Agnes Callard

Agnes Gellen Callard is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy. She received her B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1997 and her PhD from Berkeley in 2008. Her primary areas of specialization are Ancient Philosophy and Ethics.  She is particularly interested in weakness and strength of will, and in the problem of how moral improvement is possible. Here is a sample of her recent work:

I. Published Papers

"Practical Reason" (in the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Donald Davidson, 2013)
This paper lays out Davidson's theory of practical reason, locating his distinctive contribution in the area of the explanation desire-conflict.  He rejects the standard, desire-partitioning, model, and opts, instead, to partition reason itself: he distinguishes between forms of rationality that are constitutive of action, and forms of rationality that it is possible for an agent to depart from.

Ignorance and Akrasia-Denial in the Protagoras (forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy vol. 47)
This paper argues that Socrates does not, in fact, deny the possibility of akrasia in the Protagoras.  Instead, he offers a new conception of akrasia.  On the standard conception, akratics do X, while believing that it is bad to do X.  On Socrates’ conception, akratics do X, believing it is good to X, but falsely taking themselves to believe that it is bad to do X.  Socrates’ innovation comes in his understanding of the nature of that false self-ascription: akratics mistake a belief that X-ing is good for what is in fact a mere simulacrum (phantasma) that X-ing is good.  The paper first offers a new reading of Socrates’ famous ‘ridiculous’ argument (355a-357e), on which simulacrum-belief confusion emerges as the Socratic account of akrasia.  It then applies Socrates’ analysis of akrasia as simulacrum-belief confusion to Plato’s own vivid description of akrasia in Alcibiades’ speech in the Symposium, thereby defending the Socratic account as viable and psychologically realistic.  Finally, it identifies Socrates’ real target in the Protagoras: he is trying to refute, not the phenomenon of akrasia, but the defective account of knowledge (“the container view”) that produces the standard conception of akrasia.  

II. In Progress

Reasoning about Particulars in Prior Analytics B21
In book two, chapter 21 of the Prior Analytics, Aristotle famously insists that if someone knows that all triangles have 2R, he thereby has “knowledge through the universal” that a particular triangle has 2R—even if he has never encountered that triangle.  The standard account of “knowledge through the universal” attributes to Aristotle an implausibly strong closure principle: someone who knows AaB has “universal knowledge” of AaC for every C which is such that BaC.  I argue that this reading cannot fit the text of B21 because, among other reasons, it cannot make sense of the fact that Aristotle’s point is restricted to cases of reasoning about perceptible particulars. As an alternative to this “entailment conception” of knowledge through the universal, I propose an “identity conception”: my knowledge that “all triangles have 2R” already is (universally) knowledge that “this has 2R” for any particular triangle.  When I encounter the triangle in question, I do not acquire new knowledge.  Instead, I come to know what I knew before in a new way.  Aristotle describes this kind of rational transition as induction.  By deduction, we move from knowing one thing to knowing another, whereas by induction we move from knowing something in one way, to knowing the same thing in a different and more active way.  B21 addresses the question of how knowledge, which is of universals, can touch down in our changeable, perceptual world: induction makes it possible for knowledge of some universal to be knowledge of some perceptible particular.

Self-Creation Without a Regress
A human being is the source of her actions.  Is she, likewise, a source of herself?  Do we create ourselves?  There is an argument that says we cannot.  Suppose I am the cause of my future self.  Who is the cause of me?  Is it a past self?  But then who is the cause of her?  And so the argument forces us backwards through a series of ever less likely candidates to count as a source of ultimate responsibility.  Hence Nietzsche, in a passage cited approvingly by skeptics of self-creation, scoffed at the philosophical impulse “to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the swamps of nothingness.” He describes self-creation as a “rape and perversion of logic.”
I argue that the situation is not as dire as it appears.  The regress depends on a prevailing, but unnecessary, assumption about self-creation: that the creator self must be authoritative over the created self.  The alternative is to envision the created self as, instead, the agent’s authoritative self.  The key to dissolving the regress is to invert the traditional relation of conceptual and epistemic priority between the two selves, allotting priority to the created over the creator.  Self-creation can coherently be construed as the aspirational process by which a human being works her way towards responsibility for who she is.  If I aspire, I do not see myself as fashioning, controlling, sanctioning or shaping the self I create.  Instead, I look up to her, try to understand her, find my way to her.  In aspiration, it is they created self who, through the creator’s imperfect but gradually improving understanding of her, explains the path someone’s life takes.

