Graduate Seminars 2014-2015

Spring 2015

Philos 202
Adam Crager
Aristotle’s Logic

Aristotle invented logic in the west. But why did Aristotle think he needed to invent logic? We study Aristotle’s syllogistic in the context of his epistemology. Special emphasis is placed on Aristotle’s work in meta-logic.

Philos 232
Katie Elliott
Time Travel: What’s Possible and What’s Probable
Monday: 3PM to 5:50PM

Our primary goal will be to assess answers to the following two questions, which have been discussed in contemporary philosophical discussions of time travel:

  1. What’s possible? I wish I hadn’t lost my paycheck in last night’s roulette game, but there’s no fix for it now.  What if I had a time machine?  On the one hand, it seems that I can travel back in time and prevent my younger self from placing the bet.  After all, it’s not hard to prevent even committed gamblers from placing bets (especially if you have the element of surprise on your side).  On the other hand, it seems that I can’t travel back in time and prevent my younger self from placing the bet.  After all, there’s nothing I can do to make a contradiction true.  If it’s true that I lost my paycheck in last night’s roulette game, it’s not true that I didn’t.  So, scenarios involving time travel to the local past bring out a puzzle about what’s possible; can I, or can’t I, change the past?
  2. What’s probable? What happens if I try to prevent my younger self from placing the bet?  Since I don’t make a contradiction true, I fail.  What stops me?  No matter how carefully I plan, no matter how many times I try, no matter what extremes I go to, something always goes wrong.  On the one hand, it seems improbable that there would be such long strings of repeated failures, and so improbable that there will be time travelers who repeatedly attempt to change the past.  On the other hand, long strings of failures are as probable as can be since it’s a necessary truth that all attempts to change the past end in failure.  So, scenarios involving time travel to the local past bring out a puzzle about what’s probable; do the strange coincidences required by time travel show that we shouldn’t expect there to be time travel into the past?

Our secondary goal will be to assess whether the answers to these questions have philosophical implications that stretch beyond the recherché topic of time travel.  For example, answers to the first question arguably undercut arguments for fatalism.  And, I’ll argue that answers to the second question tell us something interesting about the relationship between prediction and explanation.

We’ll be joined by at least one guest speaker- John Roberts (UNC-Chapel Hill)- who will present a work in progress about backwards causation.

A reading schedule will be made available on the first day of class, and all readings will be made available online.  However, everyone who is attending the first meeting is asked to read Lewis’s “On the Paradoxes of Time Travel” ahead of time.

Our reading list will include the following:

Arntzenius, F. 2006: ‘Time travel: Double your fun’, Philosophy Compass, 1: 599-616. DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2006.00045.x
Dowe, Phil (2003). The coincidences of time travel. Philosophy of Science 70 (3):574-589.
Earman, John (1972). Implications of causal propagation outside the Null Cone. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 50 (3):222– 237.
Horwich, Paul (1989). Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science. Bradford Boo
Ismael, J. 2003: ‘Closed causal loops and the bilking argument’, Synthese, 136: 305-20.
Kiourti, Ira (2008). Killing baby suzy. Philosophical Studies 139 (3):343 – 352.
Lewis, David (1976). The Paradoxes of Time Travel. American PhilosophicalQuarterly 13 (2):145-152.
Sider, Theodore (2002). Time travel, coincidences and counterfactuals. Philosophical Studies 110 (2):115 – 138.
Smith, Nicholas J. J. (1997). Bananas enough for time travel? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 48 (3):363-389.
Spencer, Joshua (2013). What time travelers cannot not do (but are responsible for anyway). Philosophical Studies 166 (1):149-162.
Vihvelin, Kadri (1996). What time travelers cannot do. Philosophical Studies 81 (2-3):315 – 330.
Vranas, Peter B. M. (2010). What time travelers may be able to do. Philosophical Studies 150 (1):115 – 121.

