The History of Philosophy Group meets regularly to hear and discuss work in progress by various faculty members and graduate students working in the history of philosophy at CU Boulder, including ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, and early modern philosophy.
Jessica Moss presenting to the group 11/13/2021
Jessica Moss presenting to the group 11/13/2021

Spring 2022

Meetings will be held on Fridays at 3:30-5pm, via Zoom or in person in Hellems 269, as noted. Anyone interested in attending is invited to email for the Zoom link.

1/21 Gagan Sapkota (Zoom link to follow) - "Culpable Ignorance in Aristotle's Eudemian Ethics" 

3/4 Mitzi Lee (Hellems 269) - "What kind of a virtue ethicist is Aristotle?" 

3/11  Dom Bailey (Hellems 269) - "The Real Problem of Dion and Theon"

4/8 Caleb Cohoe (Metro State) (Hellems 269) - "Does Augustine Give Up Wisdom for Faith? How Augustine Reconfigures the Intellectual Virtues"

A number of scholars, including John Cooper, see Augustine as ending the Greco-Roman tradition of philosophy as a way of life by turning to divine revelation in place of rational argument. Faith replaces understanding. Against this, I argue that Augustine never gives up on wisdom as the source of happiness and our true goal. His view of wisdom is set up to meet Socratic and Stoic requirements: wisdom must give us understanding of all things and wisdom must be sufficient for motivating us to act rightly and love properly. Indeed, the early Augustine is more optimistic than Socrates about the possibility of attaining wisdom. As his thought develops, however, Augustine’s Christian understanding of wisdom reconfigures his view of epistemic norms. He switches from seeing wisdom (sapienta) as attainable through philosophical inquiry to thinking that full wisdom will only be achieved in the next life through God’s self-revelation. This leads him to modify the epistemic norms we should live by now. Many things that we cannot demonstrate and do not fully understand should be confidently believed and can even count as known. Augustine, unlike his Platonic predecessors, sees perception and testimony as sources of knowledge (scientia), since the operative standards for human knowledge are intermediate ones, not the final and ultimate understanding that we hope for but cannot yet achieve. Humility and acceptance play a role in the epistemic domain that they did not for previous thinkers. Augustine’s acceptance of divine testimony as the key source of practical wisdom also raises new questions about whether we need other sorts of knowledge since there is, for him, a shortcut to wisdom in a way there was not for earlier philosophers. Nevertheless, even for Augustine the Christian theologian and bishop, we should seek the sort of contemplative wisdom the philosophers desire, while recognizing that this wisdom can only be achieved by seeing God face to face. (Trin. XIV 19.25)

4/15  Tommy Bonn (Hellems 269) topic TBA

To be rescheduled (was 4/1) Clerk Shaw (Tennessee) (Zoom) - on the self-refutation argument in Plato’s Theaetetus

Fall 2021

Meetings will be in HLMS 269, unless otherwise indicated.

Jessica Moss (NYU): “Knowledge and the knowable (gnosis and the gnorimon) in Aristotle”
Saturday, 11/13/2021, 10am-12pm
This is a pre-read; if you wish to receive the paper, please contact

