are currently proposing to hold our postgraduate colloquium in face-to-face format, in Barr Smith South 2052. To comply with social distancing, only postgraduate students, supervisors, and academic staff members will be invited to this year’s colloquium. However the situation with face to face meetings remains under review and we may be required to hold this event remotely. Please do not attend the colloquium if you are unwell.

Sessions will begin on the hour/half-hour. Short sessions will be 25 minutes (15 minutes talk and 10 minutes for questions), long sessions 55 minutes (30–35 minutes talk and 20–25 minutes for questions).

After the conclusion of Wednesday’s talks, all are welcome to join us for drinks at the Exeter.

Schedule

Time Speaker Title (links to abstracts)
Wednesday July 22
9:30–10:25 Riley Harris ‘Trade-Offs as an Approach to Moral Uncertainty’
10:30–10:55 Henry Phillips ‘Relationships, Blame, and Moral Standing’
11:00–11:30 Break
11:30–12:25 Tim Nailer ‘Two Tiers of Moral Agency’
12:30–12:55 Nick Smyth ‘What role do intuitions play in moral knowledge?’
13:00–14:00 Lunch
14:00–14:55 Atheer Al-Khalfa ‘Referential/Attributive Distinction: Implicature, Misdescriptions and Indexicals’
15:00–15:25 Jessica Pohlmann ‘What role do intuitions play in the methods of naturalised metaphysics?’
15:30–16:00 Break
16:00–16:30 James Vlachoulis ‘The Problem of Change and the A-Theory’
16:30–17:00 Brigitte Everett ‘Linking our Experience with the B-theory’
17:30–later Drinks (strictly optional), the Exeter
Thursday July 23
9:30–9:55 Danny Wardle ‘Social Groups, Persistence, and Identity’
10:00–10:55 Adam Townsend ‘Structural Representation in Neural Network Models’
11:00–11:25 Margaret Penhall-Jones ‘Self-deception and Wilful Ignorance’

Abstracts

Referential/Attributive Distinction: Implicature, Misdescriptions and Indexicals

Atheer Al-Khalfa

I discuss three issues related to Donnellan’s Referential/Attributive Distinction.

  1. Definite Descriptions can be used to seemingly express general/singular propositions. Some think that unlike general propositions these singular propositions are merely conversationally implicated; I don’t think they are.
  2. Similarly, some think that the truth-value divergence exhibited in cases of misdescriptions can be captured via conversational implicature; I don’t think it can. And
  3. after presenting my own regimented and systematic Referential/Attributive Distinction, I argue that it also appears in other terms like most indexicals. I think this calls for a special semantic treatment; I suggest one.

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Linking our Experience with the B-theory

Brigitte Everett

The B-theory is the view that all times exist and are equally real, coupled with the view that times are only distinguished from other times based on earlier or later than relations. In other words, B-theorists reject the A-properties (pastness, presentness and futurity) and the claim that reality is fundamentally tensed. For this reason, the B-theory is often assumed not to include an account of change and, therefore, is thought to be incapable of explaining our experience of change. The core of my thesis comprises of an argument for one kind of view, dispositionalism, that accounts for our experience of change as veridical. In this talk, I will give an overview of the key points in my thesis. I will begin with a brief discussion of objections levelled against the B-theory based on how B-theorists account for our use of tensed sentences. I will then discuss one way to account for our experience of change as an illusion before looking at a view that enables the B-theorist to account for our experience as veridical. Finally, I will describe my preferred dispositional view and explain why I think it provides a simpler and more intuitive account of our experience than the other views I will discuss.

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Trade-Offs as an Approach to Moral Uncertainty

Riley Harris

When we are uncertain of the moral facts, how might we respond appropriately to the reasons implied by our beliefs? Many argue we ought to maximise the expected moral value of our options. Problems with this approach arise from the necessary assumptions that moral theories give comparable evaluations, that we reject nihilism, and that we have unbounded computation. Examining ‘trade-offs’ can solve (or partially solve) each.

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Two Tiers of Moral Agency

Tim Nailer

What features does a good account of moral agency require? I think that such an account should identify certain agential abilities, which enable certain types of action, the performance of which open up agents to certain types of response. A useful way of developing an account of moral agency is to take an existing account of moral responsibility and recast its responsibility conditions as agential abilities. Given the large variety of accounts of moral responsibility, there are range of abilities, actions, and responses, that a derived account of moral agency may have. I will canvas these possibilities before offering my own account, derived from the work of Nomy Arpaly. I claim that while my theory has the virtue of inclusiveness, more restrictive theories that emphasise more sophisticated abilities are also useful. For this reason, I propose a two tiered account of moral agency that takes both inclusiveness and sophisticated moral behaviour into account.

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Self-deception and Wilful Ignorance

Margaret Penhall-Jones

‘Is wilful ignorance a type of self-deception?’

