“Just Knowers: Towards a Virtue Epistemology in the Mahãbhãrata” by Vrinda Dalmiya (28 Mar)

Adopting the framework of Anglo Analytic Virtue Epistemology, I ask of the Sanskrit epic, the Mahābhārata, the question: What sort of character or intellectual virtues must a good knower have? Then, motivated by broadly feminist sensibilities, I raise the concern whether motivations for knowing the world can be associated with motivations to rectify injustices in that world – whether, in other words, a good knower is also a ‘just knower.’ I go on to explore the structure of humility and shame as “virtues of truth” in the epic to see whether they can establish a connection between knowing and justice.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 28 March 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Vrinda Dalmiya, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

Professor Dalmiya is a feminist epistemologist who did her doctoral studies at Brown University. She has taught at Montana State University, Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, and is currently Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her research has expanded into the area of Ethics and she has published on a wide range of topics, ranging from truth and interpretation, Feminism and naturalized epistemology, epistemic humility, to wisdom and love, and care ethics. The Royal Institute of London recently invited her to give a lecture, “From Good Knowers to Just Knowers in the Mahābhārata: Towards a Comparative Virtue Epistemology.”

“Truth and Recognition of Truth: Frege and Nyaya” by Arindam Chakrabarti (21 Mar)

Although a staunch realist in many senses, Gottlob Frege rejected the correspondence theory of truth because it leads to a vicious regress. Donald Davidson has more recently argued that truth (in natural language) is indefinable and any attempt to define truth would be sheer folly. I trace back basic reason why truth could not be defined to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Yet, we find in Gangeśa, a 14th century New Nyaya epistemologist, a technically fortified definition of true cognition which seems to escape Frege’s, Davidson’s and Kant’s objections. While truth is not considered a natural universal, Gangeśa definition of truth does not postulate any Fregean thoughts or abstract propositions as bearer of truth. Truth remains an artificial relational property of awareness-episodes. While there is no truth without true acts of believing, it is possible for truth of a piece of knowledge to remain unknown even by the knower. Can Nyaya maintain its realism, without postulating Fregean thoughts or any realm of sense?

This paper is an exercise in comparative philosophical logic of truth and recognition of truth, as it were, through a debate between Nyaya and Frege.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 21 March 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Arindam Chakrabarti, Professor of Philosophy, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

Professor Arindam Chakrabarti, having done his M.A. in Philosophy and Mathematical Logic, from Presidency College Kolkata University, earned his D.Phil from Oxford University in 1982, working under Peter Strawson and Michael Dummett. He taught at Calcutta University and at University College London, Seattle and Delhi University, and for the last 15 years, at the University of Hawaii Manoa. After being trained as an analytic philosopher of language at Oxford, Professor Chakrabarti has spent several years receiving traditional training in Indian logic (Navya Nyaya). Prof Chakrabarti has edited or authored six books, in English, Sanskrit, and Bengali, including Denying Existence, Knowing from Words (with B.K. Matilal) Universals, Concepts and Qualities (with Peter Strawson) and has published more than eighty papers and reviews. He is currently working on a book on moral psychology of the emotions and another monograph on the Isha Upanishad.

Philosophy Workshop on Justice and the Ethics of Dialogue and Debate (26 Mar)

The Department of Philosophy will be holding a philosophy workshop on Justice and the Ethics of Dialogue and Debate.

Date: Tuesday, 26 March 2013
Time: 10am – 3.30pm
Venue: Conference Room UT-25-03-06, Stephen Riady Centre (EduSports Center), U-Town, NUS (Click here to view map)

The papers presented in this workshop investigate the topic of justice by combining both epistemic and ethico-political perspectives. While all papers draw on the writings of various philosophers (from Abhinavagupta and Dharmakirti to Peter Strawson, from Wittgenstein to Hanfeizi) and various philosophical traditions (e.g. the Marxist, Aristotelian and Confucian traditions), each paper does not simply end up with stating the Chinese vs. the Indian or vs. the Western view of justice, but each presents an argument about some or another aspect of justice that can philosophically stand on its own. Justice and the ethics of dialogue and debate will thus be related to aspects such as the problem of epistemic access to a second person’s inner, especially, emotional states, the question of social change with regard to what each member of the group owes the group and vice versa, and the complicated relation of epistemic and political authority.

Being a workshop, the event seeks to practice what it theorizes, and is open for everyone to participate in active dialogue and debate. Presented papers:

Authority: Of German Rhinos and Chinese Tigers

Ralph Weber, URPP Asia and Europe, University of Zurich (10am – 11am)

This paper inquires into authority, both in its epistemic and deontic forms. I particularly seek to expand on the Polish Dominican logician and philosopher J.M. Bocheński’s The Logic of Authority by raising objections against his way of linking it to freedom and autonomy as well as by including in my discussion additional, unheeded aspects of authority (the authority of office, the authority of number), some of which have been discussed earlier in Alexandre Kojève’s La Notion de l’Autorité. In the course of my argument, I shall discuss the famous Russell-Wittgenstein episode about the possibility of knowing whether or not there is a rhinoceros in the room and draw on Wittgenstein more generally for disentangling the relation between authority and autonomy. An episode in the Han Feizi 韓非子 on believing whether or not there is a tiger in the market leads me to the topic of moral and political authority and its dependence on epistemic authority (which often involves different persons or institutions, but, for example, in the Guanzi 管子is invested in one and the same person, that of the sage-ruler). My goal is to explore those instances of authority in which both epistemology and politics can be said to interrelate, merge, or clash.

