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SWIP-Analytic Conference: Student Talks

November 2, 2015 @ 10:30 am - 5:00 pm

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Women in Philosophy Conference: Student Talks
Monday November 2, 2015

Four graduate student women working in analytic philosophy — Bianca Crewe, Louise Daoust, Emily Sullivan, and Christine Susienka — will present their work in Room 5414 at the Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 5th Avenue. Details on the speakers and their talks, including abstracts, are below.

Bianca Crewe (University of British Columbia) “Naturalism in the Sciences

Louise Daoust (University of Pennsylvania)  “Constancy, Relationalism, and Color Science

Emily Sullivan (Fordham University) “Inter-System Casual Explanations: Rethinking Renormalization Group

Christine Susienka (Columbia University) “Invoking Rights and Communicating Wrongs


Crewe, “Naturalism in the Sciences”

Within feminist science studies, it is generally acknowledged that value-free science is neither possible nor desirable. Following this acknowledgement, feminist naturalized empiricism suggests that it is possible to determine which values are justified in science by treating them like scientific hypotheses, subject to empirical testing and subsequently confirmed or disconfirmed by the relevant data. Thus, it is claimed that values have empirical content and can be evaluated as such. Furthermore, many scholars in this tradition argue that there is empirical evidence for commitments to gender and racial equality, and that therefore feminism can be vindicated from within a scientific framework. This account likewise claims to allow for the dismissal of racist, androcentric, or otherwise oppressive worldviews as disproved rather than as violating the objectivity of science. I contend that assumptions surrounding data and evidence are a central and unexplored problem for feminist naturalized empiricism, and that these assumptions precede and undergird the problem of adjudicating between political values in the sciences. Specifically, I argue that many feminist naturalized empiricists’ appeals to data as evidence for the justification of certain political commitments are premised on a specific, though unacknowledged, conception of data itself—namely, as neutral, objective, and outside of the workings of the power structures such theorists seek to expose. Ultimately, I argue that if our conception of the natural world is expanded to include political values, then the data used to justify our engagement with specific political commitments will also be value-laden. Overall, I hope to highlight both the insufficiency of a wholly naturalized empiricist evaluative framework in the sciences and the necessity of non-revisable political commitments designed to structure scientific endeavors and the treatment of data.

Daoust, “Constancy, Relationalism, and Color Science”

A longstanding puzzle in philosophy concerns how to fit colors into our scientificworldview. Explicitly or implicitly, color science has tended to rely upon an objectivist account of color according to which colors are mind-independent, physical properties. Color systems are modeled as striving to discount contextual factors, such as facts about illumination, in order to present or represent colors constantly: as invariant despite dramatic changes in proximal stimulation. Objectivism is motivated by an interest in explaining how perception guides action — an interest that has remained at the heart of color science. It also has a rich philosophical pedigree.

There is increasing acknowledgment among philosophers, however, that color vision isn’t perfectly constant: surfaces don’t look exactly the same under different viewing conditions, and this ought not necessarily be understood as a perceptual shortcoming. In response, there’s been a resurgence of interest in relationalism about color, the view that color is a property that exists between a perceiver and a physical surface. Instead of appealing to perceptual constancy to account for the similarity in how a particular surface appears across contexts, relationalists are motivated by the fact that surfaces appear differently under different viewing conditions. They embrace experiential variation, identifying color properties with the fleeting, particular relations that are manifest between perceivers and their environments, or with properties of these relations.

I argue that in embracing color as a maximally fine-grained phenomenon, these relational theories fail to acknowledge perceptual constancy as a feature of color vision at all. The result is less than innocuous: the action-guiding component of color is rendered merely parasitic on our account of color perception. Moreover, these views fail to speak to what makes color a subject worthy of scientific inquiry, a fact that helps to explain why relationalism remains peripheral to the methodological choices of color science. In conclusion, I appeal to phylogenetic history in proposing a novel kind of relationalism, one I argue results in better congruence between our metaphysical ambitions and the more practical interests of color science.

Sullivan, “Inter-System Casual Explanations: Rethinking Renormalization Group

General explanations abstract away from irrelevant causal details. After abstraction we are still left with a causal explanation. For example, in explaining how water changes from a liquid to a gas we might abstract away from the spin of the microlevel particles. This leaves us with a more general explanation that points out macrolevel causes that bring about a phase change, such as the influence of heat.

However, when we want to explain why there are macrolevel similarities between disparate systems, then it is less clear if abstracting away from irrelevant causal details still leaves us with a causal explanation. Many have argued that Renormalization Group explanations of phase transitions that explain macrobheaviors of diverse systems are non-causal explanations. The challenge is that when we explain similarities between systems we are not only abstracting away from irrelevant causal details of the specific systems, but that we are ignoring causal details altogether. It seems that we are left with a non-
causal mathematical or structural explanation.

In this paper, I argue that inter-system explanations are in fact causal explanations. I take a close look at Renormalization Group explanations of phase transitions and argue contra Robert Batterman (2010) and Alexander Reutlinger (2014). that abstracting away from microlevel causal irrelevancies on the system specific level is not different in kind from how the causal irrelevancies are abstracted in inter-system explanations. This means that universal macrobehavior can in fact be explained through a macrolevel cause. I argue that this is so without doing away with our common sense intuitions about causality.

Susienka, “Invoking Rights and Communicating Wrongs

What role does the invocation of rights and duties play in personal relationships? And how do the duties that correlate with rights fit into the broader landscape of relational responsibilities? The kinds of cases I have in mind are close relationships – those between friends, family members, or partners. As agents actively engaged in and committed to reciprocal personal relationships, we rely on the knowledge that our relatives care for us and will be responsive to reasons concerning our well-being or the well-being of our relationships. In this context, appeals to rights and duties seem to get the responsibilities generated by personal relationships descriptively wrong. Instead, they might be better characterized by commitments, shared values, or care for one another.

Nonetheless, I argue, rights do exist in these contexts, and they play what I refer to as a background role. Though it is not often fitting to invoke them in healthy relationships, they provide background conditions of trust and security that make more robust personal relationships possible. I proceed by identifying three reasons why rights claims are often unfitting, and I then develop a general positive account of when rights claims are fittingly invoked. I argue: (1) Rights claims are coercive—they make direct demands upon one’s relative rather than engage her in reasoning, and in doing so express distrust that appeals to one’s own well-being or that of the relationship will be motivating; (2)They invoke more general relationship types and fail to acknowledge the particularities of relationships; and (3),they fail to fully characterize the wrongings that occur between close relatives. These same features make it possible for rights to provide recourse when other means of response are insufficient. A further upshot of this approach is that it scales up to more general social relationships and ultimately can be used to characterize the role of human rights in our broader normative practices.


November 2, 2015
10:30 am - 5:00 pm
Event Category:


5414 of The Graduate Center, CUNY (365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016)

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