College gets ‘self’-ish with conference

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September 23, 2008

3:03 AM

This Thursday and Friday, the College of William and Mary philosophy department will host the second William and Mary Biennial Colloquium in Philosophy, entitled “The Study of the Human Self.”

At this interdisciplinary conference, which will explore the nature of human agency and free will, nine neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers will gather to discuss their own research and what their respective fields have to contribute to the discussion of humans’ conception of the self.

Philosophy professor Paul S. Davies, who organized the conference, first conceived of it two years ago after the first conference, “The Future of Democracy.” In order to help his idea come to fruition, Davies began planning the conference in November 2006. Davies worked with former Department Chair Noah Lemos, Dean of Arts and Sciences Carl Strikwerda and Terry Thompson ’67, a major donor to the department, to plan the conference.

Participants include University of Texas philosophy professor Robert Kane, Harvard University psychology professor Daniel Wegner and Yale University philosophy professor Tamar Szabo Gendler. Each will present papers addressing the questions around which the conference centers: “What kind of agents are we? What are we like as deliberators, choosers and actors? What are the methods of inquiry most likely to help us discover the truth about our capacities as agents?”

Each participant will provide a brief synopsis of his or her paper and address questions from both each other and the audience. Several College faculty members will also participate. Biology professor John Griffin, the director of the neuroscience program, psychology professor Christopher Ball, philosophy professor Matthew Haug and law professor James Dwyer will serve as moderators.

The conference is funded by the Rachel and E.W. Thompson Philosophy Endowment, the Foradas Philosophy Department Speaker’s Series Endowment, the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, and individual registration costs.

Additionally, Riverside Regional Medical Center’s Department of Medical Education is the Continuing Medical Education sponsor for the conference; physicians can receive CME credit by attending the conference. Davies hopes physicians will come for the credit but leave having gained much more.

“It might have some practical implications in terms of your personal practice,” he said. “It would alter the way that physicians think of conceptualizing people as persons and people as patients.”

Davies also sees the conference as having an impact in the broader philosophical sense.

“Philosophical problems — I think this is historically true — are problems that arise in light of what we know and what we don’t know about the world,” he said. “What we’re learning over the past 20 and 30 years about how the brain works is bound to alter what we take to be our most philosophical problems. In that sense, I’m very pleased with the conference.”

The conference will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Hospitality House and conclude at 5 p.m. Friday. The academic portion of the conference is free for all students and faculty of the College.

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