“Self-Reflection and the Verdictive Organization of Desire” by Derek Baker (20 Mar)

Deliberation often begins with the question “What do I want to do?” rather than a question about what one ought to do. This paper takes that question at face value, as a question about which of one’s desires is strongest, which sometimes guides action.  The paper aims to explain which properties of a desire make that desire strong, in the sense of strength relevant to this deliberative question.

Both motivational force and phenomenological intensity seem relevant to a desire’s strength; however, accounting for the strength of a desire in terms of these opens up significant indeterminacy about what we want.  The paper argues that this indeterminacy is often resolved simply by posing the question “What do I want to do?” to oneself: there is reason to believe that one’s answer will play a verdictive role, partially determining what the agent most wants.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 20 Mar 2014
Time: 2 pm – 4 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Derek Baker, Lingnan University
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

Photo on 3-3-14 at 11.34 AM #2Derek Baker is an Assistant Professor at Lingnan University, Hong Kong.  He completed his PhD at Princeton University in 2009.  He works on the nature of autonomy, practical rationality, desire, the relation between self-knowledge and freedom, and problems in expressivism.  His papers have been published in Philosophical Studies and Australasian Journal of Philosophy.  He has also served as Associate Editor for AJP since 2012.  He is currently working on a book.  Its most recent working title (which he probably won’t change again) is An Almost Unified Theory of the Self.  He used to have hobbies, but no longer has time for them.

“The Varieties of Envy” by Sara Protasi (28 Nov)

Psychologists define envy as an aversive reaction to a perceived inferiority, which we feel toward those who are similar to us, with respect to a good or goal pertaining to a domain that is relevant to our sense of identity. This definition, however, applies to at least two different emotions, with opposite moral valences: malicious envy and benign envy. Scholars have provided different accounts of the distinction. Psychologists believe the crucial factor is whether the envier feels capable to overcome her disadvantage. Philosophers suggest that what differs is the subject’s focus of attention, that is, on whether one is focused on lacking the good or on the fact that someone else, the envied, has it. In my paper I show that both variables are at play, and that they do not co-vary but are independent. Consequently, we can experience not just two but four kinds of envy, with varying degree of maliciousness: emulative envy, inert envy, aggressive envy, and spiteful envy. Developing a more precise and adequate knowledge of envy’s anatomy allows the moralist to come up with the right diagnosis and remedies for what has been considered the worst of the deadly sins.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 28 Nov 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Sara Protasi, Yale University
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

Sara Protasi is a PhD candidate in philosophy at Yale University. She is working on the philosophical psychology, moral dimensions, and ancient and modern accounts of envy. Her previous work is on the normative dimensions of romantic love. She is also interested in feminist philosophy, bioethics, and philosophy of dance.

“The Diamond Sutra as Sublime Object: Negation, Narration, and Happy Endings” by Alan Cole (21 Nov)

This paper close reads an early Mahayana text, the so-called “Diamond Sutra” (Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita), to argue that the meaning of the work is best found on the level of narrative.  That is, on closer examination, the text doesn’t appear to be a random set of philosophic claims about reality, value, language, and meaning; instead, it can be shown that the text is structured – particularly in the first half — to provide a fairly well-controlled reading-experience in which the reader is led through various claims about Buddhist truths and values, claims that, while strikingly contradictory in places, can actually be seen working together to further the narrative’s larger goal of seducing the reader into worshipping the text itself as a buddha-like entity that supposedly holds the essence of the Buddhist tradition.  Thus amidst wild-sounding negations that declare that there is no truth or teachings in Buddhism, we find several passages where the Buddha-in-the-text speaks about the text he is currently giving, explaining that it provides the most exalted teachings and unlimited value, while also claiming that its sheer presence should be taken as a stand-in for the Buddha and his relics.  In short, the text first generates an image of a live Buddha appearing to go about his business on an ordinary day, and yet once this Buddha-in-the-text is established, he turns to give a teaching that, via negation, redefinition and wild value-claims, presents the reader with the stunning claim that he is holding the best thing in the universe.

