Graduate Seminars 2013-2014

Spring 2014

Philos C219
Topics in Modern Philosophy
Deborah Brown and Calvin Normore
Tuesdays, 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 325

Descartes’ official ontology consists of two kinds of substance besides God, mind (thought) and body (extension), and their contingent modifications or “modes”. His texts, however, contain references to many objects of everyday life – clocks, mills, fountains, machines, tools, wax, animals and human beings – which though obviously related to the categories of substance and mode seem reducible to neither of them. In this course we examine the status of ordinary objects in Descartes’ philosophy and the problems they raise fo rht realisation of his borader metaphysical ambitions.

Philos 232
Sam Cumming and Sheldon Smith
Thursdays, 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 325

An interpretation of an utterance or a perceptual stimulus can be thought of as an explanation of its occurrence. To this way of thinking, both linguistic interpretation and perception would be a sort of inference to the best explanation. Indeed, computer scientists have engineered agents that interpret discourse by implementing a precise form of this inference.
Abduction is also, in the opinion of a number of psychologists, the basis for concept learning (an infant’s growing conceptual repertoire is seen as analogous to a scientist’s theory of the phenomena in the world). Jerry Fodor has received a lot of air play arguing that all cognitive learning is reducible to Bayesian conditionalization, and consequently that true concept learning is impossible (since conditionalization never leads to new representational abilities). So one of the things we plan to examine is how abduction could introduce new representations while still being formally manipulable into a Bayesian structure.
This seminar should be of interest to those who are currently taking Katie’s seminar on explanation in science (though the latter is not in any way a prerequisite for this class), since it renders the philosophical insights discussed there in a precise formalism. It should also be of interest to students of logic, philosophy of mind and perception, as well as those pursuing precise accounts of linguistic communication.

Philos 248
Reasons and Agency, Part One
Pamela Hieronymi
Wednesdays, 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 325

This seminar will involve a rare foray into metaethics, in addition to the usual concerns with value and agency. We’ll be thinking about reasons, and wondering, in particular, how they have become so popular. We’ll read T. M. Scanlon’s 2014 book, Being Realistic about Reasons (the Publication of his Locke Lectures), as well as some important background material and (warning!) some papers of my own. I’ll be trying to defend the view that reasons, as such, should not be items of great interest0that they are a reflection of features of human thought and action, on the one hand, and, on the other, of facts about the particular subjects matters with which the particular reasons are concerned. They are important only because it is important to avoid confusions about them. I have subtitled the subtitle of this seminar “Part One,” becuase I expect (but do not promise) to continue these themes in the Fall Quarter (I hope the Fall Quarter will more heavily concern the “agency” part of “Reasons and Agency”). But the current seminar will not be a prerequisite for the one to be offered in the Fall.

Philos 281
Seminar: Philosophy of Mind
Mark Greenberg
Tuesdays, 3:00 – 5:50, Dodd 399

The seminar will focus on rationalist themes in recent work, especially by Tyler Burge. We will be centrally concerned with notions of warrant and entitlement. We will look at various cases, likely including self-knowledge, perception, the a priori, and moral knowledge. One theme will be the connection between concepts and warrant. Another theme will be norms that are fundamental to being rational. We will read significant parts of Burge’s Cognition through Understanding. We will read work by others, perhaps including George Bealer, Paul Boghossian, Alvin Goldman, David Velleman, and Christopher Peacocke. Depending on the interests of the participants, the seminar could go in different directions.

As background, we will begin by reading work by Hilary Putnam and Tyler Burge on externalism/anti-individualism. It is important to understand this work in order to explore entitlement to self-knowledge. Also, this background will be relevant to the topic of intellectual norms.

Winter 2014

Philos 207
Seminar: History of Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
Thursday 3:00 – 5:50 Dodd 325
Mikko Yrjonsuuri and Calvin Normore

The course explores the most central ancient and medieval philosophical texts discussing what we are. ‘We’ here means the customary referents of the first person pronoun in its various ethical, metaphysical and other uses. Central concepts to be paid attention include the cognates of the English ‘self’ and ‘person’ as used in the ancient and medieval texts, and the distinction between body and soul (psyche, anima). Central authors to be considered include Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Seneca, Cicero, Avicenna, Averroes, William of Auvergne, Aquinas and Olivi. We will end with a look at short texts by René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke in the light of the discussed older texts. In the first session, we will look at the Platonic dialogue Alcibiades I (esp. from 127e to the end). Further readings will be given in the first session.
A rough outline:
1. Plato: Alcibiades
2. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics; On the Soul
3. Epictetus: Enchiridion
4. Seneca, Cicero, Boethius
5. Avicenna
6. William of Auvergne
7. Averroes, Latin averroism
8. Aquinas
9. Olivi
10. Descartes, Hobbes, Locke

