Understanding Society

Tilburg University has been a reliable provider of high-quality education and research for more than eighty years. We specialize in the social sciences and humanities and we seek to make a structural contribution to society.

Research Seminar in Ethics (2016-2017)

Friday, 9 September 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: Academia Building - AZ 19

Speaker: Mark Alfano (Delft University of Technology)

Title: Reason-based moral judgment and the erotetic theory of reasoning

Abstract: I begin by sketching the reasons-based framework for decision making that I employ, drawing on seminal work on non-moral decision making by Eldar Shafir and colleagues. Next, I describe the first experiment, which extends this framework to moral decision making in different question frames. Following this, I describe a replication of this experiment and cast doubt on theories of moral decision making that discount reasons and appeal instead to irrational emotional intuitions. Then I replicate and extend our findings to moral contexts that do not involve direct physical harm, including themes like cheating, fairness, and loyalty. I conclude by proposing that that these results are best explained by modeling moral decision making, like non-moral decision making, as a reasons-responsive search for answers to questions – an erotetic model that has shown great promise in recent research by my collaborator Philipp Koralus.

Thursday, 22 September 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: Cobbenhagen Building - CZ 118

Speaker: Machteld Geuskens (TiLPS)

Title: Does second personal normativity explain testimonial knowledge?

Abstract: The topic will be second personal normativity in epistemology and why we should or should not want to go that route. The reason one may think second-personal normativity makes sense is that it can explain the special role of assurance given by a speaker as a reason for an audience’s accepting the speaker’s testimony. It can explain assurance given by a speaker as a reason because the assurance, so it is argued, is an invitation to trust extended from the speaker to the hearer, which makes the speaker accountable to the hearer. As a result of the assurance, then, it is safe to trust the speaker because the speaker has incurred responsibility for the audience’s epistemic standing with regard to the belief she acquires by trusting the speaker, if she indeed decides to trust him.

Specifically I am interested to discuss whether second-personal normativity is compatible with the norms of trustworthiness that govern epistemic  conduct, on the one hand, and with the idea that testimonial knowledge requires critical uptake, on the other. In the last case, a reason to think that such uptake means that the hearer cannot be off the hook epistemically is a conception of knowledge whereby knowledge is not only transmitted but also generated through testimony. The theme underlying these questions is what link there is between ethics and epistemology, i.e. whether there is a distinctive role for ethics in epistemology, and if so, what kind of ethical theory (or theory of normativity) accommodates the role envisaged.

Thursday, 6 October 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: CZ 118

Speaker: Viktor Ivankovic (Central European University, Budapest)

Title: Democracy, Experts, and Choice Architecture

Abstract: In this talk, I explore Thomas Christiano’s account of the moral division of labor in democracy. Christiano’s incorporation of experts serves the purpose of alleviating the epistemic burdens of ordinary citizens in the decision-making process and decreasing the amount of work they would otherwise be required to take on in a modern democracy. The gist of my contribution to the debate is assessing whether Christiano’s account successfully tackles the issues brought about by cognitive biases that people suffer from in communicating their values in decision-making. I argue that Christiano’s notion of experts needs to be extended to choice architects, who possess the knowledge on methods for influencing choice. I also claim that choice architecture is a social fact that an informed deliberative democratic theory needs to deal with.

Thursday, 3 November 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 6

Speaker: Ben Matheson (University of Gothenburg)

Title: Responsibility Over Time

Abstract: In this paper, I first present an argument for a novel form of scepticism about moral responsibility – namely scepticism about moral responsibility over time. This form of scepticism says that while we can become morally responsible, our moral responsibility never persists beyond the time of action. While general scepticism about moral responsibility might say we lack the kind of control allegedly necessary for moral responsibility, scepticism about moral responsibility over time argues that because we lack any sort of control over our past actions after we have performed them, we cannot be morally responsible for anything we have done in the past. This argument can be resisted, but only, I argue, by denying that control is necessary for being morally responsible. I end by sketching a model for an account of moral responsibility that eschews a control condition, and thereby avoids the argument for scepticism about moral responsibility over time.

