courses taught in the academic year 2017/18
Courses offered for Master’s students in 2017/18 (all taught in English)
autumn semester 2017/18 (beginning of october to end of january
Julien Murzi: What is rational belief?
We typically value justified belief more than simple belief: after all, a justified belief is more likely to be true than a randomly selected one. Indeed, we value knowledge even more than justified belief, since, arguably, a belief that qualifies as knowledge is true. But when is a belief justified? Does our justification for a proposition depend on its likelihood to be true given our evidence? Can we rationally have inconsistent beliefs, such as the belief that no particular lottery ticket in a fair lottery will win? What is justification? And what is knowledge? Can it be defined? Is knowledge a particular kind of sensitive, or safe, belief? Do we know anything at all? Do you know that your cat is sleeping on the sofa, if you don't know that you're not a brain in a vat? Could we even understand the language of somebody whose brain was envatted, by an evil scientist, or malin génie? In this course, we'll investigate these and other epistemological questions, mostly by looking at some deeply puzzling sceptical arguments, some of which are probably as old as Philosophy is, and all of which have sprung very lively debates in the recent philosophical literature.
Julian Toader: The Aims of Scientific Metaphysics
Traditional criticisms consider metaphysics deficient insofar as it prevents cognitive progress or because it lacks theoretical content. More recently, metaphysics has been judged deficient for its lack of scientific standing. To overcome this latter deficiency, one typically requires that metaphysical views be continuous and harmonious with science, that they be tied into the results and practices of science. This seminar will analyze and evaluate such requirements. Students will become familiar with the historical and conceptual motivations for the project of scientific metaphysics, its goals and limitations. We will follow the development of this project since the beginning of the 20th century, but will mostly focus on recent arguments.
Charlotte Werndl: Modelling, Simulation and Confirmation, with a special emphasis on the philosophy of climate science.
This seminar is about modelling, simulation and confirmation with a special emphasis on climate science. We will read about the various kinds of models found in science, and examine the plurality of models found in climate science. Next we will turn to simulation and investigate how simulation differs (or does not differ) from modelling. Simulation is one of the main methods in climate science and so again climate simulations will be used as case studies. Finally, we will discuss the various kinds of confirmation found in science, and will ask in which ways and to what extent climate models are confirmed.
Johannes Brandl and Josef Perner: The cognitive foundations of fiction
When we invent stories, engage in counterfactual reasoning, or imagine a possible future that may never come about, we think about fictional scenarios. The cognitive abilities that enable us to do so are of interest to both philosophers and psychologists. In this seminar, we want to bring these interests together and discuss some of the recent literature on how we create fictional scenarios in our minds. Starting from classical works by K. Walton (Mimesis as Make-Belief, 1990) and P.L. Harris (The Work of the Imagination, 2000), we will discuss among others the following topics: Which representational processes are involved in creating fictional scenarios? Does pretending depend on a distinctive attitude of imagination? How do children develop a sense of “nearest possible worlds”? How can we explain phenomena like imaginative resistance? Why is understanding what someone pretends to be the case so much easier for children than understanding what someone believes? How can thoughts about nonexisting entities be naturalized, e.g., captured with mental files?
Chris Gauker: TBA
Julien Murzi: Vagueness
One grain of sand doesn’t make a heap. But if n grains of sand don’t make a heap, neither do n + 1 grains of sand. But then, by repeated applications of modus ponens, it follows — absurdly — that 1.000.000 grains of send don’t make a heap either! This is the Sorites Paradox. The paradoxes arises because of the tolerance of the great majority of natural language predicates: i.e. predicates such as ‘heap’, ‘red’, ‘child’, ‘happy’ are such that if they apply to an object o at all, then they also apply to an object that every so slightly differs from o in the relevant respect. Given tolerance, and a tiny bit of logic, we can prove all kinds of absurd conclusions, such that a 58 year old man is a toddler, that 0 grains of sand make a heap, and so on. Does this show that natural languages are inconsistent, or even incoherent? Or does the phenomenon of vagueness point to the need for a much more sophisticated understanding of an apparently simple, if inconsistent, phenomenon? And how are we to decide how to best account for vague predicates? Can empirical evidence be brought to bear on the question how to solve the Sorites Paradox and how to interpret vague predicates? In this course, we shall be looking at various different ways of understanding vagueness and various proposed treatments, old and new, of Sorites Paradoxes. We will be addressing questions such as: What is the source of vagueness? Is vagueness semantic, or can the world be inherently vague? Can vagueness be eliminated? What is the logic of vagueness? What is higher-order vagueness and is it a coherent notion? Does the Sorites Paradox rest on illicit shifts of context? Can empirical evidence adjudicate between different competing accounts of vagueness? Can there be vague objects?
