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THICK CONCEPTS

University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
3rd-5th July, 2009

Invited Speakers:

Jonathan Dancy (Reading; Texas, Austin)
Daniel Elstein (Leeds)
Allan Gibbard (Michigan, Ann Arbor)
Chris Hookway (Sheffield)
Tom Hurka (Toronto)
Simon Kirchin (Kent)
Jerry Levinson (Maryland)
Adrian Moore (Oxford)
Michael Smith (Princeton)
Alan Thomas (Kent)
Pekka Vayrynen (Leeds)
Nick Zangwill (Durham)

Supported by The Mind Association, and The University of Kent.

Many philosophers are familiar with the distinction between thin and thick
concepts. Canonical examples of thin concepts include goodness and badness,
rightness and wrongness. There are supposedly many examples of thick
concepts, including cruelty, kindness, beauty, elegance, and curiosity. A
number of issues arise in relation to thin and thick concepts. Many might
be familiar with a key debate, namely how one should construe the
relationship between thick concepts’ supposed descriptive aspects and their
supposed evaluative aspects. Do we have here two separable elements, or are
they best characterized as essentially inseparable, resulting in a form of
evaluation that is more specific than that found in thin concepts? There
might also be some familiarity with other issues raised, for example the
question of whether either sort of concept allows one to think and judge in
ways that make evaluative knowledge (or something like it) a possibility and
stable. But there are other issues that tend not to be as well known. For
example, is there a difference in kind between thin and thick concepts or is
there only a difference of degree? If the former, how might it be made out?
Furthermore, although writers will often use thick ethical concepts as their
main examples, it is commonly acknowledged that thick concepts crop up in
many areas of everyday thought. Are there any key differences between, say,
ethical and aesthetic thick concepts, differences in how they behave as
thick concepts? Thick ethical concepts might have some degree of
normativity, but how is this aspect related to the evaluative aspect and is
it present in typical aesthetic concepts? And, in all of this, is there any
difference of note between thick language, thick concepts, and (supposed)
thick features?

There are many other relevant issues. What is notable about
most of the questions concerning thick concepts is that there is relatively
little written on them, despite the familiarity of the distinction between
the thin and the thick. There are some articles here, and some discussions
in books there. However, a few writers are beginning to investigate and
study thin and thick concepts systematically, including some of the invited
speakers. The principal aim of this conference is to bring together a
number of philosophers of international repute who are interested in thick
concepts so that they can both pursue some of the familiar debates, and
raise and discuss new questions and ideas. It is envisaged that the
discussions will be of interest to moral philosophers, aestheticians,
epistemologists, metaphysicians, and philosophers of language amongst
others.

Call for Papers:

There will be open sessions in which some non-invited speakers can present
their work. Papers dealing with any aspect of thick concepts are
encouraged. Submissions should be emailed to the conference organiser,
Simon Kirchin, at:

thickconcepts@kent.ac.uk

by Monday 2nd February 2009. Submissions should be prepared for blind
review, be a maximum of 2,000 words long, have an additional 200 word
abstract at the start, and contain lines of thought presentable in 20
minutes. The author’s name, affiliation, and email address should be sent
in a separate file. Word or PDF files are preferred. Decisions will be
made by 30th April 2009. Postgraduates in particular are encouraged to
apply, with a prize of 50 pounds available for the best postgraduate talk.
(Speakers in the open sessions will not be reimbursed for any costs
incurred.)

A conference website, with details about bookings, etc., will appear early
in 2009.

Best wishes,

Simon


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