Work in Progress Seminar | WiP

Work in Progress Seminar | WiP

Seminar for Philosophy PhD Students at University of Edinburgh

Past Presentations

This is the archive of presentations from the Work in Progress Seminar starting on April, 10th 2020. Previous presentations are not shown. For the upcoming presentation, see What’s On.


WiP Presentation on June 19th, 2020

Speaker            Adriana Alcaraz Sanchez
Title                   What’s lucid about lucid dreamless sleep?
Date/Time       Friday | June 19th, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


In this presentation, I want to delve on the term ‘lucidity’ used to describe conscious objectless dreamless sleep. Several accounts describe this experience as involving a sort of non-objectual consciousness; during these experiences, we are conscious, but we are not conscious of something, either there is an object of awareness as such. Moreover, according to some authors, a subset of those experiences can be had in a ‘lucid’ form. However, the lucidity these authors talk about doesn’t refer to a state of meta-awareness, such as ‘awareness of one’s being in a particular state’. Instead, they refer to a non-conceptual state of lucidity, a state that in Indian contemplative traditions is labelled as ‘clear’ or ‘vivid’. Given this account of lucidity, how we should then account for lucid dreamless sleep? If it is said that we aren’t aware of being in the state itself while in it, why should we call this an experience of ‘lucidity’? And, if it does, how can we then distinguish it from instances in which we are aware of the state while in it?


WiP Presentation on June 12th, 2020

Speaker            Emma Husband
Title                    Towards an Understanding of Camouflaging in Autism
Date/Time       Friday | June 12th, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


Camouflaging in autism – the use of compensatory strategies in social situations and masking of certain behaviours – is increasingly given as a reason for the late and under-diagnosis of women and girls, who are thought to be more motivated to camouflage (e.g. Hull et al., 2017) or ‘better’ at doing so. Autistic people have social difficulties that have been given various cognitive explanations (e.g. theory of mind deficit/delay, weak central coherence, executive dysfunction). Camouflaging, on the other hand, shows that social difficulties can be compensated for or masked by the agent and missed by perceivers. Camouflaging, then, might have the potential to contribute to our understanding of autism, as well as a number of areas of social cognition more broadly. First though, we need a better understanding of the phenomenon, including: 1) the processes involved in compensation and masking, and; 2) how these result in camouflagers flying under the radar. This talk offers the start of an account that can answer these questions and points to some of the limitations of the research so far.

WiP Presentation on June 5th, 2020


Speaker            Graham Doke
Title                    Problem with Empathy
Date/Time       Friday | June 5th, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


Once US President Barack Obama started actively promoting it, empathy became the pro-social emotion of choice for the caring society. We are exhorted to be more empathetic, for empathy will eliminate misunderstanding and conflict from society. In the midst of all the excitement over empathy, Jesse Prinz raised his hand and questioned its role as a pro-social emotion, pointing particularly (for our purposes) to the inherent bias in the emotion. Bloom went to empathy’s defence, and spoke passionately against an uncaring society: he was forced to accept the bias in empathy, but thought it could be managed. He also thought there was no alternative: the ‘compassion’ that is oft suggested is ill-defined, and strictly out of reach of anyone who was not an accomplished Buddhist meditator. Bloom stands steadfast for empathy. In my presentation, I will differ from Bloom: I will examine the bias in empathy, and raise a further problem — that bias has been shown to be materially damaging to mental health. I will offer a basis for understanding compassion in the west, and contest Bloom’s assertion that it is out of reach. My thrust is to present compassion as a powerful and accessible alternative to empathy.


WiP Presentation on May 29th, 2020


Speaker            Jodie Russell
Title                    Stuck on Repeat: why do we continue to ruminate?
Date/Time       Friday | May 29th, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


An oft misattributed piece of folk-wisdom goes: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” In many cases, we don’t just do things repeatedly but think over the same topics repeatedly. People who ruminate are not often diagnosed as insane – most of us ruminate at some point in our lives – but it is a common behaviour underlying both depression and anxiety (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000). If rumination is something we all do at some time, what is the tipping point for this behaviour to become a sign of mental disorder? Or, in other words, why do some people ruminate more than others, such that it becomes pathological (Watkins, 2004)?

I propose to answer the question of how repetitive thought (hereafter RT) becomes pathologically repetitive by building Barrett’s theory of constructed emotion (2006, 2011, 2014). I hypothesise that emotion concepts interact; emotion concepts form associative links that become stronger the more an emotion is ‘recalled’ (Bower, 1981), or used to categorize information from the body and world. In extremes, some concepts become hypercognized (i.e. overly applied to interpret interoceptive signals) such that other concepts become precluded or hypocognized (see Wu & Dunning, 2018, 2019). I will argue that the application of some concepts prevent the application of others and, as a consequence, reappraisal, from the concept application point of view, becomes a near impossible task, thus dysphoria (the application of negatively valenced emotion concepts within depression and anxiety) perpetuates. This is what leads to what Teasdale (1983; 1988) describes as a ‘vicious cycle’.


WiP Presentation on May 22nd, 2020


Speaker            James Brown
Title                    Two Problems for a Theory of Prudential Discourse
Date/Time       Friday | May 22nd, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


Prudential discourse, or thought and talk about well-being or what is good or bad for individuals, forms a central component of thinking about how we should live. As well as asking what we should do morally, or what we should do all-things-considered, we can ask (and often do ask) what we should do for our own good or well-being. Despite the centrality of prudential discourse in thinking about how to live, relatively little attention has been given to meta-prudential questions about the nature and status of such discourse. This talk raises two problems that any theory of prudential discourse must address. First, there is ‘the normative problem’ of explaining what makes prudential discourse normative. Second, there is ‘the demarcation problem’ of explaining what distinguishes prudential discourse from other domain of normative discourse. I argue that these problems constitute a challenge not only for meta-prudential theory in particular but for meta-normative theory in general. I conclude with some tentative suggestions for how the problems should be answered.


WiP Presentation on May 8th, 2020


Speaker            John Dorsch
Title                    What are Epistemic Emotions? a polemic concerning our tragically flawed epistemic agency
Date/Time       Friday | May 8th, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


What on earth are epistemic emotions? And considering epistemic emotions are as ubiquitous as they are crucial in our everyday lives as epistemic agents, why is no one talking about them? Answering the latter question is easy: their scarcity in both philosophical and psychological research (as well as in quotidian affairs) is arguably due to their elusive nature (or perhaps it is due to our collective bias in believing we are endowed with reason). So, let us change that! I will begin the journey into epistemic emotions by eliciting them from you, thus providing you with phenomenal concepts for them and eradicating any experiential blindness you might have with respect to them. You will undergo some of the prototypical epistemic emotions, such as the feeling of knowing, the feeling of certainty, the feeling of familiarity, the tip-of-the-tongue experience, as well as the famous “Aha!” experience.

Once you undergo a feeling of knowing with respect to epistemic emotions, we will get down to brass tacks and start addressing the vexing question (and corollary questions): What are epistemic emotions? How are they even emotions? Why should we call them epistemic? How are they important and why should we care? Sketching a blueprint for unraveling these conundrums will require a foray into the state of the art of embodied cognitive and affective science, as well as an incursion into topics from developmental and comparative psychology, not to mention a blitzkrieg into metacognition research. Can this be done in thirty minutes? Sure, but I will need to leave many of these claims undefended, though properly motivated, of course.

Of main controversy is whether epistemic emotions are distinct from traditional emotions (such a joy, sadness, anger, etc.) and if so, how? I will provide a few reasons for answering in the affirmative and sketch out a (to some extent, testable) hypothesis as to how epistemic emotions are distinct from their traditional counterparts. This amounts to espousing the following controversial thesis: epistemic emotions are distinct from traditional emotions due to how they are underpinned by unique physiological properties, which, in part, ground their proper function of regulating both interoceptive and exteroceptive modalities, which they are capable of executing due to how epistemic emotions have evolved to regulate distinct homeostatic variables crucial to cognitive processing, such as neural network activity and transmission.

Consequently, epistemic emotions emerged from the biological imperative to regulate, and effectively minimize, the energy-demanding task of using our brains; and thus, epistemic emotions reflect one piece of the puzzle explaining how we became the creatures we did: poor epistemic agents, who believe we know, when in fact we merely feel we do, and believe what we do, not because it is correct, but because it feels correct; thus, we should rather call ourselves “homo sapiens sentiens”. Hence, the polemic  — this pessimistic, albeit realistic, outlook affords a single silver lining; namely, we educate ourselves on the faults of our agency and thus, through dedicated emotional temperance, bolster it against its own mercurial nature. However, this demands we first accept the responsibility of our tragically flawed epistemic agency, accept that our so-called reason has evolved so we would think we know, when, in reality, we often only feel we do.

WiP Presentation on May 1st, 2020


Speaker            Tom Stephen
Title                    Propositional Contents and Copular Clauses
Date/Time       Friday | May 1st, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


Compositional semantics aims to describe how the meanings of complex sentences and phrases in natural languages are built up systematically from the meanings of their parts and how they are combined. Linguists and philosophers are therefore interested in what and how many types of entity are required to properly describe a system of compositional meanings in natural language. The linguistic behaviour of That-clauses and their relationship to propositions have been the focus of a lot of this attention, both historically and very recently. In this talk I will go through a traditional view of the semantics of that-clauses and a recent alternative which purports to solve many of its shortcomings. I will then present a new puzzle from copular constructions which is problematic for both of these views, and indeed any simple picture for the meanings of that-clauses.

