MPP research seminar

The Moral and Political Philosophy Research Seminar is hosted by Practical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, where it is organized by Professor Antti Kauppinen and University Lecturer Tuomo Tiisala.

The seminar is a place where faculty, doctoral students, and guest speakers meet to discuss their ongoing work. Undergraduate students, too, are very welcome to attend the meetings.

We meet on Wednesdays from 4:15-5:45 pm, unless noted otherwise. For the time being, our meetings will take place on Zoom.

Details about our meetings, as well as the pre-read papers, are distributed on the seminar’s mailing list, To join, please follow these quick steps:


September 29

N.B. unusual time 7:15-8:45 pm 

Zoë Johnson King (University of Southern California):

“Reluctant Heroes”

ABTRACT: This paper is about essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper is Janus-faced, using some philosophy to explicate some empirical phenomena and then using some empirical phenomena to challenge some philosophy. Part 1 summarizes the empirical phenomena that will be my focus: the praise and gratitude heaped on essential workers during the first few months of the pandemic, the mixed reception with which this praise and gratitude was met, the surrounding material conditions that essential workers faced, and their testimony about what has motivated them to continue working in-person despite the hazardous conditions. Part 2 uses the concepts of supererogation and volitional necessity to substantiate some criticisms of the idea that essential workers are “heroes” that have been leveled by essential workers themselves (as detailed in 1); I explain three ways in which this idea is misleading and one in which it can be manipulative. Part 3 then uses testimony from essential workers about their attitudes toward their work (again from 1) to challenge the classical view that overcoming contrary inclinations to get oneself to act well is “enkratic”, but not fully virtuous, since a fully virtuous person has no contrary inclinations. I argue that essential workers’ complex relationship to their work during the pandemic shows this view to be false.

October 27

Andrew Y. Lee (University of Oslo):

“Consciousness Makes Things Matter”

ABSTRACT: Philosophers often debate what makes one better or worse off, but seldom debate what makes an entity the kind of thing that can be better or worse off in the first place. The first question concerns welfare goods; the second question concerns welfare subjects. This paper defends a phenomenal theory of welfare subjects, according to which consciousness is what makes an entity a welfare subject. On this view, the set of conscious subjects is identical to the set of welfare subjects. Alongside developing the phenomenal theory, I also address some underexplored questions about how a theory of welfare subjects ought to relate to a theory of welfare goods, and how we should think about welfare level zero.

November 24

Matthieu Queloz (Oxford University):

“The Practical Origin of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering”

ABSTRACT: Why would philosophers interested in the points or functions of our conceptual practices bother with genealogical explanations if they can focus directly on paradigmatic examples of the practices we now have? To answer this question, I compare the method of pragmatic genealogy advocated by Edward Craig, Bernard Williams, and Miranda Fricker—a method whose singular combination of fictionalising and historicising has met with suspicion—with the simpler method of paradigm-based explanation. Fricker herself has recently moved towards paradigm-based explanation, arguing that it is a more perspicuous way of reaping the same explanatory pay-off as pragmatic genealogy while dispensing with its fictionalising and historicising. My aim is to determine when and why the reverse movement from paradigm-based explanation to pragmatic genealogy remains warranted. I argue that the fictionalising and historicising of pragmatic genealogy is well motivated, and I outline three ways in which the method earns its keep: by successfully handling historically inflected practices which paradigm-based explanation cannot handle; by revealing and arguing for connections to generic needs we might otherwise miss; and by providing comprehensive views of practices that place and relate the respects in which they serve both generic and local needs.