Département de philosophie

Schedule of Talks

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The Thumos Seminar takes place on Thursdays, 16h15-17h45 in the CISA seminar room unless otherwise noted. Directions are available here.

The Brain and Cognition Seminar takes place on Tuesday, 12h15-13h15 in the CISA (seminar room 190.1581).

The Quodlibeta takes place on Thursday, 18h15-20h00 at the Bastions (seminar room will be communicated by email to the members).

The Phileas talks usually takes on Thursday in place of the Quodlibeta.

Archives are available here.


Spring 2017


March 2, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Quodlibeta

Tristram Oliver-Skuse (Geneva)

Not Quite Neosentimentalism

This paper advocates a version of neosentimentalism which is motivated by the desire to explain why affective experiences can sometimes be required for an agent to have a privileged epistemic stance on an evaluative property. For instance, sometimes "really getting" that something is disgusting requires being disgusted by it.
I start by arguing that perceptual theories of the emotions cannot explain this privilege on their own. Since they only tell us about emotions (rather than telling us about the evaluative properties) they do not rule out the possibility of non-affective ways of achieving a privileged perspective.

As a result we should look to theories of evaluative properties for an explanation. The most promising start is traditional sentimentalism, which says that evaluative properties are affective properties of some sort. However traditional issues with sentimentalism rule out it's explanatory potential for our problem.

I claim that we ought to explain the privileged in terms of features of our evaluative concepts rather than of evaluative properties, in effect endorsing neosentimentalism. I discuss different ways of formulating neosentimentalism, arguing that the best claims that some of our evaluative concepts are partly individuated by having affective input conditions. For instance, our concept of the disgusting is possessed only by those who take experiences of disgust to indicate that their targets are disgusting.

I show how this quasi-neosentimentalist view explains our target phenomenon and conclude by considering some objections to it.

N.B: There will also be, at 18h15, in Uni Bastions B108, a Quodlibeta talk by Richard Dub (Geneva) - Psychosis, Emotion, Conviction

March 9, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Phileas talk
Pirjo Lyytikäinen (Helsinki)
Moods and Existential Feelings in Literature

When we consider a literary text as a whole, we often have a feeling of breathing an emotional atmosphere. But how can we understand the concept of tone or mood when it refers to the general genre-constitutive or genre-dependent emotional atmosphere of whole texts? This phenomenon has been connected to Martin Heidegger’s concept Stimmung or attunement and Matthew Ratcliffe has developed the concept of “existential feeling” relying on Heidegger’s ideas. Although he is primarily interested in the pathological changes in the sense of being that occur in depression patients, he also refers to a few examples of literature and film. In my paper, I examine his approach in view of its utility in the analysis of emotion effects in literature. I will exemplify the functioning of mood in a literary text by referring to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher where the immersion into the gloomy and melancholic atmosphere of horror is perhaps the main interest of the whole story.

N.B: There will also be a Phileas talk by Martine Nida-Rümelin (Fribourg) - Le rôle justificatif des intuitions - afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details
March 10, 2017 - The arts, the emotions and mental states
The colloquium will stand at Uni-Bastions, B111
Oragnisator: Patrizia Lombardo
9.15 Patrizia Lombardo, University of Geneva - Introduction
9.30 Richard Dub, University of Geneva, CISA - Emotions of unreality in literature and film
10.30 Matthew Phillips, University of Cambridge, CISA - Empathy's Messes
11.30 Pirjo Lyytikäinen, University of Helsinki - Emotion Effectsin Literature: Written Emotions in Poe’s“The Fall of the House of Usher”
14.15 Moe Touizrar, McGill University, Montréal - Fictional transliterations: cross-modal representations of sunrise in music
15.15 Gregory Currie, University of York - Film, theatre and the link between perception and imagination
16.15 Conclusion
March 16, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Phileas talk

Arturs Logins (Geneva)

Peace and Love or How To Dissolve The Lottery Paradox While Maintaining All Of Its Intuitive Premises

I will defend the view that that a proposition p has high evidential probability on one's evidence entails that one is justified, in a sense, in believing p. According to the view that I will put forwards there is a variety of sorts of epistemic justification: beliefs can be appropriate or permissible in a number of distinct senses. Having a high evidential probability corresponds to one kind of epistemic justification. This pluralist conception allows us to maintain the view that high evidential probability can justify one in believing something while replying to the challenge from the Lottery Paradox.

