Graduate Seminar 2012-2013

Spring 2013

Phil 207
Brian Copenhaver

In Spring Quarter, Tom Ward and I will be teaching a seminar (on Mondays at 3) about nominalism and ‘modes of signifying.’  Nominalism has been well explored by students of medieval philosophy – modes of signifying, not so much.

Our seminar, linked to current research by Tom and me, is about a late episode in the story of nominalism, just before 1500, when Ockham’s logic was being read in the University of Paris with new intensity.  (Ockham died in 1347.)  Part of the new action was a (now) newly discovered book by someone you’ve never heard of: Symphorien Champier.  Champier wrote this very short book (16 pages) when he was a TA in a philosophy course.

The book is ‘newly discovered’ in the sense that none of the (very few) experts on Champier had heard of it until it was discovered two years ago by a bookseller in Germany.  That small circle of uninformed experts includes me, which is embarrassing because I wrote my dissertation on Champier – so long ago that the embarrassment is slight.  For details, see the attachment, which also contains an annotated English translation of Champier’s book  by Tom and me, along with the Latin text.

Our plans divide the seminar into two parts: establishing the framework; and asking some questions.

In the first part, you may learn something about medieval logic and nominalism in general, Ockham and late nominalism in particular and also modes of signifying, not to speak of Monsieur Champier.  We’ll also say a little about what it takes to get a text from its original form – in this case a rare and early printed Latin book (see the other attachment) – into an intelligible English version.

In the second part, we hope to apply your newfound wisdom to the task of asking this text some questions that may help us unriddle it, by figuring out why Champier wanted to enlist a long-dead philosopher to attack an intricate and obscure view about language, and why he chose to do this in a book meant to be read by undergraduates.

Phil 287
Sam Cumming

My seminar next quarter (thurs 3-6) is going to examine the connection between the way words and images activate and direct our attention and the additional meaning (or “closure”) created by placing words and images side-by-side or in temporal sequence.

It is natural to interpret this sequence by connecting the two shots: what the man is looking at in the first shot corresponds to what is disclosed to the audience in the second shot: the couple with the balloon seller. This connection, or relation of coherence, between the two shots is not itself depicted, nor conveyed by an intertitle or other explicit source. The audience adds this information, typically without noticing that they are doing so (though the connection was anticipated, and indeed devised, by the film’s editor).

It seems to me that the first character’s gaze and its effect on audience attention is the source of coherence between the shots. The human eye, whether seen in real life or in an image, has the power to first attract our visual attention, and then propel it towards the object of its gaze. While the audience’s eye doesn’t literally follow the direction of the man’s gaze off the edge of the screen, the editor supplies the result of following his gaze in real life by cutting to a shot of its object.

If we model perceptual attention as the posing of a question, then the sequence of shots resembles a coherent dialogue with an inquisitive interlocutor. This dialogue, with its interpolated question, has the connected content of the sequenced shots:

A: A man is sitting, looking at something.

B: What is he looking at?

A: A couple with a dog, talking to a balloon seller.

I’m going to extend this general approach to other editing techniques in film and also to linguistic discourse. I hope to talk about topics as diverse as the semantics of questions and topics, inattentional and change “blindness,” associative “memory,” Stalnaker’s account of assertion and presupposition, continuity errors, and whether Hamlet speaks in blank verse.


Phil 207
Calvin Normore
M 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 325

I’ll be offering the fourth (and last!) in a series of seminars on medieval theories of  ‘transcendental terms’ this term. The subject is medieval theories of the application of the term ‘unum’ (one?). Apparently this term applies to each thing (and to everything?). Some theorists thought i coextensive with ens (being), aliquid  (thing). verum  (true) and bonum (good). Some didn’t. Some thought it picked out a number. Some didn’t.  It seems connected with issues about wholes and parts and about sameness and identity.  We will start with Plato and Aristotle  and look at discussions in  a  number  (more than one? medieval thinkers including Boethius, Abelard, Aquinas, and Ockham.

Phil 230
Terry Parsons
T 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 399 (to be moved the first week due to the 8-year review; location TBA)

The topic of this seminar is The Basics of Medieval Formal Logic.

