Honours Seminars in the Department of Philosophy for 2014

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 1

Habermas
Associate Professor John Grumley

This is a general introduction to Habermas' post 1981 magnum opus Theory of Communicative Action social and political philosophy. After three weeks of introductory lectures, It will involve the reading and discussion of a selection of excerpts from main works and essays over the last 30 years. It is almost impossible to cover the full spectrum of his recent work in one semester. I have endeavoured to select key papers and chapters but, inevitably, these remain a little arbitrary. I'm open to negotiation on the papers if participants have other strong interests.

Internalism and Externalism (In Semantics and Epistemology)
Associate Professor Nick Smith

One of the most important debates in epistemology and one of the central controversies in philosophy of language go by the same name: "internalism vs externalism". In this seminar we'll begin by examining the two debates individually, and then turn to the issue of whether there are interesting connections between them. (Roughly: epistemic externalists think that the facts about whether a person's beliefs are justified can depend on matters that are not consciously accessible to that person, while epistemic internalists deny this; semantic externalists think that the meanings of the words that a person uses can depend on facts about that person's external environment, while semantic internalists deny this.)

Early Modern Persons and Consciousness
Dr Anik Waldow

What does it mean to be this rather than that person? How is it possible to think of oneself as persisting through time? What is the self and how can I find out about it? In the writings of early modern philosophers like Descartes, Locke, Hume and Condillac these questions were intimately related and an answer to one often yielded an answer to all of them. In this seminar we will examine the links between the concepts of identity, consciousness and self-concern. Central to our discussion will be to develop an understanding of how it is possible to distinguish one’s awareness of the self from the kind of awareness involved in the representation of ordinary objects.

This seminar will be taught in 3hr blocks, from week 1-6 of semester 1 (weeks 5 & 6 will be co-taught with Vili Laehteenmaeki from the University of Helsinki); it will be followed by a one-day workshop with some of Australia’s best early modern scholars. Participation in the workshop is compulsory.

The Natural Law Tradition from Aquinas to Barbeyrac
Dr Tom Dougherty

The natural law tradition was one of the most significant traditions in moral, political and legal philosophy during the medieval and early modern periods. It significantly developed the concepts of "rights" and "obligation" and made important contributions to debates about the relationship between practical reason and morality, and the normativity of human law. We will closely read and discuss texts by Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, Suarez, Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, Cumberland, Pufendorf and Barbeyrac.

Images of History: Kant and Benjamin
Visiting professor, Richard Eldridge, Swarthmore College, USA.

We will begin by considering in general terms the relations among a) making sense of human actions, b) the concrete availability in life of morally significant self-understanding, and c) images of history as a (partly) meaningful process. Then we will turn to the specific treatments of these topics by Immanuel Kant and Walter Benjamin, considering, first, their general theoretical writings about history and second, specific extended texts (Kant, Religion; Benjamin One-Way Street) that are central to their respective philosophical anthropologies.

The seminar will begin the second week of the semester, and go for 6 weeks, with 3 hour meetings each week.


Semester 2

Forgiveness
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? Philosophers who will be discussed in this unit include Glen Pettigrove, Pamela Heironymi, Eve Garrard, Charles Griswold, Lucy Allais, Leo Zaibert and Trudy Govier.

Cosmopolitanism and Community
Dr Thomas Besch

Do we have special obligations to our compatriots that can trump whatever obligations we might have to humanity as a whole? What duties do we have toward non-compatriots and distant strangers? Should we define our conceptions of moral and political community according to particular cultural or national characteristics, or in terms of a shared common humanity? What is the relation between universal principles and local practices, and what are the consequences for our conceptions of practical reason? The course introduces you to a range of themes and problems at the core of contemporary “cosmopolitanism” in moral and political philosophy. In doing so, it strikes a balance between addressing higher-order ideas of the nature of practical reasoning and practical justification and applied issues concerning the grounds and the content of trans-national justice. Part of the aim of the course is to help you to gain a critical appraisal of some varieties of contemporary cosmopolitanism, an understanding of both foundational and applied problems that cosmopolitan ideas of justice face, and, equally important, an appreciation of the importance of the issue of scope in recent moral and political philosophy.

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.


Environmental Philosophy: Philosophy, Ecology, and Conservation Biology
Professor Mark Colyvan

This course investigates a variety of philosophical issues associated with the study and management of the natural environment. We will look at questions such as: what does it mean to live in harmony with the environment?; what is sustainability?; why should we preserve biodiversity?; what is the best way to achieve conservation goals?; what are ecological models and how do they work?; and what is the proper relationship between environmental science and the values found in environmental policy and management?