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Diaphora: Philosophical Problems, Resilience and Persistent Disagreement

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DIAPHORA (Diaphora: Philosophical Problems, Resilience and Persistent Disagreement)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-12-31

DIAPHORA was a joint European research and training platform for collaborative research on the nature of philosophical problems, their resilience, the sources of persistent divergence of expert opinion about their resolution, and the similarities and dissimilarities they bear to certain hard problems in the practical sphere that would likewise seem to give rise to persistent disagreement among the well-informed. DIAPHORA’s research programme was driven by three overarching objectives: to diagnose what makes philosophical problems so resilient and to clarify to what extent the sustained lack of convergence in philosophy can successfully be explained by the hardness of its problems; to explain why the tendency has not been towards a general agnosticism about candidate solutions, but rather towards divergence, and to identify features of philosophical method that allow for such persistent peer disagreement; and to explore whether the dynamics of philosophical debate bears important and instructive resemblances to the dynamics of debates about more practical matters. The network resolved to approach these issues, from the bottom up, by studying particularly hard philosophical problems arising in the philosophies of logic and language, metaphysics and epistemology, by clarifying the structure and preconditions of reasoned debate itself, and by interacting with non-academic players in the practical sphere. It offered different diagnoses for different areas of philosophical thought. In many such areas, much of the work of philosophers consists in the rational reconstruction of extant theories, and the discernment of viable, perhaps hitherto unexplored alternatives. Progress does not here consist in convergence on a single theory, but recognition of the range of epistemically possible alternatives. In other areas of philosophy, theories are often laced with normative and axiological considerations whose relevance in each case is a matter of negotiation whose outcome helps to shape the subject matter. In yet other areas, a high degree of specialisation, the need for idealisation in the construction of models, and the precisification of research questions often conceal that progress is being made, but in the end are the symptoms of a mature and healthy science.
DIAPHORA employed 14 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) from 10 different countries whose individual projects were fully integrated into DIAPHORA’s workpackage structure. The network organised 9 workshops and 2 conferences for the research training of its fellows, 8 Training Days for their complementary skills training that prepared them for key aspects of their postdoctoral careers, and 2 Open Days for public outreach. Collaborate research was articulated into 7 workpackages (WPs). In WP1 on the nature of disagreement and philosophical method significant progress was made on at least three fronts: it was shown to what extent the conception of philosophy as rational reconstruction provides room to accommodate divergence; methodological choice-points and presuppositions were identified that shape contemporary metaphysics; it was shown that progress is often stifled by conflation of basic notions and failure to fully absorb the results in other areas. Participants in WP2 on the paradoxes advanced the current discussion of substructural solutions, the study of hyperintensional logics, and epistemic conceptions of vagueness. In WP3 on determinism and the open future, important contributions were made to the study of tensed conceptions of reality and their systematic recapture within relativistic spacetime. Participants in WP4 on the A Priori and the epistemology of modality made significant contributions to the debates about abstraction, the roles of empirical knowledge and convention for our knowledge of different types of necessities, and scepticism about the A Priori. In WP5 on conceptual and perceptual content, participants advanced the understanding of conceptual variability as one source of disagreement; and significant progress was made in the study of the contents of perception and imagination. In WP6 on the structure of warrant and entitlement, significant progress was made on at least two fronts: the conception of entitlements as non-evidential warrants and its limits, and the logic of justification and its bearing on the current externalism/internalism debate. Participants in WP7 on first-person thought and self-knowledge advanced our understanding of the nature and communicability of first-person thoughts, of the conditions of concept possession, the theory of emotions, and the theory of intuitions.
The network produced research that clearly advanced the state-of-the-art in each of the philosophical areas within its remit, as is testified by the vast number of research presentations given by its members and its over 200 research publications in international, peer-viewed venues, many of which available open access in online repositories. Results were furthermore made available to the public in the context of network events. By the end of project, 2 of DIAPHORA’s ESRs had already successfully defended their dissertations, with the remaining 12 close to submission, 4 had been awarded other fellowships, 2 had received funding for a 4th year from their host institution, 2 had obtained teaching positions, and 1 had taken up a lucrative position in the IT-sector. As part of its outreach strategy, the network’s Open Day I on dangerous speech was part of the fourth edition of the Barcelona Pensa festival which ensured a high degree of visibility (http://www.ub.edu/diaphora/outreach/). To achieve an even higher degree of visibility and farther outreach, the network’s Open Day II on burning societal issues such as fake news and fact resistance was organised jointly with, and held at the premises of, the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona CCCB (http://www.ub.edu/diaphora/outreach/). The video-recording of this event was made available on the CCCB’s official website (https://www.cccb.org/en/multimedia/videos/cassandras-dilemma-the-threat-of-disinformation/231402).
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