The text for the seminar is a manuscript that will be supplied on this website at the beginning of the seminar.  The main theme of the manuscript is that medieval logic can be seen as a group of theories and practices clustered around a core theory which is a paradigm of logic; this theory consists of a number of widely known principles, all of which can be derived from a very simple core of rules and axioms.  Unlike today, however, this was not widely known, and there were only a few attempts to carry out the project of deriving most principles from a basic few.

Medieval logic rests on the logical theory developed by Aristotle.  Aristotle formulated a system of logic involving conversions and syllogisms; he assumed certain “first figure” syllogisms as axiomatic and he proved all of the other forms from these and the conversion principles.  What is much less well-known is that he did not just assume the conversion principles; he proved them.  The techniques that he used to prove those principles are more important and interesting than the system of logic for which he is known.  One of these techniques is indirect derivation: to prove a proposition, assume its contradictory and then derive something absurd.  Two other principles are similar to the modern principles of existential instantiation and existential generalization.  Using these three techniques Aristotle proved the conversion principles, and he also made occasional use of those principles in reducing some syllogisms to others.  What was not known then, or throughout the middle ages, is that using these three techniques, one may also prove all of the first figure syllogisms, so that those three principles provide a foundation for all of Aristotle’s well-known system of logic.

Medieval logicians inherited Aristotle’s work together with propositional logic as developed principally by Stoic logicians.  The manuscript addresses the evolution of this theory in the early 13th century, and beyond.  The richness of medieval logic is especially interesting because the enterprise is formulated entirely within a somewhat regimented version of natural language.  This is a version of logic in which there is no logical form except for grammatical form.  Logicians made this work in part by stipulating how Latin is to be understood, holding e.g. that surface order of words determines their semantic scope, so that a sentence like ‘A dog chased each cat’ has exactly one reading, meaning that there is a dog such that it chased every cat.  To articulate the other reading that is possible in English you would say ‘Each cat a dog chased’, which is completely grammatical in Latin, and is stipulated to mean, unambiguously, that every cat is such that some dog chased it.  This stipulation takes advantage of the relatively free word order of Latin.  The manuscript develops a system for encoding and clarifying the grammatical structures of propositions, and there are additional expansions and applications to more complex structures.  These expansions of the notation permit the validation of rather complex arguments, but for it to be fully adequate one also needs anaphoric pronouns, as in ‘Some woman owns a donkey which she feeds’.  Medieval texts contain two ideas about how anaphoric pronouns work.  One of these – the method of singulation – is the idea that anaphoric pronouns are unaffected by inferences involving their antecedents.  For example, given that Socrates is a man and every man loves his mother, we infer that Socrates loves his mother, where the ‘his’ remains unchanged while its antecedent changes from ‘every man’ to ‘Socrates’.   This method works well for reflexives and for a host of other pronouns as well.  A second method is much discussed, and it works well in a fairly broad range of cases, but gives clearly wrong results in quite a few.  This is roughly the idea that an anaphoric pronoun is an independent term; it stands for the same things as its antecedent, and has the same kind of quantificational status.  Ironically, if the first method, the one developed for reflexives, is used in place of the second method, it works much better.  With this method, inference principles previously given yield a system of logic that is similar to the predicate calculus in richness and power.

In addition to these topics, we will also look at what is most distinctive of late medieval logic: the useful theory of modes of personal supposition.  We will also examine the special terms that were used to accommodate sentences containing three or more main quantified phrases.   We also look at other developments of the logical theory.

The manuscript contains exercises, called applications.  Students enrolled in the seminar will do all of the exercises.  We will begin each meeting by going over the exercises that were assigned concerning material from the previous meeting.  Students will be able to correct errors in their work before handing it in.  Students enrolled on an S/U basis will only be required to do the exercises.  Students enrolled for a letter grade will also write a course paper.

Phil 232
Katie Elliott
R 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 325 

Our world seems to be objectively chancy.  The chance of rolling a 1 with a fair, six-sided die is 1/6.  The chance that the air in this room will remain more or less evenly dispersed is extremely high.  The chance that a radioactive atom will decay during its half-life is .5.  Both our everyday investigations and our best scientific theories arguably suggest that chances are an objective feature of our world.