Spring 2021

All meetings will be held on Zoom. Listed meeting times are Mountain Time.
Anyone interested in attending is invited to email for the Zoom link.
Bob Pasnau, "Determinism and Freedom: The Big Picture from the History of Ideas"
Thurs, Jan 28, 2021, 12:30pm-1:30pm
I’ve been working for a while on a book on the voluntarist movement at the end of the Middle Ages. This talk focuses not on the difficult question of what “voluntarism” amounts to, but on the equally difficult question of how to characterize the surrounding landscape. I will situate the voluntarists (Olivi, Scotus, Ockham) amidst the competing proposals of the “physical” determinists (Ibn Sīnā, Ibn Rushd, Wyclif), the theological “voluntarists” (Bradwardine, Luther), and the “intellectualists” (Aquinas, Buridan).
Dawn Jacob, "Prodicus and Democritus on Pleasure as Replenishment"
Thurs, Feb 11, 2021, 10am-11am
In Plato (especially in the Gorgias, Republic, and Philebus) we see the development of “replenishment” model of pleasure.  Roughly put, on this sort of model, pleasure occurs as one returns to a natural state after being in a state of deprivation: we hunger when our body is depleted of food, we get pleasure as we eat to alleviate this depletion.  The roots of this theory, though, predate Plato. In this session we’ll take a look two contemporaries of Socrates – Democritus and Prodicus – who also appear to have been developing the replenishment model of pleasure, though in ways that depart from the Platonic picture.
Gagan Sapkota, "Is Plato an Egoist?"
Thurs, Feb 25, 2021, 12:30pm-1:30pm
Colin Smith, "Being as Communion: Sophist 248d2-8""
Thurs, March 11, 2021, 12:30pm-1:30pm
Much attention has rightly been paid to the Eleatic Stranger's account in Plato's Sophist of being as nothing more than "the power (dunamis) to affect or be affected," famously implying that being is power.  But it is often missed that the Stranger immediately thereafter defines 'power' as the power for communion (koinonia).  So if being is power and power is communion, it follows that being is communion.  But what could this mean?  In this paper, I advance an interpretation of this passage as one central for understanding the Stranger's, and hence Plato's, view of being, and one furthermore linking together several key themes in the Sophist.
Colton Kunzeman, title tba
Thurs, April 1, 2021, 12:30pm - 1:30pm
Mark Boespflug, "All Moral Questions Answered or Why We have No Moral Knowledge Whatsoever: Locke on the Demonstrability of Morality"
Thurs, April 15, 2021, 12:30pm - 1:30pm

Spring 2020

Mark Boespflug, talk on Mary Astell
January 22, 3:45-5:15, UMC 384

Yuval Avnur (Visiting Scholar, Scripps College), "Pascal’s Birds: Signs and Significance in Nature"
Friday April 10 3:15-5:00 online via Zoom
Please contact Professor Mitzi Lee for information

Abstract: Blaise Pascal’s most famous contribution to philosophy is his “wager” argument, which aims to convince non-believers that it is in their interest to try to believe despite lacking convincing evidence. Less attention has been paid to what happens before the wager, or why Pascal thought that evidence fails to convince nonbelievers. Perhaps this is because Pascal’s views here can be difficult to discern. The primary difficulty is that, while he emphasized that God is hidden from us in our current state, he also seemed to accept the view, common in the Christian tradition in which he was operating, that signs of God are everywhere in nature. How does Pascal reconcile these two claims? I consider two interpretations of this: Garber (2010), which posits a sort of epistemological relativity, and Kolakowski (1995), which posits a sort of skepticism.  Both get something right, but both also fall short of explaining how Pascal’s God is both hidden and apparent. I offer a novel interpretation, which emphasizes the role of love in generating the relevant experiences of nature and explaining their epistemological upshots. Key to all of this is the idea that religious experience of the relevant sort arises within a framework, not of beliefs per se, but of a relationship with something whose existence cannot coherently be settled by those experiences. Pascal’s view, according to this interpretation, makes an important and underappreciated contribution to religious epistemology, and the epistemic significance of experience in general. 

Yuval Avnur (PhD NYU) is Associate Professor  of Philosophy at Scripps College. He specializes in epistemology. He is on sabbatical this year in residence in Boulder. 
Dr. Colin Smith (PhD Kentucky, Lecturer here at CU Boulder), "Einai Without Existence in the Euthydemus"
Friday April 24, 3:15-5:00 online via Zoom
I argue here that two central fallacies in Plato’s Euthydemus do not entail a conflation of the alleged existential and veridical senses of 'einai' ('to be') as has been argued by all Anglophone commentators, but instead a sophistical confusion regarding ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ predicative statements.  To develop this, I consider these passages with respect to the discussion of true and false speech in the Sophist.  My aims are to give context to the fallacies in the dialogue and, more deeply, to argue against those who hold that this passage demands an existential sense of the Greek verb einai.
Dr. Matt Shields, CU Lecturer. "Alice Ambrose and the History of Analytic Metaphilosophy”
Friday May 1, 3:15-5:00

Conceptual engineering – a philosophical methodology where we consider how we ought to talk and think about concepts, regardless of how we may currently talk and think about them – is a rapidly growing subfield in contemporary philosophy. The catalyst for this emerging literature is Sally Haslanger’s influential work on “ameliorative” approaches to the concepts of race and gender. Herman Cappelen has recently observed that “[i]n my lifetime, I have never seen interest in a philosophical topic grow with such explosive intensity”.

