Past Events

Meaning Restrictions

Rarely do we utter 'every F' to talk about absolutely every F, or 'some G' to talk about any G whatsoever. But there's no commonly-accepted account of just how speakers manage to use such phrases to talk about more restricted classes of things. After considering and rejecting some earlier suggestions, I offer a novel account of this phenomenon. On my account, speakers bear a relationship of linguistic authority over quantified statements, such that they can use those statements to express certain kinds of thoughts. But there are limits to such authority: both a practical limit, since speakers' thoughts are typically only so precise, and normative limits, since one's linguistic community will only tolerate a limited range of thoughts being expressible via a particular quantified statement.

When: Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Key 0103
Conversational epistemics and epistemology

Some of the most interesting rules governing human conversations are epistemic in nature: in fact, it is argued that conversational turn-taking is fundamentally driven by the creation and resolution of epistemic imbalances. Drawing on recent work in conversational analysis, this paper argues that our natural vulnerability to epistemological skepticism is at least in part a by-product of the background epistemic monitoring system that supports ordinary conversational exchanges.

When: Wednesday, October 31, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Key 0103
Hume and Shepherd on Causation, Natural Kinds, and Necessary Connection

This talk is about the 19th century Scottish philosopher Mary Shepherd’s response to Hume on induction, and some of her own metaphysics of induction.

When: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
Two kinds of causal pluralism

Causal pluralism is, perhaps not surprisingly, plural. My aim in this talk will be to explore the relationship between two kinds of pluralism that have received attention in recent years. The first pluralism, which we owe chiefly to Ned Hall, argues that some causal claims are concerned with production while others are concerned with dependence or difference making. The second, which we owe chiefly to Elizabeth Anscombe, tells us that the word ‘cause’ is a schema term that stands in for more specific varieties of activities like pushing, wetting or scraping. My hope will be to show how we can understand the differing semantic and explanatory roles of these concepts, while connecting them to a reasonably economical ontology that is grounded in mechanisms.

When: Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Key 0103
Leveraging Choice Architecture to Alter Social Preferences

Stereotypes and associated emotions drive discriminatory behavior across numerous consequential contexts. These biases against marginalized social groups have important implications for real-world social decisions, including hiring, voting, health, and housing decisions. Psychologists have traditionally studied how people evaluate different ethnic and cultural groups (and their members) in isolation, but in the real world people commonly make judgments and decisions over sets of people. For example, hiring decisions involve the assessment of multiple candidates at once. Across a series of experiments, we harness insights from computational models of decision-making to examine whether choice set construction---or choice architecture---can be used to influence decision-makers' preferences in consequential social decisions. I will review several findings including a combination of field data and lab experiments to examine the effect of alternatives, or decoys, on social evaluations and decisions in hiring and election contexts.

When: Thursday, October 4, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Consent Under Duress

By giving valid consent, we can waive rights that we hold against other people, thereby permitting them to perform actions that they otherwise weren't allowed to perform. However, our consent can fail to grant them permissions when we give it under duress. I examine the questions of how duress invalidates consent, and why it does so. My answers appeal to rights' function of protecting us from interference from others and consent's function of enabling us to share our lives with others.

When: Wednesday, September 19, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
Numbers and Language

After 20 years of studying the relation between language and the mental representation of numbers, I’ve come to the conclusion that three things are true. (1) Numbers are unrelated to language; (2) Numbers are related to language in general; and (3) Numbers are related to particular languages. These sound like contradictory statements, but I will explain during my talk how all of them can be true, depending on what one means by ‘language’ and what one means by ‘number.’

When: Thursday, September 6, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
The Epistemic Commitments of Nondiscrimination

Familiar, popular controversies -- like the one last summer over the memo written by a Google employee -- pit accusations of racism or sexism against competing accusations of political correctness. These disagreements can be fruitfully understood as grounded, at least in part, in a philosophical disagreement about whether moral considerations rightly play a role in what we believe. One side endorses the view that a commitment to nondiscrimination includes epistemic demands and rightfully so. The other side views this stance as both irrational and dangerous. The aim of the paper is to link these debates in our social world to a philosophical debate about whether moral and pragmatic considerations can and do affect beliefs and credences.

When: Wednesday, May 9, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: TLF 1101
Neuroimaging of pain and distress

Pain and emotional distress are realities that affect us all. Preventing, resolving, and sometimes accepting pain and distress motivates many human endeavors, ranging from spiritual practices to medical interventions. Understanding the brain basis of pain and emotion could transform how we understand these fundamental facets of human life, but currently, there are no human brain measures adequate for determining whether one is angry or sad, whether pain is physical or emotional, or whether one is feeling pain that is intense or mild. In this talk, I describe a series of studies aimed at beginning to address these questions. Combining functional neuroimaging with machine learning techniques, we have developed brain markers capable of indicating the intensity of pain and negative emotion in individual participants with > 90% accuracy, with no prior knowledge of an individual's experience. In addition to their use as markers, such maps can provide insight into the structure of the neurophysiological representations underlying pain and distress. Our findings to date suggest that specific types of aversive experiences are encoded in separate, population-based patterns that are co-localized in similar gross anatomical circuits. These studies are part of a transformational shift in how neuroimaging data is being used, from early 'blob-based' brain-mapping studies to the development of predictive maps with tangible translational potential. They show that as the field progresses, we may be able to map specific types of subjective experience to specific brain circuits. This endeavor enables cross-species mapping of mechanisms, translational work on treatment development, and new ways of understanding and relieving human suffering.

When: Thursday, April 12, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1208

The conference will take place on Thursday, April 12 at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and Friday-Saturday, April 13 - 14 in the Skinner Building, University of Maryland, College Park. Furhter details about the conference are available at the conference webpage (see above).

When: Thursday, April 12, 2018
Full of Sound and Fury Signaling Nothing?

The quantum pragmatism of Healey will be compared to Bub's information theoretic account of the quantum. Concerns about both views will be raised. It will be argued that the Relational Blockworld account of quantum mechanics, which as we will show has much in common with these two views, provides a realist psi-epistemic take on the quantum that deflates the measurement problem, explains superposition and entanglement without invoking wave-like phenomena or non-locality, and explains the Born rule. The three views will be compared and contrasted for their relative merits. Ultimately, we will conclude that the Relational Blockworld approach has certain advantages.

When: Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: TLF 1101
Hippocampal-prefrontal mechanisms supporting knowledge acquisition across development

Everyday behaviors require a high degree of flexibility, in which prior experience is applied to inform behavior in new situations. Such flexibility is thought to be supported by memory integration, a process whereby related experiences become interconnected in the brain through recruitment of overlapping neuronal populations. In this talk, I will discuss our work demonstrating that memory integration relies on hippocampal–prefrontal circuitry and allows for acquisition of new knowledge beyond what we directly experience. I will show how such knowledge is flexibly deployed to promote new learning and higher-level cognitive functions such as reasoning and concept formation. I will also discuss developmental data exploring the relationship between maturation of hippocampal-prefrontal circuitry and the emergence of reasoning ability.  I will show that children and adolescents are less likely to link new experiences to their existing memories, limiting their ability to reason about the relationships among distinct events.

When: Thursday, April 5, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
The Ontology of Terrorism

When the attempt is made to determine empirically what it is that makes an individual choose to become involved in terrorist acts, one of the few factors with predictive value is: prior involvement in petty crime. This is in part because terrorist recruiters tend to seek out those who are on the fringes of society. It is connected also with the fact that terrorists often cooperate with criminal organizations in matters of finance and tactics. Terrorist acts and criminal acts differ, however. Very roughly: the former, but not the latter, have as their objective to send a message. We shall explore what this means for an ontology of terrorism, and describe how such an ontology might be useful, for instance in predicting terrorist acts.

When: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: TLF 1101
The role of prenatal experience in early speech processing and language acquisition

Hearing is operational from the third trimester of gestation. Infants thus first experience language in the womb. In this talk I will present a series of near-infrared spectroscopy experiments with newborns suggesting that this prenatal experience may already shape how infants perceive and start learning about language. As maternal tissues act as low-pass filters, fetuses mainly experience the prosody of speech, fine details necessary for the identification of words are mostly suppressed. I will show that at birth infants already recognize the prosodic properties of the language(s) they heard in utero, they weigh prosody as a strong cue to package the speech stream into relevant units. I will link this early prosodic experience to theories of prosodic bootstrapping assumed to operate later during language acquisition.

When: Thursday, March 15, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
The Metaphysics of Aspect

JL Austin said that existing is not something that things do all the time. Was he right? Under what conditions has something done something anyway? Perhaps surprisingly, I think that the key to answering this and a host of other questions in metaphysics can be found in a distinction from linguistics, the distinction between "stative" and "non-stative" verbs. Other question that this distinction is relevant to include: under what conditions does an event occur? What is the difference between a cause and a background condition? Must a disposition be a disposition to act? What is it to manifest a disposition? What is the most basic kind of causation?

When: Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: TLF 1101
When Sex and Gender Collide

Announced on our day of birth or even months before, sex and gender are perhaps the most central social categories that affect our lives regardless of the society into which we are born. While the study of how we come to understand our own gender and the influence gender has on our lives has been central to the study of human psychology for decades, nearly all research to date has focused on people who experience “typical” gender identity (gender identity that aligns with one's sex). In this talk, I will discuss our recent work exploring gender development and mental health in an increasingly visible group of children—transgender and gender nonconforming youth—for whom gender and sex diverge considerably. I will explore how studying gender diverse children enhances our understanding of gender more broadly and how basic social cognitive tasks can be useful in addressing ongoing debates about gender diverse children.

When: Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Virtues as Excellences

One of the few points of unquestioned agreement in virtue theory is that the virtues are supposed to be excellences. One way to understand this is to claim that the virtues always yield correct moral action and that we cannot be "too virtuous": the virtues cannot be had in excess or "to a fault". If we take this seriously, however, it yields the surprising conclusion that many traits which have been traditionally thought of as "virtues" fail to make the grade. A solution to the problem, proposed by Gary Watson (1984) and reminiscent of Aristotle's view, is found to generate more problems than it solves.

When: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: TLF 1101
A Comparative Biological Approach to Language Evolution

Since the ancient Greeks there has been a tension between those who emphasize the similarities between humans and animals, and those who focus on the differences. In this talk I show that modern biology validates, and indeed requires, both perspectives, arguing that human cognition is based on broadly shared building blocks, but also includes several distinctive cognitive characteristics that are either rare or non-existent in non-human animals. I illustrate this perspective with examples from color vision and animal tool use, before turning to human language, where shared and exclusive components both play important roles.

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Naturalizing Moral Inquiry

There have been several recent efforts to naturalize first-order moral inquiry by incorporating findings from empirical moral psychology. According to one line of argument, our intuitive “deontological” judgments result from evolved emotional reactions, adaptive in the past but insensitive to countervailing considerations in the present. Consequently, these judgments should be jettisoned in favor of a more rational moral framework aimed at maximizing overall utility (Greene, 2014; Singer, 2005). I argue that this attempt to impugn intuitive moral judgments misses the mark. According to the alternative approach I propose, however, empirical findings can be used in more targeted ways to guide moral belief revision.

When: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 3:30pm
Where: TLF 1101
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When: Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
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When: Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
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When: Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0102
Moral Flexibility: Insights from Neuroscience

Classical models of antisocial behavior propose that violence arises out of a failure of lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) to “put the brakes” on aggressive impulses originating in subcortical regions such as the amygdala and striatum. A new, alternative model proposes that LPFC does not directly inhibit aggressive impulses, but instead flexibly modulates the value of aggressive acts via corticostriatal circuits. I will present the first empirical evidence directly supporting the alternative model. In a series of behavioral, pharmacological and neuroimaging experiments we observed healthy adults as they decided whether to anonymously inflict pain on themselves or strangers in exchange for money. We find that most people would rather harm themselves than others for profit. This moral preference correlated with neural responses to profit, where participants with stronger moral preferences had lower dorsal striatal responses to profit gained from harming others. LPFC encoded profits gained from harming others, but not self, and tracked the blameworthiness of harmful choices. Moral decisions modulated functional connectivity between LPFC and the profit-sensitive region of dorsal striatum. Increasing central dopamine levels with the dopamine precursor levodopa eliminated moral preferences. The findings suggest moral behavior is linked to a neural devaluation of reward realized by a prefrontal modulation of striatal value representations. This mechanism implies that the moral value of actions is flexibly guided by neural representations of social norms. If norms change, so then do the values that guide actions. Supporting this view, re-framing decisions to harm others as being in service of a noble cause eliminated moral preferences. The flexibility of value representations in the brain may hold the key to understanding why people with good intentions can sometimes do terrible things.

When: Thursday, October 26, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Moral Flexibility: Insights from Neuroscience
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When: Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0102
A Dynamic Neural Architecture for Social Memory

Social behavior is often shaped by the rich storehouse of biographical information that we hold for other people. During our daily social interactions we rapidly and flexibly retrieve a host of biographical details about individuals in our social network, which often guide our decisions as we navigate complex social interactions. Even abstract traits associated with an individual, such as their political affiliation, can cue a rich cascade of person-specific knowledge. I will discuss research from my laboratory showing that a distributed neural circuit, with a hub in the anterior temporal lobe, allows us to rapidly retrieve person knowledge by coordinating interactions with a distributed network to support the flexible retrieval of person attributes.

When: Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
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When: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0102
Life at the edge of the lexicon: Productive knowledge and direct experience in language processing and acquisition.

The infinite generative potential of human language derives from our ability to analyze complex linguistic input into simpler units, store those units in memory, and productively recombine those units into new expressions. This is the cycle of comprehension, acquisition, and production through which human languages persist and change through the history of a speech community. But what are these units of comprehension, acquisition, and production? The tension between combinatorial and holistic representation of complex linguistic expressions plays a central role in debates on language processing and acquisition. Here I describe work combining probabilistic models and new large datasets to investigate this tension and uncover the respective contributions of productive knowledge and direct experience. In processing, we focus on binomial expressions (salt and pepper - pepper and salt), finding a frequency-driven tradeoff between the two knowledge sources and a frequency-dependent level of idiosyncrasy in binomial ordering preference across binomials in the language. The former is explained by a rational model of learning from limited experience; the latter we account for with an evolutionary model of transmission of ordering preferences over time. In acquisition, we focus on determiner-noun combinations (“the ball”, “a cold”) and develop a novel Bayesian model to infer the strength of contribution of productive knowledge evident in child speech. We find evidence of low initial levels of productivity and higher levels later in development, consistent with the hypothesis that the earliest months of multi-word speech are not generated using rich grammatical knowledge, but that grammatical productivity emerges rapidly thereafter.

When: Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1208
Is the U.s. BecomIng a Constitutional Dictatorship? Executive Authority and the Rule PostRule of Law Post--9/11

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This lecture will discuss the developments that have led us to this Administration, paying particular attention to trends in the evolution of executive power since 9/11 that have expanded executive authority and weakened constraints on the part of counterbalancing institutions. I shall argue that the features of the Trump Administration that so openly challenge rule of law values began to enter political life as far back as 9/11, and indeed even potentially before. I shall also discuss the possible correctives to the dissolution of the rule of law. It is far from a foregone conclusion that this trend will continue, but any attempts to roll back this damage must be clear and deliberate, and such work will not happen quickly or easily.

When: Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 4:30pm
Where: TYD 0102
Contemporary armed Conflict and the Non-State Actor

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Recent challenges in international security posed by two terrorist organizations, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have highlighted an urgent domestic and foreign policy challenge, namely, how to address the threat posed by violent non-state actors while adhering to the rule of law values that form the core of democratic governance. Despite the vital importance of this topic, the legal framework for conducting operations of this magnitude against non-state actors has never been clearly identified. The Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) is organized around the assumption that parties to an armed conflict are “combatants,” meaning that they are members of a state military acting in the name of that state. Norms of conduct are unclear with regard to non-state actors, and there are few consistent legal principles to provide guidance. In 2002, the Bush Administration declared members of Al-Qaeda and other violent non-state actors “unlawful combatants,” and as such declared them not subject to the Geneva Conventions. Legal scholars tend to agree, and many have written that LOAC must adapt to fit the new asymmetric nature of armed conflict. Law, however, is generally thought of as a constraint, rather than an instrument for achieving other goals. This article will address the status of unlawful combatants under existing International Humanitarian Law and Just War Theory and ask what the right legal framework is for addressing the threat posed by non-state actors in current asymmetric conflict. It will argue that violent non-state actors are more properly thought of as international criminals than as combatants of any sort. It will also examine the meaning of rule of law reasoning in the context of war. Results oriented legal analysis treats law as failing to provide reasons to individual actors, and privileges form over substance. I argue that this approach must be rejected if war is to be constrained by law.

When: Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0102
Tracking the spatial and temporal dynamics of online spatial representations with rhythmic brain activity

A substantial body of evidence suggests that neural activity in the alpha frequency band (8-12 Hz) covaries with the locus of covert spatial attention, such that attention to one visual field yields a sustained decline in alpha power at contralateral electrode sites. In our work, we have exploited this covariation by using an inverted encoding model to reconstruct spatial response profiles (termed channel tuning functions, or CTFs) based on the topography of alpha activity on the human scalp. Thus, in a task that required the storage of locations in working memory, we observed a graded profile of activity across spatial channels that peaked at the stored location during both the encoding and delay periods of the task. These spatial CTFs provide an opportunity to quantify the basic tuning properties of online spatial memories to examine how the precision of neural representations changes with manipulations of the probability of storage or the number of items stored. In addition, I’ll show that the same method can be used to track the locus and timing of covert attention, as well as the retrieval of spatial representations from long term memory. These findings demonstrate the integral role that alpha band activity plays in the online representation of space, and provide a powerful new approach for tracking these representations during during ongoing cognition and without requiring overt behavioral responses.

When: Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Bigger data about smaller people: Studying children’s language learning at scale

How do children acquire a language? Decades of work have provided a roadmap of principles and mechanisms for early language learning as attested by small-scale laboratory tasks. But there is not yet a convincing empirical synthesis of this work that addresses both the systematicity and ubiquity of language learning and the variability of learning trajectories across children. In this talk I will describe some initial steps towards such a synthesis. This research integrates high-density data from individual children learning a single language and summary data from tens of thousands of children learning more than a dozen languages. Taken together, the data support a hybrid picture in which children slowly accumulate knowledge in rich social contexts but also show evidence for surprisingly fast grammatical abstractions.