This is the question I will consider in my thesis. In particular, I will be exploring the idea that both concepts involve self-induced, purported ignorance.

Wilful ignorance occurs when a person claims ignorance of an illegal or morally repugnant situation, having deliberately failed to take reasonable steps to discover the truth.

Self-deception can be said to occur when a person is motivated to form a belief against the evidence to avoid an unwelcome truth.

Wilful ignorance is a legal concept, recognised in courts in order to determine mens rea in crimes. This has resulted in serious attempts to define it, as well as case material. Wilful ignorance also applies to considerations that guide our moral and social behaviour, particularly in our roles as global citizens.

Self-deception applies more personally. There is no clear, agreed definition in the philosophical literature. Discussions tend to proceed from consideration of paradigmatic case examples.

An emerging debate concerns whether these two concepts are similar phenomena and if so, how they are related.

I hope to contribute to that debate.

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Relationships, Blame, and Moral Standing

Henry Phillips

Recently, many philosophers who hope to view blame from a practical standpoint have turned to questions surrounding the moral standing of the blamer. In other words, they have begun to consider whether certain people might be unable to blame others for some objectionable actions. In my thesis I hope to develop an account of moral standing. However, in this talk I will only take an initial step toward this larger goal. This step involves articulating and motivating what I believe to be the most promising account of blame. To do so, I will begin by highlighting two themes of Strawson’s Freedom and Resentment and explain how accounts of blame are developed from these themes. One kind of account focuses on relationships, and another on attitudes. Then, I will motivate my understanding of a largely relationship-based account, and consider some objections. Finally, I will suggest that understanding blame in this way provides us with promising resources to answer questions about moral standing.

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What role do intuitions play in the methods of naturalised metaphysics?

Jessica Pohlmann

Contemporary approaches in mainstream metaphysics are pursued in a broadly naturalistic vein. This may mean, as per methodological naturalism, the methods deployed in metaphysical debates emphasise the relevance of empirical evidence, show respect for the findings of science or suggest we only engage in debates primarily informed and warranted by the results of modern science. This, in my view, sets forth an inquiry in meta-metaphysics that is primarily concerned with distinguishing how the natural sciences must be taken into account in order to address metaphysical questions and yet have analytic metaphysics evolve largely independently from a metaphysics of science. My thesis broadly aims to contribute to the literature on how developments in the sciences are relevant to analytic metaphysicians and whether appeals to armchair methods are part of a distinctive method for doing metaphysics. Ultimately, I intend to apply these concerns more directly to methods deployed in the philosophy of contemporary physics by looking at the problem of persistence as part of the set of philosophical investigations on our most fundamental empirically confirmed physical theories since the quantum and relativistic revolutions. At present, however, I have a narrow focus to do with how, as naturalists, we might be concerned with preserving intuitions (if at all) as a salient feature of current practice in metaphysics.

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What role do intuitions play in moral knowledge?

Nicholas Smyth

What is the role of intuition in acquiring moral knowledge? Ethical theories seem to provide knowledge of what is right and wrong, good and bad, and the structure of ethical theories suggests intuitions are important in justifying our moral beliefs. What are intuitions? Are intuitions reliable? In my project I consider different ways of structuring theories, different conceptions of the nature of intuitions, and consider challenges to the reliability of intuitions.

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Structural Representation in Neural Network Models

Adam Townsend

Neural network models are simplified biologically-inspired models of aspects of cognition. They can achieve high levels of performance in many problem domains and are increasing used in artificial intelligence applications. However, there is still no comprehensive understanding and explanation of how the input data is transformed into task appropriate output. The operation of neural networks can be described in terms of the transformations or processing of internal representational states and there are various approaches to characterising representations and determining their content. This presentation provides a discussion of how neural networks may utilise structural representations that have a relevant structural resemblance relation to the task domain and includes some empirical analysis of simulated network models to determine whether there is evidence to support this approach.

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The Problem of Change and the A-Theory

James Vlachoulis

Change appears to generate contradiction. How can one thing be one way, and that very same thing change so that it can be another way? The solution is that when changes occur, things are one way at one time and are a different way at another time. This obvious solution raises another problem: what sort of time is involved in this solution to the problem of change? I argue that the A-theory of time fails to adequately account for change, and that the B-theory of time succeeds.

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Social Groups, Persistence, and Identity

Danny Wardle

Recently, some philosophers have become interested in how metaphysical issues about persistence and identity apply to social groups. I will begin with a brief discussion about metaphysical structure and why I consider social groups to be part of a broader class of non-fundamental artifactual entities. Then, I will discuss some puzzles that seem to create problems for developing an ‘objective’ account of the persistence conditions for social groups. Finally, I will argue that perdurantism provides a powerful and unified account of persistence that gives us the tools to deal with these puzzles.

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