Workshop "Rethinking Reason"

A Workshop with Elijah Millgram


Monday, March 28, to Thursday, March 31, 2011
Conference room 1.17 in building C7.4 on the Saarbücken campus


Monday, 14:15 h to 18h
Can Metaethics Be Reduced to Practical Reasoning?


Tuesday, 14:15 to 18h
The Place of Modal Cognition in Reasoning


Wednesday, 14:15 h to 18h
Is Logic at the Center of the Web of Belief? The Case of Epistemicism


Thursday, 10:15 h to 14h
Can the Theory of Reasoning Be Formal? Lessons of Higher-Order Vagueness


     Optional prereading for the workshop



Elijah Millgram

 Elijah Millgram is an important, original voice in contemporary philosophy. He works within the analytic tradition, but is known for challenging large parts of its mainstream. He has argued that the most important part of figuring out what to do is learning what matters from experience; that most reasoning about how the facts stand involves thoughts that one understands to be only partially true; and that metaphysics is best understood as intellectual ergonomics. Thus his trenchant and historically well-informed interventions suggest a picture of practical and theoretical reason significantly different from the pictures that most philosophers have grown to accept.


Professor Millgram received his PhD from Harvard University and went on to teach at Princeton and Vanderbilt. He has held fellowships from All Souls College, Oxford, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavorial Sciences, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has taught at the University of Utah since 1999, where he is the E. E. Ericksen Professor of Philosophy.


Millgram is the author of Practical Induction (Harvard U.P., 1997), Ethics Done Right (Cambridge U.P., 2005), and Hard Truths (Blackwell, 2009); as well as articles in Ethics, The Journal of Philosophy, The Monist, Nous, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, and other journals.




Content of the Workshop


The last two decades have seen a good deal of philosophical work – especially on practical rationality and on vagueness – that amounts to reconceiving the nuts and bolts of inference. It is time to ask whether progress in the theory of rationality allows for a new start on familiar philosophical problems. And it is also time to ask whether our notions of how inference can be investigated and characterized have to be updated to accommodate what is actually being accomplished in the field.


Two sessions will be devoted to new approaches to older problems. One will advance a proposal in metaethics: that recent work on practical inference allows us to say what the inferential function of an ought is, and that this permits us to bypass the ongoing debate between moral realists and noncognitivists. A second session will develop the idea that modal concepts – the traditionally puzzling woulds, have tos and coulds – can be understood by describing their cognitive function, rather than by explicating their semantics: they are, in the first place, attention management devices.


Two further sessions will be devoted to reconsidering platitudes that have controlled the investigation of inference for some time now. The first of these is that our theories are organized into a »web of belief«, with logic at the center of the web – which is to say that our logical views are to be revised minimally and last, if at all. We will reexamine web-of-belief conservatism by taking up one of its recent consequences: epistemicism, the outrageous-sounding theory that the extensions of vague predicates are always fully precise, but we can never know where their boundaries are. The second platitude is that logic is formal. Here we will also use recent discussion of vagueness as a testbed for the received view; we will consider higher-order vagueness, that is, cases in which it’s vague whether a claim is itself vague. Neither platitude, it will be argued, can be retained.



Contact and Queries

Professor Millgram’s assistant for this workshop will be Svantje de Silva from Saarbrücken. Please direct all inquiries, in English or French or German, to her: