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 - Brain & Cognition Seminar

Colin Leach (Connecticut)


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

Alain Pe-Curto (Geneva)

Values Under Construction

The Defense will start at 14.15, room TBA

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).

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)

Ontological Translation

I will discuss the Reduction Manoeuver (cf. Rabinowicz & Rønnow-Rasmussen 2005) and its alleged implications for the intrinsic versus extrinsic value distinction. I will claim that its supposed impact on the intrinsic versus extrinsic value distinction is in fact not the result of the Manoeuver itself, but rather of either of two distinct independent assumptions – one of them appears to be an old idea in a new form, while the other is a tacit, yet considerable metaphysical thesis.



Fall 2016


September 29, 2016 - Thumos seminar / PhilEAs talk

Mary Carman (Geneva) 

A Defence of Anger

Around the world, anger at moral and political injustices is rife, especially as a response to gender- and racial-based inequalities and oppressions. A kind of moral anger is apparent not only in the manner in which members of oppressed groups express themselves, but also in the content of what is said: the anger is explicitly identified with and a shared identity is built around that anger; and, drawing on and expanding arguments long found in feminist literature, the anger is defended as an important moral and political emotion that motivates action and is a justified response for victims of injustice to their continuing oppressions. Amongst defences of anger is a class of arguments defending the rational value anger; however, these arguments tend only to focus on anger as a rational response to reasons or reason-giving considerations. Very little attention, if any, is given to the way anger affects rationality as it relates to thinking and thought processes. This lack of attention undermines defences of anger. By drawing on the psychological literature on the effects of anger on decision-making, I examine whether anger can be rationally defensible and propose conditions for when it can. In this way, I work towards a more holistic defence of anger as an important moral and political emotion.

Caution, the seminar will not take place in the usual seminar room but in the room H4-02 232.080 (this document may help you).

N.B: There will also be a Phileas lecture by Richard Dawid (Stockholm) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details.

October 6, 2016 - Thumos seminar / Quodlibeta
Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi (Geneva)
Enmattered Virtues
Entities in the physical world are, for Aristotle, compounds of matter and form, or hylomorphic compounds. In this paper, I look at Aristotle’s hylomorphism in an under-explored context: the ethical works. I concentrate in particular on the virtues of character.
I argue that the virtues of character are hylomorphic compounds. More specifically, they require enmattered accounts (logoi enhuloi, DA 403a25–27). This means that their bodily and their psychic components are inseparable both in existence and also in definition. For example, a temperant psychological state cannot exist in separation from a specific physiological state. In addition, a fully explanatory account of temperance should include a reference to both its physical and also its psychological aspect: temperance is an excellent psycho-physiological state in relation to bodily pleasures (NE 1117b24 ff., Rhet. 1389a3 ff., PA 648a35 ff., PA 650b20 ff., PA 667a7 ff., PA 686b 21).
I begin by showing that the link between the virtues of character and the emotions supports enmattered accounts of the virtues. I extrapolate further evidence for this thesis from Aristotle’s description of the development of character virtues and from his account of their material preconditions. Then I argue that the virtues, even if they are enmattered, can be up to us and that we can acquire them voluntarily (NE 1113b14–1114b25).
The thesis that the virtues of character are enmattered has important consequences for the study of the virtues and, arguably, for Aristotle’s ethics as a whole. It demonstrates that Aristotle’s ethics is deeply entrenched in his natural science. In addition, it raises the question whether contemporary Aristotelian accounts of the virtues should be similarly “enmattered”.
Caution, the seminar will not take place in the usual seminar room butat Uni Bastions, in the room B216.
 Quodlibeta: TBA
 October 13, 2016 - Thumos seminar / PhilEAs talk
 David Bain (Glasgow)
Why take painkillers?
While accounts of the nature of pain and its unpleasantness have proliferated over the past decade, there has been very little systematic investigation of which of them can accommodate the following:  an unpleasant pain is bad for its subject.  This paper is such an investigation.  I argue against attempts to explain the badness of unpleasant pain entirely in terms of the badness of its effects.  Then I turn to those who have recently argued that the non-instrumental badness of pain’s unpleasantness is beyond the reach of evaluativism, a view that accounts for unpleasant pain in terms of evaluative perception.  I argue, first, that the desire-theoretic accounts of pain’s unpleasantness embraced by evaluativism’s critics themselves struggle to accommodate the badness of pain; and, second, that evaluativism actually can accommodate it:  either by appealing to “anti-unpleasantness” desires or by invoking pain’s perceptuality.
N.B: There will also be a Phileas lecture by Michael Esfeld (Lausanne) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details.
October 18, 2016 - Brain and Cognition seminar - LECTURE CANCELED
 Alison Denham (St Anne)
Cognitive dis-integration, agency and attachment
Moral requirements often direct us to act in ways that are contrary to our personal interests. Altruistic requirements are a central case, asking that we act with the aim of benefitting another at a cost to ourselves. What motivates us to comply with such requirements? One traditional view is that altruistic actions are in part explained by affective empathy, where that is a nature-given propensity to mirror and be moved by the needs of our conspecifics. More recently, some theorists have opposed this view, arguing that empathy is dispensable to moral motivation: while morality may require concernfor our fellows, that concern need not be produced by empathic engagement – it need not be empathic concern as such.
I defend the traditional view that empathy underpins our responsiveness to many moral requirements.  I depart from tradition, however, in two ways. First, I distinguish between non-rational and rational empathic concern, characterizing the latter as on analogy with the phenomenon of perceptual, and especially aesthetic ‘experiencing-as’.  Secondly, I argue that, in the basic case, rational empathic concern depends on a feat of cognitive integration by which an agent’s experience is configured in accordance with norms of consistency and coherence. A virtue of this account that it suggests why psychopathic subjects typically manifest deficits of cognitive integration in concert with empathic ones  – and how these deficits jointly work to compromise their standing as moral agents. I conclude with some observations about the possible role of early attachment failure in the developmental trajectory of cognitive disintegration, and the implications for attributions of moral agency.
October 20, 2016 - Thumos seminar / PhilEAs talk
Alison Denham (St Anne)
On ‘The Awfulness of Modern Music’: some evidence from music cognition