Philos 232
Scientific Explanation
Monday, 3-5:50
Katrina Elliott

Science seems to provide us with two distinct kinds of knowledge- descriptive and explanatory. For example, it is easy to see that there is a difference between knowing that there is a correlation between the position and phase of the moon and the rising and falling of the tides and knowing why. It is not so easy to see what this difference consists in. What are scientific explanations, and how do they differ from mere descriptions? We will survey and discuss some of the most influential answers to these questions since Hempel and Oppenheim’s famous paper, “Studies in the Logic of Explanation”. In the first half of the quarter, we will discuss:

Hempel’s Deductive-Nomological and Inductive-Statistical models of scientific explanation
Peter Railton’s Deductive-Nomological model of probabilistic explanation
Friedman/Kitcher Unificationist model
Wesley Salmon’s Statistical Relevance and Causal Mechanical models
van Fraassen’s pragmatic theory of explanation

In the second half of the quarter, we will read (much of) James Woodward’s Making Things Happen, in which he develops and defends a counterfactual theory of scientific explanation and an interventionist theory of causation. Perhaps (!) he will join us at the end of the quarter to talk with us about his book. If not, we will end the quarter with a (brief and cursory!) discussion of explanation in mathematics.

Philos M254A
Legal Theory Workshop
R 5:00 – 6:50 Law 2448
Seana Shiffrin

The Legal Theory Workshop is run in the spring both as a workshop and as a seminar for credit. The workshop meets every other Thursday from 5-7 and the seminar meets nearly every Thursday 5-7 starting January 9th. The seminar extends into (half) of the spring quarter. Any student is welcome to attend any session of the workshop in the spring. Enrolled students are asked to attend them all as well as all of the non-workshop purely seminar sessions in between.

The seminar is a nice opportunity to gain exposure to a number of different issues in legal theory and styles of work, to contribute to scholars’ work in progress, to have dinner with a prominent scholar or two, and to work on formulating and asking questions and to work on your writing. (There are a number of short assignments focused on formulating good questions that also offer the opportunity for rewriting after feedback. Students also write a longer paper at the end of the term (with feedback)).

We have a wonderful lineup of speakers this term of philosophers, legal theorists, and a political theorist. Our first speaker is Colin McCleod, Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Victoria, who will discuss his paper about equal opportunity on January 16th. In addition to Professor McLeod, Ekow Yankah, Christopher Essert, Kim Ferzan, Leslie Kendrick, Kinch Hoekstra, and our own Robert Hughes will be presenting. (

It’s hard to predict the topics in advance, but these speakers are experts in criminal law, property, freedom of speech, the justification of the state, and legal theory more generally. I think it will be a particularly good term and a lot of fun.

For those taking the seminar, our first meeting is Thursday, January 9th where I will discuss the expectations of the seminar and then we will discuss your questions about McLeod’s paper and the background reading, so please come having done the reading.

You may wish to get started on the short papers by writing a short set of comments or questions on McLeod. Those comments are due by January 7th at noon. Advice about writing questions is attached. The rest is explained on the syllabus.

If you are considering taking the seminar, it would be helpful to know …so drop me a line. And, if you have any questions, please let me know.

Philos 290
Language Workshop
Wednesday 3:00 – 5:50 Dodd 399
David Kaplan

This Winter, we are proposing a mixed approach to Language Workshop. We will continue our discussion of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, but we also wish to provide a forum for graduate student projects in the language/logic/metaphysics realm.

We will meet, as usual, on Wednesdays at 3:00 in Dodd 399.

You may enroll, either for a grade or S/U. If you enroll S/U, you will be expected to submit a two or three page note on a relevant topic. If you enroll for a grade, you will be expected to either write a paper or give a presentation.

Or, you may audit.

Fall 2013

Phil 219
Brian Copenhaver
Heidegger, Sartre and the Origins of Existentialism

Although courses on existentialism often start with Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky, the word ‘existentialism’ and its relatives are twentieth century inventions: in 1919 some philosophers used Existentialismus to name the view that logic depends on what exists. The very different ideas now labeled ‘existentialism’ attracted wide attention only after October 29, 1945, when Jean-Paul Sartre lectured in Paris to declare that “Existentialism is a Humanism.” About a year later, on November 10, 1946, Martin Heidegger replied to Sartre in a letter “On Humanism.”

