The Res Philosophica Speaker Series brings philosophers to Saint Louis University to present a paper to the department. Papers are published in the journal. Speakers are listed below.

2023-2024 Speaker Series

Speaker Series Event
March 8, 2024, 3-5pm

"Murdochian Freedom"
Abstract (Show/Hide)
Iris Murdoch says two apparently different, and each individually puzzling, things about what freedom is.  She claims that freedom is the ability to "coin" ethical concepts, and that it is a "function of a progressive attempt to see a particular object more clearly."  I explain what we should take her to mean and argue that these two ideas amount to a single conception.  Further, in contrast to some alternatives, freedom, so conceived, is a real ideal for us—a freedom worth wanting.

Kyla Ebels-Duggan is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Brady Program in Ethics and Civic Life at Northwestern University. She works in moral and political philosophy and their history and has written on love, political liberalism, Kant's moral and political philosophy and his philosophy of religion, and the philosophy of education.  She currently is working on two book projects, the first concerning valuing attitudes and the second on the moral philosophy of Iris Murdoch.  

Speaker Series Event
April 12, 2024, 3-5pm

"Aspiration, Ambition, and Confucian Debates on Human Nature"
Abstract (Show/Hide)
A standard introduction to classical Confucianism teaches that Mengzi thought “human nature is good” and Xunzi, that “human nature is bad.” But the exact nature of their disagreement is subject to ongoing debate, with some underplaying the disagreement (they just mean different things by “human nature”) while others take the disagreement to be about the nature of agency, moral education, or dispositions. In this talk, I’ll argue that Agnes Callard’s distinction between ambition and aspiration helps us clarify what the disagreement is about. Mengzi thought humans need to fully pursue the values they already have, while Xunzi thought humans need to aspire toward values they don’t have and aren’t predisposed to. This account has the benefit of capturing Mengzi’s and Xunzi’s respective views on agency and education and providing Xunzi with a picture of moral motivation that even a selfish agent could develop.

Hannah Kim is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona. She received her PhD in Philosophy and PhD minor in Comparative Literature from Stanford University. She works on aesthetics, metaphysics, and Asian philosophy, with particular interests in fiction, poetry, music, time, Confucianism, and Juche.

2022-2023 Speaker Series

Speaker Series Event
April 14, 2023, 3-5pm

"In the Pursuit of a Definition of 'Social Science'"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
Does the expression ‘social science’ refer to a distinctive form of knowledge with its own subject matter, method, and norms? Or is it just a conventional name for part of the university, or a degree, or other scholarly institutions? There is a long philosophical tradition that tries to establish the former, rather than the latter. I discuss whether these attempts have been successful, honoring the work of a great SLU philosopher, the late Jim Bohman. I argue that any attempt to characterize social sciences as distinct from either natural sciences or humanities end up in caricatures and is in tension with pluralism of methods so important to Bohman’s thought.
Anna Alexandrova is a professor in Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of King’s College. She researches how scientists deploy formal tools such as models and indicators to navigate complex epistemic problems tinged with ethical and political dimensions. Her book, A Philosophy for the Science of Wellbeing, came out with Oxford University Press in 2017, and is the winner of the 2021 Joseph B. Gittler Award from the American Philosophical Association. She previously taught at UM St Louis.

Speaker Series Event
December 2, 2022, 3-5pm

"Clarity and Cartesian Freedom"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
According to a common-sense assumption, freedom requires alternate possibilities: you do something freely only if you have a two-way power either to do that thing or to refrain from doing it. I argue that Descartes rejects this assumption in an intriguing way. In his view, clarity compels assent—i.e., when you perceive something with complete clarity, you cannot refrain from assenting to it—and yet, he holds, you assent to it freely. How could this be? The key is to see that clarity is rationally compelling. Clarity does not coerce assent by brute force; rather it provides reason for assent, and so you assent irresistibly because you are, to that extent, rational by nature. Your rational nature makes you what you are (it constitutes a self), so when you assent to clarity, rationally and irresistibly, it is an act of self-determination–and freedom just is the power of self-determination. Clarity simultaneously compels you and sets you free.
Elliot Samuel Paul is an associate professor of philosophy at Queen’s University in Canada. He works mainly in early modern philosophy and the philosophy of creativity with additional interests in contemporary epistemology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science.

