Philosophy Colloquium, Mariam Thalos

Mariam Thalos (University of Utah)

The Gulf Between Practical and Theoretical Reason”

Date: Monday 5 December, 2016

Time: 1640-1800

Place: G160

mariam-thalosAbstract:  I will argue that it’s a great mistake to blur the line between practical and theoretical forms of reasoning (as done for instance in the pragmatistic traditions of epistemology, which are now prominently exemplified in Subjective Bayesianism), not least because the diagnosis of bias in science becomes distorted if the line is blurred.  In this talk I will articulate the distinction between practical and theoretical reasoning in terms of differences in the norms themselves, with the most important being asymmetries in their preemption patterns. Elements of this account have roots in lines of argument found in Aristotle and Kant. The differences between practical and theoretical I will adduce will explain a certain puzzle: why is it that we (correctly) judge Buridan’s ass to be completely above reproach when he picks (randomly, if necessary) between two identical and equally convenient bales of hay, but that a detective or judge faced with identical evidence for the guilt of two different suspects is decidedly at fault if she should simply “pick” one as the guilty party.  The answer is—as it must be—that the standards of reasoning to which we hold the principals accountable in these contrasting cases are categorically different. 


Biography: Mariam Thalos is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah. Her work focuses primarily on foundational questions in the sciences, especially the physical, social and decisional sciences, as well as on the relations amongst the sciences. Her book on these subjects, called Without Hierarchy: The Scale Freedom of the Universe, was published in 2013, by Oxford University Press.  She has just completed her second book, called A Social Theory of Freedom (Routledge, 2016), which offers a new answer to the timeless philosophical question of human freedom, one that engages with social science but repulses the relevance of questions around determinism, biological and otherwise.  It thus advances the cause of an existential theory of freedom in new ways—and it does so without denying the relevance of science, especially social science, for illuminating human agency. She is currently being funded by the National Science Foundation to study precautionary decision making in relation to catastrophic risk, especially in public contexts.

She is the author of numerous articles on causation, explanation and how relations between micro and macro are handled by a range of scientific theories; as well as articles in political philosophy, action theory, metaphysics, epistemology, logical paradox and feminism. Her work has been published in journals such as The Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophy of Science, American Philosophical Quarterly, Synthese and Philosophical Studies. Her work has won the Royal Institute of Philosophy inaugural Essay Prize (2012), and again in 2013, and the American Philosophical Association’s Kavka Prize (1999). She is the former fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Australian National University, the Tanner Humanities Center, the University of Sydney Center for Foundations of Science, and the Institute of Philosophy, University of London.


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