The Philosophy Party 2015

02They say the third time’s the charm. And it certainly was a charming and merry evening at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House where the third Commencement Party (now renamed the Philosophy Party) was happening on 13th July, on the day of the commencement ceremony for our philosophy students. This year’s party saw roughly 50 guests, comprising of commencing students, honours students, alumni and faculty. The event opened with a speech by A/P John Holbo, peppered with anecdotes of his time at the University of Chicago as a Wittgenstein besotted undergraduate which left the guests chuckling as they made their way towards the buffet lines.

As with last year, we had a fantastic variety of mo01uthwatering dishes, ranging from Thai Green Curry with Vegetables, to Indonesian Butter Chicken and of course, the top favourite, Shepherd’s Pie—all to be washed down with a handpicked selection of craft beers, graciously sponsored by several faculty members. During the long interlude between the event’s opening and our next programme, students, professors, alumni took the chance to catch up and regale each other with tales (and woes) of studying philosophy. It was a wonderful time for easy but meaningful conversation, and the long interludes facilitated what was ultimately an evening of great company amongst friends, over good food and drink.

04After dinner, Shang Long, delivered a short but entertaining speech on behalf of the graduating class. Dosed with a generous helping of his own anecdotes from his days as an honours student in the Philosophy department, it sent the crowd laughing heartily in unison at his tales of mischief, and left them fondly reminiscing about their own experiences of their time as students in the department. Following that, A/P Loy Hui Chieh encouraged all present to participate in NUSgiving, emphasizing the importance of giving back to help needy students.

This year’s party is organized by a group of our own students from the Philosophy Interest Group. They put just about everything together–from selecting the menu, to the decorations, to sending out the invitations and reminders; and not to mention acquiring the beer. Their efforts were greatly appreciated by all present. One member, Si-En (a philosophy major), designed this year’s party logo, which was also placed on our commemorative doorgift, a double-walled plastic tumbler. The tumbler’s insert bore the tagline “You can never attend the same party twice”—a small tribute to the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. Both the tagline and design were well-received by the guests. The graduating class, received in addition a LiNUS lion plushie, kindly sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations: a cuddly reminder of their years in NUS.

05With the evening drawing to a close, the event ended with a group photo and a few words by A/P Loy, where he’d mentioned that he’d hoped to see our guests again for next year’s party. That our guests began to file out of the room reluctantly, moving to linger instead just outside the venue of the event whilst continuing to chat merrily, is, perhaps, symbolic of the success of the night’s event as a time for good food and drink, and even better company.


(You can see more photos from the event on this Facebook album.)

(Prepared by Ms. Rachael Yap, with input from A/P Loy)

ISPD:SG50 Edition

ISPD Poster_with NUS110 SG50 Gadfly logos_11 JulyOn Saturday 11 July, 2015, students from 19 different secondary schools gathered in Raffles Institution for the 12th annual Inter-School Philosophy Dialogue (ISPD). The ISPD is a yearly event organized by the RI Philosophy Department where secondary students meet to engage each other in interesting discussions. The aim of the event is to provide students with a platform from which to practice their critical thinking, analysis and presentation skills—and for them to experience how fun and engaging philosophical discussion can be.

After a keynote address, participating students were organized into small groups according to their allocated discussion topics. Guided by their facilitators, participants of the dialogue were given a valuable opportunity to engage with difficult philosophical issues. The most outstanding student in each group—the one that displays the virtues of a probing and charitable inquirer—was awarded the “Gadfly Award”.

ISPD 2015 is especially interesting and noteworthy because it coincides with SG50. In keeping with the spirit of 2015-07-11 08.59.44SG50, Mr Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, co-author of Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, was invited to be its keynote speaker. Mr Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh gave an engaging and thought-provoking keynote address on the topic of “Challenging the Singapore Consensus”. Furthermore, the thought experiments provided as discussion topics—all of which suggests questions in the area of ethics and politics—were also crafted for their relevance to ideas about nationhood, citizenship, governance and other societal issues.

