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Philosophy Commencement and Alumni Party 2014 & 60th Anniversary of NUS Philosophy

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For the second time running, the Department of Philosophy held its Commencement and Alumni Party at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House (1st August). The party saw a turnout of nearly 50 guests comprising honours and graduating students, Alumni, and Faculty members, all mingling over food and drink. This event also marked the 60th anniversary of the philosophy department, a significant milestone in its history.

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The event was hosted by emcee Xue En, an honours student of the department. The festivities were officially kicked off by acting Head of Department, A/P Michael Pelczar. The food was a delicious spread of dishes ranging from Shepherds’ Pie to Laksa. All these were complemented by a mix of unique craft beers, kindly sponsored by several faculty members. Much as the night was about food and drink, it was also about philosophy and reconnecting with old friends: Alumni got to reacquaint themselves with old classmates and teachers, while graduating students were given an opportunity to forge new friendships with those that have graduated before them. The attendees spent the evening exchanging both philosophical ideas as well as snippets of their personal experiences, having fruitful discussions on all aspects of life.

IMG_9575During the party, Cheryl, a member of the graduating cohort delivered a speech on her own experiences in the Department of Philosophy, fondly recalling the unique experiences that she had during her time as a student and her year-long exchange in Edinburgh. Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the evening was a speech by former head of the Philosophy department, Prof. Ten Chin Liew, who treated everyone to reminiscences of his experiences at the department, both as a young undergraduate, and also as a faculty member. While acknowledging that some may be unhappy to have their youthful mischief so exposed, he thought the risk worth taking given that some of the people mentioned are already dead, or too far away to take their revenge, he said with a twinkle in his eye – much to the amusement of all who were present.

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To commemorate the special occasion, a mug specially designed by A/P John Holbo, very much our resident artist, was presented to each guest. It carries the byline-”Come for the answers, stay for the questions”—familiar to several generations of philosophy students by now. The Office of Alumni Relations also generously sponsored gifts for each graduating student. A/P Holbo’s talents were further showcased on the design of the department’s 60th anniversary cake. If the mug bears the motif of an Athenian coin, the cake carries a quote from Confucius’ Analects passage 2.4, and a doodle of the Master himself. The juxtaposition of the two designs—one alluding to the beginnings of the discipline in the ancient West, the other to the parallel sources of wisdom’s study in the East—highlights the inclusive nature of the department. After a bout of photos with all the guests, the cake was cut by Professor Pelzar and Professor Ten and witnessed by members of the faculty present.

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The event concluded with closing words by A/P Loy Hui-Chieh, and the promise of an even better party next year. As the guests reluctantly prepared to leave, they ended the evening by taking pictures with specially prepared Polaroid cameras, taking home a personalised memoir of their time at the party, which was nothing short of a rousing success.

For more photos, please visit our facebook photo album of the event.

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“How Predictive Brains Might Distinguish Between Appearance and Reality” by Malcolm Forster (Aug 14)

In philosophy, the problem of appearance and reality is the problem of saying why the appearance of an object to us gives us information about the way the object really is, even though the same object appears different to different people at different times.  A parallel can be drawn between that problem and a hotly debated topic in neuroscience, about which features of neural activities inside the brain (the “appearances”) carry information about the external world (the “reality”).  The problem of explicating a semantic notion of “carrying information” has also been tackled by philosophers in the past (Fred Dretske, Denny Stampe, Jerry Fodor, and more recently, Brian Skyrms, 2010, Signals).  This talk will argue that the general approach to this problem taken by neuroscientists and these philosophers is fundamentally wrong.  The argument is premised on recent work on causality known as Bayesian causal networks (e.g., Judea Pearl, 2000, 2009).  Once neural networks are re-described as Bayes nets, there is a sharp distinction between internal probabilistic dependencies that can be explained by internal causal connections and those that cannot.  Only those that cannot be explained internally carry information about the external world. The talk will end with a discussion about how this version of naturalistic semantics, Wisconsin style, bears on the philosophical problem of appearance and reality.

