Philosophy Department Speaker Series


January 20, Michael Hannon, Queen’s University
"What's the Point of Understanding?"


What is human understanding and why should we care about it? I propose a method
of philosophical investigation called 'function-first epistemology' and use
this method to investigate the nature and value of understanding. I argue that
the concept of understanding serves the practical function of identifying good
explainers, which is an important role in the general economy of our concepts.
This hypothesis sheds light on a variety of issues in the epistemology of
understanding, including the role of explanation in understanding, the
relationship between understanding and knowledge, and the value of
understanding. I argue that understanding is valuable and yet knowledge plays a
more important role in our epistemic life.

Wednesday, Jan 25, at 2:30 pm in Ross S 421, Shyam Ranganathan (York University)
Interpretation vs. Explication; Truth vs. Objectivity


It is commonly assumed that philosophers can engage in investigations
when the topic of investigation is within the cultural tradition of the
scholar and that the moment we venture past this, we must pass off the
study of alien philosophy to social scientists, such as scholars of
religion, linguists or philologists, who are expert in the alien
tradition. This seems to be an entirely different scruple from skeptical
worries about the objectivity of philosophy in general, and the
objectivity of moral theory in particular. However, if philosophy and
its various fields, such as theoretical ethics, are objective, then
philosophy should straightforwardly facilitate the study of philosophy
regardless of its cultural origin for the object would be the same
regardless of cultural origins: philosophy. In this talk I make a case
for the objectivity of philosophy as something that treats the study of
philosophy as continuous with the study of philosophy from diverse
traditions. I argue that the failure to prioritize objectivity over
truth in the study of philosophy leads to skeptical worries, but also to
the depiction of alien thought as mysterious, arcane and religious. The
prioritization of truth over objectivity in the study of philosophy is

February 3, Anandi Hattiangadi, Stockholm University
"Is  Intentionality Determined by Phenomenology?"


Intentionality is the capacity to represent something in some way; it
essentially involves the instantiation of semantic properties, such as meaning,
reference, truth or content. One of the central issues in the philosophical
study of intentionality is this: what makes it the case that an arbitrary
representation has the semantic properties that it does rather than some other
semantic properties or none at all? The question asks for the metaphysical
foundations or grounds of intentionality, it asks what constitutes
intentionality, what determines the semantic facts.

This paper explores the limitations of an approach to this issue that has
recently been gaining in popularity: Phenomenalism, according to which
intentionality is ultimately determined by phenomenology-the 'what it is like'
of conscious mental life. I will present a challenge to Phenomenalism, and
argue that intentionality is not grounded in phenomenology.

March 3, Dorit Bar-On, University of Connecticut
"Crude Meaning, Brute Thought (Or: What Are They Thinking?!)"


Can there be thought before language? Two influential philosophers – Paul Grice
and Donald Davidson – have famously endorsed conflicting theses on this matter,
despite sharing a broadly rationalist perspective on the relation between
thought and language. Roughly, for Grice, thought of an especially complex
sort is a precondition of linguistic meaning, whereas for Davidson, there can
be no thought without language. I argue that, transposed into an evolutionary
key, both views present us with unpalatable alternatives concerning the natural
origins of objective thought and meaningful language. I use insights from Grice
and Davidson to lay out some broad desiderata for a viable intermediate position
on the relation between language and thought, indicating why several extant
anti-rationalist proposals fail to meet these desiderata. In the final
section, I turn to certain forms of nonlinguistic communication of which both
prelinguistic children and languageless animals are capable – viz., expressive
communication. I propose that a proper appreciation of the character and
function of expressive communication can help us mark the contours of the
relevant space for the desired intermediate position.

