Events (2016-2017)


2016-2017 Forry and Micken Lecture Series on "Speech and Harm"

A lecture series funded by the Forry and Micken Fund in Philosophy and Science

Mary Kate McGowan (Wellesley College)
Thursday, March 30, 2017, 5:00 p.m., Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather Hall
“Speech and the Constitution of Harm: Some Case Studies”

 Daniel Jacobson (University of Michigan)
Thursday, April 13, 2017, 5:00 p.m., Paino Lecture Hall, Beneski
Freedom of Speech Under Assault on Campus”

Lynne Tirrell (University of Massachusetts, Boston)
Thursday, April 20, 2017, 5:00 p.m., Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather Hall
“Toxic Speech”

 Ishani Maitra (University of Michigan)
Thursday, April 27, 2017, 5:00 p.m., Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather Hall 
“The Authority of Hate Speech”

The Amherst Lecture in Philosophy

Susan Wolf , (Edna J. Koury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, 5:00 p.m., Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather Hall 

The title of  the Eleventh Annual ALP Lecture is:

“Aesthetic Responsibility”


Philosophers often suggest that the fact that we are morally responsible is an important mark of our distinctive humanity.  But people are responsible for much more than the moral qualities of their actions.  Artists, for example, are typically aesthetically responsible for the qualities of their artistic creations. The talk will discuss similarities and differences between aesthetic and moral responsibility and speculate on what a consideration of aesthetic responsibility tells us about both responsibility and humanity.

Reception will follow

Other Events & Lectures Scheduled 2016-2017

Elliot Samuel Paul (Barnard College)
Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, 5:00 p.m.  Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather Hall

“Clarity First: Descartes on Clear and Distinct Perception”


Clear and distinct perception is the central concept in Descartes’s philosophy – it’s the source of all certain knowledge – but what he means by it is generally thought to be a mystery.  I argue that it’s really not mysterious.  We all know what it means to see something clearly as opposed to obscurely.  We just forget that we know it when we demand a definition.  This demand is doubly misplaced, because the meaning of ‘clear’ is best learned through examples (so a definition isn’t needed) and ‘clear’ is a ‘primitive notion’ (so a definition isn’t possible).  A distinct perception is just a clear perception ‘sharply separated’ from anything unclear.  So, clarity is a primitive concept; distinctness is defined in terms of clarity; and furthermore, I argue, clarity explains indubitability and infallibility, and thus explains certain knowledge.  In a slogan: Clarity First.

For further information, please phone Dee Brace at (413) 542-5805 or send e-mail to

Danielle Macbeth (Haverford College)
Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, 5:00 p.m. Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather Hall

“Sellars on the Rationality of Empirical Inquiry”


Given that the aim of inquiry is to discover what is so as contrasted with, for example, what merely seems to be so or what one would like to be so, inquiry, whether or not empirical, is rational just in case it answers to what is. But what is it to answer to what is? In particular, what is it to answer to what is in the case of empirical inquiry? In Mind and World McDowell suggests that what it is for empirical inquiry to answer to what is is for it to answer to the tribunal of experience. For McDowell, the rationality of empirical inquiry lies in the fact that experience serves as a tribunal to which empirical inquiry answers. In “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind” Sellars has a different idea insofar as he holds that “empirical knowledge . . . is rational, not because it has a foundation but because it is a self-correcting enterprise which can put any claim in jeopardy, though not all at once” (EPM § 38). For Sellars, empirical inquiry is rational, answerable to what is not because it answers to the tribunal of experience but because it is self-correcting. My aim is to develop and defend this intriguing Sellarsian idea.

For further information, please phone Dee Brace at (413) 542-5805 or send e-mail to

Jennifer Marusic (Brandeis University)
Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, 5:00 p.m. Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather Hall

“Locke on Knowledge and Probability”


Locke’s epistemology is primarily concerned with answering two questions:

1)      What can we know?

2)      When it comes to matters that we do not know, how are we to conduct ourselves and what should our attitudes be?

My aim is to argue against a widespread way of understanding Locke’s answers to these questions and the relationship between these answers. According to this widespread view, Locke holds, in response to the first question, that we can only know a very narrow class of propositions, sometimes characterized as necessary propositions and sometimes as analytic propositions. Commentators who hold this view typically take Locke to be surprisingly nonchalant about the impossibility of having knowledge of any contingent propositions. Locke’s nonchalance, however, seems to be explained by his answer to the second question: we can and should rely on probable judgments about the world in our everyday lives.

I claim that this widespread view is inconsistent with Locke’s account of probability. I argue that Locke holds that only propositions that we know (or propositions that are themselves probable in light of our knowledge) provide evidence that can rationally support our probable judgments. Locke denies that we can rationally make probable judgments that are supported by evidence that is probabilistic all the way down. The widespread interpretation saddles Locke with a deep problem right at the heart of his epistemology: if Locke does hold that only necessary truths are knowable, then, by his own lights, all of our probable judgments about the way the world contingently is are irrational.

In order to solve this problem, I propose revisiting the reasons for thinking that Locke is committed to the view that only necessary truths are knowable. It is often thought that this follows straightforwardly from Locke’s definition of knowledge. I argue that this rests on an assumption that ought to be rejected. The assumption is that knowable propositions for Locke are all what Hume calls relations of ideas. By rejecting this assumption, we can resist the conclusion that knowledge, for Locke, is only of necessary truths.

I conclude by outlining a better way of understanding Locke’s answers to the two questions and the relationship between these answers: Locke holds that our knowledge provides evidence in light of which we make probable judgments, but that it can do so only because it includes some knowledge about the way the world contingently is.

For further information, please phone Dee Brace at (413) 542-5805 or send e-mail to


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