Laura Valentini (King’s College London)

Normative Powers and Social Practices

18 January 2020 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 GMT

Normative powers have been the subject of complex debates in philosophy. There are rich literatures on, e.g., consent, authority, promising, and forgiveness, to name a few. Yet, there is relatively little discussion of normative powers as such, as a general category. My aim in this paper is to fill this gap. Specifically, the paper’s intended contribution is twofold: conceptual (concerning the definition of such powers) and ontological (concerning the existence conditions of such powers). On the conceptual side, I offer a general definition of normative powers—be they legal, conventional, or moral—one that I believe better captures the relevant phenomenon than alternative definitions found in the literature. On the ontological side, I argue that normative powers, including moral powers, cannot exist in the absence of social practices. Social practices conferring them on individuals are necessary existence conditions of those powers.

Attendance is free but numbers are limited. Please register here.

David Enoch (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Autonomy as Non-Alienation, Autonomy as Sovereignty, and Politics

1 February 2020 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 GMT

An autonomous life – that is, a life which is shaped, to a considerable extent, by the values and choices of the person whose life it is – is, other things being equal, for this reason better than a life that lacks such self-directedness. But we should distinguish between autonomy understood as a harmony between one’s life and one’s deep commitments – which I call non-alienation – and autonomy understood as having the final word on the relevant issue – which I call sovereignty. Both non-alienation and sovereignty are of value, but what is the relation between them? I argue that non-alienation is the more fundamental value, but that sovereignty nevertheless achieves some independence from the value of non-alienation that ultimately grounds it. I also argue that when it comes to politics, it’s sovereignty rather than non-alienation that usually takes center stage. And I show – in a preliminary way – how the distinction between non-alienation and sovereignty and the relations between them is productive in thinking about nudging and about false consciousness.

Attendance is free but numbers are limited. Registration will open two weeks before the seminar.

Kimberly Kessler Ferzan (University of Pennsylvania)


1 March 2020 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 GMT

In many respects the #MeToo movement was a resounding success. In the span of a few months, powerful public figures were held to account for past acts of sexual violence and predation. While in some respects, saying, “me too” indicated that far more women were victims of sexual abuse writ large, often, the “me too” was with respect to a single perpetrator. That is, what caused many heads to roll was not that a woman accused someone, but that many women accused someone. Without discrediting all the good that has been done by the #MeToo movement, this paper explores the potential evidentiary impacts of the narratives that have been created. Specifically, with respect to accused perpetrators, will we be too eager to allow evidence of one bad act to make it likely that someone committed another? Will “once a rapist, always a rapist” be our mantra? And does the empirical evidence truly support this? Or should our understanding been cabined into particular sorts of cases where individuals can exploit opportunities due to the positions which they occupy? Equally troubling, on the other side of the coin, is whether this will disvalue women’s testimony. One might worry that what we have learned to do is to believe these women but not to believe any individual woman. We have never required that a bank robber had to rob a second bank before we determined he robbed the first one, and yet, what Cosby, Weinstein, and others have led us to expect is that in instances of sexual violence, we will find a second crime so that we can believe the victim that the first crime was committed.

Attendance is free but numbers are limited. Registration will open two weeks before the seminar.