March 10, Alex Miller, University of Otago
"Rule-Following Quietism"


In "Inside and Outside Language: Stroud's Nonreductionism about Meaning” (2011),
"Primitive Normativity and Skepticism about Rules" (2011) and "Meaning,
Understanding and Normativity" (2012), Hannah Ginsborg develops what she
describes as a "partially reductionist" account of meaning. Ginsborg's account
is intended as a middle-ground alternative to non-reductionism about meaning
and the kind of reductive dispositionalism attacked in Kripke's Wittgenstein on
Rules and Private Language. In this paper I will attempt a critical evaluation
of Ginsborg's fascinating proposal.

March 31, Charles Siewert, Rice University
"Consciousness and Self-Expression"


I propose a way of introducing the notion of consciousness (and "phenomenal
character") via an interpretation of "what-it’s-likeness." I maintain this
helps clarify what consciousness is, and helps us to address questions about it
without assuming what should be initially left open. My interpretation turns on
the idea that the possession of some features is suited for an essentially
subjective type of understanding or curiosity. Features that have this status
non-derivatively are phenomenal features—and their instances are states of
consciousness, or subjective experiences.

Against this background I consider disputes about how "cognitively rich" the
phenomenal character of experience is. Is conceptual understanding included in
the phenomenal character of the experience we have in comprehending speech?
One’s answer can have significant consequences. It can bear on views about the
explanation of consciousness, its epistemic role, its place in our values, and
how it figures in the mind generally. Tye and Wright have proposed an argument
for a negative response to this foundational question (and against "cognitive
phenomenology"), in support of a theory that would explain consciousness as a
special form of non-conceptual representation. I argue that their case depends
on questionable assumptions about the way thought and experience occur in time.
An alternative view of the temporality of thought is favored by considering the
experience of spontaneous self-expression. This also supports an "inclusive"
view—conceptual understanding is not to be stripped from the subjective
character of our experience. Experience is, in this sense, cognitively rich.

All talks will be held from 3.30–5.30 pm in Ross Building S421.

Johann Frick (Princeton), "Conditional Reasons and the Procreation Asymmetry"

Friday, October 7, 3:30-5:30 pm in Ross S 421

Sharon Street (NYU), "Meditation, Metaethics, and the View from Everywhere"

Friday, October 14, 3:30-5:30 pm in Ross S 421

Paul Katsafanas (Boston), "Fanaticism and Sacred Values"

Friday, November 4, 3:30 - 5:30 in S421 Ross

Krister Bykvist (Stockholm), "Values, Norms, and Changing Attitudes"

Friday, November 11, 3:30 - 5:30 in S421 Ross


Friday, September 25, 2015, 3:30 - 5:30 p.m., 010 Vanier College, Senior Common Room
Barry Stroud, Univesity Of California At Berkeley
"Davidson And Wittgenstein On Meaning And Understanding"

Friday, October 9, 3:30-5:30, S421 Ross Building
Victor Kumar, University of Toronto
"Empirical Vindication of Moral Luck"

Friday, November 6, 3:30-5:30, S421 Ross Building
Stephen Yablo, MIT
"How (not) to Derive an Is from an Ought"

Friday, November 13: Full day symposium (in S421 Ross)
Title: Beyond Critical Thinking

Catherine Hundleby, University of Windsor
Michael Gilbert, York University
Chris Tindale, University of Windsor
Harvey Siegel, University of Miami

Tuesday, November 17, 4:00-5:30, S421 Ross Building
Wayne Sumner, University of Toronto
"The Worst Things in Life"

Friday, November 27, 3:30-5:30, S421 Ross Building
Julia Nefsky, University of Toronto
"Individual Consumption and Collective Impact"

Wednesday, May 11 at 3:30 pm, in Ross S 421

Regina Rini (New York University), "The Science of Values and the Values of Scientists"

Thursday, May 19 at 3:30 pm, in Ross S 421

Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij (University of Kent, Canterbury), "Procedural Justice and the Problem of Intellectual Deference"

Wednesday, May 25, 3:30-5:30 pm in Ross S 421

Wesley Buckwalter (University of Waterloo), "Epistemic Injustice in Social Cognition"

