Professor of Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy
University of Cambridge
Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy, Department of Philosophy
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
"Reason and Representation"
Abstract : We talk about reasons to signal what is good about actual or potential movements of the mind. One standard of goodness is that the movement will either put us or keep is in touch with how the world is. But different standards are possible, and even the aim of keeping in touch with the way of the world has different elements, giving rise to different demands and different standards.
Brief Biography : Simon Blackburn (Honorary LLD, University of Sunderland; Ph.D., Cambridge) works in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of psychology. He is the author of many books, including, Spreading the Word (1984); Essay in Quasi-Realism (1993); The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (1994); Ruling Passions (1998); Truth (Co-edited with Keith Simmons, 1999); Think (1999); Being Good (2001); Lust (2004); Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed (2005); Plato's Republic (2006); and most recently, How to Read Hume (2008). He has written extensively on metaethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and the history of philosophy. Some publications include: "The Individual Strikes Back," Synthese (1984); "Error and the Phenomenology of Value," in Ethics and Objectivity, ed. by Honderich (1985); "Truth, Realism and the Regulation of Theory," Midwest Studies (1988); "How To Be An Ethical Anti-Realist," Midwest Studies (1988); "Values and Attitudes," Ethics (1988); "Hume and Thick Connections," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1990); "Just Causes," Philosophical Studies (1991); "Hume on the Mezzanine Level," Hume Studies (1993); "Circles, Finks, Smells and Biconditionals," Philosophical Perspectives (1993); "Practical Tortoise Raising," Mind (1995); "Wittgenstein, Wright, Rorty and Minimalism," Mind (1998); "Is Objective Moral Justification Possible on a Quasi-realist Foundation," Inquiry (1999); "Normativity a la Mode," Journal of Ethics (2001); "Realism: Deconstructing the Debate," Ratio (2002); “Fiction and Conviction,” Philosophical Papers (2003); "Knowledge, Truth, and Reliability," Studies in the Philosophy of Logic and Knowledge (2004); "Quasi-Realism No Fictionalism" in Fictionalism in Metaphysics, Kalderon, ed. by Eli (2005); "Antirealist Expressivism and Quasi-Realism" in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory, ed. by Copp (2006); "Must We Weep for Sentimentalism?" in Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory, ed. by Dreier (2006); "The Semantics of Non-Factualism, Non-Cognitivism, and Quasi-Realism" in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Language, ed. by Devitt (2006). He enjoys “mountaineering (declining with age), sailing (sprightly), black-and-white photography (becoming overtaken by digital), reading (constant), conversation (improving).”
Silver Professor of Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience
Departments of Philosophy and Psychology, and Center for Neuroscience
"The empirical case against higher order approaches to consciousness"
Abstract : The debate about higher order approaches to consciousness has been mainly focused on a priori considerations, but actually empirical evidence is highly relevant. This talk will consider some of the evidence.
Brief Biography : NED BLOCK (Ph.D., Harvard) works in philosophy of mind and foundations of neuroscience and cognitive science and is currently writing a book on consciousness. He arrived at NYU in 1996 from MIT where he was Chair of the Philosophy Program. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Language and Information, a Sloan Foundation Fellow, a faculty member at two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institutes and two Summer Seminars, the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Science Foundation; and a recipient of the Robert A. Muh Alumni Award in Humanities and Social Science from MIT. He is a past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, a past Chair of the MIT Press Cognitive Science Board, and past President of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. The Philosophers' Annual selected his papers as one of the "ten best" in 1983, 1990, 1995 and 2002. He is co-editor of The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates (MIT Press, 1997). The first of two volumes of his collected papers, Functionalism, Consciousness and Representation, MIT Press came out in May, 2007. There was a workshop “Themes from Ned Block” at the Australian National University in 2003. In 2008-2009, he will be Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Hong Kong; Townsend Visitor, University of California at Berkeley; Hilgard Visiting Professor, Stanford; Smart Lecturer at Australian National University; Efron Symposiast, Pomona College; and Distinguished Visitor, University of Warwick. In 2010, he will give the Josiah Royce Lectures at Brown University, the Royal Institute of Philosophy Annual Lecture, and he will give lectures to the Japanese Neuroscience Society and the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Okazaki.
Silver Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics
"Some Puzzles Concerning Ground"
Abstract : I will discuss some puzzles that arise from considering the ground for logical truths and will relate them to the semantic paradoxes.
Brief Biography : KIT FINE (B.A., Oxford; Ph.D., Warwick) specializes in Metaphysics, Logic, and Philosophy of Language. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy. He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies and is a former editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic. His books include: Worlds, Times and Selves (Duckworth, 1977) with A. N. Prior;
Reasoning with Arbitrary Objects (Blackwell, 1985);
The Limits of Abstraction (OUP, 2002);
Modality and Tense: Philosophical Papers (OUP, 2005);
Semantic Relationism (Blackwell, 2007).