Few theorists would now deny that atonal and tonally ambiguous compositions count as music. Friends of these musical forms typically regard the dissolution of tonality as an advance in musical alternatives; concomitantly, they often rely (implicitly or explicitly) on a conception of musical understanding that dispenses with certain of its traditional markers such as recuperability, phrasal recognition and anticipation.

Nonetheless, such music has been poorly served, if served at all, by prominent philosophical accounts of musical experience. More recently, empirical evidence from music cognition has been adduced to support skepticism about the aesthetic merit of atonal music (Lerdahl & Jackendoff, Raffman, Pedersen, Gibson, Krumshansl). Some take this evidence to show that traditional tonal structures possess features essential to the expressive aspect of musical experience, and are uniquely well suited to our nature-given cognitive and perceptual capacities.

I assess this claim, arguing that it rests on three dubious premises.  The first premise concerns what the evidence actually shows about our responses to different musical structures (tonal and non-tonal). The second premise concerns the nature of musical understanding. A third premise associates musical value with the experience of musical expression.  I conclude that the claim that atonal music is aesthetically defective is only justified by joining the empirical evidence to a contentious, account of what it is to understand and hear music as expressive – itself modeled on the experience of tonal forms. The ability to discern and respond to non-tonal forms will, for many of us, require a fundamental re-education in hearing the sounds of music.