ISPD 2015: SG50 Edition was extremely well-received by participants, facilitators and organizers alike. While many of the secondary schools represented have been attending ISPD in previous years, five schools joined for the very first time. The overwhelming consensus by the facilitators was that the level of discussion and the maturity of thought displayed by the participants were impressive and went beyond their expectations.

IMG_2175This year, as part of SG50 and NUS 110 celebrations, National University of Singapore is the main sponsor of the event through the Department of Philosophy. The Deputy Head of Department, Associate Professor Loy Hui-Chieh worked tirelessly with the event organizers, Ms Kristie Chen and Mr Ng Chong Jin to ensure the smooth running and success of the event, both of whom are alumni members of the NUS Philosophy Department. Further representing the start of a collaborative relationship between the Philosophy Departments of NUS and RI, Mr Huang Yuhuai, a graduating student of the Department, was also responsible for crafting the thought experiments used in the discussion as part of his internship with Raffles Institution. As with previous years, the vast majority of the facilitators who led the small group discussions are also current undergraduates, graduate students, as well as alumni members of the NUS Philosophy Department, making the event a veritable alumni gathering of the Philosophy Department.

2015-07-11 08.55.332015-07-11 10.52.402015-07-11 10.56.082015-07-11 11.11.542015-07-11 11.44.03IMG_2154

(Prepared by Mr. Wilson Lee and Mr. Jeremy Huang, with additional input from A/P Loy and Mr. Ng Chong Jin)

Philosophy Party 2015 (Jul 13)

The NUS Philosophy Department cordially invites our commencing students, the incoming honours students, alumni and faculty to our Philosophy Party 2015. Do join us for an evening of good food and even better company! The party will be held at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House, Seminar Room 2 on 13 July (Monday) from 6 – 9.30 p.m. We will be sending out invitations by email soon – in the meantime, save the date, spread the word, and we look forward to seeing you then!

Professor Ten Chin Liew awarded Emeritus Professorship by NUS



The Department of Philosophy proudly and heartily congratulates Professor Ten Chin Liew on being conferred the title of Emeritus Professor by NUS.

Professor Ten has accumulated over 25 years of service to the University, including 6½ years as Head of the Department of Philosophy, and countless hours as a dedicated and inspiring teacher and supervisor. He is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the political philosophy of J.S. Mill, and has contributed nationally in the areas of bioethics and laboratory animal research. Professor Ten’s ideas have influenced the likes of H.L.A. Hart (the preeminent legal philosopher of the 20th century), Joseph Raz (arguably the most important living legal philosopher), Nigel Walker (the great British criminologist), and Wayne Sumner (the distinguished Canadian legal and political philosopher). He has been a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities since 1989, and of the Academy of Social Sciences since 2000.

On this occasion the faculty, staff, and students of the Philosophy department, both current and former, would like to express our deep gratitude to Professor Ten for his invaluable contributions. We join the University in honoring an outstanding alumnus, who is also a cherished colleague, mentor and friend.

Note: The title of Emeritus Professor is conferred on a professor who is on or near retirement in recognition of the professor’s sustained contributions in terms of distinguished scholarship and conspicuous service to the University. (NUS University Statutes and Regulations, Regulation 8)

Hume Workshop (Apr 30)

Hume Workshop Poster

“Bradley, Hume, and Identity-in-Difference” by Donald L. M. Baxter (2.00-3.15pm)

In Appearance and Reality Bradley refers to what he calls “the old dilemma”: that attributions of identity are either so tautologous as to fail to be judgments, or are contradictions. Bradley’s approach is to appeal to identity-in-difference. “It takes two to make the same.” We nowadays will hear such claims in a Fregean way and will hear Bradley as failing to distinguish the truth of an identity statement from its informativeness. I suggest rather that we hear Bradley’s claim in a Humean way. Hume gave a compelling argument for identity-in-difference, though not in those terms. He raises a problem that cannot be understood nor addressed in the Fregean way, that is very like Bradley’s old dilemma. I’ve called it “Hume’s Difficulty concerning Identity.” How can we conceive there to be a single thing, on the one hand, and several distinct things, on the other, that are somehow identical? In a previous discussion of Bradley, I’ve called this same problem the “Problem of Complex-Unities.” Both Bradley and Hume thought a solution that did not conceal some contradiction was impossible. I myself think that Hume’s presentation of the problem suggests a genuine solution along the lines of my theories of Many-One Identity and of Aspects. For now, though, I just want us to hear Bradley’s old dilemma in a Humean way.

