“Affectivity and the scaffolded mind” by Giovanna Colombetti (Feb 12)

In this talk I present some work in progress on the notion of “affective scaffolding”. I first introduce Kim Sterelny’s (2010) concept of “scaffolded mind” and present it as a more productive framework than the more famous “extended-mind thesis” for analysing the relationship between mind and world. Then I apply the notion of the scaffolded mind to affective phenomena, with particular attention to the way in which material items scaffold our affective states. I distinguish various senses in which material scaffolds can be incorporated into our affective lives. We can talk, for example, of “physiological incorporation”, but also of “incorporation into the body image” and perhaps of other forms of affective incorporation as well. A further related issue I address concerns the extent to which incorporation requires the transparency of incorporated objects – namely, whether objects that are (affectively) incorporated are necessarily always absent or un-noted in experience.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 12 Feb 2015
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Giovanna Colombetti, University of Exeter
Moderator: Dr. Qu Hsueh Ming

About the Speaker:

Picture1Giovanna Colombetti is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology of the University of Exeter (UK). She studied philosophy and cognitive science in Florence, Birmingham, and Sussex, and held research positions in Toronto, Trento, and Boston. She also held various visiting fellowships across Europe, and in Sydney. Her primary research area is the so-called “embodied” approach developed in the philosophy of cognitive science (including related views according to which cognition is “embedded”, “enactive”, and “extended”), and philosophical and scientific approaches to emotion and affect. From 2010 to 2014 she was Principal Investigator of a project funded by the European Research Council, titled “Emoting the Embodied Mind”. While on this project she worked to show the implications of taking an embodied-mind approach for the conceptualisation of a variety of affective phenomena. She has published articles in British Journal of Philosophy of Science, Inquiry, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, Philosophical Psychology, Philosophical Studies, and chapters in books edited by MIT Press and Oxford University Press. She co-edited, with Evan Thompson, a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies on “Emotion Experience”, and is the author of The Feeling Body: Affective Science Meets the Enactive Miind, published in 2014 by MIT Press.

“An Austrian Economic model of Wittgenstein’s Philosophies of Language and Mind” by Richard McDonough (Feb 5)

Most scholars understand para. 608 of Wittgenstein’s Zettel (Z608) to propose that language might emerge out of chaos at the neural centre.  These scholars see in Z608 one or another neural theory, causal indeterminism, or connectionist processes, or even the possibility of a pile of sawdust at the neural centre. But these contradict Wittgenstein’s basic views that the philosopher must not advance theories and that the relevant phenomena are “always before one’s eyes” (Philosophical Investigations, pgh. 129; Culture and Value, p. 63). The paper proposes an Austrian economic model of Z608 that better coheres with Wittgenstein’s fundamental views. For example, the Austrian philosopher-economist, Hayek argues that the price of a commodity emerges out of the chaos of activities at the centre of gravity a free market. He proposes no theories about hidden mechanisms but only a description of the economic activities right “before one’s eyes.” Whereas Wittgenstein claims language arises, not out of physical chaos in the brain, but out of the chaotic behaviour in human forms of life, Austrian economists hold that the natural price arises out of the chaotic behaviour in human forms of economic life. Finally, the paper shows how this Austrian economic model of Z608 clarifies Kripke’s suggestion that the Austrian economic calculation argument against socialism parallels Wittgenstein’s “private language argument”.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 5 Feb 2015
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Richard McDonough, James Cook University, Singapore
Moderator: Dr. Qu Hsueh Ming

About the Speaker:

RichRichard McDonough received his BA in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh in 1971, his MA in philosophy from Cornell in 1974, and his Ph.d. from Cornell in 1975.  He is the author of two books, about 50 articles in internationally referred journals, several encyclopedia and dictionary entries, 11 book reviews and has acted as a guest editor of Idealistic Studies.  He has taught previously at Bates College, National University of Singpaore, University of Tulsa, University Putra Malaysia, Overseas Family College, PSB Academy, University of Maryland, Arium Academy, and James Cook University.   In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, general humanities and writing courses.

“What is the scope of aesthetic experience?” by Nico Silins (13 Feb)

In the first half of the talk, I examine

Blindspot: you only experience a part of a work of art if you attend to it.

I critically examine support for Blindspot one might draw from discussions in the philosophy of mind of “inattentional blindness”. I also discuss whether some artistic practice presupposes that Blindspot is false.

In the second half of the talk, I examine

Surface: if you can’t tell two works of art or experiences of art apart, then they have the same value for you.

Surface applies to experiences as well as works of art and other entities. I review how one might support Surface, and then reject Surface in light of discussions in the philosophy of mind of “change blindness”.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 13 Feb 2014
Time: 2.30 pm – 4.30 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Nico Silins, Cornell University / Yale-NUS College
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

nicholas-silinsNicholas Silins is Associate Professor at Yale-NUS College and at Cornell University. He has also been a Research Fellow at the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University, and a Bersoff Fellow at New York University. His research has been primarily in epistemology and the philosophy of mind, with a focus on understanding perception and how we learn from perception.

“Personal and Sub-Personal” by Hong Yu Wong (26 Sept)

It has been argued that personal level explanations are independent and autonomous from sub-personal level explanations (McDowell 1994, Hornsby 2000). These claims of autonomy have come under pressure from the recent explosion of results in cognitive neuroscience studying all aspects of human perception, action, and cognition. In this talk, I shall reconsider the relation between personal and sub-personal explanations in the light of advances in cognitive neuroscience and interventionist accounts of causation (Woodward 2003). On the way I will discuss the traditional distinction between constitutive and enabling conditions which has sometimes been used to mark the difference between personal and sub-personal explanations.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 26 Sept 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Hong Yu Wong, Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience, University of Tübingen
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

Hong Yu Wong heads the Philosophy of Neuroscience Group at the Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience, an excellence cluster at the University of Tübingen. He is also a faculty member of the Philosophisches Seminar and the Max Planck Neural and Behavioural Graduate School at the University of Tübingen. His primary research interests concern the relations between perception and action, and the role of the body in structuring these relations.