When: Thursday, September 7, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Implicit Bias
When: Monday, May 8, 2017 at 4:00pm
Where: Tydings 1102

Professor Peter Carruther, Implicit Bias, When: April 24 at 4pm, Where: Tydings 1102

When: Monday, April 24, 2017
“I don’t know”: Ignorance and question-asking as engines for cognitive development

In highlighting young children’s receptivity to, and appraisal of, potential informants, recent research on children’s early cultural learning has neglected their self-appraisals and their concomitant information seeking. Recent evidence shows that human toddlers spontaneously signal their own cognitive states; they use non-verbal gestures (e.g., a shoulder shrug and/or flipping of the palms upward and outward) together with explicit statements (“I don’t know”) to convey their ignorance. They also explicitly affirm what they know (“I know…”) and query the knowledge of an interlocutor (“Do you know…?”). Alongside such self-monitoring, toddlers also display an interrogative stance toward potential informants. They ask for information via pointing, via simple factual questions, and via explanation-seeking questions. Granted that children are likely to vary considerably in the responses they receive to such information seeking, they are likely to arrive at different assessments of the scope of human knowledge, the magnitude of their own comparative ignorance, and the potential role of question-asking in mitigating such ignorance.

When: Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Intrusive Effects of Task-Irrelevant Representations on Attentional Guidance

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When: Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
The future of fMRI in cognitive neuroscience

Cognitive neuroscience has witnessed two decades of rapid growth, thanks in large part to the continued development of fMRI methods. In my talk, I will question what this work has told us about brain function, and will propose some new directions that I see as being crucial to the ultimate success of cognitive neuroscience. First, I will discuss the need for approaches that allow selective associations between mental operations and representations and brain activity. Related to this, I will discuss the need to develop and test formal ontologies of cognitive processes. Finally, I will discuss the need to make research practices in neuroimaging more reproducible.

When: Thursday, March 30, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

Discussion on voting methods with Eric Pacuit and Piotr Swistak.  Date: Wednesday, 3/29;  Time: 3:30pm; Location: Tydings 1101; Announcement

When: Wednesday, March 29, 2017
The virtuous baby? The limits and limitations of infants’ socio-moral cognition and behavior.

Recently, twin narratives have arisen in both the scholarly literature and in the popular press that depict infants as a. moral judges and b. inherently altruistic. Each of these narratives has a set of corollaries or associated claims: that moral knowledge is built in, thorough, and relatively impervious to experience, and that infants’ moral behavior is unlearned, virtuously motivated, prolific and indiscriminate. In my talk, I will examine these narratives and claims in the context of my laboratory’s research on infants’ sensitivity to distributive fairness norms and infants’ prosocial behavior. Our results contextualize and temper these narratives and claims. First, infants’ socio-moral knowledge emerges over the course of development, is marked by individual differences, and may lack some components of a mature moral response. Second, infants’ prosocial behavior is influenced by experience, and impacted by variables that affect the personal costs and interpersonal benefits of acting prosocially. Together, these findings reveal the limits and limitations of infants’ socio-moral cognition and behavior.

When: Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Neural dynamics of the primate attention network

The selection of information from our cluttered sensory environments is one of the most fundamental cognitive operations performed by the primate brain. In the visual domain, the selection process is thought to be mediated by a static spatial mechanism – a ‘spotlight’ that can be flexibly shifted around the visual scene. This spatial search mechanism has been associated with a large-scale network that consists of multiple nodes distributed across all major cortical lobes and includes also subcortical regions. To identify the specific functions of each network node and their functional interactions is a major goal for the field of cognitive neuroscience. In my lecture, I will challenge two common notions of attention research. First, I will show behavioral and neural evidence that the attentional spotlight is neither stationary nor unitary. In the appropriate behavioral context, even when spatial attention is sustained at a given location, additional spatial mechanisms operate flexibly in parallel to monitor the visual environment. Second, spatial attention is assumed to be under ‘top-down’ control of higher order cortex. In contrast, I will provide neural evidence indicating that attentional control is exerted through thalamo-cortical interactions. Together, this evidence indicates the need for major revisions of traditional attention accounts.

When: Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: BPS 1140B
Portrait of the angry decision maker

Drawing on the Appraisal-Tendency Framework (Lerner & Keltner, 2000; 2001), I will present a series of studies from my lab revealing that incidental anger systematically biases judgment and decision making by heightening perceptions of controllability and certainty, decreasing perceptions of risk, and increasing risk taking. I then will present a series of studies (also from my lab) revealing the ways in which such superficially “biased” responses prove to be both biologically adaptive and financially lucrative, especially for males. Taken together, the studies make clear that simple conclusions about the role of emotion in rationality obfuscate complex patterns of human behavior. Angry decision makers exhibit a predictable pattern of responses but the normative consequences of such responses hinge on specific situational contingencies.

When: Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
On Life Without the Possibility of Parole

Over 40,000 people in the United States today serve life without parole sentences—more than triple the number in 1992. This figure understates the case, since parole has become increasingly rare for the 140,000 prisoners serving life sentences that ostensibly permit parole. After reviewing the central facts about LWOP, and its uneasy relationship with the death penalty, I argue that life without the possibility of parole should be abolished. Of the standard justifications for punishment only retributivism can hope to justify LWOP, and it fails. There are several possibilities: either retributivism should be rejected altogether, or acceptable forms of it do not entail LWOP; perhaps acceptable forms in fact prohibit it. I argue that LWOP is incompatible with the possibility of redemption and other values we should embrace. Dispensing with the hope and the potential for moral reformation is bad not only for those who serve life without parole sentences but for the rest of us as well.

When: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103
Gradient symbols and graded universals in grammatical processing and learning

Gradient Symbolic Computation process models of incremental (word-by-word) syntactic parsing will be discussed, as well as process models of graded probabilistic biases in language learning and the potential role of such biases in explaining statistical typological universals.

See http://ling.umd.edu/events/archive/999/ for more information.

When: Friday, November 18, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Maryland Room, Marie Mount Hall
Gradient symbols in grammatical competence

Use of gradient symbol structures in theories of grammatical competence will be illustrated by partially-present constituents in base positions of syntactic wh-movement, partially-present [voice] features in final consonants in certain final-devoicing languages, and, most extensively, partially-present consonants in underlying forms of French words participating in liaison — consonants which disappear in contexts where fully-present consonants remain. The liaison case illustrates how gradient versions of multiple distinct structures posited by competing theories can be blended to form an account that covers a range of data that no single structure can explain.

See http://ling.umd.edu/events/archive/999/ for more information.

When: Thursday, November 17, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Maryland Room, Marie Mount Hall
Unifying discrete linguistic computation with continuous neural computation

GSC’s novel neural architecture — capable of encoding and processing symbol structures — will be presented, and the new grammatical theories that emerge from this architecture will be described and illustrated: theories in which grammars are evaluators of well-formedness, and grammatical structures are those that are maximally well-formed or optimal. Gradient Symbol Structures will be defined: these are structures (such as phonological strings or syntactic trees) in which each single location hosts a blend of symbols, each present (or active) to a continuously variable degree.

See http://ling.umd.edu/events/archive/999/ for more information.

When: Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Maryland Room, Marie Mount Hall
Learning language from difficult listening situations: Howchildren process poor-quality speech signals

Children learn language from hearing it around them, but much of the language they hear isn’t perfectly clear. Some children hear degraded speech signals through a cochlear implant; others may hear speech from speakers with unfamiliar accents. And nearly all children hear a great deal of their language input in the presence of background noise, including competing speech.

Recent work suggests that children are affected by background noise much more than are adults, limiting the extent to which they can benefit from the language input they receive, and leading to a catch-22: young children who are still trying to learn language have a greater need for understanding speech in noise, but are simultaneously less equipped to do so. Similarly, these children are particularly in need of high-quality speech signals; yet at least for some children, the speech they hear can be quite degraded. I will be discussing recent findings on toddler’s ability to recognize known words and learn new ones from signals that are either degraded (as through a cochlear implant), or occur in the presence of multiple people talking simultaneously.

When: Thursday, November 10, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Human cooperation

Cooperation, where people pay costs to benefit others, is central to successful human societies. But why are people willing to incur the individual costs involved in cooperating? One set of explanations involves long-term self-interest: if I cooperate with you today, that may make you (or others who find out about my cooperation) more likely to cooperate with me in the future. But people also cooperate even such future consequences are not enough to make cooperation pay off. I explore such "pure" cooperation from using the dual-process perspective from cognitive psychology and behavioral economics, which contrasts cognitive processes that are fast and automatic but inflexible (“intuitive” processes) with those that are effortful and controlled but flexible (“deliberative” processes). I propose the "Social Heuristics Hypothesis" whereby people internalize typically successful behaviors as intuitive heuristics for social interaction. Because most of our important interactions (e.g. those with our co-workers, friends, and family) are long-term rather than anonymous and one-shot, I argue that we intuitively apply a ‘future consequences’ heuristic: our intuitions support strategies which are payoff-maximizing in the presence of future consequences. Deliberation, on the other hand, shifts us towards behavior that is payoff-maximizing in the specific situation at hand. I will present behavioral data from economic game experiments that supports this account: meta-analysis of thousands of participants shows that inducing subjects to carefully deliberate undermines cooperation in 1-shot games (where non-cooperation is payoff-maximizing), but has no effect in games where it can be payoff-maximizing to cooperate.

When: Thursday, November 3, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
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When: Thursday, October 20, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

Effective Altruism at UMD will host a Skype Q&A event with   Peter Singer (Princeton University),  7:00-8:15pm, room TBA.   

When: Monday, October 10, 2016
Against empathy

Many psychologists, philosophers, and laypeople believe that empathy is necessary for moral judgment and moral action—the only problem with empathy is that we sometimes don’t have enough of it. Drawing on research into psychopathy, criminal behavior, charitable giving, infant cognition, cognitive neuroscience, and Buddhist meditation practices, I’ll argue that this is mistaken. Empathy is a poor moral guide. It is biased, short-sighted, and innumerate—we should try to do without it. We are much better off, in both public policy and intimate relationships, drawing upon a combination of reason and distanced compassion.

When: Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Public and Personal Morality in a Democracy

A hallmark of liberal democracies is that government ought not legislate morality. But while genuine liberty requires that each of us determine our own conception of the good in accordance with our values, democracy itself cannot flourish without all of us — state and private actors alike — taking part in an active and lively conversation about what is morally good and bad and why.

When: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Where: Tawes Hall, Ulrich Recital Hall
Most Americans Shouldn't Vote

Most Americans are misinformed and irrational about politics. By voting, they are not doing us any favors. For most Americans, civic virtue might mean admitting they are not competent to hold the reins of power.

When: Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Where: Martin Hall 1108
Consciousness: Whose user-illusion is it?

My 1991 proposal (in Consciousness Explained) that human consciousness be seen as a ‘user illusion’ met with incredulity in many quarters, in part because many people were unwilling or unable to abandon the idea of the primacy of the "first-person perspective”:  (“How could I be wrong about my own conscious states?”)  In  the meantime, accumulating evidence and advances in theory have prepared the ground for a revival of this initially counterintuitive view, and a number of researchers are homing in on different versions of it.

When: Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Physics 1412
Capacity Constraints in Cognitive Control: Toward aRational Explanation

The capacity for cognitive control, one of the defining characteristics of humancognition, is also remarkably limited.  Typically, people cannot engage in more than a few — and sometimes only a single — control-demanding task at once. Limited capacity was a defining element in the earliest conceptualizations of cognitive control, it remains one of the most widely accepted axioms of cognitive psychology, and is even the basis for some laws (e.g., against the use of mobile devices while driving).  It also plays a central role in normative (e.g., “bounded rationality”) models of cognitive control, which assume that the capacity limitation imposes an opportunity cost on the allocation of control, and that control policies are chosen so as to optimize payoff relative to this cost (e.g., the Expected Value of Control theory).  Remarkably, however, the reason that the capacity for control is limited remains a mystery.  Structural and/or metabolic constraints are commonly, if tacitly, assumed reasons.  However, these seem unlikely, given the vast resources available to the human brain.  In this talk, I will present an alternative account, that offers a computational explanation for the capacity constraints on cognitive control.  This account suggests that constraints on controlled processing reflect an inherent tradeoff between a bias in learning for the development of efficient, and generalizable representations, and the performance efficiency afforded by dedicated representations that support parallel processing.  I will describe theoretical results (involving simulations and analysis) in support of these ideas, and the beginnings of an empirical line of research designed to test them.

When: Thursday, September 8, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

May 6-7 our Philosophy & Linguistics groups hosts its 3rd biennial conference, PHLINC, on the uses of context in theories of linguistic understanding. 

When: Friday, May 6, 2016
Exhibitions and Museums: Aestheticization and Artification

Contemporary art curators such as Harald Szeemann, Pontus Hulten, and Hans Ulrich Obrist are sometimes likened to artists: their work involves communicating views about exhibited artworks through largely visual means (the material arrangements of exhibition materials) - the same means employed by visual artists, especially installation artists.
Contemporary debate in museum studies often focuses on the search for new ways to engage visitors and present exhibited objects accurately and unbiasedly: it is sometimes suggested that effective strategies can be borrowed from the art-making context ( see e.g. David Carrier 2006; Hilde Hein 2006; James Putnam 2009).
In this talk I consider whether such claims about the affinity of certain exhibitions and museums to works of art have philosophical bite. In particular, I focus on the following issues: (1) Are certain museums and exhibitions similar to artworks in that they possess aesthetic properties? (2) Are certain exhibitions and museums akin to works of installation art? (3) Can exhibitions or museums qualify as works of art?

When: Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Trendsetters and Social Change

Trendsetters are the "first movers" in social change. To study the dynamics of change, we need to study the interplay between trendsetters' actions and individual thresholds. It is this interplay that explains why change may or may not occur.

When: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Kant and the Moral Worth of Acting from Mistaken Moral Duty

Kantians hold that all and only actions done from the motive of moral duty possess moral worth. But what should Kantians say about sincere attempts to fulfill one’s moral duty that misfire - immoral actions that result not from an agent’s lack of commitment to morality but instead from a morally committed agent’s honest mistakes regarding what morality requires? Samuel Kerstein (1999, 2002) has argued that Kant and Kantians must admit that all actions done from a sincere commitment to morality possess moral worth, even when the resulting action proves to be contrary to duty in virtue of an agent’s mistaken moral beliefs. For example, Peter Singer famously donates significant sums to worthy charities out of a sense of utilitarian moral obligation. Singer’s actions would seem to possess moral worth given his motive, despite the fact that he is acting from mistaken (says the Kantian) utilitarian moral beliefs. The same would seem to be true of any utilitarian who acts contrary to Kant’s Categorical Imperative, so long as he is acting from thoroughly considered and sincerely held utilitarian moral beliefs. Jill Graper Hernandez (2006, 2010) has criticized Kerstein’s argument and defended the claim that no actions contrary to duty can possess moral worth (a view that Kant himself explicitly espoused). In this talk I will respond to Hernandez on Kerstein’s behalf and defend the conclusion that Kant and Kantians must admit the moral worth of actions performed out of well-meaning utilitarian moral duty (and from any other equally mistaken moral beliefs).

When: Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

  The workshop will be held on Monday, Aprill 11, 2016, 11am - 5.30pm in Tydings Hall (TYD), Room 0102.   The schedule is available here.    

When: Monday, April 11, 2016
Well-Being and Friendship

In this talk I give an overview of a theory of well-being that understands well-being as the fulfillment of an appropriate set of values that can be sustained over time. I then show that when the theory is applied to people who value friendship (that is, most of us), it provides a two-pronged argument for developing the virtue of humility.

When: Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
The Normativity of Decision Procedures

We use decision procedures all the time to settle disputes about what to do or to decide between different courses of actions (e.g., flipping a coin to settle a tie). But why should we accept the outcome of a decision-procedure as a reason for acting?

In this paper, I give an account of the role that decision-procedures play in our practical reasoning. I argue that they function as (what Joseph Raz calls) protected reasons for acting: a reason to act on the outcome of the decision-procedure and a reason not to act on any conflicting reasons. I argue that we must treat the outcome of a decision-procedure as a protected reason for acting or else we end up in a suboptimal state.

When: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
The Starry Sky Above Me: Living Non-Ideally By My Ideals

We have moral ideals to which we aspire. We also routinely and predictably fail to live up to those ideals. Considered as a practical moral problem, this may seem to have a straightforward solution—we should just act better! This answer, while true, is far too simple. Failures to live up to ideals are not all of a kind. Some we cannot or will not acknowledge as failures in the first place. Some failures call for guilt or remorse; others we may think justified in light of conflicting ideals or circumstantial constraints. Even justified failures to live up to ideals may produce moral residue or generate other kinds of moral obligations. In this talk, I explore the concept of a regulative normative ideal and the practical ramifications of such ideals for flawed moral agents. I argue that in a non-ideal world, living by an ideal demands that agents take up a wide range of actions and attitudes related to that ideal. These actions and attitudes are essential to the moral life and our efforts to engage in it well.

When: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
The Limits of Aggregating Competing Claims

There is no large number of very small bads which is worse than a small number of very large bads - or so it seems plausible to say. In this talk I defend this intuition arguing that very weak claims constituted by very small bads (e.g. minor headaches, a bitter taste on the tip of your tongue) do not figure in aggregation. I argue that weak claims cannot be aggregated interpersonally to compete against a strong claim, if informed and reflective subjects aren't willing to give weight to these claims intrapersonally with regard to their own lives. Furthermore, I present empirical data which very tentatively suggests that most people do, in fact, not give weight to minor harms intrapersonally.

When: Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Lexical Modulation without concepts

Theorising about lexical modulation is guided by the assumption that words express concepts which in turn have extensions. In this framework lexical modulation is taken to be the narrowing/broadening of the extension of a concept. We argue that there are cases of lexical modulation that cannot be explained in terms of the guiding assumption about meaning. Lexical modulation, it turns out, is a more general phenomenon that can only be fully captured on a different view of meaning and understanding. In this paper we make first steps to identify such a view, suggesting that understanding a word is a matter of being immersed into a practice to the extent that one can (reasonably) intend to convey to conform with previous usage. We sketch analyses in this framework of loose use, Travis cases, metaphors, and cross-categorial uses.

When: Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 4:00pm - 5:30pm
Where: ASY 3211
Two questions about embodiment

What is Spinoza's account of the relationship between the human mind and body? I'll argue that Spinoza has two different answers to two different versions of this question, starting from two different sets of premises. First, Spinoza starts with subjective data like felt sensations and our experience of moving our bodies, and from that he concludes that the human mind is united to the human body by representing it. Second, to account for apparent psychophysical interaction in general, Spinoza develops parallelism. While these accounts of the mind-body relationship are often run together (including by Spinoza), I'll show that Spinoza argues for them in relative isolation from one another and does not resolve them. I'll trace this back to Descartes, who also offers two irreconcilable approaches to two different questions about the mind-body relationship, and I'll argue that we can still find a sense of this tension in contemporary philosophy of mind.

