Abstracts

Jump to abstracts of speakers whose name starts with: B D F H J K M N P S W

 

Nora Berenstain (University of Tennessee):
“Epistemic Exploitation”

Epistemic exploitation occurs when privileged persons demand an education or explanation from marginalized persons about the nature of the oppression they face. This phenomenon maintains structures of oppression by centering the needs and desires of dominant groups and exploiting the emotional and cognitive labor of members of marginalized groups who are required to do the unpaid and often unacknowledged work of providing information, resources, and evidence of oppression to privileged people who demand it. This paper elucidates the phenomenon of epistemic exploitation, situates it in the framework of epistemic injustice, and considers strategies for avoiding epistemic exploitation. It also addresses specific norms within academic philosophy that converge to create a disciplinary environment that is especially conducive to epistemic exploitation.

 

Alisa Bierria (Stanford University):
“Black Action & Criminal Intent: A Challenge for Philosophy of Action”

How can analytic philosophy create foundational theory of intentional action when action unfolds in a culture designed to define some agents’ actions into something else entirely? In philosophical accounts of intentional action, theorists often take as a given that, except in very unusual circumstances, agents’ intentions will (at least roughly) correspond with what others take their intentions to be. Certainly, philosophers allow for errors in this process; there are good faith misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Still, even these errors are generally addressed through correctives such as clarification or increased imagination from either agent, or a third party’s explanatory intervention.

However, US-based social and psychological research suggests that the racialized concept of “black people” are the model from which the modern concept of “criminal” is formed, or the paradigmatic ideal of “criminal,” ultimately distorting how black agents’ actions are perceived. How do we explain scenarios in which the public can both create and authoritatively affirm a crime-based account of an action performed by a black agent, while remaining neutral about the same action performed by a white agent? How does this inconsistency challenge the ways in which philosophy has conceptualized intentional action?

In this talk, I will discuss the need for a theory of agency that can account for the role of structural power that shapes the social dimension of agency. Specifically, I argue that action performed by black agents in the US is persistently vulnerable to being read through a frame of criminality, which creates fundamental complications for the development of philosophical theory about human agency.

 

Ekaterina Botchkina and Jerome Hodges (both MIT):
“In Defense of Better Concepts”

When a critical project convinces us of a flaw in one of our concepts – revealing, perhaps, that it’s grounded in confusion or sustained by self-deception – we are faced with the question of how to proceed. Two opposing strategies that have found support in recent years are, on one hand, an eliminativism that advocates doing away with the troubled concept altogether, and on the other, the more controversial ameliorative approach that seeks to rehabilitate the concept in question by bringing it in line with our theoretical goals. In this paper, I argue that the possibility of conceptual amelioration is one consequence of an increasingly prominent ‘Dynamic Account’ of linguistic meaning, tracing back to Quine and defended in recent work by Mark Richard. Taking this picture of meaning on board, I examine the special epistemic and ontological questions raised by the possibility of deliberate conceptual amelioration; I ultimately argue that the ameliorative project is consistent with, and in fact constitutes an important part of, objective inquiry.

 

Kristie Dotson (Michigan State University):
“Considering Philosophical Impact: On Horizons, Audiences, and Tools”

The broad uptake of my paper, “How is This Paper Philosophy?” has given me the occasion to think about the conditions for its success that may shed light on ways of producing socially relevant philosophy. In this paper, I explore the production of “How is this Paper Philosophy.” Ultimately, I claim that what may have contributed to the success of that paper, as a meta-philosophy piece on diversity, includes: 1) its contribution to an ongoing conversation about diversity in professional philosophy, 2) the accessibility of its relevant readership, and 3) its methodological form, i.e. a fairly standard analytic epistemology trap. In other words, the uptake of that paper can be attributed, in large part, to conditions that were already met before it was ever published. These observations might give us a clue to ways philosophical work can promote and effect social change, i.e. maintenance and/or cultivation of hermeneutic horizons, appropriate identification of one’s relevant readership (which may not always, or even primarily, be other professional philosophers), and, finally, expanding philosophical training to also include philosophy as tool acquisition.

 

Rachel Fraser (Oxford University):
“Knowledge, Action, Utopia”

If we want to say anything interesting about the relation between the sort of (theoretical) claims that analytic philosophers tend to produce and political action then we had better have in place some background story about the relation between a​ny p​olitically oriented theory and political action. It used to be the case that analytic philosophers who were interested in epistemic rationality were not particularly interested (at least when they were doing epistemology) in practical rationality or in the practical interests of epistemic agents. But now, at least a few people seem to think, or take seriously the thought, that there are intimate and important connections between knowledge and the practical decision faced by an agent (see Stanley, 2005, Fantl and MacGrath, 2009). Call these views sensitive invariantist view. This paper traces some of the relations between theory and practice implicit in sensitive invariantism by linking together some puzzles in formal epistemology with the epistemology of utopian political projects.

