Calling for Facilitators for Inter-School Philosophy Dialogue (ISPD) 2019

(From the organizers)

Hello everyone,

The Inter-School Philosophy Dialogue (ISPD) turns 16 this year!

In line with the Bicentennial Commemoration this year, we will have The Bicentennial Edition of ISPD this year and participants will have the opportunity to explore concepts related to the Bicentennial Commemoration such as Openness, Multiculturalism, Self-determination, Identity, Culture and Progress.

It will be held on 2nd August (Friday), from 1500h to 1900h, in Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary).

The success of ISPD depends on our very helpful facilitators who are able to engage our participants in collaborative rational inquiry. To kick-start our prep for ISPD, please take a minute register yourselves at this link, to let us know that you will be joining us:

More information will be sent closer to the date of the event.

Lastly, if you know of anyone who is Philosophy-trained and is an experienced facilitator, and would like to join us for ISPD, please feel free to forward the above link to them.

We look forward to meeting all of you at our annual gathering and hope to see everyone at ISPD.

“Wittgenstein’s “Private Language Argument” and the Limits of Language” by Richard McDonough


Wittgenstein’s “Private Language Argument” and the Limits of Language

After explaining the “private language argument” (PLA) centered in para. 258 of the Philosophical Investigations, the paper first clarifies Wittgenstein’s notion of criteria. The paper then discusses the irony in Wittgenstein’s apparent objection to putative private languages that they have no criteria for the private use of words. It is then argued that PLA, viewed from a logical perspective, is fallacious. The paper then shows how there could be scientific standards (not criteria in Wittgenstein’s technical sense) for the existence of private mental states and argues that Wittgenstein did not argue that this is impossible. The paper then argues that the conclusion of PLA is a tautology. The paper then argues that since the conclusion of PLA is a tautology, Wittgenstein would be correctly unmoved by any of the aforementioned objections to PLA. Finally, the paper refutes the objection that there is an inconsistency in the present interpretation and shows how resolving this objection shows that Wittgenstein’s PLA is to be understood in the context of his longstanding interest in setting the limits of language.

Date: 4 April 2019
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Meeting Room (AS3-05-23)

About the Speaker:

Richard McDonough received his BA in philosophy, with minors in mathematics and chemistry, summa cum laude, from the University of Pittsburgh in 1971, his MA in philosophy from Cornell University in 1974, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1975. He was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow 1971-71 and a National Science Foundation Fellow 1971-74. He is the author of two books, over 80 articles in internationally referred journals, 5 encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and 11 book reviews. He has acted as a guest editor of an issue of Idealistic Studies titled Wittgenstein and Cognitive Science. He has taught at Bates College, the National University of Singapore, the University of Tulsa, the University Putra Malaysia, the Overseas Family College, the PSB Academy, the University of Maryland, the Arium Academy, and James Cook University. In 2015, he received a European award for his papers in the philosophy of religion awarded at Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, general humanities and writing courses. He is currently working on a book on Plato and a book on the development of Wittgenstein’s philosophy from the early Tractatus to his “later philosophy”.

All are welcome

Honours Thesis (HT) Presentations by Mr Reuben Yeo Wei Wen, Mr Tshin Qi Zhou, Ms Quek Boo Eng, Rachel, Ms Neo Jia Jing & Mr Ng Wan Jun

Date: 28 March 2019
Time: 2pm to 5.40pm
Venue: Philosophy Meeting Room (AS3-05-23)

2.00pm to 2.45pm
1st Presentation by Reuben Yeo Wei Wen

Title: Caring for Worlds to Come: Toward Non-Anthropocentric Cosmopolitanisms

Care ethics concerns itself less with judging individual acts and more with cultivating relationships in particular contexts, seeking to inquire into moral dimensions not encompassed by theories of justice. I attempt to show how integrating care ethics into cosmopolitan discourse can be useful in conceptualizing non-anthropocentric cosmopolitanisms. Identifying care as a central source of cosmopolitan desire, I argue for multispecies/ecological cosmopolitanism in some form or other.

