CANCELLED: Murray Shanahan ‘Conscious Exotica’, 23rd March 2016

Owing to the ongoing travel disruption in Brussels following the terrorist attacks on March 22 this event has been postponed. The meeting on the 23rd is cancelled and will be re-scheduled.

Title: ‘Conscious Exotica’

Venue: Dante Building Room 003

Professor Murray Shanahan is Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College, London, the author of The Technological Singularity and was the scientific advisor to the film ‘Ex Machina’. In his talk he will discuss consciousness and AI:


In the film Ex Machina, Caleb comes to see the robot Ava as a conscious being by interacting with her. In Wittgensteinian terms, it is not so much that he forms the opinion that she is no mere automaton. Rather, he comes to adopt the same attitude towards her that he takes towards a fellow conscious creature. However, in one sense this is an easy step to take. Her behaviour is very human-like. But suppose we encountered an exotic complex dynamical system – an extraterrestrial intelligence, say, or a sophisticated AI that has undergone a great deal of evolution or self-modification – something utterly alien. Could we determine whether or not that system, or any part of it, was conscious? Could we establish whether or not it was morally acceptable to experiment on the system, to destroy it, or to turn it off? Do these questions even make sense?

Murray Shanahan discusses paths to human level A



Edward Harcourt, Ethics Colloquium; 17-2-16, 16:45–18:30


‘Mental Health’ and Human Excellence

Wednesday 17th February 

Dante Building Room 006


The paper concerns two familiar lines of inquiry: one, stemming from a neo-Aristotelian naturalism associated with Foot and others, asks whether we can derive a catalogue of human excellences from what humans need in order to be some way. The second asks whether (as Plato said) virtue is a kind of health, and vice a kind of illness. The first is often seen as a failure to the extent that it does not enable us to derive a list of moral virtues. But the concept of human excellence is many-layered, so the fact that Foot’s approach may not succeed for moral virtues does not show that it is no good for anything. The kinds of psychological characteristic derived from a more liberal application of Foot’s approach may also help to give non-trivial answers to the second, Platonic line of inquiry.

Rawls, Piketty and the ‘New Inequality’

Paper now available here:


Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, University of Milan September 15th


Tuesday September 15, Room ASCLEPIO (Dibit 1, Ground Floor)

9.15-9.30 Greetings and Introduction (Roberto Mordacci, Vanessa De Luca)

  • 30- 13.00 Session 1: Alan Thomas, Lorenzo Greco, Stefano Virgilio

9.30- 10.15 Alan Thomas (Tilburg University) “Williams on Virtue and Authenticity”

10.15- 10.45 Discussion

10.45-11.00 coffee break

11.00-11.45 Lorenzo Greco (Oxford University) “Making Sense of Williams’ Humanism: Between Ethics and Politics”

11.45- 12.15 Discussion

12.15- 12.30 Stefano Virgilio (PhD Student Università La Sapienza di Roma) “Philosophy and the Limits of Science: 30 years after ELP”

12.30- 12.45 Discussion

12.45- 13.45 Lunch and Coffee

  • 00-18.00 Session 2: Carla Bagnoli, Roberto Mordacci, Vanessa De Luca

14.00-14.45 Carla Bagnoli (Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia/ Oslo University) “Shame and Responsibility”

14.45- 15.15 Discussion

15.15-15.30 Coffee break

15.30-16.15 Roberto Mordacci (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele) “From Analysis to Genealogy. Bernard Williams and the End of the Analytic-Continental Dichotomy”

16.15-16.45 Discussion

16.45- 17.00 Vanessa De Luca (PhD Student Université Paris 1 Phantéon Sorbonne/Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele) “Conclusions: the Legacy of ELP”

17.00-18.00 Panel Discussion on Bernard Williams’ Legacy

Alan Thomas Humanities Research Centre, ANU, August 11th, 2015


‘A Republican Theory of Linguistic Justice’

In the first book length defense of a justice-based approach to linguistic policy in Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World Philippe Van Parijs defended two claims: that we ought to encourage the spread of English as a global lingua franca and that each language group is entitled to “official monolingualism” in its own territory. In this paper I will focus on the first argument and argue that it depends too closely on the particular form of Van Parijs’s commitment to a cosmopolitan theory of global justice. In this lecture it will be argued that an alternative, liberal-republican, theory of global justice will give us more plausible results when applied to linguistic policy than Van Parijs’s combination of luck egalitarianism and cosmopolitanism.

Julius Stone Institute, School of Law, Sydney University, Alan Thomas, ‘Rawls, Piketty and the New Inequality’.

Symposium: Republic of Equals by Alan Thomas, University of Rijeka, June 9th

Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, Sveučilišna avenija 4, Rijeka, room 401


14.00 – 14.50 Precis:  Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-Owning Democracy

Alan Thomas

15.00 – 15.50 Republic of Equalities

David Owen

16.00 – 16.50 Is liberal market socialism exploitative?

Man Kong Li

17.00 – 17.20 Coffee break
17.20 – 18.10 Welfare States and Property Owning Democracies: an Unfair Comparison?

Zlata Božac

18.20 – 19.10 Assessing the Notion of Reasonable Envy in Thomas’s Liberal Republicanism

Viktor Ivanković

19.20 – 20.10 What Is to Be Free and Equal?

Elvio Baccarini

One Day Workshop: Moral Particularism in Bioethics June 3, 2015


Moral particularism is the view that moral judgement is not best modelled as the grasp of a finite set of finite principles. Yet in bioethics principled models of ethical judgement (such as the Beauchamp and Childress ‘Four Principles’ model) are dominant. What would be the result of incorporating a particularist understanding of ethical judgement into bioethics? Would this complement the methodological critique of evidence based medicine developed, for example, by Nancy Cartwright? In this one day workshop a team of researchers from across Europe discuss how incorporating the insights of particularism might transform our conception of medical practice and its methodological basis – both evidential and practical.

There is no conference fee and staff and students of any University are welcome to attend – as are healthcare professionals. If you plan to attend please contact the local workshop organiser at

a.thomas [at]

Venue: Tias Nimbus Business School, Room 4

Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands


09:45–10:45 Alan Thomas [Tilburg University] ‘Particularism and Group Agency’.

10:45–11:00 Coffee

11:00–12:00 Anna Zielinska [University of Paris] ’Where do Your Reasons come from? The Sources of Normativity in Biomedical Research’.

12:00–13:00 Anne Raustol [Diakonhjemmet University College, Oslo] ‘Compassion and Practical Reasoning in the Health Care Professions’.

13:00–14:00 Lunch

14:00–15:00 Ulrik Kihlbom [University of Uppsala] ‘Understanding and evaluation of side-effect in hard treatment decision related to leukaemia’.

15:00–16:00 Emma Bullock [Central European University, Budapest] ‘Virtue Paternalism and Therapeutic Practice’.

16:00–16:15 Coffee

16:15–17:15 Anna Bergqvist (Manchester Metropolitan University)  ‘Particularism and Idiographic Understanding: Re-assessing Value and Perspective in Comprehensive Diagnosis’.

17:15-18:00 Round table – Future Plans for Network Collaboration

Alan Thomas: Colloquium University of Missouri-St Louis May 1, Clark 305, 3:45 p.m.

‘Rawls, 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 – 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.