‘No Number #6 (Not On Color Violet)’, 1991
Violet neon mounted directly to the wall
12.5 x 111.5 cm
Courtesy of Joseph Kosuth and Sean Kelly Gallery
Private Collection, Paris
A 15-Minute Proof That the World Is Bizarre
Tim Maudlin (New York University)
Maudlin will present a simple version of John Bell’s proof that certain experimental results can only be explained if there are physical connections between systems that are arbitrarily far apart. The proof of this physical non-locality is arguably the greatest shock to our understanding of the physical world produced in the history of physics.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 11 pm
Susan Schneider (University of Connecticut)
How would intelligent aliens think? Would they have conscious experiences? Would it feel a certain way to be an alien? It is easy to dismiss these questions as too speculative, since we haven’t encountered aliens, at least as far as we know. And in conceiving of alien minds we do so from within – from inside the vantage point of the sensory experiences and thinking patterns characteristic of our species. At best, we anthropomorphize; at worst, we risk stupendous failures of the imagination. Still, ignoring these questions could be a grave mistake. Some proponents of SETI estimate that we will encounter alien intelligence within the next several decades. Even if you hold a more conservative estimate, the stakes for our species are high. Knowing that we are not alone in the universe would be a profound realization, and contact with an alien civilization could produce amazing technological innovations and cultural insights. It thus can be valuable to consider these questions, albeit with the goal of introducing possible routes to answering them, rather than producing definitive answers. So, let us ask: how might aliens think? And, would they be conscious? Schneider will say something concrete in response to both of these questions, drawing from work in philosophy and cognitive science.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 9 pm
An Adventure in Flatland
Achille Varzi (Columbia University)
Can a Flatlander figure out whether they live on a sphere or on a donut? Varzi will present an exercise in philosophical imagination to test our sense of possibility and our capacity to overcome the limits of our superficiality.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 2:20 am
Are There Any Legitimate States?
Christopher Morris (University of Maryland)
Modern states claim a number of powers, often summarized by the notion of sovereignty. These powers include the right to rule, namely the right to make, adjudicate, and enforce laws on citizens and other subjects. And the latter are supposed to be obligated to obey these laws unless excused or exempted by the state. An important question is whether these claims of states are credible. Legitimate states are thought to possess these powers, but Morris shall suggest that states are not legitimate in the relevant sense of the term. Consequently states may not be sovereign and their just powers are considerably weaker than we usually think.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Library Room, 7:30 pm
Justin Clark-Doane (Columbia University)
The intelligibility of modal metaphysics is widely thought to have been vindicated. But modal metaphysics could be intelligible, but highly non-objective. It could be that “metaphysical” possibility is not the broadest non-epistemic notion of possibility, and that there is no metaphysically substantial notion of possibility that is broadest. If there were nothing “metaphysically distinguished” about any one such notion, then the question of whether it is possible that 2+2=5 would be like the question of whether the Parallel Postulate is true. It would be true under some interpretations of “possible”, false under others, and all would be on a par. I will argue that this is so. According to the resulting view, there is no objective distinction between possibility and impossibility.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 4 am
Barry Loewer (Rutgers University)
Recently a number of physicists and cosmologists have been discussing what they call “the problem of Boltzmann Brains.” The problem is that certain physical theories and cosmologies which seem to be supported by a great deal of scientific evidence apparently entail that it is far more likely that brains (and their current mental contents) arise as a result of random processes in an otherwise empty or chaotic universe, rather than resulting from what we believe to be the usual causal processes. If so, a Boltzmann Brain’s beliefs and thoughts about its environment are mostly false. It also seems more likely that on the basis of your present brain state you are likely to be a Boltzmann Brain. Thus these theories lead to a kind of skeptical dilemma that arises from scientific inquiry. In his talk, Loewer will explain why the Boltzmann Brain problem should be taken seriously, and he will discuss ways in which philosophical reflection on explanation and probability may help resolve it.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 8:30 pm
Can We Rationally Prefer Our Non-Existence? Rousseau’s Reflections on the Logic of Nihilism and Suicide
Christophe Litwin (Princeton University)
One of our fears, as expressed in science fiction, is that if machines were to calculate and compare the sum of the ills and the sum of the goods of human existence, they would likely come to the logical conclusion that since the former outweighs the latter, non-existence is preferable to existence for mankind. This rationale is based on the very formulation of the principle of sufficient reason in early modern Western metaphysics: There must be a reason why something is rather than is not and a reason why it is what it is rather than what it is not. I will discuss Rousseau’s critique of the argument of a possible rational preference for non-existence through a reading of his texts on the Lisbon earthquake and on suicide.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 3:30 am
Can You Decide to Believe in God? Thoughts after Pascal’s Wager
Dan Garber (Princeton University)
Pascal’s wager challenges us to believe in God: If God exists and we believe in him, then we win everything; if he doesn’t, we lose nothing. But if we bet against God, then we lose everything. There are some celebrated “refutations” of the argument. But even if it succeeds, what if we just can’t believe? Pascal recommends a regimen: Act like a believer, go to Mass and take Holy Water, and belief will come. He is probably right. But should we trust a belief that has come to us in this way? Is it self-deception? Or is it revelation?
