The Royal Ethics Conference

February 28, 2014 | by Alejandro Madrigal | | Leave a Comment

Hello UPA!

We will not be meeting this week. Instead, we invite you to attend the Royal Ethics Conference, starting this Friday, February 28th, at 3:30pm. The conference will be held in the David L. Miller Conference Room (WAG 316) on Waggener’s 3rd floor. For official information, please see:

https://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/philosophy/events/29785

Regards,
Trae Madrigal & Chase Hamilton
Undergraduate Philosophy Association Co-Presidents

UPA: Was Being Born Good?

February 18, 2014 | by Charles Hamilton | | Leave a Comment

Hi UPA!

This week, we’re reading an excerpt from an interesting and controversial book by David Benatar titled “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence”.
The meeting will take place in the Alfred Brogan Reading Room on the 3rd floor of Waggener Hall at 4:30 PM on Friday, 2/21/14.
Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. While it’s good for life to go well, it is also bad for life to go poorly. If one never existed, then one couldn’t be subjected to the bad things, and no one would be around to regret the potential good things, so it would have been unconditionally better to never have existed. Underlying this claim is an “asymmetry” between the goodness of pleasure and the badness of pain – suffering is bad, and it’s minimization is good, even at the cost of potential pleasure. In other words, the absence of pain is good, but the absence of pleasure is not bad. Benatar offers several intuitive proofs of this asymmetry, ranging from the seemingly obvious lack of a duty to procreate to our apathy toward uninhabited spaces in the universe. If he’s right about this asymmetry, then it follows that non-existence is better than existence because the former precludes beings from suffering. Later in the book, Benatar argues that this fact should compel humanity to phase itself out of existence – that is, everyone should stop having children. This controversial conclusion doesn’t sit well with most people, which motivates Benatar to argue that we have a “pro-natal” psychological bias which skews our judgement.
Here’s the article: Benatar – Better Never to Have Been EXCERPT
If you’ve never been to UPA or studied philosophy before, this is a good opportunity to come introduce yourself! The article is fun, accessible, and applicable to everyone who has been born!
Yours,
Trae Madrigal and Chase Hamilton
Undergraduate Philosophy Association Co-Presidents

Business Ethics (for real this time) at UPA

February 12, 2014 | by Alejandro Madrigal | | Leave a Comment

Hello UPA!

Unfortunately we had to cancel our last meeting due to inclement weather. This week, then, we will be discussing Bishop’s article, entitled “The Moral Responsibility of Corporate Executives for Disasters”. Please see the previous blog post for an abstract of the article. We will be meeting in the Alfred P. Brogan Reading Room on Waggener’s 3rd floor. The meeting will take place this Friday, February 14th, at 4:30pm.

Trae Madrigal & Chase Hamilton
Undergraduate Philosophy Association Co-Presidents

Business Ethics at UPA

February 6, 2014 | by Alejandro Madrigal | | Leave a Comment

Hello UPA!

First, I would like to announce that we have a new co-president for UPA: Chase Hamilton! 

This week we will be discussing John D. Bishop’s “The Moral Responsibility of Corporate Executives for Disasters”. We will meet in the Alfred P. Brogan Reading Room on Waggener’s 3rd floor this Friday, February 7th, at 4:30pm. The article, a link to our facebook page, and an abstract are provided below:

https://www.facebook.com/UndergraduatePhilosophyAssociationOfUt

Bishop argues that executives are professionally responsible for fulfilling their moral obligations to prevent disasters. However there are limits on an executive’s responsibility, namely concerning events over which executives have no influence or control. Executives cannot be held responsible for “acts of God” or for actions not taken on behalf of the corporation. Regarding “acts of God,” we can hold an executive accountable for the consequences of that event. If a building, owned by X company, collapses during an earthquake, killing numerous workers, we may still hold the owner of X company accountable for those deaths. We cannot hold him responsible for the earthquake, but we can attribute the deaths of those workers to building in an earthquake zone, not using proper construction materials, etc. However many executives will cite lack of information when confronted about such disasters, i.e., they will claim that they never received the relevant information so that they may have prevented the disaster. Bishop calls this phenomenon “negative information blockage”. This phenomenon is recognized when considering and contrasting a corporation’s objectives and constraints. An objective may be to produce aircraft, and a constraint on producing aircraft could be safety, e.g., producing safely operable aircraft. Bishops holds that issues arise when constraints are enforced by an executive but ignored by employees. The reason for this ignoring is due to the way that executives encourage employees to achieve objectives. Objective-reaching behavior is often encouraged, while constraint-adhering behavior can, at times, be seen as a hindrance to achieving the corporation’s objectives. This discourages adherence to constraints, and likewise discourages the report of failed adherence. There are two views presented by Bishop by which we may judge executive moral responsibility. The first is effort based and the second is result based. On the first view an executive is not responsible for the collapse of a building due to an earthquake so long as she took preventative measures to its collapsing; on the second view an executive is responsible for the buildings collapse because it collapsed, regardless of any preventative measures taken. Bishop then introduces professional responsibility, according to the violation of which an executive (or any job-holder) may be expected to resign given a failure in performing their respective job. This responsibility goes “beyond the contract,” where a bad performance cannot be properly paid for by a reversal of action (e.g., a builder returning money for a bridge that collapsed does no good for those who died due to the bridge collapsing). Bishop holds that professional and moral responsibility are deeply connected, and that an executive’s professional responsibility –in cases such as a bridge collapsing– is succeeding in fulfilling their moral responsibility.

