Lorenzo Rossi and Julien Murzi: Philosophy of Language (lecture course with exercises)

This course offers an introduction to some central topics in the Philosophy of Language, focusing on issues concerning meaning, reference, truth, context, and communication. We will consider questions like the following. How does a proper name like ‘Christoph Waltz’ refer to a certain person? Is meaning just a matter of reference? Do descriptions, phrases such as ‘The fourth planet in the solar system’, work like names? What are we to make of expressions that don’t refer to anything that currently exists, e.g. ‘Santa Claus’ or ‘the largest natural number’? What do demonstratives, expressions such as ‘this’, mean? What is the relation between the conventional meaning of a sentence and what a speaker intends to convey by it? How does context affect linguistic communication? The first part of the course will provide an up to date introduction to contemporary Philosophy of Language. The second part will focus on conditionals: sentences of the form 'If ..., then...'. Conditionals play an essential role in everyday reasoning. And yet, philosophers and linguists still wildly disagree about their interpretation. In the second part of the course, we will bring to bear the materials learned in the first part to critically introduce, and discuss, the main contemporary approaches to conditionals. 

Guillaume Frechette: Descriptive Psychology and Value Theory in the Austrian Tradition (lecture course with exercises) 

What is value? What is it for an action or an object to be valuable? Like mass or energy, values are properties often attributed to a large scale of objects, but unlike mass or energy, it seems undeniable that this attribution itself is an essential part of the answer to the question about the nature of value. In economics, it was the so-called “Austrian school” of economists such as Menger, Böhm-Bawerk, Wieser, Mises and Hayek which first underlined the centrality of the economic agent in establishing an economic science of value. In the same tradition and at about the same time, the school of Brentano, sometimes called the “second Austrian school” – composed of philosophers such as Meinong, Marty, Stumpf, Ehrenfels, Höfler, Twardowski, Husserl, and many others – stressed the importance of understanding valuations, i.e. acts of attributing values, in order to build the philosophical disciplines of ethics and aesthetics. In this course, we will study the various theories of value proposed by these two Austrian schools, with a particular consideration of the second one. We will evaluate the different definitions of values proposed, e.g. in terms of desires (Ehrenfels), feelings (Meinong), or correct emotions (Brentano),  the axiological conceptions of the good, the bad, and the better, and the different accounts of the deontic categories of the right, the wrong, the required, the forbidden, and the permitted, that follow from these conceptions. Since value theory in the Austrian tradition is based on the centrality of acts of valuation, we will start our investigations with an introduction to the ontology of these acts. Such an ontology was developed by Brentano under the label of “descriptive psychology”, dealing with the classification of mental acts. For the purpose of this course, a special consideration will be given to acts of love and hate, which are the basic acts of valuation.

Chris Gauker: Imagistic Cognition (seminar)  

We often solve problems by means of mental images. For instance, if we need to replace the washer in a faucet, we can take the faucet apart, form visual images of the various parts as they come apart, and recall in imagery the order in which the parts came apart, and then, after we have replaced the washer, we can play this mental movie in reverse in order to put the faucet back together again. This kind of cognition is very different from the reasoning by means sentence-like thoughts bearing propositional content that has been the focus of philosophical and psychological theory.  This course will be a philosophical examination of the nature of such imagistic cognition. One question will be whether we can demonstrate on the basis of behavioral evidence that there really are representations that behave like mental images. Another question concerns the nature of the representation relation for mental images. Should we say that mental images are isomorphic to what they represent? May we model them as locations in a imagistic similarity space? Do mental images have a propositional content? Further questions include: Can a visual mental image represent the three-dimensional shape of an object? Must we be conscious of our mental imagery? Is mental imagery constitutive of what we call imagination or pretense? How can we tell the difference between a mental movie that represents something that could actually happen (such as a wine glass falling and shattering) and a mental movie that represents pure fantasy (such as a wine glass falling and turning into a bird and flying away)? In what sense can our mental imagery constitute knowledge?
The literature for the course will be drawn from both psychologists and philosophers. Johannes

Johannes Brandl and Josef Perner: Views of Action - How do we make sense of human action? (seminar) 

How do we make sense of human action? In this seminar, we compare some of the currently discussed theories which offer widely different answers to that question: According to the dominant belief-desire model, actions are generated from what an agent wants and believes to be the case. According to the goal-based model, one can make sense of an action simply by recognizing the goal that performing the action realizes, irrespective of whether the goal is conceived as a worthwhile result. Finally, the evaluative teleological model assumes that we understand goal-directed behavior as a human action basically when we regard the action as something that ought to be done to achieve some good. We will consider the advantages and disadvantages of each view both from a conceptual (philosophical) and an empirical (developmental) point of view.