In addition to his primary areas of research, he has written papers in ancient philosophy, linguistics, computer science, and economic theory.
"Beyond Belief: Pragmatics in Hate Speech and Pornography"
Abstract : Hate speech and pornography apparently count as speech. Philosophers interested in speech say our pragmatic framework should connect speech with its purposes, a paradigm purpose being the communication of belief, via ‘conversational score’ (Lewis) or ‘common ground’ (Stalnaker), exploiting mechanisms of accommodation. How does this paradigm fit hate speech and pornography? Here, attitudes other than belief are salient: for example, desire, and hate. Can pragmatics shed light on what’s going on? Perhaps. I compare a pragmatic approach to other models, including a speech act model, a conditioning model, and an imitation model. I offer an exploratory proposal, extending the accommodation of ‘common ground’ to take in such attitudes as desire and hate. This is part of an on-going effort to bring philosophy and political theory into closer conversation about what speech does, and why it matters.
Brief Biography : RAE LANGTON (Ph.D., Princeton) joined MIT in the Fall of 2004. Her areas of interest include the history of philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, metaphysics, and feminist philosophy. Her book on Kant's metaphysics and epistemology, entitled Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves, was published by Oxford in July 1998. Her most recent book, Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification, was published by Oxford in January 2009. Born and raised in India, Prof. Langton studied at Sydney University and Princeton University, then taught at Monash University, in Melbourne, 1990 to 1996; was a Fellow in the Philosophy Program, Research School of Social Sciences, the Australian National University, 1997-98; taught at Sheffield University 1998 to 1999; and the University of Edinburgh 1999 to 2004, where she was Professor of Moral Philosophy, a position for which David Hume was turned down in 1755. (Fortunately for her, he was no longer competing in 1999.) She was the first woman to be appointed Professor of Philosophy in Edinburgh, and indeed in Scotland. She has been a visitor and guest speaker on many occasions at universities in Australia, Canada, the USA, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Germany, India and Switzerland.
Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy
"What is Common to All: Davidson on Agreement and Understanding"
Abstract : The essentially social nature of language, and not only of language, but also of thought, is one of the most basic ideas in the philosophy of Donald Davidson. It has not always appeared clear to all readers of Davidson’s work, however, just how this claim regarding the social nature of language and thought should be understood. One of the reasons for this is that Davidson also rejected what is probably the most widely accepted account of the nature of the sociality that might be thought to be at issue here, namely, the idea that sociality is based in convention—in a set of pre-existing, shared rules. In “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs,” Davidson even goes so far as to suggest that “there is no such thing as a language”—at least not if by “language” one means a clearly defined, shared system of syntactic and semantic rules that exists prior to any particular linguistic encounter. In “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme’, Davidson had already presented an argument to a similar, if not identical, conclusion, through his undermining of the idea that there could be radical discontinuities in understanding of the sort proposed by various forms of radical relativism. In rejecting the idea of a common conceptual scheme as the basis for communication or understanding, Davidson also rejects the particular idea of subjectivity with which that idea is associated: the idea of an inner mental realm that is set apart from the world, “a concept of the mind with its private states and objects.”One simple way of putting the underlying point that is at issue here is to say that the notion that Davidson argues against in many of his later essays is the idea that understanding, whether or others or of the world, cannot depend on the existence of any form of pre-existing, determinate, “internalised” agreement. While Davidson does not deny the need for agreement of some sort, the agreement that he takes to be foundational to the possibility of understanding, and that also underpins the social nature of language and thought, cannot be specified in terms of any shared set of propositions, rules, concepts, behavioural dispositions, practices or “forms of life.” Instead, it is an agreement that consists in our dynamic, active engagement with a set of worldly events and entities.
