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Research seminars

Research seminars will take place on Wednesdays. 

The seminars will usually run from 3.10-4.55pm, with a break.

The seminars are not all in the same venue - please see below for details:

Please contact Paula Satne ( if you have any queries.

2018-19: Semester two

6 February 2019: Dr Graham Stevens (University of Manchester)

Venue: ALB 2.016/17

Title: Politically Correct Semantics

Abstract: This paper is not, as its title could be mistakenly understood to suggest, an attempt to do semantic theory in a way that is “politically correct”. Rather my interest is in investigating the semantic features of a range of linguistic expressions and proposed linguistic reforms that are often labelled “politically correct” (PC). This expression is usually used as a pejorative term for such devices by those who object to them. If you have the stomach for it, you can read The Daily Mail and will very quickly discover outraged objections to PC reforms. What is this thing that is being so strongly objected to? Within the confines of language (the term PC is often used to cover non-linguistic reforms that will not be discussed here), I suggest that PC language reforms are a puzzling mixture of coercive constraints on what it is acceptable to say, and a non-revisionary stance on what we say. It is supposed to force speakers into changing what that the say by merely making them say it in a different way. But, of course, to say something in a different way is still to say or mean the same thing, in which case this would seem to ensure that PC reforms do not reform the things that we say or mean. I consider 4 ways to understand this situation: (1) the coercive aspects of PC reforms are non-semantic; (2) PC reforms really do change semantic content; (3) PC reforms are a pragmatic operation akin to euphemism; (4) PC reforms operate on non-truth-conditional semantic meaning. I argue that (4) is the correct analysis of, at least, a great deal of what is referred to as “political correctness”. Please note that the nature of this topic makes it impossible to avoid some examples involving sexual innuendo, derogatory epithets, coarse language, etc., however, these will not be gratuitously discussed.

20 February 2019: Ms Leonie Smith (University of Manchester) / Ms Penelope Orr (University of Manchester)

Venue: HBS 2.53

Leonie Smith's Title: Epistemic self-defence: flipping the narrative of addressing epistemic injustice

Leonie Smith's Abstract: In this paper, I ask: when it comes to resisting epistemic oppression, what might those experiencing it permissibly and practically do to protect themselves from harm?

A person experiences an epistemic injustice when she is harmed in her capacity as a knower, as a result of prejudice. Call the individuals who are subject to these injustices, ‘marginalised knowers’ and those who perpetuate them, ‘dominant knowers’. The literature on epistemic injustice has predominantly focused on (i) identifying the various forms and practices of epistemic injustice [Fricker, 2007; Hookway, 2010; Dotson 2011; 2012; 2014; Pohlhaus, 2013; Davis, 2016, 2018; Berenstain, 2016; Archer and Smith, forthcoming]; (ii) discussing what dominant knowers can do to stop themselves perpetuating it [individually and/or structurally, e.g., Anderson, 2012]; and (iii) lobbying for recognition of the particular capabilities and insight of marginalised knowers [e.g., Medina, 2013].

However, this focus on persuading and educating dominant knowers to reduce epistemic injustice has meant that the perspective of marginalised knowers in resisting epistemic injustice for themselves has been almost entirely overlooked. In this paper, I lay out the groundwork for an account in which we begin to address that serious and significant gap. This is an account of a new concept of epistemic self-defence: the legitimate practice by marginalised knowers of intentional cognitive manipulation of dominant knowers in order to prevent, address or minimise the impact of epistemic injustice.

I propose two initial primary strategies:

(a)    epistemic nudging (combining tools from epistemic paternalism and ethical nudging); and

(b)   epistemic negotiation (combining corporate sales and hostage negotiation tactics).

Raising and addressing some possible concerns with this new field of epistemic self-defence, I argue that when it comes to (often localised) epistemic self-defence there is a great deal more to be said about what those of us who are marginalised knowers might effectively do, and about what we might permissibly do. Reframing the issue of epistemic injustice in this way allows us to give at least some control back to marginalised knowers, offering real solutions to those knowers in a fundamentally epistemically unjust world.

