Honours Seminars in the Department of Philosophy for 2016

Venue details for all of these units will be posted on the philosophy notice board, outside the Philosophy Common Room S413, Quadrangle A14 at the beginning of semester.

Semester 2

The Ethical Demand
Professor Robert Stern (University of Sheffield)
Dr. Bjorn Rabjerg (Aarhus University)
This Honours seminar will run for 6 weeks with two lectures/week
Mon: 10–12 and Tues: 12–2

The biblical commandment ‘to love your neighbour as yourself’ still has great resonance with people, as does the story of the Good Samaritan who helps the injured traveller he encounters on the road. But what exactly does this love require, and what is its basis? Do we have an obligation to care for others, or is it beyond the call of duty? How can love be a matter of obligation at all? If you help the neighbour, can you demand something in return? Should we help them by giving them what they want, or instead what they need? How far do our obligations to others extend – who is the ‘neighbour’, and might it include ‘the enemy’? And does the requirement to help the other come from God’s command, or from some sort of practical inconsistency given we all need help ourselves, or from their right to be helped – or simply from the fact they are in need? But can our needs be enough on their own to generate obligations of this sort?

We will consider these sorts of questions in relation to the work of K. E. L√łgstrup (1905-1981), a Danish philosopher and theologian, who discussed them in his key work The Ethical Demand (1956) in which he characterized this relation between individuals as involving a ‘radical demand’ for care, involving important commitments about the nature of life, value, and human interdependency. We will compare his ideas to related themes in Kant, Kierkegaard, Levinas, and contemporary care ethics.

Dr Caroline West

This seminar will examine questions about the nature and value of happiness. Is there a correct theory of happiness; and, if so, how do we determine what it is? We will also consider the relationship of happiness to self-interest, and to morality. Questions to be addressed include: Are we rationally obliged to seek to maximise our own happiness? Are we morally obliged to maximise the happiness of others – or at least to refrain from making them unhappy? Is there a right to happiness? Should social and political institutions aim to promote happiness, even at the cost of other important values (e.g. freedom)?

Group Rationality and Social Epistemology
Dr Brian Hedden

Many of our most important decisions are made in groups, and much of our knowledge comes from other people. But much of traditional epistemology has focused on theorizing about individual rationality. We will look at contemporary debates on belief and decision-making in the social context, including judgment aggregation, voting systems, the wisdom of crowds, deference to experts, and disagreement with peers.

Thought and the Hyperintensional
Professor David Braddon-Mitchell

To ask a question inspired by a claim of a fictional person, how many things can we dream of in our philosophy? As many as are possible is a natural answer. In other words if we individuate our thoughts by what they are about, we can have as many (and no more) thoughts as there are ways things can be, where that's understood as ways that things can possibly be. But that answer is problematic. It looks like there are quite distinct ways of thinking of things which don't correspond to different ways things can be (the hackneyed example is triangles and trilaterals. To think that something is triangular is a distinct thought from thinking that it is trilateral. Yet there's only the one way things can be: every triangle is a trilateral and vice versa. And here are lots more problems, even if they can't be put into a blurb on a website. We'll look at these problems. And at the menu of solutions, which includes:
(a) Insisting that there aren't that many distinct thoughts: arguing that we were mistaken in our ways telling our thoughts apart
(b) Denying that how things can be and what thoughts are about is connected in any interesting way or at least not in the accepted way.
(c) Accepting that there are genuinely distinct ways things can't be (sometimes called 'impossible worlds') or otherwise that the facts about reality are finer grained than how reality is.

Dr Luke Russell

What is forgiveness, and why is forgiveness commonly taken to be morally virtuous? In this unit we will engage with recent research on forgiveness, and try to make sense of the role played by forgiveness in interpersonal and political contexts. We will examine the relationships between forgiving and other possible responses to wrongdoing (e.g. punishing, excusing, justifying, being merciful, accepting, moving on, forgetting), and ask whether we should see forgiveness as involving an emotional change, or a behavioural change, or both. We will also think about the moral status of forgiveness. Is forgiveness always morally admirable, or, at least, morally permissible? Or are there cases in which it is morally wrong to forgive? Is forgiveness instrumentally good, or intrinsically good, or both?

Kant versus Romanticism
Dr Dalia Nassar

Kant’s attempt to develop a new account of knowledge, mirrored on the certainty of the exact sciences, and designated as the philosophical “Copernican revolution,” was one of the most important moments of the history of modern philosophy. Yet, Kant’s famous dualism between mind and nature, his insistence that we cannot know the “thing in itself,” and his claims that we can never know the self as a self or confirm our moral freedom, resulted in significant difficulties and led to major critiques of his project. These critiques, which were most vividly and intensively developed by the early German romantics, aimed to save the Kantian project by rethinking its premises. This honours course will examine Kant’s most important contributions through the lens of romanticism, and consider how and to what extent the romantics carried out a Kantian or, better, a post-Kantian project. Questions to be considered include:
-What were the main aims of the Kantian project?
-What is early German romanticism? What were its philosophical influences and its major contributions?
-What were the methodological innovations of Kant’s philosophy?
-In what ways did romanticism further these methodological innovations?
-What were the fundamental difficulties that Kant faced and did he resolve them?
-How did the romantics seek to resolve the problems of Kantian philosophy?
-To what extent can romanticism be considered a post-Kantian movement?
-What is the meaning of system for Kant and how does it compare to the romantic conception of system?
This seminar will be uniquely team-taught by Kant expert and special visitor, Eric Watkins (UCSD) and romanticism expert, Dalia Nassar.

Semester 1

Love, Rationality, and Ethics
Dr Sam Shpall

Is love an emotion, a structure of the will, or a special mode of cognition? Are we responsible for love, and can we be blamed for it? Should love be responsive to objective value, or is it a matter of personal taste? What sorts of objects is it possible to love? Are the demands of love in tension with the demands of morality? Can philosophers even say anything illuminating about love, or is it the proper terrain of poets and novelists? This seminar will address these questions through engagement with a diverse range of historical and contemporary readings about the nature and value of love.

Reimagining Epistemology
Professor Moira Gatens

In recent years some philosophers have proposed that traditional approaches to knowledge and belief have been too exclusively concerned with the abstracted individual knower at the expense of taking into proper account the roles of social relations and institutions in the formation of beliefs and knowledge. It has been argued that once we take account of these social and institutional factors then the embodied particularity of the knower (e.g. sex, race, ethnicity, and so on) can be shown to affect what can be known and believed, and by whom. This unit will examine the work of three contemporary contributors to this attempt to ‘reimagine’ epistemology in a social frame: Miranda Fricker, Jose Medina and Sally Haslanger.
This seminar will run over seven weeks x 3 hrs classes, plus a half-day workshop.
Main readings:
Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Haslanger, Sally. Resisting reality: Social construction and social critique. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Medina, José. The epistemology of resistance: Gender and racial oppression, epistemic injustice, and the social imagination. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Sympathy: Connecting with Other Minds
Dr Anik Waldow

This unit will investigate how it is possible for us to understand other persons’ thoughts, desires and beliefs and how we connect emotionally with them. We will look at the early modern theories of Francis Hutcheson, David Hume ad Adam Smith and examine the moral implications related to our ability to sympathise with one another. We will thereby gain valuable conceptual resources to create a better understanding of the contemporary debate about empathy.
This seminar will be taught as a compact seminar from weeks 1-5; it will be held in combination with a three-day conference on empathy (30 March 1 April) with a special component for postgraduate and Honours students. Participation in the conference is compulsory.