 

Hilkje Hänel (HU Berlin):
“Ameliorating Rape”

Many people have very different understandings of how the term ‘rape’ is actually defined and which acts it precisely denotes in the world. I suggest that this confusion can be explained by Sally Haslanger’s work on concepts: rape is a paradigm phenomenon where our operative, our manifest, and our target concept are not in line with each other. Furthermore, our operative concept differs from person to person and from case to case, leading to misunderstandings about rape. However, neither the different operative concepts nor the manifest one can account for the structural dimension of social inequality between men and women that plays a role in acts of rape. This is a task for our target concept. And it confronts us with the fact that our target concept needs to be inherently political and emancipatory.

If our target concept is inherently political and emancipatory and should be informed, for several reasons, by an analysis of the structural dimension of social inequality, then we have to be careful in assuming that the best analysis is one where the operative, the manifest, and the target concept are in line with each other. I propose that we sometimes have to prioritise between our different commitments; these commitments can be political, moral, or epistemic (to name just a few). Furthermore, I think we do so all the time in our everyday lives. The problem of rape is a reminder that we should also do so in our philosophical analyses.

 

Sally Haslanger (MIT):
“Ideology, Practices, and Social Critique”

Racism, sexism, and other forms of social injustice are plausibly understood as ideological. Some have argued that an account of ideology in terms of beliefs allows us to critique “ideological illusion” in straightforward epistemic terms (Shelby 2003, 2014). In this paper I argue that a critique of ideology should extend to a critique of concepts in terms of which we experience the world, and a critique of the practices of which ideology is a constitutive part. This shifts the focus of social critique from reasoned debate, to the production of disruptive experiences and material change which motivates and warrants the production of alternative conceptual resources.

 

Rico Hauswald (Dresden University of Technology):
“Scientific Objectivity and the Epistemology of Activism”

This paper examines the relation between social activist movements and science, primarily from an epistemological point of view. I identify activism as a kind of stakeholder (Rolin 2009), i.e. an extra-scientific factor determining the social and political parameters of science that should be taken into account when considering its functioning from a social epistemological point of view. In addition, I underline that often activist movements are even more than mere passive or external stakeholders: in the form of activist-scholars, i.e. persons having an activist background and doing academic research at the same time, they may deeply shape a scientific research field from within, as it were. My main aim in this paper is to explore such close connections and to analyze them from an epistemological point of view. I start by clarifying the different “logics” of science and activism and reveal how and why they functionally intersect. Subsequently, I analyze the role social activist movements play for science. Based on arguments from the literature on reward systems and pluralism in science, I shall highlight their ambivalent relation: on the one hand, activism is able to fulfill positive functions for science; on the other hand, it may pose serious threats to its integrity. In doing so, special attention will be given to personnel exchange and overlap between groups of activists and scientific communities, particularly in those research fields that have originated out of, and evolved in close connection with, certain activist movements.

 

Rebekka Hufendiek (University of Basel):
“Naturalism and the Critique of the Given”

Naturalism is a widely accepted view among philosophers. Vivid critique of naturalism stems from social constructivism and thereby largely from philosophers committed to the analysis of social wrongs. I analyze what the reasons for the concerns about naturalism are and speak against these concerns, suggesting that naturalism is the right framework for a critique of what critical theory calls “the given.”

I aim to show that skepticism with regard to naturalism stems largely from the view that naturalism is a view that tends to describe things as part of an unchangeable natural order. Social constructivists on the other hand aim to describe things as constructed by us and thereby changeable by us.

The anti-naturalist position, I argue, confuses a features’ being biological and its being an essential feature or being part of an unchangeable natural order. If we separate these claims, then it follows that if we understand the underlying causal structure of a feature and if we understand the history that brought about a feature we are able to change it – no matter if it is natural or social. It is then a further question whether we should change it. But this is a question that we have to answer for social and natural features alike. “The given” is biological and social in nature and contingent through and through. We need methodological naturalism to understand it and critical reasoning to decide what to change.

 

Daniel James (HU Berlin):
“Nothing Personal: What (If Anything) Is Structural Domination?”

