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The 2015 Burman Lectures in Philosophy


Elizabeth Anderson, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan.

1-3 June at Umeå University

Time: 13.15-15.00
Venue: Humanisthuset (Humanities Building), Hörsal F

Abstract: Pragmatism is often loosely characterized as the view that people should adopt "whatever works."  This seems like empty and useless advice, since it omits any substantive criterion of what works.  This lecture series will explain what this advice really means, why we ought to follow it, and how we can follow it--even though pragmatists do not supply any substantive criterion of what works.  The key to pragmatism lies in its method, which deeply integrates moral with empirical inquiry.  I shall explain how it works by undertaking an extended case study of how it did work--in the long process whereby humanity learned that slavery is morally wrong.

Lecture 1: Why Pragmatism?

June 1st at 13.15-15, Humanisthuset, Hörsal F

Pragmatism replaces the quest for an ultimate criterion or principle of morally right action with a method for intelligently updating our moral beliefs.  In this lecture, I shall explain why the quest for an ultimate principle of morality is misguided, and why the a priori methods philosophers use to discover such principles are unreliable.  These methods were tried in the attempt to persuade people that slavery is wrong, and they largely failed to work.  Intelligent moral revision requires empirical inquiry, not only the deployment of ever-more-sophisticated a priori methods.  Pragmatism explains how and why the methods that actually changed people's minds about slavery were successful.

Lecture 2: How to Be a Pragmatist 1: Correcting Moral Biases

June 2nd at 13.15-15, Humanisthuset, Hörsal F

Suppose people have a belief, but they know that this belief was formed under the influence of certain moral biases.  They are likely to improve their beliefs by reconsidering them under conditions in which the operations of such biases are blocked, counteracted, or overcome.  Pragmatism offers methods whereby we can assess belief-formation processes for bias, and construct better practices of inquiry that block, counteract, or overcome those biases.  I shall illustrate these methods by considering the moral biases that supported beliefs in the moral justification of slavery, and how those biases were undermined in the long struggle to abolish slavery.

Lecture 3: How to Be a Pragmatist 2: Experiments in Living

June 3rd at 13.15-15, Humanisthuset, Hörsal F

Pragmatists are famous for claiming that moral inquiry is a kind of empirical inquiry, not different in principle from science.  The key to understanding how this can be so is to see how moral claims can be tested in experiments in living.  Pragmatists argue that we can test our moral beliefs by putting them into practice and seeing whether they solve the problems we need them to solve, without creating worse problems in the process.  I shall illustrate how abolitionists regarded slave emancipation as an experiment in living, and what lessons they did, and we ought, to draw from the actions the slaves took upon winning their freedom.

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

Previous Burman Lectures


Michael Smith, McCosh Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University
What We Should Do and Why We Should Do It
Lecture One: "The Standard Story of Action"
Lecture Two: "A Constitutivist Theory of Reasons"
Lecture Three: "A Case Study: The Reasons of Love"


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:

Presentation of Erik Olof Burman