Cultural Services French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 9:30 pm
Choosing the Past: From Vertigo to Nuclear Deterrence
Jean-Pierre Dupuy (Stanford University)
Can events from the future influence the present and the past? Can we have an impact on the past conditions that determine our present and future? Can we change our destiny? Can we choose our predestination? These questions have always been a source of concern for the students of human affairs, in philosophy, the human sciences, literature and film. I shall discuss a number of case studies which may include Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as well as the logic of nuclear deterrence.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 2 am
Critique and Modernity According to Francis Bacon
Arnaud Milanese (École Normale Supérieure, Lyon, France)
Why should we read Francis Bacon, the 17th century chancellor and philosopher, to understand what we call modernity? This question deserves to be asked as it doesn’t seem that so old a thought would have something relevant to say about our world today. But Modernity is an old concept. The distinction between modern and ancient emerged in the 5th century and the manner in which we understand ourselves and especially the idea of criticism, likely emerged in Bacon’s time and are reflected in his writings.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 8:30 pm
The Direction of Time
David Albert (Columbia University)
David Albert will outline a large philosophical-scientific project which aims at understanding the difference between the past and the future as a mechanical phenomenon of nature, rather than as a feature of the fundamental metaphysical structure of the world.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 7 pm
Do We Really Want to Be Equal?
Florent Guénard (Université de Nantes, France)
Why do we so easily accept social and economic inequalities? Why do we tolerate the injustice they bring to modern society? Democracy, according to Tocqueville, cannot really exist without an ardent and enduring love for equality. Does this mean that we are no longer committed to democracy? We should conclude, rather, that it is not so easy to love equality, because the love for equality is a complex passion, which is not innate, but the result of education.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2rd floor, Library Room, 3 am
E Pluribus Unum: Understanding Biological Individuality
Thomas Pradeu (CIRID, CNRS and University of Bordeaux)
Biologically speaking, each of us is a “we.” In fact, every living thing is a complex ecosystem, constituted of billions of cells belonging to many different species, and even to different kingdoms. A human being, for instance, is made up of 90% of bacterial cells, most of them having a symbiotic relationship with the host. How is such an ecosystem constituted? How do these “influential passengers” that we host in our bodies (bacteria, viruses, etc.) impact our development and our daily functioning? And how can the body make of such a plurality of constituents, in the end, one entity? In this talk, Pradeu will raise the issue of biological identity, and he will suggest that one particular body system, namely the immune system, plays a pivotal role in the unification process mentioned above. The immune system does not delineate a homogeneous “self,” but, rather, a heterogeneous organism. Pradeu will conclude that, thus conceived, the organism looks like Salvador Dalí’s famous painting Galatea of the Spheres.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, East Room, 8 pm
Early Morning Exit, or the Concept of Exodus
Lydia Goehr (Columbia University)
How do we think of concepts, politically, poetically, and philosophically? Goehr’s talk will focus in particular on the concept or exodus.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 5:50 am
The Ethics of Care as a Resource for Democracy
Sandra Laugier (Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne; CNRS**, France)
The idea of an ethics formulated in a “different voice” – a woman’s voice – is connected to ordinary language philosophy. Care is at once a practical response to specific needs and a sensitivity to the ordinary details of human life that matter. Hence, care is a concrete matter that ensures maintenance (e.g. as conversation and conservation) and continuity of the human world and form of life. This is nothing less than a paradigm shift in ethics, with a reorientation towards vulnerability and a shift from the “just” to the “important,” exactly as Wittgenstein proposed shifting the meaning of importance by destroying what seemed to be important.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 5:30 am
The Expository Society
Bernard Harcourt (Columbia University)
Guy Debord spoke of the “society of the spectacle.” Michel Foucault focused our attention instead on the panoptic and disciplinary features of society—what he referred to as “the punitive society.” “Our society is one not of spectacle,” Foucault declared, “but of surveillance.” In a short postscript, Gilles Deleuze would go further and foreshadowed the emergence of a “society of control.” But it seems as if, today, rather, we live in a society of exposure and exhibition. We live in what could be called the expository society. This presentation will ask how we have come to embrace and love our new forms of virtual exhibition in the digital age today.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 1:30 am
The Faith Stance
Howard Wettstein (University of California, Riverside)
Faith is commonly associated with belief, and religious faith with the belief in God. Wettstein proceeds in a very different direction: faith as an attitude (in an almost nautical sense), a way of facing life, others, the universe, and God. The stance on faith is dynamic. Essential are readiness to change directions, and the responsiveness to one’s Thou, whether that be another, nature, or God.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 11:30 pm
Freedom of Speech
Monique Canto-Sperber (CNRS, France; PSL Research University)
Freedom of speech lies at the heart of the liberal state. It requires that every citizen be entitled to freely express his or her opinions, however irrational, outrageous or immoral these opinions may be. The rationales of such fundamental freedom are many, but they all carry limitations which makes its defense plausible. For example, those who argue that freedom of speech conveys the respect due to the individual must acknowledge that it could be used in such a way as to exert a prejudice towards other people, therefore appropriate limitations are required. That is the common understanding of freedom of speech. Nevertheless, elements of contemporary culture, linked mainly to the formation of opinions and beliefs, seem to shed a different light on this value and the ways it could be defined. Can we go along with the traditional concept of freedom of speech which constitutes the liberal state? Or should we reconsider?