Speaker Series Event
September 23, 2022, 3-5 pm

"The Last Word On Emergence"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
The metaphysical doctrine of emergence continues to exert a powerful pull on philosophers and metaphysically inclined scientists. This paper focuses on a recent account of emergence advanced by Jessica Wilson in Metaphysical Emergence, but the discussion has the broader aim of making explicit some of the underlying themes that inspire thoughts of emergence generally. These prove to be, not merely optional, but largely lacking in merit.
John Heil is Professor of Philosophy at Washington University and Durham University, and an Honorary Research Associate at Monash University. He is editor of the Journal of the American Philosophical Association and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities. Heil’s interests center on metaphysics with a focus on truthmakers for contested metaphysical theses, an approach put to work in two new books, Appearance in Reality (Oxford: Clarendon Press 2021) and What is Metaphysics? (Polity Press 2021).

Online Speaker Series Event
March 5, 2021, 3-5 pm

"The Moral Psychology of White Supremacy and the Theory of Democratic Despotism"

Abstract (Show/Hide)

Robert Gooding-Williams is the M. Moran Weston/Black Alumni Council Professor of African-American Studies and Professor of Philosophy and of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University. His research and teaching interests include Social and Political Philosophy (especially the philosophy of race), the History of African-American Political Thought, 19th Century European Philosophy (especially Nietzsche), Existentialism, and Aesthetics.
Gooding-Williams is the author of 
Zarathustra's Dionysian Modernism (Stanford, 2001), Look, A Negro!: Philosophical Essays on Race, Culture, and Politics (Routledge, 2005), and In The Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought in America (Harvard 2009). 

Speaking at the September 23 Speaker Series Event

"Nominalism and Material Plenitude"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
The idea of “material plenitude” has been gaining traction in recent discussions of the metaphysics of material objects. My main goal here is to show that this idea may have important dialectical implications for the metaphysics of properties – more specifically, that it provides the nominalist with new resources in her attempt to reject an ontology of universals. I will recapitulate one of the main arguments against nominalism – Armstrong’s truthmaker argument – and show how plenitude helps the nominalist overcome the argument.
Uriah Kriegel is Professor of Philosophy at Rice University. He works primarily in the philosophy of mind and has written four books: Subjective Consciousness: A Self-Representational Theory (OUP, 2009), The Sources of Intentionality (OUP, 2011), The Varieties of Consciousness (OUP, 2015), and Brentano's Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value (OUP, 2018). He has also edited a number of books, including Current Controversies in the Philosophy of Mind (Routledge, 2013) and The Routledge Handbook of Franz Brentano and the Brentano School (Routledge, 2017), and is the editor-in-chief of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Mind.

Speaking at the Online Speaker Series Event
October 02, 2020, 3-5 pm Central Time

" 'Memory' in Augustine's Philosophy of Mind"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
“Memory” (memoria) has a high profile in Augustine’s thinking about the nature of mind. Among other things, it is fundamental to his well known theory of illumination and an essential constituent in his articulation of the trinitarian image of God in the human mind. But Augustine’s use of ‘memoria’ does not track our ordinary use of ‘memory.’ In his primary use of the term, ‘memoria’ does not refer to a mental capacity or activity which is essentially about past experience. It more nearly tracks our ordinary use of ‘mind,’ and the roles Augustine assigns to memoria make it the centerpiece of his sophisticated theory of mind. Drawing on a variety of texts, but centrally the so-called “treatise on memory” (in Confessions 10), I set out a unified account of Augustine’s thinking about memoria and set it in the context of his general theory of mind.
Scott MacDonald is Norma K. Regan Professor in Christian Studies at Cornell University. His research interests include medieval philosophy (especially Augustine and Aquinas), philosophical theology, and issues in philosophy of mind, moral psychology, and the philosophy of action — especially those concerned with free will, moral responsibility, and practical reasoning. He is currently working on themes in the later works of Augustine: the Confessions, De trinitate, and the Genesis commentaries.

This talk is a fully online event that is open to the public.

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2019-2020 Speaker Series

Speaking at the October 18, 2019 Speaker Series Event

"How Does Observation Contribute to Moral Knowledge?"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
On the one hand, it is obvious that observation is a crucial source of information about the world. Indeed, within the broadly empiricist tradition, it has been regarded as the preeminent, and perhaps the sole, source of such knowledge. But even philosophers who are not skeptical about moral knowledge tend to agree that we do not actually observe moral properties or their instantiations in the world around us, and that our moral views are not inductively confirmed by observations. I will argue that observation and experience contribute to moral knowledge in ways that go beyond those acknowledged by many rival pictures: experience and observation can contribute to moral knowledge in any of the ways in which they contribute to our ordinary, non-moral knowledge.
Sarah McGrath has a Ph.D. from M.I.T., and is an associate professor in the department of philosophy at Princeton University. Her primary areas of interest are metaphysics and ethics; recent publications include “Moral Disagreement,” forthcoming in Russ Schafer-Landau, ed., Oxford Studies in Metaethics; “Causation by Omission” (2005) in Philosophical Studies; and “Moral Knowledge by Perception” (2004) in Philosophical Perspectives.