Monday, June 6, 3:00 pm, in Ross S 421

Kourken Michaelian (University of Otago), "Collective Mental Time Travel: Ontology and Epistemology"

Wednesday, April 6, 3:00-5:00 pm in Ross S 421

Paul Simard Smith (University of Connecticut), "Pluralism As A Bias Mitigation Strategy"

Monday, April 11, 3:00-5:00 pm in Ross S 421

Janelle Derstine (Rutgers University), "Material Object Metaphysics and the Special Composition Question"

Monday, April 18, 3:00-5:00 pm in Ross S 421

Gülberk Koç Maclean (Mount Royal University), "Bertrand Russell's Bundle Theory of Particulars"

Wednesday, June 8, 2:30 pm in Ross S 421

Sarah Vincent (York University), "Death's Harm and the Subject's Life"

Friday, June 10, 2:30 pm in Ross S 421

Alex Manafu (University of Paris-1), "Is the Theory of Everything a Theory of Every Thing?"


Wednesday, September 10, at 3:00 in S421 Ross Building
Otavio Bueno, University of Miami
"What does a mathematical proof really prove?"
(joint session with the Cognitive Science Speaker Series)

Friday, September 12, at 3:30 in S421 Ross Building
Christoph Lumer, University of Siena
"An epistemological approach to argumentation-the practical theory of

Friday, September 19, at 3:30 in S421 Ross Building
Michael Bratman, Stanford Univerity
"Acting and Thinking Together"

Friday, November 7, at 3:30 in S421 Ross Building
Stefan Sciaraffa, McMaster University
"Collectivist Authority: It's Not Personal"

Friday, November 14, at 3:30 in 001 Vanier College, Senior Common Room
David Copp, University of California at Davis
"Normative Concepts; Natural Properties"
(co-sponsored with Vanier College)

Friday, February 6, 3:30-5:30 pm, Ross Building S421*
Ernie Lepore (Rutgers University)
"On the Perspective-Taking and Open-Endedness of Slurring"

Wednesday, March 25, 3:30-5:30 pm, Ross Building S421* CANCELLED

Peter Pagin (Stockholm University)
"Semantic Theory and Linguistic Processing"

Friday, March 2

Workshop: Wittgenstein and Davidson on Mind and Language

William Child (University of Oxford)
Kathrin Glüer (Stockholm University)
Paul Horwich (New York University)
Asa Wikforss (Stockholm University)
Meredith Williams (Johns Hopkins University)

Any questions? Please contact Claudine Verheggen –

Poster for March 27th talk


October 4, 2013: Frank Cunningham (University of Toronto)

October 11, 2013: Susan Haack (University of Miami)

November 6, 2013: Rick Benitez (University of Sydney)

November 8, 2013: Harvey Cormier (State University of New York, Stony Brook)

November 15, 2013: Workshop on Intuitions and Reference
Hermann Cappelen (University of St. Andrews)
Daniel Cohnitz (University of Tartu, Estonia)
Imogen Dickie (University of Toronto)
Jussi Haukioja (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

December 6, 2013: Stephen White (Northwestern University)

January 24, 2014: Jason Bridges ( University Of Chicago)

January 31, 2014:  Robert McCauley (Emory University)

February 12, 2014: Marc Champagne (York University)

March 5, 2014:  Roslyn Weiss (Lehigh University)

March 14, 2014: Slobodan Perovic (University of Pittsburgh/University of Belgrade)

March 28, 2014: Henry Jackman (York University)


September 14, 2012: Kirk Ludwig (Indiana University)

September 19, 2012: John Heil (Washington University, St. Louis)

October 26, 2012: Dan McArthur (York University)

November 16, 2012: Christine Tappolet (University of Montreal)

January 25, 2013: Kerah Gordon-Solmon (Queen's University)

March 6, 2013: Hakob Barseghyan (University of Toronto)

March 22, 2013: Victor Tadros (University of Warwick)

April 5, 2013: Tyler Burge (University of California, Los Angeles)