Since the published versions of both texts are short – unlike Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Heidegger’s Being and Time – the lecture and the letter are good starting-points for examining existentialism as it stood just after World War II. Heidegger’s aim is to show Sartre how he (Sartre) misunderstands positions taken by Heidegger in Being and Time: although Heidegger had read Being and Nothingness, he focuses on Sartre’s lecture, which gave Sartre the international attention showered on Heidegger himself after he lectured at Davos in 1929 – before becoming a Nazi.

The aim of this graduate seminar is a close reading of Sartre’s lecture and Heidegger’s letter, starting with Sartre’s lecture. However, since both texts emerge from much larger books – Being and Time and Being and Nothingness – students will also read some critical literature on those works, especially Being and Time, starting with Gilbert Ryle’s review of Being and Time in Mind in 1929.

The English translations to be used are

Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism,” in Basic Writings, from Being and Time (1927) to The Task of Thinking (1964), ed. D. Krell (New York: Harper, 2008), pp. 214-65.

Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, ed. C, Macomber et al. (New Haven: Yale UP), pp. 17-54.

Phil 248/Law 557
Barabara Herman and Seana Shiffrin

This seminar will investigate the moral wrong of negligence, focusing on why negligence is morally wrong and what the study of negligence may reveal about moral responsibility, aspects of moral theory, and questions about the connection between wrongs of this sort and different notions of liability. Topics will also include: how negligence compares to reckless and to deliberate wrongdoing and attempts, including whether negligence is the lesser wrong, and whether these wrongs always relate to the same underlying duty of care; whether and how social and political circumstances may alter the underlying duty of care or expectations that ground judgments of negligence.

We will also consider whether the notion of imperfect duty is helpful in investigating negligence, and vice versa. The readings will draw primarily from contemporary philosophical sources in moral philosophy and the philosophy of law. Students will be asked to do the reading, write short reaction papers, attend the seminar, participate, and write a longer (14-20 page) analytical research paper.

We hope to see you there! For those interested in taking the course, information about the first week’s assignment appears below.

Assignment for Week 1:

We are going to jump right in and get started on Wednesday the 2d so please do the reading before we meet.

The readings for the course will be available at this website: . Sometimes, you’ll need a password.

It is: lawandphilosophy

A tentative syllabus is posted there and you can follow the tabs to the readings for week 1. For week 1, please do all of the readings posted except that for the Simons article, you need only read Parts 1 and 2.

As you’ll see from the syllabus, enrolled students are asked to submit questions and comments during most weeks of the term by 2 p.m. on the Monday before class on the discussion board. You’ll use the same password to get access. Please do not start your own thread, but just post in reply to the previous posting. Please keep your posts under 300 words.

Phil 287
The Semantics of Irreality
Tuesday, 3-6
Dodd 399
Gabriel Greenberg (Philosophy) and Jessica Rett (Linguistics)

Practical endeavors frequently involve two kinds of reflection: reasoning about matters of fact, known or unknown, on one hand; and reasoning about situations which we know to be purely hypothetical, on the other. This modal distinction tends to be encoded in natural languages as a distinction in grammatical mood, what Elliott (2000) has referred to as ‘reality status’. The difference is illustrated by the following pair of conditionals, uttered in a context where we correctly assume that Professor R. is in her office, because we see someone’s silhouette through the window.

(1) If Professor R. isn’t in her office, someone else is.
(2) If Professor R. weren’t in her office, someone else would be.

The first conditional is in the indicative mood, a subtype of realis mood. The second is in the subjunctive or counterfactual mood, a subtype of irrealis mood. This difference in reality status can have truth-conditional effects: (1) is clearly true, given that we know someone is in the office; but (2) is probably false, assuming that Professor R. doesn’t have an office-mate. In this class, we focus on linguistic constructions which, like (2), involve irreality. Our goal is to achieve a better understanding of irreality in language: its logical significance, its realization across constructions and languages, and its compositional semantics.

In the first half of the class, we’ll investigate semantic theories of counterfactual conditionals in English, with readings by Lewis, Stalnaker, Kratzer, von Fintel, Gillies, and others. Such conditionals are the best studied examples of irrealis constructions, and we’ll use this scholarship to establish a baseline semantic framework. In the second half of the class, we’ll explore how various languages use irrealis mood outside of conditionals, and the extent to which semantic theories of counterfactuals can inform their treatment (Palmer, Elliott, Farkas, Iatridou). We’ll focus on irrealis mood markers as they occur embedded under attitude verbs, modals, and in certain kinds of speech act.