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Hi folks,

This week at the Philosophy Club, Austin Sarfan will be giving a paper entitled: “The Root of Freedom in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception.
Here’s an abstract:
In Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, the phenomenon of “focusing,” that is, bringing an object from a background into a foreground, plays an essential role. This paper traces the implications of the phenomenon of focusing through an examination of its role in natural perception, personal life, and social life. Focusing transforms contingency into necessity because it “holds” the focused object as a kind of integral possession. That is, because we perceive the object at the end of our gaze as self-evident, it takes on aura of necessary presence. Merleau-Ponty argues that this phenomenon of perceived necessity generates, from actual experience, our conceptions of necessity, ideality, and even eternity, which sustain notions of human nature, social tradition, and even geometric shapes.
While conceptions of necessity and ideality give social and personal life a meaning, they can also be oppressive because they obscure other possibilities. Ultimately, in conceiving of freedom as an awareness of original contingency as opposed to universal necessity, I argue that the primordially ethical gesture is creation. In the creative moment, by demonstrating that one can “pass beyond” defined limits, others are brought face to face with their original freedom.
Thursday 2/27, 6-7PM, Stuart 209. There will be food.
Hope to see you there

Hi folks,

This week at the philosophy club, Colin Bradley will be giving a paper entitled “Brains, Causal Chains, and Self-Defeating Claims.”
Here is an abstract: Hilary Putnam thought that his externalist theory of reference had a neat consequence: a quick and easy argument against a certain form of the classic Cartesian Evil Demon skeptical problematic (in the modern clothing of a worry about brains in vats). The argument is roughly: “If you were a brain in a vat, you could not think or say that you were. But you can think and say it. So you aren’t a brain in a vat!” Needless to say this pithy argument has sparked a lot of misunderstanding and has mostly been dismissed for one reason or another. I will offer a much more detailed account of Putnam’s argument, and then take on some of the fiercest criticism against it. In particular I will focus on Putnam’s insistence that the brain in a vat ‘possibility’ is no possibility at all. I think this is right and that it contains some deep insights about language, conceptual mastery, and the limits of knowledge. I’ll try to show that positions to the contrary have fallen victim to an illusion of thought.
Thursday, 2/11, 6-7PM. Stuart 209. There will be food.

Hi folks,

This week at the philosophy club, Gabe Shapiro will be giving a paper entitled: 
The View from the Plato’s Symposium: A New Interpretation of the Socratic Elenchus 
Here is an abstract: 
Understandings of the Socratic Elenchus have typically been Constructivist or non-Constructivist. The former claim that Socrates takes himself to be presenting context-independent refutations theses put forward by the interlocutor while the latter hold that Socrates only ever takes himself to be demonstrating inconsistencies. In this paper I suggest a middle route, interlocutor-relative constructivism, according to which the interlocutor is more committed to the premises of the elenchus than to his original thesis. This account of the elenchus is constructive in two senses: 1) it can compel interlocutors to accept the falsity of their original thesis and 2) it can impart the capacity for correct reasoning to an interlocutor who does not see the possibility or the desirability of such reasoning. Understanding Socratic ‘proof’ as interlocutor-relative in this way will help solve Vlastos’s “Problem of the Elenchus.” This account of the elenchus is grounded in and deepened by the text of the Symposium.
Thursday, 2/6. Stuart 209. 6-7PM
Hope to see you there,

We’re back to our awesome series of undergraduate talks this week at the Philosophy Club


Julie Jung Huh will be giving a talk entitled:

What Does it Mean to Beg the Question?

Using the pop quiz paradox to examine how we should approach our knowledge when it is called into question.

(No student egos were harmed in the making of this paradox.)

Here’s an abstract:

What do we mean when we beg the question? There is an interesting discussion here  about the history of the English phrase that goes back to Aristotle, and for him, he points out that this fallacy (petito principii) is to assume the conclusion or assume the initial point, so as to argue wrongly that “P, therefore P.” For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to focus on this definition when we think about begging the question. A related question is one presented by Kripke in his “Two Paradoxes of Knowledge” from pages 39-45 (attached). (I’ve also attached my summary on this section for your reference.) In this paper, Kripke gives us his rendition of the Surprise Examination Paradox in the very beginning from pages 27-28. He uses this paradox to present a philosophically bigger paradox on knowledge: What does it mean for knowledge to persist overtime? In light of these two previous questions, ultimately I would like to uncover philosophically this question: What should we do when we’re presented with a new set of knowledge that calls into question the current knowledge we hold? For example, I know with great certainty that I was born in October, but if I am presented with a birth certificate that says I was not born in October, what should I do? How should I reason on whether or not I should accept or reject this new piece of evidence?

Here is some optional reading suggested by Julie. The first is an article by Saul Kripke, “On Two Paradoxes of Knowledge.” The second is a summary of the article by Julie (which is immensely helpful, by my lights!). If you don’t have time to read the article, try to at least take a glance at the summary.

Kripke – On Two Paradoxes of Knowledge

Summary of Kripke’s Second Paradox

As always, our meeting is in Harper 151 on Thursday (11/14), from 6:30-7:30


Hi folks,

Another exciting presentation at UPC this week!

Aaron Segal will be offering a presentation entitled “Two Readings of ‘Of Lordship and Bondage.'” Here is an abstract:

The dialectic of lordship and bondage plays a central role in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, describing the interaction of two “self-consciousnesses,” one independent (the lord) and one dependent (the bondsman). In the standard interpretation of this section, it outlines the interaction between two people, laying the groundwork for Hegel’s later discussion of society in general. Recently, however, John McDowell has argued for a radically different interpretation, in which the two self-consciousnesses refer to two sides of a single individual’s mind and the dialectic provides an account of how these sides come to understand themselves as part of the same self. In this presentation, I argue that the social and the individual readings share a common, unwarranted assumption, namely that the two readings are incompatible. Rather, I advocate reading the dialectic in both ways simultaneously. Reading the dialectic in such a dual manner allows us to more fully appreciate the significance of the section and vindicates many of Hegel’s frequently overlooked comments regarding the section’s meaning.

As always, our meeting will be held from 6:30-7:30 on Thursday (10/31) in Harper 151. Hope to see you there!

Hi folks,

Another exciting talk is lined up for UPC this week.

Flavio Cangemi will be work on his BA thesis entitled “A Complexity-Based Theory of Consciousness.”

Here is the abstract:

The demystification of consciousness is a cross-disciplinary endeavor that, according to some thinkers in this field, has struggled to produce a promising framework of inquiry. My project aims to approach the question of how consciousness arises–known as the mind-body problem–through an emergentist model of the mind. My work is informed by recent theoretical approaches in the field of complexity systems research, which is fundamentally concerned with the emergence of qualitatively distinct systemic properties from the interaction of lower-level components. This body of theory has the potential to move forward the philosophical debates associated with the mind-body problem while maintaining a scientifically rigorous foundation. Looking at the mind-body problem through the lens of complexity theory, therefore, would also augment the applicability of philosophical insights into this seminal problem within other disciplines.

And here is some (non-mandatory) reading material:


As usual, our meeting is in Harper 151 on Thursday (10/24) from 6:30-7:30. Hope to see you there!