“Why Distinctions of Reason are a Real Problem for Hume’s Separability Principle” by Hsueh Ming Qu (3.30-4.45pm)

Commentators such as Kemp Smith (1941, p.256), Mendelbaum (1974, p.246), and Bricke (1980, p.71) have taken the distinctions of reason to pose either a counterexample to or a limitation of scope on the Separability Principle, a suggestion that has been convincingly addressed by various accounts such as Garrett (1997), Hoffman (2011), and Baxter (2011). However, I argue in this paper that there are two notions of ‘distinction of reason’, one between particular instantiations (token distinctions of reason) and one between general ideas (type distinctions of reason). Discussion of the distinctions of reason in the secondary literature has without fail focused on token distinctions of reason, but I will argue that type distinctions of reason prove problematic for Hume’s Separability Principle. In the end, I find a way around this problem that is consonant with Hume’s account of general ideas, but which can hardly be said to be an account which he explicitly or even implicitly endorsed.

“The Concealed Operations of Custom: Hume’s Treatise From The Inside Out” by Jay Garfield (5.00-5.45pm)

I am about to start work on a book of this title. I want to share with you the guiding principles that motivate my reading of Hume in that book and the way they will inform my interpretation of Hume’s project. This is not even work-in-progress; it is work-in-imagination.  So, I am looking for advice.

About the Speakers:

BaxterDonald L. M. Baxter
is Professor and Department Head in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1984. He works in Metaphysics and Early Modern Western Philosophy. His monograph is Hume’s Difficulty: Time and Identity in the Treatise (Routledge 2008). He recently co-edited with Aaron J. Cotnoir an anthology on the metaphysics of parts and wholes entitled Composition as Identity (Oxford University Press 2014).

Hsueh QuHsueh Qu joined the Philosophy Department at NUS in 2015. Previously, he received his Ph.D. from New York University, and completed his undergraduate and B.Phil. at Oxford University. He is originally from Malaysia. His research interest is Early Modern, primarily the scholarship of David Hume; he also has interests in Kant, Ethics, and Metaphysics. In this, as in all his other endeavors, he asks you to forgive him his failings, for he is only Humean after all.

Jay GarfieldJay L Garfield is Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Professor of Humanities and Head of Studies in Philosophy at Yale-NUS College, Professor of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore, Recurrent Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Smith College, Professor of Philosophy at Melbourne University and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the Central University of Tibetan Studies.  He earned his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. Garfield’s most recent books are Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy (2015), Madhyamaka and Yogācāra: Allies or Rivals (with Jan Westerhoff 2015), The Moon Points Back: Buddhism, Logic and Analytic Philosophy (with Yasuo Deguchi, Graham Priest and Koji Tanaka 2015), Moonpaths: Ethics in the Context of Conventional Truth (with the Cowherds 2015) and Western Idealism and its Critics  (2011). His book Examination of the Percept: Dignāga’s Alaṃbanāparikṣā and its Commentaries (with Douglas Duckworth M David Eckel, Yeshes Thabkhas and Sonam Thakchöe) is under review and his book with Nalini Bhushan on Minds Without Fear: Philosophy in the Indian Renaissance is under contract. His next big project is a book on Hume’s Treatise to be called The Concealed Operations of Custom: Hume’s Treatise From The Inside Out.



RI Inter-School Philosophy Dialogue: SG50 Edition (July 11*)

The Philosophy Department of Raffles Institution has been organising an annual inter-school philosophy dialogue for secondary school students for the past 11 years. The dialogue session have students engaging one another in small group discussions based on a variety of stimuli revolving around a number of philosophical themes. These discussion sessions are facilitated by teachers who are teaching philosophy in schools across Singapore, many of them alumni of NUS Philosophy. This year, in the spirit of SG50 and NUS 110, the Department of Philosophy, NUS, is sponsoring the event, with the aim of nurturing the art of philosophical discussion, as well as connecting with our alumni members at the event.

