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Winter Colloquium Series - Manuel Vargas, "The Philosophy of Accidentality"
WhenFriday, Feb. 1, 2019, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Campus locationSavery Hall (SAV)
Campus roomSAV 264
Event typesLectures/Seminars
Event sponsorsDepartment of Philosophy
University of Washington

Location: Savery Hall 264

Title: The Philosophy of Accidentality

Manuel Vargas
Department of Philosophy
UC San Diego

Abstract: In a now mostly forgotten mid-20th century philosophical tradition, a peculiar quasi-nationalist existentialist project flourished. The animating idea of this tradition was that the agency of individuals is oftentimes structured by culture and norms in subtle ways that merit careful philosophical investigation. This paper revisits some of those ideas, including the idea that under some conditions agents can be especially aware of the contingent nature of culturally specific norms and values, and that this awareness can produce a particular experience of normative instability. This experience—call it accidentality—turns out to be useful outside of the historical context of its genesis. In particular, thinking about accidentality can illuminate various forms of social subordination and socially-scaffolded agency, including cultural alienation, biculturality, and double consciousness.

Manuel R. Vargas is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. His research focuses on the overlap of moral, psychological, and legal issues concerning human agency and freedom. He also writes about Latinx and Latin American philosophy. Previously, he was a Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of San Francisco.
Most of his writing has focused on the basis of blame, punishment, and moral responsibility, emphasizing the social aspects of our moral practices and the challenges of fitting in our normative aspirations with a broadly naturalistic picture of humans. His account of moral responsibility can be found in Building Better Beings: A Theory of Moral Responsibility (OUP, 2013). He is also a co-author, with John Martin Fischer, Robert Kane, and Derk Pereboom, of Four Views on Free Will (Blackwell, 2007), and he co-edited, with Gideon Yaffe, Rational and Social Agency: The Philosophy of Michael Bratman (OUP, 2014). Vargas's research has been recognized with a variety of national awards, prizes, grants, and fellowships. Building Better Beings was awarded the American Philosophical Association's Book Prize in 2015 (this award is given every two years for the best book in philosophy by a younger scholar). In 2004, he was a recipient of the first American Philosophical Association Prize in Latin American Thought.…
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