I attended the 12th annual Undergraduate Philosophy Conference at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, which coincidentally is the institution where Professor Sandler taught before coming to Northeastern University.
What was the topic of the paper you presented?
The paper I presented was entitled “A Taxonomy of Moral Autonomy: Logical, Epistemological, and Metaphysical.” The paper presents three interpretations of the thesis that morality is autonomous from other disciplines or domains of inquiry. The first claims that one can never construct a valid argument that has all non-moral premises and a moral conclusion. The second claims that non-moral theses are irrelevant to the justification of fundamental moral principles. The third claims that no moral fact is grounded or explained solely by non-moral facts. The paper demonstrates some problems that come with each of these interpretations and ultimately concludes with the modest claim that we should maintain some doubt about the autonomy of morality.
What challenges came up while presenting?
The main challenge that came with presenting this paper was being able to clearly articulate each of the three theses. In a sense, they all say the same thing, just in different ways. So highlighting what made them distinct was difficult. They are also relatively complex, so presenting them succinctly added to the challenge. I found myself repeating a bit in my presentation, but I think that it was helpful for the audience; it helped them see which points I really wanted to emphasize. Nonetheless, this presentation showed me that going forward I need to focus on being able to clearly and succinctly present these topics without relying too much on repetition. Facing these challenges helped me better understand some of the nuances of the topic, and gave me a lot to consider with respect to revisions for the paper.
What were some other topics presented at the conference?
There was an amazingly wide range of topics presented at the conference. One student presented a paper on the criteria of personhood for artificial intelligence. Another defended logical pluralism, the view that there are multiple ‘correct’ logics. Other topics included Kant’s view of nature, the possibility of Marxist-feminist analysis, and a Heideggerian interpretation of Plato’s cave. All of the topics were incredibly interesting, and all of the presenters did a great job. It was an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating experience. I was introduced to a number of topics I had not considered before, and I was pushed to think more carefully on a number of topics that interest me.
In particular, there was one presentation on free will from which I learned a lot. The presenter argued that the libertarian view of free will can only be ruled out if we accept a certain theory of causation, which he then argued against. Some of the metaphysics was a bit over my head, but it got me thinking about different theories of causation. Causation is a topic that I haven’t studied much, but I’m definitely interested in learning more as a result of that presentation! This presentation also led to some discussion between myself, the presenter, and some professors in the audience about the phenomenology of free will – i.e. what it is like to experience free will. We ultimately got into a debate whether the feeling of free will counts as evidence of free will. It was a great conversation, and now I have a lot of new questions to consider about free will! I gained a lot of new ideas and interests from just this one presentation.
The keynote address was given by Professor Philip Kitcher from Columbia University, who has contributed greatly to the philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science, and the philosophy of biology. His talk was on the topic of “the human project” – essentially a pragmatist approach to the good life. Professor Kitcher’s talk was really interesting, and he provided great feedback to all of the presenters.
How does this experience relate to your academic/career goals?
I am currently in the process of applying to graduate school, with the hopes of pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy. This experience was beneficial for me and my future career goals in a few ways. First, it is nice to talk about in my statement of purpose for my application. It may help my chances, if only a little bit! But, more importantly, it was great exposure to learn some of the responsibilities of a professional academic philosopher. Conferences are an important part of the job, and this experience gave me a taste of that aspect. It also provided me with an opportunity to get some solid feedback on this paper. The discussion that followed my presentation gave me some great new ideas, which will definitely be helpful if I decide to turn this into a bigger project.
Any last comments?
I want to give a big thank you to the Philosophy Department for supporting me in this endeavor!
The idea for the paper was a result of a reading group in which I participated this past summer. I want to give a special thanks to Professors John Basl, Branden Fitelson, and Ben Yelle, as well as Aja Watkins, Dan O’Leary, Trent White, and Sammy Hirshland who all participated in the reading group and contributed to the great discussion that led to this paper. The paper would not exist, and I never would have gone to this conference, if it were not for them!