But objective chances are puzzling.  For example, the objective chance that an event occurs seems importantly connected to its occurrence.  What does this connection amount to?  The chance that a quarter lands on heads when flipped is .5, and that chance value is importantly connected to the fact that roughly half the number of times I have flipped a quarter, it has landed on heads.  However, the objective chance that an event occurs seems to necessitate nothing at all about whether it occurs, or the frequency with which it occurs.  It is possible for a quarter to land on heads every time it is flipped, or to never land heads at all.

The common philosophical approach to answering this question (and a host of others) about the nature of objective chance is to argue either that there are no objective chances or that chance facts reduce to facts of some other (less puzzling) kind.  We’ll critically discuss theories that take one of these two strategies, including the classical and subjective interpretation, frequency theories (both Humean and non-Humean versions), and propensity theories.  I’ll try to convince you that each of these well-known theories suffers from insurmountable challenges such as the reference class problem, the challenge of explaining the Principal Principle, and the undermining problem.

A natural conclusion to draw from the apparent failure of reductive theories is that the correct philosophical theory of objective chance is non-reductive.  At least, that’s the line I’ll be pushing…

We’ll also discuss, time-permitting, some relatively theory-neutral questions about objective probability, such as whether conditional or unconditional probabilities are prior, whether objective probabilities have values equal to infinitesimals, and what the metaphysical status is of the objective probabilities apparently referred to by non-fundamental physical theories (e.g. thermodynamics, biology, economics, etc).

We’ll get help from Donald Gillies book “Philosophical Theories of Probability”, but other than that we’ll read papers and book excerpts which I’ll post online.

Fall 2012

Phil M257
Rob Hughes
M 3:00 – 4:50, Law 2357 first week, Law 3393 thereafter

I’ll be offering a seminar on the concepts of political obligation, authority, and legitimacy. The course is cross-listed with Law M527. In the semester-long Law School course, we will cover three topics, two of which will be covered during Winter Quarter. Whether we cover (2) or (3) first will depend on the interests of students who are on the quarter system.

(1) Political obligation and the duty to obey the law: People often have self-interested reasons to obey the law, such as fear of punishment, and people often have law-independent moral reasons to refrain from doing things that the law forbids. Is there ever a moral reason to do what the law requires because the law requires it? If so, when and why?

(2) Authority and coercion: Is law in most actual states accurately characterized as coercive? If so, does legitimate legal authority necessarily come with an entitlement to coerce, or are legitimate governmental authority and legitimate governmental coercion separable?

(3) Legitimacy and democracy: Is some form of democracy either necessary or sufficient for law and government to be legitimate or for government to exercise legitimate authority?

The first meeting of Phil M257 will be on Monday, January 7, a week before the first meeting of Law M527. Because there are two Monday holidays next quarter, we are going to make this meeting a substantive meeting. (Law students will cover the same material in a Friday make-up session later in the month.) Though most of the readings for the course will be contemporary, we will start out by reading two historical texts that strongly endorse an obligation to obey the law, Plato’s Crito and Hume’s “Of the Original Contract.” In the Hume reading, we will pay particular attention to the six paragraphs that begin “But would we have a more regular, at least a more philosophical, refutation of this principle…”

Phil 287
Gabe Greenberg
W 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 325

Philosophy of Language: “Pictorial Semantics”.   Pictorial representation occupies a poorly understood region between language and perception.  On one hand, pictorial representation is public and conventional; on the other hand, it is fundamentally visual.  In this course, we’ll explore the possibility of developing a semantics for pictures that reflects these facts.  Central questions include: What kind of content do pictures have?  What is the relationship between pictorial and linguistic representation?  What is the relationship between pictorial and perceptual representation?  Using the framework of model-theoretic semantics, we’ll attempt to outline a systematic account of how pictures are related to their content.    In the first half of the course we’ll focus on the role of geometrical conventions in the determination of pictorial content.   In the second half, we’ll consider rival accounts of the rich referential content naturally associated with pictures.  (Barring a change of heart, I’ll defend the position that pictures are devices of direct reference.)  Throughout, I’ll make the case that image-based representation is as foundational as linguistic representation to philosophical thought.