When: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
The computational linguistics of food, innovation, and community

How do language and ideas propagate through communities? We use computational linguistics to extract social meaning from language to help understand this crucial link between individual cognition and social groups. I'll discuss the way economic, social, and psychological variables are reflected in the language we use to talk about food. I'll introduce the "ketchup theory of innovation" on the crucial role that interdisciplinarity plays in the history of innovation and how it can be discovered via language. Finally I'll show how computational methods can address the mystery of why linguistic innovation changes sharply across people's lifespan.

When: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
An Impossibility result for the Best System Account

I show an impossibility result for the Best System Analysis (BSA) of laws of nature. According the BSA, laws are regularities in the best system maximizing scientific virtues of simplicity, strength, and accuracy. Drawing on the famous impossibility theorem in social choice theory, I will argue that there cannot exist a coherent procedure of determining the best system. I will show that the conditions of this impossibility result cannot be abandoned in the case of system choice. Some escapes from the similar impossibility result have been suggested in the literature on scientific theory choice, but I show that they are not available for system choice mainly due to the epistemological and metaphysical gaps between theory choice and system choice. The impossibility result will be a serious challenge to the BSA as a philosophical analysis.

When: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
Lives or Headaches?

The lives for headaches argument concludes that, while the exact number may be open to debate, there is a finite amount of headache relief that is sufficient to outweigh an innocent life. This conclusion presents a well-known conflict within value theory. Arguably based on both sound and valid reasoning, it is highly counterintuitive to most. My aim is to assess lives for headaches by way of an analysis of its underlying argument. Focus will be given to Dorsey’s (2009) formulation, and subsequent rejection, of this argument. Contra Dorsey I suggest that there is motivation to accept the reasoning leading to lives for headaches. Reconciling the counterintuitive consequences of lives for headaches with the strength of its supporting argument therefore remains an open and important puzzle.

When: Wednesday, November 25, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
Are Children Human? – Evidence from Language Acquisition

Wherever we find communities of human beings, we also find language. Moreover, cats, dogs and houseplants, despite living in the very same environment, all fail to display linguistic behavior. These basic observations suggest that language is unique to and definitional of our species. However, there is one population of ostensibly human creatures that is curiously silent when it comes to language, namely human infants. Might this mean that this distinctively human characteristic is absent from this population and hence that we shouldn’t think of children as human until they have acquired a language? In this talk, I discuss specific features of the human capacity for language and identify ways in which linguistic structure comes from the human mind. I further show that this structure plays a causal role in language acquisition throughout development and hence provides the basis of our humanity at all stages of life.

When: Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 4:00pm
Where: Chemistry 1402p
The Coerciveness of the State and Presumption of Liberty

Does our government have a right to demand that you file your taxes by April 15th and a right to punish you if you don’t file your taxes on time? A dominant belief in political philosophy is that states must be entitled to authorize the use of coercion in order to be justified in coercing its subjects. Anarchists believe, however, that states invariably engage in unjustified uses of coercion. They argue that it is morally wrong to restrict any liberty-rights without sufficient justification.
In this essay, I argue that it is morally problematic only if a state restricts a special class of liberty-rights without a compelling moral justification. An implication of my account is that states can engage in justified uses of coercion without having an entitlement to tell you what to do.

When: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
The Paradox of Predictability Revisited

In 1814 Pierre LaPlace drew an epistemic consequence of the determinism of the Newtonian equations of motion that is quoted in almost every philosophical discussion of determinism, writing:

“An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes. “

But what if there were a device that was specifically designed to take a prediction of its behavior and do the opposite? Would a LaPlacean intelligence with knowledge of the laws and the initial state of the universe be able to predict the behavior of a device like this? You might be tempted to think a device like this is impossible in a deterministic world. In fact, they are quite trivial to construct. The puzzle presented by counterpredictive devices was introduced into the philosophical literature by a 1965 paper by Michael Scrivens as the “Paradox of Predictability”. A number of people wrote papers about the Paradox in the late 1960s and early 70s, but the discussion ended somewhat inconclusively, because there were features of the original presentation that unnecessarily diverted the discussion. I want to revisit the ‘Paradox’, present it a little more cleanly, and try to understand it as a purely physical phenomenon. It holds some important lessons about determinism and the nature of physical laws.

When: Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
The Incompatibility of Games and Art

Several recent accounts of videogames have endorsed the possibility of videogames being art through various means. Common to them, however, is that they understand videogames to be games, and then add whatever art condition their theory endorses. A definition of games is not usually given and a compatibility between games and art is assumed. I argue that that games and art are in fact not compatible.

First I defend a well-developed, but relatively unknown, definition of games proposed by Bernard Suits, and highlight the appropriate and necessary attitude that players must take towards games for them to in fact be games, called the ``lusory attitude''. Second I explore and defend a broadly consensus view of what I call the ``artistic attitude'', roughly that whatever an artwork is and whatever meaning it may possess, we are meant to take the attitude towards it of trying to understand the work for what it is. Finally, I argue that the lusory and artistic attitudes are incompatible, and, both being essential to their respective objects, make games and artworks incompatible as well. I illustrate this incompatibility through an examination of Brenda Romero's ``boardgame'' Train, which asks its ``players'' to make unwitting moral (albeit fictional) decisions and then reflect on them.

When: Friday, November 6, 2015 at 2:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
TBA

TBA

When: Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Can Visual Diagrams Justify Mathematical Beliefs?

The claim that visual diagrams can justify mathematical beliefs faces two main challenges. The first challenge argues that diagrams are inherently unreliable, given a number of well-known cases in which diagrams or visual intuitions have proved to be misleading. I argue that these ‘problem cases’ have been misdiagnosed. In all such cases, the erroneous judgments result, not from any defect inherent to visual thinking as such, but rather from a specific set of cognitive heuristics that operate at an unconscious level. In general, the heuristic-based errors prove, in fact, to be correctable by means of the appropriate use of diagram-based visual understanding. I conclude that there is no reason at all to think that diagrams are inherently unreliable as guides to mathematical truth.

I then turn to the second challenge, which argues that the use of diagrams is not rigorous, and hence cannot justify. Recent work in formal diagrammatic systems shows that it is simply false that reasoning with diagrams cannot be rigorous. Nonetheless, it is true that in many cases of interest, diagrammatic demonstrations do not qualify as mathematically rigorous. I argue, however, that this does not imply that they cannot justify. Here I distinguish between rigorous justification and intuitive justification. I argue that both are properly regarded as kinds of justification, that both constitute central and permanent aims of mathematical practice, and that there is an inherent tension between the two. From this perspective, it is mistaken to say that because ‘visual proofs’ are not rigorous, they fail to justify. It is rather that they pursue the intuitive kind of justification at the expense of the rigorous kind. I conclude that the two main challenges to the justificatory status of mathematical diagrams are both unsuccessful.

When: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
The ontogeny of cultural learning

Humans are a social species and much of what we know we learn from others. To be effective and efficient learners, children must be selective about when to innovate, when to imitate, and to what degree. In a systematic program of interdisciplinary, mixed-methodological, and cross-cultural research, my objective is to develop an ontological account of how children flexibly use imitation and innovation as dual engines of cultural learning. Imitation is multifunctional; it is used to learn both instrumental skills and cultural conventions such as rituals. I propose that the psychological system supporting the acquisition of instrumental skills and cultural conventions is driven by two modes of interpretation: an instrumental stance (i.e., interpretation based on physical causation) and a ritual stance (i.e., interpretation based on social convention). What distinguishes instrumental from conventional practices often cannot be determined directly from the action alone but requires interpretation by the learner based on social cues and contextual information. I will present evidence for the kinds of information children use to guide flexible imitation. I will also discuss cross-cultural research in the U.S. and Vanuatu (a Melanesian archipelago) on the interplay of imitation and innovation in early childhood.

When: Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Memory: Accuracy, Coherence, and Narrative

The extent to which human psychology obeys optimal epistemic principles has been a subject of much recent debate. The general trend is to interpret violations of such principles as instances of irrationality. Yet, deviations from optimal rationality have been found to be pervasive in decision-making. Less pessimistic interpretations postulate that epistemic principles are more contextual and limited. Both interpretations focus exclusively on the epistemic features of human psychology. I propose that research on memory provides a more productive and empirically sensible way to understand the epistemic and non-epistemic features of human psychology. In particular, I argue that epistemic constraints for memory capacities are insufficient to explain the cognitive integration of memories, particularly memory reconsolidation. A central claim I defend is that there are epistemic, as well as narrative thresholds that need to be balanced. This approach provides a positive interpretation of forms of cognition that are not strictly epistemic, arguing that they play a critical role in information processing. It does so by appealing to their role in cognitive integration, in which much more is at stake than accuracy or compliance with epistemic principles.

When: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
Learning to listen: Development of music-specific melody and rhythm perception

Music and language share important features, however these shared features have distinct functions in each domain. For example, although melody is a fundamental organizing structure in a song, it is far less important than the lexical and syntactic structure of a spoken sentence. From an early age, listeners are exposed to both music and language, and they must eventually acquire specific knowledge about the rules that govern sound structure in each domain. My research program examines the music-specific perceptual and cognitive processes that characterize music-specific melody and rhythm processing by experienced adult listeners, and compares these abilities with those of younger listeners and listeners with contrasting cultural or musical backgrounds. Part of acquiring musical and linguistic knowledge may include learning to differentially weigh acoustic features depending on the musical or linguistic context.

When: Thursday, October 15, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Sentences and speakers: A case study in decoding versus inferring meaning

A central project in philosophy of language and in linguistics has been to find a systematic relation between the sounds we make and the meanings we manage to convey in making them. The meanings speakers mean appear to depend in various ways on context. On the orthodox view, a syntactically disambiguated sound completely determines what is directly asserted by the speaker (what is said), relative to a context that serves only to fix values for indexicals and deictic expressions. However, there appear to be cases of context-dependence that resist orthodox treatment (Bach 1994). When orthodoxy seems implausible, one of two options has generally been favored. Contextualists depart from orthodoxy and allow a greater role for context, including pragmatic enrichments of what is said (Recanati 2002). Others have attempted to preserve the orthodox account by enriching the symbol with covert syntactic items (Stanley 2000). On at least some accounts, this choice is an empirical one about the psychology of speakers and hearers. I therefore discuss how a series of self-paced reading time experiments, reported in McCourt et al. forthcoming, might inform these debates. I argue that these studies undermine a commonly accepted orthodox treatment of implicit control of reason clauses (The ship was sunk to collect the insurance), and therefore weaken the general motivation for orthodoxy.

When: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
Getting What We Want from Autonomy

Before we can design medical decision procedures which adequately balance patient autonomy against broader well-being and social concerns, we must first understand what autonomy is and why it is important. An adequate conception of autonomy ought to be both theoretically sound and pragmatically useful. I propose an expanded and clarified individualistic conception of autonomy for use in bioethics that provides action-guidance in regard to obtaining genuinely informed consent and which can avoid many of the pitfalls which face more revisionary notions of autonomy.

When: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
Epistemic Elitism and Other Minds

Experiences justify beliefs about our environment. Sometimes the justification is immediate: seeing a red light immediately justifies believing there is a red light. Other times the justification is mediate: seeing a red light justifies believing one should break in a way that is mediated by background knowledge of traffic signals and cars. How does this distinction map onto the distinction between what is and what isn’t part of the content of experience? Epistemic egalitarians think that experiences immediately justify whatever is part of their content. Epistemic elitists deny this and think that there is some further constraint the contents of experience must satisfy to be immediately justified. Here I defend epistemic elitism, propose a phenomenological account of what the further constraint is, and explore the resulting view’s consequences for our knowledge of other minds, and in particular for direct perception accounts of this knowledge.

When: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: KEY 0103
From exploration to fixation: how eye movements determine what we see

Vision depends on motion: we see things either because they move or because our eyes do. What may be more surprising is that large and miniature eye motions help us examine the world in similar ways - largely at the same time. In this presentation, I will discuss recent research from my lab and others suggesting that exploration and gaze-fixation are not all that different processes in the brain. Our eyes scan visual scenes with a same general strategy whether the images are huge or tiny, or even when we try to fix our gaze. These findings indicate that exploration and fixation are not fundamentally different behaviors, but rather two ends of the same visual scanning continuum. They also imply that the same brain systems control our eye movements when we explore and when we fixate - an insight that may ultimately offer clues to understanding both normal oculomotor function in the healthy brain, and oculomotor dysfunction in neurological disease.

When: Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Why Video Won’t Save Us from Racialized Police Violence

Many people have expressed hope that with the advent of widespread technology to capture moving images, we will finally be in a position to acknowledge and address the systemic problem of racialized police brutality. When the true details of this violence are visible to all, it is thought, the presence of a serious problem and the need to address it cannot be denied. In this essay, I will give reasons, connected to specific aesthetic phenomena regarding our interpretation and use of images, for skepticism about this hope. I will argue that standard ways of looking at these moving images tend to reinforce racialized forms of perception, and they tend to undermine attention to the systemic phenomena that contribute to racialized police violence. I will suggest that we must engage in forms of resistance to standard ways of looking. We must also attend to the acts of naming that shape what we perceive within these moving images.

When: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: ASY 1213
A Deontic Logic on Sale

Deontic logic is concerned with such normative concepts as obligation, permission, and prohibition. My talk will consist of two parts. In the first, I will introduce the field by discussing the most studied normative reasoning formalism, the so-called ``Standard Deontic Logic'' (SDL), as well as some of its open problems. In the second part of the talk, I will zoom in on one of these problems: how to draw inferences in the presence of normative conflicts. One prominent answer suggests restricting attention to maximally consistent subsets of the premise set. I will show how to turn this suggestion into a full-blown logic with a semantics and a proof-theory. I will conclude by discussing this logic's merits.

When: Wednesday, May 6, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Remembering during childhood

The capacity to remember the past in vivid detail develops considerably during childhood and emerges from the contribution of several psychological processes. I will highlight the contribution of two classes of these, relational binding processes and metacognitive processes. Relational binding processes support the integration of the various features of an event (e.g., what, when, where) into a memory representation that captures the most important aspects of an experience. Metacognitive processes confer the ability to reflect on memory quality, which might support decision making (e.g., decisions to act on the basis of the content of one’s memory). Behavioral and neuroimaging evidence will be discussed.

When: Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
What the science of working memory shows us about the nature of human thought or The conscious mind as marionette

This talk is about the nature and causal determinants of both reflective thinking and, more generally, the stream of consciousness. I argue that conscious thought is always sensory based, relying on the resources of the working-memory system. This system has been much studied by cognitive scientists. It enables sensory images to be sustained and manipulated through attentional signals directed at midlevel sensory areas of the brain. When abstract conceptual representations are bound into these images, we consciously experience ourselves as making judgments or arriving at decisions. Thus one might hear oneself as judging, in inner speech, that it is time to go home, for example. However, our amodal (non-sensory) propositional attitudes are never actually among the contents of this stream of conscious reflection. Our beliefs, goals, and decisions are only ever active in the background of consciousness, working behind the scenes to select the sensory-based imagery that occurs in working memory. They are never themselves conscious.

When: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Representing objects across time: language-mediated event representation

Language is often used to describe the changes that occur around us – changes in either state (“I cracked the glass…”) or location (“I moved the glass onto the table…”). To fully comprehend such events requires that we represent the ‘before’ and ‘after’ states of the object. But how do we represent these mutually exclusive states of a single object at the same time? I shall summarise a series of studies, primarily from fMRI, which show that we do represent such alternative states, and that these alternative states compete with one another in much the same way as alternative interpretations of an ambiguous word might compete. These studies also show that whereas the representations of distinct but similar objects (e.g. a glass and a cup) interfere with one another in proportion to their similarity, representations of the distinct states of the same object interfere in proportion to their dissimilarity. This interference, or competition, manifests in a part of the brain that has been implicated in resolving competition. Furthermore, activity in this area is predicted by the dissimilarity, elsewhere in the brain, between sensorimotor instantiations of the described object’s distinct states. I shall end with new data (still too hot to touch) whose interpretation is a first step towards a brain mechanism for distinguishing between object types, tokens, and token-states. [Prior knowledge of the brain is neither presumed, required, nor advantageous].

When: Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Inclination and Will Power

When you “have an inclination” to do something, prior to having decided whether or not to do it, you regard the inclination as something you can “act on” or not. My focus is on this moment in the story of action. I argue that there is a puzzle about how to form a coherent conception of this “having” relation. To have an inclination is to be influenced by something that simultaneously takes the form of a discursive proposal (“how about doing this?”) and brute pressure (the motivational oomph that is the correlate of ‘will power’). I explain why standard conceptions of desire fail to capture this duality, and I offer an alternative conception of my own.

When: Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

The UMD Social Minds Graduate Conference, April 18-19, Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland, College Park.  

When: Saturday, April 18, 2015
How To Be A Naturalistic Relativist

Relativists hold that reasons are related to contingent attitudes, but judgments about what people are morally required to do are profoundly insensitive to beliefs about these attitudes. This conflict with moral discourse is widely believed to be the central problem for ethical relativism. Many relativists have argued that a commitment to attitude-independent reasons requires belief in a spooky (non-naturalistic) metaphysics or epistemology. I’ll argue that the most promising defense of relativism will call upon resources that ‘quasi-realists’ have deployed in order to protect moral discourse from any commitment to spooky nonnaturalism. According to quasi-realists, a commitment to the existence of attitude-independent reasons is to be understood as a practical commitment about how (not) to justify normative claims, not a (spooky) metaphysical one. I agree with quasi-realists about this. However, quasi-realists and relativists (and everyone else) have failed to see that by turning an arcane metaphysical debate into a fundamentally practical one, quasi-realists throw relativists into their briarpatch. That is, relativists should be happy for the chance to make their stand against moral discourse on fundamentally normative ground.

When: Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at
Where: Skinner 1115
Specialization for speech and structure for language

I will discuss two new studies from my lab that focus on general questions about the cognitive science and neural implementation of speech and language. I come to (currently) unpopular conclusions about both questions. Based on a first set of experiments, using fMRI and exploiting the temporal statistics of speech, I argue for the existence of a speech-specific processing stage that implicates a particular neuronal substrate (the superior temporal sulcus). In a second set of experiments, using MEG, I go on to develop how temporal encoding can form the basis for more abstract, structural processing. The results demonstrate that, during listening to connected speech, cortical activity of different time scales is entrained concurrently to track the time course of linguistic structures at different hierarchical levels. Critically, entrainment to hierarchical linguistic structures is dissociated from the neural encoding of acoustic cues and from processing the predictability of incoming words. These results demonstrate syntax-driven, internal construction of hierarchical linguistic structure via entrainment of hierarchical cortical dynamics. The conclusions — that speech is special and language syntactic-structure-driven — provide new neurobiological provocations to the prevailing view that speech is hearing and that language is statistics.