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 7 pm
The Forgotten Science. Metaphysics between Alchemy and Prophetism in Arabic Medieval Tradition
Todor Todorov (University of Sofia, Bulgaria)
Metaphysics is commonly considered the highest theoretical and most abstract science, a science of generalities. Yet there are certain ambiguities surrounding its proper meaning and its final goal. In the Arabic medieval tradition, the main concept of metaphysics tends to shift from being towards intellect, giving rise to new possibilities, understandings and even practices. Those are the peculiar meanings of metaphysics that Western reason has obscured, forgotten or simply denied. Todorov will explore how in these strange dimensions where metaphysics meets alchemy, medicine and astronomy, it becomes a major anthropological, cosmological and definitely a political project.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 1 am
From Mythos to Logos, and Back: Machiavelli and Fortune.
Chiara Bottici (New School for Social Research)
Niccolo’ Machiavelli is largely credited as one of the founding fathers of modern political philosophy. According to a widespread interpretation, Machiavelli did to politics what Galilei did to the natural sciences − that is, he grounded the possibility of a purely scientific, rational approach to politics understood as an autonomous domain. Bottici’s talk will argue that Machiavelli’s road from mythos to logos was haunted at its very heart by an uncanny and troubling presence: fortuna, which − following a mythical tradition dating back to the Roman goddess of the same name − Machiavelli depicts as a woman. Bottici proposes to interpret The Prince’s puzzling dictum that “fortune is a woman, and if you want to control her, it is necessary to beat her,” along with Machiavelli’s literary masterpiece, The Mandrake, emphasizing the role of women’s bodies and their capacity to bear life in Machiavelli’s peculiar view of what we would today call “biopolitics.”
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 7 pm
Kwame Anthony Appiah (New York University)
Honor is widely regarded as an outdated concept and attempts to resurrect it are suspected of being associated with reactionary politics. In fact, however, as Appiah shall argue, honor—even if not under that name—can be a potent progressive force; for individual honor connects us with our families, our professions, and the political life of our communities, and national honor requires us to seek to influence the practices of the states in which we live.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 1:30 am
‘I take your knees’: Homer and Austin
Barbara Cassin (CNRS, France)
“How to do things with words?” asks Austin. This question is somehow quite old. One of the first performative examples is indeed to be found in Homer, when Ulysses meets Nausicaa. Cassin will try to describe what is happening at that moment.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 9 pm
I Think, Therefore I Can
Barbara Montero (City University of New York)
How does thinking affect doing? There is a widely held view that thinking about what you are doing, as you are doing it, interferes with performance. Once you have developed the skill to perform a pirouette, play an arpeggio on the piano, or parallel park, attention to what you are doing, it is believed, leads to inaccuracies, blunders, and sometimes even utter paralysis. Echoing a theme that one finds in a number of diverse intellectual traditions, the philosopher David Velleman tells us that, after the requisite training, experts act “without deliberate intention or effort.” But is this true?
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 4:50 am
In Defense of Scientism
Alexander Rosenberg (Duke University)
Rosenberg will argue that most of the persistent questions of philosophy can be answered by the resources of physics, biology, and neuroscience and that the answers are largely negative: no god, no soul, no free will, no objective moral values, no meaning—linguistic, cognitive, or otherwise original, and intrinsic. He will briefly treat the challenges that scientism as a philosophy must overcome.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 2:50 am
Inquiry out of Its Joints: Doubt Production and Pragmatist Countermeasures
Mathias Girel (École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France; PSL Research University)
In numerous environmental and health-related recent debates, new light has been cast on the so-called “merchants of doubt,” on the production of ignorance, on the way artificial controversies can be devised on a variety of subjects, ranging from tobacco hazards to vaccines’ side-effects, global warming, pesticides, and even evolution. Girel shall try and draw some lessons from these strategies: what do they teach us about knowledge? How and why do our inquiries, scientific and civic, lend themselves to such distortions? Two prominent features of pragmatist epistemologies will be useful here: their understanding of knowledge production, as well as their reluctance to admit a first-person privilege in epistemology.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 9:30 pm
Is Honor Obsolete in Modern Societies?