Justice and Social Change

Sor-hoon TanDepartment of Philosophy, National University of Singapore (11am – 12pm)

What might we gain from a comparative study of Confucianism and some Western philosophy on the topic of Justice? Some scholars have questioned whether there is any concept of justice in early Confucianism. One response is to either identify the equivalent concept, or find elements in Confucian philosophy that could be reconstructed into a Confucian theory (or at least perspective) on justice. However, going beyond the assumption that justice problems are universal, and exploring the possibility that problems arising from “circumstances of justice” might be understood differently by Confucians in their social criticisms, allows us to tap into deeper differences in social ideals, conceptions of human beings and social relations, that will provide more radically critical perspectives with which to interrogate contemporary experience.

Lunch Break

(12pm – 1.30pm)

Our Knowledge of Other People’s Feelings

Arindam ChakrabartiDepartment of Philosophy, University of Hawai’i at Manoa (1.30pm – 2.30pm)

Understanding the feelings of other people is not only a condition for caring social practice, and Buddhist altruistic compassion, it is the pre-condition for any successful dialogue, even philosophical dialogue, especially across cultural and linguistic barriers. Yet philosophers still do not know how we manage to do it. Neither perception nor inference seems capable of yielding knowledge of what another self—the second person—is currently experiencing, wanting, feeling, thinking. And whether at all another body is enlivened by a self, though not myself, remains hard to “prove”. In this paper, the intricate argumentation by Dharmakirti – the Sautrantika-Yogacara Buddhist philosopher – to prove by an inference that streams of consciousness other than one’s own exist will be examined, side by side with J.S. Mill’s version of the Argument from Analogy and its decisive refutation by P.F. Strawson. After a brief discussion of Max Scheler and Edith Stein’s views on sympathy and empathy, we turn to Kashmir Shaivist epistemology of imagining what it is like to be another self. Inspired by a detailed examination of Abhinavagupta’s insights on how we know, identify with and empathically feel other people’s feelings, the paper will propose assigning the work of knowledge of other selves to imagination, a means or faculty of knowing at least as powerful and indispensable as perception, inference and testimony.

Other Minds, 1946: Interpersonal and Interpretative Justice Among Philosophers

Chuanfei Chin, Department of Philosophy, National University of Singapore (2.30pm – 3.30pm)

A 1946 symposium on ‘Other Minds’ between John Wisdom, J.L. Austin and A.J. Ayer marked a shift in the analytic debate about our knowledge of other minds – from a sceptical orientation to a naturalist one. I focus on two aspects of their dialogue.  First, both Wisdom and Austin argue that the traditional concern with other minds fails to account for the depth and difficulty of our interpersonal relations, particularly our access to others’ emotional states. This is partly because our epistemology is normally dependent on an ethics of trust and vulnerability. Second, Ayer’s response is remarkably rude. He misconstrues their arguments, then uses their conclusions. I use this interpretative injustice to clarify the very norms of interpersonal justice which Wisdom and Austin highlight. Then I assess how far naturalist assumptions are responsible for these insights and conflicts. I take the symposium to illustrate the challenge of philosophical dialogue – in this case, between a Wittgensteinian philosopher influenced by psychoanalysis, an ordinary language philosopher, and a post-positivist philosopher intent on solving the problem.


“Hutcheson and the Experience of Pure Benevolence” by Christina Chuang (14 Feb)

Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) is often associated with moral sentimentalism, which argues that our moral distinctions are determined by sense perceptions, rather than reason. Some contemporary ethicists have claimed to find the origin of non-cognitivism in moral sentimentalism and thus have claimed Hutcheson’s work as one of the first non-cognitivist theories in the history of ethics. But it is debatable whether being a sentimentalist necessarily entails being a non-cognitivist.

In this talk I do not specifically engage the issue of cognitivism but I make a connection between Hutcheson and classical Indian thought as an alternative way of addressing the debate. I argue that Hutcheson’s moral knowledge can be accessed through non-discursive meditation. This is because meditation captures the decisive elements of the experience of benevolence in Hutcheson’s theory: pre-reflective, non-propositional and immediate. Hutcheson’s pure benevolence is analogous to Purusha in Samkhya Philosophy. It is a pre-reflective awareness where things are directly experienced without the attachment of the “I.” There is a deeper connection between ethics and spiritual practice in Hutcheson that scholars have not noticed previously – Hutcheson’s writing style has a meditative element as he employs inductive argument and thought examples to invoke his readers to contemplate their mental states. Meditation cannot inform us of what the “good” is but the “good” has a meditative access.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 14 Feb 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Christina Chuang, Assistant Professor, Philosophy Group, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker: 

Christina received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California, Irvine, in June 2012 and moved to Singapore in August 2012.  Her main research interests are the history of ethics, moral psychology and classical Indian Philosophy.  She is currently working on developing a more holistic account of the nature of moral judgment that incorporates philosophy, psychology and neuroscience.  She is also a certified yoga teacher and an avid rock climber, and hopes that her passion for yoga and philosophy will merge in the near future.