Proleptic Reasons
Abstract: It is characteristic of what I call 'large scale transformative pursuits,' such as preparing to adopt a child, or learning an ancient language, or setting out to move to a foreign country, or get engaged, that we do not know precisely what we are getting out of that which we are setting out to do.   For it is the end-state (parenting, translating, feeling at home in a foreign country, being happily married) that offers up the actual engagement with the value on which any full appreciation of that value must be conditioned.   Nonetheless, such activities are not irrational.  It is possible to have an inkling of a value that you do not fully grasp, to feel the defect in your valuation, and to work towards improvement.  The reason for doing that work is provided by the value in question, but the defect in your grasp of that value also shapes the character of the activity it motivates.  I explore this distinctive kind of reason and argue that it eludes Bernard Williams' classification of reasons into  'internal' and 'external'.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Conflicts of Desire
Abstract: Someone who is torn between attending a classical concert and seeing a movie playing at the same time as the concert is extrinsically conflicted.  The satisfaction of one of his desires will, as a matter of contingent fact, lead to the frustration of another one of his desires.  Someone torn between love for her husband and spiteful hatred towards him is intrinsically conflicted: her desire that he fare well pulls directly against her desire to see him suffer.  We resolve extrinsic conflicts by deliberating as to what, all things considered, we ought to or prefer to do.  We cannot resolve intrinsic conflicts in this way.  Nor, pace Harry Frankfurt, can we resolve them by 'identifying' with the one desire and 'externalizing' the other.  Intrinsic conflicts are resolved over long stretches of time, through the aspirational work of becoming a different kind of person.

"Akratics as Hedonists"
This paper argues that the hedonism of the Protagoras does not represent Socrates' own view, but is, instead, a position that Socrates pins on the anyone who holds the standard conception of akrasia.  Since this conception is still standard, his argument has direct bearing on contemporary work: Socrates shows, contra Davidson, that we cannot understand akrasia in merely structural terms, but must commit to characterizing the value at stake in an akratic decision as that of pleasure.

"Enkratēs Phronimos"
This paper challenges the widespread assumption that the strong-willed person, the enkratēs, cannot have Aristotle’s virtue of practical wisdom (phronēsis).  It argues that the attribution of phronēsis to the enkratēs is needed to make sense of:
(1) Aristotle’s praise of both the rational and the irrational part of the enkratēs’ soul
(2) Aristotle’s conception of the weak-willed person (the akratēs) as ignorant and as lacking the particular premise
(3) Aristotle’s conception of phronēsis in Nicomachean Ethics (NE) VI.5-9.
Furthermore, it shows that the claim that the enkratēs is phronimos is consistent with Aristotle’s doctrine of the unity of the virtues, as expressed in NE VI.12-13.

III. Book reviews

"Review of Adreinne Martin's How We Hope.

 

CV (doc)

Agnes Callard's recorded Lectures

Agnes Callard on Elucidations (Dept of Philospohy podcast)


Contact

office: Stuart Hall 231-A
office hours: Spring quarter Thurs. 4:30-6:30
office phone: 773/702-4370
email: agcallard@uchicago.edu

 

Recent News

  • Agnes Callard was awarded a Franke Institute of Humanities Fellowship for the academic year 2015-2016.
  • Agnes Callard will give the Human Being and Citizen Autumn Quarter Lecture on November 27, 2012,"What is Courage?". Link

Recent & Upcoming Courses

PHIL 25706/35706. Phaedo. (=FNDL 25706) This class will be a close reading of Plato’s Phaedo, which is a dialogue about what it means to die, and what kinds of things escape death. In addition to interesting ourselves in the –dramatic and philosophical—structure of the dialogue as a whole, we will carefully examine each of Socrates’ arguments for the immortality of the soul. We will also read some contemporary philosophical literature both on the Phaedo itself, and on the problem of the afterlife. (IV) Winter 2015.

