Recent themes in the philosophy of perception

I spent most of last weekend at a University of Warwick workshop on Perception, Consciousness and Reference. The workshop featured some of the key players in current debates about perceptual experience and knowledge, including John Campbell, Tim Crane, Barry Stroud, and Charles Travis, alongside Warwick regulars such as Bill Brewer, Quassim Cassam, Naomi Eilan and Matt Soteriou.

Rather than rehearsing the papers and arguments that were presented here, I thought it might be more useful and interesting to try to summarise some of the main themes that emerged from the workshop, many of which will form part of my own research in this area over the coming months. (I apologise in advance for the sketchiness and generality of these remarks, which are intended to give an overview rather than a detailed analysis of  these complex and difficult issues.) (more…)

23 September 2009 at 4:09pm 1 comment

Normal service will be resumed…

I realise that haven’t posted anything here for a while, partly because I’ve been very busy with various projects, and partly because I’m having a bit of a rethink about my chosen research topic (more on which soon). In the meantime, here’s a cartoon of my pet fish reading M.G.F. Martin’s ‘The Reality of Appearances’ from the excellent Byrne and Logue collection on disjunctivism:

Eve does philosophy
Eve does philosophy

9 September 2009 at 9:24am Leave a comment

MindGrad 2009 Call for Papers

Well, the CFP for this year’s MindGrad conference went out on PHILOS-L a few weeks ago and we’ve already had lots of people sign up to our Facebook event and follow @MindGrad on Twitter. As previously mentioned, both Alva Noë and Tim Crane (also on Twitter as @timcrane) have agreed to give keynote talks at the conference, which I’m personally very excited about. Since then the organising committee has been busy applying for funding and making general arrangements for the conference, and we’re hoping to make this the best MindGrad yet.

I hope that some of the readers of this blog will consider submitting a paper and/or attending the conference. Having attended last year’s MindGrad, I can confirm that it’s a very enjoyable event, and there will be responses to graduate papers given by members of the Warwick faculty plus plenty of time for Q&A, so it’s a good chance to gain valuable feedback on your work, as well as experience of presenting at a graduate conference. We hope to be able to cover accommodation and transport costs of everyone whose papers are accepted, plus a few others who would not otherwise be able to attend, so it’s well worth submitting a paper. (Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to submit anything myself as I’m on the organising committee, but I guess there’s always next year!)

Further information can be found on the conference web site, or I’d be happy to answer questions via the comments section below.

26 July 2009 at 11:04am Leave a comment

Gupta’s non-propositional conception of experience

Last week, I attend an excellent talk and seminar from Anil Gupta, author of Empiricism and Experience, in which he presented his non-propositional conception of experience and its contribution to rational thought, along with his latest thoughts on the metaphysics of experience.

Gupta’s central thesis can be simply stated as the claim that rational entitlement to knowledge is not generated solely by present experience, but by experience in conjunction with the prior metaphysical and experiential standing of the subject. It is this pre-existing ‘view’ that the subject brings to experience that yields entitlement to knowledge, thereby enabling them to make rational judgements even in cases where their ontology is radically mistaken; e.g. they are a ‘brain in a vat’ (BIV). This contrasts with views, such as Pryor’s dogmatism, that take experience itself to confer prima facie rational entitlement, and Wright’s entitlement of cognitive project, which flows from the logical structure of rational enquiry. (more…)

22 June 2009 at 8:45am 2 comments

MindGrad Conference

For the past five years, the University of Warwick has held a graduate conference in the philosophy of mind  called—surprisingly enough—MindGrad. It is (or so I am told) normally organised by second year Ph.D. students working in that general area, and seeing as I was the only new philosophy of mind Ph.D. student starting at Warwick this year, it has fallen me to organise this year’s conference. Not that I mind, you understand, as it’s a great opportunity to invite some top notch philosophers to come and speak on topics relating to my research, and the range of graduate papers on offer at last year’s conference was excellent.

The conference itself is scheduled for the first weekend in December (5th–6th), and I’m happy to say that both keynote speakers have now confirmed. They are Alva Noë, who works on phenomenology, philosophy of cognitive science, embodiment, extended mind and consciousness, and Tim Crane, philosopher of mind and perception, Head of Department at UCL and soon to be Knightbridge Professor at the University of Cambridge. Both will, I’m sure, be excellent and I’m really looking forward to some fascinating discussions of graduate papers in light of their considerable experience and philosophical work. (more…)

9 April 2009 at 9:37am Leave a comment

Susan Hurley Memorial Conference

As mentioned in my previous post, I was at the Susan Hurley Memorial Conference last weekend, so I thought I’d record a few thoughts and comments about it here for comments and discussion. In general, it was a very useful and enjoyable event, and left me with a strong impression of what a creative, energetic and intelligent individual Susan Hurley was. Her untimely death was a tragedy not just for those who knew her, but for the philosophical community as a whole, not least because her work seemed to be reaching new levels just before she died.

