AAP Postgraduate Presentation Prize

Since 2015 the AAP offers a $500 prize for the best paper presented by a postgraduate student at the annual Conference. The prize is offered to encourage postgraduates to present at the Conference, and to recognise the philosophical contributions from excellent Australasian postgraduate students.

  2017 Short List 

Nicole Brancazio - University of Wollongong

The Extensive Reach of Gender: Agency and Interaction

Enactivism is the position that cognition is a dynamic relationship between an agent and the environment. On this framework, agency can be thought of as ongoing, action-oriented, and phenomenologically fundamental. My concern in this paper will be the way that gender structures agency on an enactive framework. First, I will look at two kinds of agency: minimal agency and narrative agency (Gallagher 2012), which roughly correspond to work on minimal and narrative selves (Zahavi 2010). Next I will explain the influence of narrative agency on minimal agency through work on intention-formation. After a discussion of the role of gender in narratives, I’ll offer three ways in which gender can be said to influence the minimal sense of agency.

Vincent Le - Deakin University

Reading Descartes’ Modern Break as a Return to Augustine

Descartes is often interpreted as having decisively broken from medieval philosophy’s appeals to scripture by turning to rational demonstrations (Gaukroger 1995). Nonetheless, several commentators maintain that this reading overlooks Augustine’s influence on Descartes (Menn 2002). This paper reconciles these views by showing how Descartes is modern BECAUSE he is medieval. We begin by elucidating how both readings overlook that medieval philosophy is not homogenous, but divided between two traditions of Augustinianism and Thomism. We will therefore recapitulate Augustine’s Neo-Platonic arguments for God’s existence by doubting his own, only to affirm himself as a doubting thing, and verify God as the superior standard after which we strive. We then examine why Aquinas appropriates Aristotle’s empirico-analogical method of inferring God’s existence from his sensible traces. By clarifying how Augustine methodologically differs from Aquinas, we shall demonstrate that Descartes breaks with Aquinas’ empiricism—albeit, only by returning to Augustine’s even more ancient rationalism.

Adam Piovarchy -  University of Sydney

Responsibility and Obedience to Authority

Milgram’s (1963) Obedience to Authority experiments have shown that 65% of people will electrocute a stranger to death when instructed to do so by an authority figure. Most philosophers agree subjects in these settings are morally responsible for their actions. This paper will argue for two conclusions. First, there is empirical evidence that if minor changes were made to Milgram’s setup, 95% of people would obey in such settings. As a result, the original 65% figure should not be treated as a maximum possible obedience rate, but simply the highest demonstrated rate so far. Second, observing this higher obedience rate makes it inappropriate for almost anyone in the moral community to hold the obedient subjects responsible for their actions, despite subjects still being morally responsible for their actions. This is because we lack the standing to hold someone responsible for something that we ourselves would have done.

Lachlan Walmsley - Australian National University

Minimally Mechanistic Explanation: Lessons from the true slime mould Physarum polycephalum

The basic mechanistic approach to explanation assumes that target systems have a spatiotemporal organisation similar to that of a classical machine like a car engine or watch. Many biological systems, like Physarum polycephalum, are importantly unlike these machines. Derek Skillings argues that classical machines score high on measures of isolability, organisation, and sequentiality, while systems like Physarum score low. He then distinguishes between paradigm cases (high scorers) and marginal cases (low scorers). On this view, Physarum is, at best, a marginal case and looks ill-suited to mechanistic explanation. In this paper, I take another approach to mechanistic explanation, which I call minimally mechanistic explanation. These are defined by properties of mechanistic explanations rather than the properties of their target systems. Minimally mechanistic explanations are decompositional, causal, spatial, and world-facing. This framework fits some marginal cases, like predator-prey dynamics as easily as it does paradigm cases, but still struggles with Physarum.

Hayden WilkinsonAustralian National University

Expending with expansionism

When faced with infinite total value, as in the universe we inhabit, consequentialist moral theories appear to imply nihilism [Nelson 1991; Smith 2003; Bostrom 2011]. To retain some form of consequentialism then, but avoid nihilism, we must somehow modify our theory to hold up in infinite settings without departing too much from our basic intuitions. Foremost among the modifications so far proposed is the expansionist approach of Vallentyne and Kagan [1997] and also Arntzenius [2014]. Although expansionist theories do make judgements which are plausibly true, this paper demonstrates that, when applied in situations involving relativity, they entail a difficult trilemma. They require that we accept: a peculiar form of moral relativism; the impossibility of completeness; or the dismissal of transitivity, whereby agents are permitted to make the world strictly worse by being morally Dutch-Booked. None of these options allow for a viable moral theory, and expansionism therefore fails to rescue consequentialism from its infinitarian plight.

