UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED, ALL COURSES WILL TAKE PLACE IN THE PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT, 5 WASHINGTON PLACE, ROOM 202
PHIL-GA 1000; Proseminar; Wednesday 4:15-7:15; Dick Foley/David Chalmers
This course is for first year PhD students in the Philosophy Department only.
PHIL-GA 1008; Topics in Bioethics; Monday 6:45-8:45; Matthew Liao
It seems impermissible to kill one innocent person to save five other innocent people from being killed. At the same time, many people have the intuition that it may be permissible to kill one innocent person to save, e.g., one million people. Suppose that there is something to these intuitions. Is there a precise threshold when the act of killing an innocent person changes from impermissibility to permissibility, or is the boundary fuzzy? Is the source of this indeterminacy due to semantic vagueness in the term ‘permissibility’ or lack of adequate knowledge about what counts as permissible? Or does the indeterminacy stem from vagueness in the world? What is the difference between vagueness and indeterminacy? How should we go about deciding what to do when faced with a case of moral indeterminacy? In this seminar, we shall critically review some of the most popular philosophical approaches to vagueness including semantic, epistemological, and ontological approaches; consider whether the source of moral indeterminacy may be different from non-moral indeterminacy; and apply these insights to normative issues such as the defensibility of threshold deontology and the problem of incommensurability in population ethics.
PHIL-GA 1102; Metaphysics (Adv. Intro to Philosophy of Language); Thursday 1-3; Kit Fine
I aim to provide a basic introduction to truthmaker semantics that will cover the philosophical motivation, the formal development and the application of the semantics to problems in philosophy and linguistics. The applications may include: partial content; ground; conditionals; belief revision; imperative and deontic logic; and scalar implicature. I hope to be able to use a textbook I am writing with Mark Jago, which will also include a number of exercises. Some technical proficiency would be desirable but is not essential.
PHIL-GA 1177; Topics in the Philosophy of Physics; Tuesday 2-4; Tim Maudlin
The fundamental equations of physics apply to situations described in perfect microscopic detail. But outside of very specialized laboratory experiments, we never have such detail. Nonetheless, we are able to use physics to predict and explain the behavior of systems described in macroscopic terms. Some obvious examples are the ideal gas laws and the laws of thermodynamics.
The connective tissue knitting the microscopic to the macroscopic is statistical mechanics. In this course we will examine what the principles of statistical explanation are, the foundations of thermodynamics, and various versions of the concept of entropy. No previous familiarity with the physics will be presupposed.
PHIL-GA 1180; Truth and Paradox; Wednesday 2-4; Hartry Field/Saul Kripke/Graham Priest
Between the 1930s and the 1970s there was a general consensus amongst logicians that the best solution to the Liar and related paradoxes was Tarskian: no language can be allowed to contain its own truth predicate. In the 1970s this consensus disappeared, and it is now more generally held that an appropriate solution should accommodate a language with its own truth predicate. How that should be done is, of course, another matter.
In this course, we will be reading and discussing a number of papers that deal with that issue from a variety of different perspectives. Topics to be discussed include (hopefully): classical vs non-classical logic, definitions of truth vs axiomatic theories, fixed point constructions, dialetheism, conditionals and restricted quantification, revenge paradoxes, sub-structural solutions.
PHIL-GA 2285; Topics in Moral Psychology; Tuesday 12-2; Zoe Johnson King
Moral judgments are, typically, motivating. We implore others to take courses of action by describing them as kind, honest, fair, or just plain good, and we admonish others by describing their actions as cruel, deceitful, sanctimonious, bad, wrong, and so on. We can encourage ourselves to do something that we don’t particularly want to do by thinking “It’s the right thing to do”. And we often find that our motivations change in line with our moral judgments; for example, somebody who comes to believe that she is morally required to donate to charity, or to refrain from eating animal products, may subsequently find herself with a newfound inclination to donate to charity or a newfound aversion to eating animal products.