Speaking at the September 20, 2019 Speaker Series Event

"Two Models of Agent-Centered Value"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
Some philosophers think agent-centered value is incoherent, some think it is incomprehensible, and some think it gives away the main virtue of consequentialism. I think none of these criticisms is correct.

There are two ways to represent agent-centered value in a consequentialist model: by assigning a separate better-than ordering of neutral objects (sets of possible worlds) to each agent, and by having a single better-than ordering of centered-objects. Although for certain purposes, the two model systems are equivalent, for other important uses they are not; furthermore, the centered-objects model makes it much clearer why the objections to agent-centered value are misguided.
Jamie Dreier received his PhD from Princeton University in 1988, and he has taught at Brown since. His research lies in the areas of ethics, political philosophy, rationality, and decision theory. His current work concerns noncognitivism, practical rationality, moral relativism, and the problem of infinite utility.

2018-2019 Speaker Series

Speaking at the March 1, 2019 Speaker Series Event

"What’s the Value of Metaphysics? Naturalistic Versus A Priori Approaches Without the Fiction of Fundamentality"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
In recent years, a priori metaphysicians have been attacked by philosophers of science for relying on false or at best outdated science when speculating on the fundamental nature of the world. For the latter, only a naturalistic approach – one informed by our best current science – can produce a defensible metaphysics of the fundamental.  However, when we remember that even our best current science is not truly fundamental – as such, likely false in important respects as regards the world’s real nature – the normative distinction between the two approaches to metaphysics begins to blur.  Naturalists have responded by claiming that they can at least be regarded as ‘making progress’ toward the fundamental metaphysics, since the science that is used to motivate their theories may itself be regarded as ‘getting closer to the truth’.  This supposed ‘trickle-down effect’ from science to metaphysics is then taken to warrant a normative distinction between a priori and naturalistic approaches.

 In this talk, I will dispute the idea that the epistemic progress that science enjoys can be expected to percolate down onto metaphysics.   At the root of this contention are some deep disanalogies between the languages and purposes of scientific theories as compared with those in metaphysics.   Defending naturalism thus enjoins us to reflect on what it is we ultimately want our metaphysics to do for us beyond insipid hopes that it ‘describes the world’.  These reflections take us back to the writings of the positivists and the pragmatists, and as such the opening salvos of the attack on metaphysics that marked the dawn of modern philosophy of science.
Kerry McKenzie has a Ph.D. from the University of Leeds, England, and is an assistant professor in the department of philosophy at UC San Diego. She specializes in the areas of metaphysics of science, especially modality, fundamentality, structuralism, naturalism, and realism.
"Aiming for Moral Mediocrity"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
Most people aim to be about as morally good as their peers, not especially better, not especially worse.  We do not aim to be good, or non-bad, or to act permissibly rather than impermissibly, by fixed moral standards.  Rather, we notice the typical behavior of our peers, then calibrate toward so-so.  This is a somewhat bad way to be, but it’s not a terribly bad way to be.  We are somewhat morally criticizable for having low moral ambitions.  Typical arguments defending the moral acceptability of low moral ambitions – the So-What-If-I’m-Not-a-Saint Excuse, the Fairness Objection, the Happy Coincidence Defense, and the claim that you’re already in The-Most-You-Can-Do Sweet Spot – do not survive critical scrutiny.
Eric Schwitzgebel has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. Most of his research explores connections between empirical psychology and philosophy of mind, especially the nature of belief, the inaccuracy of our judgments about our stream of conscious experience, and the tenuous relationship between philosophical ethics and actual moral behavior. He is co-author, with psychologist Russell T. Hurlburt, of Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic (2007). He maintains a secondary interest in classical Chinese philosophy.