2.45pm to 3.30pm
2nd Presentation by Tshin Qi Zhou

Title: It is: A Defence of the Etiological Account of Assertion

Williamson (2000), In Knowledge and its Limits, explains the oddness of ‘p but I don’t know that p’ by appealing to the Knowledge Norm of Assertion (KNA). This has given rise to at least two major debates in the literature of the norms of assertion. The first debate feature competing accounts, such as Weiner’s (2005) Truth Norm, Lackey’s (2007) Reasonable to Believe Norm, and Kvanvig’s (2009) Justification Norm, all of which claim to explain the same data with a less demanding norm. The second debate feature arguments against the necessary and sufficient conditions of KNA. My thesis is concerned with both debates. In my first section, I defend Kelp’s (2018) etiological account of assertion. There are two upshots associated with accepting such an account. First, we can derive KNA from the etiological account. Second, accepting that the function of assertion is knowledge provides independent motivation that KNA is the right account. In the second section of my paper, I put the etiological account to work by examining Brown’s (2008, 2010, 2011) arguments against the sufficient conditions of KNA and showing that none of her arguments work. If I am successful, then this should give us good reason to accept both the etiological account and KNA.

3.30pm to 4.15pm
3rd Presentation by Ng Wan Jun

Title: Hume’s Skepticism, Eudaimonia and the Golden Mean

Drawing inspiration from the ancient Greeks, I develop an interpretation of Hume as a pragmatic skeptic: Hume endorses skepticism only insofar as it is pragmatic to do so. While Hume accepts the negative conclusions of skeptical arguments, he does not think that we should abandon our everyday beliefs and practices in light of these conclusions. Rather, we should retain them, as we have pragmatic reasons for doing so. A reason is considered pragmatic when it contributes to our flourishing as human beings (eudaimonia). This flourishing is rooted in our (individual) human nature. I label this as eudaimonic virtues.
To support this interpretation, I examine Hume’s attitude towards the different kinds of philosophies and his views on human nature. I argue that Hume ultimately endorses mitigated skepticism because it is the “golden mean” between excessive skepticism and credulity. Possessing a moderate degree of skepticism is the approach that is best suited to our nature, one that allows us to flourish the most as human beings.

4.25pm to 5.10pm
4th Presentation by Neo Jia Jing

Title: Culpable Ignorance: from analysing blame motivation to achieving fair allocation

The current discourse of culpable ignorance is typically concerned with whether or not an agent is to be blamed or excused from blame for committing a culpably ignorant act. This paper sets out to examine more closely the motivation behind blame allocation on a culpably ignorant agent. I will argue that the standard connection view between blameworthiness and culpability assumed by the majority of the current literature fails to fairly and consistently allocate blame to the right agent(s). Given this, I will offer an alternative to analysing these cases, namely that we can understand the motivation behind blame allocation in terms of ‘should have known’. More specifically, two senses of ‘should have known’ are in play – the agent-relative and agent-neutral senses, which consequently generate agent-relative and agent-neutral blameworthiness respectively. I will proceed to make the case for the agent-relative sense of blame to be the more important and morally relevant of the two when confronted with cases of culpable ignorance.

5.10pm to 5.55pm
5th Presentation by Quek Boo Eng, Rachel

Title: The Origin of Speciesism

This paper will firstly seek to establish the pervasiveness of human exceptionalism and ‘human-centred’ speciesism through a series of thought experiments. The results of these experiments indicate that the presence of a hypothetical human in any situation results in the generation of different decision-making rules as compared to situations involving only non-human animals; at the very least, it seems to complicate the decision-making process by requiring that humans be given special consideration. The bulk of the paper will explore the basis of speciesism – what possible qualities exist, largely specific to humans, that differentiate humans from non-human animals and could justify this asymmetry in decision-making rules. Ultimately, it will be posited that the notion of human identity serves as the foundation of speciesism, in that the above-mentioned ‘qualities’ amalgamate to form a human individual’s identity. Closer inspection of each of the various facets of ‘human identity’ will indicate that this is not a suitably convincing or justified reason to prefer one’s own species over another – the foundation of speciesism is thus not quite as solid as it may be believed.