By and large, the motivating power of moral judgments seems to be a good thing. After all, it surely helps to get us to do what we morally ought to do. And it helps us to ensure that other people within our sphere of influence also do what they morally ought to do. Moral motivation helps us to be good people.
But, as always, things aren’t quite that simple. It is unclear precisely what the relationship between moral judgment and motivation is; in some of us, the relationship seems to be close, but there are also plenty of people who seem to be able to make moral judgments without being at all motivated to revise their behavior accordingly. Moreover, it’s unclear whether more moral motivation is always better. Following the demands of morality too closely might interfere with our personal relationships, with our well-being, or perhaps even with our ability to make genuine friends. And there may be an important difference between caring about the particular things that are morally valuable – caring about people, or justice, or happiness, for instance – and caring about morality itself, considered in the abstract.
This course will examine a bunch of questions about moral motivation and related issues; motivational internalism, the nature of moral worth, the dis/value of acting on moral testimony, and so on. Topics within this general area will be selected based on student interest.
Along the way, we’ll also talk a bit about the general skills needed for success in graduate school and beyond: how to write good papers, how to write appealing abstracts for conferences, how to give snazzy conference presentations, and so on.
This course is a small discussion seminar. Except for NYU philosophy graduate students, registration is by permission of the instructor.
PHIL-GA 2294; Philosophy of Mind; Tuesday 6-8; Ned Block
Philosophy of Perception
Topics may include: whether we see “higher” properties like causation and agency or just colors, textures, shapes and motion; naïve realism and disjunctivism; the relation between perception and hallucination; the role of Bayesian updating in perception; the predictive coding paradigm; what ensemble perception shows about theories of perception; twin-earthability and phenomenal representation; whether the phenomenology of perception includes confidences; the normativity of perceptual experience; what the difference is between sensation and perception; what the difference is between perception and cognition; what the difference is between perception and “core cognition” in the sense in which it is used in cognitive development; the relation between perception and bodily sensation; whether the processes of machine learning are more like perception or cognition; whether consciousness is an illusion; the relation between consciousness and attention; representationalist vs enactivist views of perceptual content; whether there is or even could be unconscious perception; whether perception is iconic; whether perception is non-conceptual and non-propositional; whether all seeing is seeing-as; what change-blindness tells us about perception; whether perceptual discrimination is more basic than perceptual attribution; whether there is a joint in nature between perception and cognition.
PHIL-GA 2296; Philosophy of Language - Context-Sensitivity; Thursday 4:15-6:15; Stephen Schiffer/Stephen Neale
Natural language appears to be full of context-sensitive words and constructions that pose serious questions for compositional theories of meaning. Some of these intersect with questions about vagueness and polysemy. One aim of the seminar is to establish precisely what problems context-sensitivity creates; another is to establish the roles of speakers’ intentions and notions of context, context sets, salience, expertise, accommodation, and modulation in determining content. Theorists doing important work on issues relating to context-sensitivity will visit the seminar to lead the discussion of their work. These include Robert Stalnaker, Una Stojnić, Thony Gillies, Peter Pagin and Dag Westerståhl, Christopher Gauker, Daniel Harris, and Jeremy Goodman and Harvey Lederman. The seminar is a joint NYU-CUNY Graduate Center seminar and will meet on alternate weeks at NYU and the Graduate Center. The first meeting, on 9/5, is at NYU.
