2018 conference – Program and Book of Abstracts

The conference Book of Abstracts can be found here.

A higher viewing quality of the final program can be found here.

Keynote Abstracts

Arguments, Authority, and Polarization in Later Medieval Philosophy (Russell Friedman)

In the polarized environment of, say, contemporary American politics, the polarization has a strong cognitive component, whereby the polarization correlates strongly with our susceptibility to certain arguments and even facts, our notion of truth, and our attitude towards experts and authorities. A similar polarization can be found in later medieval university philosophy, with its roots in rival intellectual and religious traditions that coalesced around the two big mendicant orders, the Dominicans and the Franciscans. In this paper, after giving some crucial information on the medieval institutional and intellectual background to the polarization I will be describing, I will give some examples of how that polarization manifested itself, in particular by showing how the polarized groups exhibited different attitudes towards arguments and authorities. Possible areas that I’ll use to investigate this medieval polarization are: divine illumination, hylomorphism, and trinitarian theology.
Russell L. Friedman (PhD University of Iowa 1997) has been professor of medieval philosophy at the University of Leuven since 2005, with fellowships and temporary appointments before that in Cologne and Copenhagen. He specializes in later-medieval philosophical theology, philosophical psychology, and metaphysics. Publications include Medieval Trinitarian Thought from Aquinas to Ockham (CUP, 2010); Intellectual Traditions in the Medieval University: The Use of Philosophical Psychology in Trinitarian Theology among the Franciscans and Dominicans, 1250-1350 (Brill, 2013); and “Latin Philosophy, 1200-1350”, in John Marenbon (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Philosophy (OUP, 2012), pp. 192-219.

Fake News and the Politics of Truth (Michael Lynch)

Fake news spread online is a clear danger to democratic politics. One aspect of that danger is obvious: it spreads misinformation. But other aspects, less often discussed, are that it also spreads confusion, undermines trust and encourages us to live in a kind of epistemic bad faith. In this talk, I will argue that it is this last aspect that captures the most pernicious effect of fake news and related propaganda. In particular, I’ll argue that its effectiveness is due in part to a curious blindness on the part of many users of social media: a kind of semantic blindness to the function of their online communicative acts.  This blindness makes us not only vulnerable to manipulation to those with a better understanding of the semantic character of online communication, it indirectly undermines the political value of truth—or more exactly, the pursuit of truth, by diminishing confidence in the institutions that protect and encourage that value.

Michael Patrick Lynch is a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, where he directs the Humanities Institute. His books include The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Reason, In Praise of Reason: Why Rationality Matters for Democracy and the New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s pick, True to Life. The recipient of the Medal for Research Excellence from the University of Connecticut’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, he is the PI of Humility & Conviction in Public life, a $7 million research and engagement project aimed revitalizing meaningful public discourse funded by the John Templeton Foundation and UConn. Lynch’s work has been featured in the New York Times,The Guardian, The New Yorker, and Wired among other publications. He is currently working on a book on the influence of arrogance and dogmatism in our political culture.

Toleration or Engagement? Responding to Divisiveness in Democracies (Maeve Cooke)

Ethical collisions are part of collective human life. By this I mean encounters between individuals and groups whose identities are shaped by conflicting views as to how humans should live their lives, which in turn shape their everyday behaviour and practices. I call these ‘ideas of the good life’. Such ideas may be based on cultural traditions, religious beliefs, philosophical positions, political ideologies, or other allegiances. They may be held tacitly rather than explicitly and are connected in complex ways with economic interests, claims to justice, struggles for freedom, and other individual and collective motivations.
In the history of democratic modernity, encounters between groups who hold diverging or conflicting ideas of the good life have been seen as a source of social divisiveness and polarization. In response, John Rawls advocates liberal constitutionalism as a model of democratic politics that enables a reasonably harmonious and stable pluralist society, based on the successful and peaceful practice of toleration. I propose an alternative model of democratic politics. In my alternative account, encounters between diverging or even conflicting ideas of the good life are not avoided but encouraged. At its centre is a conception of authoritative, but non-authoritarian authority, underpinned by an account of the freedom-constituting powers of social institutions.

Maeve Cooke is Professor of Philosophy at University College Dublin, Ireland and a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Her current research interests centre on the relation between freedom and authority, and on related questions of protest, resistance and violence. Her principal book publications are Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas’s Pragmatics (MIT Press, 1994) and Re-Presenting the Good Society (MIT Press, 2006). She is the author of many articles in the areas of social and political philosophy, is on the editorial board of a number of scholarly journals, and has held visiting appointments at universities in the USA and Europe.


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