Alice Le Goff (Université Paris Descartes, France)
It might seem paradoxical to question the role of honor in modern societies, given that asserting the obsolescence of honor has become so commonplace: In the 1970s, Peter Berger proposed what has now become the classic formulation of the thesis of the obsolescence. This idea has been endorsed by a broad range of authors but, more recently, it has also been contested by approaches that propose a philosophical “defense” of the practical role of honor in ethics and politics. In the wake of such approaches, Le Goff’s talk will draw on a sustained dialogue between philosophy and social science (sociology, anthropology) to substantiate a critical discussion of the thesis of the “obsolescence.”
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 6 am
Is Religious Faith Rational?
Roger Pouivet (Université de Lorraine; CNRS**, France; PSL Research University)
Religious faith is sometimes presented as irrational, both by those who reject it and by those who accept it. Yet most of the great Christian theologians presented faith as rational, even if they have never thought it could be the conclusion of a proof. This claim requires a distinction between evidence or demonstration and rationality. We are led to consider the nature of rationality and the standards of justification of our beliefs. To be rational, should the religious beliefs be justified or even justifiable? This talk will seek to show how and why Religious Epistemology is one of the liveliest areas in current philosophy, rather than attempt to provide definitive answers.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 10:30 pm
Liberalism and Religion: Benjamin Constant
Frédéric Brahami (Université de Franche-Comté, France)
Benjamin Constant was one of the founders of political liberalism, as it was formulated during the years following the French Revolution. He simultaneously rejected the reactionaries and the revolutionaries, and accused both of giving the political power an illegitimate spiritual authority. His political doctrine aimed to prevent the social power from infringing upon private life, and thus upon beliefs and opinions. But does religion fall into the public or the private sphere? And what would become of a society in which religion was relegated to the private sphere? This talk will explore how Constant solved this problem.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 8:30 pm
Litmus Testing the Early Modern Thinkers: The Actuality of the History of Philosophy
Delphine Antoine-Mahut (École Normale Supérieure, Lyon, France)
Antoine-Mahut aims to verify the hypothesis that the early modern authors can shed light on contemporary questions, and in a pertinent way (by providing models, displacing limits, reformulating problems…). The goal of this talk is to provide a significant contribution to the movement of “doing philosophy historically,” by showing how the history of philosophy is entirely philosophical.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ball Room, 12 am
Metaphysical Daring as a Post-human Survival Strategy
Pete Mandik (William Paterson University)
Debates over the theoretical possibility of mind-uploading run into two metaphysical impasses. The first concerns whether computer simulations of your brain would give rise to actual conscious experience. The second concerns whether such a consciousness would be yours, as opposed to a mere copy. Despite the impossibility of knowing which side of such debates is true, I argue that the more metaphysically daring positions (the ones that hold mind-uploading to constitute actual survival of consciousness) are more fit in a sense that can be defined within a broadly Darwinian framework.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 5 am
Metaphysics First: Explanatory Priority in Philosophy
Christopher Peacocke (Columbia University)
Peacocke will offer arguments that the metaphysics of a domain is more fundamental in the order of philosophical explanation than the theory of intentional contents concerning that domain, or the theory of meaning for language about that domain. He will illustrate and elaborate this explanatory priority, contrast it with some other leading views, and explore its consequences for some classical large-scale philosophical issues.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 7:30 pm
Brian Weatherson (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
If you don’t know what effect an action will have, but there’s a good chance it will seriously harm others, then you shouldn’t do it without a very good reason. Recently, several philosophers have argued for an extension of this principle. If you don’t know the moral status of an action, but there’s a good chance it is seriously wrong, you shouldn’t do it without a very good reason. Such a principle would have dramatic consequences for debates over abortion and vegetarianism. But, Weatherson argues, this principle is false. Moral risks are not, morally, as significant as physical risks.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 11 pm
Morality is Necessary for Happiness
Paul Bloomfield (University of Connecticut)
An argument for the eponymous conclusion is given through a series of hypothetical syllogisms, the most basic of which is as follows: Morality is necessary for self-respect; self-respect is necessary for happiness; therefore, morality is necessary for happiness. A number of the most obvious objections are entertained and rejected.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 2:30 am
Must Intellectual Life Be Boring?
Pascal Engel (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France)
If (and only if) one agrees that the goal of intellectual life is the pursuit of truth, what form should it take? The aim of believing only truths seems absurd, since so many truths are boringly trivial, including in normal science. We expect to get significant truths. But what is a significant truth? Isn’t it completely relative or contextual? How is it possible to combine such a boring and apparently empty ideal, aiming at truth and knowledge, with the kind of excitation and curiosity that we hope to experience in the life of the mind? Engel will try to suggest an answer which combines normative considerations about knowledge and some insights from virtue epistemology, but also attempts to steer away from the kind of pragmatism, relativism and neo-sophistry which pervades intellectual life today.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, East Room, 7 pm
Is a Thought Experiment an Experiment?
