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Philosophy in the News

Fifth Annual PGSA@UT Graduate Conference Features Stephen Gardiner, Diverse Graduate Presenters for Discussion of Ethics in Uncertain Times

The Philosophy Graduate Student Association at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville held its fifth annual PGSA@UT Philosophy Conference on March 19–20, 2022. This year’s theme chosen by the graduate student body was “Ethics in Uncertain Times.” The conference drew together presenters from universities in the USA, Canada, England, Scotland, and Austria, as well as participants from Germany, Italy, Israel, India, Ghana, Australia, China, and Vietnam.

The conference took place entirely online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and featured nine talks by graduate students, as well as a keynote address by Professor Stephen Gardiner of the University of Washington in Seattle, a renowned scholar working in the ethics around climate change, future generations, social and political institutions, and global environmental problems more generally. Troy Polidori, a Ph.D. student at The University of Tennessee and president of the Philosophy Graduate Student Association, gave opening and closing remarks to begin and end the conference.

The first day of the conference featured four presentations by graduate students and the keynote address by Stephen Gardiner. Sasha Arridge (Oxford) began the conference by facilitating discussions over whether “eco-tage” (intentional ecological sabotage) might under certain conditions be considered a justified form of other-defense. Talia Shoval (University of Edinburgh) continued by proposing that conceptual frameworks from just war theory might be plausibly applied to non-humans under the threat of climate change. Ariana Peruzzi (University of Michigan) finished the morning sessions with her work on the territorial rights of displaced communities, arguing that communities have a right to remain on land bound up with their social practices and life plans. After lunch, Henry Krahn (University of Toronto) elaborated an account of forceful protest illuminated by the concept of reproof, cutting across the often opposing concepts of persuasion and sanctioning, claiming that reproof is helpfully understood as both sanctioning and communicative.

Saturday’s sessions were concluded by Stephen Gardiner’s keynote address on the scope of institutions for future generations. His talk highlighted the need for large-scale solutions to the problems produced by climate change in space and over time (most notably by the call for a global constitutional convention), but also in application to the theoretical and legal tools we rely on to solve social and political problems more generally. The presentation and subsequent discussion were characterized by a consistent theme of the paucity of our existing measures, both theoretical and practical, for addressing the immensity of the climate crisis.

The conference continued on Sunday with four presentations from graduate students. Tabea Kedziora (Vienna University of Economics and Business & Aston University Birmingham) began Sunday morning’s presentations with an account of how Simon Caney’s burden-sharing justice approach to climate ethics can plausibly be applied to justice concerns for climate refugees. Khang Ton (UC Davis) continued by developing an account of the grounds of reparative obligations to refugees. After lunch, Jordan Myers (University of Pittsburgh) gave a presentation on P.F. Strawson’s account of the reactive and objective attitudes, arguing that these can be helpfully applied to discussions around medical misinformation with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, Xi Zhang (NYU School of Law) presented the correlativity and priority theses with respect to the relationship between obligations and rights, arguing that neither is justified and that a needs-based account of obligation ought to ground what we owe one another in moments of associative crisis, a fitting end to a weekend focused on ethics in uncertain times.

In the end, the conference was deemed to be a success by the presenters, attendees, and organizers at the PGSA. The presentations were of the quality expected from the PGSA@UT Philosophy Conference, and the lively and interesting discussions included a diverse array of participants from all over the world. The work done by the organizers of the PGSA and the graduate student body in the department of philosophy more generally is a credit to the UT Department of Philosophy, and will likely have contributed positively to the reputation of the department both domestically and abroad. 

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