“Wittgenstein on Miracles” by Hent de Vries (19 Nov)

In his “Lecture on Ethics,” presented to the Heretics Society in Cambridge and then again to members of the Vienna Circle between September 1929 and December 1930, Wittgenstein addresses the question of miracles and miracle belief in the context of “Ethics.” There are other, more episodic and enigmatic, references to the miracle and religious belief elsewhere in his writings and we will review some of them where relevant. But the lecture stands out for many reasons. We will seek to reconstruct its overall argument, discuss several remarkable parallels with other contemporary thinkers, Martin Heidegger to begin with, and assess its undiminished actuality for us, here and now.

Philosophy Department Seminar.
Date: Monday, 19 Nov 2012
Time: 3.15pm – 5.15pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Hent de Vries, Russ Family Professor in the Humanities and Philosophy; Director (Chair), The Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins University
Moderator: A/P Tan Sor Hoon

Hent de Vries is Director of the Humanities Center. Since January 2003, he has held a joint appointment as Professor in the Humanities Center and the Department of Philosophy at the Johns Hopkins University. Since October 2007, he holds the Russ Family Chair in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

“Foreign Talent, Local Glory” by Jason Phan

A country seeks more plumbers and doctors, while another wants its own Nobel Laureates, Saints and Olympic champions. Suppose both therefore naturalise suitably talented foreigners. If it is morally permissible for the former to do so, what about the latter?

Some endorse the approach of the first country, but express outrage at the conduct of the second. This seems strange: how is it that a country can naturalise foreigners when they would help it in plumbing, but not when they would contribute to its sporting excellence? I contend this puzzlement arises due to multiple confusions, and argue against the conduct of the second country while affirming that of the first. My concern shall not be on how foreigners are naturalised, but that certain aims should be pursued at all.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 23 Aug 2012
Time: 2-4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Jason Phan, Associate Lecturer in Philosophy, Singapore Institute of Management
Moderator: Dr. Neil Sinhababu

About the Speaker: Great puzzlement over why I should be moral drew me into philosophy. Since then, this has morphed into wonder about how we should live. I am very interested in how the world ought to be and have at least a second-order desire to change how it is. This includes thinking about applied ethics, moral psychology and philosophical worldviews, among other things. I am an associate lecturer in philosophy at Singapore Institute of Management, and find Marx wildly more fascinating than Jobs.

[Public Lecture] The Perilous Seduction of the Ideal: Why We should Resist the Allure of Moral Homogeneity by Dr. Gerald Gaus (14 Aug)

Political philosophers are accustomed to conceiving of their activity as a philosophical elaboration and defense of a specific theory of justice. We seek the one, best, theory of justice — or account of moral social life — by which to order our common existence. Like Plato, who continues to cast a spell over our profession, the deep conviction is that the best state would, in a deep sense, be a morally homogenous one. Our current, real-world communities, characterized by disagreement and moral dispute, may be the best we can attain, but fall far short of the ideal or perfect. Like Plato, we see the moral community as a person writ large; if a just person is moved by a well-thought out and consistent theory of justice, so too must a just community. And the most just community would be one that is moved by the best theory of justice.

In this lecture I suggest that this ancient pursuit of the ideal, while seductive, is perilous. The moral life of a society is better understood as normative system of a very different type: what I call a “complex normative system,” in which the very diversity and disagreements of the participants sustain the community’s moral life. I argue that societies that do not concur on the best theory (or principles) of justice are better able to sustain a “moral constitution” that all can endorse than those that have settled on what they see as the one, best or true, theory.

Public Lecture.
Date: Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Time: 4-6pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 Level 5)
Speaker: Gerald Gaus, James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona

About the Speaker: Gerald Gaus is the James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, where he directs the program in Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law. He is the author of a number of books, including On Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (2008), Contemporary Theories of Liberalism (2003), Justificatory Liberalism (1996) and Value and Justification (1990). He was a founding editor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics. His most recent book is The Order of Public Reason, published by Cambridge in 2011. His main area of work is social and political philosophy, though he rejects the dominant highly idealized and objectivist moral suppositions of the field. His work focuses on how a society can achieve a public moral framework that is freely endorsed by diverse normative perspectives. For more, see his website www.gauz.biz.

“Moral Reasons and Reasons to Be Moral” by Andres Luco (3 May)

If you have a moral duty to do something, does it necessarily follow that you have a reason to do it? Contrary to most moral philosophers, I contend that the answer is “no.” I defend the view that morality and practical rationality are independent systems of normative evaluation. Thus, there can be a moral reason that an agent should do X, while the agent has no practical reason to do X. This view is supported by three sets of considerations: (1) intuitions about the possibility of rational evil, (2) the common experience of being alienated from one’s moral duties, and (3) the fact that moral norms have the function of promoting behaviors that are group-beneficial, but not necessarily beneficial to any particular individual.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 3 May 2012
Time: 2-4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 Level 5)
Speaker: Andres Luco, Assistant Professor, Philosophy Group, Nanyang Technological University
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker: Andres Luco is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Group at Nanyang Technological University. He has previously taught philosophy at North Carolina State University and the University of Cape Town.