Sophie Roux (École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France; PSL Research University*)
When we wonder what would happen if a man standing at the edge of the universe threw a spear, or what we would do if we had a ring granting us the power to become invisible, we are making a thought experiment. But what is it exactly that we are doing then? Are we experiencing another world? Are we dealing with an argument presented under the disguise of a pleasant story? Roux will argue that, although thought experiments are not truly experiments, they nevertheless have something in common with experiments, which is that they propose scenarios, heterogeneous to the arguments in which they are integrated.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 1:50 am
Samuel Lézé (École Normale Supérieure, Lyon, France)
Scandal is now becoming a dominant way to communicate in mass media: the news is deeply intertwined with moral sentiments. Philosophers are not very comfortable with this kind of symbolic weapon of massive destruction challenging the norms of rational dialogue. However the act of “bashing” (or more classically “argumentum ad hominem”) could reveal some other interesting moral norms and values. “That’s why dead scandals,” wrote Lord Byron, “form good subjects for dissection.” My presentation aims at dissecting a dead scandal : the “Freud Wars” in the US and France. What is at stake in revealing that Freud had a love affair with his sister in law?
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 10 pm
The Particular Elements of Perceptual Experience
Susanna Schellenberg (Rutgers University)
Perception grounds demonstrative reference, yields singular thoughts, and fixes the reference of singular terms. Moreover, perception provides us with knowledge of particulars in our environment and justifies singular thoughts about particulars. How does perception play these cognitive and epistemic roles in our lives? Schellenberg addresses this question by exploring the fundamental nature of perceptual experience. She argues that perceptual states are individuated by particulars and explore epistemic, ontological, psychologistic, and semantic approaches to account for perceptual particularity.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 9:30 pm
Performance Art: Three Ways of Being Serious
Rossen Ventzislavov (Woodbury University, Bulgaria)
In his presentation, Ventzislavov will explore three fundamental dimensions of performance art—the affective, the performative, and the political. Each of these dimensions presupposes a different concept of seriousness. Affectively, a serious work of art is one that retains a level of solemnity. Performatively, seriousness is measured by the correspondence between intent and final product. Politically, a serious work of art is one that hazards a social critique. By exploring the distinction between these dimensions and the different ways of being serious that correspond to them, Ventzislavov will try to advance our common understanding of performance art.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 3:20 am
Philosophy and Enlightenment in the Twenty-First Century
Pierre Wagner (Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, France)
The philosophical movement of the Enlightenment, far from being confined to its historical figures in the 18th Century, has promoted ideas and values which have raised both passionate support and virulent opposition ever since. In these debates, tolerance is often opposed to tradition, self-determination to authority, universality to particularism. In this talk, the question will be raised whether the Enlightenment may still be regarded as a valuable philosophical reference today, and how to compare the struggles inspired by the Enlightenment in the present day with the ones philosophers of the 18th Century faced in their time.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 11:30 pm
Philosophy as Practical Wisdom: The Case for Stoicism
Massimo Pigliucci (City University of New York)
Philosophy is now a highly specialized academic field, comparable to the natural and social sciences, or to other disciplines in the humanities. But it started out, in part, as a very practical endeavor to help people figure out how to best live their lives. From Socrates and Plato to Diogenes, from Epicurus to Seneca, the ancient Greco-Romans in particular sought to understand what makes for a flourishing existence. In this talk, Pigliucci will address one approach to practical philosophy: Stoicism, a school of thought begun by Zeno of Citium around 300 BCE that is undergoing a remarkable renaissance in modern times.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 4:20 am
Poetry as the Science Fiction of Today
Philippe Beck (Université de Nantes, France)
The discrepancy between poetry and science fiction is no longer available. Our predicament has changed: poetry no longer describes a golden age located in a separate past and our time is the sentimental age of science fiction, so that our future is no longer likely to be described by a special kind of literature called science fiction. Our present time is dealt with by several genres or forms (novel, especially), but poetry now means a special kind of “description of the modern life, or rather of a modern and more abstract life” (Baudelaire, To Arsène Houssaye, Paris Spleen). Our new predicament may be philosophically described as enabling the new poetical possibilities of our times, as long as utopia and atopia are the two grounds for a new poem called “The Poetry of the World.” K. Dick’s and Ballard’s proses may help us say why Baudelaire’s intuition is now accurate: a new critical orphic imagination now appears, which seems to be the only way to free poetry from its generic slavery and, above all, to show the refined components of our lives and sentimental way of thinking, if we may use Schiller’s vocabulary. An objective lyricism is needed as the science fiction of today. It is deprived of any kind of naiveness.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd Floor, East Room, 7:30 pm
