William & Mary

Student Club Hosts Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

Prize winners Majid Razvi (left) and Devin Curry (right) with Adam Lerner

Papers Presented

"Brandt's Descent in to Rule Utilitarianism," Grace Mendenhall '13

"Hobbes' Leviathan and Zombies," Nicholas Hager, George Mason University

"Moral Properties: Embracing the Queerness of Emergence," Majid Razvi, Virginia Commonwealth University

"A Possible Solution to the Pinocchio Paradox," Michael Mishra, The State University of New York at Potsdam

* "Doubt Until Proven Veridical: Progressive Naturalism and the Mental Transparency Assumption," Devin Curry '11

"Aristotle on the 'Wisdom of the Multitude'," Leeza Kuznetsova, University of Virginia

"The Second Law of Thermodynamics and its Metaphysical Implications," Avatar Davis, State University of New York at Potsdam

"If Egalitarians are Confused Prioritarians, are Prioritarians Confused Utilitarians?" Adam Lerner '12

*Awarded "Best Original Paper"

Adam Lerner '12What kinds of access do people have to their own minds?

How do we understand morality's place in the natural world?

Philosophers have wrestled with these questions for centuries.

In March, more than two dozen philosophy students and faculty from across the region, from New York to Virginia, came together to present and discuss original philosophical ideas related to these questions and others at the College’s first Undergraduate Philosophy Conference.

Spearheaded by Philosophy Club president Adam Lerner '12, a double-major in philosophy and psychology, the two-day student-led conference became a labor of love for philosophical thought. 

“There seemed to be a void and need to establish a philosophy conference for undergrads in the region," says Lerner, who worked tirelessly as the conference organizer, a presenter, and emcee. "This was a chance for students to come together, share their work, and provide feedback to each other.”

Last fall, a call went out to 24 philosophy departments across the region to solicit original philosophical student papers. A dozen students from George Mason University, VCU, UVA, and SUNY Potsdam New York, as well as half a dozen William and Mary students, responded with submissions. Each paper was rated through a blind review by the William and Mary Philosophy Club, and eight papers were chosen for presentation at the conference (see box).

“The conference was a great chance for people to get together and talk philosophy during both the formal sessions and informal breaks and meals,” says Philosophy Professor Christopher Freiman, faculty advisor to the conference and to the Philosophy Club. “The two main goals were to offer students and faculty the opportunity to interact in new ways and to allow students to interact with philosophy students from other colleges.”

“It was great to see faculty sitting in on sessions and engaging students in ideas,” says Lerner. “The faculty was respectful and encouraging, essentially interacting with the students as peers.”

Each studPhilosophy Conferenceent presenter had 20 minutes to share her or his work, and then the floor was opened for comments and general discussion between the faculty and students. The conference concluded with a keynote presentation, "What Does the Psychological Modularity of Morals Have to Do with Ethics?" by Owen Flanagan of Duke University, followed by presentation of two prizes awarded to the best original papers.

“Giving a presentation and responding to feedback on the fly is a really valuable skill and not something a student would get to do in a typical undergraduate course,” says Professor Freiman. “The conference also gave students the unique opportunity to evaluate each other’s work. Learning to both get and give comments can give students a good head start should they decide to continue with advanced study.”

The conference was made possible in part by a grant from the Charles Center's Community of Scholars Fund.

“This year’s conference was the first step to seeing if there is real demand for an event like this, and there is,” says Lerner. “We plan to build on our success with a bigger conference next year that draws from a greater diversity of perspectives and more schools in and around the mid-Atlantic region. Ultimately, we hope to create an annual weekend for a great exchange of ideas that will be a benefit to future William and Mary philosophy students.”