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19th Annual Graduate Philosophy Conference: “Reconstructing Reason: Developing the concept of reason through history”

Friday November 15, 2019 - Saturday November 16, 2019

Download the conference programme (pdf) and conference poster (pdf), created by Katherine Crone

The 19th Annual University of Toronto Graduate Philosophy Conference, Reconstructing Reason: Developing the concept of reason through history, will host graduate students working in all areas in philosophy that relate to the conference’s main themes. Please visit the philevents page for the conference CFP and submission requirements

Keynote Speakers

  • Robert B. Brandom (University of Pittsburgh). Robert Brandom works in the philosophy of language, logic, German idealism, and neo-pragmatism. His theory of reasoning known as “inferentialism” has been widely influential both inside and outside the discipline and treats many of the leading issues in contemporary philosophy in a way that is both systematic and historically illuminating. Dr. Brandom’s most recent book, A Spirit of Trust, gives a new and provocative interpretation of the distinctively social and historical development of reason in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.
  • Susan Haack (University of Miami). Susan Haack is a leading figure in the philosophy of science, language, logic, and epistemology. Her work – deeply influenced by the American pragmatist tradition – encompasses both philosophical and legal concerns regarding the nature of evidence, belief, reasoning, and truth. Her books include Defending Science—Within Reason and Evidence Matters: Science, Proof, and Truth in the Law. Dr. Haack’s recent work documents the fascinating way social and historical circumstances influence the development of the meaning of scientific and legal concepts and shows how this tendency can inform our understanding of rationality.

Conference Schedule

 All talks held in the Jackman Humanities Building (170 St. George Street)

DAY 1: Friday, November 15 – Room 418

12:00pm – 12:15pm Greeting and Opening Remarks by conference organizers, Sean Dudley & Matthew Delhey
12:15pm – 1:15pm Bianca Crewe (University of British Columbia)
“Ideology and the Politics of Reason in Early Analytic Philosophy”

Comments by Greg Horne (University of Toronto)

1:30pm – 2:30pm Lucian Ionel (University of Pittsburgh) “Reason: substantive and adverbial”

Comments by Sean Dudley (University of Toronto)

2:45pm – 3:45pm Joshua Brecka (Ryerson University) “Lewis Carrol on Reasoning”

Comments by Matthew Delhey (University of Toronto)

4:00pm – 5:00pm Erik Nelson (Dalhousie University) “What Reason Requires for Morality: A Kantian Approach to Proto-Morality in Nonhuman Animals”

Comments by Katherine Crone (University of Toronto)

5:00pm – 6:30pm Keynote: Susan Haack (University of Miami) “Reconceptualizing Rationality: The Growth of Meaning and the Limits of Formalism”
6:30pm – 9:00pm Reception (Philosophy Department, Jackman Humanities Building Room 417 & 418)

DAY 2: Saturday, November 16 – Room 100

9:30am—10:00am Coffee & Pastries
10:00am—11:00am Eskil Elling (Northwestern University) “Montaigne and the Problem of Skeptical Subjectivity”

Comments by Alexandra Gustafson (University of Toronto)

11:15am—12:15pm David Kretz (University of Chicago) “Translation Action at the End of a World”

Comments by Kristen Beard (University of Toronto)

12:15pm—1:45pm Lunch (Catered)
1:45pm—2:45pm Rebecca Harrison (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) “Railton on Responding to Reasons”

Comments by Paolo Camporese (McMaster University)

3:00pm—4:00pm Caroline Bowman (New York University) “Hegel’s Account of Social Freedom”

Comments by Dylan Shaul (University of Toronto)

4:30—6:00pm Keynote: Robert Brandom (University of Pittsburgh) “Magnanimity, Heroism, and Agency: Recognition as Recollection in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit”
7:00pm—9:00pm Banquet Dinner @ Via Mercanti (87 Elm St. Toronto, ON M5G 1X8) Link to directions

Conference Description

What is reason? The concept of reason has been central to the practice and self-conception of philosophy throughout its history. And yet, the way philosophers have understood this concept has changed dramatically over time.

In the ancient and medieval traditions, reason, or logos was regarded both as a principle of thought and as a principle of being. To philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, the activity of reasoning was not merely the preferred method of philosophy but was seen equally to be its highest aim and purpose. Through reasoning one could partake in the thoughts of the divine and comprehend the true nature of reality. This traditional conception was radically transformed in the early modern period, first at the hands of thinkers like Galileo and Descartes, and later in a more complete way by Kant, as the idea of reason as a constitutive principle of the world was replaced with a conception of reason as a merely human, purely regulative faculty giving form and unity to the otherwise unstructured data of experience. This revisionary, largely deflationary, trend has continued since the middle of the nineteenth century as a chain of discoveries in fields as diverse as evolutionary biology, anthropology, physics and mathematics has cast doubt on the existence of a distinct faculty of the mind, “reason,” that ought to be afforded ultimate authority in matters of human knowledge and conduct.

Although philosophers today cannot avoid speaking of “reason,” “reasoning” and “the reasons for things” there is little consensus about how such concepts fit together systematically. Indeed, many suggest that the hope for any such systematic unity is misplaced. Where reason once named a faculty it now names an imperfect, socio-biological mechanism whose function is determined not by directedness towards truth but towards adaptive advantage. Where reason once named a system of universally binding norms, it now names a plurality of frameworks, formal languages, codified practices, and “styles” of reasoning, many of which are either incompatible or incommensurable with our own contemporary practices.

What are the implications of viewing the history of philosophy and the shift in our understanding of the concept of reason in this way? What attitude should the contemporary philosopher adopt towards the epistemic status of her own claims when viewed as products of shifting historical circumstance? How are we to understand the transitions between distinct rational practices? Are their causes rational or irrational? Does viewing the history of reason in the way sketched here preclude us from casting judgment on matters of historical injustice? How have philosophers in the past thought about the historical dimension of reason? What opportunities are available for methodological collaborations between philosophers, historians, and scholars from other disciplines concerning the history of the concept of reason?

Our conference addresses these and many other exciting questions.

For all inquiries, please, contact Sean Dudley at torontophilgradconf@gmail.com.


We are committed to having an accessible and inclusive conference. For information on access, including venue location and physical accessibility, visit our conference website or email torontophilgradconf@gmail.com.




Friday November 15, 2019
Saturday November 16, 2019
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