N.B: There will also be a Phileas talk by Constant Bonard (Geneva) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details

March 23, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Phileas talk

Elena Cagnoli (Geneva)

Aristotle’s Akrasia as a Moral and Rational Failure

Akratic action is a puzzling and philosophically enticing phenomenon in part because it is hard to describe. According to some, akratic actions are actions against one’s best judgement (Davidson 1980). According to others, they are actions against one’s knowledge and according to others still they are actions against one’s intentions (respectively Aristotle as reconstructed in Wiggins 1978, and Holton 1999). In this paper, I challenge a widespread interpretation of Aristotle’s account of akrasia: the thesis that akratic actions are by definition bad actions that go against one’s decisions (prohaireseis). I argue, instead, that akratic actions are bad actions against one’s principles (archai) and one’s wishes (boul¯eseis). Since our decisions are connected with our wishes, this entails that many (but not all) akratic actions are against our decisions. Akratic actions are never in accordance with a decision, but they may not involve a decision at all.

I show that Aristotle’s accounts of impetuous akrasia, stubborn actions and inverse akrasia support this interpretation. Impetuous akratics do not necessarily form a decision, but they act against their correct wishes. Stubborn and opinionated people are similar to akratic people because they act against their correct wishes and principles while sticking to their bad decisions. Inverse akratics, i.e. people who act against bad decisions, are for Aristotle potentially praiseworthy and rational because they might act in accordance with a correct wish. This is why Aristotle denies that inverse akrasia is in fact a form of akrasia. If my argument is correct, it shows that a close study of Aristotle’s views on different kinds of akrasia sheds light on his account of practical rationality. On his view, practical rationality is primarily a matter of coherence between one’s actions, wishes and principles and only secondarily a matter of coherence between one’s actions and decisions.

N.B: There will also be a Phileas talk by Baptiste LeBihan (Geneva) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details
March 30, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Quodlibeta

Emma Tieffenbach (Geneva)

Incommensurability and trade

Some thinkers oppose the exchange of money for human organs and tissue, surrogacy services, and works of art, and the “commodification” of many areas of cultural life. One source of concern is said to be the alleged “incommensurability” of money with the relevant value-bearers, sometimes put in terms of their “incomparability”, “non-substitutability”, “non-tradability”, “(market)-inalienability”, or “irreplaceability”. Whichever term is used, the objection may be summed up as follows: the fact that value-bearers A and B (e.g. a kidney and $10,000) are incommensurate (or incomparable, non-tradable, and so forth), or that they are perceived as such, provides a sound, powerful reason to ban or at least to refuse trade between them. Let us refer to this type of objection to certain exchanges as the incommenurability objection. This article’s main contention is that the incommensurability objection fails. Our argumentative strategy is as follows: We present seven conceptions of incommensurability (and the like), which we call (a) “no betterness and equality”, (b) “no common scale”, (c) “no ground for comparison”, (d) “occasion for reasonable regret”, (e) “betterness regardless of numbers”, (f) incompatibility, and (g) and “status difference”. We then review candidate rationales for banning or avoiding trade of one value bearer for another on grounds of their incommensurability (and the like), and show the failure of these accounts on each of these conceptions of incommensurability (and the like).

N.B: There will also be a Quodlibeta's talk afterward.
April 3, 2017 - Thumos seminar
Neil Sinhababu (Singapore)
Experientialism about Moral Concepts
I present an experientialist account of moral concepts, on which moral judgments are beliefs about when moral feelings represent objective facts. For example, wrong actions are objectively represented by the feeling of guilt, while virtue is objectively represented by the feeling of admiration. Experientialism is suggested by an elegant empirical model of moral psychology. It fits into a cognitivist, externalist, and Humean picture of moral judgment, providing an alternative to views that analyze moral concepts in terms of reasons. It also provides new support for ethical hedonism
The seminar will take place exceptionally on Monday
April 6, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Phileas talk

Mary Carman (Geneva)

Affectivity and the rationalisation of emotional actions

One way in which emotions motivate action is through their affective nature and how they feel, but can the affective element of emotion also provide reasons for action that rationalise the action in some way? If we think that emotions have a rational role in action in virtue of their intentional nature, such a question might seem like a non-starter: the obvious answer is ‘no’. The question, however, is not a clear-cut one because the answers can and do vary along with what the relevant dimension of affect is taken to be. So, in this paper, I examine different ways the affect of emotion could bear on our actions, and respond to a recent challenge to the widespread (and correct) assumption that the affective element, alone, does not have rational bearing on our action choices.