The Political Grammar of Consent. Investigating a New Gender Order
Estelle Ferrarese (Université de Strasbourg, France; CNRS**, France)
Estelle Ferrarese aims to show how a political grammar that seeks to overcome the gender order as a hierarchical order—centered on the notion of consent—ultimately participates in reconstructing it. She first grounds the claim that the grammar of consent is monopolizing academic debates on gender. Then she highlights regimes of justification that render the relevance of women’s consent conditional, examining two French contemporary controversies, one concerning the Muslim veil and the other the criminalization of the clients of prostitution. Finally Ferrarese shows the effects this differentiated relationship to consent has on the political status of women.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 9 pm
Proselytism without True Believers
Talbot Brewer (University of Virginia)
This talk will focus on a global cultural phenomenon that I take to mark off our moment in history from all prior moments. The phenomenon in question is that the main mechanisms of culture-formation no longer have need of true believers, and indeed for the most part go forward without true believers. This lack of ardent belief does not mean that prevailing mechanisms of mass culture-formation lack potency; on the contrary, contemporary forms of “automatic” proselytism exceed any prior modes of proselytism in their reach and in their capacity to seize attention and give shape to pre-reflective tastes and desires. In this talk Brewer will briefly explain this unprecedented phenomenon and explore a few of its more interesting implications.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 10 pm
Reasonable Doubt, Intimate Conviction, and Degrees of Belief. Some Epistemological Reflections on Juror Decision-Making
Marion Vorms (Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, France)
In Common Law systems, jurors in criminal trials are instructed to judge whether the defendant’s guilt has been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In France, they are asked to deliver their verdict following their “intimate conviction.” This talk will explore the epistemological implications of these two models. What are their consequences for the task jurors are required to perform? What models of evidential (and probabilistic) reasoning are they based on? What conceptions of epistemic responsibility and of the articulation of belief states and action are they committed to? These epistemological reflections will be confronted with psychological data on jurors’ decision-making.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 12 am
Rousseau, Fraternity, and Kieslowki’s Rouge
Frederick Neuhouser (Columbia University)
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s final film, Rouge, bills itself as a meditation on the ideal of fraternity. Yet few commentators have said much about what the film tells us about the nature of that ideal. This is no doubt connected to the fact that, in contrast to liberty and equality, fraternity is but a shadowy ideal for us, seldom discussed and even less frequently realized. In this talk, Neuhouser will argue that the vision of fraternity Rouge provides us with is inspired explicitly by Rousseau’s understanding of the centrality of human interdependence and the importance of acknowledging that interdependence, both to ourselves and to others, especially when that acknowledgment is coupled with pitié, a sensitivity to the sufferings of other sentient creatures.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 2 am
Say “Hello” and Say “Thank You”. What Language Does to Humans
Etienne Bimbenet (Université Jean Moulin Lyon III, France)
It is impossible, 150 years after Darwin, to continue philosophizing as if we had never been animals or were not radically and strangely transformed animals. The introduction of the “animal point of view” into philosophy implies a new kind of question. For example, what changes does conventional language produce in our ways of acting, perceiving, and thinking? What is it like to be human, that is, a being who speaks?
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 00:30 am
Should One Be Afraid of Essentialism?
Claudine Tiercelin (Collège de France, France; PSL Research University*)
Essentialism, basically viewed both as Aristotelian and as anti-scientific, was largely out of favor during the two thirds of the twentieth century, thanks to the prevailing anti-metaphysical attitude associated with the linguistic and logical positivist heritage. With a revival of metaphysics, some new forms of essentialism came to the fore, which were no longer tied to a substantialist or “deep” approach, but insisted more on viewing essence as a modality. More recently, such conceptions have been attacked, and other versions of essentialist metaphysics have been proposed: either along neo-Aristotelian lines, or in such versions as B. Ellis’s or A. Bird’s “scientific essentialism.” However, essentialism still has a bad reputation in many circles, and not only among metaphysicians, but also among scientists (and philosophers of biology in particular).
In order to show that such fears are unjustified, Tiercelin shall suggest another “thin” approach, “dispositional aliquidditism,” consisting mainly in viewing essence along relational and dispositional lines, which is part and parcel of the overall dispositional realistic and scientific attitude I recommend in metaphysics. After presenting the main features of such a view, and explaining why it should not be confused with a mere pan-dispositionalist or power account, I shall show its merits over other essentialist frameworks (modalism; quidditism, intrinsic essentialism and other forms of neo aristotelianism), but also over other relational, ontic or causal structuralist accounts, and even over some other traditional dispositional essentialists frameworks.