More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

“On Using Moral Intuitions in Philosophy” by Sulastri Noordin (GRS Presentation)

Graduate Seminar Series: 3 Apr 2012, 2-3pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Sulastri Noordin, MA Student


In this talk, I will present a small part of my dissertation project. It is common philosophical practice to apply moral principles to particular situations, and then to compare the moral judgements generated to people’s intuitive moral judgements about the same situations. I seek to clarify what exactly it is that philosophers are doing with intuitions when they carry out this practice. I claim that they could be doing at least two things: (i) treating moral intuitions as phenomena, which it is the job of moral theories to simply describe/systematise, or (ii) treating moral intuitions as independent evidence in support of or against moral theories. I will attempt to establish what conditions have to hold, in order for moral intuitions to properly serve these uses.

About the Speaker: Sulastri is working towards her Masters degree. She received her BA (Hons) in philosophy from NUS, where she was awarded the Philosophy Book Prize. Sulastri’s particular area of interest is in philosophical methodology. Her dissertation project examines the use of moral intuitions in ethics. To that end, her interests also extend to moral psychology, experimental philosophy, and heuristics and cognitive biases, in hopes of finding interdisciplinary work that sheds light on methodological issues in philosophy. She lives in a quiet neighbourhood with her cat, Immanuel.

“Epistemic and Ethical Conditions for Media Freedom” by Onora O’Neill

Philosophy Seminar Series: 23 Feb 2012, 1-3pm, AS7 Seminar Room B; Speaker: Onora O’Neill, Professor, University of Cambridge; Moderator: Dr. Loy Hui Chieh

Classical arguments for media freedoms do not converge on a shared view of acceptable constraints. Miltonian arguments stress the importance of meeting epistemic requirements for truth seeking, but take too thin a view of these demands and exaggerate the effectiveness of absence of censorship. Millian arguments for rights of self expression minimise ethical and epistemic demands, but cannot plausibly be extended to the media. Arguments that take the epistemic and ethical needs of readers, listeners and viewers into account are more plausible and suggest that media regulation should constrain process but not content.

About the speaker: Baroness O’Neill comes from Northern Ireland and was educated at Oxford and Harvard, where she worked under the late John Rawls. She has taught in the US and the UK, was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge until 2006 and teaches Philosophy in Cambridge. She was President of the British Academy, the UK National Academy for Humanities and Social Sciences from 2005-9, and chaired the Nuffield Foundation from 1998-2010. She has been a member of the House of Lords since 1999, and is an independent, non-party peer. She has served on the Select Committees on Stem Cell Research, BBC Charter Review, Genomic Medicine, Nanotechnology and Food and Behavioural Change. She writes on ethics and political philosophy, with particular interests in international justice, the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and bioethics. Her books include Faces of Hunger: An Essay on Poverty, Development and Justice (1986), Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant’s Practical Philosophy (1989), Towards Justice and Virtue (1996) and Bounds of Justice (2000), Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics (2002), A Question of Trust (the 2002 Reith Lectures) and Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics (jointly with Neil Manson, 2007). She is currently working on practical judgement and normativity, trust and accountability in public life; and the ethics of communication.
More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

[Talk] Ethics and Morality: What’s in it for me?

What’s the difference between ethics and morality? Why should we bother about it? What’s in it for me? How do we know what’s right and wrong? Is there only one right answer to moral problems?

In this session, Dr. Christopher Brown, will briefly discuss about the various schools of thoughts that are present in today’s culture, and reveal the subtle similarities and differences between them. Is there a right answer when it comes to issues of ethics and morality?

Come for the answers, and stay for the questions – as there will be a discussion immediately after the talk.

Date: Thursday, 2 Feb 2012
Time: 6-8pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room, AS3 Level 5

Light refreshments will be provided.

Dr Christopher Brown is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy. His field of expertise include moral, social and political philosophy and ethics.

To indicate your attendance (and for more details), please visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/341435642544273/

For more information, you may contact Jonathan Sim at 81571575 (HP) or jsim@nus.edu.sg.

[This event is brought to you by the Philosophy Interest Group – http://www.facebook.com/nusphilo ]

Talk 2: Can Evil Explain Monstrous Acts?, by Fong Wai Mung (28th October 2010, 3-4pm)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 28 October 2010, 3-4pm, AS3-05-23;
Speaker: Fong Wai Mung, Current MA Student, NUS;
Moderator: Dr. Christopher Brown

MungAbstract: Y: “Why did X perform this monstrous act?” Z: “Because he is evil.”  Has Z actually answered Y’s question by invoking the idea of evil?  In other words, can the idea of evil perform explanatory work? Eve Garrard thinks that it can with her account of evil.  She defends a secular, motive-based theory of evil in ‘Evil as an Explanatory Concept’.  She holds that the notion of evil is not necessarily something mysterious beyond the reach of human understanding as is often the case in religious context where evil is associated with the metaphysical or the satanic.  People who have no belief in the Devil, she contends, can understand the evil actions of an agent in terms of the reasons which the agent takes there to be (or not to be) for acting so.  This is what, on her view, gives the notion of evil explanatory force.  I attempt to evaluate whether Garrard has succeeded in giving a cogent account.

About the Speaker: Wai Mung is currently pursuing a M.A. in philosophy at NUS.  Her interests include philosophy of religion and moral philosophy.

More information on the Graduate Seminar Series can be found here.