Puzzling through these various paradoxes and working to understand how the author managed such a happy-ending in the context of all these radical-sounding negations is the point of the paper.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 21 Nov 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Alan Cole, Lewis and Clark College
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

Alan Cole took his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan, in 1994.  Since then he has taught at a number of American colleges and universities, with most of those twenty years spent at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.  His recently published books – Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature (UCal Press, 2005) and Fathering Your Father: The Zen of Fabrication in Tang Buddhism (2009, UCal Press) — are concerned with understanding how narratives function within important Buddhist texts in India and China.  As these titles suggest, he has been working to develop a theory about how Buddhist authors knowingly constructed their works and naturally this involves worrying about how intersubjectivity functions in these artful literary gambits.  More recently, he has tried to extend these theoretical perspectives in a comparative work titled, “Fetishizing Tradition: Desire and Reinvention in Buddhist and Christian Narratives.”  (The book is currently under review at SUNY Press.)  He is currently working on another book, Patriarchs on Paper: A Critical History of Chan (Zen) Literature from 600-1200, (currently under review at UCal Press).

“Envy, Competition, Markets and Morals” by Arindam Chakrabati (22 Mar)

Inequality generates envy. Even a perfectly happy contented person or community can suddenly be made to feel poorer and unhappier in comparison if they are bombarded with vivid information of the over-achievement, opulence and overconsumption by a neighbor or a neighboring community. Envy is not only a form of suffering, it is a poisonous sentiment which, Adam Smith claims, human beings are naturally ashamed of. It makes them feel doubly small, first because they are objectively less successful and secondly because they are unable to celebrate others’ flourishing. Yet inequality and envy, its emotional counterpart, however morally jarring, appear to be the motivating factors of competition, economic, cultural or intellectual. How can competitiveness, which goads economic growth in a free market, lack of which was supposed to be the bane of socialist regimes, be rooted in such a morally deplorable sentiment as envy? Or is some form of emulative envy a virtue?

In this paper, the complex and obscure relationship between different varieties of envy and their distinction from jealousy and schadenfreude will be discussed. The moral psychology of envy will then be explored, primarily on the basis of the paradoxical relationships between equality, inequality and individual or communal competition.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Friday, 22 March 2013
Time: 2.30pm – 4.30pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Arindam Chakrabarti, Professor of Philosophy, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

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.


“In Defense of Habit: Cognitive Science and Confucian Virtue Ethics” by Edward Slingerland (14 Mar)

In this talk I will argue that recent work in cognitive science and social psychology suggests that the sort of “cognitive control” that plays a central role in modern deontology and utilitarianism is actually a very weak foundation upon which to build an ethical education system. Human rationality is, in fact, not particular dependable in day-to-day situations, which means that a style of ethics that focuses on habits and automatic emotions, rather than reasoning styles, might be expected to do a better job of getting people to reliably act in an ethical manner. I will argue that the early Confucian emphasis on moral spontaneity, moral emotions, and the inculcation of virtuous habits is based upon a much more empirically defensible model of human cognition, portraying early Confucian virtue ethics as involving a kind of “time-delayed cognitive control.” Virtue ethics involves a system of ethical training that acknowledges (explicitly or not) the limitations of individual, in-the-moment cognitive control, and therefore designs a system of training regimes and ethical guidelines—themselves the products of cognitive control—which are to be internalized and automatized. Virtue ethics might this be seen as a clever way of getting around the limits of human cognitive control abilities, embedding higher-level desires and goals in lower-level emotional and sensory-motor systems. I will also argue that the specific features of Confucian virtue ethics—in particular, its emphasis on situation-sensitive training—avoid some of the weaknesses of traditional Western models of virtue ethics.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 14 Mar 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Edward Slingerland, Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition, University of British Columbia, Canada
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker: 

Edward Slingerland is Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia, where he also holds adjunct appointments in Philosophy and Psychology. His research specialties and teaching interests include Warring States (5th-3rd c. B.C.E.) Chinese thought, religious studies (comparative religion, cognitive science and evolution of religion), cognitive linguistics (blending and conceptual metaphor theory), ethics (virtue ethics, moral psychology), and the relationship between the humanities and the natural sciences. His publications include Effortless Action: Wu-wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China (Oxford 2003), the Analects of Confucius (Hackett 2003), What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body & Culture (Cambridge 2008), and Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and Humanities (co-edited with Mark Collard, Oxford 2012), as well as numerous articles in top journals in a wide variety of fields. He is currently also PI on a large Canadian government grant on “The Evolution of Religion and Morality” and Director of the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC).

“The Morality of the Psychopath” by John D. Greenwood (27 Nov)

In this paper I consider some questions about the morality of the psychopath, based upon recent research in moral psychology. These will include the question of whether psychopaths are criminally responsible for their actions; whether psychopaths are morally responsible for their actions; whether psychopaths are evil; whether psychopaths are persons; and whether psychopaths are insane.