PHIL 55502. Socratic Intellectualism. We will read selections from, and secondary literature on, some early Socratic dialogues in order to engage with a set of Socratic theses on desire, motivation, and value: (1) Everyone desires the good (or: what he believes to be good?) (Meno, Gorgias, Lysis) ; (2) Everyone does what he believes (or knows?) to be best (Protagoras, Apology) (3)  It is better to be wronged than to do wrong (Gorgias, Apology) (4) Only good men do wrong voluntarily (Hippias Minor)
(5) Courage/Moderation is Wisdom (Laches, Protagoras, Charmides). We will want to examine these views both for consistency; for their individual merits; and in order to see whether we can put them together into a distinctively Socratic ethical point of view. (IV) Winter 2015.

PHIL 25000. History of Philosophy I: Ancient Philosophy. PQ: Completion of the general education requirement in humanities. Enrolled students who do not attend the first class will be dropped.  This is a course in Ancient Greek Philosophy.  We will study major works by Plato and Aristotle, ones that introduced the philosophical questions we struggle with to this day: What are the goals of a life well-lived?  Why should we have friends? How do we explain weakness of will? What makes living things different from nonliving things? What is the difference between knowledge and belief? What is definition and what is capable of being defined? Autumn 2014.

51512. Deliberation. Deliberation is practical reasoning, as opposed to practical reason—all intentional actions manifest practical reason, but only some require deliberation.  What is deliberation? Here are the basics: deliberation is a kind of thinking.  It takes time.   Unlike daydreaming, riddle-solving or theoretical contemplation, it is never done for its own sake.  It seeks an answer to the question, “What should I do?,” in circumstances in which the answer to that question is not immediately obvious. We will be interested both in the question of how we decide between available options (‘weighing reasons’) and how we generate for ourselves those very options.  Some Topics:
--The connection between deliberation and morality
--How dispositions to respond to reasons (character) contribute to deliberation
--How we know when we should deliberate  and when we have deliberated enough
--Whether there is anything (the good?  morality? virtue?) in the light of which we always deliberate
--The concept of a deliberative ‘frame’ as a way of marking off the subset of reasons that a particular act of deliberation concerns itself with
--How deliberation handles incommensurable values
--The principle of instrumental reason as a (the?) rule of deliberation
(I) Winter 2014.

26200. Intensive History of Philosophy, Part II: Aristotle. In this class, we will read selections from Aristotle's major works in metaphysics, logic, psychology and ethics. We will attempt to understand the import of his distinct contributions in all of these central areas of philosophy, and we will also work towards a synoptic view of his system as a whole.  There are three questions we will keep in mind and seek to answer as readers of his treatises: (1) What questions is this passage/chapter trying to answer?  (2) What is Aristotle's answer?  (3) What is his argument that his answer is the correct one?  Note: This course, together with introduction to Plato (25200) in the Autumn quarter, substitutes for and fulfills the Ancient Philosophy History requirement for the fall quarter: students can take these courses instead of taking PHIL 25000. Students must take them as a 2 quarter sequence in order to fulfill the requirement, but students who already have fulfilled or do not need to fulfill the Ancient Philosophy History requirement may take the one quarter of the course without the other. Winter 2014.

25200. Intensive History of Philosophy, Part I: Plato. In this class, we will read a number of Platonic dialogues and use them to investigate the questions with which Socrates and Plato opened the door to the practice of philosophy.  Here are some examples:  What does a definition consist in?  What is knowledge and how can it be acquired?  Why do people sometimes do and want what is bad?  Is the world we sense with our five senses the real world?  What is courage and how is it connected to fear?  Is the soul immortal?  We will devote much of our time to clearly laying out the premises of Socrates' various arguments in order to evaluate the arguments for validity.  Note: This course, together with introduction to Aristotle (26200) in the Winter quarter, substitutes for and fulfills the Ancient Philosophy History requirement for the fall quarter: students can take these courses instead of taking PHIL 25000. Students must take them as a 2 quarter sequence in order to fulfill the requirement, but students who already have fulfilled or do not need to fulfill the Ancient Philosophy History requirement may take the one quarter of the course without the other. Autumn 2013.

