We are a University of London group aimed at fostering intercollegiate research in the Philosophy of Mind. We host both talks and read-ahead discussions where postgraduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty can share their work.

In the Autumn of 2021 our meetings will return to Senate House and will be open to any current graduate/postgraduate students, postdoctoral students, and faculty members from London and beyond.


Upcoming Talks

Lauren Slater (Birkbeck, University of London) - Talk

4-5.30pm October 11, 2021: Talk at the Senate House, Room G37 & Online

The Corners of the Mind: Descartes and Berkeley on Geometric and Linguistic Accounts of Sensation

At various points across his corpus, Berkeley criticises the ‘geometricians’, who are generally taken to be Descartes and Malebranche, for their accounts of visual experience. According to Berkeley, Descartes presents us with a ‘geometric optics’, whereby we perceive the position and distance of objects “by the bigness of the angle made by the meeting of the two optic axes”.[1] Berkeley is critical of this ‘natural geometry’ (a phrase from Descartes’ Optics) which he takes to be the view that the mind actually perceives the lengths and angles between the eyes and external objects.[2]  Since we are not conscious of any such perception or calculation of angles, Berkeley dismisses this view of visual perception. He is often thought to have offered a linguistic account of sensation instead, whereby our sensations are terms in a universal language that signify distance, magnitude, figure, and so on.

I claim that Berkeley mistakes Descartes’ physiological account for a psychological account. Contrary to Berkeley’s reading, Descartes does not hold that we perceive (as in, have sensory perceptions of) the lines and angles made between our eyes and external objects, although we do have sensory perceptions of particular objects being in some position, or at some distance. The geometrical figurations of the optic axes are only important insofar as they give rise to these sensory ideas by means of the movements of the nerves in the brain.

I will argue that Descartes’ account only deserves to be called ‘geometric’ in two respects, whereas Berkeley calls it ‘geometric’ in another. First, that geometrical properties can be understood as properly belonging to external objects, but that this understanding is intellectual, not sensory.  Second, that Descartes’ physiological account of sensation can be described in geometrical terms, but that his psychological account of sensation cannot. Instead I argue that, like Berkeley, Descartes also has a linguistic account of sensation rather than a geometric one.

While he may not have been aware of it, I claim that Berkeley can agree with Descartes on the following points: (1) that God communicates information about what is helpful and harmful through our sensations, (2) that our sensations are like linguistic terms in that they do not resemble what they signify, (3) that our sensations are like linguistic terms insofar as there is no necessary connection between them and what they signify, and (4) that God is the preserver of the ‘meaning’ of our sensations. In view of these similarities, and the analogy between language and sensation that Descartes draws many times in his works, I conclude that there is strong reason to see the Cartesian sensory system as a language system.

[1] George Berkeley, Berkeley: Philosophical Writings, ed. Desmond M. Clarke, 1 edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). p.9.

[2] René Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch, vol. I & II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). Vol. 1, p.170.

Giulia Luvisotto (Warwick) - Talk

4-5.30pm October 25, 2021: Senate House, Room G37 & Online

Responsibility for beliefs: how pluralist should a virtue theorist go?

Galen Strawson (UTexas)

4-5.30pm November 22, 2021: Senate House, Room G37 & Online

Charles Augustus Strong: real materialist, evolutionary naturalist, (critical) direct realist, enactivist, Myth buster, panpsychist

Alex Moran (Oxford)

4-5.30pm December 6, 2021: Senate House, Room G37 & Online

Knowing the qualitative: grounding physicalism and the knowledge argument

Abstract:  Standard responses to the knowledge argument grant that Mary could know all of the physical facts even while trapped inside her black and white room. What they deny is that upon leaving her black and white room and seeing red for the first time, Mary learns a new, non-physical fact. This paper explores an alternate response, which is available to non-reductive physicalists, namely, that while trapped in the black and white room, Mary was not in a position to know all of the relevant physical facts. On this view, there are certain physical facts that can only be known on the basis of undergoing suitable kinds of conscious experience. The paper articulates this neglected response to the knowledge argument, and explains, in particular, how it can be developed in a grounding physicalist framework. It thereby highlights one distinctive way in which grounding physicalism has an important advantage over rival (and especially reductive) physicalist views, namely, insofar as it can straightforwardly allow that Mary learns a new fact when experiencing red for the first time. 


Our Past Events


Adrian Alsmith (KCL)

June 14, 2021

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