Prejudice as an obstacle to understanding other people

University of Vienna, January 2020

The topic of my lecture is the negative influence of prejudices on the understanding of other people. An analysis of prejudices can be done from different perspectives. In my lecture I distinguish between (a) a purely cognitive, (b) an affective-cognitive and (c) a social-cognitive conception of prejudice. Likewise, the understanding of persons can be differentiated into three areas: (i) the understanding of thoughts and feelings; (ii) the understanding of reasons for action, and (iii) the understanding of general and individual personality traits. The aim of my presentation is to clarify how prejudices according to the three concepts mentioned above affect the three areas of understanding other people.


What is a prejudice? A psychological-epistemic analysis à la Twardowski

The Legacy of Kazimierz Twardowski, Warsaw, October 2019

It is well known that there are many prejudices and that their explanation requires a complex analysis of social, cultural, historical and political causes. Are prejudices therefore a complex phenomenon only because of their origin or are there other reasons for it? In this lecture I will point to another complexity that is purely conceptual. Already at the beginning of the 20th century, Kazimierz Twardowski remarked that the concept of prejudice contains both a psychological and an epistemic component. This conceptual complexity has received little attention so far. The aim of my lecture is to further refine the two-component analysis proposed by Twardowski in the light of recent work in social psychology and social epistemology and thus to demonstrate its significance for an empirically founded understanding of prejudices. 


Brentano' Foundationalism: Phenomenological and Analytical Perspectives.

Society for the study of the History of Analytic Philosophy, Hamilton, June 2018

Empirical knowledge, according to Brentano, rests on two kinds of judgements: judgements concerning our present mental acts and judgements concerning the laws governing mental processes. In putting forward this view, Brentano relies on a conception of self-evidence to support classical epistemic foundationalism. In this paper, I revisit Brentano's view and some of the problems it gives rise to. Two ways of responding to these problems will be considered: Those attracted to Phenomenology may consider replacing Brentano's conception of self-evidence with a weaker notion of self-awareness. In my view, a better response is to change the format of epistemic foundationalism and to develop Brentano's foundationalism into a version of internal reliabilism.


How we know the mind. The case for basic Knowledge

Salzburg Colloquium, December 5, 2017

Abstract: How do we know that we are not just instinct-driven bodily creatures, but subjects with a complex mind? In recent years, a vigorous debate about the nature of our mindreading abilities has uncovered a variety of possible answers to that question. Minds may know other minds as well as their own mental states either by theorizing, by simulation, by direct perception, by interpersonal engagement, by narrative practice, or by creating a person model. In this talk, I will not adjudicate between these proposals as far as the question goes how we form beliefs about mental phenomena. My goal is to argue for a much leaner answer to the question which of these beliefs might count as knowledge. When it comes to knowing our minds, a theory of basic knowledge has clear advantages: (i) it strikes a balance between a rich knowledge and a minimal knowledge view, (ii) it has explanatory power in developmental psychology, and (iii) it has fruitful applications in philosophy of mind.


Three goals in Brentano's project of renewing philosophy

Brentano Conference, Graz, October 6, 2017

Abstract: This talk reconsiders Brentano's plan for a basic renewal of philosophy. My aim is to show that the project involved three different goals: the revival of Aristotle's world-view, the restoration of philosophy's scientific reputation, and the provision of a rational foundation for theism. After examining how Brentano conceived of these goals, I discuss possible connections and tensions between them.


Why language matters to self-consciousness. The Conceptual and the Narrative Route

SOPHIA, Salzburg, September 14, 2017

Abstract: Language can be used for communication but also in cognition when one forms discursive thoughts. That observation leads to the suggestion that language may also have a formative influence on our reflective self-awareness. But how exactly should we understand that influence? In this talk I will examine two routes one can take in answering that question. The first line takes its inspiration from the idea that one acquires a self-concept by acquiring the competence to use the first-person pronoun. This proposal has much to be said for it, but it also has its limits. It leaves us in the dark about the way in which a linguistic self-concept differs from a self-file or a self-notion that may be constructed without employing linguistic means. The question then arises whether we can do better by following a second line. According to the narrative approach, self-awareness takes a reflective turn when one learns to see oneself as the protagonist in a story. I will argue that the idea of a "narrative self" can be developed without implying strong - and implausible - claims about self-constitution that are often associated with this idea.


How to Avoid Intellectualism in the Epistemology of Perception: A Neo-Brentanian Approach

35th International Wittgenstein Symposium, Kirchberg am Wechsel, August 2017

Abstract: According to intellectualism, we are justified in our perceptual beliefs because we form such beliefs in a highly reflective manner by reasoning about the content of our perceptual experiences. In this talk, I will sketch a plan for avoiding such intellectualism by drawing on the resources in Brentano's psychology. These resources are, first, Brentano's intentional analysis of sensory experiences and, secondly, his non-propositional theory of judgment. Staying clear from exegetical issues, I will offer what I take to be the most charitable interpretation of Brentano's views. More is needed, however, to cope with the problem of the Given. In the second part of my talk, I propose two additions to Brentano's theory: an action-based interpretation of pre-reflective self-awareness and an internalist reliabilist principle of epistemic justification.


Minimally Reflective Minds: A Challenge to Radical Enactivism

ECAP9, Munich, August 23, 2017

Abstract: The term "mental" is an art term that is implicitly defined by whatever theory of mental states (processes and events) one employs. Enactivism defines mental states at a basic level in terms of well-adapted and flexible forms of interaction with reality. As Hutto and Myin put it: "Sapience and sentience emerge through repeated processes of organismic engagement with environmental offerings." (D. Hutto and E. Myin: Radicalizing Enactivism 2013, 8). Radical forms of enactivism and embodied cognition make a stronger claim, when they present themselves as an alternative to a representational understanding of mental states. Hutto and Myin classify their view as a "non-representational form of teleo-functionalism (ibid. 1). Similarly, dynamical system theorists claim that mental representations are not among the tools needed for explaining embodied cognition (A. Chemero: Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. MIT Press 2009, 29). In this talk, I offer a partial defence of representationalism against the enactivist challenge. My defence is partial in allowing that there are basic forms of directedness and phenomenality that one can explain without positing mental representations. Yet I will argue that radical enactivists overstate their case when they purport to show that mental representations only come into play at the highest level of reflectivity.


Brentano on Judgement and Truth

Brentano Summer School, Prague, May 28, 2017

Abstract: I first summarize the main ideas of Brentano's theory of judgement and truth respectively. I then consider the desiderata that Brentano postulates in each case, and how he tries to satisfy them. Finally, I formulate some additional desiderata that one might raise for each theory and consider alternative proposals how one might meet them by modifying Brentano's theories.