Within this literature, however, a certain narrative regarding the history of conceptual engineering has become standard: Rudolf Carnap, particularly in his work on explication, is taken to be the trailblazer for this philosophical methodology. In turn, Carnap’s debate with P.F. Strawson over whether a concept that has been philosophically engineered can be regarded as continuous with our pre-engineered concept has been a site of substantial discussion. In this paper, I argue that this telling of the history of conceptual engineering is misguided. The philosopher whose work elaborates the methodology of what we now call conceptual engineering most clearly and in the most depth is Alice Ambrose. Ambrose, however, as far as I can tell, has not been cited once in the post-Haslanger literature on conceptual engineering. Here is a sample formulation of Ambrose’s position (one that would easily be at home in any of the current publications on conceptual engineering): “[P]hilosophical theories are not, as they appear to be, answers to questions, but are proposals to alter language: that they do not in fact attempt to clarify a concept or to explain a current usage, but instead, in a concealed way, propose that a word’s use shall be modified for philosophical purposes”.

I will argue that Ambrose’s work is not only the clearest forerunner of contemporary discussions of conceptual engineering, but also that it draws out the consequences of embracing this methodology in ways that even these contemporary discussions fail to do. In the paper, I first present Ambrose’s metaphilosophical views. I then compare them to the contemporary literature on conceptual engineering and show how Ambrose applies her metaphilosophical position to areas throughout philosophy, in particular to discussions on the ontology of mathematical objects, to problems of skepticism, and to questions concerning inductive inference.

In Rorty’s influential volume The Linguistic Turn, Ambrose’s central metaphilosophical paper is included with a response by Roderick Chisholm (a reprint of their exchange in The Journal of Philosophy). I reply on Ambrose’s behalf to Chisholm’s criticisms and conclude by contrasting the merits of tracing the history of conceptual engineering to Ambrose rather than Carnap. I argue that the standard narrative downplays Carnap’s skepticism of traditional metaphysics and has led to a preoccupation with questions of conceptual continuity that Ambrose’s work offers us an exit from.

Annual Front Range Ancient Philosophy Workshop
Wednesday, May 13
Jackson Colter (CSU), talk on Stoic Cosmopolitanism (10am-12pm), and Christopher Moore (Penn State), talk TBA, 2-4pm. 
Anyone interested in attending any of these should email for the Zoom link. 

Fall 2019

Mark Boespflug, “Faith as Trust, Doxastic Instinct, and Reassessing Faith’s Rationality” 
September 16, 4:30-6:00, Hellems 26
Dominic Bailey, recent work in progress
December 3, 2019, 2:00-3:30, UMC 386

Spring 2019

Philip Choi, “Buridan on Moral Certainty”
Tuesday January 29th, 3:00pm, Hellems 269

Joseph Stenberg, "Thomas Aquinas, Happiness, and the Unity of Ethics"
Thursday February 7th, 3:00pm, Hellems 269

Abstract: Most of us think that being happy is just about something like enjoyment or contentment or satisfaction. Because we think of happiness in this way, we also tend to think that, in principle and even in practice, we can be happy while breaking all manner of moral rules, while having questionable character, and while living quite meaningless lives. In this talk, I will trace the origins of this view from the present day back into the Middle Ages. I will then spend most of the talk reconstructing a fascinating alternative view put forward by the 13th century Dominican, Thomas Aquinas – a view that develops out of an ancient understanding of happiness. In the end, I will show that, if Aquinas is right about the nature of happiness, our being happy absolutely requires our following moral rules, our developing good character, and our living meaningful lives.

Dominic Bailey, “Powers in Plato”
Tuesday February 12th, 3:00pm, Hellems 269

James Doyle (Harvard), “The pear-theft in Augustine's Confessions and ancient theories of motivated irrationality”
Monday February 25th, 4:00pm, Hellems 269

ABSTRACT: Socrates supposed that all practical errors were consequences of ignorance, and so held that there is no such thing as akrasia, whereby the agent allegedly knows that he is acting contrary to his best judgment. Plato (Republic IV) and Aristotle (NE VII) both reject Socrates' view as psychologically unrealistic, holding that the prospect of pleasure, for example, can lead one to act akratically. I shall argue that Augustine's diagnosis of his youthful theft of the pears in Confessions II shows that Plato and Aristotle did not fully emerge from the unrealistic 'rationalism' they object to in the Socratic view, because in neglecting the role of unconscious fantasy in human action, they make the role of pleasure in undermining judgment, as it were, too intelligible.