  2016 Winner

Stephen Gadsby - Macquarie University

'Anorexia Nervosa and the Oversized Experience'

  2016 Short List 

Stephen Gadsby - Macquarie University

Anorexia Nervosa and the Oversized Experience

"Anorexia Nervosa patients have a distorted experience of their body size. In the Anorexia literature this ‘oversized experience’ is referred to as a ‘body image disturbance’. Recently, new evidence has surfaced showing Anorexia patients have a distortion in their body schemas, a body representation used for motor control and planning. In this paper I discuss this new evidence and explore what kind of ‘oversized experience’ it results in. I argue it causes Anorexia patients to experience their bodies as oversized through the faulty perception of affordances in their environments. This reconceptualised ‘oversized experience’ cannot be captured by the term ‘body image disturbance’.

I also argue that propositional attitude formation in Anorexia can be accounted for with an empiricist model. Adopted from the literature on monothematic delusions, empiricist models explain abnormal beliefs as grounded in abnormal experiences. I argue that the propositional attitudes Anorexia patients have about their body size are grounded in the oversized experience."

Adam Piovarchy - University of Sydney

'Blaming the Excused: Reactive Attitudes and Causal Responsibility'

Recently, Doris and Murphy (2007) have argued that the soldiers involved in committing atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison and in the My Lai massacre may have been cognitively degraded, and if so should be excused for their actions. Talbert (2009) has responded that even if this argument is successful, on a reactive attitudes approach to moral responsibility the soldiers are still responsible for their actions as they are appropriate targets of our reactive attitudes. In this paper, I will resolve this tension. I will argue that Talbert has misdiagnosed the target of our reactive attitudes. By reflecting on arguments regarding William’s lorry driver (1981) I argue reflection on our moral practices reveals that mere causal responsibility is sufficient for the imposition of new duties of reparation. If an agent fails in these new duties, they thereby display poor quality of will to the victim, and are thus fitting targets of the reactive attitudes.

Lachlan Walmsley - Australian National University

'Please Explain – Radical Enactivism’s Explanatory Debt'

Radical Enactivism (Hutto & Myin 2013) is a position in the philosophy of cognitive science that aims to displace representationalism, the dominant position in cognitive science for the last 50-60 years. To accomplishing this aim, radical enactivism must provide an alternative explanation of cognition. Radical enactivism offers two alternative explanations of cognition. The first I call the dynamical explanation and the second I call the historical explanation. The mechanists have given us reasons for doubting that the first alternative makes for a good explanation (e.g. (Kaplan 2015; Kaplan & Bechtel 2011). The historical explanation does not hit the right explanatory target without the introduction of a proximate mechanism, but the proximate mechanisms suggested by radical enactivism are associationist mechanisms, the limitations of which led to the intial widespread endorsement of representationalism. Therefore, radical enactivism cannot displace representationalism in cognitive science.

  2015 winner

Tristram Oliver-Skuse - University of Melbourne

'Anger Felt towards a Bin-Licking Dog'

This paper offers a defence of Peter Goldie's notion of emotions as 'feeling-towards' to suggest an account of phenomenology as grounding emotional intentionality in a way that does not rule out the possibility of our emotions being opaque to us.

Download a copy of this paper 

  2015 Short List 

Ross Pain  La Trobe University

'A Metalinguistic Defence of Strong Deflationism'

Linus Huang University of Sydney

'The Nativist Input Problem: Why Evolutionary Psychology Still Can't Explain Human Intelligence'

Millicent ChurcherUniversity of Sydney

'Beyond Empathy: Adam Smith on the Sympathetic Imagination'

Tristram Oliver-Skuse, Linus Huang, and Millicent Churcher at 2015 AAP Conference at Macquarie University. 
Photos : Kelly Hamilton.


To be eligible, applicants must be members of the AAP in good standing and enrolled in an Australasian* Higher Degree Research (HDR) Philosophy program, pursuing either a PhD or a Masters by Research. Applicants cannot submit more than one paper in any given year, and all papers must conform to the word limit and be properly prepared for blind review. Previously published papers are not eligible.

*Australasia includes the regions of the Association - Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Applications for the 2016 Postgraduate Presentation Prize will open in February 2017 when registration opens for the 2017 AAP Conference.

1. Applicants are asked to submit a full paper of 3000-5000 words, by email, as pdf attachments, prepared for blind review. The body of email should including details confirming your status as an HDR student in an Australasian philosophy program.

2. At the same time, submit an abstract to the conference via the normal system.

After the deadline, a judging panel will review all submissions and select a short-list of entries. Shortlisted applicants will have their conference fees waived, and will be invited to attend the conference dinner free of charge.

©Australasian Association of Philosophy
ACN 152 892 272
ABN 29
152 892 272
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software