skip to content

Faculty of Philosophy



Michaelmas 2021


12th October 2021 - Lea Ypi (LSE) - Title:  What is political progress?

Abstract: Progress is both a necessary and a dangerous idea. It is necessary if one strives to improve the way things are, and it is dangerous because the pursuit of progress has historically often given rise to paternalism, colonial domination and narratives of civilisational superiority. In this talk, I will defend a more critical account of progress. I will start by distinguishing between moral and political progress, then explore the relation between political progress, power and justice. I will suggest that we make political progress not when we approximate an ideal of justice that is always already known to us, but when the political institutions we construct reflect what we learn from the trials and failures of the past.


19th October 2021 - Neil Dewar (Cambridge) - Title: On Absolute Units

Abstract: How may we characterise the intrinsic structure of physical quantities such as mass, length, or electric charge? This paper shows that group-theoretic methods provide an elegant way of characterising the structure of scalar quantities, and uses this to give an intrinsic treatment of vector quantities. It also gives a general account of how different scalar or vector quantities may be algebraically combined with one another. Finally, it uses this apparatus to give a simple intrinsic treatment of Newtonian gravitation


26th October 2021 - Sophie-Grace Chappell (Open University) - Title:  Tempted like Achilles

Abstract: I consider the notions of role-compliance and role-recalcitrance by starting from a simple argument-schema for role-reasons. I argue (1) that role-recalcitrance is a human universal; (2) that at least some role-recalcitrance is ethically interesting; (3) that at least some ethically interesting role-recalcitrance is a very good thing. I argue for (1) and (2) by examining some well-known claims that Alasdair MacIntyre offers about “heroic societies” in After Virtue: in particular, his connected claims (a) that people in those societies cannot “step back” from their roles, and (b) that there are arguments across the Is-Ought Gap that are based on “functional concepts”. (a) leads me to a re-examination of the Iliad’s central figure of Achilles; this refutes (a), and suggests an a fortiori argument for (1). (b) leads me to a distinction—which refutes it too—between logical and psychological/sociological cogency; to some reflections on analyticity in general; and to the conclusion, which is a rephrasing of (3), that at least sometimes the ability to be role recalcitrant is precisely “what makes us truly human”.


2nd November 2021 - Rahel Jaeggi (Humboldt University) - Title: Transforming Solidarities

Abstract:  The pandemic has made the topic of solidarity omnipresent in contemporary’s public discourse. The last 18 months has seen politicians praise the solidarity of citizens, and together with citizens applaud the ceaseless work of nurses, care personal, and doctors. Staying at home and getting vaccinated have been promoted not just as precautionary acts regarding one’s own health but as instances of responsibility, compassion, and solidarity. But then, despite being often evoked and appealed to, concept itself is incredibly vague in its use. So, what then is solidarity? What do we even mean when we when we refer to an action or a situation with the word solidarity? How are we to conceptualize solidarity? Is solidarity a given social bond or a result of a common struggle? Is it joint action or a state of being (together), a relation? Is it universal or related to a particularistic sense of belonging? Is it necessarily temporary (as in a strike that eventually comes to an end) or an ongoing commitment? The first part of my paper is an attempt to analyze the concept and the phenomenon of solidarity. Therefore, I examine the specific character of solidaristic associations and attitudes by relating them to other forms of social relations. Foremost, I am concerned with pointing out the differences between solidarity and attitudes like readiness to help or compassion on the one hand, and other kinds of communality on the other hand, and thereby establish a concept of solidarity as a symmetrical, reciprocal and cooperative relation mediated through a common cause. In the second part I will focus on three problems with respect to (my understanding of) solidarity – that is:  three characteristic tensions within the concept – and try to solve these: (1) The tension between universality and particularism; (2) the tension between asymmetry and symmetry and (3) the fact that solidarity seems to be both, given and made. 


9th November 2021 - C. Thi Nguyen (Utah) - Title:  Value Capture

Abstract: Value capture occurs when an agent enters a social environment which presents external expressions of value — which are often simplified, standardized, and quantified — and those external versions come to dominate our reasoning and motivations. Examples include becoming motivated by Twitter Likes and Retweets, citation rates, ranked lists of best schools, and Grade Point Averages. We are vulnerable to value capture because of the competitive advantage that such pre-packaged value expressions have in our reasoning and our communications. But when we internalize such metrics, we damage our own autonomy. In value capture, we outsource the process of deliberating on our values. And that outsourcing cuts off one of the key benefits of personal deliberation. When we tailor our values to ourselves, we can fine-tune them to fit our own particular psychology and place in the world. But in value capture, we buy our values off the rack.


16th November 2021 - Jessie Munton (Cambridge) -  Title:  Epistemic Norms for Search Engines

Abstract:  We commonly make evaluations of search engines and the results they return, but what grounds those evaluations? One straightforward way of evaluating search engines appeals to the intentions or goals of the user. Are there, in addition, user-independent norms, that allow us to evaluate search engines in ways that may come apart from their ability to satisfy the individuals who use them? One way of grounding such norms appeals to moral or political considerations. I argue that in addition to those norms, there are also distinctive user-independent epistemic norms that apply to search engines. Evaluating search engines relative to them, however, requires us to appreciate the impact search engines have on our practices and norms of inquiry more broadly. By systematically altering the accessibility of information, search engines don’t just give us information but have a far-reaching impact on our collective imagination, and the categories it operates over. This has implications for our understanding of the relationship between the epistemic and the ethical.


23rd November 2021 - David Papineau (KCL) - Title:  Knowledge and the Failings of Folk Epistemology

Abstract: Many contemporary epistemologists aim to codify principles that provide “the best explanation of all the intuitive data”, as Declan Smithies has put it. In line with this, they have variously defended “knowledge norms” governing action, assertion, and belief. However, I shall argue that, while these norms of knowledge might have the support of intuition, they substantially hamper our ability to reason well. Nobody thinks that folk intuitions are a good guide in physics, say, or biology. Why should it be different in epistemology?


30th November 2021 - Catharine Abell (Oxford) - Title:  On Buck Passing: Methodology in the Philosophy of Art

Abstract:  Recent attempts to illuminate the nature of art have predominantly sought to do so by providing theories of art that identify features that all art works possess and that jointly distinguish them from things that are not works of art. In Beyond Art, Dominic Lopes argues that the debate about the nature of art has stagnated in a dialectical impasse between traditional and genetic theories of art, which has arisen because the advocates of each disagree about which criteria should guide our choice of theory and do so because they have contrary intuitions about which things qualify as works of art. In this paper, I do not defend any particular view about the nature of art, but instead identify a methodological approach to theorizing about art that can avoid the impasse while remaining neutral regarding a range of possible outcomes.