Robert Pasnau, “Medieval Modal Spaces"
Thursday March 21, 2:30pm, Hellems 269

Abstract: The Aristotelian conception of modality tended, for much of its history, to be founded mainly on what happens in the actual world, leaving little room for unactualized possibilities. Beginning in the later Middle Ages, however, particularly in the work of John Duns Scotus, a much more expansive conception of modality appears, tied to Scotus’s libertarian conception of freedom. Here I look at how Scotus and, later, Ockham attempted to create more conceptual space for nonactual possibilities, with regard to the past, the present, and the future.

Dan Wolt (Sao Paolo Post-doc, Princeton PhD), “Kalokagathia in the Eudemian Ethics VIII 3”
Thursday April 4, 2-4pm, Hellems 269

Rachel Barney (Toronto),  “Techne as a Model for Virtue in Ancient Philosophy”
 Thursday April 11, 2-4pm, Hellems 269

Mitzi Lee, “Aristotle’s revisionist concept of justice”
Thursday April 25, 3-5pm, Hellems 369

Fall 2018

Daniel Coren, "Aristotle on External Resting Points"
Monday October 8th, 2-3:30pm, Hellems 269

Mark Boespflug
Monday October 22nd, 2-3:30pm, Hellems 269

Philip Choi, "First Things First in Medieval Epistemology"
Monday November 12, 1:30 pm, Hellems 269

Spring 2018

Daniel Coren, "Aristotle on Motion in Incomplete Animals"
April 23, 4:00-6:00pm, Hellems 269

Fall 2017

Mark Boespflug, "Locke on Doxastic Voluntarism"
October 19, 2:30-4:00pm, Hellems 269


Spring 2017

Robert Pasnau, “Plato’s Protagoras on Akrasia”
January 23
Philip Choi, “Is John Burden an Epistemic Fallibilist?”
February 20
Gagan Sapkota, “The Role of the Myth of Cronus in Plato’s Statesman
February 27

Joseph Stenberg, "John Buridan on Happiness"
March 3, 3:30-5:00pm Hellems 269

Bob Pasnau, “Moments of Decision: A First Try at Medieval Voluntarism” (joint talk with CMEMS)
April 10

Dan Wolt (Sao Paolo), “Two conceptions of voluntary action in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
April 26, 3:30-5pm Hellems 269
It is nearly universally agreed among commentators that according to Aristotle’s account of voluntary action in the Nicomachean Ethics (NE), for an action to be blameworthy it must be voluntary. I argue for a qualified rejection of this assumption: some blameworthy actions do not meet the criteria for voluntariness set out in NE 3.1. However, I argue that elsewhere in the NE one finds a broader conception of voluntary action, and it is true that an action must count as voluntary on the broader conception in order to be blameworthy. While according to the narrow conception found in 3.1 voluntary actions must be under the agent’s direct control, according to the broader conception an action may count as voluntary by being under the agent’s indirect control. An example is an action done in culpable ignorance of the particulars. These blameworthy actions are not voluntary in the narrow sense, but they are voluntary in the broader sense. I suggest, moreover, that the com presence of these two conceptions in the NE is not simply a matter of sloppiness on Aristotle’s part. Rather, he has good philosophical reasons for employing both. 

Fall 2016

Mitzi Lee, "Aristotle on Evil.”
Tuesday Sept. 1, 3:30-5pm Hellems 220.
Garret Bredeson, "How Does Kantian Virtue Differ from Aristotelian Continence—and Aristotelian Virtue?”
Tuesday Sept. 27, 3:30 - 5:00, Hellems 269.
Daniel Coren, "Everything moved must be moved by something: Aristotle's Physics VII.1 & VIII.4”
Tuesday Oct. 18, 3:30-5:00, Hellems 269
Caleb Cohoe (Metropolitan State University of Denver), “Everyone Wills to Live Forever: Augustine vs. the Stoics on Self-Preservation” 
Thursday Nov. 3,  5:00pm, HUMN 135
sponsored by the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies 
Mark Boespflug, "The Nature and Status of Voluntary Belief in Aquinas”
Tuesday Nov. 15, 3:30-5:00pm, Hellems 269

Tyler Huismann, "The art or the artisan? A causal puzzle in Aristotle"
Tuesday Nov. 29 3:30-5:00pm, Hellems 269

Daniel Coren presenting at a History of Philosophy workshop

Daniel Coren presenting to the History of Philosophy Group workshop, April 23, 2018