N.B: There will also be a Phileas talk by Pekka Väyrynen (Leeds) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details
April 13, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Phileas talk

François Jaquet (Geneva)

Evolution, Impartiality, and Well-Being

Given the impact that our moral beliefs have on our survival prospects, natural selection must have had a considerable influence on their content. According to Sharon Street this raises a dilemma for moral realists. Either evolution doesn’t track moral truth (which would lead to moral skepticism) or it does (but this is empirically implausible assuming the truth of realism). In response to this challenge, Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer concede that most of our moral beliefs were selected for. Still, they pinpoint one that probably wasn’t: the belief that everyone’s well-being matters equally from the moral point of view. As they were selected for, the former beliefs are unjustified, but the latter is epistemically irreproachable for it is produced by reason alone, a reliable process if any. Unimpressed, Guy Kahane points out that this belief is empty of content unless combined with an account of well-being. Unfortunately, most of our beliefs about well-being too were presumably selected for, which raises a new dilemma for de Lazari-Radek and Singer. Either evolution does not track truths about well-being (which would lead to well-being skepticism) or it does (but this is empirically implausible assuming the truth of well-being realism). In this talk, I will take side with de Lazari-Radek and Singer against Kahane, putting forward a mixed theory that combines an objectivist view in metaethics with a subjectivist account of well-being. Realists will escape Street’s ethical dilemma as suggested by Lazari-Radek and Singer. And they can ignore Kahane’s well-being dilemma.

N.B: There will also be a Phileas talk by David Papineau (London) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details
April 27, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Quodlibeta

Steve Humbert-Droz (Fribourg)

Experiencing Make-Believe

Contemporary discussions about imagination make room for a non-visual aspect of imagination, propositional (or cognitive) imagination. Following Kendall Walton, literature calls “make-believe” (or “belief-like imagining”) this hidden face of imagination which seems to recreate some properties of beliefs. Make-believe is used to explain our engagement in fiction, our pretending in games, mindreading and hypothetical deductions.  

Many philosophers have presented make-believe as an attitude/mode which recreates the epistemic aspect of a belief, namely its inferential role in cognition:  “The idea is that instead of adding P as a belief I can add it ‘in imagination’, and since imagination preserves the inferential patterns of belief, I can then see whether a new imagining, Q, emerges as reasonable in light of this.” (Currie & Ravenscroft 2002: 12-13); “It is this capacity of imaginings to mirror the inferential patterns of belief that makes fictional storytelling possible.” (idem, 13) – the same idea can be found in Nichols & Stich’s single code theory.

My claim will be that the inferential role is neither a distinctive nor an essential property of imagination. I will defend that belief-like imagining is essentially a recreation of the phenomenal aspect of belief. This claim paves the way for a unification of modes of imagination under the recreation of an embodied experience, as Roger Scruton brought it to light: “Imagination is a species of thought, involving distinctive features that recur even when the thought is as it were 'embodied' in an experience, as in imagery and 'seeing as'. We might say that it is a characteristic of imagination that it is liable to this kind of embodiment in experience” (Scruton 1974: 113).

May 3, 2017 - Julien Deonna and Fabrice Teroni's inaugural lecture
Julien Deonna (Geneva) & Fabrice Teroni (Geneva)
Émotions et valeurs

Quels sont les liens entre les émotions et les valeurs ? Comment cette question se décline-t-elle en philosophie de l’esprit, en métaphysique et en théorie de la connaissance ? Quelles sont les conséquences des réponses à ces questions pour la nature du bonheur ?

The lecture will take place at 18h00 in room B111 (Uni Bastions).

May 4, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Phileas talk
Raffaele Rodogno (Aarhus)
Is the study of well-being a ‘cultural curiosity’?