Regards,
Trae Madrigal & Chase Hamilton
Undergraduate Philosophy Association Co-Presidents

Genericity and Natural Kinds (again)

January 29, 2014 | by Alejandro Madrigal | | 1 Comment

Hello UPA!

Due to last week’s school closure our meeting on Friday the 24th was canceled. As such, we will be discussing the Bernhard Nickel article this week. Please see the previous post for an abstract and summary of the article. We will be meeting this Friday, January 31st, at 4:30pm in the Alfred P. Brogan Reading Room. We hope to see you there!

Trae Madrigal

Undergraduate Philosophy Association President

Genericity and Natural Kinds

January 22, 2014 | by Alejandro Madrigal | | Leave a Comment

Hello UPA!

Welcome back. I hope that you all had a restful winter break and are having not-too-stressful first days of class. We will be starting off this semester with Bernhard Nickel’s “Genericity and Natural Kinds.” Our meeting will take place this FridayJanuary 24th, at 4:30pm. Pizza will also be provided.

“Ceteris paribus (cp-) laws may be said to hold only “other things equal,” signaling that their truth is compatible with a range of exceptions. Several theorists have suggested that because of this feature, these generalizations are semantically defective. Against these concerns, I argue that cp-laws are often stated using a special kind of construction found in natural language, generics, which, though puzzling, is obviously semantically in order. I then argue that we can understand many otherwise puzzling features of cp-laws as an interaction between the semantics of generics and the structure of natural kinds in the special sciences.”

Nickel holds that in stating cp-laws, practitioners of the special sciences employ generics (though only characterizing sentences). Further, he holds that cp-laws are employed by scientists “in an attempt to focus on particular factors (e.g., natural selection) and thereby ‘carve’ complex phenomena (e.g., the evolution of populations) in a theoretically important way.” One issue that might be encountered is on of triviality. This is because cp-generalizations are open-ended. That is, there are a seemingly endless amount of merely apparent exceptions to a cp-generalization.Thus it would seem that, “All ravens are black, unless they aren’t” is the only way to genuinely refute a cp-generalization, and this of course seems trivial. A further worry includes open-endedness in general. The response to this worry is couched in describing cp-generalizations as describing “idealizations” of phenomena; a cp-generalization describes the outcome of the operation of a (possibly singleton) set of causal factors. Thus open-endedness arises because “merely apparent exceptions” to cp-generalizations just deviate from the causal factors acting upon the object in the idealization (the cp-generalization). Nickel then provides his own semantics for characterizing sentences, allowing for the previously made points as well as accounting for why large-scale changes seem to refute cp-generalizations. Further, Nickel claims that cp-generalizations may be treated differently depending on the field in which they are used, i.e., the context in which a cp-generalization is produced.

Trae Madrigal
Undergraduate Philosophy Association President

Discussion of Free Will

April 18, 2013 | by olh225 | | 2 Comments

For this week’s UPA meeting we will read “Are We Free to Break the Laws?” by David Lewis. We hope that you’ll join us on Friday at 4:45pm in Garrison 0.132 for a great discussion!

Abstract:
 

Lewis defends soft determinism against the criticism that it posits a marvelous ability to break the laws of nature. Soft determinism is a variety of compatibilism which claims that determinism is true, and that some predetermined acts are done freely. If determinism is true, then there is a true conjunctive proposition, H & L (where expresses a state of affairs in the world at a time prior to a particular act, and expresses the laws of nature), such that the conjunction of H & L implies a proposition expressing the performance of a particular act and contradicts its negation. According to soft determinism, acts are done freely insofar as one is able to act contrary to what is predetermined. If such a contrary act is done, then either a contradiction would be true, the proposition would be false, or the proposition L would be false. Both the first and second alternatives must be dismissed, so, the consequence of soft determinism is that L is falsifiable. Lewis distinguishes between a weak and strong version of this consequence. The former states: “I am able to do something such that, if I did, a law would be broken”, and the latter: “I am able to break a law.” Lewis argues that the weak version is the genuine consequence of soft determinism, while the strong version is imposed on the view by its incompatibilist critics. According to Lewis, it is just the case that a law must have been broken had one acted contrary to what was predetermined. L is not rendered false by an act, but must be otherwise falsified if the act is done.

