Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Impressions of Oz

This post will present a rough overview of my recent trip to Australia. I'll update it later with links to any new posts I write on the specific talks given at the conference. Oh, and the photos from Dave Chalmers -- you can see some here, but he was kind enough to send me some more of us undergraduates, so I'll upload those tomorrow. [Update: see here.]

I'm not sure where to begin. The trip was great fun, not least because of all the nice people I got to meet -- especially the other visiting undergrads. (And the philosophy wasn't half bad either, of course.) The atmosphere was very friendly and informal. We'd all go out for dinner together, then later head down to the pub, where we got to discuss philosophy with Dave Chalmers over a beer. I thought that was pretty neat.

Remarkably, a few of us there already knew of each other through our blogs. For example, at the start of Tuesday's workshop Lipin (another visiting undergrad, and who is friends with Brad of et cetera) saw my name tag and asked if I had a website. Then a couple of others chimed in "Oh, yeah, I think I've seen that too!" I found it quite funny (in both senses of the word). Then at dinner that evening I met Kenny from Antimeta -- who was very interesting to talk to -- and he later introduced me to Gillian Russell and Jon Cohen. Other bloggers there included Ken Taylor and of course Dave Chalmers, who has some thoughts on the conference here.

On to the content...

It started on Tuesday with the (pre-conference) undergraduate workshop, which had three sessions. First, Daniel Stoljar led an interactive discussion of our assigned reading (Carnap's Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology). Next, Alan Hajek described ten useful "philosophical heuristics", and discussed some fun examples of philosophical logic along the way. Finally, Dave spoke on "terminological disputes" -- imparting what were probably the most valuable methodological lessons I picked up from the trip.

On Wednesday, Sally Haslanger got the conference off to a great start with a very clear and engaging talk on different types of conceptual analysis, and how these relate to social issues (with a focus on the concept of race). Next, Martin Davies discussed warrant transmission. Then the day closed with Tim Williamson's discussion of Gettier intuitions and counterfactual thinking. (I actually chimed in the discussion for that one, which I'm quite happy about. More details in the appropriate forthcoming post.)

Thursday began with another brilliantly-delivered talk, this time from Steve Yablo, who gave a very fun talk on modal epistemology and how we can go wrong in our modal intuitions. Then Peter Godfrey-Smith gave a fascinating talk suggesting that we understand metaphysical theories as "models" rather than attempts to literally describe reality. Lastly, Frank Jackson offered a controversial argument from the transparency of language to a multiplicity of properties.

Friday morning was for general discussion, though I had to leave a bit early in order to catch my ride to Melbourne. (Anyone who remembers the later discussions is very welcome to leave a comment summarizing them -- I'd really appreciate it!)

[Melbourne was cool too -- Tennessee was generous enough to let me stay with him, and guided me around the city. We saw some neat art exhibitions, visited various cafes and bars (The Deanery was especially nice) and had some interesting discussions with T. and his friends.]

One minor disappointment was that the ANU conference didn't really address what I see as the central problem of philosophical methodology: our reliance on "intuitions", and questions relating to their reliability, the implications of cross-cultural variations, and so forth. You know, all that stuff they discuss over on the experimental philosophy blog (and some at Mixing Memory too). I would have liked to hear more about those sorts of issues. But again, that's just a minor point -- overall, the trip was really enjoyable and worthwhile. I was actually kind of sad to be leaving Canberra. On the other hand, it's nice to be back in a city where water actually tastes good. (That's not a dig at Canberra specifically -- its fault lies in being non-identical to Christchurch, which is a property that many other cities also share. But thankfully not mine!)


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