Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Professor Heather Widdows to Speak at Two Events - 21st and 22nd November 2014

One of our own professors, Professor Heather Widdows, will be speaking at two events this weekend. The first on global health and the second on her new project 'Perfect Me!' which considers the dominant beauty ideal, its demands and implications.

Her first talk is on Friday as part of a conference organised in Birmingham's Law School by the Centre for Health Law, Science and Policy, in response to a presentation entitled Global Health Law, by Larry Gostin. Heather's talk is titled, ‘Global health justice and the right to health’. And in it she reflects on whether Larry’s broadly communal vision of global health justice is well served by making the right to health central to his project. She considers some of the reasons why rights-talk might be problematic in the context of health justice; namely, structurally, rights are individual and state-centric and politically they are oppositional and better suited to single-issue campaigns. She will suggest that stripping rights of their individualist assumptions is difficult, and perhaps impossible, and hence alternative approaches, such as those Larry endorses, based on public goods and/or security might deliver much, perhaps most, global health goods, while avoiding the problems of rights-talk.

Details of the conference can be found here:

You might also be interested in hearing Larry speak on ‘Ebloa: Towards an International Health Systems Fund’. This is a public lecture on Friday 21st November (5.30-7.30) – all are very welcome.

To register visit:

Heather's second talk is on Saturday in London at Conway Hall in London. Her talk about beauty and happiness, is entitled, ‘More Perfect, More Happy?’. Here she will  consider whether and in what ways appearance and body image – being perfect – is connected to happiness. A current prevalent assumption is that those who are more perfect will be happier. Many women (and men) judge themselves and others on how much they ‘fit’ the dominant ideal, on how perfect they are, and their sense of self often follows from this. That being perfect connects to being happy is often assumed: ‘if I’m thinner, prettier, sexier s/he’ll love me more’ or ‘if I was ten pounds lighter, I’d be happier with myself and my life would go better’. This talk is part of her wider project on beauty and research for the book she is currently writing called ‘Perfect Me!’ (for Princeton University Press). The other two speakers are very impressive: Professor Lord Layard, (co-editor of co-edited the 2012 World Happiness Report), and Professor Elaine Fox (author of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain).

For more information on this event go to:

Friday, 7 November 2014

Philosophy of Mind and Psychology Reading Group -- The Predictive Mind chapter 9

Chloë FitzGerald
Welcome to the Philosophy of Mind and Psychology Reading Group hosted by the Philosophy@Birmingham blog.

This month, Chloë FitzGerald introduces chapter 9 of Jakob Hohwy's The Predictive Mind (OUP, 2013). Chloë is postdoctoral Fellow on the project Understanding Implicit Bias in Clinical Care at iEH2 (institut Ethique Histoire Humanités), Centre Médical Universitaire, Université de Genève.

Chapter 9 - Precision, Attention and Consciousness
Presented by Chloë FitzGerald

In Chapter 9, Hohwy describes how the PEM framework can be used to explain the functional role of attention and to illuminate the relation of attention to conscious perception. He claims that the PEM theory of attention is the best explanation we currently have of attention.

Hohwy’s account follows Karl Friston and colleagues’ proposal that ‘attention is just optimization of precisions in hierarchical prediction error minimization’ (p. 194). The sensory signals received by the brain vary in how reliable they are and this variability needs to be gauged to enable perceptual inferences to work well. This is why expected precisions are important for PEM. Howry explains that the brain needs to select where to put in most effort in prediction error minimization and that this effort should be spent where the prediction error signals are expected to be most precise. Attention thus ‘requires learning state-dependent patterns of noise and precision and then using such prior beliefs to set the gain on prediction error’ (p. 195).

