Alan Thomas – Stags, Hares and Knowledge: A Genealogy of the Knowledge System as a ‘Mutual Assurance Game’


Intellectual Humility Workshop

St Louis University Thursday,

April 16, 3:00–4:30

Adorjan Hall Room 142


This paper considers whether the analogy between two “cooperative ventures for mutual advantage” – a market economy and the knowledge system – offers any explanatory insights for social epistemology. It is argued that it does in two ways: analysing the mechanisms of social cooperation and the kinds of goods produced suggests that the knowledge system is correctly modelled as a mutual assurance game. It primarily exhibits economies of scale and produces a “steep” public good, namely, knowledge. This, in turn, has the consequence that the concept that this social practice embeds – knowledge – ought to receive a genealogical explanation. It is argued that this form of explanation is compatible with the concept having no interesting analysis.

Alan Thomas: Colloquium, University of California at San Diego, March 9, 2-4, H&SS 7077 John Muir College

9780674430006Rawls, Piketty and the ‘New Inequality’

The forty year period 1970-2010 saw two developments in the USA: first, at the level of theory, intense academic interest in the egalitarianism of John Rawls. Second, at the level of practice, fundamental changes in the institutions, policies and norms of US society that have led Gilens and Page [2014] to conclude that it has become an oligarchy de facto if not de jure. A central component in that practical development is the tolerance of extensive inequality and the emergence of not merely the “1 percent”, but the elevation of an “upper decile” of wealthy individuals into a position of economic and political dominance. In spite of pioneering work by Krouse, MacPherson and Arneson, little academic attention has been paid to whether a political economy with roots in Rawls’s work might be the most effective response to these practical and institutional changes. That situation may be about to change given the popular, as well as academic, response to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century: in this paper I will consider whether a form of economic system described by Cambridge economist James Meade – a common source for both Rawls and Piketty – offers a feasible egalitarian ideal. I will compare and contrast this ideal with three other views: individual capital holding schemes that have played a role in generating the New Inequality and not in averting it; the bundle of “pre-distributive” egalitarian policies recommended by Jacob S. Hacker, and the continuation of the social progressivist tradition in Lane Kenworthy’s proposal for a ‘Social Democratic America’. It will be argued that only a structural change to  society’s fundamental wage setting institutions, along the lines recommended by Meade and Rawls and implicit in Piketty, will bring about the necessary structural change to implement the political economy of a just society.

Alan Thomas, ‘A Life of Virtue or a Life of Principle?’, Manchester Metropolitan University, June 19, 2014

 Particularism in Bioethics, Professional Ethics and Medicine

19 June Workshop Schedule

9.00 – 9.30 Welcome and Registration

9.30 – 10.45 Ulrik Kilhbom (Uppsala): ‘Doing Particularized Bioethics and the Shape of Context’

10.45 – 11.00 Tea and Coffee

11.00 – 12.00 Steve Edwards (Swansea): ‘Moral Realism in Health Care’

12.00 – 13.00 Per Nortvedt (Oslo, UiO): ‘Particularism, Principlism and Professional Evil Doing’

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

14.00 – 15.15 Alan Thomas (Tilburg): ‘A Life of Virtue or a Life of Principle?’

15.15 – 16.00 Anne Raustol (Oslo, Diakonhjemmet): ‘Partiality and Impartiality in Nursing’

16.00 – 16.15 Tea and Coffee

16.15 – 17.00 Benedict Smith (Durham): ‘Particularism and Persons’

17.00 – 17.45 Anna Bergqvist (MMU): ‘Particularism and Person Centred Medicine’

17.45 – 18.30 Roundtable Discussion, featuring invited contributions from Dr Michael Loughlin (MMU Cheshire) and Dr Emma Bullock (KCL) among others.

18.30 Workshop Close

19.30 Formal Dinner


Alan Thomas ‘Epistemic Justice, Steadiness of Mind and Self-Deception’, Oxford April 2nd 2014 11:55 – 12:45

‘Epistemic Justice, Steadiness of Mind and Self-Deception’

Ethics of Cognition Project

Workshop: the Ethics of Self-Deception

Ryle Room, Faculty of Philosophy, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter


This paper develops a general characterisation of epistemic wrongs as forms of derogation before characterising specifically epistemic injustices as putative disqualifications of an interlocutor from the status of knower. The account is related to Williams’s discussion of the generic epistemic virtues of Sincerity, Accuracy and the role of the third person in “steadying the mind”. There is a constitutive connection between sociality and the individual epistemic vice of self-deception.  The connection between this account and Williams’s liberal political psychology is, in turn, explained via the republican ideal of freedom as non-domination.

April 30, 2014, 16:30 – 18:00 David Brink (San Diego) ‘Eudaimonism and Cosmopolitan Concern’


Professor of Philosophy, University of San Diego,

Director, Institute for Law and Philosophy University of San Diego School of Law

Location: Dante Building Room 5


This talk explores the adequacy of Sidgwick’s contrast between the egocentrism of ancient ethics and the impartiality of modern ethics by evaluating the resources of eudaimonists, especially Aristotle and the Stoics, to defend a cosmopolitan conception of the common good.  The adequacy of various eudaimonist defenses of the common good may depend on our conception of the common good.  Adapting Broad’s comparison of egoism, utilitarianism, and self-referential altruism, we might distinguish between the scope and weight of ethical concern.  We might then distinguish ethical conceptions that are parochial with respect to both scope and weight, conceptions that are cosmopolitan with respect to both scope and weight, and mixed conceptions that combine universal scope and variable weight.  Aristotle’s eudaimonist justification of the common good appears doubly parochial.  By contrast, the Stoics offer a eudaimonist defense of the common good that is purely cosmopolitan.  But the Stoics have trouble providing a eudaimonist defense of a cosmopolitan conception of the common good.  However, Aristotelian eudaimonism has resources to justify a mixed cosmopolitan conception of the common good that combines universal scope and variable weight.  If Broad’s reservations about Sidgwick’s utilitarianism are correct, mixed cosmopolitanism may be cosmopolitanism enough.

April 9, 16:30 – 18:00 Christine Tiefensee (Bamberg) ‘A Dilemma for Metaethical Inferentialists’



It has recently been suggested that metaethical debate must be fundamentally re-framed. Instead of carving out metaethical differences in representational terms, appealing to notions such as truth, belief and representation, Matthew Chrisman in particular has argued that metaethics should be given an inferentialist footing. In this talk, I will cast doubt on Chrisman’s proposal by confronting metaethical inferentialists with the following dilemma: Either, they stay true to inferentialism but cannot save the metaethical differences. Or they succeed in putting metaethical demarcation lines back into place, but now end up merely rehashing orthodox metaethical debates, rather than providing a novel approach to metaethics. I will conclude by considering what we can learn from this dilemma about the dialectic behind the development of inferentialist metaethics.

Wednesday, March 26th 2014, 16:30 – 18:00 Tom Bates, University of Leiden

‘Mixed versus Moderate Traits: On the Evaluative Status of Empirically Sound Character’

Location: CZ 118



In a recent pair of books Christian Miller has argued for an empirically robust theory of moral character, which he calls the ‘Mixed Traits’ view. These traits are mixed in the sense that they have a mixed evaluative valence, a rather novel idea which does not clearly match with a pre-theoretical view of character. In this paper I will argue that the challenge of squaring psychological findings about personality and behaviour with pre-theoretical ideas about moral character does not require such a radical account. The challenge of situationism can be met if we give consideration to the role of moderate character traits. I will show why moderate traits can meet the empirical challenge, and why this model is preferable to the mixed traits account. 



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