Keynote Highlight: Cameron Buckner

To celebrate leap day (as well as the last day we are accepting submissions!), I thought it fitting to link the some of the recent work done by our keynote speakers. Cameron Buckner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Houston (Houston, TX). Below is the abstract for his collaborative project with Thomas Bugnyar and Stephen Reber entitled “Ravens Attribute Visual Access to Unseen Predators”, which appeared in Nature Communications 7 (2015).


New-York Historical Society Edition of Audubon's Fifty Best Watercolors


Recent studies purported to demonstrate that chimpanzees, monkeys and corvids possess a basic Theory of Mind, the ability to attribute mental states like seeing to others. However, these studies remain controversial because they share a common confound: the conspecific’s line of gaze, which could serve as an associative cue. Here, we show that ravens Corvus corax take into account the visual access of others, even when they cannot see a conspecific. Specifically, we find that ravens guard their caches against discovery in response to the sounds of conspecifics when a peephole is open but not when it is closed. Our results suggest that ravens can generalize from their own perceptual experience to infer the possibility of being seen. These findings confirm and unite previous work, providing strong evidence that ravens are more than mere behaviour-readers.


Keynote Highlight: Alice MacLachlan

To celebrate leap day (as well as the last day we are accepting submissions!), I thought it fitting to link the some of the recent work done by our keynote speakers. Alice MacLachlan is an Associate Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at York University (Toronto, Canada) and a member of the York Graduate Faculty. Below is the abstract from her “Gender and Public Apology”, which appeared in the Transitional Justice Review Vol.1, Iss.2, in 2013:




Most normative theorists of public apology agree that, while apologies may have multiple purposes, central to most of them is the apology’s narrative power; that is, its ability to tell new stories of wrongdoing, responsibility, and accountability. We judge political apologies by whether they correctly identify the harms in question and the apologizer as the responsible party, whether they acknowledge the effects of this harms on the recipients of apology, and whether they successfully address those recipients as persons deserving respect. The narrative power of official public apologies can also alter legal and political record, as well as media discourse nationally and internationally. Drawing on multiple examples of public apologies to women that were offered (or demanded and not offered), I identify three ways in which attention to gender complicates our understanding of public apology, and the narrative power they hold. These include the difficulties of articulating the nature of gendered harm, given the depoliticization of women’s roles and the stigma surrounding sexual violence, the complexities of traversing the public/private divide by bringing private stories of gendered harm to public attention, and the ways in which attending to gendered and sexual violence reframes our understanding of both political responsibility for wrongdoing, and how apologies express and affirm that responsibility.

CFA Deadline Extended: Please Submit!


The deadline for submissions has been extended to the 29th of February. Don’t forget to submit extended abstracts (800-1000 words) to Since all papers will have commentators, this is a great opportunity for graduate students to gain feedback on their work in this area. We especially welcome submissions from underrepresented graduate students.  Notifications of acceptance will be sent by the 7th of March.

Memory and Social Cognition


Our 8th annual conference, which will be held on April 7-8 2016, will focus on memory and our social lives. We will accept submissions on epistemology, ethics, metaethics, philosophy of action, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and political philosophy.

Papers that address any of the following questions are especially encouraged:

What is it to remember? How does memory factor into social cognition? What is distinction between episodic and semantic memory? Does research into memory constrain our theorizing about consciousness? What is collective memory? What is the role of memory in the construction of personal and social identities? What is the role of memory in our ability to know facts about the world and each other? How does memory interface with our normative practices of apologies, forgiveness, and blame? Given that memory research is vastly interdisciplinary, what can be said about the nature of explanation and the (dis)unity of the various sciences involved?

Authors should submit extended abstracts (800-1000 words) to The documents should be prepared for blind review. Speakers will be given 25 minutes to deliver their presentations. Papers will have commentators, selected from amongst the graduate students of York University. We are deeply concerned with issues regarding inclusivity and diversity in philosophy – we welcome submissions from underrepresented groups in the field.

The deadline for submissions will be the 26th of February.

Notifications of acceptance will be sent by the 7th of March.

Reductionist and Antireductionist Perspectives on Normativity: Conference Programme

Location:  Ross South 421

Thursday (April 23rd)

9:30-10:00 Coffee and registration

10:00-10:50 Fermin Fulda (University of Toronto): An Ecological Account of Natural Action

What is it to explain an action? An action is something done (caused) by an agent for a reason. The explanation of an action must thus identify both its cause and the reason for its occurrence. However, each of the two standard accounts, the causal and the teleological theory of action, vindicate one aspect at the expense of the other, but neither provides a complete account thus generating a dilemma between eliminativism and primitivism. I argue that while the first horn is predicated on the assumption that reasons are individuated exclusively by their causal-role, the second horn is predicated on the assumption that reasons are individuated exclusively by their normative-role. To avoid this dilemma I offer in outline an alternative approach, the ecological theory of action, according to which reasons are individuated by the ecological-role an action plays within an agent’s system of goals, affordances and repertoire.

