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

Autumn semester 2017

4 October 2017 

Kirsten Walsh (University of Nottingham) 

Newton's Epistemic Triad

Isaac Newton condemned the use of hypotheses with his (in)famous methodological statement, Hypotheses non fingo, and yet employed hypotheses explicitly in every edition of the Principia. Some commentators have argued that Newton was working with several inconsistent notions of ‘hypothesis’: specifically, the hypotheses he used in the Principia are not the sort that he railed against in the General Scholium at the end of that book. Other commentators argue that Newton’s methodological statements are simply inconsistent with how he actually proceeded: for example, they argue that the queries introduced by Newton at the end of his Opticks are hypotheses-in-disguise.

I argue that Newton’s methodological pronouncements and his use of hypotheses are far more consistent than previously thought. I consider Newton’s methodology within the framework of his three-way epistemic distinction between theories, which are certain and experimentally confirmed, hypotheses, which are uncertain and speculative, and queries, which are not certain, but provide the proper means to establish the certainty of theories. I call this division Newton’s ‘epistemic triad’. I argue that Newton’s hypotheses and queries have distinctive and vital supporting roles within this epistemic triad. This provides us with a much more consistent picture of Newton’s methodology.

11 October 2017

Elinor Mason (University of Edinburgh) 

Rape, Harassment and Refusal

In this paper I examine and elaborate on one way in which women’s sexual refusal may be silenced. I build on Mary Kate McGowan’s suggestion, that an alternative to the Hornsby/Langton account, which involves the idea that women are silenced in that they are unable to communicate an illocutionary act, is the idea that women’s refusal is unsuccessful because they are seen to lack the relevant authority. I argue that it is possible that women do in fact lack the relevant authority, when we focus on the conventional nature of authority. I show that this is a useful way to understand harassment and date rape.

18 October 2017             

Mark Jago (University of Nottingham)

Real Contingent Identity

Are facts about numerical identity contingent? Is it ever the case that a is b, but might not have been? Or that a and b are two, but might have been one? Our two leading approaches to modal semantics – Kripkean Quantified Modal Logic and Lewisian Counterpart Theory – give opposing answers. Kripkean QML says the identity facts are necessary; counterpart theory that they are radically contingent: I could have been you, and each of us could have been a turnip. I don’t think I could have been a turnip. Being a person is essential to being me. Same for you. But do our respective essences keep us essentially apart? Or do they allow for contingency in our distinctness? In this talk, I offer a theory of real contingent identity. Contingency is not merely a matter of resemblance, as it is for Lewis, but rather a deep metaphysical notion, grounded in the essences of things.

25 October 2017

Åsa Burman (Stockholm University)

Telic Power

Analyses of institutional facts and their deontic powers is central in the field of social ontology. In this talk, I argue that deontic power is too narrow to capture important dimensions of the social world, eg, gender relations. I introduce another category of power – telic power – which has hitherto been overlooked. To explain telic power, I distinguish between two types of normativity in the social world: deontic normativity concerns what we can demand of each other and teleological normativity concerns ideals that we try to live up to and others expect us to live up to.

For example, some functions of being a woman are defined in terms of a purpose or goal (teleological), rather than in terms of rights and obligations (deontic), which means there is an ideal measuring how well we live up to this purpose. This ideal provides agents with reasons for action, eg, a woman (sometimes) perceives she ought to live up to a certain ideal and others are expecting her to do so. I provide a definition of telic power and argue for its explanatory value by showing how reasons for action deriving from telic power can both come into conflict with as well as reinforce reasons for action deriving from deontic power.

1 November 2017

Kathleen Stock (University of Sussex)

8 November 2017

Alison Wylie (University of British Columbia)

What Knowers Know Well: Why Feminism Matters to Archaeology – and to Philosophy

Neglected questions about women, gender, and sexuality have been on the archaeological agenda since the late 1980s, and gender-inclusive archaeology has transformed what we know about the past. But some of its strongest advocates deny that they are engaged in feminist scholarship or in any way influenced by feminist politics. I question their conviction that research is only credible if it is ostensibly ‘value free’, and argue that the critical insights of a feminist standpoint are a crucial resource, and not just in archaeology. I make the case for rethinking ideals of objectivity in terms that counter epistemic injustice and mobilise the situated interests and experience of diverse knowers, a conclusion that applies as much to philosophy as to the social and historical sciences.