When: Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Health Outcomes and Priority: Separate Spheres

Outcomes matter when it comes to distributing medical resources. However, it can be difficult to determine what sort of factors ought properly to be taken into account when characterizing such outcomes. If all we care about is maximizing well-being, then it seems that we should take all of the impacts of a proposed distribution into account. This would commit us to, e.g., prioritizing a successful individual with a loving family and many friends over an unemployed loner in a case where both are candidates for receiving a lifesaving organ transplant. But it seems somehow unfair that someone's social utility (or lack thereof) should determine whether that individual is given the chance to receive a lifesaving medical resource. Although distributing medical goods on the basis of such a straightforward social utility calculation seems clearly mistaken, it is a challenge to delineate what exactly ought to be taken into account in such cases. Does fairness require that we rule out certain considerations from our deliberation, and if so, which? Should only the health-related benefits of a given distribution be taken into account, or should we consider certain social benefits as well? An appeal to separate spheres can help answer these questions. Drawing on the work of Dan Brock and Frances Kamm, I aim to sketch out and motivate how outcomes ought to be characterized in the sphere of medicine as well as what type of distribution priority considerations ought properly to fall within that sphere.

When: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Why are some kinds and classifications historical and others not?

One important fruit of the scientific project—arguably second only to the formulation of dynamic theories—is the principled organization of our universe’s constituents into categories and kinds. Such groupings come in two principal flavors: historical and synchronic. Historical categories group entities by their relationships to past events, as when an organism’s species is a function of the population from which it descended. By contrast, synchronic categories make group membership depend exclusively on current features of the universe, whether these are intrinsic or extrinsic to the things categorized. This talk explores just why scientists deploy historical categories when they do, and synchronic ones otherwise. After reviewing a number of examples, I formulate a principle designed to both describe and explain this feature of our scientific classificatory practice. According to this proposal, a domain is apt for historical classifications just when the probability of the independent emergence of similar entities (PIES) in that domain is very low. In addition to rationalizing this principle and showing its ability to correctly account for classification practices across the natural and social sciences, I will consider the nature of the probabilities that are at its core.

When: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Deliberation welcomes prediction

A number of prominent authors—Levi, Spohn, Gilboa, Seidenfeld, and Price among them—hold that rational agents cannot assign subjective probabilities to their options while deliberating about which they will choose. This has been called the “deliberation crowds out prediction” thesis. The thesis, if true, has important ramifications for many aspects of Bayesian epistemology, decision theory, and game theory. The stakes are high.

The thesis is not true—or so I maintain. After some scene-setting, I will precisify and rebut several of the main arguments for the thesis. I will defend the rationality of assigning probabilities to options while deliberating about them. Deliberation welcomes prediction.

This colloquium talk is part of the Philosophy of Probability Workshop.

When: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 4:10pm
Where: Marie Mount 1310

The department will host a philosophy of probability workshop on March 2015, 9:30 am - 6:00 pm in Marie Mount 1310. (Schedule of speakers and abstracts)

When: Wednesday, March 25, 2015
On the proper treatment of experience in language learning

A common pivot in debates about the nature of human language concerns the role of experience in shaping language development. While many have found young learners to be prodigious statistical learners and to display clear effects of quantity and quality of input on their ultimate language outcomes, others have focused on cases where the input is impoverished relative to the ultimate acquired knowledge. In this talk, I examine the properties of the learner that make input informative, providing a bridge between these two research traditions.

When: Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Imperceptible Contributions To Harm And Virtue Ethics

Sometimes grave harm is an aggregate effect of many actions' consequences. In such cases, each individual contribution may in fact be so tiny that it's effect are imperceptible and, therefore, can't be said to cause harm. This creates a problem: If no agent's contribution causes harm, then s/he may lack sufficient reason not to contribute to the overall harmful effect. Hence, the harmful effect would seem normatively inevitable. In this talk, I discuss and reject two broadly consequentialist answers to the problem and I defend a virtue ethicist solution. According to the former views, a thorough analysis of all relevant cases reveals that there really are no cases of imperceptible contributions to harm. According to (my favored version of) the latter approach, agents should (in part) not partcipate in harmful practices, because a reasonably emphathetic agent would not act in this way.

When: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Salience Norms and Selection Effects

We evaluate newspapers according to two dimensions: whether their stories are well-researched and accurate (did the reporter check their facts?), and which stories they choose to print in the first place (are the stories relevant to the public? newsworthy? important?). Could an analogous distinction apply to the representational states in an individual's mind? We use epistemic norms to evaluate beliefs according to whether they are true and well-founded. But discussions of which thoughts should populate the mind
in the first place are far less common in epistemology. I discuss whether there are norms of salience that apply to the mind, and if so, what kinds of norms these might be.

When: Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
TBA

TBA

When: Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Entanglement 101

Quantum entanglement is real and important. It's also widely believed to be mysterious and spooky. The aim of this talk is twofold: to explain the basics of entanglement in a way that doesn't presuppose any prior knowledge of quantum mechanics, and to probe the question of whether entanglement really is spooky or mysterious. I will argue that it may be, but that if so, this isn't a obvious as is typically assumed.

When: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
TBA

TBA

When: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Skinner Hall 1115
The Biology of Strategic Social Behavior

Most primates seem specialized for social life, yet how biology shapes complex social behaviors remains poorly understood. To address this gap, we study the biology and behavior of rhesus macaques in both the laboratory and the field. Recent work in the lab shows that monkeys favor giving rewards to another monkey, particularly if he is more familiar or subordinate, rather than give the rewards to no one. Oxytocin—a hormone implicated in social bonding—makes monkeys more giving. Finally, giving behavior selectively activates cells in medial frontal cortex, an area previously implicated in empathy in humans. In a separate study, we found inactivating this area impairs social learning. By contrast, when monkeys play a competitive game against each other, they rapidly develop unpredictable behaviors that serve to hide their intentions. Planning deceptive feints activates a population of neurons in the lateral frontal cortex, an area linked to deceptive planning in humans; inactivating these cells impairs deceptive planning. In the field, we find that intraspecific variation in social behavior and cognition has fitness consequences and emerges, in part, from genes that regulate neuromodulatory function. Together, our findings suggest deep homologies in the biological origins of complex social function in primates.

When: Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Acts, Attitudes, and Rational Choice

In this paper, I argue that we have obligations not only to perform certain actions, but also to form certain attitudes (such as desires, beliefs, and intentions), and this despite the fact that we rarely, if ever, have direct voluntary control over which attitudes we form. Moreover, I argue that whatever obligations we have with respect to actions derive from our obligations with respect to attitudes. More specifically, I argue that an agent is obligated to perform an act if and only if it's the action that she would perform if she were to have the attitudes that she ought to have. This view, which I call attitudism, has three important implications. First, it implies that an adequate practical theory must not be exclusively act-orientated. That is, it must require more from us than just the performance of certain voluntary acts. Additionally, it must require us to (involuntarily) form certain attitudes. Second, it implies that an adequate practical theory must be attitude-dependent. That is, it must hold that which acts we ought to perform depends on which attitudes we ought form. Third, it implies that no adequate practical theory can require us to perform acts that we would not perform even if we were to have the attitudes that we ought to have. I then show how these implications can help us both to address certain puzzling cases of rational choice and to understand why most typical practical theories (utilitarianism, virtue ethics, rational egoism, Rossian deontology, etc.) are mistaken.

When: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Uncertainty in language and thought

Probabilistic models of human cognition have been widely successful at capturing the ways that people represent and reason with uncertain knowledge. In this talk I will explore the ways that this probabilistic approach can be applied to systematic and productive reasoning -- in particular, natural language pragmatics and semantics. I will first describe how probabilistic programming languages provide a formal tool encompassing probabilistic uncertainty and compositional structure. I'll illustrate with a examples from inductive reasoning and social cognition. I will then present a framework for language understanding that views literal sentence meaning through probabilistic conditioning and pragmatic enrichment as recursive social reasoning grounded out in literal meaning. I will consider how this framework provides a theory of the role of context in language understanding, focusing on examples from implicature, vague adjectives, and figurative speech (hyperbole and irony).

When: Thursday, February 5, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Empirical Tests for Perception

In “Seeing-as in the Light of Vision Science,” Ned Block (2014) argues that adaptation effects (the perceptual effects that arise from neural processes shifting their response profiles) provide an empirical criterion for distinguishing perceptual from cognitive representational content. The proposal, very roughly, is that where one finds adaptation effects, one finds perceptual processes. If this is correct, philosophers and cognitive scientists have a powerful tool for addressing the vexed question of where perception ends and cognition begins. And this would be good news for those, like Block, who think that “there is a joint in nature between percepts and concepts” (p.2). However, it’s not clear from Block’s discussion why adaptation is an exclusively perceptual phenomenon. His arguments are neither well developed nor, as I argue, particularly convincing. Nevertheless, Block’s discussion raises an important question: Are adaptation effects exclusively a manifestation of perceptual mechanisms, or are they in fact characteristic of a broad range of neuronal processes? In this paper, I offer tentative evidence for the latter of these options, and I argue that that adaptation effects alone will therefore not suffice as a test for perceptual content.

When: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
A Cure for Infinitarian Paralysis

The greatest challenge to aggregative consequentialism is infinitarian paralysis: if there are infinitely many beings like us in the universe, no action can change the cardinal sum of value or disvalue and so (apparently) all actions are morally indifferent. I survey some approaches to this problem developed by Bostrom and conclude (as he does) that they are unsatisfactory. I then offer a new solution, based on a modification to Hume’s principle, and show that it succeeds where previous solutions fail in rescuing most ordinary consequentialist moral judgments. But my solution also carries significant metaphysical commitments and has potentially unwelcome implications concerning the moral status of future generations.

When: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Skinner Hall 1115

Reading group on common knowledge, convention and signalling games.  The bi-weekly meetings are on Thursdays, 11-12:30 in the Philosophy Library, Skinner Building

When: Thursday, December 18, 2014

Philosophy & language reading group, Thursdays, 5:00-7:00, Marie Mount Hall 1108b

When: Thursday, December 11, 2014
What Instances of Novels Are

It is generally agreed that novels can be fully appreciated only through an experiential engagement with their well-formed instances. But what sort of entities can play the role of such instances? According to an orthodox view---accepted by Gregory Currie, David Davies, Stephen Davies, Nelson Goodman, Robert Howell, Peter Lamarque, Jerrold Levinson, Guy Rohrbaugh, Richard Wollheim, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, among others---the entities that play this role are primarily inscriptions---concrete sequences of symbol tokens, typically written/printed on something (say, paper, papyrus, or parchment) or displayed on the screen of some device (e.g., a computer or an e-reader). Thus, on this view, well-formed instances of, say, War and Peace include its original manuscript, printed copies (e.g., the copy lying on my table), and electronic text tokens (e.g., the text displayed on Anna's computer screen).

My goals in this paper are (a) to show that despite its popularity, the orthodox view is misguided and (b) provide an alternative. I begin, in Section 1, with a clarification of the expression "well-formed instance of an artwork." Next, in Section 2, I explain why inscriptions cannot be regarded as well-formed instances of novels. In particular, I argue that to be a well-formed instance of a novel, an inscription must be capable of manifesting certain sonic properties of this novel; however, no inscription can manifest such properties. Finally, in Section 3, I (a) draw a distinction between non-visual novels, or novels that do not contain any aesthetically relevant graphic elements, and visual novels, or novels that do contain such elements, and (b) argue that well-formed instances of non-visual novels are readings, whereas well-formed instances of visual novels are sums of readings and graphic elements.

When: Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103
Varieties of Statistical Learning

Broadly construed, statistical learning involves finding predictive patterns based on experiences of property distributions. Psychologists have developed many competing accounts of this kind of induction from instances. Characterizing the phenomena in terms of statistical learning provides a framework for comparing, and hopefully unifying, across alternatives. I will discuss two varieties of statistical learning especially relevant to research on cognitive development. The first concerns learning discriminative versus generative models. Sometimes people learn very narrow, special-purpose relations among properties (discriminative, such as p(x|y). Other times people learn more complete, general-purpose relations (generative, such as p(x,y). One hypothesis is that young children may be disposed to learn generative models. Some of children’s errors or limitations on learning tasks may stem from their trying to learn something more general than intended by the experimenter/teacher. A second variety of statistical learning distinguishes evidential from transductive inferences. Are experiences treated as a sample useful for drawing conclusions about a population (evidential), or are experiences treated as the population to be described (transductive)? This distinction provides a particular perspective on the “similarity-based” versus “theory-based” debate. Similarity-based accounts maintain that people make transductive inferences; theory-based accounts maintain that people make evidential inferences. It is this distinction that makes empirical studies of children’s sensitivity to sampling so critical in the theory vs. similarity debate.

When: Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Biology-Psychology (BPS) 1208

Reading group on common knowledge, convention and signalling games.  The bi-weekly meetings are on Thursdays, 11-12:30 in the Philosophy Library, Skinner Building

When: Thursday, December 4, 2014
Afterwar: the Role of Hope

Returning service members often carry the weight of their war in messy moral emotions that are hard to process and sometimes hard to feel. Some of these emotions can get sidelined in clinical discussions of posttraumatic stress, when the stressor is narrowed to exposure to life threat, and symptoms are streamlined to hyper-vigilance, numbing, and flashbacks. In recent years, a number of military psychological researchers and clinicians have pressed to expand the clinical focus and recognize the prevalence and distinctiveness of a dimension of psychological stress that is moral—hence the notion of moral injury and its emotions and interventions. Still what often goes unremarked in that research is the ubiquity (and sometimes, naturalness) of moral emotions such as guilt, shame, resentment, disappointment, empathy, trust, and hope outside the clinical arena. These can be a part of healthy processing of war, and part and parcel of ordinary practices of holding persons responsible and subject to normative expectations, or what the British philosopher Peter Strawson famously called “reactive attitudes.”

In this essay, which draws from my forthcoming book, Afterwar (Oxford University Press, May, 2015), I explore the idea of hope in persons as a kind of a positive reactive attitude that focuses our attention on pockets of good will in self or others, and on occasions for aspiration and investment. I am also interested in hope for outcomes, and how the two kinds of hope support each other.

With 2.4 million U.S. service members returning from a decade of war in which many have served long, multiple, deployments in complex and challenging partnerships, a philosophical discussion of reactive attitudes in the context of war is timely. And that the issues span more general concerns in moral psychology is a welcome way of bringing the moral psychology of soldiering into more mainstream philosophical discussion. In this essay, I explore moral injury and healing through soldiers’ own voices, based on extensive interviews I have conducted.

When: Wednesday, December 3, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103

Philosophy & language reading group, Thursdays, 5:00-7:00, Marie Mount Hall 1108b

When: Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Baggett Lectures, Department of Linguistics, UMD

Elissa Newport (Georgetown)

When: Friday, November 21, 2014

The Baggett Lectures, Department of Linguistics, UMD

Elissa Newport (Georgetown)

When: Thursday, November 20, 2014
Confucian Moral Ideal as Personal Ideal

Susan Wolf (1982) argues that a person who follows a moral theory perfectly (a “moral saint”) would necessarily be unattractive, dull, and fail to lead a life of value. Secondly, she argues that we should reconsider the status of moral reasons when act, since the unattractiveness of moral saints is rooted not in a particular moral theory, but in the nature of morality.

I argue that none of Wolf’s complaints about the Western conception of moral saints apply to the Confucian moral ideal, junzi (君子). I will show that following Confucian ethics perfectly (i.e. to become a junzi) is consistent with being attractive, interesting, and leading a life of value, and a society with everyone being a junzi is a society worth striving for.

When: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103

The Baggett Lectures, Department of Linguistics, UMD

Elissa Newport (Georgetown)

When: Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Phylogeny and Ontogeny of Altruistic Social Preferences

Humans are an unusually prosocial species. We volunteer at food banks, recycle, vote, tithe, give blood, and go to war. We care about justice and fairness, and punish those that transgress against social norms. Although altruistic behavior is well-documented in other primates, the range of altruistic behaviors in other primate species, including the great apes, is much more limited than it is in humans. Moreover, when altruism does occur among other primates, it is typically limited to familiar group members—close kin, mates, and reciprocating partners. It is not clear whether some of the most compelling naturalistic examples of “altruistic” behavior among nonhuman primates, such as food sharing, are the product of other-regarding social preferences or more instrumental motives. I will discuss a body of experimental research which is designed to reveal the preferences that underlie behavior. These experiments suggest that chimpanzees are not consistently motivated to provide benefits to familiar partners, are tolerant of inequity, and act punitively only after personal losses. I will also discuss a body of parallel experiments conducted with children. This work shows that children behave very differently from other apes, and that the social preferences that underlie their behavior are influenced by both their age and the cultural context in which they live. Taken together, these data suggest that human social preferences are derived traits that evolved after the human/ape lineages split 5-8 million years ago.

When: Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

Philosophy & language reading group, Thursdays, 5:00-7:00, Marie Mount Hall 1108b

When: Thursday, November 13, 2014
To the Center of the Earth: States' Rights to Resources

This paper explores the nature of and possible justifications for the property-like claims that contemporary nation-states make over things associated with or comprising their particular geographical territories. Modern states, of course, claim legal jurisdiction over particular areas of the earth’s surface, claiming in the process authority over persons located within those areas. But in addition to such jurisdictional rights (“of control”), states also claim rights that more closely resemble the kinds of claims to landownership made by individuals. These property-like (“exclusionary”) rights include the right to control the borders of the territory, as a landowner has the right to fence or otherwise exclude others from entering or using her land. And relative to those borders, states also make property-like claims over the non-human, physical stuff in, around, and comprising their areas – the things often referred to as “natural resources”. These rights emanate from, but are not confined to, the surface shapes of states that we draw on maps and globes. States claim rights not only to a bounded surface and to the things on it – the land and surface water themselves, the timber, plants, and animals found there – but also to what lies beneath that surface – the rocks and dirt, the metals and minerals, the oil, gas, and water – and to what is located above and around their surface shapes. The paper asks: what arguments might be offered in favor of such claimed rights and to what extent are those arguments persuasive.

When: Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103

Reading group on common knowledge, convention and signalling games.  The bi-weekly meetings are on Thursdays, 11-12:30 in the Philosophy Library, Skinner Building

When: Thursday, November 6, 2014
What are the chances?

In my talk I offer two answers to the above question. The first is semantical: I show that we can conceive of propositions about chance as empirical, and why this helps to make sense of the determination of chances in statistics. The second answer I give is metaphysical: chances come about because of the interplay between levels of description that cannot be made to mesh. As will be seen, both answers rely on early work about chances done by von Mises.

When: Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103

Philosophy & language reading group, Thursdays, 5:00-7:00, Marie Mount Hall 1108b

When: Thursday, October 30, 2014
Modality and Mentality: Some Suspicions about Supervenience

The thesis that the mental supervenes on the physical (that the mental could not have been other than as it is without the physical having been other than as it is) has been much discussed. I will be suggesting three reasons one might doubt that the issue has all the importance it has widely been taken to have. These will illustrate more general reasons for uneasiness about the status of modal metaphysics.