Philos 248
Barbara Herman and Seana Shiffrin
Reciprocity and Collective Forms of Morality
Wednesday: 3PM to 5:50PM

We are interested in exploring the moral project of public institutions, especially the State, and their connections to ideas and norms of reciprocity (apart from questions of distributive justice).  In particular, we want to develop a plausible idea of moral and political reciprocity in conjunction with a picture of what moral duties and ends must be collectively undertaken.

We start with some dissatisfaction about simple tit-for-tat conceptions of reciprocity as well as with some of their more sophisticated counterparts in the literature.  We are particularly interested in exploring the implications of cases of asymmetric reciprocity, including instances where the division of moral labor is without demand for commensurate return such as with gratitude.  When are less scalar, more asymmetrical, and more motive-centered conceptions of reciprocity appropriate, how do they relate to how we conceive of our collective moral ends, and how do they relate to how we conceive of the appropriate collective unit for discharging those collective moral ends?

The seminar will begin by our examining some competing conceptions of reciprocity, both for contrast and as sources of insight.  We will then turn to discuss what morally we must do together and in what mode, e.g. as a public body or in smaller private bodies.  This will lead us to discuss some examples: the family and education, and religion and religious institutions.  Then, we will return to a range of cases involving asymmetric reciprocity: gratitude and beneficence; legal divisions of moral labor; and the significance of failures of reciprocity, whether in cases of intentional non-compliance or in cases of inability, notably the case of animals.

Students will be asked to do the reading, write seven short reaction papers, attend the seminar, participate, and write a longer (14-20 page) analytical research paper (if taking for a grade) or a shorter (5-7 page) paper (if taking S/U).

Philos 281
Tyler Burge

The seminar will center on the sort of epistemic warrant that is the basis for all empirical warrant, and for all empirical knowledge. This sub-species of epistemic warrant is epistemic entitlement. Epistemic entitlement is epistemic warrant without reason. By developing and clarifying this notion of warrant, I hope to make progress on some central issues in contemporary epistemology: the role of reliability in empirical epistemic warrant and in empirical knowledge; the ways in which warrant depends on factors internal or external to the warranted individual; certain relations between scepticism and standard claims of empirical knowledge. I intend to discuss in some detail two popular arguments that have been directed against conceptions of warrant for perceptual beliefs, like entitlement, that do not require the individual with the warrant (or with the knowledge that the warrant supports) to have a reason for those perceptual beliefs. One of these arguments will require some discussion of some of the methods of perceptual psychology.

Philos 287
Gabriel Greenberg
Iconic and Symbolic

“Iconic” representation includes representation by pictures, maps, diagrams, audio recordings, and 3D models; “symbolic” representation includes representation by linguistic expressions, numerals, and data structures in digital computers.  Many have held that iconic representation essentially involves some kind of resemblance or isomorphism, while symbolic representation is essentially arbitrary.  But this facile analysis turns out to be beset by problems.  While the distinction between these two classes of representation seems fundamental, what the distinction actually comes to, and how it should be extended to the domain of mental representation, remain difficult and open questions.  This course will explore these issues with readings drawn from philosophy, computer science, linguistics, and psychology.

Readings may include:

Plato (c. 360 BCE) Cratylus
Peirce (1868) “On a new list of categories”
Saussure (1922) General Course in Linguistics
Kulvicki (2006) “Pictorial Representation”
Giardino and Greenberg (2015) “Varieties of Iconicity”
Euler (1795) Letters to a German Princess
Venn (1881) Symbolic Logic
Larkin and Simon (1987) “Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth ten thousand words”
Shin (1994) The Logical Status of Diagrams
Casati and Varzi (1999) Parts and Places
Camp (2007) “Thinking with Maps”
Rescorla (2009) “Predication and Cartographic Representation”
Neural Iconicity
Beck (2012) “The Generality Constraint and the Structure of Thought”
Beck (2014) “Analogue Magnitude Representations: A Philosophical Introduction”
Iconicity in Language
Clark and Gerrig (1990) “Quotations as Demonstrations”
Davidson (forthcoming) “Quotation, Demonstration, and Iconicity”
Iconic v. Symbolic
Fodor (1975) The Language of Thought
Goodman (1976) Languages of Art
Haugeland (1991) “Representational Genera”
Barwise and Etchemendy (1996) “Visual Information and Valid Reasoning”
Shimojima (1996) On the Efficacy of Representation
Shimojima (2001) “The Graphic-Linguistic Distinction”
Fodor (2010) LOT2: The Langue of Thought Revisited

