“Torture and Imprisonment” by Owen Schaefer

In most legal regimes, imprisonment is the primary means of criminal sanction, while punitive torture is prohibited.  However, I argue that the same moral reasons that ground prohibitions on torture are also reasons to oppose punitive imprisonment.  Prison, especially long sentences, can involve as much or more suffering as torture. Moreover, both involve intentional degradation, dehumanization and a cruel use of the threat of suffering to induce compliance.  Some have used this line of reasoning to argue for the permissibility of mild forms of torture (i.e., corporal punishment) in the criminal justice system.  I propose that we should instead accept the arguments against torture as sound; punitive imprisonment is, like torture, inhumane and therefore impermissible.  This implies the need for significant reforms to criminal justice systems, and we need to urgently investigate alternatives to imprisonment such as reconciliation models of justice.  Some non-punitive use of imprisonment (such as sequestration of acutely dangerous individuals, where inducement of suffering is not intended) may still be justifiable, but still prisons would have to be significantly reformed – perhaps along the public health model of quarantine.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 25 August 2016
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Owen Schaefer
Moderator: Dr Qu Hsueh Ming

About the Speaker:

Owen Schaefer is a Research Fellow at NUS’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics under the MOH-funded initiative, Clinical Ethics Network + Research Ethics Support (CENTRES).  He first began working in applied ethics as a ‘pre-doctoral’ fellow at the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health in the US.  He received his DPhil degree in philosophy at Oxford in 2014, writing a dissertation on moral enhancement.  Immediately prior to joining CBmE, he spent a year as a post-doc at the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics researching the implications of various novel biotechnologies.  His research interests cover a wide array of topics in applied ethics, including research ethics, enhancement, punishment, neuroethics, stem cell studies, synthetic meat, and assisted reproduction.

“Newton’s Modal Metaphysics and his Polemics with Spinozism” by Prof Eric Schliesser

In this paper I explore a series of terse arguments by Newton in the General Scholium of the Principia. All these arguments involve unusual modal metaphysics. I analyze the metaphysical commitments revealed by these arguments and by drawing on writings of Toland and Clarke I argue that Spinozism is the implied target.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 18 August 2016
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Prof Eric Schliesser
Moderator: Dr Qu Hsueh Ming

About the Speaker:

Eric Schliesser (PhD, Chicago 2002) is Professor of Political Theory at The University of Amsterdam, and Visiting Professor of Philosophy & Moral Sciences, Ghent University. He publishes in early modern philosophy and the philosophy of economics. He is an active blogger, and has edited numerous volumes, most recently, “Sympathy: A History of a Concept” (Oxford). His monograph on Adam Smith is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.

To all our grad students doing Asian/Chinese philosophy

Call for Applications to the Tan Ean Kiam Chinese Philosophy Graduate Award

To encourage students interested in pursuing graduate studies in Chinese philosophy, the Kongzi Cultural Fund is calling for applicants to their Tan Ean Kiam Chinese Philosophy Graduate Award. The conditions are as follows:

  1. Full time graduate student (MA or PhD) who is pursuing research in Chinese philosophy may apply.
  2. Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents or non-Resident who is a full time graduate student enrolled in one of the local universities (NUS, NTU, SMU) may apply.
  3. Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents who are pursuing graduate studies in an overseas university may also apply.
  4. Each award ranges from 4,000-6,000SGD; the size will depend on the number of applicants and other factors. The total fund available per year for the awards is 30,000SGD.
  5. Applicants should submit an English CV, personal statement in both English and Chinese, two recommendation letters, transcripts and other relevant documents proving status as graduate student.
  6. The Kongzi Cultural Fund will be responsible for forming a committee, to see to the selection and interview process; the number of awardees per year may vary according to circumstances.
  7. The awards will be given out each year on the 27th Day of the 8th month in the Chinese calendar (i.e., September or October) at the Annual Birthday Celebration of Confucius hosted by the Nanyang Confucian Association, by representatives of the Kongzi Cultural Fund and Tan Ean Kiam Foundation.

Yale-NUS Philosophy Talk: Iakovos Vasiliou (CUNY) on Friday, 12 August, 2:30 p.m

Happy mid-July, Singapore philosophers!

Here’s a brief “save the date” for an event happening early this upcoming semester: Prof. Iakovos Vasiliou (City University of New York) will be giving a talk entitled “Rethinking Eudaimonism.”

When?: Friday, 12 August 2016, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Where?: East Core Board Room (EC-03-08), Yale-NUS College

Here is a link to the Yale-NUS campus map: https://www.yale-nus.edu.sg/about/campus-map/. East Core is highlighted in light purple. To get to the board room, enter through the library and walk up the stairs.

We look forward to seeing you there.

ISPD (2016): Philosophy and Science

4899e4ab-598b-4de9-813c-d50de61a165cFrom data privacy to artificial intelligence, to the ethics of experimentation–today’s scientific and technological advancement confronts core issues about our human identity and values. Against this background, philosophy promises to empower us with clear and critical thinking to make sense of our scientific present and future. That’s why “there’s no better way to spend a Saturday morning!” than to enable teenagers in philosophical discussion about science at the Inter-school Philosophy Dialogue (ISPD), said keynote speaker Assistant Professor Voo Teck Chuan of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics (CBmE), Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

039eb102-dbc2-4711-a208-158b7b8a92b7This year’s ISPD was held at Raffles Girls School (RGS) on July 9. It saw the participation of some 147 students from fourteen secondary schools from across Singapore, joining with scores of facilitators to discuss various topics on philosophy and science. This is the 13th ISPD, and for the first time, the event was jointly organised by the Philosophy Departments of Raffles Girls School and Raffles Institution, with the sponsorship of the Department of Philosophy at NUS.