When: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103
Rational approaches to learning and development

Good decision-making requires the decision-maker to generate accurate expectations about what is likely to happen in the future. Adults' decisions, especially those pertaining to attention and learning, are guided by their substantial experience in the world. Very young children, however, possess far less data. In this talk, I will discuss work that explores the mechanisms that guide young children's early visual attention decisions and subsequent learning. I present eye-tracking experiments in both human and non-human primates which combine behavioral methods and computational modeling in order to test competing theories of attentional choice. I present evidence that young learners rely on rational utility maximization both to build complex models of the world starting from very little knowledge and, more generally, to guide their behavior. I will also discuss recent results from related on-going projects about learning and attention in macaque learners, as well as some data on other sorts of decision-making processes in children.

When: Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

Reading group on common knowledge, convention and signalling games.  The bi-weekly meetings are on Thursdays, 11-12:30 in the Philosophy Library, Skinner Building

When: Thursday, October 23, 2014
Decision and Intervention

Correlation is not causation. As such, there are decision-making contexts (like Newcomb's Problem) where it is entirely reasonable for an agent to believe that the world is likely to be better when she x's, but also believe that x-ing would cause the world to be worse. Should agents x in such contexts? In this paper, I use the interventionist approach to causation to help answer this question. In particular, I argue that whether an agent should x depends on her credence that her decision constitutes an intervention. I also propose and defend a decision rule that takes stock of the exact way in which what an agent should do depends on this credence.

When: Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103
Inferential economics: Children's sensitivity to the cost and value of information

I will present some work suggesting that children selectively explore in ways that support information gain. That is, children recognize that information is valuable. However, information is also costly -- and the costs themselves are informative. Across a series of studies, I will suggest that children's sensitivity to both the cost and value of information affects how they teach and learn from others -- and also how they learn about others. I will discuss these findings with respect to the proposal that children's intuitive theory of action includes a "naive utility calculus".

When: Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

Philosophy & language reading group, Thursdays, 5:00-7:00, Marie Mount Hall 1108b

When: Thursday, October 16, 2014
A New Best System Analysis for Fundamental and Special Science Laws

Cohen and Callender's (2009, 2010) Better Best System (BBS) analysis of laws of nature is fashioned to accommodate laws in the special sciences by allowing for any set of kinds to be adopted as basic prior to the determination of the laws. Thus, for example, setting biological kinds as basic will yield biological laws as the output of the best system competition. I will argue in this talk that the BBS suffers from two significant problems: (1) it is unable to single out a set of laws as fundamental, and (2) it cannot accommodate cases of interfield interactions that muddy the boundary between the basic kinds of individual fields (e.g. photon talk in biology). I then propose a new Best System style view and argue for its ability to account for special science laws, fundamental laws, and cases of interfield interactions.

When: Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103
Linguistic experience and speech-in-noise recognition

The language(s) that we know shape the way we process and represent the speech that we hear. Since real-world speech recognition almost always takes place in conditions that involve some sort of background noise, we can ask whether the influence of linguistic knowledge and experience on speech processing extends to the particular challenges posed by speech-in-noise recognition, specifically the perceptual separation of speech from noise (Experiment Series 1) and the cognitive representation of speech and concurrent noise (Experiment Series 2). In Experiment Series 1, listeners were asked to recognize English sentences embedded in a background of competing speech that was either English (matched-language, English-in-English recognition) or another language (mismatched-language, e.g. English-in-Mandarin recognition). Listeners were either native or non-native listeners of the target language (usually, English), and were either familiar or unfamiliar with the background language (English, Mandarin, Dutch, or Croatian). This series of experiments demonstrated that matched-language is substantially harder than mismatched-language speech-in-speech recognition. Moreover, the magnitude of the mismatched-language benefit was modulated by long-term linguistic experience (specifically, listener familiarity with the background language), as well as by short-term adaptation to a consistent background language within a test session. Thus, we conclude that speech recognition in conditions that involve competing background speech engages higher-level, experience-dependent, language-specific knowledge in addition to general lower-level, signal-dependent processes of auditory stream segregation. Experiment Series 2 then investigated perceptual classification and encoding in memory of spoken words and concurrently presented background noise. Converging evidence from eye-tracking-based time-course, speeded classification, and recognition memory paradigms strongly suggests parallel (rather than strictly sequential) processes of stream segregation and word identification, as well as integrated (rather than segregated) cognitive representations of speech presented in background noise. Taken together, this research is consistent with models of speech processing and representation that allow interactions between long-term, experience-dependent linguistic knowledge and instance-specific, environment-dependent sources of speech signal variability at multiple levels, ranging from relatively early/low levels of selective attention to relatively late/high levels of lexical encoding and retrieval.

When: Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

Reading group on common knowledge, convention and signalling games.  The bi-weekly meetings are on Thursdays, 11-12:30 in the Philosophy Library, Skinner Building

When: Thursday, October 9, 2014
Context-specific and Context-free Social Choice Models

Social choice theory offers a number of formal models that allow for the aggregation of ordinal and numerical scales. Although it is most often used to model elections and social welfare, it has also been used to model a wide variety of other phenomena, including the selection of scientific theories and the collective judgments of computers. But the skeptical findings of social choice theory have had particular impact within political philosophy and political science. For instance, William Riker famously used Arrow's impossibility theorem, which shows that no voting rule satisfies a number of reasonable conditions on democratic choice, to argue that populist theories of democracy are false. I argue that such skeptical findings are often the result of the context-free nature of orthodox social choice models. The addition of assumptions plausible only within particular theoretical contexts often produces models that avoid many of these skeptical results. I examine three examples of context-specific social choice models that are appropriate within the following theoretical contexts: scientific theory selection, elections, and the measurement of public opinion. I argue that such context-specific models typically represent their respective phenomena better than context-free models, and consequently are better able to determine what problems may or may not exist within their specific contexts. Finally, I suggest that a similar context-specific strategy might also be used in other formal areas of philosophy.

When: Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103

Philosophy & language reading group, Thursdays, 5:00-7:00, Marie Mount Hall 1108b

When: Thursday, October 2, 2014
Why Should You Parent Your Babies?

It's completely obvious that people who bring children into the world typically have some responsibility to parent them. Sure, marginal cases involving assisted reproductive technology or coercion, deception, or other extreme circumstances are tough to call, but in everyday cases, it seems like procreators have special moral reasons to look after their children from the moment of birth (at the latest). In this talk, I'm going to try to convince you that, while this moral intuition is fairly clear, an adequate justification for it is sorely lacking, and that this has some troubling implications for philosophical and social debates about parental rights, child support, and the role of the nuclear family.

When: Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103

Reading group on common knowledge, convention and signalling games.  The bi-weekly meetings are on Thursdays, 11-12:30 in the Philosophy Library, Skinner Building

When: Thursday, September 25, 2014
Bayesian Perception Without Representation

The standard framework of cognitive science-- the computational-representational theory of mind (CRT)-- has it that mental processes are the result of brains implementing computations that range over representations. These representations have standardly been thought of as intentional states-- that is, states that have contents such that they are about or representations of particular things. For example, one standard interpretation of generative linguistics is that the mind performs computations over states that are representations of, inter alia, noun phrases, phonemes, and theta roles.

Recently, however, Chomsky (2000), Burge (2010), and others generally supposed to be adherents of the CRT, have argued that at least some of the so-called representations posited under the framework are not intentional: they are not about anything at all. Jones and Love (2011) assert, in particular, that Bayesian accounts of perception rely on computations that range over non-intentional states. This claim is particularly remarkable because Bayesian inference is often construed as a variety of hypothesis testing-- a process notoriously difficult to characterize in non-intentional terms.

Thus far, the arguments for these claims have been unsatisfying. To rectify the situation, I’ll examine a particular Bayesian account of color perception given by Allred (2012) and Brainard et al. (2008; 1997). Even though their account is couched in the intentional idiom of hypothesis testing, I’ll argue that we can preserve its explanatory power without attributing intentional states to the early perceptual system it describes.

The conclusion of this analysis is not that intentionality can be eliminated wholesale from cognitive science, as Stich, Dennett, and the early behaviorists have advocated. Rather, analysis of why intentional explanation proves unnecessary in this particular case sheds light on the conditions under which intentional explanation does prove explanatorily fruitful.

When: Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103
Strategic morality

Some current evolutionary theories of morality hold that the adaptations that underlie moral judgment and behavior function to deliver benefits (or prevent harm) to others. I’ll discuss several lines of research built around an alternative view. In particular, I’ll present evidence for the view that people adopt moral positions based on calculations of their self-interest. First, in an experimental study, subjects are presented with an economic decision making game and asked to evaluate the fairness (or unfairness) of each possible decision that players in the game might make. We find that subjects are morally self-serving, reporting that decisions that leave them worse off are more “unfair.” In a second body of work, people’s political views change depending on non-obvious factors that shift people’s perception of where their own interests lie. Finally, a third line of work speaks to the possibility that people’s political attitudes are derived not from their party affiliation or their political ideology, but instead derive from calculations of their interests. These results are consistent with a view of morality that suggests that people’s moral views are not adopted in order to aid others – or their group – but instead to advance their goals over various time spans.

When: Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

Philosophy & language reading group, Thursdays, 5:00-7:00, Marie Mount Hall 1108b

When: Thursday, September 18, 2014
Epistemic Modals Have Been Misunderstood

On standard accounts of modal expressions, sentences like (1) and (2) have been taken to express the same propositions, (2) making explicit the epistemic nature of the modality left implicit by (1).

(1) Jones might be dead.
(2) For all we know, Jones might be dead.

A problem for such accounts, however, is the fact that (1) and (2) do not support the same counterfactual continuations. (3), for example, is an acceptable follow-up to (2) but not to (1).

(3) But that’s just kind of a fluke, since we could have investigated his disappearance much more thoroughly.

This sort of problem does not generalize to other, non-epistemic modals, as (4) and (5) show.

(4) You can get a license in Georgia when you’re 16. But that’ just kind of a fluke, since Georgia could have had the laws New Jersey did.
(5) Given its laws, you can get a license in Georgia when you’re 16. But that’ just kind of a fluke, since Georgia could have had the laws New Jersey did.

Why should this implicit-explicit distinction be important for epistemic modals but not for non-epistemic ones? Some have argued on independent grounds that implicit epistemic modals exhibit idiosyncratic behavior (Yalcin (2007)), but such accounts are insufficient to handle the contrast exemplified by (1) and (2). I argue, instead, that the nature of epistemic modality has been misunderstood, that (1) does not contain an epistemic modal, and that this fact explains the difference between (1) and (2). Getting clear on the nature of epistemic modality also potentially help clears up a host of other problems (presumed) epistemic modals have posed for standard semantic theories.

When: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103

Christopher Vogel will defend his disseration "Internalist Deflationism: On the Limits of Ontological Investigation" on September 12th, 2014 at 11:00 am in   Philosophy Seminar Room, Skinner Building. 

When: Friday, September 12, 2014
What Freud got right about speech errors

Most people associate Sigmund Freud with the assertion that speech errors reveal repressed thoughts, a claim that does not have a great deal of support. I will introduce some other things that Freud said about slips, showing that these, in contrast to the repression notion, do fit well with modern theories of language production. I will illustrate using an interactive two-step theory of lexical access during production, which has been used to understand aphasic speech error patterns.

When: Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

Reading group on common knowledge, convention and signalling games.  The bi-weekly meetings are on Thursdays, 11-12:30 in the Philosophy Library, Skinner Building

When: Thursday, September 11, 2014
Mindreading and Cooperation in Humans and the Great Apes

Human beings’ capacity for cooperation vastly outstrips that of other great apes. The shared intentionality hypothesis explains this difference in terms of motivational and representational discontinuities, particularly the capacity to represent joint goals. In this paper, I first present an argument as to why we should reject the shared intentionality hypothesis’ hyper-competitive characterization of chimpanzees’ social cognitive abilities, and provide reasons to be skeptical of the generalizability of experimental findings from captive chimpanzees. Next, I outline an alternative account of the contrast between human and great ape social cognition that emphasizes gradual differences in domain-general reasoning rather than novel domain-specific representational abilities. Lastly, I review further cognitive and motivational factors that might affect human beings’ capacity for cooperation.

When: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Taliaferro 1103

The North American Summer School for Logic, Language and Information, Bootcamp Courses: June 21-22, Summer School: June 23 - 27. 

When: Friday, June 27, 2014

Commencement schedule available here.

When: Friday, May 23, 2014
The evolution of human musicality: cross-species studies

How can we study the biological evolution of the human capacity for music? Over the past century, theories of music’s origins have abounded, with little data to constrain them. One prominent debate has centered on the issue of adaptation: were human bodies and brains specifically shaped for musical behaviors by natural selection, or did music (like reading and writing) arise as a human creation without impetus from biology? This debate has gone on since Darwin’s time and will likely be with us for many years to come. In this talk I argue for a different approach to studying the evolution of our musical abilities, based on empirical research. I will discuss comparative studies with birds aimed at understanding the evolutionary history of human melodic and rhythmic processing. One set of studies focuses on our ability to recognize melodies when they are shifted up or down in pitch (transposed). The other set of studies focuses on our capacity to perceive a beat in music and move in synchrony with it. The results of these studies suggest that these two aspects of music processing likely involve cognitive and neural specializations which have distinct evolutionary histories.

When: Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: BPS 1208
How emotion affects memory

When we think about our past, many of the events that come to mind are those that triggered an emotional response. This retrieval of a memory requires a series of processes to unfold: Information must be attended and encoded into memory, resist decay and interference over time, and be reactivated when the appropriate retrieval cue is processed. In this talk, I will discuss how the arousal (physiological response or feeling of excitation) and valence (pleasure or displeasure) of an event can affect the likelihood that each of these processes unfolds to give rise to memory.

When: Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: BRB 1103
Common Law Reasoning

The aim of this talk to offer a formal understanding of common law reasoning -- especially the nature of this reasoning, but also its point, or justification, in terms of social coordination. I will present two, possibly three, formal models of the common law, and argue for one according to which courts, are best thought of, not as creating and modifying rules, but as generating a priority ordering on reasons. The talk is not technical, although it draws on tiny bits of logic, and also on work in AI and Law; it contributes to legal theory, and also, possibly, to applied ethics.

When: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
The Marrow of Belief

Contemporary epistemology offers us two very different accounts of our epistemic lives. According to Traditional epistemologists, the decisions that we make are motivated by our desires and guided by our beliefs and these beliefs and desires all come in an all-or-nothing form. In contrast, many Bayesian epistemologists say that these beliefs and desires come in degrees and that they should be understood as subjective probabilities and utilities.

What are we to make of these different epistemologies? Are the Tradionalists and the Bayesians in disagreement, or are their views compatible with each other? Some Bayesians have challenged the Traditionalists: Bayesian epistemology is more powerful and more general than the Traditional theory, and so we should abandon the notion of all-or-nothing belief as something worthy of philosophical analysis. The Traditionalists have responded to this challenge in various ways. I shall argue that these responses are inadequate and that the challenge lives on.

When: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
How our hands help us think

When people talk, they gesture. We now know that these gestures are associated with learning. They can index moments of cognitive instability and reflect thoughts not yet found in speech. What I hope to do in this talk is raise the possibility that gesture might do more than just reflect learning––it might be involved in the learning process itself. I consider two non-mutually exclusive possibilities: the gestures that we see others produce might be able to change our thoughts; and the gestures that we ourselves produce might be able to change our thoughts. Finally, I explore the mechanisms responsible for gesture's effect on learning––how gesture works to change our minds.

When: Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Cost-Benefit Analysis as an Expression of Liberal Neutrality

The past few decades have seen an expansion in the use of cost-benefit analysis as a tool for policy evaluation in the public sector. This slow, steady creep has been a source of consternation to many philosophers and political theorists, who are inclined to view cost-benefit analysis as simply a variant of utilitarianism, and consider utilitarianism to be completely unacceptable as a public philosophy. I will attempt to show that this impression is misleading. Despite the fact that when construed narrowly, cost-benefit analysis does look a lot like utilitarianism, when seen in its broader context, in the way that it is applied, and the type of problems to which it is applied, it is better understood as an attempt by the state to avoid taking sides with respect to various controversial conceptions of the good.

When: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

"Justice and Future Generations", Tuesday 15 April 2014, 5:00-6:30pm, Frank Auditorium, 1524 Van Munching Hall (co-sponsored by the Business School)

When: Tuesday, April 15, 2014
How anti-realists could learn to stop worrying and love unobservables

Scientific anti-realism is usually assumed to be a thesis about the scope of scientific theories with regard to unobservables. To many, this makes anti-realism an unattractive option, since it commits us to an arbitrary divide based on the limits of human perceptual organs and involves a skepticism about entities few want to reject. I argue that this view of what anti-realism should amount to comes from an inflationary and non-naturalistic meta-semantics that I argue should be rejected on independent grounds. I propose an alternative picture of anti-realism about science that draws no such arbitrary divide, but still helps us to dissolve the measurement problem--a problem that persistently resists realist solutions.

When: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
The infantile origins of human moral cognition: studies with preverbal infants and toddlers

How do humans come to have a “moral sense”? Are adults’ conceptions of which actions are right and which are wrong, of who is good and who is bad, who deserves praise and who deserves blame wholly the result of experiences like observing and interacting with others in one’s cultural environment and explicit teaching from parents, teachers, and religious leaders? Do all of the complexities in adult’s moral judgments reflect hard-won developmental change coupled with the emergence of advanced reasoning skills? This talk will explore evidence that, on the contrary, preverbal infants’ social preferences map surprisingly well onto adult moral intuitions. Within the first year of life, infants prefer those who help versus harm third parties, those who reward prosocial individuals and punish wrongdoers, and even privilege the intentions that drive actions over the outcomes they lead to. In the second year of life, toddlers direct their own helpful actions toward helpful individuals, and harmful actions toward harmful individuals. These results suggest that our adult moral sense is supported, at least in part, by innate mechanisms for sociomoral evaluation.

When: Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Comparative Probability in Language and Action

A number of seminal figures in the history of probability, including Keynes, de Finetti, Savage, and others, held that comparative probability judgments -- as expressed, e.g., by statements of the form 'E is more likely than F' -- might be, in one way or another, more fundamental than quantitative probabilistic judgments. Such comparative judgments have mostly been studied in relation to quantitative notions, viz. representation theorem. After briefly discussing how this older work on representation theorems relates to contemporary questions in linguistic semantics about what locutions like 'E is more likely than F' mean, I will then argue that we need a better understanding of normative considerations concerning comparative probability that is, at least potentially, independent of quantitative representations.