Philosophy Department Seminar
Date: Thursday, 14 Aug 2014
Time: 3.30pm – 5.30pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Malcolm Forster, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Moderator: Dr. Tang Weng Hong

About the Speaker:

forsterProfessor Malcolm R. Forster is Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin at Madison. His research has focused on issues in the methodology of science, particularly the role of simplicity and unification in confirmation and in statistics, as well as William Whewell’s methodology of science applied to planetary astronomy (the latest publication being M. Forster (2011) “The Debate between Whewell and Mill on the Nature of Scientific Induction”, in Stephan Hartmann (ed.), The Handbook of the History of Logic, Volume 10: Inductive Logic (Elsevier Science, pp. 91-113.). In 2010, he also applied Whewell’s consilience of inductions to quantum physics (“The Miraculous Consilience of Quantum Mechanics”, in Ellery Eells and James Fetzer (eds.), 2010, Probability and Science), and he is now expanding and developing an earlier project applying the method of Bayes Causal Nets to understanding various results in the foundations of quantum mechanics.

Philosophy Commencement and Alumni Party 2014

The NUS Philosophy department cordially invites all alumni and graduating students to the Philosophy Commencement and Alumni Party 2014. Come reconnect with old friends and teachers on an evening of fun, great food and friendship! This year’s party will be extra special as we are also commemorating the department’s 60th anniversary. The party will be held at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House on Aug 1st (Friday) from 6 – 9.30 p.m. RSVP by July 25th at the following link:

https://esurvey.nus.edu.sg/efm/se.ashx?s=705E3EF44D59E710

Please help us spread the word, and we look forward to having you!

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“Valuable Asymmetrical Friendship” by Thomas Brian Mooney and John Williams (24 Apr)

Aristotle distinguishes three sorts of friendship. There are friendships of pleasure or of utility, in which the friend takes the other—even as an object of care—as a person qua bearer of characteristics conducive to pleasure or utility. Then there are much more valuable character friendships in which the friend cares for the other qua person for the other’s own sake. These are held by Aristotle and a variety of contemporary thinkers who broadly follow his account of friendship to involve various fairly strict equalities, or as we prefer to put it, symmetries between the friends. Roughly, such friends are fairly strictly symmetrically autonomous in relation to each other, fairly strictly symmetrical in their separateness of identity from each other, fairly strictly symmetrical in the degree to which they identify with each other, and are fairly strictly symmetrical in the degree to which they are virtuous. There is a fourth important sort of friendship that has been overlooked in the philosophical literature. We call this asymmetrical friendship. This is not friendship of pleasure or of utility, being much more valuable. Like character friendships but unlike friendships of pleasure or utility (that may also be largely asymmetrical) these involve each friend caring for the other for the others’ own sake. Unlike character friendships, they may be largely asymmetrical. So they are unlike Aristotle’s fairly strictly symmetrical and certainly valuable character friendships which seldom appear at all in our imperfect lives, lived as they are in an imperfect world.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 24 Apr 2014
Time: 2 pm – 4 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speakers: T. Brian Mooney, John Williams, Singapore Management University
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speakers:

BRIANMOONEYT. Brian Mooney is currently Associate Professor of Philosophy at Singapore Management University and has just been appointed as Professor of Philosophy and Head of School of Humanities and Creative Arts at Charles Darwin University.  Brian’s research interests are in Ancient and Mediaeval Philosophy, Moral Philosophy and the Theory and Practice of Education.  Brian is the author, co-author and co-editor of 9 books and over 50 articles in philosophy.

JOHNWILLIAMSJohn N. Williams (PhD Hull) works primarily in epistemology and paradoxes, especially epistemic paradoxes. He also works in philosophy of language and applied ethics. He has published in Acta Analytica, American Philosophical Quarterly, Analysis, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Philosophical Research, Philosophy East and West, Mind, Philosophia, Philosophical Studies, Religious Studies, Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, Synthese and Theoria. He is co-editor of Moore’s Paradox: New Essays on Belief, Rationality and the First Person, Oxford University Press together with Mitchell Green. He researches and teaches in the School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University.

