Department of Philosophy

Department of Philosophy seminars and reading groups

Royal Institute of Philosophy Seminars

3pm, Wednesdays,
Machicado Suite, Willoughby Hall (unless stated otherwise)
University Park

These seminars, funded thanks to the generosity of The Royal Institute of Philosophy, are open to all.

For any further information please contact Katharine Jenkins.



intuitions workshop

Spring semester 2017

1 February 2017

Heather Widdows (University of Birmingham)

Beauty, Choice and Exploitation

This paper will explore some of the discourses around beauty practices, interventions and products (including those involved in ‘routine maintenance’, such as continual body hair removal and what are normally considered more extreme practices, such as cosmetic surgery). It will consider how the engagement in such practices can be considered a choice given the relatively narrow and demanding, and increasingly global, beauty ideal. It will explore how, within such a limited framework, we can conceptualise engagement in such practices using arguments about choice and exploitation.

8 February 2017

Chris Woodard (University of Nottingham)

Knowing What is Good for You

Many writers on well-being accept some form of ‘anti-alienation’ constraint, according to which (roughly) something can be a constituent of your well-being only if you would value it in the right circumstances. This constraint often features in arguments for subjectivism about well-being—the view that what makes something a constituent of your well-being is that you would value it in the right circumstances. Unfortunately, these arguments about the metaphysics of well-being do not look very promising. However, we may be able to draw significant epistemic conclusions about well-being from the anti-alienation constraint. I will claim that, suitably elaborated, the constraint implies that it is usually hard to know what would be good for you, and harder still to know what would be best for you.

Monday 13 February 2017                 

A31, Sir Clive Granger Building 

A one-off extra seminar from Stephen Grimm, who will be visiting the UK from from Fordham University in New York.

Understanding as an Intellectual Virtue

This workshop will try to elucidate the various ways in which understanding can be seen as an excellence of the mind or intellectual virtue. It will take up the neglected issue of what it might mean to be an “understanding person”— not a person who understands a number of things about the natural world, but a person who steers clear of things like judgmentalism in her evaluation of other people, and thus is better able to take up different perspectives and view them with a sympathetic eye. Being an understanding person in this sense seems to be a character-level virtue that interestingly combines moral and epistemic elements; it also seems to be a virtue particularly needed in our age of deep political division, where it is commonly said that failures of mutual understanding are partly to blame for this problem.

NB: Seminar will take place at 3pm, Monday 13 February in Room A31, Sir Clive Granger Building 

15 February 2017

Aness Webster (University of Nottingham)

What's Bad About Casual Racism?

22 February 2017

David Owens (King's College London)

Property and Authority

On one view, the function of a property right is to serve the owner's interest in exercising control over things around them. I develop this view of property, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. I then suggest that human beings also have an interest in controlling their rights and obligations and that the function of property rights may be to serve that authority interest.

1 March 2017

Lea Ypi (London School of Economics)

The Moral Ought in 'As If' Politics

Progress is an idea both unavoidable and dangerous. It is unavoidable because without it, our efforts to do the right thing seem to have very little meaning. And it is dangerous because the pursuit of progress has often given rise to instances of paternalism, colonial domination and narratives of civilisational superiority. The latter perhaps explains why much recent philosophical writing is at best silent, at worst uneasy about the topic. In what follows I shall explore the former: the unavoidability of the belief in progress. I will do so by looking at the relation between moral normativity and that kind of belief. This is a familiar Kantian theme and in my outline and defence I shall help myself to a number of key elements in Kant’s thought. However, in what follows, I also hope to present the idea as sufficiently plausible in itself and sufficiently relevant to at least one variety of contemporary moral theory, the variety of moral theory that purports to defeat scepticism and dogmatism by grounding morality on a rational procedure of construction of valid norms.

8 March 2017

Jon Robson (University of Nottingham)

Omni-beauty as a Divine Attribute

The claim that God is perfectly beautiful has played a key role within the history of a number of religious traditions. However, this view has received surprisingly little attention from analytic philosophers of religion in recent decades. In this paper I aim to remedy this neglect by addressing some key philosophical issues surrounding the doctrine of divine beauty. I begin by considering how best to explicate the claim that God is perfectly beautiful before moving on to ask what consequences accepting this claim will have for our broader theorising in philosophy.