A common theme echoing throughout many left-leaning discussions of social justice is that structure matters. This slogan conveys the claim that many kinds of social injustices owe their very existence to the workings of social structures rather than to the actions of individual agents. In this paper, I want to focus on one version of this claim, which pertains to the notion of social domination: According to this view, social domination consists not only in being “subjected to the will of another” (Pettit 2012: 49) but also in being subjected by social structures themselves.

Many accounts of such ”structural” domination characterize it in terms of the contingent outcomes or results of certain actions or events (Lovett 2010: 25). This characerization, however, fails to accommodate cases in which agents adjust their behaviour to the domination they are subject in order to minimize its outcomes (cf. ibid.). The basic idea underlying this objection is that domination is of a speci c dispositional character: Rather than in actual constraint, it consists in an arbitrary power that one (individual or collective) agent possesses in relation to another.

This paper outlines an account of structural domination that o ffers a response to this objection. According to this account, structural domination is a social relationship that holds between social groups (rather than between their indvidual members), such that any individual member of the dominating group can personally dominate any individual member of the dominated group. In such a social relationship, members of the dominating group possess what I will call an iterated social power (cf. Vetter 2015: 135 ff.), namely the power to acquire uncontrolled power to invade in the aff airs of some member of the dominated group.

 

Katherine Jenkins (University of Sheffield):
Introduction to the Panel Philosophical Methodology and Social Criticism

According to Max Horkheimer, a critical theory (1) takes all of society as its object, meaning that (2) it is reflexive (since the theory itself is part of society and hence part of its own object), and furthermore (3) it has emancipatory social change as its success condition. I argue that these features are indeed important ones for us to attend to if we are engaged in theorizing social wrongs. I further argue that a large proportion of analytic philosophy lacks these features, and as a result of this theorizes social wrongs in unproductive or counter-productive ways. The question then is whether in incorporating these features of critical theory into our work we would thereby be ceasing to be engaged in analytic philosophy. Answering this question is made somewhat difficult by the lack of a clear consensus about how the category of ‘Analytic Philosophy’ should be understood. However, based on my own working understanding of analytic philosophy, I am inclined to answer in the negative: we can be both critical theorists and analytic philosophers. For example, one prominent feature of analytic philosophy is an interest in concepts. This might appear to some to be difficult to square with the commitments of a critical theory, but in fact it is perfectly possible to investigate concepts with both a critical awareness of their function in society and a commitment to facilitating emancipatory social change. The papers in this panel shed valuable light on how this can be accomplished.

 

Joseph Kisolo-Ssonko (Manchester University/University of Sheffield):
Introduction to the Panel Metaphysics and Epistemology

Reason cannot become transparent to itself as long as men act as members of an organism which lacks reason” (Horkheimer, 1937)

… in order to proceed with proper confidence to do something together, people must already justifiably see themselves as ‘us’ or ‘we'” (Gilbert, 1992)

What does adopting a critical frame mean for taking an analytic approach to issues such as the Social’s relation to metaphysical grounding; the relationship between individuals and structures of social domination; or the effect of purported epistemic norms of enquiry on these structures?

Critical Theory clearly requires taking the existence of oppressive social facts to be of fundamental importance. Further, I argue that this necessitates seeing the totality of our social lives as linked to our historical mode of economic existence.

This implies a tension with the analytic tradition as the latter sees its task as abstracting out ‘extraneous details’ and views issues of social oppression as such. Even more problematically, the whole social sphere has been seen as an ephemeral distraction from the ‘true nature’ of the world that ‘rigorous’ philosophy is meant to expose.
I will make the case that analytic philosophy has moved towards taking social facts, in general, seriously through the emerging field of Collective Intentionality. However, I will suggest – by way of an illustration using the case of race and collective identity – that adopting a critical theory lens radically alters the necessary trajectory of such projects.

 

Jo-Jo Koo (Skidmore College):
“Haslanger’s Critical Social Theory of Gender and Race from the Point of View of the Philosophy of the Social Sciences”

This talk explores how Haslanger’s critical social theory of gender and race is implicitly committed to (1) a mechanistic conception of social explanation and (2) a social ontology that emphasizes the priority of what she defines as the “constitutive construction” over the “causal construction” of gender and race. Regarding (1), there are some interesting convergences between Haslanger’s commitment to mechanism-based explanations of social phenomena and Petri Ylikoski’s recent account of this type of social explanation. Ylikoski argues that such explanations: are contextually and pragmatically conceived, supported, and used; are microfoundationalist but need not be reduced to individuals’ attitudes and actions; and draw an important distinction between causation and constitution. Regarding (2), Haslanger’s conception of a “focal analysis” of gender and race seems to give analytical priority to the constitution (“constitutive construction”) of gender and race as specific social kinds over the social factors that cause human beings to become gendered or racialized (i.e., their “causal construction” as gendered or racialized individuals). If this interpretation is right, her social ontology of gender and race can be seen as setting the basic constraints for her analyses of the social construction and social explanation of social kinds like gender and race. Finally, this talk (time permitting) aims to cast light not only on these apparent commitments of Haslanger’s critical social theory, but also on the assumptions, methodology, and commitments of such theories in general across different traditions of critical social theory.

