Volume 5 February 2024

Ned Block’s homunculi-headed robot and functionalism

Jack Blackman, Victoria University of Wellington

Abstract. Ned Block posed his thought experiment of the homunculi-headed robot in his paper ‘Troubles with Functionalism’ to try to defeat functionalism, a leading theory within the philosophy of mind, which concerns the nature of mental states. The robot was meant to defeat functionalism by showing how functionalism attributes mental states inappropriately, as beings such as the robot would have had mental states under functionalism, despite possessing no qualia. Block’s argument rests upon two incorrect assumptions of qualia that this paper exposes as being incorrect. Firstly, Block presupposes that due to qualia being an innate part of human beings, it cannot be accounted for under functionalism. Secondly, Block applies too narrow a perspective onto what qualia can be, and where and how it can subsist, to be considered valid. I attack these two incorrect presuppositions to exhibit how Block’s robot cannot be considered to have defeated functionalism.

Jack is a student at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington, studying towards a law degree, and a bachelor of arts degree, majoring in philosophy. He is primarily interested in philosophy of mind, AI, and phenomenology.

Diotima’s Laughter: Towards a Philosophical Approach Which Centres Ethics

Jemma Cusumano, University of Queensland

Winner of Best Paper (Member of an Underrepresented Group in Philosophy)

Abstract. Plato, a seminal figure in Western philosophy, employed the dialogical method in his writing to underscore the significance of dialectical reasoning and open discourse. In Plato’s Symposium, there is an exchange between Socrates and Diotima whereby the latter teaches the former the art of love. The majority of philosophical discussions concerning the exchange typically interpret Diotima’s teachings as representative of Platonism and acknowledge the presence of Plato’s Theory of Forms within it. However, in Luce Irigaray’s analysis of this dialogue, she emphasises Diotima’s unique position within the Symposium. Irigaray, in directing her attention to Diotima herself, is able to provide a reading which pays attention to the nuanced moments where Diotima’s views transcend the bounds of Platonism. With this reading as my starting point, I argue that Diotima’s laughter in her speech promotes an ethical approach to philosophy as a way of life. Paired with her pedagogical approach, Diotima fosters an ethical exchange with Socrates which challenges conventional hierarchical and oppositional thought within philosophy. By highlighting Diotima’s laughter, pauses, and questioning, Irigaray’s interpretation illustrates a philosophical approach which is open to otherness and embodies plurality. In sum, this paper showcases how laughter in Irigaray’s reading of Diotima’s speech advocates for an ethical foundation in philosophy, emphasising the transformative power of dialogue and the importance of embracing diverse perspectives. It underscores the enduring relevance of Plato’s dialogues in inspiring ethical engagement in philosophical inquiry.

Jemma Cusumano is a recent graduate from the University of Queensland, with Honours in Philosophy. Her research interests include feminist philosophy, psychoanalytic philosophy, and ethical theory. Her most recent projects have focused on Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil, and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity.

Optimism for the Value of Philosophy under Equilibrism: Theoretical Acceptance, Critique, and Understanding

Johnny Kennedy, Cambridge University

Abstract. In light of philosophical scepticism (scepticism about the possibility of philosophical knowledge), Beebee (2018) offers equilibrism as an alternative to knowledge as a conception of the aim of philosophy. This axiological thesis allows the philosophical sceptic to avoid metaphilosophical pessimism: the thesis that philosophy does not progress. However, in this paper, I scrutinise the value of philosophical work as it is conceived under equilibrism. I raise the ‘Challenge from the Epistemic and Pragmatic Inadequacy of Equilibrist Philosophy’ in order to emphasise the requirement for equilibrism to demonstrate the motivations for philosophical work as conceived under equilibrism. In response to this challenge, I locate two central features of equilibrist philosophical work (critique and formulating equilibria), and the epistemic and practical benefits they each confer, to defend an optimism about the value of philosophical work as conceived under equilibrism.

Johnny Kennedy is commencing his studies at the University of Cambridge, reading an MPhil in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine. He researches scientific realism, the philosophy of literature, and the interdisciplinary intersection of literature and science.