Philosophy Department Seminar.
Date: Tuesday, 27 Nov 2012
Time: 3.15pm – 5.15pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: John D. Greenwood, Deputy Executive Officer, PhD/MA Program in Philosophy, Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY)
Moderator: A/P Tan Sor Hoon

John D. Greenwood was educated at the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford, and teaches in the departments of philosophy and psychology at City College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. His many books and articles include Explanation and Experiment in Social Psychological Science (Springer-Verlag, 1989), Realism, Identity and Emotion (Sage, 1994) and The Disappearance of the Social in American Social Psychology (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Talk: On the Social Dimensions of Moral Psychology, by John Greenwood (11 Jan 2011)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 11 January 2011, 2-3:45pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: John D. Greenwood, Professor of Philosophy, City University of New York; Moderator: Dr. Tang Weng Hong

Abstract: Contemporary moral psychology has been enormously enriched by recent theoretical developments and empirical findings in evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience, and social psychology and psychopathology. Yet despite the fact that some theorists have developed specifically ‘social heuristic’ (Gigerenzer, 2005) and ‘social intuitionist’ (Haidt, 2001) accounts of moral judgment and behavior, and despite regular appeals to the findings of experimental social psychology, contemporary moral psychology has largely neglected the social dimensions of moral judgment and behavior. I provide a brief sketch of these dimensions, and consider the implications for contemporary theory and research in moral psychology.

greenwoodAbout the speaker: John Greenwood is Professor of Philosophy at City University of New York.

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

From Philology to Philosophy: A Study in Confucian Moral Psychology

A Series of lectures by Distinguished Philosophy Visitor Professor Shun Kwong-loi, Chair Professor of Philosophy and Sin Wai Kin Professor of Chinese Culture, Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Session 1: Methodological Reflections (AS3 0523, 4 Aug, 2-4 p.m.) (.pdf)

Session 2: A Confucian Theme (AS3 0523, 5 Aug, 2-4 p.m.)

Session 3: Purity, Moral Trials, and Equanimity (AS3 0523, 6 Aug, 2-4 p.m.) (.pdf)

Public Lecture: On Anger – A Confucian Perspective (AS7 0116/17/18, 10 Aug, 5-6.30 p.m.) (.pdf)

The series of four lectures present a certain methodological approach to the philosophical study of Chinese thought, illustrated by a number of Confucian ideas related to the Confucian understanding of propriety (yi 義). The first lecture presents the methodological approach, and distinguishes between three different though related goals in the study of Confucian ethical thought. The first seeks to approximate the ideas recorded in early texts through careful textual and historical analysis. The second aims at extracting the insights behind the texts that are of relevance to our own contemporary ethical experiences. The third attempts to build a systematic and reflective account on the basis of these insights that deepens our understanding of our own ethical life. The first task is primarily philological and focuses on the past, namely, on approximating the thinking of past Confucian thinkers. The third task is primarily philosophical and focuses on the present, namely, on building a reflective account of our ethical experiences that is of appeal to us nowadays. The second provides a transition from the philological to the philosophical, and involves our moving between the past and the present in an attempt to articulate the insights of past Confucian thinkers that are of present relevance.

The first lecture of the series lays out this methodological approach, while the other three lectures illustrate the three tasks just described, using a number of Confucian ideas related to the Confucian understanding of propriety as the guiding theme. The second lecture provides a discussion of these ideas, including yi 義, ming 命, cheng 誠, xu 虛 and si 私, and analyses the way these concepts are understood in early and later Confucian thought . The third lecture builds on the second by drawing out the philosophical implications of the ideas discussed in the second lecture, focusing on the phenomena purity, moral trials, and equanimity. The fourth lecture builds on the third by providing a more in-depth and primarily philosophical discussion of ideas highlighted in the third lecture, using the phenomenon of anger as a focus for the discussion. Together, the four lectures illustrate a way of integrating philological and philosophical methods in the study of Chinese thought.

Public Lecture, 10 August, 5 to 6.30 p.m., FASS Seminar Room , AS7-01-16/17/18

On Anger – A Confucian Perspective

The lecture discusses the phenomenon of anger as viewed from a Confucian perspective. After introducing the phenomenon of anger, it describes the Confucian view of disgrace and self-regard, and discusses the implication of this view for the Confucian perspective on anger. This perspective explains why the notions of resentment and forgiveness do not play a prominent role in Confucian thought, and also provides a sense in which the Confucian attitude is ‘detached’ in a way that leads to a sense of invulnerability and equanimity.

For more information, please contact Dr. Loy Hui Chieh (philoyhc@nus.edu.sg). To register for the public lecture, please contact Anjana (anjana@nus.edu.sg).