 

Odin Kroeger (University of Vienna):
“How to Say Something about the Social World by Analysing Marx’ Concepts”

Marx’ on the one hand holds that ‘social structures’ are ‘real’ (call this the “Social ‘Reality’ Conjecture”), but on the other hand also finds that we make some kind of mistake if we relate to them as ‘given’ (call this the “Social ‘Construction’ Conjecture”). To be sure, the Social ‘Reality’ Conjecture (SRC) and the “Social ‘Construction’ Conjecture” do not go well together. Yet, each of them appears plausible when taken for itself. Hence, we may learn something from Marx, if we can show his position is tenable. To do so, we first need to spell out and defend the SRC—which we can, I propose, by analysing his concepts. To be sure, how a conceptual analysis (CA), which is about what we mean by some concept, can help defend the SRC, which is about the world, is puzzling. However, following Jackson, we can use a CA of some concept, F (e.g., social structure), to spell out our theory of F, T(F). Then, we can look for another theory, usually supplied by the respective sciences, about another subject matter, Φ (e.g., regularities in behaviour, mental states, …), that can do all and more of the explanatory work T(F) does. If we find such a theory and this theory is true, then we have thereby found evidence that Fs are, in some sense, Φs—and this is a discovery about the world. That said, the sense in which Marx regards ‘social structures’ as ‘real’ may not allow for his talk about them to follow from talk about something more fundamental as Jackson would have us. What is more, we usually use CA to spell out our concepts, and we, of course, are not Marx. I will address these issues and thereby show how we may learn something about our social world by analysing Marx’ concepts.

 

Mari Mikkola (HU Berlin):
“Constitutive and Contextual Values: Ontological Theory Choices with Feminist Insights”
(Introduction to the Panel Advocacy and Objectivity)

In recent years, feminist philosophers have advanced influential arguments in ethics, aesthetics, epistemology and political philosophy. Metaphysics has nevertheless remained largely dismissive of feminism. First, although feminist insights may make a difference to value inquiry, they appear simply irrelevant for elucidating reality’s fundamental structure that grounds everything else. Second, metaphysics seems to be a paradigm value-neutral endeavour, being thus incompatible with feminism’s explicitly normative stance. At best, we have no reason to take feminist insights seriously in metaphysics; at worse, doing so would lead our inquiries astray. I disagree and aim briefly to motivate the importance of feminist methodological insights, even for areas like ontology. The prevalent way of doing contemporary ontology is via quasi-scientific means. This takes different positions to be competing hypotheses about reality’s fundamental structure that are then assessed with a ‘loose battery of criteria’ for theory choice. This makes up the constitutive values of contemporary ontology and conceivably includes: providing a unified, coherent, non-circular total theory that purports to tell us truths, where our theory is simple, parsimonious, non-ad hoc and theoretically rigorous. These theoretically constitutive values can be distinguished from contextual political/ moral values embedded in the social context of an inquiry. Even though we may be frank about some metaphilosophical value commitments (e.g. about the existence of abstracta), bringing in contextual values is usually not viewed as an acceptable move when thinking about ontological theory choices. But, is there really no room for feminist contextual values in ontological theory choice? I think that there is and I aim to motivate this in my talk.

 

Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (University College London):
“Moral Deference and Moral Distrust: A New Methodology for Researching and Teaching Social and Political Philosophy”

Writing on the eve of the outbreak of the Revolution in France (14 July 1789), the Afro-British political philosophers and political campaigners, the Sons of Africa, led by Olaudah Equiano and Quobna Ottobah Cugoano wrote the following sentence, in an open letter to William Dickson:

‘Thanks to God the nation at large is awakened to a sense of our sufferings,
except the Oran Otang philosophers,
who we think will find it a hard task to dissect your letters’.