25000. History of Philosophy I: Ancient Philosophy. (=CLCV 22700) PQ: Completion of the general education requirement in humanities.  This is a course in Ancient Greek Philosophy.  We will study major works by Plato and Aristotle, ones that introduced the philosophical questions we struggle with to this day: What are the goals of a life well-lived?  Why should we have friends? How do we explain weakness of will? What makes living things different from nonliving things? What is the difference between knowledge and belief? What is definition and what is capable of being defined? Autumn 2010

20110. Plato's Theaetetus. (=FNDL 21713) Plato’s Theaetetus is the first systematic treatment of the question: what is it to know anything at all?  This class is a close reading of the dialogue; and an exploration of the nature of human knowledge.  Examples of questions we will think about are: What is it to define something?  What is the relationship between knowledge and perception?  What would it mean for a belief to be justified, over and above its being true?  How is false belief possible—and why would anyone think there is a problem about it’s being possible?  No Greek required.(B) Winter 2010

53710: Aristotle's Theory of Action. This class examines Aristotle's account of the nature of human action. Topics: choice and virtue and 'for its own sake'; voluntariness and responsibility; process, action, activity, capacity and product; nature, habit, ‘second nature’ and norm; desire, perception, and the cause of animal movement; teleology (purpose) in action as compared to natural teleology. Readings will center on Aristotles’s Nicomachean Ethics, with additional readings from his Eudemian Ethics, Physics, De Motu Animalium, De Anima, and Metaphysics. Secondary literature by J.L. Ackrill, H. Segvic, S. Broadie, D. Charles, J.M. Cooper, J. Whiting, G. Lear, V. Caston, A. Kosman, J. Richardson & others. We’ll end with a look at contemporary “neo-Aristotelian” accounts of action-theory, e.g. G.E.M. Anscombe, Michael Thompson, and others and try to assess how Aristotelian they really are. All students (including auditors) will do at least one presentation. Winter 2010. Syllabus

History of Philosophy I: Ancient Philosophy. PQ: Completion of the general education requirement in humanities. This course in ancient Greek philosophy studies major works by Plato and Aristotle that introduced the philosophical questions we struggle with to this day: What are the goals of a life well-lived? Why should we have friends? How do we explain weakness of will? What makes living things different from nonliving things? What is the difference between knowledge and belief? What is definition and what is capable of being defined? Autumn 2009.

Plato on Desire. PQ: Consent of instructor. Class limited to twenty students. What is it about us, or about the world, that makes us prone to initiating changes in it? The question of why we do anything at all is a question about the nature of desire, a subject on which Plato had a lot to say. In this seminar, we try to think, with Plato and Socrates, about the relationship between desire, pleasure, goodness, and action. Readings come from Plato’s Philebus, Symposium, Gorgias, Republic, and Protagoras.

Weakness of the Will. Sometimes we do something bad, even though we know better: we over-eat, or under-tip, or let our curiosity get the better of us. This phenomenon, known as “weakness of the will”, raises the following question: why would someone knowingly do what’s worse, when he’s fully capable of doing what’s better? Socrates found this kind of action so puzzling that he concluded it was impossible. Was he right? If not, then we need an account of such action; and such an account turns out to be surprisingly hard to give. But what may be even more suprising is that there is anything to puzzle over here: what could be less remarkable than the fact that sometimes we don’t behave the way we’re supposed to? Apart from this apparent lack of problematicity, weakness of will might seem too small a target for any systematic investigation. But from a philosophical point of view it makes up in location what it lacks in size and splendor; poised at the crucial spot where ethics, epistemology and the philosophy of mind intersect, weakness of the will forces us to re-ask questions fundamental to each area, among them: what is it to know the right course of action? Is such knowledge desirable, if it doesn’t issue in action? If I want something, do I have to see that thing as (in some way) good? Is there more than one way to be moved to act? Do souls have parts? (I) Winter 2010. Syllabus