The brief to speakers was apparently to talk about something that Susan would have found interesting, rather responding to her work directly, although there was inevitably some crossover between the two. It was touching that many of the speakers chose to begin their talks with personal recollections or anecdotes about the time they spent with Susan, or the impression that she had made upon them. Indeed, the introductory session was given by Susan’s husband, Nick Rawlins, who, along with their son Merryn, was present throughout most of the conference. It was also a distinctly interdisciplinary gathering with many neuro- and cognitive scientists, as well as philosophers, in attendance—a mark of the nature and breadth of Susan’s work. (more…)

26 March 2009 at 5:42pm 2 comments

Minds, Brains, and Beyond

I’m off to Bristol tomorrow to attend the Susan Hurley memorial conference entitled Minds, Brains, and Beyond. The conference runs until Sunday and features an impressive array of philosophical luminaries, including John Campbell, José Luis Bermudéz, Daniel Dennett, Andy Clark, Alvin Goldman, Jesse Prinz and Ruth Millikan, to name but a few. Unfortunately, Alva Noë and Kim Sterelny had to drop out at the last minute, although the good news is that ticketing problems with Dennett’s keynote seem to have been sorted out and places have now been offered to anyone who’s attending the conference and wants to go (quite right too!).

I’m very much looking forward to seeing some of the philosophical big beasts in action, especially given that many of the talks are on topics close to my own areas of interest. As seems only fitting, I will be taking my copy (well, Warwick university library’s copy, actually) of Consciousness in Action to read on the train (6:30am at Leamington Spa station!). I started reading it some time ago and only managed until chapter 7, not because it wasn’t interesting, but because I moved onto other things and needed some time to process some of the arguments concerning the inverted spectrum thought experiments after which this blog is named. In any case, it will be good to return to these issues at the interface between philosophy and neuroscience, and upon which Hurley wrote so eloquently. (more…)

19 March 2009 at 2:03pm 1 comment

Ned Block on Disjunctivism

In the last few days I had the good fortune to attend a couple of talks here at Warwick by Ned Block. In the first of these, which I discuss below, Block set about attacking the disjunctivist conception of experience put forward by (amongst others) Mike Martin, Alva Noë and Susan Hurley. On this object-involving view of experience, not only semantic content but also the phenomenal character of experience itself is said to be externally individuated—a view which Block has argued against elsewhere, and which is defended by Michael Tye. This goes beyond the widely accepted arguments put forward by Putnam, Burge, et al., and results in a view upon which the felt qualities of experience are partly (although not necessarily wholly) constituted by external objects.

Block confessed from the outset that he was relatively ignorant of the literature on disjunctivism, which is admittedly sprawling and difficult to interpret. For those who have not come across the term, disjunctivism is, to put it crudely, the view that experience or mental state types should not be individuated on the basis of their phenomenal character—i.e. ‘what it’s like’ for the subject—but also on the basis of external properties, such as their epistemic status. Thus, a veridical perceptual episode and a hallucination would be taken to be two different types of experience whose only common factor is that they are phenomenally indistinguishable from one another, and where this need not be taken to indicate any other common factor at the level of the mental. (more…)

10 March 2009 at 1:58pm 9 comments

New Books

I’ve recently taken delivery of a couple of books that are currently on my reading list. They are Timothy Williamson’s The Philosophy of Philosophy (2007, Blackwell Publishing) and The Possibility of Knowledge by Quassim Cassam (2007, Oxford University Press).

The first of these has been recommended to me by several people and is based upon Williamson’s Brown University lectures on metaphilosophy (hence the title). As I’m still reading Williamson’s previous book, Knowledge and Its Limits, I’ll probably concentrate on finishing that one first before reading The Philosophy of Philosophy some time this summer. (more…)

3 March 2009 at 2:53pm Leave a comment

Heidegger and Nagel on Death and Dying

I was recently invited to write a short article for the University of York Philosophy Society’s philosophy magazine, Dialectic, on the subject of life and death. This has since come out in print and online, and can be found here.

Having read Heidegger’s treatment of death in Being and Time (upon which I have blogged on a previous occasion), as well as given a seminar presentation of Thomas Nagel’s treatment of the subject in the final chapter of The View From Nowhere, I thought it might be nice to try and combine the two. Due to length restrictions (1,000 words!), I couldn’t go into any great detail, but I hope the resulting piece gives at least a flavour of the two thinkers in question as well as some of the issues—both personal and philosophical—that arise when reflecting upon the nature and inevitability of our own deaths. (more…)

26 February 2009 at 8:59am Leave a comment

New Philosophical Gourmet Report

Well, a new edition of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR for short) came out yesterday with the University of Warwick making a very respectable—if slightly lacklustre—joint ninth in the UK rankings. As expected, Oxford, along with St Andrews, Cambridge and the various London colleges, continue to dominate the top slots with the overall ordering being very similar to the 2006 rankings.

Although I must admit to being rather sceptical about the utility of such global rankings, there’s no doubt that they provide an interesting reflection of the way that various departments are regarded within the profession. When it comes to postgraduate study, I suspect that it’s as important to choose the department—and in particular the supervisor—that is most suited towards one’s intended area, rather than going to the institution with the highest overall ranking. The PGR’s subject specific rankings are quite useful in this regard since they reflect the perception of each department’s strengths on a subject by subject basis, although this can again be a bit hit and miss since the PGR is based upon peer evaluation rather than a direct attempt to measure the quality of the relevant research, as per the UK RAE rankings, for example. (more…)

24 February 2009 at 11:58pm 3 comments

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