The point of this paper is to show that both the current philosophy of well-being, in the form of theories such as hedonism, desire satisfaction, and Objective List, and the current science of well-being, in the form of theories such as Objective Happiness, Life Satisfaction, and Eudaimonistic approaches, fail to be practical in one or two different ways. In particular, I argue that philosophy fails to provide what I will call a material epistemology of well-being, i.e., directions as to how we are to find out what the sources of an individual’s well-being and ill-being are. I show that the science of well-being fares better in that respect but that it too is practically inert in some other sense.  Both the science and philosophy of well-being typically provide comparative well-being judgements. I show, however, that the practices that well-being centrally animates (parenting, friendship, and other caring relationships) revolve around absolute judgements and, in particular, threshold well-being/ill-being judgements, e.g., “my friend/child/partner is doing badly (and needs help)”. I sketch a new approach aimed at remedying these shortcomings, in view of a more practical study of well-being.

N.B: There will also be a Phileas talk by Matti Eklund (Uppsala) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details
May 9, 2017 - Lecture series
Aaron Meskin (Leeds)
Dual Character Art Concepts

There is an ongoing and apparently irresolvable debate about the concept of art. Some have claimed that the concept is essentially evaluative; more specifically, that the concept is linked to positive evaluation. Some have claimed that the concept is essentially descriptive. Others say that the concept of art has two distinct senses — one evaluative and one descriptive. Moreover, it is often held that settling this issue is key to answering the central question in philosophical aesthetics: what is art? We aim to dissolve this debate by showing that it stems from an overly limited menu of options. On the basis of a series of experimental studies, we argue that the concept of art is neither an ordinary evaluative concept nor an ordinary descriptive concept. Instead, the concept of art has a distinctive normative element — it is what Knobe, Prasada, and Newman (2013) call a “dual character concept”. The same is true of some, but not all, subconcepts of art.
The lecture will take place from 12h15 to 13h15 in room 144.165. More information here.
May 11, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Quodlibeta

Florian Cova (Geneva), François Kammerer (Paris Sorbonne) & Maxence Gaillard (Rikkyo University)

Philosophers of mind have been discussing whether we should distinguish phenomenal from access consciousness. Arguing that we should, Ned Block famously advanced the "overflow argument", according to which phenomenal consciousness can occur without, and thus overflow access consciousness. According to Ned Block, that phenomenal consciousness can overflow access consciousness is the best explanation for a range of psychological phenomena, namely the fact that people report seeing more than they can report in Sperling's famous experiments. However, a careful inquiry led us to conclude that this claim is nothing more than a psychological urban legend, and that the relevant data actually never existed. We thus conducted the required experiments and the results suggest that there might actually be no empirical basis for the overflow argument
May 18, 19, 20, 2017 - Phasing Out NCCR Affective Sciences
You will find here the program for the international scientific conference, on 18 & 19 May
You will Find here the program for the public event for "la Nuit des Musées", on 20 May

May 30-31, 2017 - Workshop on Negative Emotions

Thumos, the Genevan research group on the emotions, is organizing a 2-day conference on negative emotions on the 30th and 31st of May at the The Swiss Center for the Affective Sceinces (Campus Biotech).

In our two-day conference, we aim to explore the good things about negative emotions by fostering interdisciplinary discussion on the topic. Each speakers will discuss one specific 'negative' emotion such as disgust, contempt and envy. They will examine questions relating to what may be problematic about them, what their redeeming features are, and whether they can contribute to our lives.

30th May

Jealousy Ronald de Sousa

Embarrassment — Sandy Berkovski 

Anger — Mary Carman 

Contempt — Macalester Bell

31th May

Anxiety — Charlie Kurth

Pain — Jennifer Corns 

Boredom — Tristram Oliver-Skuse 

Regret — Carolyn Price 

More information here.

June 2, 2017 - Thumos seminar

Jona Vance (Arizona)

Phenomenal commitments: A puzzle for experiential theories of emotion

This paper raises and responds to a puzzle for experiential theories of emotion. Experiential theories entail that some emotions just are experiences. The puzzle is to explain how subjects could be rationally evaluable in virtue of their emotional experiences, as experiential theories entail in conjunction with the desideratum that subjects are rationally evaluable in virtue of their emotions. Component theories entail that no emotions just are experiences. On some component theories, the experience component of emotion is distinct from the rationally evaluable component. These theories do not face the puzzle. As a result, these component theories have a potential advantage over experiential theories. In response to the puzzle, I defend experiential theories of emotion. Like many others, I argue that the rational evaluability of subjects in virtue of their emotions requires rationally evaluable subjective commitments. Unlike many others, I argue that the commitments need not be even partly constitutive of emotions. Instead, I suggest that emotional experiences are rationally evaluable because of their relation to other commitments the subject makes and the norms that govern those commitments.