I will present a new result -- analogous to, but weaker than, Dutch book arguments for standard quantitative probability -- characterizing exactly when an agent maintaining given comparative judgments is susceptible to a blatant kind of pragmatic incoherence. It turns out that quantitative representability (or at least 'almost representability') can be motivated in this way, without presupposing quantitative representation on the part of the agent. Finally, I will illustrate how this result might bear on the aforementioned questions in semantics, as well as more general questions about the role of qualitative probability judgments in practical reasoning.

When: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
From Circuits to Signals: A New Perspective on Genetic Information

Understanding how gene regulatory networks work, and how they evolve, is central to understanding the evolution of complex phenotypes. A common way to model these networks is to represent genes as simple boolean logic switches, and networks as complex circuits of these switches wired together. Such models have been used to explore theoretical issues about adaptation and evolvability, and have successfully captured the key workings of well-studied developmental systems.

In this paper, I introduce a model in this same tradition, but one that explicitly incorporates recent philosophical work on signaling systems. The primary work is by Brian Skyrms, who has extended David Lewis’s ideas from “Convention”, placing them in an evolutionary context and connecting them to information theory. Skyrms uses these ideas to show how evolutionary processes can “create information” (and perhaps even proto-meaning). The model thus provides an important bridge between a standard tool for thinking about gene regulatory evolution, and new ideas about evolution of communication, information, and meaning.

I discuss two initial results from exploring this model. First, I show that the models provide a clear way to underwrite some “information-talk” in developmental biology that has been previously dismissed by philosophers. Second, I show how one shortcoming of the Lewis/Skyrms model — the inability to distinguish directive and assertive force — connects to recent ideas about evolvability in gene regulatory networks.

When: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Generational Injustice: How to Eat the Young (CANCELLED)

Philosophers are, of course, much concerned with issues of injustice. Vast literatures address wrongful incursions committed along lines of race, gender, sexual preference, religion and, of course, economic class. Comparatively little attention has been paid to impositions across generational lines, and where such unfairness has been invoked the story is often gotten backwards (“ageism”). This paper argues that during the preceding half century increased burdens have been placed on young cohorts for the direct benefit of the old, that almost every major social policy in recent years has further disadvantaged the young, and that this is not only an American problem but one that pervades the developed world. These injustices can be understood as failures of reciprocity, non-imposition, and democratic accountability. Unlike other perceived injustices, this one shows itself uniquely resistant to redress through liberal democratic institutions. I conclude by speculating that this immunity to melioration is not accidental but rather that the root cause of eating the young is liberal democracy itself.

When: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: CANCELLED
Is Racial Science Racist?

Over the last three centuries, a series of scientific research programs have sought to establish the existence of genetically-based differences between human racial groups in socially-important psychological traits (e.g., intelligence and aggressiveness). These claims have long been subjected to criticism not only on empirical grounds, but on moral grounds as well, including charges of racism. Practitioners of racial science hotly deny such charges, and these debates about the “racist” nature of racial science have generally been unproductive. I suggest that one reason for this lack of productive debate is the absence of a well-defined and shared understanding of precisely what racism is. Thus, in this talk I examine various claims of racial science in the light of several philosophical analyses of racism, including (a) racism as inferiorization or pernicious belief, (b) racism as an institution, and (c) racism as racial ill-will or disregard. I conclude that although charges of racism are often more difficult to sustain than many have supposed, there is room for a moral critique of racial science under the racial ill-will/disregard conception of racism. In closing I offer some suggestions for how practitioners of racial science can mitigate some of its morally problematic features.

When: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

 What do We Owe the World's Poor? 

When: Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Why Learning Matters for Morality

Humans use punishment and reward to modify each others' behavior, and we also learn from others' rewards and punishments. This simple dynamic animates much of our moral psychology, and I explore two of its consequences in detail. First, human punishment should be adapted to the contours and constraints of human learning. This can explain a peculiar feature of our moral judgments that philosophers call "moral luck": The fact that accidental outcomes play a large role in determining punishment. Second, the architecture of human learning should dictate when and how we choose to harm others. I borrow from current neurobiological models of reinforcement learning to understand why we deem some harmful actions impermissible and others permissible. These case studies illustrate the role that learning systems play as a basic organizing principle in the moral domain.

When: Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
The Value of Self-Determination

Self-determination is a cardinal principle of international law. But its meaning is often obscure. While the exact contours of the principle are disputed, international law clearly recognizes decolonization as a central application of self-determination. Most ordinary people also agree that the liberation of colonized peoples was a moral triumph. In the paper, I pursue a particular strategy for theorizing the principle: I start with a case where self-determination is widely considered appropriate—the case of decolonization—and try to get clear on precisely which values justified self-determination in that case. Specifically, I examine three philosophical theories of self-determination’s value: an instrumentalist theory, a democratic theory, and my own associative theory. I argue that our intuitions about decolonization can be fully justified only by invoking an interest on the part of alienated groups in redrawing political boundaries. This interest, I believe, may also justify self-determination in other cases, such as autonomy for indigenous peoples, and greater independence for Scotland or Quebec. Those who strongly support decolonization may have reason to endorse independence for these other minorities as well.

When: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

 "Territory, Expulsion, and the Right to Return", Tuesday, March 4, 5 - 6:30 PM, Tydings 1101, Refreshments Served

When: Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Reasoning with Prioritized Defaults

Many of the inferences we draw in our day-to-day reasoning are defeasible—their conclusions can be withdrawn in the light of new evidence. This inferential property, known as non-monotonicity, requires the development of non-standard logics to model our reasoning practices, for, in standard logic, the conclusions drawn from a premise set are never withdrawn when new premises are added to that set. Non-standard logics, however, face a unique challenge. Defeasible inferences have varying strengths and how to model the interaction between such inferences is an outstanding question. In this paper, I provide an answer to this question within the framework of the default logic originally proposed by Reiter (1980) and recently developed by Horty (2012). Focusing on a few sample cases, I show where Horty (2012)’s answer to the above question stands in need of development and how my proposed revisions to his account address these deficiencies. I also consider other developments of Reiter (1980)’s default logic which avoid some of Horty (2012)’s problems and suggest that these accounts face a fundamental difficulty which my account does not.

When: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Is Human Cognition Language-Augmented Cognition?

To what extent is human cognition augmented by language? Does language only enhance communication, with words acting as triggers for nonlinguistic concepts? Or does language play an active role in the very ability to construct and manipulate those concepts? I will present a series of experiments showing that language has pervasive and surprising effects on a range of cognitive abilities, such as learning new categories, deploying knowledge about familiar categories, and even basic perception: Hearing a word can literally change what one sees. I will conclude by discussing the “design features” of words that make them especially useful for constructing and manipulating mental representations.

When: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: BPS 1208
Recursion in Human Language

In this talk, I will first argue that the Chomsky, Hauser and Fitch (2002) claim that recursion is unique to human language is misleading because they fail to distinguish recursive procedures (I-recursion) from recursive patterns (E-recursion). I contend that in order to explain the emergence of recursive hierarchical structures in human language, as opposed to animal communication systems (bee dances and bird songs), the underlying recursive generative mechanism should be explained. I will compare two such accounts: an evolutionary account by Miyagawa et al. (2013) and the Minimalist syntax by Hornstein (2007), and argue for the latter.

When: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

Location: Maryland Room, Marie Mount Hall, Feb. 14 1:30-6:00, Feb. 15, 8:30 - 4:00.   Conference Schedule.

When: Friday, February 14, 2014
What is Libertarianism?
When: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

"Free Market Fairness", 5:00-6:30pm, Tydings 1101Refreshments served

When: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Syntactic Change in Progress: The New Impersonal Construction in Icelandic

The passive is one of the most thoroughly examined constructions in the world’s languages, across different theoretical and typological perspectives; yet there is often disagreement about category membership, particularly for constructions sometimes called “non-promotional” passives, which have no overt subject but govern an accusative object. In this talk I will discuss a new impersonal construction which has arisen in Icelandic in recent decades and which is gaining ground. Data has been collected in two nation-wide surveys. This syntactic innovation is a system-internal change that is not the result of borrowing, nor the result of any phonological change or morphological weakening in the language. I argue that the categorical indeterminacy of the New Impersonal is a result of two distinct grammatical analyses of the construction among native speakers. Other cases of this kind across several genetically unrelated languages will also be discussed.

When: Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 3:30pm - 5:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
The Authority of Democracy

Defenders of “democratic authority” claim that the democratic process in some way confers legitimacy on the state and generates an obligation for citizens to obey democratically made laws. This idea may be based on (a) the value of democratic deliberation, (b) the importance of respecting others’ judgments, or (c) the importance of equality. I argue that all three proposed bases for democratic authority fail, and thus that the democratic process does not confer legitimacy, nor does it create political obligations.

When: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

Just Societies, a Just World
Michael Huemer
University of Colorado

Tydings 1101, 5:00 - 6:30 PM
refreshments will be served

When: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Time Travel in Deutsch's Multiverse: The Knowledge Paradox, the Holmes Principle, and Shakespeare's Free Lunch

In a world where time travel is possible, could there be a closed loop of knowledge? Could a future Dunlap scholar bring me, in his time machine, the contents of my dissertation, so that I don't have to write it myself? In this paper, I address some conceptual issues surrounding Deutsch's solution to this paradox---known as the Knowledge Paradox---which stems from his influential framework for analyzing the behavior of quantum systems in the presence of closed timelike curves (CTCs). I argue that Deutsch's acceptance of the existence of the many worlds of the Everett interpretation in or to ensure that there is always an author of the dissertation (albeit in another world), creates a unique problem. The Many Worlds Interpretation commits Deutsch to believing that any history that is physically possible is actualized in some world. Among those histories, I argue, are ones which are indistinguishable in every way from worlds in which an Knowledge Paradox scenario plays out, wherein the dissertation exists, but was not written by anyone. Furthermore, in these worlds, the existence of the dissertation is not the result of time travel, but merely appears to be. So Deutsch's use of the Many Worlds framework to solve the Knowledge Paradox cuts both ways. It commits him to the existence of worlds in which the dissertation is genuinely a "free lunch"---it exists, but was not the result of the intellectual effort of rational beings---which is exactly the situation Deutsch was trying to avoid.

When: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1115

The PHLING Reading Group will meet 5 -7 PM in MMH 1108b.  

When: Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, December 12, 2013

The meetings will take place every other Thursday, 12 - 1 PM.

When: Thursday, December 12, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Musilanguage Hypothesis and the Origins of Poetry

An intentional-historical formalist definition of poetry such as the one offered in Ribeiro (2007) inevitably raises the question of how poetry first emerged, and why. On this view, repetitive linguistic patterning is seen as a historically central feature of poems, and one that has both an aesthetic and a cognitive dimension. Combining the Darwinian idea of a musical protolanguage with analyses of ‘babytalk’, I suggest that this central feature of poetic practices first emerged as a vestige of our musical proto-speech and of our earliest form of communication with our caregivers. Conversely, I suggest that the existence and universality of ‘babytalk’, together with the universality, and antiquity of poetic practices, argue in favor of the musilanguage hypothesis over its competitors, lexical and gestural protolanguage. One consequence of this proposal is a reversal of how we understand poetic repetition: rather than being justified in terms of the mnemonic needs of oral cultures, it is now understood as an aesthetically pleasing exploitation of features already found in speech.

When: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SQH 1105
Nature & Nurture in Human Cognition: Evidence from Studies of Blindness

How do genes and experience interact to produce human cognition? I will discuss insights into this puzzle from studies of blindness. The first half of the talk will focus on how first-person sensory experience contributes to concepts. What do congenitally blind people know about seeing and light? One source of evidence comes from studies of “visual” verbs. Congenitally blind and sighted people made semantic similarity judgments on pairs of visual verbs (e.g. to glimpse) and non-visual verbs (e.g. to touch). We find that blind adults distinguish seeing from perception through other sensory modalities (e.g. to touch) and from amodal knowledge acquisition (e.g. to notice). Like sighted individuals, they make fine grained spatiotemporal distinctions among verbs of seeing (e.g. to peek vs. to stare). Blind adults also distinguish among verbs of light emission along dimensions of intensity (glow vs. blaze) and temporal continuity (blaze vs. flash). This knowledge about seeing is not limited to the meanings of words. Blind people make inferences about how others feel based on visual experience and these inferences depend on the same neural mechanisms as in sighted individuals. Together these data suggest that first-person sensory experience is not required to develop rich conceptual representations. The second half of the talk will focus on effects of experience on the neurobiology of language. Language processing typically relies on fronto-temporal cortices. I argue that “visual” areas of the occipital cortex are added to the language system in congenitally blind individuals. Language-related plasticity occurs during development: plasticity is observed in congenitally, but not late blind adults and emerges in blind children by 4-years-of-age. These findings suggest that brain regions that did not evolve for language can nevertheless acquire language processing capacities. These studies suggest that during development brain regions acquire cognitive functions through a constrained process of self-organization.

When: Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, December 5, 2013

The PHLING Reading Group will meet 5 -7 PM in MMH 1108b.  

When: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

 The group meets every other Wednesday at 5:30 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The social choice reading group meets every other week on Wednesday morning in Chirs's office to discuss foundational issues in Social Choice Theory. 

When: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The meeting takes place every other week, noon - 2 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, November 28, 2013

The meetings will take place every other Thursday, 12 - 1 PM.

When: Thursday, November 28, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, November 21, 2013

The PHLING Reading Group will meet 5 -7 PM in MMH 1108b.  

When: Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, November 20, 2013

 The group meets every other Wednesday at 5:30 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The social choice reading group meets every other week on Wednesday morning in Chirs's office to discuss foundational issues in Social Choice Theory. 

When: Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Against Musical Perdurantism

Ben Caplan and Carl Matheson have recently advocated musical perdurantism—the view that amounts to the conjunction of the following theses:

(1) Musical works are identical to mereological sums of their temporal parts (performances);
(2) Musical works persist by perduring, that is, “by having different temporal parts [performances] at every time at which they exist” (Caplan and Matheson 2006,
60).

In this talk I will argue that musical perdurantism faces a number of serious problems and, hence, cannot be accepted.

When: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SKN 1116

The meeting takes place every other week, noon - 2 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, November 14, 2013

The meetings will take place every other Thursday, 12 - 1 PM.

When: Thursday, November 14, 2013
Time Travel in Deutsch's Multiverse: The Knowledge Paradox, the Holmes Principle, and Shakespeare's Free Lunch

Talk Postponed

When: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SQH 1105

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Towards a Rational Constructivist Approach to Cognitive Development

The study of cognitive development has often been framed in terms of the nativist/empiricist debate. Here I present a new approach to cognitive development – rational constructivism. I will argue that learners take into account both prior knowledge and biases (learned or unlearned) as well as statistical information in the input; prior knowledge and statistical information are combined in a rational manner (as is often captured in Bayesian models of cognition). Furthermore, there may be a set of domain-general learning mechanisms that give rise to domain-specific knowledge. I will present evidence supporting the idea that early learning is rational, statistical, and inferential, and infants and young children are rational, constructivist learners.

When: Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1107

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, November 7, 2013

The PHLING Reading Group will meet 5 -7 PM in MMH 1108b.  

When: Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, November 6, 2013
On the Polysemy of Proper Nouns and Frege’s Puzzle

I argue that lexically primitive proper nouns (PNs) are systematically polysemous in the sense that they can be systematically used in different linguistic contexts to express at least three formally distinct yet analytically related extralinguistic concepts. Given independently plausible assumptions about the nature of these concepts, and of the lexically encoded meanings of primitive PNs, my overarching aim is to show how this framework offers a theoretically attractive way to explain Frege’s puzzle regarding the intersubstitution of so called “coreferential” PNs.

When: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SKN 1116

 The group meets every other Wednesday at 5:30 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The social choice reading group meets every other week on Wednesday morning in Chirs's office to discuss foundational issues in Social Choice Theory. 

When: Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The meeting takes place every other week, noon - 2 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, October 31, 2013

The meetings will take place every other Thursday, 12 - 1 PM.

When: Thursday, October 31, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Causal Reasoning in Physics

Many contemporary philosophers of physics (and philosophers of science more generally) follow Bertrand Russell in arguing that there is no room for causal notions in physics. Causation, as James Woodward has put it, has a ‘human face’, which makes causal notions sit ill with fundamental theories of physics. In this talk I examine some anti-causal arguments and show that the human face of causation is the face of scientific representations much more generally.

When: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SQH 1105

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Explanation: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Children and adults are often motivated to explain the world around them and have strong intuitions about what makes something a good (or beautiful) explanation. Why are we so driven to explain, and what accounts for our explanatory preferences? In this talk I’ll present evidence that both children and adults prefer explanations that are simple and have broad scope, consistent with many accounts of explanation from philosophy of science. The good news is that a preference for simple and broad explanations can sometimes improve learning; The bad news is that under some conditions, a preference for simplicity can lead people to systematically misremember observations, and a preference for broad scope can encourage errors of overgeneralization. An important take-home lesson is that seeking, generating, and evaluating explanations plays an important role in human judgment and serves as a valuable window onto core cognitive processes such as learning and inference.

When: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, October 24, 2013
To Act as One's Own Enemy

In Republic I, Plato makes the following claim about how injustice works in us: “[Injustice] will make [the individual] incapable of acting because of inner faction and not being of one mind with himself; second, it will make him his own enemy as well as the enemy of just people (Republic 352a 1-8).” But what would it mean for an individual's being unjust to (1) cause disharmony within that individual to the point that she is incapable of action and (2) cause that individual to become an enemy of herself? Christine Korsgaard argues that we cannot act at all (in the sense of acting as agents) unless we are acting as a unified person. But if Korsgaard is correct, in what sense could we ever truly act as our own enemies? I will argue that Korsgaard's requirements on what is constitutive of action are too stringent, and that one need not be internally unified in order to act as an agent. (I hold that I need not abandon a constitutional account of the soul/self in order to do this.) I will then present an account of how factionalization in one's soul/self leads an agent to act as her own enemy by obscuring her perception of the good. I will ultimately argue that, consistent with Plato's constitutional model of the soul, there is an order and internal consistency that is necessary for an agent to function justly and correctly, but this order is not necessary in order for an agent to act at all.

When: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SQH 1105

The PHLING Reading Group will meet 5 -7 PM in MMH 1108b.  

When: Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, October 23, 2013

 The group meets every other Wednesday at 5:30 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The social choice reading group meets every other week on Wednesday morning in Chirs's office to discuss foundational issues in Social Choice Theory. 

When: Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The meeting takes place every other week, noon - 2 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
The Epistemic Value of Diversity

The "wisdom of crowds" effect has recently garnered a lot of attention from researchers in a variety of disciplines. The effect is that "group judgements" can be surprisingly accurate––even more accurate than the judgements of the people in the group. Psychologists, economists and many other researchers have noticed that the wisdom of crowds depends crucially on group diversity. But how important is diversity exactly? How should we measure it? And how does it affect the wisdom of crowds? This talk will present an overview of some recent research that tries to address these questions.