Continue reading

“Idealizations, Essential Self-Adjointness, and Minimal Model Explanation in the Aharonov-Bohm Effect” by Dr Elay Shech

Two approaches to understanding the idealizations that arise in the Aharonov-Bohm (AB) effect are presented. It is argued that the standard topological approach, which takes the non-simply connected electron configuration space to be an essential element in the explanation and understanding of the effect, is flawed. An alternative approach is outlined. Consequently, it is shown that the existence and uniqueness of self-adjoint extensions of symmetric operators in quantum mechanics have important implications for philosophical issues. Also, the alleged indispensable explanatory role of said idealizations is examined via a minimal model explanatory scheme.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 30 June 2016
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Dr Elay Shech
Moderator: A/P Axel Gelfert

About the Speaker:

Dr Elay Shech is an Assistant Professor at Auburn University, Alabama, and is currently an Isaac Mannaseh Meyer Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at NUS. His work primarily concerns the nature and role of idealizations and representations in the sciences and, more specifically, in condensed matter physics. His work has appeared journals such as Foundations of Physics, Synthese, and Philosophy of Science.

The Philosophy Party 2016

P1220766On 6th of May, the Philosophy Department held its annual commencement party for the fourth year running. Timed for the last day of the exam period, this year’s celebration saw the attendance of around 60 guests, comprising of undergraduates and graduate students, alumni, department staff and their families.

Besides being held earlier than in the past, this year’s party broke the mold in other ways too. For one, the party was not held at the usual function room, but by the Waterway on the ground floor of the Shaw Foundation Alumni House. Tables were set amidst the water features and in the large space, creating a more open atmosphere for the participants involved. For another, this was also the first time Yale-NUS students and staff were invited. New faces and places thus formed the undercurrent of this year’s party.

The festivities officially started at 6pm, with guests streaming in around that time. An opening speech was given by our Head of Department, Associate Professor Michael Pelczar, before the dinner lines were opened. At which point the guests tucked into a variety of dishes, ranging from the caterer Rasel’s signature Shepard’s Pie, to servings of authentic laksa and mock prawn for our vegetarian guests. The meal was accompanied with servings of craft beers and ciders, each carefully picked out by our graduate students Wilson and Jeremy. During this time of feasting and drinking, bridges were built across schools years and even generations, as students, alumni, staff and accompanying family conversed and interacted. The sight of graduate students entertaining some of the professors’ children, of undergraduates networking with alumni and of staff catching up on old times, certainly was something to behold.

Continue reading

“Infectious Normative Uncertainty (Or: Why You Should Open God’s Presents)” by Mr Abelard Podgorski

Philosophers commonly distinguish norms that tell us what to do in light of all the facts, objective norms, from norms that take into account our uncertainty and ignorance, subjective norms. But our uncertainty comes in two kinds. On the one hand, we can be uncertain about matters of descriptive fact, such as the effects of some proposed action or policy. On the other hand, we can be uncertain about fundamentally normative matters – what is valuable or what the right moral principles are. While philosophers are generally happy to accept that there are norms sensitive to descriptive uncertainty, a controversy has recently developed over whether there are any interesting norms sensitive to our distinctly normative uncertainty.

In this talk, I address this controversy by drawing attention to puzzling cases of infectious normative uncertainty, where our uncertainty about the way things are descriptively depends on our uncertainty about the way things are normatively. Many existing views about subjective norms give intuitively absurd recommendations in such cases, and violate minimal constraints on the relationship between objective and subjective norms. Ultimately, I argue that we need subjective norms to be sensitive not just to our descriptive uncertainty, and not just to our descriptive and our normative uncertainty taken separately, but also to the relation between the two.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Monday, 13 June 2016
Time: 11am – 1pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Mr Abelard Podgorski
Moderator: A/P Loy Hui Chieh

About the Speaker:

Mr Abelard Podgorski received his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Mathematics at Michigan State University, and have recently completed his PhD at the University of Southern California. His primary research interests are in ethics, the study of rationality, and epistemology, driven by a general concern with the way idealization plays a role in different normative theories. His work can be found in Mind, Philosophical Studies, and Ergo.

“How Modal Variance in Match Affects Worth” by Dr Nathaniel Sharadin

Normative reasons are considerations that justify action and belief. Motivating reasons are considerations for which an agent acts and believes. Sometimes, an agent’s motivating reasons match the normative reasons. When this happens, the agent’s actions and beliefs are creditworthy. Actual cases of match have a modal profile: that match can either obtain, or not, in certain counterfactual scenarios. Does the modal profile of a case of match affect its creditworthiness in any way? I consider and reject two possible answers. The failure of these answers naturally yields a third, hybrid, view, which I describe. I articulate two principles any hybrid view should respect.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 9 June 2016
Time: 11am – 1pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Dr Nathaniel Sharadin
Moderator: A/P Loy Hui Chieh

About the Speaker:

Dr Nathaniel Sharadin received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014. In 2014-2015 he was a Visiting Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University and is now the Allan and Anita Sutton Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Syracuse University. He works on normative and metanormative issues in ethics and epistemology.