“I’m the same – but I’m not”: Transracial Adoptees, Hermeneutic Injustice, and Coalitional Politics

Beau Kent, The University of Melbourne

Winner of Best Paper

Abstract. This paper aims to achieve two goals: first, to argue that transracial adoptees lack the critical resources to adequately articulate their experiences, which constitutes a hermeneutical injustice. Second, to point towards potential strategies or ways of thinking that could assist adoptees in navigating their experiences which are yet to be widely recognised, both individually and as a community. I will argue that there is a relationality to the adoptee identity which means that there are few conceptual resources that adoptees can draw on that capture their experience at the intersection of white enculturation and a body of colour; this constitutes a hermeneutical injustice. I then provide a potential method for concept generation using Mariana Ortega’s notion of ‘hometactics’ to argue that one way forward may be to engage in a practical ‘making-do’ rather than try to create more theoretically rigorous and abstract concepts. Finally, I point towards the possibility of coalitional politics through the notion of complex communication in order to create strong political intra and inter-group alliances.

Beau Kent (he/they) is a recent graduate (2023) from the honours philosophy program at the University of Melbourne. He completed a thesis on the phenomenology of transracial, transnational adoptees and the critical phenomenology of the Latina feminist tradition. His philosophical work centres predominantly around critical phenomenology, adoption studies, and deconstruction, but they also have an interest in analytic philosophy of language and social epistemology. Beau currently works as a research assistant at the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University.

Literature as a Pre-Philosophy: Exploring Julian Marias’s Notion of Dramatismo and Narrative

Francisco Silayan Pantaleón, University of Asia and the Pacific

Abstract. Spanish philosopher Julián Marías explains that the adequate philosophical explanations of the human person reside in literature, particularly in the constitutive dramatismo (dramatic character) of the person, which is made meaningful by narrating human life. He claims that literature is a sort of pre-philosophy, as has been the case since the time of the Greeks, especially in their presentation of philosophy in the form of literature, that is, the story-like structure of the dialogues. Marías says life has dramatismo because it consists of a series of circumstantial happenings that have a projective quality, and this is only intelligible through narration, by ‘giving an account’ of the dramatic character of my life. Since my life is a story on account of its dramatismo, it is only properly recounted, that is, understood, when it is narrated. But no matter how much these two literary notions inform philosophical inquiry, they can never be isolated from their proper domain: literature. In some way, then, philosophy relies on literature because of the ease with which it penetrates the reality of the human person; and the tools that make it possible are, as I shall explore in this paper, Marías’s notions of dramatismo and narrative.

Francisco Silayan Pantaleón is taking his Master’s in Humanities at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), Philippines. He’s a teaching assistant for the Department of Philosophy of UA&P and is completing his thesis on the philosophy of Julián Marías as justification for the study of the humanities. His teaching and research interests include personalist philosophy, metaphysical anthropology, and the history of the humanities and the liberal arts.

AI and the Value of Explanations

Benjamin Robinson, Australian National University

Abstract. AI systems often struggle to explain their outputs. Some have argued that this lack of explainability justifies banning their use in certain contexts. However, this paper argues that in many cases where AI systems are being deployed, the types of explanations we want from these tools can be provided by current methods in explainable AI. I make this case by first distinguishing between the instrumental and non-instrumental reasons why explanations are important. I then apply this analysis to the types of explanations we’re able to obtain from AI systems using current explainability methods. This aims to demonstrate that the general, correlative – though not causal – reasons that explainable AI techniques provide are often sufficient for our interactions with large institutions, like governments, hospitals and banks, where explanations are instrumentally important in helping individuals understand, challenge and improve decisions. There are some cases, however, where explanations are non-instrumentally important in that they evidence respect for people as such (end of life care), or where specific causal reasons matter (criminal sentencing), which AI cannot provide. I discuss objections throughout, and finish with the caveat that while explainable AI methods are available in theory, the time and cost it takes to properly implement these techniques means that regulation or other forms of incentives are likely needed to ensure they are actually used in practice.