When: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 5:00pm - 6:30pm
Where: 2109 Tydings Hall

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, October 17, 2013

The meetings will take place every other Thursday, 12 - 1 PM.

When: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Justifying Using a Weighted Lottery on Scanlon's Account of Contractualism

If you were forced to choose between saving one or ten other strangers in a lifeboat from certain death, which would you choose? Most people believe that one should save the lifeboat with the greater number of lives. However, many moral theorists have argued that the best deontological theory in town, Scanlon’s contractualism, is incapable of justifying this verdict.

On Scanlon’s account, a rescuer must decide whether to adopt a principle that favors saving the greater number of lives on the basis of the comparative strength of the sets of objections that we can expect to be posed by each person. However, since each person has an equally forceful complaint against the rescuer adopting a principle that does not save his or her life, no one’s objection is stronger than any other. Scanlon’s account gives us no guidance about what to do in the lifeboat scenario. It seems that we are left with making a decision by flipping a coin or holding a weighted lottery, both of which Scanlon rejects. As an alternative, he offers the “balancing view,” which demands that the person in the one-person lifeboat has her interests balanced against one person on the opposing side; those that are not balanced out in the larger group are used as tiebreakers. The balancing view entails that we must save the lifeboat with the larger group from certain death.

I argue that the balancing view is inconsistent with other core tenets of Scanlon’s contractualism and that his account obligates us to use a weighted lottery to figure out who should be saved.

When: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1116

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Meetings take place  every  Wednesday, 6pm in Skinner 1112.  

When: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Constraints on Statistical Learning in Infancy

Statistical learning is the process of identifying patterns of probabilistic co-occurrence among stimulus features, essential to our ability to perceive the world as predictable and stable. Research on auditory statistical learning has revealed that infants use statistical properties of linguistic input to discover structure, including sound patterns, words, and the beginnings of grammar, that may facilitate language acquisition. Previous research on visual statistical learning revealed abilities to discriminate probabilities in visual patterns, leading to claims of a domain-general learning device that is available early in life, perhaps at birth. More recent research, however, challenges this view. Visual statistical learning appears to be constrained by limits in infants' attention and memory, raising the possibility that statistical learning, like rule learning, may be best characterized as domain-specific. Implications for theories of cognitive development will be discussed.

When: Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, October 10, 2013
On the Epigenesis of the Aesthetic Mind: The Sense of Beauty from Survival to Supervenience

What is the origin and meaning of our aesthetic sense? Is it genetically encoded or is it culturally inherited? The aim of this essay is to answer to such issues by defining the emergent and meta-functional character of the aesthetic attitude. First, I propose to include desire, somewhat controversially, in the free play of the cognitive faculties at the heart of Kant's Critique of Judgment. This step is justified, in part, by a brief analysis of Darwin's controversial remarks on the pre-human birth of aesthetics and its relationship with sexual selection (§§ 1-2). The point of discontinuity between a mere animal aesthetic sense and a proto-human one is then found in becoming indeterminate of desire and in the correlative diversification of aesthetic attractors (§§ 3-4). I next deal with the supervenience character of the aesthetic and its anticipatory value. After giving a short genealogy of the notion of supervenience, I then develop its affinity with that of epigenesis (§§ 5-6). What then follows is a critical review of two contemporary evolutionary perspectives on aesthetics: T. Deacon's essay on the "aesthetic faculty" and J. Tooby and L. Cosmides thesis concerning the evolutionary meaning of aesthetic-fictional activities (§§ 7-8). My concluding section attempts to say, in light of the foregoing discussion, what the epigenesis of the aesthetic mind consists in (§§ 9-10).

When: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SYM 0215

The PHLING Reading Group will meet 5 -7 PM in MMH 1108b.  

When: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

 The group meets every other Wednesday at 5:30 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The meeting takes place every other week, noon - 2 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, October 3, 2013

The meetings will take place every other Thursday, 12 - 1 PM.

When: Thursday, October 3, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
When is an example a counterexample?

In this talk, I will carefully examine purported counterexamples to two postulates of iterated belief revision. I will show that the examples are better seen as a failure to apply the theory of belief revision in sufficient detail rather than a counterexample to the postulates. More generally, I will focus on the observation that it is often unclear whether a specific example is a “genuine” counterexample to an abstract theory or a misapplication of that theory to a concrete case, at what this means for a normative theory of belief revision.

This talk is based on joint work with Paul Pedersen (Max Plank Institute) and Jan-Willem Romeijn (Groningen University).

When: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Skinner 1116
Costs and benefits of cognitive control for language processing

There is no doubt that cognitive control and language processing are intertwined: Prefrontal cortical regions that support the ability to resolve competition between multiple, incompatible representations are recruited for both language production and language comprehension. In this talk, I will explore a somewhat less intuitive hypothesis, namely that cognitive control has both benefits and costs for language processing. After introducing the motivation for this hypothesis, I will provide evidence from three experiments in which we manipulated frontally-mediated cognitive control processes using noninvasive brain stimulation (transcranial direct current stimulation; TDCS) and observed the consequences for different aspects of language processing. I will present results from one experiment that shows a benefit of cognitive control (a categorization task), a second that shows a cost of cognitive control (a different categorization task), and a third that shows both costs and benefits (a word production task).

When: Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103

The reading group will meet every Thursday, 11 AM -1 PM in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Normative Uncertainty and Subjective Oughts

There is some sense of "ought" in which what an agent ought to do depends on her epistemic state--e.g., such that she ought to take whatever she justifiably regards as the best available course of action. Oughts of this kind are closely connected to action-guidance, since unlike "objective oughts" which are epistemic state-invariant, they seem to be epistemically accessible to agents under most circumstances. I argue, however, that under some conditions (namely, conditions of normative uncertainty) there may be no interesting species of oughts to which agents have epistemic access. This constitutes a challenge for any theory of rational choice that aims to provide agents with all-things-considered action guidance.

When: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Susquehanna 1105

The social choice reading group will meet at 9:30 AM to discuss Scanlon's "The moral basis of interpersonal comparisons".  

When: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The PHLING Reading Group will meet 5 -7 PM in MMH 1108b.  

When: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The group will meet at noon in the Philosophy Library. 

When: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The meeting takes place every other week, noon - 2 PM in the Philosophy Library.

When: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
A Puzzle About the Conceivability of Humans Without Experience

A central premise of Chalmers’ anti-materialism argument claims that we can conceive of a possible world where we hold fixed all physical facts but exclude certain phenomenological facts from obtaining. In this paper, I argue that attempting to conceive of such a scenario poses a puzzle: If, in this possible world, Roger lacks any phenomenal properties, this, itself, is a physical fact, in the same way that wood and coal lack phlogiston is a physical fact. But since both worlds share physical facts, this must be true at the actual world. But by hypothesis, Roger has phenomenal properties. Hence, the puzzle. I anticipate resistance to the idea that Roger lacking phenomenal properties is a physical fact, and address some possible (and actual) objections. However, independently of this issue, I argue that the conceivability premise is entirely question-begging.

When: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SKN 1116
Introducing the Inheritance Heuristic

In this talk, I will first introduce the proposal that human reasoning relies on an inherence heuristic, an implicit cognitive process that leads people to explain the patterns observed in the world in terms of the inherent features of their constituents. I will then provide evidence for this proposal, evidence that suggests the inherence heuristic is an automatic process that exerts a ubiquitous influence on how we make sense of the world. Its influence is detectable even in the first few years of life, as indicated by the developmental studies I will present. In the second part of the talk, I will argue that the inherence heuristic may be at the root of several other phenomena of great interest to cognitive and social scientists. In particular, I will highlight, and provide evidence for, the links between the inherence heuristic and (1) psychological essentialism (the common belief that natural and social categories are underlain by hidden, causally powerful “essences”) and (2) system justification (the tendency to believe that one’s sociopolitical system is fair, natural, and legitimate). In sum, this talk will illuminate a cognitive process that emerges early in life and has profound effects on many aspects of human psychology.

When: Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: Bioscience Research Building 1103
Seeing General Truths in Particular Diagrams: the Angle-Sum Theorem

The argument set out in this talk is part of a larger defense of what I call the diagram-based view: This is the view that we can come to grasp certain mathematical truths by perceiving spatial relations in suitable visual diagrams. The diagram-based view thus maintains that there is a distinctive visual route to genuine mathematical knowledge (for at least some nontrivial body of mathematics). Here I focus on one of the most forceful challenges to the diagram-based view, the particularity problem, and on the specific theorem with which this problem is usually associated: the angle-sum theorem, an elementary truth of Euclidean plane geometry. The problem is this: Even granting that the diagram allows us to see that the result holds for the particular triangle depicted, how could perception of the diagram ever warrant the judgment that the theorem is true in the general case, that is, for any triangle whatsoever? I consider both historical and contemporary solutions to the particularity problem, and conclude that none are satisfactory. I then provide a novel solution, arguing that we can indeed see that the angle-sum theorem holds in general, by perceiving the diagram in a way that is animated by the combined application of two different kinds of ‘dynamic’ visual imagery.

When: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 3:30pm
Where: SYM 0215

The first meeting for the interdisciplinary research group PHLING meets  in MMH1108B,  5:00 - 6:00 PM. 

When: Wednesday, September 11, 2013

There will be a beginning-of-the-year party at the home of Jerry Levinson near campus on the evening of Saturday September 7, from 7 to 11 PM.

When: Saturday, September 7, 2013
Self and Other in the Split-brain Subject

This talk will concern self-reference in split-brain subjects. A number of philosophers have argued that the left and right hemisphere of a split-brain subject are associated with distinct thinkers and subjects of experience. Few have explicitly addressed how, then, self-conscious thought works in such subjects: who or what are the two hemisphere systems thinking about, when each tries to think self-consciously? I will argue that even if the two hemispheres are associated with distinct minds, agents, and streams of consciousness, there is something about the operation of self-conscious thought in split-brain subjects that makes each such subject like any one of us, in an interesting psychological sense.

When: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 2:00pm
Where: Skinner 1116

After the faculty meeting at 3:30 PM, there is a reception for the new graduate students in the Philosophy Lounge at 5:30 PM.

When: Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Orientation for new doctoral students will take place in the Philosophy Lounge at 3:30 PM. 

When: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Democracy without Stupidity

In modern democracies, political representatives often must use several different conflicting considerations when making policy decisions. I focus on two such considerations that are commonly thought to be in direct conflict: responsiveness to the wishes of the public and a commitment to do what is in the best interests of the public. Because the public is often mistaken about the likely outcomes of their preferred policies, if representatives commit themselves to being responsive to the wishes of the public then there will be many cases in which they cannot do what is in the best interests of the public (and vice versa). Additionally, the policy preferences of the public are often unstable or dependent upon the views of political elites. However, many theories of democratic governance (especially those in the American tradition) maintain that political responsiveness is key to political legitimacy. Therefore, it is not satisfactory to simply ignore the policy preferences of the public. I argue that this seeming dilemma can be reconciled if we model the wishes of the public in terms of preferences over possible policies and the interests of the public in terms of preferences over possible outcomes of those policies. Consequently, policy choices can be made taking into account both explicit policy preferences (wishes) and outcome preferences (interests). Although such a model substantially simplifies policy decisions, it requires that preferences over policies and outcomes be describable by interpersonally comparable cardinal utility measures. I hint at what such measures might be like and show that this has important implications for public opinion polling methodology.

When: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
What can we learn from time-traveling quantum computers?

Over the last several decades, a new strategy for attempting to understand quantum mechanics has emerged: analyzing the theory in terms of what quantum mechanical systems can do. This information-theoretic approach to the interpretation of quantum mechanics characterizes the difference between the quantum world and the classical world by delineating what kinds of classically impossible computations and communication protocols can be achieved by exploiting quantum effects.

This approach has opened up a potential avenue for synthesizing quantum mechanics with a particular aspect of general relativity: the possible existence of closed timelike curves (CTCs). A CTC is a path through spacetime along which a system can travel, which will lead it to its own past. David Deutsch (1991) developed the first quantum computational model with negative time-delayed information paths, which is intended to give a quantum mechanical analysis of the behavior of CTCs.

However, Deutsch's model is controversial because it entails certain effects that ordinary quantum mechanics rules out as impossible. Exactly how to adjudicate this conflict has been debated in the recent literature. In my paper, I will detail a protocol that generates one of these disputed effects. The example I’ll focus on shows how a CTC-assisted quantum computational circuit can be used for the instantaneous transmission of information between two spatially separated observers, which is impossible according to ordinary quantum mechanics

I will consider an argument by Cavalcanti et al. (2012) which purports to show that the protocol must fail. I will argue that this position is not well justified. The argument the authors explicitly give for their view is based upon a misinterpretation of the special theory of relativity, and the most plausible justifications they would offer instead are weak enough that we should consider the possibility of the instantaneous transmission of information to be an open question.

When: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
The Wisdom of Crowds: Can Collective Credences be Wise?

How many words are in this abstract? If you had to guess, without counting, you would probably get pretty close to the true number. However, if you and your friends all made guesses, the average of your guesses would likely be better than your typical guess. This is an example of the so-called Wisdom of Crowds effect.

The effect is surprisingly reliable — for example, the "Ask the Audience" lifeline on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? has a 95% success rate. This seems to cry out for an explanation, especially given how irrational collectives can be — think: committee decisions, tulip prices, and rioting football fans. Scott Page (2008) has made some initial progress on this question with what he calls the Diversity Prediction Theorem. Roughly speaking, the theorem shows that if a collective is diverse, then its collective judgements are guaranteed to be better than the typical individual judgements. So it would seem that we have an explanation for the Wisdom of Crowds effect and its reliability: it's a mathematical necessity.

Not quite. For the theorem to have any explanatory power, it needs to be supplemented with bridge principles that connect the theorem to the explanandum. I will tease out these principles and show that they have some serious defects. An interesting consequence of these defects is that it appears to be impossible for there to be a Wisdom of Crowds effect for collective credences — i.e., averaged degrees of belief. However, after developing a Bayesian interpretation of Socrates' thoughts on wisdom (from the Apology), I will argue that collective credences are the only collective judgements that can be genuinely wise.

(In case you're still guessing: there are 286 words in this abstract, including these ones.)

When: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Framing Event Variables

Sentences like (1) present familiar puzzles for the familiar idea that declarative sentences of a natural language have truth conditions. The first numbered sentence in 'Framing Event Variables' is false.
Action reports like (2) and (3), which might be used to describe a scene in which two chipmunks chased each other, illustrate other (perhaps even harder) puzzles for this idea.

Alvin chased Theodore gleefully and athletically but not skillfully.
Theodore chased Alvin gleelessly and unathletically but skillfully.

I'll argue against various (broadly Davidsonian) attempts to reconcile intuitions regarding (2) and (3) with the claim that these sentences have truth conditions. In my view, the puzzles reflect deep "framing effects"--of the sort that Kahneman and Tversky made famous, though my central example is due to Thomas Schelling. If this is the right of diagnosis of the puzzles regarding sentences like (2) and (3), then I think we need a conception of linguistic meaning according to which sentence meanings *do not* determine truth conditions, not even relative to contexts. And as it happens, I've been peddling such a conception for a while now: it's better to think of meanings as instructions for how to build concepts, which might be used (when conditions allow) to form truth-evaluable judgments in contexts.
With commentary from Georges Rey!

When: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Multilevel Mechanisms of Evolutionary Change

Theodosius Dobzhansky in his1937 Genetics and the Origin of Species claimed that "the mechanisms of evolution as seen by a geneticist" consist of mechanisms at three levels. This multilevel analysis still captures the key mechanisms of evolutionary change. First, mechanisms produce the variations that are the raw material for change, including mutation mechanisms of imperfect copying of DNA (including repair mechanisms), as well as larger scale chromosomal changes and recombination. The second level includes mechanisms that change populations, genotypically and phenotypically. The most important is the mechanism of natural selection, which is the only known mechanism for producing adaptations. In the natural selection mechanism, the crucial joint activities of variant organisms and a critical environmental factor produce populational changes in subsequent generations. Finally, isolating mechanisms give rise to new species that are reproductively isolated from previous conspecifics. This paper argues that natural selection is, indeed, a mechanism (despite recent claims to the contrary) and places the natural selection mechanism into the context of the multilevel mechanisms of evolutionary change.

When: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Descriptions and Comparison Semantics of 'want'

One of the problems for Russell's quantificational analysis of definite descriptions is that it generates unattested readings in the context of non-doxastic attitude verbs such as want. The Fregean-Strawsonian presuppositional analysis is designed to overcome such shortcomings of Russell’s quantificational analysis while keeping its virtues. Anders J. Schoubye (forthcoming), however, criticizes the Fregean-Strawsonian solution to the problem of non-doxastic attitude verbs as being inadequate by generalizing the problem to indefinite descriptions. Schoubye claims that the generalized problem calls for a radical revision of the semantics of definite and indefinite descriptions, and he attempts to develop a dynamic semantic account of descriptions. In this paper I defend the standard non-dynamic semantics of descriptions by refuting Schoubye’s objections to the Fregean-Strawsonian analysis. I argue that, once we take into account Elizabeth Villalta's (2008) recent analysis of non-doxastic attitude verbs, we can solve Schoubye's generalized problem concerning descriptions.

When: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
The Possibility of a Naturalistic Cartesianism Regarding Intuitions and Introspection

Introspection and certain sorts of “intuitionsâ€ù have been regarded by “Cartesiansâ€ù as a peculiarly reliable source of evidence in linguistics, psychology and traditional philosophy. This reliability has been called into question by a number of different “anti-Cartesiansâ€ù in the last decade, specifically by Michael Devitt with regard to linguistic intuitions, and Peter Carruthers with regard to introspection. I defend here the possibility of a moderate Cartesianism about both phenomena, more critical than the traditional approach, and open to empirical confirmation in a way that anti- Cartesians have not sufficiently appreciated. Briefly: our intuitions and introspections are reliable insofar as they are the casual consequence of internal representations that are produced by a specific competence whose properties they are then reasonably taken to reflect.
With commentary by Paul Pietroski.

When: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Human Nature in a Post-Essentialist World

In this paper I examine a well-known articulation of human nature skepticism, a paper by Hull (1986). I then review a recent reply to Hull by Machery (2008), which argues for what he claims is an account of human nature that is both useful and scientifically robust. I show that Machery’s account of human nature, though it successfully avoids Hull’s criticisms, is not very useful and is scientifically suspect. Finally, I introduce an alternative account of human nature—the “life-history trait clusterâ€ù conception of human nature—which I hold is scientifically sound, pragmatically useful, and makes sense of (at least some of) our intuitions about—and desiderata for—human (or, more generally, species) nature. The desiderata that it satisfies are that human nature should (1) be the empirically accessible (and thus not based on occult essences) subject of the human (psychological, anthropological, economic, biological, etc.) sciences, (2) help clarify related concepts like innateness, naturalness, and inevitability, which are associated with human nature, and (3) characterize human uniqueness.

