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Members' Weekend, 7-8 September 2013


To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the OUDCE Philosophical Society by Dr Tony Chadwick, our usual Members' Day was extended into a Members' Weekend.

Links in the below time-table activate MP3 audio recordings of the corresponding talks. Talk recordings and supporting material are also linked from talk summaries further below.

Saturday 7 September

1.30 pm Registration
1.45 pm Trevor Hussey Introduction
2.00 pm Peter Townsend: Taking Empiricism Seriously
2.45 pm Simon Borrington: Chaos, Confusion and the Ordering of Pure Experience
3.30 pm Tea/Coffee
4.00 pm Barbara Wainwright: Noam Chomsky and the Abuses of Empiricism
4.45 pm Jonathan Harlow: Making Sense of Experience
5.30 pm Panel discussion
6.30 pm Bar
7.00 pm Annual Dinner and presentation of Chadwick & Boethius prizes
8.30 pm General discussion to be continued in the bar
Bar open till 10:30 pm

Sunday 8 September

8.00 am Breakfast (RH residents only)
9.30 am Terry Duchow Empiricism as an Ally for Knowledge
10.15 am Peter Gibson: Is Absolutely Everything Known Empirically?
11.00 am Tea/Coffee
11.30 am Panel Discussion
12.30 Lunch
1.30 pm Course disperses

The Talks in chronological order.

Peter Townsend: Taking Empiricism Seriously
To take empiricism seriously we must go beyond Hume and assume nothing except experience. That, in turn, entails identifying its basis, the elements of what Locke called 'impressions', the fundamental building-blocks of our abilities to discern anything - let alone any 'thing'. Not only that, we have to look to it for standards of correctness, abandoning external criteria such as 'truth' or 'reality'. Does that mean we cannot, ultimately, be mistaken? And what is the role of the a priori if experience is all we have?
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Handout (Word .doc format)
Talk text (PDF format)

Simon Borrington: Chaos, Confusion and the Ordering of Pure Experience
Empiricism is an account of how we gain knowledge of the world and, as such, it has all the appearances of epistemological common-sense: 'it does what it says on the tin'. But what happens when the idea is pushed to its most radical limits? To get a taste of how strange empiricism can be I shall look at William James' 'A World of Pure Experience' with particular focus on his ideas concerning 'continuous transition'.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Handout (Word .doc format)
Slides (Word .ppt format)
Talk text (PDF format)

Barbara Wainwright: Noam Chomsky and the Abuses of Empiricism
It has long been accepted that our knowledge of the external world is gained through the senses. Progress in science has relied on the empirical method – observation, the formation of hypotheses and experimentation to verify or reject these hypotheses. Noam Chomsky was not the first to question this view of scientific progress, but he was the most radical. I hope to defend his rejection of empiricism in the cognitive sciences, and show that his conclusions are of vital relevance to philosophy.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Handout (Word .doc format)
Slides (Word .ppt format)
Talk text not available.

Jonathan Harlow: Making Sense of Experienc
Given that our minds were never tabulae rasae, and that some a priori concepts are needed to enable us to construct knowledge from experiential data, Kant reckoned to determine the nature of these by ratiocination. But studies of cognitive development and of language use give us a not only a much fuller picture of the nature of our preconceptions than we can adduce by pure reason, but also a different one. The a priori is itself a subject for empirical investigation.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Slides (Word .ppt format)
Talk text (PDF format)

Terry Duchow: Empiricism as an Ally for Knowledge
In considering the problem of knowledge as justified true belief, empiricism with its emphasis on experience may be knowledge's best ally. Considering that (1) experience is limited and (2) the mind is capable of knowing the conditions that make experience, then knowledge may still be possible. However, reason frames experience in meaningful ways. In other words, knowledge can be compared to architecture. It is built on experience and frames it while reflecting upon broader reality.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Slides (PDF format)
Talk text (PDF format)

Peter Gibson: Is Absolutely Everything Known Empirically?
As a universal doctrine, empiricism must give an account of the most difficult cases, so this talk will investigate an empirical account of standard logic. It will be claimed that logic is neither eternal truths, nor a mere invention like chess, but an attempt to map experience at a highly general level. The basic ingredients of logic will each be examined, to see whether a plausible connection can be made for each of them with the world we encounter in daily life.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Handout (PDF format)
Talk text (PDF format)

The Speakers

  1. Simon Borrington studied philosophy as a mature student at Middlesex Polytechnic back in the 80s when it was a centre for the 'Radical Philosophy' movement. He embarked on postgraduate work under the guidance of Jonathan Ree, but life got in the way. For thirty years philosophy has been a persistent background noise to his engagement with the world and his stumbling upon the OUDCE via the internet has provided a welcome opportunity (for him, at least) to re-join the conversation.
  2. Terry Duchow became interested in epistemology while pursuing an MA in art history. He took OUDCE's "Theories of Knowledge" course in search of an epistemology that can deal with knowledge in the cultural sciences. As a research coordinator in a real estate appraisal practice in the United States, he deals with business knowledge on an everyday basis
  3. Peter Gibson has retired from a long tenure at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, where he taught English and Philosophy. He is now the Secretary of the Philosophical Society, and is attempting to complete a PhD in metaphysics at Birkbeck. He compiles philosophical ideas on a website called philosophyideas.com. He also likes music and football.
  4. Jonathan Harlow, now retired, has served in the Royal Artillery and the Overseas Civil Service, worked as a business analyst and executive, and taught History and Economics in a comprehensive school, a university and adult education. He is much engaged in local history and got a PhD in 2008 with a thesis on a 17th century Bristol merchant.
  5. Peter Townsend read modern languages at Cambridge and graduated from the Footlights into advertising. He later spent time in teaching, acting, linguistics at SOAS, and freelance writing before retiring to Oxford and the pleasures of arguing with other members of Philsoc. As a result, he now knows a little about a lot.
  6. Barbara Wainwright studied philosophy many years ago, and then later turned to theoretical linguistics. She has been a member of the Philosophical Society for over twenty years, and looks on Rewley House as her "Health Farm of the Soul".


General: Wilfrid Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind (1997 edition with intro & study guide), Harvard University Press

For Simon Borrington: Two essays from William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism: A World of Pure Experience and Does 'Consciousness' Exist?

For Terry Duchow: Barbara Winters, "Hume on Reason", Hume Studies, Volume V, Number 1 (April 1979), pp. 20-35.

For Peter Gibson: David Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, Sections 11 to 33, and E.J. Lemmon Beginning Logic pp. 1 - 41.

For Jonathan Harlow: Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought.

For Peter Townsend: Tim Thornton, Sellars and the Myth of the Given.

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