2018 Keynote Speakers 

Serene Khader 

CUNY and Brooklyn College

'Toward A Prescriptive Transnational Feminism'

I argue we can make progress in three contemporary debates in cross-cultural feminisms by a) clarifying the normative commitments central to feminism and b) rethinking the role of normative ideals in transnational political practices. Understanding feminism as opposition to sexist oppression unthethers feminism from commitments to controversial forms of individualism and antitraditionalism. Understanding transnational feminist praxis as a practice of nonideal justice-enhancement permits a universalist feminist position that is not monist about the endpoint of gender justice or the strategies that should be taken to achieve it.

Serene Khader will also deliver the 2018 Alan Saunders Lecture, 

this year held conjointly with the Maurice Goldsmith Lecture.

Amie Thomasson

Dartmouth College

'Reconceiving Metaphysics'

Taking metaphysical debates at face value—as deep disputes about what exists or about the modal features of the world—runs into formidable and familiar epistemological problems, along with the threat of a rivalry with science, and of a despairing skepticism. Elsewhere,  I have developed an alternative ‘easy’ approach to addressing existence questions and modal questions in metaphysics. But such deflationary views are often accused of being unable to make sense of what disputants are up to, or to account for the apparent depth, difficulty and importance of classic metaphysical debates. Here I will lay  out an alternative positive conception of metaphysics. I argue that there is room for the deflationist to make more interesting and robust sense of what disputants (at least in many classic debates) have been up to, and of what we can legitimately be up to when we do metaphysics, without giving up epistemological and methodological clarity. For many disputes (taken in what Carnap would have considered an ‘external’ sense) can be seen as implicitly engaged in a form of conceptual negotiation—where that in turn does not rely on ‘discoveries’ of ‘metaphysical facts’. Thinking of ‘deep’ metaphysics as tacitly engaged in conceptual negotiation still enables us to demystify the epistemology of metaphysics, while avoiding both rivalry with science and skeptical despair. Yet it also preserves a sense of the difficulty, depth, and importance of work that we can do, when we do metaphysics.

Timothy Williamson


'Semantics and Heuristics'

Psychologists have long been used to the idea that unreflective human judgments often rely on fallible heuristics, which are reliable under normal conditions but result in predictable errors in various other circumstances. It is not clear how far this phenomenon is taken into account by the current methodology in the semantics of natural language, where theorists are typically very willing to complicate putative truth-conditions in order to avoid ascribing systematic error to speakers, especially when the latter would not recognise the alleged error on having it pointed out. 

One example is the high status of tolerance principles in many discussions of vagueness: although they generate sorites paradoxes, acceptance of them has often been claimed to be constitutive of understanding vague terms. Yet even if tolerance principles are false, most of their instances will be true, so they would make good heuristics.

Another example concerns conditionals. Arguably, our primary way of assessing a conditional is by assessing its consequent under the supposition of its consequent: more specifically, whatever attitude we take to some propositions conditional on a supposition, we take unconditionally to the conditionals with that supposition as their antecedent and those further propositions as their consequents (this is closely related to the Ramsey test). Yet following that procedure all-out can be shown to lead us into contradiction, not least when considering conditionals with inconsistent antecedents. The suppositional procedure may be just a fallible heuristic. This has serious repercussions for supposed examples of counterpossibles (conditionals with impossible antecedents) that are not vacuously true, which have been used to motivate invoking impossible worlds.

More generally, the possibility of such fallible heuristics is damaging for a naïve falsificationist methodology in semantics. What can take its place? A model-building methodology holds out some promise.  

Simon Keller

Victoria University of Wellington

NZAP Presidential Address. 

'Putting Mental Health in Its Place'

“Positive mental health” is an increasingly prominent value in public policy, medicine, and popular culture. Positive mental health involves more than the absence of recognized mental disorders; it is taken to be a fairly specific desirable state in which a mind can be. The practice of mental health, however, runs far ahead of theory, with researchers in different fields offering very different theories and making very different assumptions about what mental health is and why it is valuable (if it is). I distinguish and assess the main standing claims about the nature of positive mental health, and then use to them to provide motivation for my own view. Mental health, I argue, is best understood as a kind of resource: you are mentally healthy if you possess the basic mental attributes that make you most likely to live a good human life. It follows, I argue, that positive mental health is a deeply moral notion, the value of mental health is great but largely instrumental, whether you are mentally healthy depends on what forms of the good life are available in your place and time, there can be good reasons to prefer not to be mentally healthy, and there is a good case for making positive mental health a direct concern of distributive justice.

Fred Kroon

University of Auckland

2018 Presidential Address

‘Existence and Descriptivism’

The problem of how to analyse singular claims of non-existence continues to be hotly debated.  Russell’s way of understanding such claims was widely accepted for much of the 20th century, but there is now a strong consensus that Russell was wrong: wrong in the descriptivism that guided his analysis, wrong to think that existence is not a property of objects.  In some ways the second mistake is the more fundamental.  Even if one has a version of descriptivism about names that answers familiar anti-descriptivist arguments, plugging that into Russell’s theory only helps with the simplest claims of non-existence.  It is of little help with the many claims of non-existence that seem to imply that there are things that don’t exist.  In this paper I review where Russell went wrong, and argue that, with some massaging, a rather more plausible view emerges, one that even allows for a non-Meinongian sense in which some things don’t exist. 

Fred Kroon is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Auckland.  His research interests lie in formal and philosophical logic, philosophy of language, metaphysics, and epistemology, and he has authored papers in these and other areas for a range of journals, including The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, The Philosophical Review, Ethics, The Journal of Philosophy, and Noûs.  His current research is mainly focused on the theory of reference, and the philosophy of fiction and fictionalism.  He is on the editorial board of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, and was a foundation consulting editor for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, where he is currently a subject editor for 20th Century Philosophy. He holds the MA from the University of Auckland and the PhD from Princeton University.

New Zealand Association of Philosophy

Australasian Association of Philosophy

2 0 1 8  C o n f e r e n c e

8  -  1 2   J U L Y 

Victoria University of Wellington

N E W  Z E A L A N D


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