15 March 2017

Jessica Begon (University of Oxford)

Disability: A Justice-Based Account

Most people have a pretty clear sense of what they mean by disability. We have little trouble listing examples of disabilities, or identifying conditions we consider disabling. Yet providing a clear and consistent definition of disability is far from straightforward. A natural way to understand disability is as the restriction in our abilities to perform tasks, as a result of bodily features that cause a loss or difference in physiological or psychological function (impairments), and their interaction with both the social and political context, and the resources individuals have access to. However, which inabilities matter? We are all restricted by our bodies, and are all incapable of performing some tasks, but most of these inabilities are not considered disabilities. If, then, we are to avoid the category of disability becoming overly broad – indeed, universal – we need some way of picking out which of these inabilities are relevant. I argue that our answer should be informed by an account of the opportunities individuals should be entitled to be able to perform as a matter of justice. Thus, to be disabled is to have these opportunities restricted.

22 March 2017

Neil Sinclair (University of Nottingham)

Belief Pills and the Possibility of Moral Epistemology

I argue that evolutionary debunking arguments are dialectically ineffective against a range of plausible positions regarding moral truth. I first distinguish debunking arguments which target the truth of moral judgements from those which target their justification. I take the latter to rest on the premise that such judgements can be given evolutionary explanations which do not invoke their truth. The challenge for the debunker is to bridge the gap between this premise and the conclusion that moral judgements are unjustified. After briefly discussing older attempts to bridge this gap, I focus on Joyce’s recent attempt, which rests on the claim that ‘we do not have a believable account of how moral facts could explain the mechanisms and forces which give rise to moral judgements’. I argue that whether or not there is such an account depends on what it is permissible to assume about moral truth in this context. Further, I suggest that it is reasonable to make assumptions about moral truth which allow for the possibility of at least partial moral epistemologies. The residual challenge for the debunker is to show that these assumptions are unreasonable in a way which doesn’t render their debunking argument superfluous.

5 April 2017

Emily Thomas (Durham University)

The Nature of Space and Time in John Locke

John Locke’s metaphysics of time are relatively neglected but he discussed time throughout his career, from his unpublished 1670s writings to his 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and beyond. The vast majority of scholars who have written on Locke’s metaphysics of time argue that Locke’s views underwent an evolution: from relationism, the view that time and space are relations holding between bodies; to Newtonian absolutism, on which time and space are real, substance-like entities that are associated with God’s eternal duration and infinite immensity. Against this majority reading, I argue that Locke remained a relationist in the Essay, and throughout his subsequent career.

10 May 2017

Craig French (University of Nottingham) 


Past seminar series 

Autumn semester 2016

28 September 2016

Karen Simecek (Warwick)

Claudia Rankine's 'Citizen' and the value of intimacy in poetry

12 October 2016

Ian Kidd (Nottingham)

Following the Way of Heaven – Exemplars, Emulationism, and Daoism

19 October 2016

Rachel Fraser (Peterhouse College, Cambridge)

The Ethics of Metaphor

26 October 2016

Lina Jansson (Nottingham)

Newton’s Methodology Meets Humean Supervenience about Laws of Nature

2 November 2016

Jonathan Tallant (Nottingham) and David Ingram (Milan)

Nefarious Truth

9 November 2016

Jonathan Way (Southampton)

Creditworthiness and Matching Principles

16 November 2016

Peter Vickers (Durham)

The Sommerfeld Miracle

23 November 2016

Rosanna Keefe (Sheffield)

Essentialism and logical consequence

30 November 2016

Matt Matravers (York)

Rootless Desert and Unanchored Sanctions

7 December 2016
NB: Seminar will take place
in Humanities, A02.  

Philipp Rau (University of Nottingham)

The Person and the Self

Spring semester 2016

27 January 2016

Stacie Friend, Birbeck

The Real Foundation of Fictional Worlds

I argue that judgements of what is ‘true in a fiction’ presuppose the Reality Assumption: the assumption that everything that is (really) true is also fictionally the case, unless excluded by the work. By contrast with the more familiar Reality Principle, the Reality Assumption is not a rule or ‘principle of generation’ for inferring implied content from what is explicit in a text. Instead it provides an array of real-world truths that can be used in making such inferences. I claim that the Reality Assumption is essential to our ability to understand stories, drawing on a range of empirical evidence. However, the Reality Assumption has several unintuitive consequences, not least that what is fictionally the case includes countless facts that neither authors nor readers could (or should) ever consider. I argue that such consequences provide no reason to reject the Reality Assumption.

