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Department of Philosophy


The Department is active in sponsoring and hosting events for our students, faculty, and the public.  All are invited to publicly advertised events.  Past events can be seen via the links in the menu.

Please note that until further notice, all departmental colloquia will be held online.  Please use the email address listed for each talk to get details.



J. Brian Pitts (Universities of Lincoln, South Carolina and Cambridge) 

Energy Conservation and/or General Relativity 
February 12, 2021, 3:30pm EST/8:30pm GMT by Skype/Zoom
email for details:
The conservation of energy and momentum is widely considered fundamental, but this conviction fits poorly with widespread interpretations of Einstein’s General Relativity, where gravitational energy-momentum and hence energy-momentum conservation have been controversial since 1918. Formal mathematics indicates conservation. This mathematics has been difficult to interpret, however, due to the essential dependence of gravitational energy & momentum on space-time coordinate systems (i.e., failure of “translation” under change of coordinates). Some deny the existence of gravitational energy and hence discard the conservation laws. Some try to explain such non-conservation in terms of a supposed lack of symmetries. Most people hold that gravitational energy exists but is not “localizable” in time or place. Does General Relativity force, or at least urge, us to give up conservation laws?
As Feynman noted, one’s expectation that gravity does or does not fit the pattern of other theories affects one’s views on gravitational energy. Such general relativists such as Bergmann (1958) and Schutz, Sorkin and Kijowski (1970s) have noted that mathematically, General Relativity has infinitely many symmetries, more than earlier theories, and accordingly infinitely many conserved quantities. In recent years (2009-10) a realist interpretation of this mathematics has been proposed, which makes the coordinate dependence of gravitational energy intelligible and virtuous: different coordinate systems (conventions) pick out different energies, so equivalence should not be expected. By analogy, expecting equivalence under translation between “Mary is short” and “María es alta” (“Mary is tall” in Spanish) seems reasonable---unless Mary and María are different people described in their respective native languages. For this reason and others, one can interpret General Relativity as more conserving of energy & momentum, not less so, than other theories. This interpretation also has appropriate heuristic force in relation to an improved Leibnizian objection to Cartesian mental causation.

The following two colloquia have been postponed (due to COVID-19), still to be rescheduled.


Katja Vogt (Columbia University) 

Three Euthyphro Problems
The so-called Euthyphro Problem raises the following question: do the gods love the pious because it is pious, or is the pious pious because it is loved by the gods? The traditional reading draws on Divine Command Theory: does God recognize value, or is value created by divine approval? A contemporary version rephrases the problem along similar lines: is value attitude-independent or is it conferred by attitudes? I argue that these approaches obscure the dialogue’s argument by reformulating “the” Euthyphro Problem as if all value had the same metaphysics. According to the Euthyphro, however, there are three kinds of value, exemplified by the good, the god-loved, and the pious. Among these values, the good has priority. This comes into view once we see that there is not one Euthyphro Problem, but three. The Epistemic Euthyphro Problem seeks a measure by which disagreement about the good can be resolved. The Bad Gods Problem asks how the gods can be normative guides, given that they fight and disagree with each other. The Metaphysical Euthyphro Problem, as I call “the” Euthyphro Problem, raises the question of whether a property can at the same time be realist and constitutively involve relational attitudes. On this reconstruction, the Euthyphro is the urtext of metaethics, in ways that go far beyond its common reception. Plato’s three kinds of value accommodate, I argue, many of the intuitions that today we think speak for and against realism, and for and against anti-realism. According to the Euthyphro, realist value is prior, but it is not the only kind of value that orients our actions. There is also anti-realist value such as the god-loved and legal, and realist/anti-realist value such as the pious and the lawful.

Jeanette Bicknell (Independent Scholar) 

The 'Crack in the Voice' and Joe Turner's Blues
Great art has been created under conditions of immense suffering and
social injustice. What is less clear is how responsively and sensitively
to make sense of and appreciate such art. How do we acknowledge the
suffering that must have gone into making the art, while seeing the
creators as something other than victims of circumstance? How to make
sure that the feelings of pity or compassion we are likely to have for
those who have suffered injustice does not manifest itself in a
patronizing or condescending attitude to their work? I offer some
reflections on the challenge of appreciating African American music. My
central example is the song, "Joe Turner’s Blues."



Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.