Brief Biography : JEFF MALPAS (Ph.D., ANU) currently works on a number of projects of which the most important are the following. 1. Making Ethics Work: A New Model for Business and Professional Ethics (with Andrew Brennan, LaTrobe; funded by ARC Discovery Grant – This project develops a new conceptual framework for understanding ethics in business, management and the professions, one that arises out of and is attentive to actual business, managerial and professional practice. The project draws on (i) existing empirical work in management and social science, and (ii) a philosophical approach that emphasizes the practically embedded character of all agency and understanding. 2. Ethos and Topos: On the Ethics and Politics of Place (funded by ARC Australian Professorial fellowship) – There are good reasons for thinking that our attachment to place is inextricably linked to who and what we are. Yet some theorists argue that such attachment is inevitably linked to violence and exclusion. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach within the framework of philosophical analysis, this project aims to investigate the possibility of a viable ethics and politics of place that is not linked to violence in this way. 3. Triangulating Davidson(funded by ARC Australian Professorial fellowship) – This is the projected third volume in the series that began with Place and Experience, and in which Heidegger’s Topology was the second. It develops an explicitly topographical reading of Davidson (especially focussed on triangulation), while also connecting Davidson with Gadamer and Heidegger. Other projects currently underway include a volume of essays on cosmopolitanism in contemporary Australia (with Keith Jacobs and also Linn Miller), a volume of collected essays on the interface between analytic and hermeneutic thought, and a volume on human suffering with Norelle Lickiss, as well as various invited essays and conference papers on topics from philosophy and architecture through to ethics in the everyday. Works currently in press include: The Place of Landscape: Concepts, Contexts, Studies, edited Jeff Malpas (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, in press, 2010). Dialogues with Davidson: New Perspectives on his Philosophy edited Jeff Malpas (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, in press, 2010). Consequences of Hermeneutics , edited Jeff Malpas and Santiago Zabala (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, in press, 2010).
Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy
"Mental Causation in a Physical World"
Abstract : Not much of commonsense psychology makes sense if mental states are not causally efficacious. Physicalists about the mind who claim that mental states at the very least supervene or depend on physical states of the brain strive hard to vindicate mental causation. However, a simple argument seems to show that physicalists must repudiate mental causation. The argument is related to Jaegwon Kim’s famous Exclusion Argument, though it targets physicalism of both the reductive and non-reductive varieties. Like Kim’s argument, the new argument relies on a crucial exclusion assumption about causation: mental states cannot make a difference to behaviour when they supervene on physical states that are already causally sufficient to bring about the behaviour. This paper explores the extent to which this exclusion assumption is supported by different theories of causation. It argues that while a simple counterfactual theory of causation falsifies the assumption in its original form, it actually verifies a more plausible, reformulated version of the assumption under special conditions. The paper draws out some surprising consequences of this result. It argues that far from supporting the new exclusion argument against physicalism, the result actually vindicates the non-reductivist physicalist’s claim that the mental is causally autonomous from the physical.
Brief Biography : PETER MENZIES (B.A. (Hons), ANU; M.Phil., St Andrews University; Ph.D., Stanford University) works in metaphysics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind. He is co-editor with Helen Beebee and Christopher Hitchcock of the forthcoming "Oxford Handbook of Causation". His current research interests include metaphysics (causation, free will, mental causation), philosophy of science (probability theory, Bayesian networks and structural equations modelling, scientific models and idealization, reductionism), philosophy of mind (levels of explanation, status of folk psychology, consciousness), epistemology (rationality, realism and anti-realism), and the philosophy of logic (modality, conditionals). Before arriving at Macquarie in 1995, he was Tutor in the Department of Traditional & Modern Philosophy, University of Sydney, an ARC Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, and a Research Fellow at the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. He is an Associate Editor of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. He was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities in 2007, and as the President of the Australasian Association of Philosophy for 2008-2009.
Symposium on Foundations of Morality
Prof. Simon Blackburn
Majesty of Reason
Abstract: There has been a lot of talk about reason and rationalism in the recent theory of ethics. Many writers envisage a kind of wholesale takeover of ethics by something different: the theory of reason. In this paper I argue that this is wholly chimerical, and that talk of reason and rationality gives us at best a number of notational variants of various kinds of endorsements we feel inclined to make. Writers in the firing line include Williams, Quinn, Parfit, and Wallace.
Prof. Jeff Malpas
Finding a ground for ethics in the everyday (together with a modest conception of reason)
Abstract: Dick Rorty has claimed that the meaning of basic normative terms such as ‘good’, ‘just’ and ‘true’ is really a problem only for philosophers – that we all know what these terms are well enough for the uses they serve, and do not need philosophers to explain their meanings. I think that there is something to Rorty’s point here, although it may be that it is not quite the same as Rorty intended. Rather than begin with what the way in which the question of a possible foundation for ethics might be configured within current discussions, I want to begin from a perspective that seems suggested by Rorty’s comment, namely, that ethics already carries its own ‘foundation’ with it, and that it is a foundation given in ethical practice. The approach that I will sketch, and to some extent defend, can be viewed as an instance of a broadly ‘hermeneutical’ style of thinking that looks always to find the ground of our practices in the practices themselves (a move that is suggested by, as well as expressed in, the idea of hermeneutical circularity). It seems likely that this will involve some rethinking of what ethics itself might be – perhaps a more modest conception of ethics, in some respects, but also a more robust conception in others. However, since such a hermeneutical approach (which can be seen to be evident, not just in Gadamer, but also in Socrates) itself appears to draw on a certain conception of reason, I will also suggest that the rethinking of ethics at issue here is not such as to remove ethics from the ‘space’ of reason, although it does involve a view of reason th