Olivia Hursh and Josh Sklar
Undergraduate Philosophy Association Co-Presidents

Consequentialize This

April 11, 2013 | by jrs4862 | | 3 Comments

Hello UPA!

This week we will read a thought provoking paper by Campbell Brown, titled “Consequentialize This”. As always, this Friday’s discussion will be in Garrison 0.132 at 4:45 PM. Here’s a summary of the paper:

Consequentialism is a class of moral theories that have, as their common element, the contention that the right thing to do is that thing which maximizes the good. To consequentialize a moral theory is to claim that it is a form of consequentialism. This is usually done by tailoring a theory of the good in an appropriate way. For example, suppose that a moral theory is said to conflict with consequentialism because it puts a premium on rights. The supporter of the putatively nonconsequentialist theory will construct an example where violating a person’s rights would produce the most good, but where violating the rights seems, intuitively, to be the wrong thing to do. The consequentialist, in this case, can just build rights into her theory of the good, and voila, the supposedly nonconsequentialist is, by her lights, a consequentialist. It has been suggested by some that every theory can be consequentialized. Brown claims that this is not so. He gives a formally precise definition of consequentialism, which is rigorously proved to be equivalent to three conditions he calls Agent Neutrality, No Moral Dilemmas, and Dominance. Since the consequentialist has to endorse these, Brown claims, there are moral theories that cannot be consequentialized: Namely, those that violate these three conditions. This is not necessarily a bad thing for consequentialists; In fact, it shows that consequentialism is a substantive theory since it is not compatible with all moral theories.

See you this Friday!

Olivia and Josh

Hello UPA!

It was great to see so many of you at last Friday’s graduate student presentation! We’d like to thank Derek Anderson for kindly sharing his work and time with UPA. The presentation was very insightful, and followed by good questions and good discussion.

At this week’s UPA meeting, we will discuss “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness” by David J. Chalmers. As always, Friday’s discussion will be held in Garrison 0.132 at 4:45pm!

Here is the article abstract:

Chalmers divides the challenges faced by a theory of consciousness into “easy” and “hard” problems. Easy problems concern those mental phenomena, such as the integration of information or the reportablility of mental states, that are functionally definable – a physical theory of consciousness may wholly explain these cognitive functions in terms of neural mechanisms. Although the reductive method of cognitive science and neuroscience offers the promise of eventually solving the easy problems of consciousness, Chalmers argues that a purely physical theory is unequipped to face the hard problems of consciousness – how and why the performance of cognitive functions is accompanied by experience. There is a subjectivity to experience, consisting in mental phenomena such as the felt qualities of color and emotion, or the sensation of pain. Reductive methods systematically fail to bridge the explanatory gap between experience and the physical, because, Chalmers insists, the subjectivity of experience is not a problem concerning the performance of functions. Chalmers argues that the natural alternative approach to this hard problem is a nonreductive explanation of experience. He proposes a theory of consciousness - naturalistic dualism -which posits experience as a fundamental feature of the world, and bases its account of experience on the principles of structural coherence and organizational invariance, and a double-aspect theory of information.

See you on Friday!

Sincerely,

Olivia Hursh and Josh Sklar

Undergraduate Philosophy Association Co-Presidents

X-Phi and its discontents

March 28, 2013 | by jrs4862 | | 4 Comments

Hello UPA!

This Friday, UT grad student Derek Anderson will be giving his talk “Can Experimental Philosophy Refute Armchair Philosophers?” Come join us in Garrison 0.132 at 4:45. There is no paper to read this week, and Derek’s abstract can be found below:

“Experimental philosophy is in the business of providing experimental evidence about the intuitions of populations. I am interested in whether this kind of data can be used to refute a philosophical theory constructed from the armchair. I consider four plausible ways it might be thought to do so and argue that, in each case, data about common intuitions can’t give us a reason to abandon an armchair theory. Each of my defenses of the armchair method requires accepting a substantive philosophical claim, so it seems that immunity to experimental refutation comes with substantive philosophical commitments, which any philosopher who willfully ignores this kind of experimental data should be aware of.”

Hope to see you Friday!

Olivia Hursh and Josh Sklar
UPA Co-Presidents