Event: Inter-School Philosophy Dialogue: SG50 Edition
Date: 11 July 2015 (Sat)*
Time: 8.00 am – 12.30 pm*
Venue: Raffles Institution (Year 1 – 4 campus)

*Edited: please note amended date and time of above event

“On Putnam’s Account of the Precondition of Reference” by Tay Qing Lun (Apr 7)

In ‘Brains in a Vat’, Hilary Putnam argues that causal relations are a precondition of reference, and granted this point, the falsity of certain kinds of skeptical scenarios follow. I argue that his thesis is problematic, as it leads to an unacceptable conclusion: mathematical claims will end up false. Following that, I hope to show how some ways of salvaging his thesis may work, but only at the cost of his thesis’s anti-skeptical force.

Graduate Seminar Series.
Date: Tuesday, 31 Mar 2015
Time: 3 pm – 4 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Tay Qing Lun
Moderator: Theresa Helke

About the Speaker:

TayQingLun - PhotoQing Lun is pursuing his MA in NUS, where he is currently engaged in research on modal metaphysics.


“A Kantian Case for Prioritizing the Least Well-Off” by Jade Lim (Apr 7)

In this talk, I argue that we sometimes have to prioritize the least well-off. In order to do so, I will apply Kant’s Formula of Universal Law that says, “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.” I will show that we cannot will maxims that do not prioritize the least well-off as universal law and thus are not morally permitted to act in accordance with them. It then follows that we sometimes have to act against those maxims and prioritize the least well-off.

Graduate Seminar Series.
Date: Tuesday, 31 Mar 2015
Time: 2 pm – 3 pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Jade Lim
Moderator: Koh Hui Li

About the Speaker:

JadeJade’s main areas of research are in ethics and political philosophy. Her interests also extend to feminism, environmental ethics and race.

“On World-disclosure and the Difference Between Experiment and Exploration” by Sönke Ahrens (Apr 16)

In this presentation I would like to discuss why it is important to distinguish between the terms experiment and exploration as two forms of world disclosure. These terms are rarely systematically distinguished. Sometimes they are used as synonyms, sometimes in a hierarchical order when an experiment is described as a form or method of exploration. Sometimes experiment is understood as a rigorous method in the natural sciences and sometimes as a playful and untamed approach in the arts, as an exploration of possibilities. This confusion can be explained as an effect of an underlying paradox which comes into play when we think about the unknown and which is known best in the wording of Plato. Meno’s Paradox is that inquiry is either impossible or unnecessary as we either know what we are looking for, which would make inquiry unnecessary or that we do not know what we are looking for, which would make inquiry impossible. I suggest to understand this paradox as an empirical challenge for research and learning strategies and will argue that a better understanding about how scientists and learners explore and experiment empirically can help us to address epistemological challenges better theoretically. And that is by distinguishing clearly between experiment and exploration as two forms of world-disclosure. World-disclosure is a term borrowed from Heidegger and is used here as an attempt to conceptualize practical ways of dealing with this paradox in difference-theoretical terms. The other aim of this presentation is to explain what exactly that means.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 16 Apr 2015
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Sonke Ahrens
Moderator: Dr. Qu Hsueh Ming

About the Speaker:

S ahrensSönke Ahrens works in the field of Philosophy of Education with a focus on epistemology. In the last two years he worked as a substitute Professor for Philosophy of Education at the University of the German Federal Armed Forces in Munich, Germany. His research draws from philosophy, sociology and cognitive psychology and is an attempt to understand the impact of social change for education from different angles. His main interest, however, lies in the development of a General Theory of World-Disclosure. The English translation of his doctoral thesis on this topic “Experiment and Exploration. Forms of World-Disclosure” was published with Springer last year.

“Are humans rational or irrational?” by Sara Thokozani Kamwendo (31 Mar)


Ms. Sara Thokozani Kamwendo will be exploring the question “Are humans rational or irrational?”, surveying the history of recent developments in the study of human cognition leading to the field of Behavioural Economics. Her talk will take place on 31 Mar, 6pm, at the Level 1 Common Lounge, Tembusu College, Utown.

If you wish to attend this event, please register at