Thursday, 17 November 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 10

Speaker: Wouter Kalf (Utrecht University)

Title: Presupposition Moral Error Theory

Abstract: Moral error theorists typically believe that (i) affirmative ordinary moral judgments express truth-apt beliefs, that (ii) the truth-makers of these beliefs are objectively prescriptive moral properties, and that (iii) affirmative moral judgments are never true because their truth-makers do not exist. Once they have established cognitivism (i) and before they invoke queerness to establish (iii), error theorists need to argue for (ii). They have used two arguments for this purpose. The traditional argument is that it is part of the content of moral concepts that the properties they refer to are objectively prescriptive (conceptual entailment error theory). A much under-explored alternative argument is that it is a presupposition of moral discourse as a whole that moral beliefs’ truth-makers are objectively prescriptive moral properties, irrespective of whether it is (also) part of the content of moral concepts that the properties they refer to are objectively prescriptive (presupposition error theory). I will give some arguments for presupposition error theory, but my main aim is to argue that if you are an error theorist, you should be a presupposition and not a conceptual entailment error theorist. The most important reason for this is that the pragmatic mechanisms inherent in moral conversations that presupposition error theory invokes enables it to avoid having to choose between the Scylla of internalist and the Charybdis of externalist theories about the content of moral concepts.

Thursday, 1 December 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 10

Speaker: Katrien Schaubroeck (University of Antwerp)

Title: Attachment, Virtue and The Second-Person

Abstract: On a second-personal account of both love and morality, it is plausible to say that early attachments are a 'school of virtue'. Despite Stephen Darwall's reservations, a second-personal account of parental as well as romantic love can be made plausible. Combining a second-personal understanding of morality and love with findings from developmental psychology I will defend the idea that the importance of secure attachments has a moral aspect.

Thursday, 15 December 2016, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 10

Speaker: Maureen Sie (Erasmus University Rotterdam, University Leiden)

Title: Sharing Responsibility. The Importance of tokens of Appraisals to our Moral Practices

Abstract: This talk will be about the communicative and coordinative role and importance of tokens of appraisals such as frowns and compliments, blame and praise, and resentment and gratitude (the moral sentiments) to our moral practices. A clear understanding and grip on this role and importance enables us to explain why and in what sense (1) we share responsibility for our moral practices and (2) why and in what sense changing these practices is a collective enterprise. The approach to moral responsibility that emphasizes the importance of tokens of appraisal I call a 'pragmatist-sentimentalist' (PS) approach in contrast to the dominant approach I call 'ontological-desert oriented' (OD), which emphasizes and discusses the degree to which people deserve to be subjected to such appraisals in light of the metaphysical facts of the universe or facts about the capacities of individual human agents. I believe that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive, but I have little to say on how they relate to one another in this talk. Rather, I elaborate on two aspects of practices of moral responsibility that are disclosed by the PS approach, that is, that it is by being held responsible: (1) that we are enabled to develop certain agential capacities and (2) we are able to co-determine, consolidate, and fine-tune our normative expectations of one another. I illustrate the strength of the PS approach by a short comment on the discussion of our responsibility for biased behavior in the domain of social cognition. The PS approach can explain what is problematic about this behavior, what is problematic about it in relation to our moral responsibility in a natural and less contrived way that the OD approach. Moreover, I argue that it can do so in a way that highlights the degree to which changing harmful stereotypes and prejudices is a difficult, painstaking, and, above all, a collective enterprise.