Julien Murzi & N.N.: Truth and Paradox (lecture course with exercises)  

A paradox is an apparently valid reasoning that leads from premises that seem obviously true to a conclusion that is contradictory or in some other way unacceptable. In this seminar, we will focus on the so-called semantic paradoxes, of which the Liar Paradox is perhaps the most famous example. Consider a sentence which says of itself that it is lying, i.e. that what it says is not true. Then, it is easy to see that, if what the sentence says is true, then it is not true; and that if it is not true, then it is true. Contradiction! The paradox only involves apparently harmless assumptions: a tiny bit of logic, self-reference, and some highly plausible principles about truth. As it turns out, all three assumptions are extremely basic, if not essential, to our way of thinking; and yet, they have all been---and (arguably) at least one of them must ultimately be---questioned. The first part of the seminar will provide some minimal technical and philosophical background, and review the main existing solutions to the semantic paradoxes and some of the difficulties they face. We will then focus on some exciting new developments, involving the phenomenon of revenge and the role of context in paradoxical reasoning. Since different metaphysical conceptions of truth lead to radically different approaches to semantic paradox, the seminar will also serve as an introduction to some key contemporary approaches to truth, such as Tarski-style correspondence theory and deflationism. Throughout the term, we will read a mix of classic and more recent, articles.  

Charlotte Werndl: Philosophy of Physics (seminar)  

This seminar will provide an introduction to the philosophy of physics. We will begin with discussing Newtonian physics, in particular, determinism and indeterminism, and absolute versus relative space and time. Then we will turn to chaos theory, the limits of predictability, and finally to some problems in the foundations of classical statistical mechanics. Then we will continue with the philosophy of special relativity: Minkowski space-time, the meaning of the relativity principle, and the verifiability principle and (if time allows) also conceptual problems in general relativity theory such as the rise and fall of Euclidean geometry and Mach's principle.

Leonhard Menges: Skepticism about Responsibility (seminar)

When we blame a person for a mayor wrongdoing or a minor fault we seem to presuppose that she is responsible for what she did. Similarly, our legal systems presuppose that those who are punished are responsible for their illegal conduct. But are these presuppositions correct? Some philosophers have developed powerful arguments to the conclusion that (almost) no human being is responsible in the way that is necessary for being appropriately blamed or punished. In this seminar we will discuss recent attempts to establish this conclusion as well as some of the most promising replies.

Iulian Toader:  The development of modern metaphysics (seminar)  

This seminar examines the work of some major figures in the history of modern metaphysics: Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Fichte, Nietzsche, Frege, Husserl, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine, and Lewis. Our main interest will be in uncovering connections of ideas and patterns of argumentation that we can appropriate for a better understanding of contemporary debates in metaphysics. We will also be looking at methodological and epistemological views about metaphysics and its interaction with modern science and mathematics, with an eye towards reconsidering current disputes on the naturalization of contemporary metaphysics. Most of our readings will be drawn from A. W. Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics: Making Sense of Things, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Patricia Palacio: Reduction and Emergence in the Sciences (seminar)  

The topic of emergence and reduction is nowadays one of the liveliest areas of research in both science and philosophy. The reason for this is related with recent developments in a number of successful research programs within physics, biology, chemistry and social sciences. These developments have encouraged us to rethink the relationship between complex entities and their parts as well as the relationship between different theories and, in this way, to revise claims about reduction and emergence in science. In this course we will address issues concerning this topic from an inter-disciplinary perspective. We will begin with the study of contemporary classics that will allow us to grasp the concept of emergence and reduction, then move forward to analyse potential examples of emergence in physics, continue with the discussion of potential examples of emergence in biology, and lastly, consider possible examples of reduction in economics. The main goal of this course is to introduce students to recent discussions in emergence and reduction in different sciences. Since technicalities will be kept to a minimum, scientific background is not required.

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