 

“Are Modal Conditions Necessary for Knowledge?” by Mark Anthony Dacela (17 Apr)

I argue in this paper that modal conditions, particularly sensitivity and safety, are not necessary for knowledge. I do this by first investigating problem cases for both modal conditions, noting that they point to an internal glitch that even a revised similarity ranking or ordering of worlds, which others proposed, cannot fix. I then demonstrate, by way of a set theoretical profiling of the problem cases, and a set theoretical analysis of the modal semantics at work in both sensitivity and safety, that these modal conditions fail whenever necessary links that are constitutive of epistemic circumstances actually obtain but are not modally preserved; and since there are instances when knowledge only requires this, I conclude that modal conditions are not necessary for knowledge.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014
Time: 2 pm – 4 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Mark Anthony Dacela, De La Salle University – Manila
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

319712_392841890739992_440416927_nMark Anthony Dacela is Associate Lecturer of Philosophy at De La Salle University – Manila. He obtained his PhD at the same university and his research is primarily in the area of epistemology.

“Procedural Fairness and the veil of Ignorance” by Anantharaman Muralidharan (15 Apr)

Rawls’s veil of ignorance is supposedly justified because it makes the initial choice situation procedurally fair. It supposedly does this by preventing parties from using morally irrelevant information about the persons they represent to obtain an unfair bargaining advantage over others. The success of this argument rests crucially on the idea that at least some rational mutually disinterested parties without a veil of ignorance would in fact successfully use information about the persons they represent to obtain an unfair bargaining advantage over other parties. I will argue in this paper that even in a choice situation identical to Rawls’s Original Position except for the lack of a veil of ignorance, no party has any bargaining advantage over the other. I analyse the notion of a bargaining advantage in terms of the best alternative to negotiated agreement (BATNA) and the propensity towards unacceptable outcomes. A difference in BATNA between two parties is necessary in order for there to be a bargaining advantage of one over the other. Also, plausibly, outcomes that are unacceptable to only some of the parties contra-indicates equality of bargaining power. I show that all parties in a choice situation without a veil of ignorance have equally bad BATNA. I will show that the veil of ignorance is neither necessary nor sufficient to prevent unacceptable conceptions of justice from being agreed to in the Original Position. If the analysis of the Original Position is correct, there is no reason to think that a choice situation without a veil provides some parties a bargaining advantage over others. The analysis of Rawls’s argument also suggests an alternative justification of the veil of ignorance: that it is an appropriate simplification of another choice situation which would necessarily deliver the correct principles of justice.

Graduate Seminar Series.
Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014
Time: 2 pm – 3 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Anantharaman Muralidharan

About the Speaker:

murali anna 2Murali’s thesis is concerned with trying to find a more general justification for the Rawlsian framework. He isinterested in broadly trying to derive and defend a free-standing theory of justice. At the same time he isinterested in democracy and justifications for it. He is also interested in social epistemology and its implications for democracy.

 

“Temporal Experiences & their Parts: the Modal argument” by Philippe Chuard (10 Apr)

According to the Lockean conception of temporal experiences (experiences of succession, duration, change, etc.), such experiences do reduce to mere successions of their temporal parts. However, as Michael Tye (2003) has suggested, there’s a familiar modal consideration undermining the identity of a whole experience of a temporally extended event with the succession of its temporal parts: the two have different modal properties (if the succession couldn’t have occurred without some of its parts, the whole could have, the argument goes) and hence, by Leibniz’s Law, cannot be identical after all. Fortunately, there’s a familiar response, suggesting that the argument equivocates the relevant modal properties (typically, the point is made via so-called “abelardian predicates”).  Still, does the response really stand up to further scrutiny? I try to argue that there’s no reason to think it doesn’t.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 10 Apr 2014
Time: 2 pm – 4 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Philippe Chuard, Southern Methodist University
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

chuardpageNow an associate professor in philosophy at SMU (Dallas, TX), I work mostly in philosophy of perception, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science, with some mild forays into epistemology and metaphysics. I obtained my PhD at the ANU, after studying in Sydney and Geneva (Switzerland) before that. I’ve published a various papers in various journals mostly on the conceptual content of perceptual experiences, and some on the nature of epistemic norms and the nature of perceptual appearances (and the non-transivitity of look-statements).

