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Bernard D. Katz Retirement Conference (Oct. 12-13, 2021)


Bernard D. Katz (external link, opens in new window)  worked in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto from 1976 until his retirement in 2021.

This confererence was a celebration of his legacy, and featured eight presentations by Bernard's former students.

Click on the titles below to see abstracts and videos.


Schedule for Tuesday, October 12th.

Abstract: In this talk, I outline a new account for the use of aesthetic criteria in scientific theory choice. The aim is to give a psychologically realistic model showing that we are often, though not always, justified in taking the aesthetic attractiveness of a theory as an indicator that it is likely to be (approximately) true. Aesthetic judgements in science (e.g., that a theory is beautiful) are the expressions of feelings (the theory feels beautiful). These feelings are metacognitive in nature and not ‘merely’ aesthetic. Like other metacognitive feelings – such as feelings of rightness, error, or confidence – these feelings concern how well our cognitive processes proceed, and like other metacognitive feelings they are generally reliable. The account presented here take these feelings to be rough-and-ready heuristics, signalling that something is wrong in the case of negative feelings and that it is going well in the case of positive feelings. I discuss one objection to the account – that the prevalence of metacognitive biases show that we are not justified in relying on metacognitive feelings – and argue that the objection collapses into a general scepticism: if these biases should make us distrust metacognition in general, then the similarly prevalent biases in perception should make us distrust our perceptual judgements. Instead, the conclusion we should draw from the prevalence of metacognitive biases is that metacognitive feelings are moderately reliable. Far from being disappointingly weak, this gives us the desired loose but important connection between positive aesthetic feelings and the likely truth of a theory that scientific practice calls for.

Abstract: Recent developments in grounding (Schaffer 2009) and ontological pluralism (McDaniel 2017) supplement reality with fine-grained metaphysical structures, but what I call “new Frege’s puzzles” occur because we do not yet have a correspondent ontology fine-grained enough to support these structures. Psychologizing the puzzle with Fregean modes of presentation undermines the idea that differences in relative fundamentality and modes of beings are really metaphysical distinctions rather than merely epistemological ones. Instead, I recommend solving the puzzle by expanding our ontology with a world of qua objects. Qua objects have received limited attention in metaphysics (Lewis 2013, Fine 1981, Keller 2004, Baxter 2018), so in this talk I will survey through some of the main choice points that lie in building an ontology for qua objects. In the end, I will present my account of qua objects—“object fragmentalism”.

Abstract:  This talk is a request to help me think through the following puzzle:

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein presented a picture theory of language, according to which we can speak meaningfully only of facts, never of value. In the Investigations, he presented a game theory of language. Does it allow us to speak meaningfully of value? It seems the answer is yes, if value is experienced. The duck/rabbit shows how we experience the "dawning of an aspect." Can we experience value the same way? Wittgenstein's analysis of smiling suggests maybe we can.

My argument in deductively valid standard form:

1. If value is experienced, then we can speak meaningfully about it.

2. If the duck/rabbit is like the smiling face, then value is experienced.

3. The duck/rabbit is like the smiling face.

4. Therefore, we can speak meaningfully of value.

I'm not actually an expert on Wittgenstein. But I am working on a young adult novel about him. At the moment, I am particularly interested in understanding why Rawls regarded Wittgenstein as a major influence. After all, Rawls wrote about justice, which is a value.

[ (word file) Paper Draft]

Abstract: In his book The Last Word (1997), Thomas Nagel argues against what he sees as a tendency in contemporary thought, including much philosophy, towards various forms or relativism, subjectivism, and scepticism, all of which share the failing(s) of: 1) trying to restrict the reach of reason; and 2) basing all justification  on “the wrong kind of generality”, i.e. one that is “statistical, not rational.” He summarizes a formidable list of those he claims have erred in this regard, including Wittgenstein, at least “on a common reading”. I claim that Nagel is right that “the last word” in any reasoning cannot be, at least generally, anything of the aforementioned sort  -  it cannot be external to “the space of reasons” but must be internal to it.   I then argue that Wittgenstein, contrary to certain appearances, agrees.  But Wittgenstein also has a further word to add which is not a further word from within justificatory reasoning but is instead offered as a causal precondition of the possibility of such reasoning. Finally, I briefly address Wittgenstein’s notion of “primitive responses” in these contexts, claiming an additional role for these located at that moment wherein reasons “come to an end”.


Schedule for Wednesday, October 13th.

Abstract: Four-dimensionalism about persons entails the existence of personites, or transient person-like entities that co-occur with persons throughout their lifetimes. Mark Johnston claims that if we grant these entities moral status--as we should--a number of our moral and prudential practices are rendered immoral and illegitimate. In this paper, I argue for a controversial claim of my own: Not only does four-dimensionalism entail the existence of personites, but it also precludes the possibility of one’s knowing whether one is a person or a mere personite. After responding to some objections to it, I show how accepting this claim helps the four-dimensionalist avoid the problem that Johnston claims is raised by the existence of personites.

Abstract: The most famous argument against divine command theory is the Euthyphro dilemma: if God’s commands simply reflect what is otherwise morally required, then they are superfluous to morality; if, on the other hand, they determine what is morally necessary, then moral obligation is arbitrary, for were God to command it, we would be required to reject everything that is currently morally obligatory.  In this presentation I argue that a rather straightforward but compelling reply to the Euthyphro dilemma undermines the justification for state authority.  In short, I propose a new dilemma: either reject the power of the Euthyphro dilemma to undercut divine authority, or else reject the authority of the state.

Abstract: It has been claimed, for a variety of good reasons, that Frege did not recognize the existence of a genuine truth-property in explicit truth-attributions of the form "that p is true". One of these reasons is his oft-repeated thesis that "p" and "that p is true" express the same thought (Superfluity). Superfluity has been taken to indicate that the truth-predicate "... is true", when it appears in explicit truth-attributions of the form "that p is true", does not express a (genuine) sense nor refer to a Fregean concept (property). In this talk, however, I aim to show how Superfluity can be reconciled with the existence of a truth-property, such that that property is ascribed even in explicit truth-attributions of the form "that p is true". I explain what this truth-property is by appeal to Frege's very own doctrine of indirect reference. At the level of sense, in the thought that p is true, is true (the sense of “is true”) is a function that takes that p (the indirect though of “p”) to p (the customary thought of “p”). Therefore, at the level of reference, the referent of “is true” is a concept which takes the customary thought of “p” to the truth-value of “p”. I conclude by highlighting some further exegetical advantages of ascribing this view to Frege, and some of its contemporary echoes.

Abstract: In order to keep up with Rawls, it is critical to appreciate his approach to the familiar dichotomies of practical reason, practical will, and moral agency as matters of coordination. The rational and the reasonable, like empirical practical reasoning and pure practical reasoning, come with terms of their own and can and do pull in different directions, but in the hands of Rawls they also lend themselves to coordination into the fair terms of social cooperation. Rawls’s way of coordination can be brought to bear on the configuration Hume and Kant left in their wake concerning whether the general foundations of morals are to be found in passion or reason.