2018 Research Seminars

Mendelssohn and Kant on Virtue as a Skill

When: Wednesday, September 19, 3:30 - 5:00
Where: Bankstown Campus, BA.3.G.54

Melissa M. Merritt (University of New South Wales)

The idea that virtue can be profitably conceived as a certain sort of skill has a long history.  My aim is to examine a neglected episode in this history — one that focuses on the pivotal role that Moses Mendelssohn played in rehabilitating the skill model of virtue for the German rationalist tradition, and Immanuel Kant’s subsequent, yet significantly qualified, endorsement of the idea.  Mendelssohn celebrates a certain automatism in the execution of skill, and takes this feature to be instrumental in meeting an objection against perfectionist, agent-based ethics: namely, that a virtuous person would seem to act for the sake of realising his own perfection in everything that he does, thereby taking a morally inappropriate interest in his own character.  Kant rejects the automatism featured in Mendelssohn’s account, on grounds that it would make virtue mindless and unreflective.  But he does not reject the skill model of virtue wholesale.  Rather, he calls for considering how reflection can be embedded in the expression of certain kinds of skill, enabling him to endorse, and arguably adopt, the model on his own terms.

The Rational Animal: Hume on Sympathy, Reflection and Communication

When: Wednesday, August 8, 3:30 - 5:00
Where: Bankstown Campus, BA.3.G.54

Anik Waldow (The University of Sydney)

In this paper I argue that, for Hume, the human capacity to reflect and communicate through language is grounded in a far more basic form of affective communication that enables us to tune in to the feelings and thoughts of others. What this means more generally is that the ability to sympathise can in principle be regarded as a precondition for the possibility of developing a rational grasp of the world. This world opens up to us when we no longer simply respond in an instinctual, animal-like fashion to the causal impact of our sensory impressions, but learn to stand back and integrate the many different ways in which things appear to us from our continually changing perspectives. Given that, for Hume, the crucial step in this development occurs when we are sympathetically connected with others, we can say that, on a Humean account, being rational is not only not contrary to being responsive and passionate—a point he explicitly states—but also formulate the much stronger claim that rationality cannot even be comprehended without understanding it as a product of well-functioning affective capacities.

Wittgenstein: Philosophy as Imaginative Therapy

When: Wednesday, June 6, 3:30 - 5:00
Where: Bankstown Campus, BA.3.G.54

David Macarthur (The University of Sydney)

A widespread image of Wittgenstein in the secondary literature is of a philosopher who produced some remarkable ideas and thought-experiments but whose methodological commitment to theoretical quietism – that is, philosophy’s aim being to describe rather than explain – stood in the way of his developing these ideas into any kind of worked-out theoretical system. The ideas are, by now, very familiar – what following a rule consists in, family resemblance concepts, seeing-as, non-descriptive uses of concepts, the normativity of concept use, anti-essentialism, etc. But since these promising ideas are wielded into no general theory or system of constructive philosophy many have had the sense that, as Simon Blackburn puts it, “Wittgenstein seems to leave unfinished business”. Indeed many philosophers see a tension between the development of these ideas – which appear to them to be proto-doctrines of a proto-theory – and Wittgenstein’s explicitly avowed quietism.

The present paper aims to present an entirely different conception of Wittgenstein’s philosophy – a different way of looking at it – against the background of which his quietism appears much less paradoxical than it might otherwise seem. From the new point of view there is no integration problem. The conception that I shall defend is of Wittgenstein as, in fundamental respects, a philosopher of the imagination and of his philosophy as taking the form of imaginative exercizes or therapies – a conception that stands in stark contrast to the standard vision of Wittgenstein as a philosopher concerned to make explicit (what is supposed to be) the more or less fixed system of implicit rules of ordinary language as a way of countering philosophical misuses of language.

David Macarthur is Associate Professor in Philosophy at The University of Sydney, Australia. His research is mostly in the areas of contemporary pragmatism, skepticism, liberal naturalism, the continuing relevance of Wittgenstein’s thought in resisting scientistic attacks on ordinary life, and the philosophy of art (especially architecture, film and photography).

Ways of Being and Form of Life

When: Wednesday, March 28, 3:30 - 5:00
Where: Bankstown Campus, BA.3.G.54

Bernardo Ainbinder (Diego Portales University, Chile)

The precise meaning of the expression "way of being" in Heidegger has raised an interesting discussion (McDaniel 2009, 2012, Boeneker 2005, Hartmann 1972, Golob 2014, Dos Reis 2015). The Ways-of-Being (WOB) debate is mainly focused on two questions: (1) Is the distinction between modes of being a metaphysical distinction, so that everything that has a way of being is numerically different from everything that has another? And (2) does the question about ways of being coincide with the question about the way in which the entity is apprehended or conceptualized?

As is well known, in the Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik, 1929/30, Heidegger puts forward an ontology of organisms and thereby introduces a new way of being to the list provided in Sein und Zeit, namely, the way of being of life (Leben). Much of Heidegger's work there is to show why the way of being of life cannot be reduced to the way of being Vorhanden or Zuhanden, on the one hand, and why, in turn, the way of being of Dasein cannot be reduced or identified with the way of being of life.

If this negative lesson of the 1929/30 lecture course was widely commented (McNeill 1999, Engelland 2015, Dos Reis 2017, Crowell 2017) and criticized (Derrida 1985; Haar 1988; Krell 2001) in the literature on Heidegger, much less has been said about the methodological import of the path through life for Heidegger’s ontological inquiry as such. In this presentation I will sketch an answer to this latter problem. I will do so by taking a somewhat heterodox path and bringing into the picture two important distinctions to be drawn from the literature on generality that  - if not strictly Heideggerian - will prove to be extremely illuminating: the difference between accidental and categorial generality (Ford 2011) and the idea of life and forms of life as a specific (Fregean) form of thought different from objects and concepts (Thompson 2007). I will claim that Heidegger (at least partly) draws his attention to organic life because it exhibits paradigmatically the impossibility of thinking of ways of being as genera in the usual sense (question 1 in the WOB debate) and because it shows the intrinsic connection between mode of apprehension and mode of being (question 2 in the WOB debate).

To conclude, I will draw some corollaries that seem to provide an answer to some of the criticisms addressed to Heidegger’s “anthropochauvinism” and his neglect of animals. I will suggest that according to Heidegger we are alive (we have the mode of being of life) without being animals. But that this is so because there is no such thing as “animals”.

Bernardo Ainbinder is Lecturer at the Institute for Humanities, Diego Portales University, Chile, since 2015. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong and the President of the Iberoamerican Heidegger Society (SIEH). He was previously Postdoctoral Fellow and Junior Researcher at the National Council for Scientific Research (Conicet), Argentina, and Visiting Researcher (2012-2014) at the Center for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. His research interests are Neokantianism and Phenomenology and their import for contemporary discussions in philosophy of mind and philosophy of action.