Thursday, 26 January 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: Cobbenhagen Building - CZ 118

Speaker: Dries Deweer (Tilburg University)

Title: Ricoeur's personalist republicanism

Abstract: It is a common conviction that Ricoeur’s main contribution to Anglo-American political philosophy is to be found in the dialogue he tried to establish between liberalism and communitarianism. I argue that the depth of Ricoeur’s political philosophy is better served by situating it not only with regard to liberalism and communitarianism, but especially with regard to republicanism. I show how Ricoeur’s political philosophy – with its focus on the so-called ‘political paradox’ – contains the main components of contemporary republicanism, with its stress on active citizenship and mixed constitution as necessary prerequisites for freedom, interpreted as the absence of illegitimate domination. I also argue that there are, however, significant differences between Ricoeur’s theory and the main currents in contemporary republicanism, i.e. civic republicanism and civic humanism, because of his personalist emphasis on a positive conception of freedom on the one hand and his emphasis on the fragility of politics on the other hand.

Thursday, 2 February 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: DZ 010

Speaker: Alessandra Marra (TiLPS)

Title: Work in Progress: On Rational Acceptance

Abstract: The talk will be about the notion of rational acceptance. It is often held that the mental state of 'accepting that p' (i) is influenced by epistemic and pragmatic factors (such as pressures for simplification, asymmetries in the cost of errors), (ii) is context-sensitive and (iii) ultimately differs from the mental state of 'believing that p'. 

In the talk, I will provide a critical (but certainly partial) overview of the literature on acceptances, and try to convince you of the appeal of the following questions: How do epistemic and pragmatic factors interact? Does one factor always take the priority over the other? When is 'accepting that p' correct? To which extent are acceptances regulated by rational requirements of consistency, agglomerativity and coherence?

Thursday, 16 February 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Amanda Cawston (TiLPS)

Title: Looking the Other Way: Locating the Wrongs of Pornography

Abstract: In the first half of the paper, I offer a critical review of the existing debate on pornography. I argue that the anti-pornography effort has been critically hampered by its attempt to understand the wrongs of pornography in terms of the harms it causes, the rights it violates, or the domination it instantiates. While each of these threads might pick up on an important point, they ultimately fail to ground a stable critique of pornography. Moreover, these attempts have prompted responses that illustrate the ability to modify, re-describe or reinterpret pornography, or the conceptual framework that permits and legitimises it, in ways that appropriate and neutralise feminist critiques. In the second half of the paper, I propose an alternative understanding of pornography’s wrongs, an understanding that directs our attention towards the attitudes of pornography consumers and away from features of pornographic objects. I argue for an attitudinal critique of pornography and discuss its preliminary advantages over traditional accounts.

Thursday, 9 March 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Thomas Wells (Tilburg University)

Title: A Team Approach to Intergenerational Justice

Abstract: I develop an approach to intergenerational justice built on a view of society as a set of timeslices operating as a team.

A similar account has been proposed by decision theorists (for example Nathalie Gold) with respect to individuals’ planning and intentions for the future, in order to deal with the problem of externalities: that a person at time t1 who causes problems for the person at t2 (such as going dancing instead of studying for an exam) will enjoy the benefits but not suffer the consequences of that choice.

Conceptualising a society as a team provides a normative framework for resisting such ‘rational’ temptations for a society at any particular moment to shortchange its future. Instead of asking ‘what should ‘we-now do?’ a society identifies with its future and past instantiations as a team and asks ‘what should we-over-time do?’ i.e. what plan would we follow to maximise our collective wellbeing over time, and what should be this timeslice’s particular role in that plan? This is a normative conception since we are responsible for living up to our role, such as mitigating climate change: we will justly be blamed by future generations if we shirk it. Such a team account has advantages over the dominant models of either strict contractarian or utilitarian thinking about justice while combining features of both. It provides a way to include moral relationships to nonpresent citizens, and moderates the excessive responsibility of present to future generations demanded by utilitarianism.

