Michaelmas Term 2020

We still have a couple of slots remaining, so if you’d like to present, please get in touch.


Info correct as of 05.10.20.

Week 1 – Slot still available

Week 2Kacper Kowalczyk, Johnston versus Johnston

Week 3 – Slot still available

Week 4 – Lea Cantor, ‘Mythos vs Logos’: A Modern Myth? On what the distinction assumes about early Greek philosophy (and so-called ‘Western Philosophy’)

Week 5 – Fabian Pregel, Frege’s Concept of Completeness

Week 6 – Matt Rosen, Genealogical Transgression

Week 7 – TBD

Week 8 – Farbod Akhlaghi, Relaxed Realism and Scepticism about Morality


Kacper Kowalczyk, Johnston versus Johnston

Personites are like continuant people but shorter‑lived. Johnston has recently argued that their existence would implode commonsense ethics and, so, they cannot exist. He concludes that broadly naturalistic accounts of our place in the world must, therefore, be wrong. I will argue that Johnston’s arguments fail. To do that I develop an account of intrinsicness, defend arguments from below against arguments from above, and clarify the meaning of reductionism about persons. I also show that commonsense ethics is far from unworkable even if personites are granted the same moral status as persons. I draw on Johnston’s earlier exchanges with Parfit on personal identity and the place of ordinary concerns in a naturalistic world. I conclude by drawing general lessons about the ethics‑metaphysics relationship and by sketching a more pressing but metaphysics‑free problem that naturally arises from Johnston’s discussion.

Lea Cantor, ‘Mythos vs Logos’: A Modern Myth? On what the distinction assumes about early Greek philosophy (and so-called ‘Western Philosophy’)

A remarkably consistent trait of histories of so-called ‘Western Philosophy’ is that they endorse a stark ‘mythos-logos’ distinction. By and large, rationality is emphatically said to emerge at a particular historical moment: the earliest Greek philosophers, the story goes, moved away from mythology and discovered or even invented rationality. This development is often also framed as a move away from religion and mythology, and into philosophy. Thus, the Greeks, starting with Thales, are widely credited with inventing philosophy, while abandoning mythology and theology.

In this talk, I first address the founding myth that ‘Western Philosophy’ emerges in ancient Greece with the paradigm break of the rational logos from the irrational mythos. I argue that the supposed Greek ‘invention’ or ‘discovery’ of rationality trades on inconsistent and problematic assumptions about what rationality is. Even if ‘rationality’ is understood, for the sake of argument, in a narrow sense of showing evidence of a ‘scientific method’ rather than ‘dogmatic mythologizing’, the early Greek philosophers did not in fact do away with mythology and theology. Moreover, the idea that they exhibited a distinctly ‘scientific’ spirit has long been questioned by specialists.

I then challenge another set of commonly held beliefs, which is that Aristotle, and the Greeks more generally, accepted a version of this mythoslogos narrative, and credited Thales with inventing philosophy as such. The assumption that Thales was regarded as the first philosopher by the ancients is apparent not just in histories of ‘Western philosophy’, but also in much of the contemporary literature on ancient philosophy. Yet no major figure in Antiquity explicitly claimed that Thales was the first philosopher; many Greek philosophers and doxographers, in fact, made claims which directly contradict this supposition. 

This talk’s aim is therefore twofold. First, to challenge the mythos-logos narrative as it appears in histories of ‘Western philosophy’, in terms of both the coherence of its justifications and the actual evidence it draws upon. And second, to question the assumption that there is an ancient pedigree for (i) the mythos-logos narrative, and for (ii) the view that Thales is the first philosopher as such. 

Matt Rosen, Genealogical Transgression

This paper explores a distinctive form of transgression, which I call genealogical transgression’. An account of this can, I believe, go some way to answering many of the questions that discussions of other forms of transgression seem to raise. I begin by offering a fourfold taxonomy of transgression, according to which a transgression can be either act-based
or identity-based, and either purposive or non-purposive. I consider several objections to this taxonomy. Given these, I turn to an investigation of a sort of transgression that looks to be neither act-based nor identity-based, and neither purposive nor non-purposive. An analysis of this ‘genealogical transgression’, I argue, is partly developed in some of Foucault’s work. In the course of querying this work, I consider questions about whether genealogy tells the truth, how transgression might figure in projects of worldmaking, and how certain transgressions might require what Foucault calls ‘desubjectivation’. To throw further light on the relation between genealogical transgression and desubjectivation (if time allows), I turn to the literary work of Jean Genet, some of which I claim exemplifies what I call ‘desubjectivation-requiring genealogical transgression’. Sometimes, in order to transgress norms which are constitutive of our subjective life, we have to unmake ourselves in a certain way, thereby enabling the transformation of our social world. I conclude with a few remarks about what I see as the use, and room for further development, of the concept of genealogical transgression.

Fabian Pregel, Frege’s Concept of Completeness

Existing literature suggests that (i) Frege did not have notions of calculus- and theory-completeness and that (ii) his logo-centricity out any metatheory, and thus also notions of completeness. Here I build upon recent textual work by Heck and Stanley which challenges (ii) as an incorrect understanding of Frege’s conception of logic. Having rejected (ii), I dispute (i) as well. I maintain that Frege had concepts of completeness, albeit early and not formal. I offer four text passages in support. I then consider the objection that Frege operated under a fixed interpretation rather than using models, and thus could not have had a concept of calculus-completeness. I maintain that this objection lacks textual backing. Finally, I contend that insisting that Frege did not have an early concept of calculus-completeness creates the challenge of explaining how Frege in fact developed a calculus that is complete for first-order logic.