Royal Institute of Philosophy Stapledon Colloquium 2019-20

School of the Arts Library

2 – 2.45pm: INSIGHTS Series

INSIGHTS is a new series of talks for postgraduates to accompany the Stapledon Colloquium. Join the Stapledon speaker and other postgraduates in the Library one hour before the Colloquium for an informal discussion of their paper and to find out about their research background and career. Gain INSIGHTS into the research context for the talk; INSIGHTS into writing & delivering a talk; INSIGHTS into building a research project & profile; INSIGHTS into academic life & different careers paths.

Open to all SOTA postgraduates. Tea and biscuits provided

3 – 5pm: Stapledon Seminar

The Stapledon Seminar Series features external speakers and members of the Liverpool department of Philosophy presenting current philosophical research. The seminars are free and all are welcome to attend. Tea and coffee are provided thanks to the generous support of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and the School of the Arts.

Read about Olaf Stapledon here.

For any organisational queries, contact Dr Vid Simoniti

Semester One
10 October 2019 Attila Tanyi, University of Tromsø

Consequentialism and Its demands: The Role of Institutions

Consequentialist morality imposes obligations on individuals that can be very demanding. Can this morality be so demanding that we have reason not to follow its dictates? According to many, it can. This paper takes the plausibility and coherence of this objection – the demandingness objection – as a given. Our question, therefore, is how to respond to the objection.

We put forward a response that we think has not received enough attention in the literature: institutional consequentialism. This is a consequentialist view that requires institutional systems, and not individuals, to follow the consequentialist principle. We first introduce the demandingness objection, then explain the theory of institutional consequentialism and how it responds to the objection. In doing so, we work out a twolevel version of institutional consequentialism, which we also defend against possible objections. We also provide a fitting account of institutions and put forward consequentialist grounds for endorsing an institutional – but not moral – division of labour.

In the remainder of the paper, we defend the resulting view against the objection that institutional consequentialism cannot alleviate worries about demandingness on the global level. Global issues such as poverty, peace, or the protection of the environment generate burdensome responsibilities, yet, there seem to be no global institutions to carry them out. It seems, then, that it is left to better-off individuals to devote most of their resources to humanitarian projects. We argue against this objection by showing that there are several global institutions that can be used for the purposes of fulfilling consequentialist requirements. In our current institutional world order including the state system as well as transnational institutions consequentialist demands on individuals are mitigated. Institutions that are sufficiently well functioning spread thin the burdens of compliance across a greater number of parties and reduce the burdens on those who are disposed to shoulder their share of the consequentialist task. They also reduce costs by clearly allocating responsibilities and coordinating the manner agents implement them. Finally, they ease motivational strains by providing assurance that responsibilities will be mutually honoured.

31 October 2019 Jane Heal, University of Cambridge

On Underestimating Us

Human beings are social animals. A solitary life would be horrible for most of us. What makes life worthwhile is being with others and engaging in shared projects with them. To do justice to these facts, philosophers need to pay more attention to the first person plural, we/us. Philosophical views about value and virtue tend to put centre stage the idea that for each of us his or her individual welfare is important, to him or her at least, and that the fundamental practical question is for an individual and is of the form ‘What should I do?’  How might things go with value and virtue if we recognised that an individual’s welfare is bound up with that of others and that an equally fundamental practical question is ‘What should we do?’

28 November 2019 Oliver Hallich, University of Duisburg-Essen

The Dark Side of Forgiveness

Forgiveness usually counts as a virtue. In my talk, I challenge this assumption and cast a critical light on forgiveness. My starting point is the “alteration thesis” of forgiveness, recently defended by David Owens and Chris Bennett. Bennett argues that forgiveness is a “normative power”: the forgiver undertakes an obligation no longer to treat the wrongdoer as standing under the obligations generated by the act of wrongdoing. This, I argue, is correct, but the forgiver “changes the normative landscape” not only by committing himself to no longer holding the act of wrongdoing against the wrongdoer, but also by introducing presuppositions into the discourse which often remain unthematized. More precisely, the forgiver presupposes that the addressee of forgiveness is guilty of an offence; he also presupposes that he himself has the standing to forgive and that what he purports to forgive is forgivable. All of these presuppositions may turn out to be highly questionable. Bringing these presuppositions to light will often cast doubt on our positive assessment of forgiveness. It will often lead us to see forgiveness as a way of cloaking one´s own interests under the guise of exercising a virtue rather than as the real exercise of a virtue. It will make us realize the dark side of forgiveness.

5 December 2019 Louise Hanson, University of Durham

How to be an Epistemic Constitutivist

Constitutivists about a given domain of norms hold that the norms in question are constitutive norms of some activity - they apply to people in virtue of the fact that they are doing this activity.

There is extensive debate about whether constitutivism about moral norms is tenable. In recent years much of this debate has centred around David Enoch’s shmagency objection, which many people take to be a pressing objection to moral constitutivism. It is often thought that if the shmagency objection is effective against moral constitutivism, it’s effective against epistemic constitutivism too.