WiP Presentation on April 24, 2020


Speaker            Dylan Balfour
Title                    Why Consequentialists Are Always Getting Mugged
Date/Time       Friday | April 24th, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


By many plausible estimates, humanity could survive for at least another billion years. This means that, if we avoid extinction, the vast majority of humanity’s value will lie in the far future. I will argue that this causes a novel problem for consequentialist moral theories which hold that we ought to maximise expected value.

The problem arises when we consider a phenomenon in decision theory known as Pascal’s Mugging. A Pascal’s Mugging (derived from Pascal’s argument for the existence of God) occurs we are faced with the prospect of attaining huge amount of value, like saving humanity from extinction. Even a tiny probability that an action will bring about such value is enough to make that action dominant in expected value terms.

I will argue that we have, at the very least, highly tenuous evidence to suggest that many of our ordinary actions could have an effect on the far future of humanity, either by lowering extinction risk or changing the trajectory of humanity. Although it’s incredibly unlikely that any action will have such an effect, the massive value of these outcomes is enough to generate a Pascal’s Mugging. And, because consequentialism tells us to maximise expected value, this will entail some deeply unintuitive moral obligations.

WiP Presentation on April 17, 2020


Speaker            Madeleine Hyde
Title                    Phenomenal Conservatism and Justification by Imagination
Date/Time       Friday | April 17th, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


Phenomenal Conservatism [PC] says that if it seems to S that P then, absent defeaters, S is justified in believing that P (Huemer, 2001). A Global version of PC says that all justification is proportionate to a subject’s seemings (Smithies, 2019). If imaginative states can justify beliefs, then this is a problem for PC. I take a Global version of PC at its word and see what follows in trying to bring imaginative states into the seemings family. I look at two existing suggestions in the literature: (i) finding a defeater which removes justification by imagination in all the right places (Teng, 2016) and (ii) allowing seemings which have the feel of possibility, rather than actuality (Chudnoff, 2012). Both ways have their issues.  Instead, I suggest a third way, which forces our theory of justification of imagination to go higher-order: where introspective seemings about our imaginative states do the justificatory work. This is the best that a Global PC thesis can hope for, I conclude; although I suspect that the epistemic externalist has better prospects for explaining how imaginative states justify beliefs.

WiP Presentation on April 10, 2020


Speaker           Chihon Ley Polanco
Title                   The Existence of Mathematical Objects in Plato’s Ontology
Date/Time       Friday | April 10th, 2020 | 16:00 – 17:00


Within Plato’s ontology, it is widely known that he posited a dualism of Forms and sensible particulars, where the former are the foundation of reality that gives existence and meaning to the latter through a process of participation. However, according to Aristotle’s testimony, Plato also posited a third kind of entity in his ontology: the mathematical objects, called Intermediates for being between Forms and sensible particulars. These Intermediates, on the one hand, share with the Forms the fact that they are imperishable, and, on the other hand, they share with the sensible particulars the fact that there are many of them. Nevertheless, after decades of controversy, it remains open the question whether Plato in fact posited these entities or not.


In this context, my research project intends to build a case in favour of the existence of Intermediates in Plato’s ontology and philosophy of mathematics. At first glance, upon taking a look at the literature on this topic, it seems that this endeavour is hopeless. Decades of commentaries on this matter have reached little consensus among specialists. However, in recent times, instead of remaining stubbornly fixed in the frame “Did Plato posit Intermediates or not?”, new works have made progress by changing the questions with which we analyse this problem. Alternatively, the discussion has been freshened by starting to think on Plato’s rationale for positing the Intermediates. My contention is that Intermediates are the best solution to the problems triggered by mathematics in Plato’s ontology.


Within the flanks of this rationale, we find (1) arguments of suitability of the Intermediates (i.e. Intermediates are the only objects that can account for mathematical practice in all its aspects), (2) negative arguments (i.e. how can someone do mathematics with no Intermediates and just Forms), and (3) arguments that appeal to the strong realism present in Plato, Aristotle, and Greek mathematical practice. For the sake of time, in this presentation I will focus on showing why (1) is compelling on the ground of Plato’s works, and also put (3) to a test. Indeed, by means of their logical procedure, I hope to show that Greek mathematicians considered the objects of mathematics as existing in a strong sense. This last point, in addition to the fact that Plato’s and Aristotle’s epistemology require a strong truthmaker to make each branch of knowledge a proper science, make a case to think that mathematics, qua branch of knowledge, requires an existing object to work. And if this is true, then it would be safe to claim that Plato needed Intermediates in order to complete his ontology.



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