PHIL-GA 2320; History of Philosophy: Berkeley, Hume and Shepherd on Causation and Perception of the External World; Monday 4-6; Don Garrett
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, two of the most important and frequently debated epistemological issues were the nature and status of causal reasoning and the nature and status of sense perception, while two of the most important and frequently debated metaphysical issues were the nature and status of causation and the nature and status of the external world. Both pairs of debates had important connections to central issues in the philosophy of mind. Two of the most famous and influential contributors to these debates were George Berkeley (1685–1753) and David Hume (1711–1776). Mary Shepherd (1777–1847) was well known in Britain as an epistemologist, metaphysican, and philosopher of mind in her own era, but it is only in the twenty-first century that historians of philosophy have begun to give her work the attention it deserves. Contained chiefly in her two books—An Essay Upon the Relation of Cause and Effect (1824) and Essays On the Perception of an External Universe (1827)—her work is often explicitly directed for strategic reasons against the the doctrines of Hume, Berkeley, and some others (including Thomas Brown, Thomas Reid, and Dugald Stewart), but it is by no means merely critical. On the contrary, she develops, defends, and applies her own highly original theories of causal reasoning, causation, sense perception, and the external world. The aim of the seminar is explore in depth, through close analysis and comparison of primary texts, the doctrines and arguments of Berkeley, Hume, and Shepherd on these issues and the many fascinating relations among them.
PHIL-GA 3005; Topics in Ethics: Attachment, Detachment, and the Passage of Time; Wednesday 12-2; Samuel Scheffler/Sharon Street
As conscious beings capable of thought, feeling, and action, we are spatially and temporally located: we find ourselves, at any given moment, “looking out” at the world from a particular location in space and time. With respect to our spatial location, we experience ourselves as exercising control—capable of standing still or moving about as we see fit, within the constraints imposed by our physical and social worlds. With respect to our temporal location, in contrast, we experience ourselves as exercising no control. Instead, we seem to move along inexorably, always in one direction, with no possibility of either standing still or moving about as we see fit (the possibility of time travel aside).
Despite our being, in this sense, inescapably located wherever we currently are in time, we are capable, in thought and imagination, of “detaching” from our present location and surveying our lives as a whole (and much else) from a “temporally neutral” perspective. As many philosophers have noted, when we detach in this way, we find certain divergences between our temporally located and our temporally neutral perspective on our own lives. Famously, for example, when we adopt a temporally neutral perspective, we prefer to minimize the overall amount of pain in our lives (other things being equal), whereas from a temporally located perspective, we seem willing to accept a greater overall amount of pain in our lives so long as the pain is in our past.
In this seminar, we will be occupied with the following questions: What is the extent and nature of the divergence between the temporally neutral and the temporally located perspective on our lives? Is this divergence a problem? How, if at all, can the two perspectives be reconciled? Is the temporally neutral perspective, as many philosophers have argued, more rational than the temporally located perspective? Is the “bias toward the future” that is characteristic of the temporally located perspective subject to an evolutionary explanation? If so, is that explanation debunking? What other temporal attitudes, apart from the bias toward the future, are characteristic of the temporally located perspective? And what is the relation between the possibility of temporal detachment and the various forms of attachment that seem to be important elements of good human lives?
As time permits, we will also be concerned with exploring the following parallel. Just as we have no control over when we are, in the sense of where in time we are currently located, so too we have no control over who we are, in the sense of “in which” individual human being we find ourselves “located.” But here too, in thought and imagination, we are capable of detaching from our particular location—capable of detaching from the perspective (including the ends, values, and attachments) of the particular human being we are, and surveying ourselves and others from an “agent-neutral” perspective that does not identify with any particular one. Here too, we may ask: To the extent that we understand what the agent-neutral perspective is, is it more rational than the “agentially located” perspective? How, if at all, can the two perspectives be reconciled? If our attachments are valuable features of our lives, can detaching from them really be desirable? Is the “bias toward the individual self” that is characteristic of our agentially located perspective subject to an evolutionary explanation, and if so, is that explanation debunking?
PHIL-GA 3400-001; Thesis Research: Third Year Workshop; Thursday 11-1; Laura-Franklin Hall
This course is only open to PhD students in the Philosophy Department.
PHIL-GA 3601; Work in Progress Seminar; Monday 11-1; Jane Friedman
This course is only open to PhD students in the Philosophy Department.