 N.B: There will also be a Phileas lecture by Philip Goff (Budapest) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details.
November 01, 2016 - Brain and Cognition seminar
Annekathrin Schacht (Göttingen)
Impacts of motivational, associated, and inherent emotional valence on visual sensory processing: evidence from event-related brain potentials (ERPs)
November 03, 2016 - Thumos seminar / Phileas talk
 Denis Perrin (Grenoble)
The procedural nature of episodic memory
 It is common to draw a sharp distinction between declarative memory and procedural memory regarding their respective natures and functions. The former are thought to be world-highlighting in virtue of providing representations of facts and experiences, while the latter are thought to be representationally blind and to merely provide practical skills. Drawing on attributionalism in psychology (Jacoby & al., 1989; Whittlesea, 1997; Leboe-McGowan and Whittlesea, 2013 – but see also Tulving’s GAPS model, 1985), this talk argues that this common view is misguided. In contrast to the common view, it argues for a view of procedural memory as an essential ground of declarative memory, especially episodic memory. The core argument of the talk is as follows: representation (including perceptual and recollective representation) always depends on constructive processes; constructive processes involve skills, whose possession depends on procedural memory; thus representational memory (including episodic memory) is grounded in procedural memory. I build up this argument in two steps. First, I critically discuss direct realism, which endorses a sharp declarative-procedural distinction. On this view, episodic reliving is a matter of being about the relevant past episode itself in a specific manner, namely, through a direct cognitive link to it. I argue that this claim can be understood in either of two ways: in a strong, internalist way (Debus, 2008) or in a weak, externalist way (Bernecker, 2008). Bearing this distinction in mind, I claim that the first version is empirically implausible and that the second fails to account for the phenomenology of reliving. On either way of understanding the claim, direct realism is doomed to failure because it assumes a static view of the objects of memory. Second, once we acknowledge that the objects of perception and memory are the products of essentially constructive cognitive processes, as suggested by current constructivism in psychology (Schacter et Addis, 2007), a different, dynamic approach is available, one that bases their phenomenological properties on these processes. I then argue that attributionalism provides a way of fleshing out such an approach that provides an adequate understanding of episodic phenomenology. In a nutshell, episodic reliving results from the automatic attribution to past experience of the detected procedural features of the construction of a mental scene. In support of this claim, I then show that key features of episodic recollection – causality, subjectivity, the sense of pastness, and particularity – can be accounted for along attributionalist lines.
N.B: There will also be a Phileas lecture by Hamid Taieb (Geneva) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details.
November 10, 2016 - Thumos seminar
David Machek (Bern) 
The Stoic account of recalcitrant emotions

The phenomenon of recalcitrant emotions, i.e. emotions that persist even though one has adopted a belief that it is not appropriate or justified to feel them, has recently been discussed by a number of philosophers. This phenomenon has been invoked as an important, if not fatal, objection against theories of emotions that construe emotions as judgments or beliefs. If emotions were judgments, so the objection goes, they could never be recalcitrant, since the contrary belief would automatically drive the emotion out. The fact that the recalcitrant emotions persist even though one holds a contrary belief – e.g. one keeps being afraid of flying even though one knows that it is safe – indicates that they are not judgments at all. The aim of this article is to show that a plausible judgmentalist account of recalcitrant emotions can be provided. Rather than construing this account from the context of modern philosophical debates about emotions, I shall turn to ancient Stoic material. As is well known today, the Greek and Roman Stoics were first in the history of philosophy to develop a systematically judgmentalist theory of emotions; it is less well known, though, that they were also the first to try to explain the phenomenon of emotional recalcitrance, or what they called the “disobedience” of emotions to reason.

On behalf of the Stoics, I shall propose that recalcitrant emotions persist because the mind in the state of emotion has become temporarily unable to come to hold the contrary rational belief, but is still able to entertain a thought that the irrational belief underlying the passion is wrong. This thought, however, lacks sufficient clarity, and therefore lacks sufficient motivational strength to override the existing commitment to the irrational belief that underlies the emotion. This account can be considered Stoic, rather than neo-Stoic,  since it is constructed wholly within the framework of the ancient Stoic thought. At the same time, we shall see that, to a surprising degree, the account presented here can be intelligible even outside the framework of ancient philosophy and independently of the Stoic vocabulary.

