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.
March 2, 2017 - Thumos seminar / Quodlibeta
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
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.
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
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
Elena Cagnoli (Geneva)
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.
Emma Tieffenbach (Geneva)
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).
Mary Carman (Geneva)
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.
François Jaquet (Geneva)
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.
Steve Humbert-Droz (Fribourg)
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).
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).
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.
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.
Florian Cova (Geneva), François Kammerer (Paris Sorbonne) & Maxence Gaillard (Rikkyo University)
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.
Jealousy — Ronald de Sousa
Embarrassment — Sandy Berkovski
Anger — Mary Carman
Contempt — Macalester Bell
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 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)
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.