Winter 2015

Philos 206
Terry Parsons and Calvin Normore
Tuesdays at 3:00

Our central task will be to read most of John Buridan’s Treatise on Consequences, translated by Stephen Read, forthcoming from Fordham University Press, Dec 1, 2014.

This may be preceded by considering views of the consequence relation from the previous couple of centuries, and may be followed by discussions of views after Buridan’s work.

Philos 207
Mikko Yrjonsuuri
“Medieval philosophy of logic”

Through analysis of materials from medieval logicians, the course gives familiarity with the central issues and concepts in philosophy of logic, including
– Consequence and validity
– Logic as structural analysis of language
– Logic and metaphysics
– Logic and mind
– Truth
– Definition of logic as a discipline
The course proceeds in a historical order, starting with the ancient background in Aristotle’s syllogistic system, the Stoic indemonstrables and the so called Porphyrean tree, and proceeding then to the central medieval authors ranging from Abelard to Descartes. Particular attention is paid to the mental language tradition (eg. Roger Bacon, William Ockham and John Buridan) and the discussions concerning the formal nature of logic connected to this tradition. The course aims both at a systematic understanding of what logic is and has been, and at a historical overview of what happened in medieval logic.

Readings include Susan Haack: Philosophy of Logics, Cambridge UP 1978; and Tuomo Aho and Mikko Yrjönsuuri ”Late Medieval Logic” in Leila Haaparanta (ed.) The Development of Modern Logic, Oxford UP 2009. Short texts by medieval authors will be circulated in class.

Philos 220
Brian Copenhaver and Calvin Normore
Philosophy as Descartes Found It
Thursdays 4:00-5:50

The Philosophical world from which Descartes emerged and which he to a considerable extent transformed was one quite different from that of the ‘High’ Middle Ages and from that of the later 17th Century. In this seminar we will examine the thought of that world focusing on some of its major figures. We will explore the emergence of key themes such as the importance of method, the possibility of certainty the relation between logic and rhetoric. Figures studied may include Burgersdijk, Erasmus, Montaigne, Ramus, and Suarez.

Philos 254A/B
Mark Greenberg

This unusual seminar is structured around the Legal Theory Workshop. The Workshop is modeled on Ronald Dworkin and Thomas Nagel’s long-running workshop at NYU.  It brings leading scholars from around the country to discuss their works-in-progress with students and interested faculty.  The papers are diverse, ranging across, for example, moral philosophy, the relevance of philosophy of language to legal interpretation, philosophy of law, and legal theory. The seminar involves biweekly discussions with visiting scholars, with intervening preparatory weeks in which the class discusses the paper to be presented in the following week. One major focus of the class is on how to ask good questions.

The first two speakers this term will be Ralph Wedgwood of USC and our own Daniela Dover.

Philos M257
Stephen Nayak-Young

In this seminar, we will investigate two broad themes – namely, workplace authority and connections between work law and distributive justice – by canvassing a selection of specific ethical and legal issues related to the workplace and work relationships. Among the issues we will canvas include: whether the current presumption of managerial authority in the workplace can be justified; what the proper bounds of such authority should be; and to what extent and in what ways work law does and should aim to advance distributive justice. Specific topics will likely include: duties and obligations attaching to the parties within work relationships; freedom of speech and other civil liberties in the workplace; sexual harassment and workplace bullying; discrimination; unions and collective action; the nature of slavery and “indentured servitude”; what it means to “commodify” workers and work; in what ways a just society should permit or forbid such commodification.