November 17, 2016 - Thumos seminar / PhilEAs talk
Denis Forest (Paris)
On moods and mood disorders
According to an influential view (Horwitz and Wakefield, 2007), depression occurs as the consequence of the dysfunction of loss response mechanisms.  These responses occur “in situations for which they were not designed, and they can be in disproportionate intensity and duration to the situations that evoke them” (ibid). In my talk, leaving aside the general critique of the underlying “harmful dysfunction analysis” of mental disorders (Wakefield, 1992), I want to challenge this view of depression as an inappropriate response to external circumstances. It seems that it conflates mood disorders with emotional disorders, and that this parallel presupposes that we adopt a disputable view of moods themselves. We understand that there is something wrong with the lack of emotional response of Capgras patients to the presence of their relatives, but to conceive melancholia in terms of inappropriate response, we would have to adopt a view like the one vindicated by Prinz, according to whom moods are appraisals of our general situation (Prinz, 2004). But it may be that moods, as they have causes rather than reasons (Roberts, 2003) are not reliable indicators of how we are doing in life. Moreover, untrustworthy appraisals are not pathological in themselves. The pathological character of depression cannot be understood in terms of inappropriate answer to external circumstances and we should rather conceive mood disorders as disorders of affective regulation.
N.B: There will also be a Phileas lecture by Peter Simons (Dublin) afterward. See the PhilEAs site for details.
November 24, 2016 - Thumos seminar / Quodlibeta
Tristram Oliver-Skuse (Geneva)
Emotional feeling and proper objects
There are good reasons to think that an occurrent emotion's directedness at its formal object is reflected in the phenomenology of the emotion itself. The feeling of an episode of anger that is directed towards one object is different to the feeling of an episode directed toward a different object. On the other hand, there are good reason to think that our emotions are opaque to us in a way that makes the misidentification of their objects commonplace. In this talk I aim to endorse the intuition behind the opacity claim while still defending the view that the proper object of an occurrent emotion can be read off its phenomenology. I will claim that it is the emotion's place in wider our emotional experience which is opaque to us and that this is of paramount importance to the rational status of the occurrent emotion.
November 29, 2016 - Brain and Cognition seminar
Anniversary Symposium of the Brain & Behaviour Laboratory
December 13, 2016 - Brain and Cognition seminar
Sebastian Berger (Bern)
Psychological engineering of preferences for insects: Using the price-quality heuristic to promote the liking of mealworms
December 14, 2016 - Reading seminar with Rabinowicz
Wlodek Rabinowicz (Lund)

Incommensurability and vagueness in spectrum arguments: Options for saving transitivity of betterness

The spectrum argument purports to show that the better-than relation is not transitive, and consequently that orthodox value theory is built on dubious foundations. The argument works by constructing a sequence of increasingly less painful but more drawn-out experiences, such that each experience in the spectrum is worse than the previous one, yet the final experience is better than the experience with which the spectrum began. Hence the betterness relation admits cycles, threatening either transitivity or asymmetry of the relation. This paper examines recent attempts to block the spectrum argument, using the idea that it is a mistake to affirm that every experience in the spectrum is worse than its predecessor: an alternative hypothesis is that adjacent experiences may be incommensurable in value, or that due to vagueness in the underlying concepts, it is indeterminate which is better. While these attempts formally succeed as responses to the spectrum argument, they have additional, as yet unacknowledged costs that are significant. In order to effectively block the argument in its most typical form, in which the first element is radically inferior to the last, it is necessary to suppose that the incommensurability (or indeterminacy) is particularly acute: what might be called radical incommensurability (radical indeterminacy). We explain these costs, and draw some general lessons about the plausibility of the available options for those who wish to save orthodox axiology from the spectrum argument.

N.B: This lecture seminar will take place at the Bastions (B216) from 13h15 to 15h00.

December 15, 2016 - Thumos seminar
Wlodek Rabinowicz (Lund)
Aggregation of Value Judgments Differs from Aggregation of Preferences
 This talk focuses on the contrast between aggregation of individual preference rankings to a collective preference ranking and aggregation of individual value judgments to a collective value judgment. The targeted case is one in which the two aggregation scenarios exhibit a far-reaching structural similarity; more precisely, the case in which the individual judgments that are to be aggregated are value rankings. This means that, formally, the individual judgments are isomorphic to individual preference rankings over a given set of alternatives. The paper suggests that, despite this formal similarity, the difference in the nature of individual inputs in two aggregation scenarios has important implications for the aggregation procedure: the kind of procedure that looks fine for aggregation of judgments turns out to be inappropriate for aggregation of preferences. The relevant procedure consists in maximization of similarity between the ouput and inputs, or – more precisely – in minimization of the average distance of the output from individual inputs. It is shown that, whatever measure is chosen, distance-based procedures violate the (strong) Pareto condition. This seems alright as value judgment aggregation goes, but would be unacceptable for preference aggregation, at least on one natural interpretation of the latter.

When applied to judgment aggregation, distance-based procedures might also be approached from the epistemic perspective: questions might be posed concerning the procedures’ advantages as truth-trackers. From that perspective, what matters is not only the probability of the output being true, but also its expected verisimilitude: its expected distance from truth.


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