Friday, July 15, 2005

Joint Session 2005

The Joint Session of the Mind Association and the Aristotelian Society took place at the University of Manchester from July 5-8. Apart from being stiflingly hot in most of the sessions, it was a lot of fun. (Not so the journey home: an eight-hour train journey instead of the predicted four and a half. Wrong kinds of trees, falling power cables, broken down trains and sunlight on the lines, apparently. Luckily I had a philosophical travelling companion and a draft of a colleague's PhD thesis to read.)

Highlights included Simon Blackburn's talk, 'Paradise Regained'. During the question session I took issue with his claim (pp. 13-14 of the ASSV) that, even if we ditch the 'space of reasons' metaphor and any associated disjunctivism, we can still address Cartesian scepticism by maintaining that veridical perception and the like require successful immersion in the physical world of a kind brains in vats can't have. Surely dreamers have the right kind of immersion (unless this condition is so stringent as to make the view disjunctivist again)? Simon replied that he wasn't addressing that kind of Cartesian scepticism (wrong kind of Cartesian scepticism on the line). But even apart from the thought that dreaming scepticism and BIV scepticism have such a lot in common that it's unclear how satisfying an approach to the one can be if it doesn't tell us anything about the other, surely this means that quite a potent form of scepticism is still hanging around ready to motivate disjunctivism (at least, insofar as any such motivation for that kind of view was ever plausible). It at least enforces some restriction on the claim that 'scepticism [is] only a natural bogey once the spatial metaphors take hold'.

Other highlights included a great session by Jennifer Hornsby, Jason Stanley and Ian Rumfitt, and lots of high-quality open and graduate sessions. Unfortunately though the bar didn't have a late license; the resultant impromptu late-night drinking session on the lawn was enjoyable however (and very well attended). I gave a paper in the open sessions on entitlement and epistemic rationality, and got a lot of helpful feedback from the audience there.

I'm all in favour of the new format of the open sessions, though two small things would have considerably improved the experience for me. One concerns the arrangement of the rooms. Finding enough rooms close together must be an administrative nightmare, but it was very difficult to get to and from papers in the chapel, and some of the papers given there didn't get the audiences they deserved. The other would be some minimal refereeing, to ensure that all the papers given are broadly competent. (I appreciate that there is a Sorites series from obviously terrible papers to ones which are obviously OK, and I approve of the open ethos driving the current policy, but I wasn't the only one who found it frustrating sitting through papers that a referee could have ruled out in a few minutes, and I can't imagine the presence of such papers gives a great impression of British philosophy to overseas visitors.)

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