No prior background is necessary, but an interest in theoretical approaches to moral and legal issues as well an interest in abstract, philosophical thinking and writing are essential. All law students and all philosophy graduate students are welcome and have the relevant preparation.Students will be required to do the reading, write five short reaction papers, attend the seminar, participate, and write a longer (10-15 page) analytical research paper, which will be due around the end of March.

The seminar, Philosophy M257: Law and Morality in the Workplace, will meet on Monday afternoons from 2:00 – 4:50 pm in Dodd Hall 399. It starts on January 5 and ends on March 9.

Philos 281
Mark Greenberg
Tuesdays 3:00 – 5:50

The seminar will focus on recent work on concepts in philosophy and cognitive science. At this point, the seminar is still very much a work in progress. (I would be interested in hearing from
potential participants about what material you would like to cover.) My tentative plan is to structure the seminar around the manuscript of an ambitious new collection of essays on concepts, the Conceptual Mind: New Directions in the Study of Concepts, edited by Eric Margolis and Stephen Laurence. The essays are all written for this volume. (The volume is not published yet, but I have drafts of many of the pieces.) The volume will have sections on, for example, nonhuman animals and concepts; concepts and evolution; concepts and perception; concepts and language; concept acquisition and conceptual change; concepts and normativity; and the individuation of concepts. We may also read a variety of other materials. For example, we may delve into Jerry Fodor’s famous arguments for mad-dog nativism (the position that all concepts are innate), including his recent return to the topic. And we may read parts of Susan Carey’s The Origin of Concepts, which gives an up-to-date discussion of the empirical work on concept acquisition and draws on that work to reply to Fodor’s challenge. One minor theme of the seminar will be the payoff for philosophers of empirical work.
The seminar will meet on Tuesdays at 3:00 beginning on January 6. The room will be Dodd Hall 399 if it is available – otherwise, 325. The first meeting will be introductory. There is no
reading assignment for the first reading. I will make the readings available in electronic form where possible. S/U students and auditors are welcome. You are welcome to attend the first meeting (or indeed several meetings) in order to decide whether you are interested in coming regularly.
Some Useful Background Readings:
Jerry Fodor, The Language of Thought (1975); “The Present Status of the Innateness Controversy,” in his Representations (1981); Concepts (1998); and LOT 2 (2008).
Susan Carey, The Origin of Concepts (2010).
Margolis, Eric and Laurence, Stephen, “Concepts”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
Margolis and Laurence, eds., Concepts: Core Readings (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).
Useful collection of philosophical and psychological readings on concepts.
Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” and “Carnap and Logical Truth.” Classic attack on the analytic/synthetic distinction, which may be important to our discussions.
Georges Rey, “Learning, Expressive Power and Mad Dog Nativism: The Poverty of Stimuli (and Analogies), Yet Again,” Mind & Language, 29(2) (2014) (a reply to Carey).

Philos 287
Samuel Cumming
Thursdays 4:00-6:50

My seminar will cover core debates in the philosophy of language and mind. We will attempt an encyclopedic coverage of issues, rather than the narrow focus that is usual in seminars. At the outset, as little as possible background knowledge will be assumed (though see below for some suggested holiday reading), so the seminar should be accessible to all. I will also discourage faculty from attending (with a possible exception for faculty not in mind and language), in an attempt to make the environment as welcoming as possible.

In the first half, we will look at five papers by Donald Davidson (with some supplementary reading from Chomsky) on the following issues in the philosophy of language: compositionality, truth, convention, figurative language, and logic (in the context of event semantics).

In the second half, we will read (most of) David Chalmers’ book The Conscious Mind, and discuss (among other things): the supervenience of the mental on the physical, two-dimensionalist semantics, the hard problem of consciousness, and the debate between dualism and materialism.

Important background reading for the second half is Kripke’s Naming and Necessity.

Hope to see you there!


p.s. Even though the course number is 287, this seminar should certainly count towards the special area requirement in M&E (for those whose propositions will be in a different area). I’m happy to petition the graduate advisor if necessary.