3 February 2016

Katharine Jenkins, Cambridge/Nottingham 

Ontic Injustice

In this talk, I argue that there is a distinctive type of injustice, ontic injustice, which occurs when someone is wronged by the social construction of categories, such as race categories or gender categories. A victim of ontic injustice suffers a wrong in virtue of being made into a member of the social category in question; that is to say, it is the very fact of category membership that constitutes the wrong, not any particular negative experiences that may follow. This wrong consists of a failure of recognition respect: the victim of ontic injustice instantiates morally relevant properties that warrant certain sorts of responses from others, but her category membership serves to license contrary sorts of responses. Although the notion of ontic injustice can be combined with different accounts of the ontology of social categories, here I draw on John Searle’s account of institutional reality to offer a more detailed explanation of ontic injustice. Finally, I apply the notion of ontic injustice to the Black Lives Matter movement, showing that interpreting the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ with reference to ontic injustice helps to fend off some confused and obstructive responses.

10 February 2016

Fiona Macpherson, Glasgow 

Cognitive Penetration and Predictive Coding

If beliefs and desires affect perception—at least in certain specified ways—then cognitive penetration occurs. Whether it occurs is a matter of controversy. Recently, some proponents of the predictive coding account of perception have claimed that the account entails that cognitive penetrations occurs. I argue that the relationship between the predictive coding account and cognitive penetration is dependent on both the specific form of the predictive coding account and the specific form of cognitive penetration. In so doing, I spell out different forms of each and the relationship that holds between them. Thus, mere acceptance of the predictive coding approach to perception does not determine whether one should think that cognitive penetration exists. Moreover, given that there are such different conceptions of both predictive coding and cognitive penetration, researchers should cease talking of either without making clear which form they refer to, if they aspire to make true generalisations.

17 February 2016

Natalja Deng, Cambridge 

Does Time Seem to Pass?

One of the current philosophical debates about the nature of temporal experience concerns whether or not we (perceptually) experience time as passing in a certain sense. That sense is as follows. According to (some) A-theoretic views of time, the most fundamental description of the world is tensed; it includes such claims as that it’s Wednesday today. On such views, time passes in a ‘robust’ sense. For example, only the present exists and which time exists constantly changes, or the past and the present exist and which time is the latest time constantly changes, or times constantly move into the present and then into the more and more distant past. I defend veridicalism, which denies that we (perceptually) experience time as passing in this sense. The talk has two parts. In the first part, I take the debate at face-value. I show that veridicalism gains indirect support from a close inspection of rival proposals. Moreover, I point out that veridicalists can offer good explanations for why we are nevertheless sometimes inclined towards A-theoretic views. In the second part, I suggest that a deflationary view of the debate can provide further support for veridicalism. Finally, I offer some McTaggart-style reasons to adopt this deflationary view and respond to a recent objection.

24 February 2016

Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vji, Kent 

Epistemic Heroes and Duties to Inform

We owe duties to others, and those duties include a duty to help. Our duty to address other people’s need for information is a special case of this more general duty of beneficence. Taking Goldberg’s recent proposal regarding the nature of our duty to inform as my starting point, I will argue that the principle Goldberg is defending is demanding, since it (a) makes for an upward shift of the bar between duty and epistemic charity, and (b) is consistent with our in some cases having a duty to change our fundamental commitments if that would make us more useful to others. But it’s not too demanding—so long as it’s properly reformulated to handle cases of epistemic heroism.

2 March 2016

James Ladyman, Bristol 

An Apology for Every Thing Must Go

In this paper I enumerate the main positive and negative theses of Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalised. I will explain and defend some of them in more detail and clarify the version of Ontic Structural Realism the book advances replying to some objections.

9 March 2016

Naomi Thompson, Southampton 

Irrealism about Grounding

Grounding talk has become increasingly familiar in contemporary philosophical discussion. Most discussants of grounding think that grounding talk is useful, intelligible, and accurately describes metaphysical reality. Call them realists about grounding. Some dissenters reject grounding talk on the grounds that it is unintelligible, or unmotivated. They would prefer to eliminate grounding talk from philosophy, so we can call them eliminitivists about grounding. This paper outlines a new position in the debate about grounding, defending the view that grounding talk is (or at least can be) intelligible and useful. Grounding talk does not, however, provide a literal and veridical description of mind-independent metaphysical reality. This (non-eliminative)irrealism about grounding treads a path between realism and eliminativism. 

