Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ends of Thought – Live in Europe!

The many regular readers of this blog who desperately need an excuse to go somewhere beautiful and close to the beach on September 7-9 can now rejoice: both of us will be presenting papers at SEFA 5, the Fifth Conference of the Spanish Society for Analytic Philosophy, in Barcelona (the conference is actually huge, so it features something exciting for almost everyone). In case just the thought of seeing how pretty and brilliant we are in person isn’t enough motivation to impulsively buy a ticket, I thought I’d shamelessly drop our abstracts for added appeal:

Michael Sigrist:

Does Empiricism Require Experience?
I critique the attempt, primarily in the work of Quine and Sellars, to establish an empiricism that dispenses with any necessary reference to experience. I define ‘experience’ as mental episodes (sensations, perceptions and cognitions) characterized essentially by a first-person, subjective point of view. I will refer to this understanding of experience as ‘phenomenological.’ Quine’s use of ‘stimulus meanings’ and Sellars’ psychological nominalism—to take just two examples—are precisely formulated to bypass any notion of ‘experience’ as just defined. I argue that such attempts are both falsely construed and falsely motivated. They are misconstrued in that the phenomenology of experience, though often underplayed, in fact performs an indispensable function both in Quine’s method of radical translation and in Sellars’ myth of Jones. They are falsely motivated in that allowing a phenomenological notion of experience back into their methods is not nearly so troubling for their respective empiricisms as Quine and Sellars seemed to fear. The result is a broadly Quinean or Sellarsian empiricism that nonetheless is able to accommodate the phenomenology of experience.

Roman Altshuler:

Freedom in the Ontology of Agency: A Reformulation and Defense of Korsgaard’s Argument

Christine Korsgaard has argued that in order to act for a reason, we must act on general self-chosen principles and, further, that acting on such principles and essentially creating our selves by identifying with them is a necessary condition for our being able to see ourselves as selves or agents. This view has struck many as unconvincing, and the standard libertarian objections are helpfully summarized by John Searle. He insists that Korsgaard conflates epistemic and ontological conditions of selfhood, that her argument makes it impossible to account for our ability to freely act capriciously, and finally that we cannot create our selves by identifying with general principles because a self is already presupposed in the adoption of those principles. I argue that we can best reconstruct Korsgaard’s account by accepting the first objection and focusing on the ontology of agency along Kantian lines while dropping the epistemological aspect. On this account an agent is defined not as someone necessarily committed to acting on principle, but as a being that is capable of acting on principles, since the ability to identify with at least some ends is clearly a necessary condition for being an agent. This modified account can address the problems of capricious action and the self presupposed in agency better than the libertarian view. Furthermore, by bringing freedom directly into the ontology of self-constitution rather than attaching it to agents as a property, this account combines the strengths of both libertarian and compatibilist approaches without their typical weaknesses.

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