Penelope Orr's Title: Visual Perspective and Primitive Self-Awareness

Penelope Orr's Abstract: This paper investigates a form of pre-reflective self-consciousness. In particular, I ask whether visual experience is self-locating? I.e., is it true that, purely in virtue of its perspectival character, visual experience can represent the location of the perceiver as the location from which she perceives? The idea is that when someone perceives the objects in their environment they experience them as standing in spatial relations to themselves. So, in addition to the objects and their spatial location, the perceivers own location is among the things represented by the experience. Some philosophers – notably, Christopher Peacocke (2000, 2014) and Quassim Cassam (1994) – have assumed that visual experience is self-locating in this sense, yet the claim is rarely argued for explicitly. In this paper, I argue that the most natural interpretation of the perspectival structure of visual experience suggests that visual representations are, in fact, selfless. I also consider the main argument in favour of self-location – a paper by John Schwenkler (2014) – and go on to show that this argument is inadequately motivated. 

6 March 2019: Dr Jeroen Smid (University of Manchester)

Venue: HBS 2.53

Title: The Logic Behind Quine's Criterion of Ontological Commitment

Abstract: In this talk I first explains why Quine took first-order classical logic to be the only language in which we should formulate a theory or declarative statement to determine its ontological commitments. I then argue that Quineans cannot relax Quine's restriction to classical logic such that any non-classical logic may be used to uncover a theory's ontological commitments. The reason is that this leads to radical ontological relativism according to which the ontological commitments of a theory are relative to a logic. This is not a Quinean picture of ontology. Finally, I consider whether Quineans can go beyond Quine by allowing for classical and plural logic, but no other logics. I claim that this is not possible because plural logic is not transparent: it allows for ontologically non-equivalent theories to be formulated such that they come out as ontologically equivalent. 

20 March 2019: Prof Thomas Uebel (University of Manchester)

Venue: ALB 2.016/17

Title: A Puzzle about Other Minds in Early Ayer

Abstract: Language, Truth and Logic (LTL) had its share of critics over the years but one particular oddity pertaining to it appears to have escaped them so far.  If I am not mistaken, Ayer's own discussion of his account of our knowledge of other minds given in LTL misrepresents it rather strikingly.  Ayer criticises a certain move in the argument that is not actually made in LTL.  This talk will lay out what I take to be the facts and offer a highly tentative solution to the puzzle they present.

3 April 2019: Dr Rachael Wiseman (University of Liverpool)

Venue: HBS 2.07

Title: Linguistic Idealism, Rule-Following, and Human Essence

Abstract: G. E. M. Anscombe, following Wittgenstein, endorses a ‘partial linguistic idealism’: some things that fall under human concepts are dependent for their existence on human thought. Among those things that are so dependent, she says, are the modal notions associated with rules, rights and promises. This paper will explore the ethical implications of this claim, and will connect it with two central features of her influential ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’. First, her attack on the idea of a ‘moral ought’ and ‘moral duty’; second, her appeal to human action description and the language of virtue. 

1 May 2019: Dr Jani Hakkarainen (University of Tampere)

Venue: ALB 2.016/17

Title: Categorial Fundamentality and Non-Fundamentality

Abstract: At the moment, there is a lively debate on fundamentality in metaphysics and metametaphysics, as is documented by the topic of Fundamentality in PhilPapers and Tahko 2018 in SEP. In this discussion, one can spot a considerable gap: ontological categories do not play practically any role in it. This is so even though metaphysics arguably studies categories such as objects, properties, sets and events, which suggests that at least one type of metaphysical fundamentality is categorial fundamentality. I fill in this gap by proposing an account of categorial fundamentality and non-fundamentality.

I assume the framework of formal ontology initiated in analytic metaphysics by Barry Smith (1978, 1981) and Kevin Mulligan (Smith & Mulligan 1983). The late E.J. Lowe followed the lead and proposed that basic formal ontological relations such as instantiation determine the membership of basic categories (2006, sec. 7.8). Lowe also claims (ibid. 37) that basic formal ontological relations are not constituted by any different formal ontological relation (“FOR”, for short). However, he left the constitution of FORs without any explanation.