15 November 2017

Jenny Saul (University of Sheffield)

Dogwhistles and Figleaves: Techniques of Racist Linguistic Manipulation
Until recently, it was widely believed that explicit expressions of racism would doom a political candidacy in the United States. Yet nonetheless racism was a frequently used tool that won many elections. This talk examines one of the methods, the dogwhistle, that allowed such racist electoral victories. It then turns to the present day, in which explicit racism is proving remarkably successful. Here I explore a different linguistic technique, the fig leaf, which I take to have enabled this success.

22 November 2017

Stephen Ingram (University of Manchester)

Realism, Anti-Realism, and Arbitrariness in Ethics

The notion of arbitrariness has an interesting role in metaethical debate, for both realists and (non-nihilistic) anti-realists have been charged with failing to capture the non-arbitrariness of moral choice. This paper aims to examine the notion of arbitrariness in depth, in order to see whether and how we can move the debate forward. I consider different interpretations of arbitrariness and settle on what I call ‘The Stability Interpretation.’ I explain how realists and anti-realists can both accept this interpretation when it is understood in broad terms, but that they tie it to different intuitions. After clarifying how realists and anti-realists often speak at cross-purposes when discussing the non-arbitrariness of moral choice, I outline and evaluate strategies we might use in trying to move things forward.

29 November 2017

Derek Matravers (Open University)


Considerable debate revolves around 'the dependency thesis': the question of whether or not visualising involves an imagined experience. As part of that debate, Bernard Williams drew a celebrated analogy between visualising and experiencing theatre and film. This paper explores that analogy; in doing so, it attempts to throw light on what Richard Wollheim meant by 'acentral imagining' and on the curious issue of why, in the forties and fifties, people claimed that they dreamed in black and white.

6 December 2017

Matt Duncombe (University of Nottingham)

Thinking of an object: Transparency and Demarcation in Plato

Under what conditions do I think of an object? Many scholars hold that Plato, in some places or everywhere, assumes the ‘transparency view’: an agent, S, thinks of an object, X, only if S represents all and only features of X. However, this view faces some serious difficulties. First, transparency is an extremely strong and implausible principle to attribute to Plato, because it collapses the distinction between thinking of an object and omniscience about it. Second, transparency seems unmotivated. It’s hard to see why Plato would endorse such a view of cognition. Third, it’s difficult to see how cognitive advance is possible on this view. Not only does knowledge seem to be an ‘all or nothing’ affair, but so do sub-epistemic states, like judgement. But Plato often assume that we can advance from judgement to knowledge. He’s not entitled to assume this, if he endorses transparency. I argue here that Plato is not, in general, committed to the implausible transparency principle. In fact, Plato assumes only Demarcation: S thinks of X only if S can distinguish X from other relevant objects. Demarcation better explains the moves in the passages where Transparency seems to be in play.


Past seminar series

Spring 2017

1 February 2017

Heather Widdows (University of Birmingham)

Beauty, Choice and Exploitation

8 February 2017

Chris Woodard (University of Nottingham)

Knowing What is Good for You

11 February 2017

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

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

1 March 2017

Lea Ypi (London School of Economics)

The Moral Ought in 'As If' Politics

8 March 2017

Jon Robson (University of Nottingham)

Omni-beauty as a Divine Attribute

15 March 2017

Jessica Begon (University of Oxford)

Disability: A Justice-Based Account

22 March 2017

Neil Sinclair (University of Nottingham)

Belief Pills and the Possibility of Moral Epistemology

5 April 2017 

Emily Thomas (Durham University)

The Nature of Space and Time in John Locke

Autumn 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 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
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