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Object and property in logic, language and metaphysics

A one-day workshop at the University of Birmingham

Wednesday 5th November

Location: European Research Institute, Room 149 (G3 on campus map


11.00-12.45: Jonathan Payne (Institute of Philosophy): "Quantification and the neo-Fregean conception of object"

14.00-15.45: Jessica Leech (Sheffield): "Absolute necessity"

16.00-17.45: David Liggins (Manchester): "Propositions and "that"-clauses"

For further details contact 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Philosophy of Mind and Psychology Reading Group --The Predictive Mind chapter 8

Alex Kiefer
Welcome to the Philosophy of Mind and Psychology Reading Group hosted by the Philosophy@Birmingham blog. This month, Alex Kiefer (CUNY), introduces chapter 8 of Jakob Hohwy's The Predictive Mind (OUP, 2013).

Chapter 8 - Surprise and Misrepresentation
Presented by Alex Kiefer

Chapter 8 of The Predictive Mind explores longstanding and unresolved debates about the nature of mental representation and representational content from the point of view of the Prediction Error Minimization framework. The chapter is concerned primarily with perceptual representation, in keeping with the emphasis on perception throughout the book.

Jakob offers novel perspectives on a wide range of topics in the theory of content and the philosophy of mind more generally. In this post I'll focus on the two topics that I take to be most crucial for characterizing the account of representational content that best fits with the PEM framework: misrepresentation and causal VS descriptive theories of content. The positions sketched in the chapter with respect to these topics can be summarized in the following two claims:

Misrepresentation: Misrepresentation is perceptual inference that minimizes short-term prediction error while undermining long-term prediction error minimization.

Causal VS descriptive theories: Cognitive systems that minimize prediction error represent the world by maintaining causally guided descriptions (modes of presentation) of states of affairs in the world.

In what follows I'll discuss these claims and Jakob's arguments for them in more detail, then consider challenges for each position as well as connections between the two topics.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Philosophy of Religion One-Day Workshop (9th October)

The John Hick Centre for Philosophy of Religion is pleased to announce

The 7th Philosophy of Religion One-Day Workshop

Date: 9th October, 2014

Location: Room G16, Law Building, University of Birmingham


2:00-2:45: Dani Adams (University of Leeds), ‘'God and Laws of Nature’

2:45-3:30: Toby Betenson (University of Birmingham), ‘Moral Anti-Theodicy and the Moral Philosophy of Raimond Gaita’

3:30-3:45: Break

3:45-4:30: Sarah Adams (University of Leeds), ‘Theism and Modal Expressivism’

4:30-5:30: Erik Wielenberg (DePauw University, USA), ‘The Absurdity of Life in a Christian Universe’

All welcome. Please let Yujin Nagasawa know whether you are planning to attend.

Birmingham Workshops: Aesthetics & Value (29th September)

Our series of BIRMINGHAM WORKSHOPS IN PHILOSOPHY starts on Monday 29th September with a workshop on Aesthetics & Value.

Aesthetics & Value

10:40am Coffee & Biscuits

11:00am Paul Boghossian (Birmingham, NYU): “Should We Be Objectivists about Aesthetic Value?”


1:45 Coffee

2pm Eileen John (Warwick): “Are Meals Art?”                    

4pm Aaron Meskin (Leeds): “Challenges to Experimental Aesthetics”

Talks will be in room G05 of the Law building. This is building R1 on the campus map.

All welcome. Please contact Scott Sturgeon if you are planning to attend.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Climate Change and Divestment Policies

Scott Wisor
Yesterday, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund made headlines by announcing that it would divest its portfolio of fossil fuel companies. The announcement was timed to coincide with global protests calling on governments to take action to combat climate change. The announcement seems welcome—one time oil barons decide it is time to shift to a green economy. But is the fossil fuel divestment campaign structured so as to contribute to efforts to halt global warming?

In a recent post at the Ethics and International Affairs blog, Scott Wisor argues not. On his view, the campaign is designed in such a way as that it cannot effectively change the conduct of fossil fuel companies. Worse, it may draw strength from more effective efforts to combat climate change by directing activist energy to misguided policies.

What do you think? Have a read of Scott’s post and feel free to comment.