Commentary: Brandon Fenton (York University)

11:10-12:00 Nicole Dular (Syracuse University): Still Confused: Normative Language and Moral Indifference

One of the central problems in metaethics concerns whether the normative can be reduced to the non-normative. One reductive strategy is to give a metaphysical analysis of normative facts by means of a semantic analysis of normative language. In this paper, I look to one recent promising account of such a strategy proposed by Stephen Finlay. Finlay argues that his account has advantages over other semantic reductive accounts like expressivism. I argue that by looking to non-cooperative contexts, Finlay’s theory is unable to accommodate and explain the linguistic data concerning some of the most quintessential features of moral discourse, thus failing to close central metaphysical questions in metaethics. Granting Finlay’s claim that his account is the only viable semantic reductive account, it is doubtful whether any such reductive account will succeed, providing further support to the view that the normative cannot be substantively reduced to the non-normative.

Commentary: Olivia Sultanescu (York University)

12:00-13:00 Lunch

13:00-13:50 Samuel Dishaw (Université de Montréal): A Conjecture in Assessing Reductionism about Moral Values

Commentary: Benjamin Winokur (York University)

14:10-15:00 Jessy Giroux (University of Toronto): Intra-normative Reductionism: Reducing the Deontic to the Evaluative

In this presentation, I defend a form of “intra-normative reductionism”, which is the project of unifying the normative domain by reducing one category of normative concepts to another. The most popular contemporary form of intra-normative reductionism is the fitting-attitude or buck-passing account of value, which reduces the evaluative domain to the deontic domain. I propose a new way of unifying the normative domain by arguing that the concepts that concern “obligation” should be defined in terms of negative evaluative concepts: what is obligatory is what is bad not to do; what is prohibited is what is bad to do; what is permissible is what is not bad to do. I present two main arguments to support this thesis, and I respond to a series of objections.

Commentary: Olivia Schuman (York University)

15:30-17:30 Keynote speaker: Terence Cuneo (University of Vermont): Destabilizing the Error Theory

Friday (April 24th)

9:30-10:00 Coffee and registration

10:00-10:50 William Bredeson (Simon Fraser University): External Reasons and Pragmatic Value

The debate over internal and external reasons concerns what sort of reasons an agent can have for acting. The Humean camp says that only the satisfaction of an agent’s desire (an internal reason) counts; the Kantian camp says that a moral, rational, or otherwise intersubjective consideration (external reason) could also count. I want to examine this debate from the pragmatic perspective of giving and accepting reasons. From this perspective, the utterance of a reasons statement is more convoluted than a straightforward statement of an agent’s mental state. This opens up argumentative possibilities for both sides. Humeans can make a deflationary play and claim that external reasons statements really aim to accomplish some practical task; Kantians can use common-sense intuitions about external reasons statements to vindicate their position and shift the burden of proof onto the Humeans. It is important to consider both reasons statements’ alethic and pragmatic value.

Commentary: Alexander Leferman (York University)

11:10-12:00 Amy K Flowerree (Northwestern University): On the Ontological Significance of Reasons

In the debate over the ontological status of reasons, a plausible theory is challenged to thread a Charybdis and Scylla: First, the theory must be able to explain the robust role that reasons play in our practical lives; second, the theory must be fit within a sensible ontology. TM Scanlon proposes just such an attractive metaphysics of reasons. Scanlon is committed to two central claims:

(1) Reasons are ontologically and conceptually primitive; and

(2) Whether a reason exists can only be settled by appealing to the standards and procedures of its proper domain.

In this paper, I argue that (1) and (2) are in tension with each other, and any attempt to resolve the tension results in a view that Scanlon would reject.

Commentary: Stéphane Savoie (York University)

12:00-13:00 Lunch

13:00-13:50 Nicholas Laskowski (University of Southern California): The Knowledge Argument in Philosophy of Mind and Metaethics

Over the course of the last three decades since it was first put forward, Frank Jackson’s (1982, 1986) knowledge argument against physicalism about phenomenal consciousness has had an enormous influence in the philosophy of mind. Recently, Helen and Richard Yetter-Chappell (2012) argue that naturalists about morality in metaethics have to face up to an analogous challenge. I argue that, despite appearances, no such argument even gets off the ground in metaethics, because the adequacy conditions on the case that motivates the so-called moral knowledge argument are jointly unstable. This result shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since substantive differences between the subject matters of phenomenal consciousness and morality are such that we can’t copy-and-paste the explanatory agenda in the philosophy of mind into metaethics, and vice versa.

Commentary: David Rocheleau-Houle (York University)

14:10-15:00 Caleb Lee (University of Calgary): The Normative Pressure one Feels to Believe in a Certain Way is not the Result of one Conceiving of their Attitude as a Belief

I argue that the felt force associated with the norms of belief cannot be accounted for by the influential view that beliefs are essentially governed by certain norms.

Commentary: Joshua Mugg (York University)

15:30-17:30 Keynote speaker: Claudine Verheggen (York University): From Semantic Non-Reductionism to Semantic Normativity

Post-Conference Party: April 25th at 8pm

Please join us for the post-conference party to mark the end of another graduate conference. Food and drink will be provided by the Philosophy Graduate Students’ Association. If you are not a speaker or commentator and but wish to attend, please email