2017 Speaker Series

"What Can Phenomenology Bring to Ontology?"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
“Ontology” is understood and undertaken very differently in the phenomenological tradition than it is in recent analytic tradition. In this talk, I will try to identify the different ways in which the phenomenological tradition and the analytic metaphysics tradition understood ‘ontology,’ and to show that those differences are not accidental, and shouldn’t be thought of as reflecting a mere ‘verbal dispute.’ Instead, they reflect deeper differences in views about what the proper role and methods for philosophy are. I aim to show that, from a phenomenological perspective, questions about what exists can be answered ‘easily,’ in ways that provide a healthy alternative to the quagmire the neo-Quinean approach has left us in. As a result, the phenomenological approach can help put certain ontological debates to rest, by making questions of existence ‘easy’ to answer, whether through trivial inferences (in the case of ideal abstracta) or (always tentatively, of course) by ordinary empirical means—seeing how our observations hang together. As a result, it can get us away from the obscurities, epistemological mysteries, and skepticism that the neo-Quinean approach to ontology has left us in and provide a clearer and less problematic approach to questions of ontology.
Amie Thomasson is a philosophy professor at Dartmouth who specializes in metaphysics, metametaphysics, philosophy of art and literature, philosophy of mind, and phenomenology. She has also done work on artifacts, fictional characters, and social and cultural objects. At the moment, she is most interested in questions about what metaphysics, and philosophy more generally, can legitimately do, and how we can do it. She is the author of numerous articles and three books: Fiction and Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 1999), Ordinary Objects (Oxford University Press, 2007), and Ontology Made Easy (Oxford University Press, 2015). She was recently named one of the "50 most influential living philosophers." 
"Frankenvaluers, Sticky Attitudes and Stone-Swallowing: Three Objections to the Hybrid Theory of Valuing"

Abstract (Show/Hide)
What is it to value something? One might think that valuing is a form of believing—for instance, believing that the object of value is good or worthy. Alternatively, one might identify valuing with desiring—for instance, desiring to protect, promote, or engage with the object of value. A third possibility is that valuing is an emotional condition—a disposition to experience a range of emotions based on how things are with the object of value. According to the recently popular hybrid theory of valuing (Kolodny 2003, Scheffler 2010, Wallace 2013, Callard 2018), (i) valuing cannot be reduced to believing, or to desiring, or to feeling, but (ii) it can be reduced to believing, desiring and feeling, taken together. I argue that hybrid theorists are correct with respect to the first point but incorrect with respect to the second. Finally, I use these arguments to articulate some desiderata for a theory of valuing.
Agnes Callard is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago. She publishes extensively in the areas of Ancient Philosophy and Ethics, and has additional interests in the philosophy of Kant and Hobbes. Her book, Aspiration (Oxford University Press, 2018), offers a new theory of agency that questions standing assumptions in the theory of rationality and moral psychology.
"The Therapeutic Reconstruction of Affordances"
Abstract (Show/Hide)
The concept of affordance, originating in Gibson's ecological psychology with roots in phenomenology, has recently been extended to include social and cultural affordances. I'll argue that this extended notion of affordance is a useful tool for understanding specific neuro- and psycho-pathologies where affordance structure breaks down. From the perspective of enactivism, and drawing from resources in pragmatism, I'll consider the best way to think about changed affordances in such disorders, the role of intersubjective and social factors, and what the aim of therapy should be.
Shaun Gallagher is the Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Excellence in Philosophy at the University of Memphis. His areas of research include phenomenology and the cognitive sciences, especially topics related to embodiment, self, agency and intersubjectivity, hermeneutics, and the philosophy of time.

2016 Speaker Series

"Racial Ideology and Racist Practices: Moving Beyond Critique"
Abstract (Show/Hide)
Racism, sexism, and other forms of injustice are more than just bad attitudes; after all, such injustice involves unfair distributions of goods and resources. But attitudes play a role. How central is that role? Tommie Shelby argues that racism is an ideology, and that an ideology is a set of false beliefs that arise out of and serve pernicious social conditions. In this paper I agree that racism is an ideology, but on my view, ideology is rooted in social practices. Social practices are patterns of interaction that distribute things of value, guided by culturally shared habits of mind. In the case of subordinated social groups, these habits of mind distort, obscure, and occlude important facts about those groups and result in a failure to recognize their interests. How do we disrupt such practices to achieve greater justice? I argue that this is sometimes, but not always, best achieved by argument or challenging false beliefs, so social movements legitimately seek other means.
Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, and an affiliate in the MIT Women's and Gender Studies Program. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Before joining MIT she taught at University of California-Irvine, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University.

Her research interests include metaphysics, epistemology, and ancient philosophy, social and political philosophy, feminist theory and critical race theory. Her book Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique was awarded the 2014 Joseph B. Gittler Prize for "outstanding scholarly contribution in the field of the philosophy of one or more of the social sciences."