All are welcome

“Ethical Desiderata for a Satisfactory Socialist Economics” by Barry Maguire

Ethical Desiderata for a Satisfactory Socialist Economics

It has become rather old-fashioned to contrast the self-directed nature of market motives with the socialist ideal of a productive community in which each contributes according to their ability and is contributed to according to their need. A barrage of arguments from theorists in economics, psychology, political theory, and philosophy have weakened this contrast, arguing that market participation is compatible with a range of attractive kinds of social relations. In a series of papers, Robert Sugden and Luigino Bruni have argued that we can conceptualise market exchange as a joint activity undertaken together with the intention of realizing a mutual benefit. And so we can. The key question is whether this conceptualization is compatible with the relevant socialist ideal. This is the question that drives this talk. I start by strengthening Sugden and Bruni’s case, granting as many assumptions as possible to market theorists along the way. And still, I argue, there is at least one crucial difference between these two forms of economic society. In markets, our individual motivations to serve others in our productive lives are conditional upon self-directed concerns. In the socialist ideal, our motivations to serve others in our productive activities are instead directly explained by a commitment to serve our community in some useful way. We may yet be willing and able to uphold this commitment only if doing so is compatible with living a good life oneself. I explore the nature and significance of this contrast, partly by application to cases of price gouging, salary negotiations, and the minimum wage.

Date: 21 March 2019
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Meeting Room (AS3-05-23)

About the Speaker:
Barry Maguire is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Stanford University. He previously taught Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at UNC Chapel Hill, and before that held a Bersoff Faculty Fellowship in the Philosophy department at NYU. He received his PhD in philosophy from Princeton University, where he was advised by Gideon Rosen. He works on a range of related issues in Normative Ethics, Metaethics, Epistemology, and Political Philosophy.

All are welcome

Honours Thesis (HT) Presentations by Mr Loo Kee Wei, Mr Cao Junbo,Ms Pang Ying Xuan Grace, Mr Koh Jia Ren & Mr Mohd Farizmi Chong Bin Alif Chong

Date: 7 March 2019
Time: 2pm
Venue: Philosophy Meeting Room AS3-05-23

2.00pm to 2.450pm
1st Presentation by Loo Kee Wei

Title: Modelling the Epistemic States of Moderately Ideal Agents

Attempts to model the epistemic states of logically omniscient agents and logically extreme agents have seen considerable progress, although they are not without their problems. Mark Jago has proposed a possible worlds framework that purportedly models the epistemic states of moderately ideal agents, and Jens Christian Bjerring argues that Jago’s model is untenable for various reasons. In my presentation, I will respond to Bjerring— by failing to draw a distinction between checking and finding, Bjerring’s objection to Jago may not be as robust as one might think it to be. Consequently, one might still hold on to the hope that a possible worlds framework might be a viable means to model the epistemic states of moderately ideal agents.

2.45pm to 3.30pm
2nd Presentation by Cao Junbo

Title: The Confusing Confucian Disagreement on Human Nature

A literal reading of the Xunzi chapter 23 suggests that Xunzi thought that human “性” is bad and disagreed with Mengzi that human “性” is good. Some scholars suggested that Xunzi misunderstood what Mencius meant by “性” and could, therefore, have been arguing past Mencius.
This essay aims to discuss whether there is a genuine disagreement between Xunzi and Mencius, and if there is, what is the basis of the disagreement. I argue that both Xunzi and Mengzi believes that (i) human beings can become good and that (ii) what Mengzi referred to as “性” plays an important role for (i). Nevertheless, Xunzi should disagree with Mengzi that Mengzi’s “性” is sufficient for (i). Since Mencius meant by “human 性 is good” that “human beings can become good”, the two propositions, if not identical in meaning, should at least mutually imply. Hence, according to his system of thought, Xunzi should still disagree with Mengzi’s proposition that “human 性is good” on the basis that Mengzi’s 性 is not sufficient for one to be able to become good.