Fall 2014

Philos 202
Henry Mendell
The Structure of Aristotle’s Physics

This course will examine Aristotle’s Physics as a science as conceived in the Posterior Analytics and through methodological comments within the Physics.  In other words, the treatise consists of first principles i.e., hypotheses and definitions of the principle kinds (Physics II 1-2, III-V 2) and definitions of attributes (V 3), and demonstrations, including demonstrations of the essence and demonstrations in a fairly loose sense  (Physics V-VIII).  In addition, the text includes methodological discussions of how to investigate and the ingredients of explanations in nature, and more.  It is of deep significance for understanding III-VIII that these books concern change and work at a general level (cf. Physics II 3), so that the subject is mostly treated as perceptible magnitude.  Therefore, teleology is nigh absent from the discussion or present in a trivial way (a motion or the end of a motion).  The treatise concludes with what I call a capstone theorem, that the first mover of everything  has no magnitude.  Many have looked at the Physics as involving some method of dialectical investigation through worthy opinions (endoxa);  I take a different approach.

Philos 206
Brian Copenhaver

Phil 206 is a seminar offered concurrently with a Latin reading course in medieval and early modern philosophy.  Students in the seminar will read and discuss related texts and relevant secondary literature on the Latin texts selected for reading.

Philos 232
Sheldon Smith

My Philosophy 232 seminar in the Fall will be about the notion of a ceteris paribus law, a law that holds other things being equal. We will discuss what a ceteris paribus law would be and what laws are more generally. We will then discuss whether the notion of a ceteris paribus law is useful when it comes to understanding the contents of actual science, especially physics.

Philos 248
Pamela Hieronymi

This seminar will be, in some sense, a continuation of last Spring’s seminar, though attendance in that seminar is in no way required for this one. Last term, we saw Mark Schroeder argue against what he calls the “No Background Conditions View,” according to which any fact appealed to in an explanation of why some consideration is a reason to act must itself become part of the reason for acting. So, if the fact that there will be dancing at the party is a reason to go to the party, and if we explain why it is a reason to go by appeal to the fact that you like to dance, then the fact that you like to dance is, itself, part of the reason to go to the party. There are no “background conditions”—no facts that explain why something is a reason that are left in the background. If there are no background conditions, then, if you accept certain theories about why this or that is a (conclusive) reason to act (utilitarianism, say, or constructivism), that acceptance will change your motivations—by accepting the theory, you have changed the reasons for which you act. I call this “bleed-through”—the reasons given by the theory bleed into the motivation of the actor, once the actor accepts the theory. The possibility of bleed-through is, I believe, the basis for certain objections to certain moral theories.

This term we will examine some of those objections more carefully, and, in so doing, try to understand more exactly when and why certain explanations bleed through. We will consider some old objections to moral theory, and whether they could be met or avoided by better understanding reasons for action. We will then consider the apparent threat to moral conviction from evolutionary or other “debunking” explanations. Finally, we will turning to an examination of cases in which bleed-through seems not to occur: cases of games and practices. We will compare these with rules of inference.

Philos 287
Joshua Armstrong
Truth and Imprecision

This seminar will explore foundational questions concerning the role of reference and truth in characterizing the semantic properties of natural language expressions. Our focus will be on a problem raised by cases of *assertoric imprecision*—cases in which speakers represent the world with their assertions in a way that merely approximates how things are in the actual world.  In recent years, a number of theorists have taken cases of assertoric impression to motivate either a rejection of standard alethic norms on assertion or a more attenuated connection between semantic content and assertoric content.

After evaluating the viability of these revisionary approaches, we will consider whether the problem is better addressed within a more classical framework. Specifically, we will consider the extent to which the problem motivates *semantic pluralism*: the thesis that a conventionally established semantic theory for a language associates a range of admissible semantic values with the simple and complex expressions of the language.

Readings will be drawn from contemporary work in the philosophy of language and natural language semantics. Students who wish to take the seminar for credit will be asked to do the weekly readings, participate in discussion, and write a substantial (15-20 page) research paper.