When: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Immoral Jokes

This paper concerns the ethics of humor. More specifically, it is concerned with a certain category of jokes that can be labeled immoral jokes. I claim that such jokes exist, and that many of them are funny despite being immoral; that is to say, their immorality does not wholly undermine their humorousness, and may even somehow contribute to it. So a first task of the paper is to say what a joke’s being funny or humorous roughly amounts to. A second and more important task is to say what it is for a joke to be immoral, or what may come to the same thing, pernicious . But a third task will be to decide what attitude or behavior is appropriate to such jokes in light of their immorality, and whether their total proscription is justified, or even humanly possible.

When: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Bananaworld: Quantum Mechanics for Primates

This is intended to be a serious talk, in spite of the title. The idea is that quantum mechanics is about probabilistic correlations, i.e., about the structure of information, since a theory of information is essentially a theory of probabilistic correlations. To make this clear, it suffices to consider measurements of two binary-valued observables performed by Alice in a region A and by Bob in a separated region B -- or, to emphasize the banality of the phenomena, two ways of peeling a banana, resulting in one of two tastes. The imagined bananas of Bananaworld are non-standard, with probabilistic correlations for peelings and tastes that cannot be simulated by Alice and Bob if they are restricted to classical resources. The conceptually puzzling features of quantum mechanics are generic features of such nonclassical correlations. As far as the conceptual problems of quantum mechanics are concerned, we might as well talk about bananas.

When: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Shared Intentionality and the State of Nature: Punitive Sentiment in the Psychology of Cooperation

The shared intentionality hypothesis aims to explain the evolution and psychology of human cooperation, but it lacks the means to deal with the free-rider problem. To resolve thisproblem, I propose that the shared intentionality hypothesis can be supplemented with an account of how punitive sentiment in humans evolved as a psychological mechanism for strong reciprocity. Supplementing the shared intentionality hypothesis in this manner affords us additional insight into the normative nature of human cooperation.

When: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Virtue, Correction, and Constraint

I begin with the following moral dilemma: we are inclined to say that the harder an agent finds it to act virtuously the more virtue she shows if she does act well, but we are also inclined to say that the harder an agent finds it to act virtuously the more it shows how imperfect in virtue she is. I argue that this dilemma is the result of a deeper conflict between conceiving of morality as a corrective constraint on immoral temptations and conceiving of morality as consisting in being a good human. I am concerned with whether, conceiving of morality as being a good human, we might still accommodate our deep-seated intuition that morality is both “correctiveâ€ù and “constrainingâ€ù. I give Philippa Foot’s account of virtue as a largely successful attempt to do justice to our inclination toward conceiving of morality as both corrective and constraining, but I ultimately find it lacking since it fails to capture the considered belief that morality can be a corrective constraint on one’s individual moral deficiencies. Improving upon Foot’s account of virtue, I posit the existence of intermediate virtues that would not be possessed by the ideally virtuous person, but are nonetheless essential to becoming an ideally virtuous person.

When: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Vision for Action and Perception: Are These Two Functions of Vision So Distinct?

David Milner and Melvyn Goodale's (1995, 2006, 2008) influential dual visual systems hypothesis (DVSH) proposes a functional description of the two main cortical visual pathways in the primate brain. The dorsal stream processes fast, accurate, and egocentrically-specified visual information for the fine-grained implementation of skilled, online motor control. The ventral stream is thought to process slow, “inaccurateâ€ù, and allocentrically-specified visual information that supports the recognition and identification of objects and events, and other forms of visual processing associated with conscious visual experience. This functional gloss presupposes that vision for action employs quite different visual information from “vision for perceptionâ€ù. I argue that the type of information employed by motor systems will generally be task sensitive and can, contra Milner and Goodale, recruit “scene-basedâ€ù spatial information. Furthermore, vision for perception is not coded in allocentric and it is, at best, misleading to conceive of the spatial information underlying this type of vision as “inaccurateâ€ù.

When: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Prioritarianism and the Measure of Utility

Here I present a challenge to prioritarianism, which is, in Derek Parfit's words, the view that "we have stronger reasons to benefit people the worse off these people are." We have such reasons simply by virtue of the fact that a person's utility "has diminishing marginal moral importance". In discussions of prioritarianism, it is typically left unspecified what constitutes a greater, lesser, or equal improvement in a person's utility. I shall argue that this view cannot be assessed in such abstraction from an account of the measure of utility. In particular, prioritarianism cannot accommodate the widely accepted and normatively compelling measure of utility that is implied by the axioms of John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern's expected utility theory. Nor can it accommodate plausible and elegant generalizations of this theory that have been offered in response to challenges to von Neumann and Morgenstern. This is, I think, a theoretically interesting and unexpected source of difficulty for prioritarianism, which I shall explore in the paper.

When: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Modality Difference in Writing and Sign Language

Natural language exists in different modalities: spoken, written, signed or brailled. Although there is ample evidence showing that languages in different modalities exhibit rather different structures, there is a ‘glottocentric bias’ among theorists, i.e. sound is central, if not essential to language. Speech is usually considered to be the primary linguistic modality, while other modalities are taken to be a surface perceptual differences only occur at the interfaces of the language faculty and the perceptual system (e.g. sign language). Theorists in general think explanations for the facts about linguistic structures in spoken language can be generalized to other modalities. Many linguists (e.g. Chomsky, Bromberger etc.) have utilized the features of spoken language observed to draw inferences about the nature of the human language faculty. The principles that govern spoken language also govern linguistic phenomena in other modalities. In this talk, I will argue that the traditional picture of taking spoken language as the primary modality to understand other modalities of language is probably mistaken. I propose to look at the written and spoken modalities of logographic languages like Chinese (written and spoken), and also compare the syllable structures of speech to sign language. With respect to Chinese language, I will show that there are cases in which meanings cannot be disambiguated only by analyzing the spoken sounds, but rather we need to look at the written words, I argue that there might be different procedures of mapping forms of different modalities to meanings. As for sign language, I argue that the so-called ‘syllable structure’ in sign language exhibit rather different structure from that of spoken language, and the difference might be at the linguistic rather than merely at the perceptual level.

When: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 4:00pm
Where: Skinner 1115
Relative Modalities and Chance

I challenge a recent attempt by Antony Eagle to defend the possibility of deterministic chance. Eagle argues that statements of the form '$x$ has a (non-trivial) chance to $\varphi$' are equivalent in common usage (and in their truth-conditions) to those of the form '$x$ can $\varphi$'. The effect of this claim on the debate about the compatibility of (non-trivial) chances with a deterministic world seems to be relatively straightforward. If '$x$ has a chance to $\varphi$' is equivalent to '$x$ can $\varphi$' and statements of the form '$x$ can $\varphi$' are able to be truthfully uttered in a deterministic world, then statements of the form '$x$ has a chance to $\varphi$' are also able to be truthfully uttered in such a world. Drawing upon the work of Angelika Kratzer and David Lewis, Eagle shows how our best semantic theories allow statements of the form '$x$ can $\varphi$' to be truthfully uttered in deterministic worlds. Under the assumption that the truth-makers of statements like '$x$ has a chance to $\varphi$' are objective chances, compatibilism about chance seems to follow. I argue, however, that we have reasons independent of the debate about compatibilism about chance to reject a semantic theory that yields the sort of results Eagle claims for the Kratzer-Lewis account. If we make the necessary modifications to our semantic theory, however, then compatibilism about chance follows only, if at all, with great difficulty.

When: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
Incomplete Mario and Impossible Zelda: The Special Problem of Interactive Fiction

When engaging with a work of fiction one task we must accomplish is determining what is true of the fictional world described by the work. Fictions prescribe particular authorized games of make-believe. It is a challenging task to determine which fictional truths are prescribed by a fiction even when dealing with paradigms of fiction such as literature and film. Inconsistencies and incomplete aspects threaten to make such fictional worlds deeply problematic, seeming to prescribe impossible or incoherent imaginings about the fictional worlds. Kendall Walton has pointed out a set of principles of generation for fictional truths that serve as helpful guides in determining such truths and assuaging apparent problems. Videogames however present a unique problem in the generation of fictional truths due to their interactivity. The question is what games of make-believe does any particular videogame prescribe and authorize for those who interact with it? In this paper I will present the main difficulties facing such a task, namely the special problem of fiction in videogames, examine extant principles and the work they do, what particular understanding of the principles is helpful while considering interactivity, and finally propose an understanding of how fictional truths are generated in videogames that is in line with Walton's general project and that resolves the initially troubling inconsistencies.

When: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
Rescuing Propensities for Mechanistic Explanation in the Life Sciences

Propensity interpretations of objective probability have been plagued by many serious objections since their origin with Karl Popper (1957). In this talk, I attempt to offer a novel way of understanding propensity such that, in certain contexts, these problems go away. I call this approach, mechanistic propensity. The central claim is this: in cases where stochastic biological phenomena are the result of underlying mechanisms, propensities can be understood as properties of these mechanisms. I suggest that this (localized) account of propensity, if successful, enjoys several benefits that traditional accounts have lacked. Mechanistic propensities (1) aren't deeply mysterious (2) can explain frequencies, (3) are capable of accommodating single-case probabilities, (4) can cohere with determinism (both local and global), (5) avoid being too modal for science, and (6) seem not to face the reference class problem.

When: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
Fodor's Asymmetric Dependency Account and Signal Detection

Representations and their contents are a core explanatory posit in both philosophy of mind and cognitive science; however, research in these fields has largely progressed independent of each other. On the one hand, philosophers are critical of theories and models in cognitive science that are already couched in intentional or representational terms and hence fail to provide non-circular analyses of content. On the other, philosophical theories have largely been developed based on a priori reflection, and fail to make testable predictions or claims that would be of interest to cognitive scientists. I lay out how one might begin to overcoming both theoretical weaknesses, by marrying a well-known theory of content in philosophy, Fodor's asymmetric dependency account, to a well-known framework in empirical psychology, signal detection theory (SDT). Fodor's theory has the advantage of being (arguably) non-circular, while SDT is fundamental to many statistical and theoretical models in cognitive science. In particular, I lay out how Fodor's theory can be re-formulated using SDT, thus suggesting how philosopher's theories of content can be made empirical. I then gesture at how one might keep the re-formulated theory from becoming circular.

When: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
Passage, Identity, and Prudence

Prior (1959) and others have argued that the widely shared preference for future wellbeing over past wellbeing (the preference that unpleasant experiences be located in one's past, and pleasant experiences in one's future) provides decisive evidence in favor of the A-theory of time (which holds that time objectively passes). The B-theory, which does away with passage, seems challenged to explain why it is rational to care more about one's future than one's past, if one is not 'moving towards' the future and 'away from' the past. I argue, with the passage theorist, that the stock B-theoretic responses to this problem have been unconvincing. But I then defend two additional claims: first, that the A-theorist's case has in fact been understated, in that the B-theory undermines not just the asymmetric concern for one's future over one's past, but also the belief that one has any genuinely self-interested stake in the wellbeing of one's 'past/future selves' at all; but, second, there is no compelling reason to regard our (albeit enormously strong) A-theoretic intuitions on these questions as veridical, and that the B-theorist can give a plausible deflationary explanation that renders them almost wholly non-evidential. I conclude, therefore, that while the problem of time-asymmetric preferences offers no compelling reason to adopt either theory of time, it does raise the stakes of the debate by showing that the B-theory, if correct, would demand a fundamental reordering of ordinary intuitions regarding the nature of our mental lives and the foundations of prudential rationality.

When: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
If You Must Do Confirmation Theory, Do it This Way

In this talk I begin to draw together, and package into a coherent philosophical position, a number of ideas that in the last 25 years I have alluded to, or sometimes stated explicitly, concerning the properties and the merits of the measure of deductive dependence $q(c | a)$ of one proposition c on another proposition a; that is, the measure to which the (deductive) content of c is included within the content of a. At an intuitive level the function $q$ is not easily distinguished from the logically interpreted probability function p that may, in finite cases, be defined from it by the formula $p(a | c) = q(c' | a')$, where the accent represents negation, and indeed in many applications the numerical values of $p(c | a)$ and $q(c | a)$ may not differ much. But the epistemological value of the function $q$, I shall maintain, far surpasses that of the probability function p, and discussions of empirical confirmation would be much illuminated if $p$ were replaced by $q$. Each of $q(c | a)$ and $p(c | a)$ takes its maximum value 1 when $c$ is a conclusion validly deduced from the assumption $a$, and each provides a generalization of the relation of deducibility. But the conditions under which $q$ and $p$ take their minimum value 0 are quite different. It is well known that if $a$ and $c$ are mutual contraries, then $p(c | a) = 0$, and that this condition is also necessary if $p$ is regular. Equally, if $a$ and $c$ are subcontraries ($a \vee c$ is a logical truth) then $q(c | a) = 0$, and this condition is also necessary if $p$ is regular. It follows that $q(c | a)$ may exceed 0 when $a$ and $c$ are mutually inconsistent. The function $q$ is therefore not a degree of belief (unless a positive degree of belief is possible in a hypothesis that contradicts the evidence). But that does not mean that $q$ may not be a good measure of degree of confirmation. Evidence nearly always contradicts (but not wildly) some of the hypotheses in whose support it is adduced.The falsificationist, unlike the believer in induction, is interested in hypotheses $c$ for which $q(c | a)$ is low; that is, hypotheses whose content extends far beyond the evidence. I shall provide an economic argument (reminiscent of the Dutch Book argument) to demonstrate that $q(c | a)$ measures the rate at which the value of the hypothesis c should be discounted in the presence of the evidence $a$.

When: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
A Humean-Classical Account of Objective Chance

Two projects are pursued in this paper. First, a new account of objective chance (Humean-Classical Chance) is presented that is Humean in kind, but distinguishes itself from other Humean accounts of objective chance by dispensing with any Best Systems Analysis, and by appealing to a Principle-of-Indifference-like assumption, as opposed to frequentism. Second, by being central to the functioning of the account presented, the minimum average code length interpretation of entropy that was developed by C.E. Shannon is explored. A frank assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of Humean-Classical Chance is also provided, largely in the interest of further illuminating what can and cannot be done with the minimum average code length interpretation of entropy.

When: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
Innateness and Explanatory Context

Claims that certain traits are innate abound in the biological and cognitive sciences. Having legs is said to be an innate trait for frogs (and many other species), and the capacity to learn a language is said to be innate for humans. These claims appear to be intended as explanatory statementsÑthe fact that a trait is innate is meant to perform some work towards explaining things that we would like our biological and cognitive theories to explain. But what exactly are the explananda of innateness claims? Do innateness claims seek to explain instances of particular traits emerging in individuals? Or are they aimed at explaining the existence of commonalities or differences in a population (such as a species)? Or perhaps both of these? Is there any one thing that innateness claims are meant to explain across the different scientific disciplines in which they occur, or does innateness mean different things in different domains? In this talk I examine the explanatory role of innateness claims across a range of contexts and offer the following two tentative conclusions: (i) innateness claims are best construed as providing only individual-level (rather than population-level) explanations; and (ii) the explananda of innateness claims differ from context to context, owing to both theoretical and pragmatic considerations. Thus, I argue, there is no one thing that innateness means across all scientific contexts. In particular, the notion of innateness that is generally most useful in cognitive science differs from any of the notions that might be useful in biological contexts.

When: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
Three Grades of Decision Theoretic Involvement (in Semantics)

There has been a lot of interest in how to derive some broadly decision theoretic verdicts concerning deontic modalities and their interactions with conditionals. It is easy to argue that a traditional Kratzer-style premise-semantics needs some revisions in order to get these facts right. The difficulty is how to develop a semantic theory that gets those facts while remaining, as much as possible, 'ethically neutral'. In this talk, I investigate, three ways of going beyond the traditional Kratzer-style premise-semantics. Each successive grade makes more serious use of decision-theoretic machinery.At Grade I, we add sets of mutually exclusive alternatives ('decision problems'). Cariani, Kaufmann and Kaufmann (CKK) developed a version of Kratzer-semantics within the confines of Grade I: I will summarize that proposal, and defend it from some objections, but I will also flag some reasons to go beyond it.At Grade II, we add probabilities to the mix, so that our raw materials are an ordering source, a decision problem, and a probability space (in Yalcin's sense). This is, in my view, the best grade to work at. The core of my talk consists in spelling out the details and benefits of my favorite Grade II semantics.At Grade III, we have decision problems, probabilities and utilities: at this stage we inevitably cross the line and end up with an ethically compromised theory. I will argue we should not go this far.

When: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
Functionalism and the Independence Problems

The independence problems for functionalism stem from the worry that functional properties that are defined in terms of their causes and effects are not sufficiently independent of those purported causes and effects. I distinguish three different ways the independence problems can be filled out in terms of necessary connections, conceptual connections and vacuous explanations. I argue that none of these present serious problems. Instead, they bring out some important and over-looked features of functionalism.
The independence problems for functionalism stem from the worry that functional properties that are defined in terms of their causes and effects are not sufficiently independent of those purported causes and effects. I distinguish three different ways the independence problems can be filled out in terms of necessary connections, conceptual connections and vacuous explanations. I argue that none of these present serious problems. Instead, they bring out some important and over-looked features of functionalism.

When: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall
Modeling Deliberation in Games

Much of the work in traditional game theory is focused on the analysis of solution concepts (typical examples include the Nash equilibrium and its refinements or the various notions of iterated dominance). A solution concept is intended to represent the "rational" outcome of a strategic interactive situation. That is, it is what (ideally) rational players would do in the situation being modeled. This talk will focus on a key foundational question: How do the (rational or not-so rational) players decide what to do in a strategic situation? This has both a normative component (What are the normative principles that guide the players' decision making?) and a descriptive component (Which psychological phenomena best explain discrepancies between predicted and observed behavior in game situations?). This question directs our analysis to aspects of a strategic interactive situation that are not typically covered by standard game-theoretic models. Much of the work in game theory is focused on identifying the rational outcomes of an game-theoretic situation. This is in line with the standard view of a strategy as "general plan of action" describing what players (should) do when required to move according to the rules of the game. Recent work on epistemic game theory has demonstrated the importance of the "informational context" of a game situation in assessing the rationality of the players' choices. This naturally shifts the focus to the underlying *process* of deliberation that leads (rational) players to adopt certain plans of action.

When: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 4:00pm
Where: 1103 Taliaferro Hall