Laurenz Hudetz: Theories of collective decision makingThe central question of this course is: How can we determine what a group believes or wants based on what the individual members of the group believe or want? This problem or versions of it arise in many contexts and for groups of various kinds and sizes. It concerns the foundations of democracy and welfare economics as well as decision making in small collectives such as committees, juries or working groups.There is a plethora of possible methods of collective decision making, ranging from widely-used majority rules to pathological ones such as dictatorship. However, many of these methods have undesirable properties. So in order to give a satisfactory answer to the question above, one has to come up with a method that satisfies certain desiderata (such as not being dictatorial or preserving rationality). We will see that the task of finding such methods is beset with severe difficulties. Often, one can prove that no method of a certain type satisfies all desiderata. In view of such impossibility theorems important philosophical questions arise: Which desiderata are we ready to give up? Could we avoid impossibility results by devising methods that take into account more information encoded in individual attitudes? Is it realistic that the required additional information is available in practice?We will focus on the following topics:
1. Preference aggregation
2. Welfare aggregation
3. Judgement aggregation
4. Voting procedures (with special focus on the problem of manipulation by strategic voting)
5. Voting vs deliberation
6. Issues on the way from theory to practice
Christian Piller: Ethics: Theoretical and Applied
In this course we will discuss the following questions: Are sums of harms and benefits morally significant? Under what circumstances should we use lotteries in the distribution of benefits (or harms)? Is there a solid philosophical basis for wrongful-life lawsuits? What, if any, are our duties of procreation? Can actions be wrong which harm no one? What is the basis of our duties to future generations? These questions all point to a general issue in normative theory which concerns the relationship between facts about what is good for someone and facts about what is good. We will tackle this issue directly and, via the questions mentioned above, indirectly, thereby hoping to make some progress in both theoretical and applied ethics.
Chris Gauker: TBA
Peter Simons: Categories. Their Nature, Heuristics and Importance
Since Aristotle’s early logical work Categories the concept of a category has played a crucial role in numerous areas of philosophy: ontology, epistemology, logic, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of science. Yet the existence, nature, and purpose of categories have all been disputed from the beginning. Whether categories divide things, or concepts, or words, or some combination, has never been consensually agreed. It has been doubted whether there is a definitive and absolute collection of categories, or whether they shift over time or vary with language and culture. The lists of categories proposed by different philosophers seem as varied as their modes of dress, and the methods by which they are determined are just as disputed as the contents of these lists. Some indeed deny that there are any categories, or that we can ever know what categories apply to the world, or that we need them in any way at all. Roughly speaking, when it comes to categories, nothing is agreed.
This course will introduce the concept of category in its variant historical guises, highlighting prominent accounts from Aristotle to the present, their similarities and differences, but with the emphasis on more modern philosophy. Prominent figures in this story after Aristotle are Ockham, John of St. Thomas, Kant, Brentano, Frege, Husserl, Russell, Whitehead, Ingarden, Williams, Quine, Chisholm, Armstrong and Lowe. We will then move on to consider what categories might be, whether they are words, concepts, classes of things, or indeed more than one of these, jointly or severally.Given the widespread disagreement about what categories are, it is less surprising that there is little agreement as to which categories there are. One problem here is that the methods employed to discern or discover categories have varied widely. They can be broadly divided into linguistic, logical, and scientific in type. Each approach rests on substantive and debatable assumptions, though is not evident that they are mutually exclusive. We shall assess the various heuristics and their justifications. The overall aim however is not to do history of philosophy, but to use the history as a springboard to assess the role and significance of categories in contemporary ontology.