I argue that this is false. I present a new argument for constitutivism about epistemic norms, and show that the features that drive that argument, are features that also allow constitutivism about epistemic norms to avoid the shmagency worries, even if those worries are effective against moral constitutivism.


Semester Two
6 February 2020 Mark Jago, University of Nottingham

Metaphysical Structure

Metaphysical structure is the way things hang together, in and of themselves, and aside from their causes and effects and propensities to behave. Examples include: truth depending on reality, the mind depending on the brain, sets depending on their members, disjunctions depending on their disjuncts, wholes depending on their parts, types being realised by their tokens, determinables being determined by their determinates. These might all be understood as cases of grounding – or rather, they might if we understood what grounding is. In this talk, I investigate parallels between metaphysical construction and familiar logical operators. First, there’s a link between composition (of parts into a whole) and conjunction. Second, I argue, there’s a link between some familiar metaphysical relations and disjunction. On the picture that emerges, metaphysical structure may be understood as logical structure, whilst remaining a genuine mind, concept, and language-independent feature of reality.

20 February 2020


Rebecca Davnall, University of Liverpool

The Creation of Wills

The prevalence of the phrase 'the will of the people' suggests our culture is, at least in some careful configurations, comfortable with the idea of the people, plural, manifesting a will, singular. This is at odds with the committed individualism of anglophone philosophy's long-running debate about free will, moral responsibility, and the meaningfulness of human action. This individualism, I will argue, is a distortion produced by lingering allegiance to a physics and ontology which I will call the Newtonian scalar hierarchy of explanation. This hierarchy gives anglophone philosophy a tendency to seek atomistic descriptions of reality according to which its basic units are clearly-defined individuals with determinate properties that are each, independently, knowable. Using the pioneering work of physicist and feminist philosopher of science Karen Barad, I will show that simplistic hierarchical explanations of the Newtonian kind are obsolete, overturned by the development of quantum physics, and that the assumptions on which conventional accounts of the will and determinism are grounded must be left behind with them.

5 March 2020

Alisa Mandrigin, University of Stirling

The Senses and Illusions of Spatial Location

When you go to the cinema the speech you hear seems to come from the location of the actor’s mouths displayed on the screen in front of you. This is an instance of the spatial ventriloquism effect, a multisensory spatial illusion. Spatial ventriloquism is typically taken to involve something you hear seeming to come from a location it doesn’t come from, and something you see seeming to have a location it doesn’t have. But, I will argue, it cannot be the case that the apparent location of what you see and hear in such illusions is illusory. Instead, multisensory spatial effects give us reason to posit an additional multisensory representation of space that is experiential, in that it is informed by our perceptual experiences, but one that is not itself perceptual.

19 March 2020 Jon Pike, Open University

Title TBC

23 April 2020 Neil Roughley, University of Duisburg-Essen

Peremptory objective prescriptions. From the everyday concept to the metaphysics of moral obligation

Mackie worried that there is no room in a scientific world view for values as conceived by people on the street. In this talk I argue that a restricted version of Mackie’s worry provides a starting point for a promising naturalistic account of a core component of morality. The restricted worry focuses on the everyday understanding of moral obligation as a matter of prescriptions that both express a sense of urgency and are yet independent of any prescribers. The account argues that everyday understanding deploys a stereotypical representation, comparable to everyday stereotypes of chemical elements. Although such stereotypes do not pick out the essence of the entity in question, in the chemical case they are causally regulated by the nature of the property onto which they latch. In the case of moral obligation, the explanatory relationship is more complicated. According to the account proposed, the property of moral obligation is constructed by psychological processes that are fundamental to the life form of contemporary humans, processes which also explain the prevalence and appeal of the stereotype. The key features, I claim, are dispositions to a certain form of anger, to what I call “Smithian empathy” and to the search for a standpoint from which to resolve conflict. Understood on this basis, the actions we are morally obligated to perform are actions whose omission would trigger a particular kind of empathic, yet impartial anger.

30 April 2020 Robin McKenna, University of Liverpool

Ideal Theory in Epistemology

In ethics and political philosophy there is much debate about “ideal theory” and “non-ideal theory”. Put in crude (and perhaps slightly inaccurate) terms, the intended contrast is between theorising that aims to identify our duties and obligations in hypothetical scenarios that abstract away from some of the unfortunate realities of the actual world and theorising that aims to identify our duties and obligations in the actual world, with all of its unfortunate realities. My aim in this paper is not to contribute towards our understanding of this debate in ethics and political philosophy, but rather to investigate ideal theory in epistemology. After all, idealisations abound in epistemology as well as in ethics and political philosophy, and much of contemporary epistemology is concerned with our duties and obligations as inquirers. It is therefore natural to wonder whether there are issues with ideal theory in epistemology that parallel the issues with ideal theory in ethics and political philosophy.

My questions are as follows:

  • What might ideal theory in epistemology be?
  • What (if anything) is wrong with it?
  • Why not go in for non-ideal theory instead?
  • But what, exactly, would that be?

I can’t fully answer these questions. But I hope to at least give partial answers to all of them.