3.30pm to 4.15pm
3rd Presentation by Pang Ying Xuan Grace

Title: Thought as Visual: Can Films Advance Philosophy?

My thesis opens up general thoughts about Film and its relation to Philosophy. Film is not often considered as suitable material for a Philosophical project, especially because of its fictional nature. And so, film’s capacity to philosophise is not immediately apparent to us. However, Stephen Mulhall argues that films do produce new ideas and contribute to existing philosophical discourse. Following from this, what is significant to this extant debate is the question of what it means to be “doing philosophy”. My paper will be split into three sections. Firstly, I will explicate Mulhall’s view and an opposite camp, represented by Julian Baggini. Subsequently, I aim to posit several arguments to show why Philosophy can come in come in the form of film in addition to the conventions of propositional arguments. And in light of this, my project will inevitably thread over some of the issues that have plagued the debate between the Arts and its contribution to Philosophy. Finally, as a case study, I will use a film to try and show if film can ‘do philosophy’.

4.25pm to 5.10pm
4th Presentation by Koh Jia Ren

Title: Nietzsche on Health

Concerns about health, of the body, mind, and soul, was of significant importance to Nietzsche, who himself suffered from a well-documented history of debilitating sickness. Surprisingly, there has been scant literature published focusing on this topic. Discussions about illness, madness and suffering have been extensive, and one might be inclined to simply flesh out a conception of Nietzschean health through its converse. However, it is not so straightforward, as Nietzsche finds certain forms of madness and suffering to be healthy, and takes illness and health not as an antithesis but a question of degrees. In my thesis, I will explicate the relationship between mind and body through health. I will discuss and improve upon a Nietzschean conception of the mind in terms of physiologically based drives in order to describe mental health. I will then discuss the health of the spirit; how it relates, and to what extent is reducible to the mind and body. Consolidating the previous sections, I will discuss how my Nietzschean conception of health relates to the will to power.

5.10pm to 5.40pm
5th Presentation by Mohd Farizmi Chong Bin Alif Chong

Title: Can you believe it? – Non-motivating doxastic reasons for belief

In this writing, I will argue that there are, amongst other possible reasons, pragmatic reasons for belief and not just evidential or, more generally, alethic, i.e., truth-related, ones. Further, I will argue that such reasons for belief, pragmatic or otherwise, that are neither evidential nor at least alethic, are non-motivating reasons for belief, i.e., they do not motivate beliefs despite being reasons for them. In order to do so, I aim to refute and built upon two recent arguments, one by Susanna Rinnard (forthcoming) and another by Andrew Reisner (forthcoming), that argue that there are motivating Pragmatic Reasons for belief. In brief, I agree with their arguments only to the extent that they reveal a fault line in thinking that our beliefs are either conceptually only aimed at truth (Conceptual Alethicism) or conceptually only based on evidential reasons (Conceptual Evidentialism).

Classical Chinese: Text, Philosophy, Language Workshop with Professor Christoph Harbsmeier

You are cordially invited to the Classical Chinese: Text, Philosophy, Language Workshop with Professor Christoph Harbsmeier organized by Associate Professor Loy Hui-Chieh on 21st and 22th January 2019 at the Wan Boo Sow Research Centre for Chinese Culture, NUS FASS AS8-05-49.

There will be three sessions in the workshop:

Session 1: On Current Dating of the Analects in the US (Mon 21 Jan, 10-12)

Session 2: A New Reading of Zhuangzi and his Commentators  (Mon 21 Jan 1-3)

Session 3: The Introduction to 馬氏文通 and the History of Chinese Grammar” On the Zuozhuan (Tue 2-4) (title updated)

As lunch and refreshments will be provided, please RSVP by 18 Jan 2019 at

About the speaker: Christoph Harbsmeier is Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo. He also holds honorary professorships at Peking University, Fudan University (Shanghai), Wuhan University, Zhejiang University, Shanghai Normal University, and East China Normal University. His main work is in the history of science (logic), conceptual history, historical linguistics, and modern Chinese Cartoons.

Sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore. Special thanks to the Wan Boo Sow Research Centre for Chinese Culture for granting the use of their facilities.

See photos from the last workshop with Prof Harbsmeier here.

ASEMP 2019

Australasian Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy 2019

Brisbane, November 25-27, 2019

Call for abstracts

The University of Queensland is delighted to host the second Australasian Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy (ASEMP), in Brisbane, Australia, from November 25th to 27th, 2019.

An optional extended stay from November 28th through to December 1st is planned for the island of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island or colloquially, “Straddie”).

Invited Speakers:

Professor Lilli Alanen (Uppsala University)

Professor Marguerite Deslauriers (McGill University)

Professor John Carriero (University of California, Los Angeles)

Professor Calvin Normore (University of California, Los Angeles)

Professor Margaret Schabas (University of British Columbia)

For this conference, we seek papers on those early modern concepts, theories, or figures that transformed standard ways of thinking in the period, or that changed the form and nature of philosophy itself.

The panel themes are

(1) Women and Power; (2) Metaphysics, Science and Religion; and (3) State and Secularism, and papers fitting those themes are encouraged.

Papers on other topics relating to the broad theme of Transformations in Early Modern Philosophy are also welcome.

Deadline for Abstracts: March 1, 2019. Successful participants will be notified by April 1, 2019.

Abstract length: 500 words.

In Search of Reasons to Care about Morality by Han Yongming

In Search of Reasons to Care about Morality

C.P. Ellis was once a hate-filled leader of a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. But he recants his racial bigotry after co-organizing a forum on educational desegregation, a forum at which he comes to see that what his society’s ideology had taught him about blacks was deeply mistaken. Not long after that, he becomes a civil rights activist and organizer for a union of mostly black women workers.

Examples like Ellis’ have been taken to suggest that we can come to care (or stop caring) about morally relevant things *for* reasons — that moral cares, in short, are responses to reasons. That is what theorists like Michael Smith, Stephen Darwall, Derek Parfit, and T. M. Scanlon hold. I’ll argue, however, that we can explain the ways in which such cares might seem reason-responsive, even if we hold that they are not based on reasons. Indeed, doing so gives us better, because simpler, explanations of the data.

Date: 10 January 2019, Thursday
Time: 2pm to 3.30pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3-05-23)

About the Speaker:
Yongming is a philosophy graduate student at Brown University; his undergraduate work was done at NUS. His main research area is moral philosophy (especially moral psychology and metaethics), though he also has substantial interests in the philosophy of mind/language. His teaching interests include critical reasoning and introductory logic (and the ways in which the teaching and learning of these subjects can be informed by psychological research and facilitated by technology).

All are welcome

“Objective Rights and Epistemic Risks” by Renee Jorgensen Bolinger

Objective Rights and Epistemic Risks

This paper argues that our understanding of objective rights must be sensitive to agents’ epistemic limitations. On one popular understanding (which I call the `full-information fact-relative’ interpretation), considerations about ignorance are relevant only to the `subjective permissibility’ of an act, affecting culpability but not whether an act is a rights-violation. Against this view, I argue that subjective permissibility is not an adequate answer to the problems that agent ignorance poses for the deliberative and distributive roles of moral rights. If rights are to fill the theoretical role assigned to them, they must issue fact-relative permissions that are at least somewhat sensitive to agents’ evidential and epistemic limitations.

Date: 16 October 2018, Tuesday
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3-05-23)

About the Speaker:
Renee Bolinger, ( Ph.D., USC (2017) is a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Philosophy at Australian National University, and will join Princeton University in September 2019, as an Assistant Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values. Her primary research interests are in moral and political philosophy. Her current work concerns the ethics of risk, just war, moral rights under uncertainty (especially in self-defence), hate speech, and the political import of various informal social norms.

All are welcome