Julien Murzi: Noncognitivism in ethics (seminar)

What do moral statements mean? If killing is wrong, what, if anything, makes the sentence 'Killing is wrong' true? In this seminar we introduce and critically review a number of noncognitivist approaches to metaethics, i.e. approaches that deny that moral statements are true, or false, in virtue of objective features of the world. For instance, on some of these approaches, to say that killing is wrong is just to express an attitude of disapproval towards killing; on some other approaches, 'Killing is wrong' is true, even though there is no natural property in the world that makes this sentence true. But can a noncognitivist treatment of moral statements be viable? If so, what lessons can we learn about moral facts and the metaphysics of morality more generally? In answering these questions, we will largely follow Mark Schroeder's excellent book Noncognitivism in ethics, but we will also read a few classic, and more recent, papers along the way.

Iulian Toader: Climate Ethics (seminar)

Major climate changes, such as the increase of global temperatures due to accummulation of carbon dioxide in the air and the rise of global average sea level, as well as their undeniable harmful consequences, have called for transformations of both technology and human behavior. Mitigation based on emission cuts has been the main focus of our response strategies to keep global warming as far below under 2ºC as possible. This seminar will consider the moral questions raised by these strategies. In particular, we will discuss questions about fairness in sharing the associated economic burden among countries, questions about justice towards climate refugees, future generations, and non-human species, as well as questions related to what, if anything, each and every one of us is morally obligated to do in the face of imminent dangerous climate changes.


Johannes Brandl: Varieties of Folk Psychology (lecture course + exercise course)

Folk psychology is not a single thing but a variety of strategies for understanding other people that we use in daily life.  According to cognitive psychology, what underpins our folk psychological skills is a specific faculty for "mindreading". In this course, we will examine the debate in philosophy of mind arising from the psychological literature on mindreading. Part 1 focuses on the differences between a theory-theory approach and a simulation approach to mindreading. Part 2 considers objections that target both kinds of theories as well as so-called hybrid theories of mindreading. Part 3 looks at possible alternatives, emphasizing the role of embodied cognition, interpersonal engagements, and narrative practices. At the end of the course, students will appreciate the challenge of giving a pluralistic account of our folk psychological abilities.

Brett Topey: What is truth? (lecture course + exercise course)  

When we say that a sentence (or a proposition, or a belief) is true, we plausibly are attributing to that sentence (or proposition, or belief) a certain property: the property of truth. But what is this property, exactly? Intuitively, the answer seems simple: truth is just agreement with the facts of the world. But this on its own is only an uninformative platitude, and developing it into a full theory of truth turns out to be more difficult than one might think -- doing so would require both explaining what sort of object a fact is and making sense of what it is for a thing of that sort to be in agreement with a sentence. Can we meet these requirements and thereby develop our platitude into a satisfactory theory, or are we going to need some different account of what the property of truth consists in? Or might we have been mistaken in assuming that truth is really a property in the first place?

In this course, students will systematically investigate these questions by examining classical and contemporary philosophical theories of truth.

Summer Semester

Christopher Gauker: The Cognitive Nature of Skills (seminar)

Philosophers have generally conceived of reasoning as a passage from a set of proposition-bearing representations (the premises) to another proposition-bearing representation (the conclusion). Recently, philosophers have taken up the question whether this model fits also the reasoning involved in the execution of skills.  These might be skills exercised in tool use or athletic competition or playing a musical instrument or drawing or even in building mental images. On one side are those who assimilate knowledge-how to a propositional attitude. On the other side are those who deny this but still maintain that the exercise of skills is not mechanical and involves a kind of rationality.  The aim of this seminar will be to develop a clear theoretical analysis of the kind of rationality that may be exhibited in the exercise of bodily and mental skills.

Raimund Pils: The Scientific Realism Debate (seminar)

Should we interpret scientific statements about unobservable reality literally and as having (absolute) truth values? Can we acquire knowledge about unobservable reality through scientific investigation and are we justified to believe in the entities, forces, and relations postulated by our best scientific theories? Or should scientific theories better be conceived as convenient systems, mere instruments in order to deal with empirical regularities of the observable world?  The scientific realism debate has been central within the philosophy of science for the past thirty years. After a short introduction of its development in the last century, the core of the seminar will be on the contemporary discussion which strongly focuses on epistemological issues. We will work with the primary sources of the main positions and will discuss their basic argumentative strategies.

Large parts of the debate focuses on two competing arguments: On the one hand, the predictive and manipulative success of a scientific theory gives us good reason to believe that theory to be (partly) true. On the other hand, the historical track-record of successful false theories gives us good reason to expect even our most successful scientific theories to be proven false as science advances. Furthermore, realists are often driven by their quest for explanation and anti-realists by their strong empiricist and anti-metaphysical sentiments.

Peter Simons: Metaphysics of Quantities (seminar)

Since Plato first wrote about the forms, philosophers have discussed entities which are neither in space nor time, nor have any causal role. These are abstract entities or abstract objects. And ever since then, there have been philosophers who denied that there are such things, starting with Plato’s own student Aristotle. This course discusses in depth the fiercely disputed case of abstract objects: who accepts them (platonists) and who rejects them (nominalists), why one should or should not believe in them, and for what reasons. The kinds of abstract objects that have been put forward fall into at least five categories: universals, mathematical objects, semantic objects such as meanings, fictions, and states of affairs. These may or may not overlap, and the reasons for accepting or rejecting them vary from one to another. What are the advantages and problems for platonists, and conversely, what are the advantages and problems for nominalists? Is there any way in which the dispute between those for and those against abstract objects could be resolved? The course will provide a brief historical overview, a taxonomy, and detailed discussions of the arguments and tools available to both sides, enabling students to concentrate on a selected case or aspect of the dispute.

Mariangela Cocchiaro: Recent Topics in Formal Epistemology (seminar)

The questions that drive formal epistemology are often the same as those in “informal” epistemology. What is knowledge, and how is it different from mere opinion? When is a belief justified? What it means for something to be evidence for a hypothesis?And yet, the tools on which formal epistemologists rely in order to reply to these questions share much history and interest with other fields, both inside and outside philosophy. A formal epistemologist might, for example, draw on probability theory to explain how scientific reasoning works. Or she might use modal logic to argue for a particular theory of knowledge.In this course we will start by surveying Bayesian/probabilistic models of belief and modal representations of belief and knowledge, in the tradition of von Wright and Hintikka. Then we will shift direction and investigate how these tools are put to use in order to reply to some of the standard philosophical questions from traditional epistemology.

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    30.01.20 Targeted Machine Learning: How we can use machine learning for causal inference
    30.01.20 Figurationen und Szenen des Beginnens: Themenfeld MUSIK
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