16 March 2016

Nathan Wildman, Hamburg 

For Contingent Necessity-makers

Are there true grounding claims of the form, 'P's necessity is  grounded in Q', for some absolute necessity P and some contingent Q?  Or, to rephrase, are there any contingent necessity-makers for  absolute necessities? Here, I argue that there are. More specifically,  I argue that, for every contingent Q that is a partial grounds of some  absolute necessity P's truth, there is a contingent plurality G,  consisting of Q plus some (possibly empty) D, that is P's  necessity-maker. And while this result doesn't show that all  necessities, let alone all absolute necessities, are grounded in  contingencies, it does show that the necessity of some absolute  necessities are fully grounded in contingent matters.

13 April 2016

Marcello Oreste Fiocco, University of California Irvine 

Time as a Substance

In this paper (the third chapter of a book in draft), I lay out the framework for a metaphysics of time by deriving some ontological principles of a more general metaphysical theory whose crux is a certain account of what a thing is.  A thing is a natured entity, something constrained in what it is by its very existence and, via this existence, constraining other things.  This account is derived from a unique methodology, one that assumes nothing about the world, confronting it as merely the impetus to inquiry.  Applying this methodology as the first step in a wholly critical metaphysics of time, I argue that time itself is a thing, more specifically, a substance.  In so doing, I examine the most obvious phenomena associated with time, providing accounts of change and what a moment is, and considering the relations among these and time per se.  The resulting account of time summarily resolves several much-discussed controversies in the metaphysics of time.  This just shows, however, that the most contentious and interesting issues here are not about time itself, but about temporal reality—the world in time.

20 April 2016

Christopher Bennett, Sheffield 

Why and How to Express One's Emotions

'My point of departure is an interest in actions that are expressive of emotion. Recently philosophy has concentrated on expressions of emotion that are automatic and involuntary, such as facial expressions. My focus is different. I would like to understand expressions of emotions that are deliberate and intentional (though not normally done with some further purpose in mind). In particular, I am interested in the idea that expressive actions ‘symbolise' the way in which the person experiencing the emotion sees the salient features (the ‘gravity’) of their situation. After providing some examples by way of illustration I will consider two potential objections: what is the point of expressing one’s emotions in this sense; and is the vehicle for expression merely conventional? In exploring the beginnings of an answer to this question, I turn to the history of ideas - in particular to the Romantic or post-Kantian tradition - for a range of understandings of 'expressive needs,' that is, our alleged need to express our emotions. I provide a taxonomy of five different answers to the question of why we have expressive needs. One of these understandings is the tradition of Symbolism, and I suggest that this tradition may help in understanding the claim that expressions of emotion symbolise the intentional content of the emotion. I suggest that the idea of symbolising the content of one’s emotions in external form has some advantages over the alternative answers as a way of explaining the value of expressing the emotions. I conclude by considering how this history can help us begin to answer the two objections to the idea of symbolic, expressive action with which we started.’

27 April 2016

Katherine Hawley, St. Andrews 

Are You Trying to Tell Me Something?

To learn from what others say, we need to understand the content of their utterances, and also to grasp the force with which they are expressed: who is joking around, who is asking rhetorical questions, who is trying to tell me something?  In the first part of this talk, I investigate some obstacles to the communication of force, paying particular attention to obstacles which arise from power imbalances, social stereotypes, and clashes of localised conventions.  In the second part, I explore why some of us sometimes need to use non-standard speech acts to achieve our perlocutionary goals, for example persuading by speculating rather than telling.

4 May 2016

Jeff McMahan, Oxford 



Postgraduate Research Seminar

The Postgraduate Research Seminar meets weekly. Usually, a research student presents their research, although occasionally we set a paper to read and discuss, or a member of staff presents.

Find out more about the postgraduate research seminar

New reading groups?

Anyone interested in starting a new reading group is encouraged to do so. Try an email to the staff and research students to find people sharing your research interests.

Department of Philosophy

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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