“Three Puzzles about Spatial Experience” by David Chalmers (6 May)

Is it possible that everything that seems to be on your left is actually on your right?  Is it possible that everything in the world is twice as big as it seems to be?  Is it possible that everything that seems square is actually an extended rectangle?  Through reflection on these and related puzzles I will address some central issues regarding the content of spatial experience.  I will use this analysis to shed light on puzzles about skepticism concerning the external world.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Monday, 6 May 2013 (Please note that this talk isn’t following our regular day/time for talks)
Time: 10am – 12pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: David Chalmers, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness, Australian National University.
Moderator: Dr. Michael Pelczar

About the Speaker: David Chalmers is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University.  He is also Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness at New York University.  His books include “The Conscious Mind,” “The Character of Consciousness,” and “Constructing the World.”

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.


“Into the Mind of the Octopus” by Sidney Diamante (15 Nov)

The octopus is one of the animals whose nervous system has recently been declared by neuroscientists (in the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness) to be capable of generating subjective conscious experience. This declaration is significant because the octopus is, at first glance, unlikely to be considered a candidate for consciousness: primarily because its nervous system is radically different from that expected of a conscious animal, and because it is non-linguistic. On the other hand, the octopus is capable of a wide range of behavioral flexibility, which indicates that it is a highly intelligent animal. However, it is possible that such behavior is not accompanied by qualitative experiences but is the outcome of non-conscious automatic responses to external stimuli. Neuroscience now believes that this is not the case, and thus there is indeed something it is like to be an octopus. What, now, can the octopus tell us about the nature of consciousness?

The criteria used to attribute consciousness to the octopus is comprised of (1) possession of the neural subrates regarded as correlates of conscious experience and (2) the capacity for highly versatile behavior. While promising, these criteria are not without their share of problems. For instance, how have these substrates been established as correlates of consciousness? Without a non-circular account of such correlation, an airtight case that the behavior accompanying certain brain activity is indeed the result of conscious mental states is difficult to make. Due to difficulties such as these, other approaches to consciousness attribution to animals must be explored. One such approach is cognitive ethology, or analyzing an animal’s behavior in order to gain insights into its mental life.

In this investigation, I adopt the methods of cognitive ethology and present certain natural octopus behaviors that could be used as evidence that it is phenomenally conscious. Analyses—albeit tentative—of these behaviors will be offered, with the goal of using the octopus to shed new light on issues in the philosophy of mind.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 15 Nov 2012
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Sidney Diamante, Lecturer in Philosophy, De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
Moderator: Dr. Neil Sinhababu

About the Speaker: 

Sidney Diamante is a lecturer in Philosophy at De La Salle University, Manila. She obtained a Bachelor of Music degree, cum laude, in 2008. In 2010, she completed her MA in Philosophy at De La Salle University, where she is also pursuing a PhD in Philosophy. At present, her research is focused on animal minds, although her other research interests include problems in metaphysics and philosophy of mind.



“Bodily Sensation Objects” by Kranti Saran

Philosophy Seminar Series: 26 Jan 2012, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Kranti Saran, Fellow in Philosophy, Harvard University, Department of Philosophy; Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

According to the dualist, bodily sensations are mental objects. On the ‘accepted view’ of sense-data spelled out by Moore (1953) they only exist when they are perceived, are private to the perceiver, have no distinction between their appearance and reality, and do not exist in physical space. In contrast, physicalist theories of bodily sensations are motivated by the desire to avoid positing mental objects (Kim (1972)). Physicalists typically hold that all bodily sensations are only properties or states of the body (Aune (1967), Nagel (1965)), or brain events (Smart (1959)). Against the dualist, I argue that bodily sensations are not mental objects; against the physicalists I argue that (some) bodily sensations have an objectual character. I speak of those that do as bodily sensation objects. I explain the sense in which such sensations are objects and defend the cogency of the idea of bodily sensation objects from a slew of objections. I then go on to provide a positive argument for the existence of bodily sensation objects: if some experiences of bodily sensations representing bodily sensation objects are veridical, then bodily sensation objects exist; some experiences of bodily sensations representing bodily sensation objects are veridical; hence bodily sensation objects exist. In addition to defending each step of the argument, I also defend the claim that experience represents bodily sensation objects at all, by using the method of phenomenal contrast as developed by Siegel (2010).

About the speaker: Kranti completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard University in May 2011 and is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and a Fellow in Philosophy at Harvard University. Kranti’s dissertation focused on the nature of bodily sensations. More generally, he is interested in questions about the metaphysics and epistemology of experience.


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

Talk: Intentionality with an Eye on Graded Beliefs, by Tang Weng Hong (28 September 2010)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 28September 2010, 2-3:45pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Tang Weng Hong, Teaching Assistant, National University of Singapore; Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

Abstract: Philosophers recognise that taking graded belief to be more fundamental than binary belief has interesting implications for epistemology. In this talk, I shall argue that there are also implications for the philosophy of intentionality. Causal and teleological theories of intentionality tend to focus on providing a naturalised account of the intentionality of binary beliefs. But if graded belief is more fundamental than binary belief, it seems that they should focus on the former instead. I shall argue, however, that some of these theories falter if graded belief is indeed fundamental.

Weng HongAbout the Speaker: Weng Hong spent about five and a half years studying philosophy at NUS. He then obtained his PhD at the Australian National University, and is now back at NUS as a teaching assistant. He’s interested in various issues in epistemology, the philosophy of probability, and the philosophy of mind

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