The seminar will take place exceptionally on Friday at 10:15.

June 6, 2017 - Thumos seminar / CISA Lecture

Colin Leach (Connecticut)

At 10:00, Thumos discussion's group on the recent paper of Leach and Gausel Concern for self‐image and social image in the management of moral failure: Rethinking shame

At 12:00, CISA lecture on Police Force | Black Protest: Tracing systems of appraisal, emotion, coping

Since the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing 17-year old Trayvon Martin, the US is again grappling with the moral, political, and social issues of police use of force and Black protest against it (e.g., the Black Lives Matter movement). Guided by temporal models of cognitive appraisal (e.g., Lazarus, 1991; Scherer, 2001) and social psychological models of dynamic coping (e.g., van Zomeren, Leach, & Spears, 2012), several recent studies use cognitive, behavioral, neurological, and physiological indices to trace Black and White participant’s appraisal, emotion, and coping in response to images of police force and Black protest.  Findings are consistent with the view that a dynamic, multi-system, temporal process leads individuals to be psychologically “moved” by social events that are personally relevant enough to sustain their attention and to stimulate emotion, motivation, and coping.  Methodological, theoretical, and ethical implications will be discussed.

June 8, 2017 - Alain Pe-Curto's Dissertation Defense

Alain Pe-Curto (Geneva)

Values Under Construction

The Defense will start at 14.15, room B109.

June 12, 2017 - Thumos seminar

Bas van Fraassen (Princeton)

The Self

The question What is the Self? should be asked in the first person: What Am I? With that condition, which I regard as essential, I shall argue, it is literally impossible to arrive at an adequate conception of my Self. But among superficial conceptions there is still better and worse. For example, I am embodied; but identification with the body fares very poorly as a view of the Self. To arrive at a more tenable view, while evading metaphysical riddles, I propose to adapt a Wittgensteinian phrase: I am not a thing, but I am not nothing. I exist, but I am not a thing among things.

The seminar will take place exceptionally on Monday at 16:00, room B108 (Uni-Bastions).

We are thankful to Patrizia Lombardo who co-organises this event.

June 14, 2017 - Quodlibeta special

Bas van Fraassen (Princeton)

After Hempel’s Dilemma: On the Evidence of Things Unseen

The debate over the reality of theoretically postulated entities began more than half a century ago (famously, Hempel 1958). Although ostensibly about questions of ontology, that debate shifted to topics in epistemology, which became ever more contentious, and remain so still. I shall argue that traditional assumptions about evidence and inference bedeviled this debate. Following Hermann Weyl and Clark Glymour I shall propose a view of empirical grounding, of models and theories, that disentangles the relation between confirmation and evidential support and thereby place scientific practice in a different light.

 June 15, 2017 - Thumos seminar

Alain Pe-Curto (Geneva)

Thin Atomism

I defend the Moorean theory of organic unities against one type of value atomism. First, I introduce the brand of atomism that  I call “Thin Atomism” and describe its place within value theory and, in particular, with respect to the question of organic unities. I look at a specific implementation of it, namely Zimmerman’s, which recruits the determinable-determinate distinction. Secondly, I present two arguments against the thin atomist claim that no convincing cases of organic complexes have been presented yet and that alleged cases of such complexes should instead be understood in terms of evaluative inadequacy. With the first argument, I show that the account faces its own pitfalls with regard to its specification of the evaluative adequacy that it requires. With the second argument, I argue that even if it managed to avoid these obstacles, it would in fact not support the claim that there are no convincing cases of organic unities. In developing this last point, I offer an explanation for both the appeal of this sophisticated form of Thin Atomism and its inability, to my mind, to provide a proper response to the Moorean theory of organic unities. I am able to do so on the basis of my account of such complexes, on which I conclude.


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