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The 2014 Burman Lectures in Philosophy


Michael Smith, McCosh Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University

May 26-28, Umeå University

Abstract: In these lectures I show how we can move from abstract claims about the nature of action and agency to substantive claims about what agents have reasons to do. Topics covered include: the explanation of action, constitutivist theories of reasons for action, how to distinguish moral from non-moral reasons, the nature and scope of moral reasons and moral responsibility, the link between positive morality and moral reasons, the nature of love, and the moral and non-moral reasons to which love gives rise.

Lecture One: "The Standard Story of Action"

May 26, 13.15–15, Hörsal E, Humanities Building

Abstract: What makes an event an action? There are two approaches we might take in answering this question: the lowest common denominator approach, and the approximation to the ideal approach. Since taking the former reveals norms internal to the concept of action, the advantage of taking it first is that it provides us with a ballpark idea of the kind of idealization we are required to go in for when we take the latter. However those who take the former approach—I have in mind defenders of the standard story of action like Aristotle, Hume, and, more recently, Hempel and Davidson—disagree about why certain norms are internal to the concept of action. Our initial task is to get clear about this.

Lecture Two: "A Constitutivist Theory of Reasons"

May 27, 13.15–15, Hörsal E, Humanities Building

Abstract: The lowest common denominator approach to the explanation of action shows that certain norms of rationality are internal to the concept of action: specifically, instrumental and epistemic norms. This provides us with a default understanding of the nature of action on the approximation to the ideal approach. An ideal action is the upshot of the exercise of the rational capacities exercised by an ideal agent, where an ideal agent has and robustly exercises maximal capacities to, on the one hand, recognize and respond to reasons for belief, and, on the other, realize his intrinsic desires.  Further spelling out this idea leads to several surprising conclusions, the main ones being that ideal agents also have dominant intrinsic desires to help and not interfere, and that there are therefore dominant reasons for all agents, both ideal and non-ideal agents, to help and not interfere.

Lecture Three: "A Case Study: The Reasons of Love"

May 28, 13.15–15, Hörsal E, Humanities Building

Abstract: How might we test the claim that all agents, both ideal and non-ideal, have dominant reasons to help and not interfere? One way is to look at what might seem to be the worst case for such a claim, the reasons we have in virtue of loving someone, and to see whether the claim can be made to square with these reasons. It emerges that, supplemented by a plausible account of the nature of love, the claim that we have dominant reasons to help and not interfere provides us with a compelling substantive account of the reasons of love.

Arranged by: The Department of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Umeå University.

Previous Burman Lectures


Prof. David Chalmers, Australian National University and New York University
Structuralism, space, and skepticism
Lecture 1: Constructing the world
Lecture 2: Three puzzles about spatial experience
Lecture 3: The structuralist response to skepticism


Stephen Finlay, University of Southern California
Metaethics as a Confusion of Tongues
Lecture 1: Metaethics: Why and How?
Lecture 2: The Semantics of ”Ought”
Lecture 3: The Pragmatics of Normative Disagreement


Dag Prawitz, Stockholm University
Bevis, mening och sanning


Tim Crane, University of Cambridge
Problems of Being and Existence
Lecture 1: Existence, Being and Being-so
Lecture 2: Existence and Quantification Reconsidered
Lecture 3: The Singularity of Singular Thought


Jerry Fodor, Rutgers University
What Darwin Got Wrong
Lecture 1: What kind of theory is the Theory of Natural Selection?
Lecture 2: The problem about `selection-for`


Susanna Siegel, Harvard
The Nature of Visual Experience
Lecture 1: The varieties of perceptual intentionality
Lecture 2: The contents of visual experience


Alex Byrne, MIT
How do we know our own minds?
Lecture 1: Transparency and Self-Knowledge
Lecture 2: Knowing that I am thinking


Jonathan Dancy, University of Reading and University of Texas, Austin
Lecture 1: Reasons and Rationality
Lecture 2: Practical Reasoning and Inference


Ned Block, New York University
Consciousness and Neuroscience
Lecture 1: The Epistemological Problem of the Neuroscience of Consciousness
Lecture 2: How Empirical Evidence can be Relevant to the Mind-Body Problem


John Broome, Oxford


Wlodek Rabinowicz, Lund
Värde och passande attityder


Kevin Mulligan, Genève
Lecture 1: Essence, Logic and Ontology
Lecture 2: Foolishness and Cognitive Values


Hubert Dreyfus, Berkeley
Lecture 1: What is moral maturity? A Phenomenological Account Of The Development Of Ethical Expertise
Lecture 2: The primacy of the phenomenological over logical analysis: A Merleau-Pontian Critique of Searle's Account of Action and Social Reality


Herbert Hochberg, University of Texas, Austin
Lecture 1: A Simple Refutation of Mindless Materialism
Lecture 2: Universals, Particulars and the Logic of Predication


Susan Haack, University of Miami
The Science of Sociology and the Sociology of Science
Lecture 1: Social Science as Semiotic.
Lecture 2: Sociology of Science: The Sensible Program.


Howard Sobel, University of Toronto
Lecture 1: First causes: St. Thomas Aquinas's 'Second way'.
Lecture 2: Ultimate reasons if not first causes: Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz on 'the Ultimate Origination of Things'.


Ian Jarvie, York University
Science and the Open Society


David Kaplan, UCLA
What is Meaning: Notes toward a theory of Meaning as Use

Sidansvarig: Sandra Olsson


About the Burman Lectures

The Burman lectures started in 1996 on the initiative of Inge Bert Täljedal, then Mayor of Umeå and later Vice Chancellor of Umeå University. The lectures commemorate Eric Olof Burman (1845-1929), Umeå’s "first professor of philosophy”.

Burman was born in Yttertavle outside of Umeå, went to high school in Umeå, and became professor of Practical Philosophy 1896-1910 at Uppsala University. Nowadays Burman is best known as the teacher of Axel Hägerström, who is well-known for his realist anti-metaphysical stand and his expressivist theory of moral judgments). Some of Hägerström’s criticism of idealistic views were foreshadowed in the teachings of Burman.

It should perhaps be pointed out that our Burman is not the only Burman in the annals of philosophy. In addition to Eric Olov Burman from Yttertavle, there was the Dutch Cartesian philosopher Frans Burman (1628-78).

A presentation of Erik Olof Burman (in Swedish), written by Inge-Bert Täljedal, is available online at http://textobild.taljedal.se/filosofen_erik_olof_burman.pdf