"Black Radical Kantianism"
Abstract (Show/Hide)
A contradiction in terms? In this paper, I hope to demonstrate otherwise. I will make a case for a revisionist Kantianism—black and radical—informed not merely by Kant's own racism (that arguably makes blacks sub-persons rather than full persons) but by the historic black experience of racial subordination, and what would be necessary to remedy its legacy. Yet, I will contend that in the end this hybrid reconstructed philosophy is not merely not oxymoronic, but legitimately "Kantian," indeed arguably truer to the spirit of (ideal) Kantianism than its more familiar exemplars.
Charles Mills is John Evans Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy at Northwestern University. He did his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. Before joining Northwestern, he taught at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was a UIC Distinguished Professor.

He works in the general area of social and political philosophy, particularly in oppositional political theory as centered on class, gender, and race. His first book, The Racial Contract (Cornell University, 1997), won a Myers Outstanding Book Award for the study of bigotry and human rights in North America.

2015 Speaker Series

"How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back: Scaffolding, Critical Distance, Triangulation"
Alison Wylie is Professor of Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Washington, Seattle, and of Philosophy at Durham University. She earned her PhD from the State University of New York at Binghamton. She previously taught at Columbia University, Washington University, University of Western Ontario, and University of California, Berkeley.

Her areas of research include philosophy of science; philosophy of social science and history (archaeology); feminist philosophy of science; research ethics; and archaeological history and theory. Her most recent book, Material Evidence: Learning from Archaeological Practice, is co-edited with Robert Chapman and is forthcoming with Routledge.
"Gossip and Social Punishment"
Abstract (Show/Hide)
Is gossip ever appropriate as a response to other people's misdeeds or character flaws? Gossip is arguably the most common means through which communities hold people responsible for their vices and transgressions. Yet, gossiping itself is traditionally considered wrong. This essay develops an account of social punishment in order to ask whether gossip can serve as a legitimate means of enforcing moral norms. In the end, however, I argue that gossip is most likely to be permissible where it resembles punishment as little as possible.
Linda Radzik is Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. She earned her PhD from the University of Arizona, and taught at the University of Minnesota, Twin cities, before joining Texas A&M.

Her areas of research include ethical theory, metaethics, applied ethics, and social and political philosophy. She has worked, in particular, on moral issues that arise in the aftermath of wrongdoing, and her book on that topic is Making Amends: Atonement in Morality, Law, and Politics (Oxford University Press, 2009).

2014 Speaker Series

"Trust and Autonomous Agency"
Abstract (Show/Hide)
This paper explores the role trust plays in the context of health care partnerships where the preservation of autonomy is desired. The case of IN RE: Maria Isabel Duran is used as a focal point for discussion. I argue that within the context of collective decision making of the sort that occurs in health care relationships, trust is consistent with autonomous agency, provided the trust is relational, a property of a triadic relation between the patient and her partners in health care, and between the patient and herself. Moreover, if it is the autonomy of the patient that drives the nature and the direction of her medical options, we must respect a medical ethic of informed consent and durable powers of attorney and the patient's right of self-governance this ethic serves. At the foundation of trust in others and in oneself is respect.
Marina Oshana is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Davis. She did her Ph.D. there, and before returning she taught in the California State University system, at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and at the University of Florida.

Her research in normative moral philosophy involves three broadly connected areas in ethics and moral psychology: the nature of personal autonomy and the conditions for autonomous agency, the meaning of moral responsibility and the conditions for responsible agency, and the nature of the self and of self-identity.
"Metaphysical Indeterminacy, Properties, and Quantum Theory"
Abstract (Show/Hide)
It has frequently been suggested that quantum mechanics may provide a genuine case of ontic vagueness or metaphysical indeterminacy. However, discussions of quantum theory in the vagueness literature are often cursory and, as I shall argue, have in some respects been misguided. Hitherto much of the debate over ontic vagueness and quantum theory has centered on the "indeterminate identity" construal of ontic vagueness, and whether the quantum phenomenon of entanglement produces particles whose identity is indeterminate. I argue that this way of framing the debate is mistaken. A more thorough examination of quantum theory and the phenomenon of entanglement reveals that quantum mechanics is best interpreted as supporting what I call the "vague property" construal of ontic vagueness, where vague properties are understood in terms of determinable properties without the corresponding determinates.
Alisa Bokulich is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Boston University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame’s Program in History and Philosophy of Science in 2001. In Fall of 2010, she became the director of B.U.’s Center for Philosophy & History of Science.

She has been the recipient of several grants from the National Science Foundation, including most recently a Scholars Award to support her new book project on the role of idealized models in the Earth Sciences.

Professor Bokulich’s teaching at Boston University includes courses in the philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, gender, race and science, and science, technology, and values.