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Sunday 10th July 2022

(This date may change)

Our speaker:

Karyn Lai, Professor of Philosophy in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales. Her primary research is in early Chinese philosophy (especially Confucian and Daoist philosophies). She has investigated the nature of moral life in the Confucian tradition and draws on discussions in the Confucian texts to diversify our conceptions of ethics.  More recently, she has been exploring the Daoist texts, particularly the Zhuangzi (4th c. BCE), to understand what its fascinating stories tell us about mastery, action, knowledge and agency.  She is editor of the Chinese Comparative Philosophy section, Philosophy Compass (Wiley-Blackwell), co-editor of the Chinese philosophy section, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and Associate Editor of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.


The Topic:  Challenging constraints: is the Zhuangzi a text for our time?

The Zhuangzi is a text that sits within the Daoist (Taoist) tradition.  Parts of it were written around the 4th century BCE and the text as a whole reflects the views of thinkers caught up in the ups-and-downs of a difficult period in Chinese history.  Life was constrained in many ways: by destiny (whether one was born rich or poor, or healthy or poorly, for example); by socio-political circumstances; or, simply, by being human.  The authors of the Zhuangzi were acutely aware of these constraints.  How might a person deal with them?  In this talk, I introduce the Zhuangzi’s strategies for dealing with constraints: accepting some, working around some others, and challenging yet others.  It uses intriguing imagery of talking animals, and of humans with deformities, to help readers imagine the possibilities available to them when responding to constraints.  I will also discuss the deeper philosophical views of self and world that underlie the Zhuangzi’s practical approaches to life.  I suggest that its fascinating philosophical reflections on the human condition are still relevant today.

Sunday 28th July 2022

Our speaker: Alan Hájek, Professor of Philosophy at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National Univeristy.  Alan Hájek's initial training was in mathematics and statistics. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Melbourne, an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Princeton University in 1993. In 1992 he joined the faculty at the California Institute of Technology. Since 2005 he has been Professor of Philosophy at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He works mainly in the philosophical foundations of probability, formal epistemology, decision theory, philosophy of science, metaphilosophy, philosophical logic, and philosophy of religion.

The topic: “A Plea for the Improbable”

Much of my philosophical research has concerned the extremely improbable: events that we typically disregard or do not take seriously because their probabilities are so low. And yet many such events should be important to philosophers, some of them should be important to scientists, and some of them should be important to ordinary people. My examples will include, among others:

  • Statistical significance testing

  • Data ‘too good to be true’

  • Popper’s philosophy of science

  • Cheney’s “1% doctrine”: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.”

  • Risky events in science and engineering—e.g. nuclear reactor accidents

  • Even more extreme pandemics than the current one

Turning to some familiar philosophical examples, I will briefly discuss:

  • The lottery paradox, a problem for the view that to believe something is to have a high degree of confidence in it

  • Skepticism about knowledge 

  • Hume’s scepticism about miracles

I will put the improbable to new philosophical work regarding:

  • conditional probability

  • probabilistic independence

  • counterfactuals

I will conclude with three practical cases important in everyday life:

  • ‘Pascal’s Wager’, Pascal’s argument for the rationality of belief in God

  • a new argument for vegetarianism

  • responding to the prospect of global warming

For all inquiries please contact philosophyforumpmq@outlook.com