Apparently, philosophers no longer find it a ‘hard task’ to ‘dissect’ the ‘sufferings’ of persons enslaved-as-negro. On the contrary, say Howard McGary and Bill E. Lawson, ‘they often use the institution of slavery to illustrate a case of a clear-cut moral wrong or injustice’. Indeed, according to Tommy L. Lott, ‘[s]lavery is often employed in moral theory as a paradigm of social injustice’. This new philosophical obviousness should be regarded with suspicion. I argue that its appearance calls for a new methodology for social and political philosophy. In an ideal social world, and were we pursuing ideal social theory, we ought to approach all accounts, from all authors, with moral neutrality. However, since we live in an unjust social world and since we are pursuing a social theory fit for that particular unjust society, our generalised moral indifference must give way, on the one hand, to a moral distrust of accounts offered by the socially dominant and, on the other, to a moral deference towards accounts offered by the socially oppressed.

 

James Pearson (Bridgewater State University):
“Carnapian Explication and Social Criticism”

A.W. Carus has recently argued that Carnapian explication provides a model for engaging in social criticism. To assess Carus’s proposal, I examine three social institutions (marriage, adoption, and social welfare) through a Carnapian lens. I maintain that any moral considerations bound up with such debates are evaluated pragmatically on Carus’s model, a consequence unacceptable to any non-expressivist participants. Nevertheless, I will ultimately contend that Carnapian explication provides us with a useful model for understanding the history of particular social institutions. Rationally reconstructing our social history illuminates the relationship between our evolving conceptual framework and our society. Moreover, reflecting on such reconstructions may suggest remedies for our own social problems.

 

Al Prescott-Couch (Harvard University):
Introduction to the Panel Social Philosophy and the Social Sciences

Much political speech takes the form of protest movement slogans, tweets, and artistic expression in which political content is often vague, patchy, and haphazardly expressed. Such “inchoate speech” poses a challenge for deliberative democratic ideals because the sort of political speech often employed by the disenfranchised is the sort least amenable to the kind of measured rational exchange favored by deliberative democrats. My talk considers how inchoate speech can be integrated into a deliberative political order using “deliberative intermediaries” such as journalists and social scientists. A challenge to integrating inchoate speech into a political order in this way is that intermediaries in order to make inchoate speech an object of rational engagement, a deliberative intermediary will need to omit and misrepresent certain parts of the original political speech. My talk concerns how we can increase our understanding of such speech through a particular kind of misrepresentation I call “rational reconstruction.” If deliberative intermediaries employ omission and misrepresentation of this kind, they can facilitate rather than inhibit understanding the original inchoate speech. After considering how this can be so, I argue that it is not only justifiability but politically desirable to have practices and institutions that systematically construct inaccurate representations of citizen’s views. Such practices and institutions make contributing to public deliberation less demanding, thereby answering important concerns about the ability of citizens to equally contribute to discussion in a deliberative democracy.

 

Naomi Scheman (University of Minnesota):
“Practical Metaphysics”
(Introduction to the Panel Empirical Challenges to Philosophical Method)

I wanted in the 1990’s to be an ally in the struggles of transsexual men and women for intelligibility in the face of resistance, including from some feminists. The problem I ran into was that wanting to find someone intelligible wasn’t enough to actually succeed in doing so. The breakthrough came when I realized that part of the problem was my taking myself to be paradigmatically intelligible; and that led to thinking about the politics of intelligibility, and, more broadly, how it is that we construct not only the categories into which we all are supposed to fit, but also, connecting with my much earlier work, the particulars that make up our inner lives: our beliefs, attitudes, emotions, desires.

That early work, on the social construction of mental phenomena, helped inspire the Future of Minority Studies group and the project they call post-positivist realism. Drawing explicitly on analytic philosophy, especially philosophy of science, they aim to acknowledge the force of critiques of foundationalism while rejecting the theoretical nihilism that is too often taken to follow: as though the nonexistence of absolute bedrock made the actual ground under our feet—and the actual relationships in which we are enmeshed—meaningless. In line with this project, I want to suggest that it is as socially constructed that our inner lives, as well as our identities, are robustly real and politically potent—because of, not despite, being multiple, vague, shifting, and contestable.

 

Lauren Woomer (Michigan State University):
“A Role for Non-ideal Theories of Ignorance in Social Criticism”

A non-ideal theory of ignorance is one which is grounded in an understanding of epistemic agents as particular knowers whose epistemic aims, and attempts to achieve them, are impacted by their social, political, and historical location. In this paper, I argue that a non-ideal theory of ignorance is important for the purposes of engaging in social criticism which has social change as a goal. This is because, in order to adequately critique and change social structures, we have to understand how ignorance reinforces them, and this can only be done from with the help of a theory of ignorance which does not abstract away from the social situations of knowers. For example, non-ideal theories of ignorance allow us to see that it’s not possible to address ignorance which is encouraged by social structures by simply providing people with more information. If the goal of social criticism is social change, this is an important insight about how to address social problems.