My proposal elaborates on Lowe by F. Correia and A. Skiles’ concept of generic identity. By the concept of generic identity, I can have something that Lowe was lacking: the notion of simple FOR. Fundamental categories are those categories whose membership is fully determined by a simple formal ontological relation or relations jointly in an order. Simple FORs are fundamental because their holding is not constituted by, in the sense of being generically identical with, any different FORs. The members of fundamental categories stand in the same simple FOR or FORs in the same order and their membership in a fundamental category is nothing more. To illustrate with Lowe’s realism, substance, modes, kinds and attributes are fundamental categories in his four-category ontology. The membership of any of them is fully determined jointly by the simple FORs of instantiation and characterization in an order. Any mode, for instance, characterizes a substance and instantiates an attribute.

By contrast, the membership of non-fundamental categories is not fully determined by a simple FOR or FORs jointly in an order. Categorial non-fundamentality is having membership at least partly determined by a non-simple FOR in an order. In Lowe’s four-category ontology, for example, events are non-fundamental because their membership is not fully determined by the simple FORs of instantiation and characterization. Events are changes in the modes of substances.

8 May 2019: Dr Dawn Wilson (University of Hull)

Please note that this event will run at the earlier-than-usual time of 14.00-15.45. 

Venue: HBS G.35

Title: TBC

Abstract: TBC

15 May 2019: Mr Jon Bebb (University of Manchester)

Venue: ALB 2.016/17

Title: TBC

Abstract: TBC

Previous speakers

2018-19: Stephen Ingram (Manchester), Andreas De Jong (Manchester), Catharine Abell (Manchester), Samuel Lebens (Haifa), Stephen Gardiner (Washington), Marie Guillot (Essex), and Joseph Kisolo-Ssonko (Nottingham).

2017-18: Abigail Connor (Manchester), Sean Crawford (Manchester), Frederique Janssen-Lauret (Manchester), Francois Recanati (Institute Jean Nicod), Andy Kirton (Manchester), Sophie Grace-Chappell (Open University), Richard Christian (Manchester), Kevin Mulligan (Lugano), Roberta Ballarin (University of British Columbia), Fraser MacBride (Manchester), and Sean Crawford (Manchester).

2016-17: Lubomira Radoilska (Kent), Sylvia Barnett (Manchester), Lea-Cecile Salje (Leeds), Jules Holroyd (Sheffield), Alex Grzankowski (Birkbeck), Chris Hughes (KCL), Helen Beebee (Manchester), Pilar Lopez-Cantero (Manchester), Fred Horton (Manchester), Catharine Abell (Manchester), Joel Smith (Manchester), Joey Montgomery (Manchester), Lydia Farina (Manchester), Michael Scott (Manchester) and Graham Stevens (Manchester), Paula Satne (Manchester), Stephen Ingram (Manchester), and Richard Yetter Chappell (York).

2015-16: Nikk Effingham (Birmingham), Al Mele (FSU), Jess Leech (Sheffield), David A. Nicolas (Jean Nicod), Michaela Massimi (Edinburgh), Catherine Z. Elgin (Harvard), Stacie Friend (Birkbeck), Lee Walters (Southampton), Finn Malcolm (Manchester), Tom Crowther (Warwick), Chris Ovenden (Manchester), Yu Gu (Manchester), Marcello Orieste Fiocco (UC Irvine), Nathan Duckett (Manchester), Helen Yetter Chappell (York), Luke Russell (Sydney), Thomas Smith (Manchester), Pila Lopez-Cantero (Manchester).

2014-15: Nicholas Jones (Birmingham), Emily Caddick Bourne (Cambridge), Kathleen Stock (Sussex), Debbie Roberts (Edinburgh), Christy Mag Uidhir (Houston), Peter Vickers (Durham), Johannes Roessler (Warwick), Heather Logue (Leeds), John Heil (Washington St. Louis), Matthew Smith (Leeds).

2013-14: Ian Proops (Austin), Daniel Whiting (Southampton), Ian Phillips (UCL), Jonathan Farrell (Manchester), Jason Turner (Leeds), Steinvör Thöll Árnadóttir (Stirling), Barry Dainton (Liverpool), Louise Richardson (York), Miranda Fricker (Sheffield), Jani Haikkarainen and Markku Keinanen (Tampere, Finland), Tom Smith (Manchester), Josh Parsons (Oxford), James Maclaurin (Otago).