In so doing, Tiercelin hopes to provide some tools for what she takes to be the metaphysician’s much hoped for reconciliation between the “manifest” image and the “scientific” image of the world.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 11:30 pm
A Spinozist Approach to Medical Ethics
Julie Henry (École Normale Supérieure, Lyon; Collège International de Philosophie, France)
The working hypothesis is that health ethics can be approached differently than as a strictly contemporary question. To the extent that illness and health care are integral parts of human existence, Henry believes that it is by reflecting philosophically on what we are as human beings (our beliefs, representations, emotions, personal history, etc.) that we can obtain another perspective on the questions that we are confronted with today. Henry will thus attempt to elaborate ways of mediating between the history of philosophy and contemporary issues in health care, taking her point of departure in Spinoza’s philosophy conceived as an “ethical anthropology.”
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd Floor, Ballroom, 00:30 am
Subjectivity in Kierkegaard and Buddhism
Katalin Balog (Rutgers University)
A purely scientific account of humans – though very far from reality – is perhaps not an impossibility. But even if we had such an account, it would be couched in scientific terms – and not in the language of subjective, conscious experience, i.e., in the language in which we as conscious subjects mostly understand value, meaning, and human significance. In this talk Balog wants to examine the role this gap plays both in Kierkegaard’s contrast between subjectivity and objectivity, and the Buddhist claim that direct experience (as opposed to conceptual understanding) is the antidote of samsaric existence.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 7:30 pm
Simon Critchley (New School for Social Research)
Philosophy begins with the suicide of Socrates, and the question of whether one should live or die is arguably the first and most fundamental question any philosopher should address. The intention of this short talk is to explain our inhibition around the topic of suicide, and the inadequacy of the current talk of rights and duties in relation to whether one should live or die. Critchley will end with a consideration of suicide that draws on Camus, Jean Amery, Edouard Levé and Virginia Woolf.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ball Room, 4:30 am
Thinking, Obedience, Enlightenment, Revolution
Omri Boehm (New School for Social Research)
Kant’s 1784 motto of Enlightenment is well known. He does not merely say, Think for yourself!; but, rather: Think as much as you please, but obey! Drawing on Kant’s third Critique account of genius, Boehm offers a reinterpretation of Kant’s understanding of the relation between thought and obedience. It will turn out that on Kant’s mature account of what Enlightenment is, Selbstdenken, is only possible by having the courage to follow the guidance of another. This paradoxically-sounding proposition in turn explains Kant’s paradoxically-sounding enthusiasm about the French Revolution.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 11 pm
Time and Freedom
Christophe Bouton (Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France; Visiting Scholar at New York University)
This talk will address the problem of time from the standpoint of the relation between time and freedom. From a practical point of view, the future gets temporalized as a tree of possibilities, a notion that designates the configuration of the future as a multiplicity of alternative possibilities sketched out by the choices of the individual. From this notion, a prospective concept of possibility can be derived which relates essentially to the future and gets grafted onto a conception of freedom as based on deliberation and decision.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 5:20 am
Untranslatables. Theorizing in Languages
Emily Apter (New York University)
Reviewing the famous episode in Rousseau’s Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire when the narrator is hit by a Great Dane, this presentation will discuss the fall as a philosophical event. Rousseau’s accident will be compared to the calculated misstep of Count Mosca in Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma and the suicidal fall in Ibsen’s The Master-Builder. Read by Binswanger as a case of falling up (Verstiegenheit), or climbing above the limits of one’s self, Apter will discuss what it means to be philosophically clumsy in relation to the uses of and misuses of the forensics of bodily projection.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 00:30 am
What can philosophy teach us about animals? Answers from literature
Anne Le Goff (Université de Picardie Jules Verne)
While animals have become in the past decades a subject of great importance for philosophy, philosophy still struggles to find the right approach to understand them. It is apparently confronted with a dilemma of two unsatisfying options: either to fall in the trap of anthropomorphism or to be bound to record a difference that cannot be made sense of. Le Goff will argue that a way to overcome this apparent failure of concepts is to place the questions we raise about animals in a context. Such a contextualization is widely provided by literature. She will use as a basis the short stories by the French writer Alain Leygonie in Les Animaux sont-ils bêtes? Literature allows us to regain the complexity of our relationship to animals, hence our concepts of animals. And while in philosophy it is possible and tempting to separate the subject of thought from its object (the human thinker from the thought animal), stories show that it is much more complicated: our lives are intertwined with theirs. However, is literature able to give more than anecdotes and actually do conceptual work? I will argue that what Leygonie does is both literature and philosophy. He gives us access to something we could not otherwise access.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 1 am
What Is a Border?
Solange Chavel (Université de Poitiers, France)
Borders are ubiquitous in our contemporary world; as such, they evoke in each of us powerful images: lines on a map, controlled gates, faces full of hope and dead bodies. We want to think that, with the right technology and resources, borders can be controlled–closed and opened at will. But is that so? Relying on history, fiction and politics, this talk is an invitation to understand the dynamics and emergence of borders, and the way they shape our lives.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 8 pm
What Is Logic? Why Is It so Weak?