Phil 248
Pamela Hieronymi
T 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 325
“Responsibility, Naturalism, and P. F. Strawson”

This seminar will consider P. F. Strawson’s seminal article, “Freedom and Resentment” and some of the more recent pieces of the vast literature it has spawned. We will first read Strawson’s text closely, unpacking its oft-neglected central argument. We will then consider Strawson’s underlying, and often misunderstood, naturalism, and its relation to “fitting attitudes” accounts of value. We will end by considering some of the other (often very different) accounts of moral responsibility that this text has inspired.

Phil 254
Stephen R. Munzer
TR 5:00 – 7:00, Law 2326

There are two different sets of meetings for this course. The first set consists of seminar sessions, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., that occur on Tuesdays from 10/2 through 11/27. The second set consists of workshop sessions, also from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., that occur on the following Thursdays: 10/4, 10/18, 11/1, 11/15, and 11/29. The workshops always have outside speakers, whose work is made available in advance. Accompanying you will find a list of the outside speakers for fall 2012.

Let me refer to the union of these two sets as the Legal Theory Workshop (LTW). The purpose of the LTW is to develop legal and philosophical skills in both oral and written expression with respect to papers at the interface between law and philosophy. These skills involve critical analysis and to a lesser extent creative, constructive work. The LTW is not an introductory course. It provides no overview of law and philosophy, and it is not thematically unified. The reading materials are provided by our outside speakers. The readings are the fodder for your critical and constructive work. All readings will be posted on the Law School website known as MyLaw.

With the exception of Professor Nickel, each of the outside speakers was invited to supply two sorts of readings: a paper that s/he has recently published or a paper that s/he is currently working on, and some background readings that will enable members to the seminar to understand better the project in the speaker’s own paper. On the Tuesday 9 days before each workshop session, we will discuss the background readings in light of a discussion note you produce in advance. On the Tuesday 2 days before each workshop session, we will discuss the speaker’s paper in light of a discussion note you produce in advance. You will have an opportunity to revise your discussion note before that speaker’s workshop session. (Because this course is open to both law students and philosophy graduate students, it was necessary to delay the start date owing to the quarter calendar used by the philosophy department. That is why there will be no background materials for Professor Nickel’s paper.)

For purposes of the LTW, a “discussion note” is a critical and if possible constructive analysis of one or more readings. It should be two pages double-spaced in length. Please do not think of it as a “reaction paper,” as if you were giving some knee-jerk response to something that someone else wrote. The purpose of a discussion note is to get inside the author’s project and then analyze, as fairly and thoroughly as possible, the author’s position and arguments. The ideal tone is careful and fair-minded but simultaneously analytical; go for the heart of the matter rather than pick nits. It is anticipated that everyone’s discussion notes will get better over the course of the semester/quarter. Discussion notes have to be email to me as Word documents two days in advance of each seminar session and one day in advance of each workshop session. I will use them to organize discussion in the seminar sessions and to a lesser extent in the workshop sessions.

Phil 258
Matt King
R 3:00 – 5:45, Law A122

Attempts are an interesting notion, both philosophically and in the law. I can do something (e.g., run over my neighbor) without trying to run him over. And I can attempt to run him over but not actually run him over. In this course, we will be interested in the distinctive nature of attempts, as distinguished from successes and failures, in both legal and purely moral contexts.

In some cases, we’ll be interested in the general status of attempts. Should successful crimes be punished more than attempts? If we can legitimately criminalize doing something, may we always legitimately criminalize the attempt to do it?

But we’ll also examine some puzzles involving attempts. If someone uses a homemade (but non-functional) “death ray” to try to disintegrate their nemesis, have they attempted to kill him? What if someone thinks they’re shooting at a person, but it turns out to be a doll? What if you do something you think is illegal, but it turns out to be perfectly legal? These puzzles force us to examine the complicated relationship between legal (and moral rules) and our inner mental states (like intentions and beliefs).

Our main guide will be a recent book, called Attempts, by legal philosopher Gideon Yaffe. Other readings will be made available by the instructor.