Ben Robinson is a student in Philosophy at the Australian National University. His work primarily revolves around AI ethics and value. 

Two-Dimensional Modal Semantics and the Zombie Intuition

Charlotte Senior, The University of Sydney

Abstract. In this paper I discuss David Chalmers’ ‘zombie argument’ in favour of a dualist theory of qualia. I begin by explaining Chalmers’ original argument and David Braddon-Mitchell’s use of Two-Dimensional Modal Semantics in “Qualia and Analytic Conditionals” (2003) to distinguish two types of conceivability and put pressure on the zombie intuition as proof of dualism. I then critically evaluate Chalmers’ defence of the zombie intuition, focussing firstly on his reliance on microphysical properties and secondly on the questionable alignment between his deductive argument for the ‘secondary conceivability’ of philosophical zombies and actual experience. Stephen Yablo’s account of conceivability, specifically regarding undecidability, is fruitful when explicating the latter issue. I end by concluding that Braddon-Mitchell’s two-dimensional account can make sense of the primary conceivability of philosophical zombies, and Chalmer’s defence of the zombie intuition at least partially relies on problematic argumentation. However, there are further problems elicited by Chalmers’ paper surrounding which structures necessitate qualia, meaning that the problems relating to physicalism his defence presents still bear significant weight.

Charlotte graduated last year from the University of Sydney with an Arts Degree (double major in Philosophy and Anthropology), with honours in Philosophy. Her primary areas of interest are epistemology and metaphysics, of which she took a particular interest in during her final year of study. Charlotte’s honours thesis focused on hyperintensionality and its relation to theories of impossible worlds.

Epistemic Peerhood and the Epistemology of Disagreement

Chow Zhen Yi, Nanyang Technological University

Abstract. The epistemic significance of peer disagreement plays a central role in social epistemology and affects many types of beliefs that we hold. For instance, religious, political and moral beliefs that are normally taken to be fairly personal and even sacred, are all potentially destabilised in the presence of peer disagreement. Conciliatory views on disagreement, in particular, argue that in the face of disagreement with someone you take as an epistemic equal, you are obligated to revise your doxastic attitudes towards the disputed belief. The purpose of this paper is to argue against Conciliatory views insofar as they assert that peer disagreements alone rationally require a person to revise their doxastic attitudes. My paper proceeds as follows: I offer an evaluation of the notion of epistemic peerhood, and conclude that utilising such notions of epistemic peerhood on Conciliatory views generates absurd results. I then propose that there should be other considerations on top of peer disagreement that should be taken into account for any doxastic revision to occur.

Chow Zhen Yi is a final year undergraduate student at Nanyang Technological University. His philosophical interests also include areas of value theory (i.e., the nature of intrinsic value), the philosophy of well-being, and causation and responsibility in the philosophy of criminal law.  

Robustness Analysis as a Procedure for Determining Difference-Makers

Jan Zebrowski, University of Cambridge

Abstract. Model-based science—the style of theoretical work dominant in many social sciences, including economics—studies complex real-world systems indirectly through highly idealized model systems. The viability of model-based science pivots on the possibility of determining difference-makers’for every system it studies. However, economic systems are neither clearly circumscribed nor closed’ in the sense that any outcome studied by economists is, to a greater or lesser extent, causally influenced by an infinitely complex network of factors. This makes salient the question: How do economists determine which factors are explanatorily relevant to any given outcome and should be included in its explanation? This is the problem of explanatory relevance. In this paper, I try to make headway towards solving this problem using robustness analysis (RA)—a well-known procedure in theoretical economics by which modellers gauge the sensitivity of their modelsresults to assumptions that fuel the derivation of these results.

Jan Zebrowski was awarded a BSc (with first class honours) in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and is currently reading for the MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine at the University of Cambridge. His research interests fall into three research areas: general philosophy of science, especially epistemology of science, philosophy of biology and philosophy of economics.

ISSN: 2653-3146