JC Beall (University of Connecticut)
True theories, we are told, are bound by logic. This much, Beall believes, is correct: No theory is even possibly true if it goes against logic. With all due respect to Mark Twain, truth — and perhaps even fiction — must stick to logical possibilities. But this raises a question: What, then, is logic? How can logic constrain all of the vast and varied possibilities? The answer, Beall claims, is that logic is very weak; it is incredibly liberal with respect to what it counts as possible. This is good news and bad news. The good side: Logic provides few obstacles in our search for truth. The bad side: Logic provides us little help in our search for truth. In this talk, Beall will fill out these ideas, explaining how we should conceive of logic and its role in our truth-driven theorizing (from mathematics to science to metaphysics and beyond).
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 8 pm
What Is Music?
Wolff Francis (École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France; PSL Research University)
When I was a child, I learnt with delight that “music is the art of sounds”. I think it was my first contact with philosophical problems! For I rapidly discovered the trap of definitions: they seem to give us an acceptable answer to one “what is?” but they actually force us to new unanswered “what is?”: “What is an art?” and “What is a sound?” Philosophers are usually tempted by the first (misleading) question. We will follow the second one: “What is a sound?” And through the definition of a sound as a “sign of an event”, we will suggest that music is the “representation of an ideal world of pure events”.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 10 pm
What’s New about Modern Subjectivity? Some Perspectives in French Research, between Sociology and Psychoanalysis
Bruno Karsenti (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France; PSL Research University*)
One might think that the problem of the subject has been exhausted by the debate that has taken place between post-Kantians and structuralists over the past several decades. In fact, this is true enough—at least if one considers the preferred arguments, and the speculative arsenal that has been mobilized by both positions in this debate. It is now widely claimed, in France and elsewhere, that this debate had been overly theoretical, leaving the real problems of contemporary society quite untouched. In France, over the past ten years, several works in sociology and psychology have been devoted to the transformations in the self-understanding and psychopathological structures of individuals. In this field, the question of the subject is now re-emerging in quite a new way, equidistant from both subjective idealism and the postmodern critique of the subject. Karsenti proposes to identify some aspects of this revival, in a social sciences perspective.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 10:30 pm
Why Is Our Language Vague?
Paul Egré (École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France; PSL Research University*; CNRS**, France)
Most of the words we use in everyday language, such as “tall,” “expensive,” or “young,” are vague words. Such words are called “vague” because our use fails to delineate a sharp boundary between objects to which they apply and objects to which they do not apply. To say someone is tall is to say something less precise than to say that he or she is taller than 187cm. Likewise, to say that someone is young is not to communicate any precise age or even age range. Yet vague words can be used informatively, and most of what we communicate in ordinary conversation relies on vague expressions. In this talk, Egré will try to explain why our language is vague in the way it is, and whether this is a defect or an advantage. A related issue he will consider is whether the phenomenon of vagueness in language originates from a single source, or from several different sources.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 2nd floor, Concert Hall, 12 am
Who’s the Fool in Political Theory?
Céline Spector (Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux III, France)
In Hobbes’ Leviathan as in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the Fool’s insight reveals the fragility of justice and political power. But Hobbes’ Fool, contrary to Shakespeare’s, is meant to be refuted. This lecture will address the Fool’s challenge and Hobbes’ reply: How can political power deal with those who are simply not afraid and intend to break the laws, threaten the Commonwealth, and may murder the King (or the Republic)? Relying on Hobbes’s parable on revolt and regicide, Spector shall wonder how political power may overcome the risk of oath-breaking, high treason and civil war.
Ukrainian Institute of America, 3rd floor, Library Room, 2:30 am
Why Moral Relativism Appeals and Why We Should Resist
Russ Shafer-Landau (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Moral relativism is the idea that morality is in some way dependent on personal or cultural opinion. Many people find such a view very attractive. Shafer-Landau will try to pinpoint the main sources of its appeal and proceed to argue that relativism is not all it’s cracked up to be. He will focus on three arguments for moral relativism. The first says that if you value tolerance (and you should!), then you should embrace relativism. The second says that if God does not exist (and God does not exist), then moral relativism has to be true. The third says that the widespread disagreement we see about moral issues is best explained by assuming that moral relativism is true. Shafer-Landau will talk about why people have found these arguments compelling, and then try to show why these lines of reasoning are, in the end, unsuccessful.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 8 pm
Will This Be Worthwhile?
Isidora Stojanovic (CNRS, France)
You are deliberating whether to attend this talk or, rather, go for drinks instead. As mundane as it may seem, your dilemma involves some deeper philosophical issues. For one, the future is open: It is not yet settled whether the talk will even happen, let alone what it will be like. For another, third-person testimony that attending this kind of talk should be worthwhile is poor evidence that it will be worth your while. In this talk, Stojanovic shall explain the two problems, as well as the challenges that they raise for rational deliberation.
Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 2nd floor, Ballroom, 6:30 am