“Reasonableness in Rawls’ Political Liberalism” by Nicholas Cai (8 Apr)

The idea of reasonableness is one of the key ideas in Rawls’ Political Liberalism. I begin by highlighting Rawls’ main aim in the latter and some key features of his political conception of justice, followed by a brief exposition of three aspects of reasonableness. Specifically, I will elaborate on the rarely mentioned aspect of reasonable persons as having the desire to act from reasonableness and to be recognized (by other reasonable persons) as reasonable. I attempt to show the coherence of reasonableness with other aspects of Rawls’ Political Liberalism, and the role it plays within it. By doing so, I hope to indicate how we can begin responding to the usual worries about the possibility and relevance of Rawls’ Political Liberalism.

Graduate Seminar Series.
Date: Tuesday, 8 Apr 2014
Time: 3 pm – 4 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Nicholas Cai
Moderator: Philippe Major

About the Speaker:

nicNick’s primary interests are in the areas of Political Philosophy and the history of Political Philosophy. His honors thesis was a Rawlsian defense of Liberal Neutrality, focusing on the notion of Public Reason. His other research interests include Moral philosophy, German Idealism and Ancient Greek Philosophy, especially the connection between Politics, Religion, and Philosophy.

“A Critique of the use of public political culture in Rawls’ Political Liberalism” by Li Qingyi (8 Apr)

John Rawls argues in Political Liberalism that a conception of justice has to be freestanding, and theorizing ought to begin from the public political culture of a democratic society: a shared fund of fundamental ideas that is implicitly affirmed by the citizens in a democratic state. Conceptions of justice based on one comprehensive moral or philosophical doctrine will be oppressive to people who do not share that particular comprehensive doctrine.

In this presentation, I will offer criticisms against Rawls’s use of the public political culture in his theory. I argue that (i) Rawls is unable to offer any justification for liberalism in states that needs liberalism most, (ii) Rawls makes problematic assumptions about the fundamental ideas of a democratic society, and (iii) Rawls’s liberal prescriptions are already assumed when the fundamental ideas are drawn from a democratic society. The success of my arguments will pave the way for the possibility of establishing moral foundations for public reason liberalism.

Graduate Seminar Series.
Date: Tuesday, 8 Apr 2014
Time: 2 pm – 3 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Li Qingyi
Moderator: Melvin Ng

About the Speaker:

croppedQingyi is working towards his M.A. in Philosophy and his area of interest is in political philosophy. His dissertation project examines the moral foundations of political philosophy, more specifically liberal neutrality. Other topics of interest in political philosophy include: liberal theory, methodological concerns in political philosophy, distributive justice and global justice. His interests also extend to moral philosophy.

The Daoist Yin-Yang Cosmology and Deleuze’s Ecological Ethics (3 Apr)

This lecture proposes to delve into the Daoist yin-yang cosmology by referring to the etymological make-up of a number of compound-nouns, i.e. 经验 (experience), 关系 (relation) and 体会 (bodily-recognition), etc. in the Chinese language. Through an analysis of these pairings which emulate certain foldings or overlapping of 虚 (empty) / 实 (solid), and finally summated into the Deleuzian transcendent/ empiricism, this lecture aims at a bringing together the concept of yin-yang and Deleuze’s philosophy of becomings within the context of human/ nature relation. Meanwhile, the lecture will follow Deleuze’s dic-tum to “connect, conjugate and differentiate” in detailing how a new materialism under the banner of posthumanism can be used to orchestrate a harmonic duet with Daoism, particularly in terms of how eco-logical aesthetics moves into ecoethics.

Chair : A/P Yung Sai-Shing (Department of Chinese Studies)
Date : Thursday, 3 April, 2014
Time : 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Venue : AS7/03-30 (Chinese Studies Meeting Room)

About the Speaker:

Prof. Wong Kin Yuen is the Head and Professor of English Department at Hong Kong Shue Yan Universi-ty. He is also the Director of the Technoscience Culture Research and Development Centre at SYU. Be-fore coming back to Hong Kong, Prof. Wong taught in Comparative Literature Department at University of California, San Diego and Foreign Language and Literature Department at National University of Taiwan. Prof. Wong taught in the English Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong for 20 years and later founded the Modern Languages and Cultural Studies Department. He has also taught literature, East-West comparative poetics, cultural studies, science fiction, ecological ethics, technoscience culture, film studies and visual arts at various Hong Kong universities. Topics of his published works include Posthu-man culture, cyberculture, aesthetics, hermenuetics, film theory as well as Deleuze studies.