A team account of society has several interesting implications. For example,

  1. Thinking as a team brings many longterm projects within reach. For instance, there is a class of what might be called colossal moral problems, such as the mistreatment of animals and the birth lottery of citizenship as well as climate change, whose wrongfulness is clear enough but which we now are reluctant to address properly because they are intergenerational projects (like the abolition of the slave trade).
  2. Identifying with future instantiations of our society gives us now new reason beyond simple humanitarianism to care about the quality of lives of those now living in other societies. For these people may well turn out to be related to us by the marriages of our children and grandchildren, and thus the stories of their lives will be part of our society’s future history. I.e. they are no longer just generic humans but members of our extended understanding of our society. We will owe a justification to our grandchildren not only for the condition of the environment we left them, but also for the way we treated their other grandparents.

Thursday, 16 March 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speakers: Alfred Archer and Bart Engelen (TiLPS)

Title: Shame, Well-Being and Inequality

Abstract: What is the connection between poverty, inequality and well-being? One way in which inequality has been claimed to have a negative influence on well-being is through the emotion of shame. Addressing poverty requires not only that we ensure people meet their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter but also that we provide people with sufficient resources to live dignified lives free from shame. This claim has been advocated by economists such as Adam Smith and philosophers such as Amartya Sen and Philip Pettit but also institutions tasked with alleviating poverty, such as the UN Development Programme We will argue first that ensuring that people have sufficient resources in order to appear in public without shame is an important standard that a society must meet in order to protect the well-being of its citizens. We refer to psychological literature on the effects to provide further support for this. We will then argue that lowering economic inequalities has an important role in enabling societies to meet this standard. In doing so, we will analyze the relation between inequality, shame and phenomena such as status anxiety, positional competition and meritocratic ideology.

Thursday, 30 March 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Caroline Harnacke (TiLPS)

Title and abstract: tba

Thursday, 13 April 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Sanem Yazıcıoğlu (Tilburg University)

Title: Arendtian Beginning under the Threat of Violence

Abstract: t.b.a.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017, 16:45 - 18:00 - CANCELLED!

Room: D 353

Speaker: Andreas Schmidt (University of Groningen)

Thursday, 18 May 2017, 12:45 - 14:00

Room: D 119

Speaker: Joel Anderson (Utrecht University)

Title: Enabling and Demanding Autonomy

In this paper, I examine the fundamental tensions regarding the question of how much autonomy we should expect of one another and what these demands commit us to providing in terms of supports. I begin by arguing that autonomy can be usefully understood as a set of capacities that admit of ongoing development and, relatedly, are dependent of self-world relations of support and assistance. I outline several ways in which individuals and institutions make demands on us to demonstrate often quite high levels of autonomy competence. Then, focussing on several concrete cases – decision-making supports for electoral voting; insurance discounts for using e-coaching apps to improve healthy behaviors; and worker “self-management” in the era of permanent volitional (re-)training & Flex work – I discuss the significant normative concerns raised by excessive or manipulative demands for autonomy skills.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017, 16:45 - 18:00

Room: CZ 116

Speaker: Ben Matheson (Stockholm University)

Title: The Grounds of Regret

Abstract: Our lives are filled with things we regret: things that we wish did not happen or did not have to happen. But whatgrounds regret – that is, what makes regret fitting? A plausible view is that we must exercise agency over an outcome in order to regret to be a fitting response to that outcome. Suppose I am forced to push Lenny onto the train tracks. Should I regret pushing Lenny? It seems not, and this seems to be because I did not exercise my agency in pushing Lenny. In this paper, however, I argue we sometimes ought to regret outcomes that we did not exercise agency over. This is because, I argue, regret has a communicative dimension. It communicates that we wish the outcome had not occurred or that it had not had to occur. The obligation to feel and express regret in response to certain situations arises when we are socially responsible for a particular outcome – that is, we are causally responsible for an outcome and it appears we are morally responsible for it. The function of the obligations that arise from being social responsible is therefore to close the epistemic gap between ourselves and others. In other words, regret is grounded by our being socially responsible for an outcome.