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Great Thinkers

asch.jpg Solomon Asch and his conformity experiments

“ The human mind is an organ for the discovery of truths rather than falsehoods” - Solomon Asch

Solomon Asch is one of the leading psychologists of the 20th century. He was born in Warsaw, Poland but moved to the U.S. at age 13 where he received his education. He resided with his family in the lower east side of Manhattan where he remained until attending the College of the City of New York and graduated with his bachelor’s degree. After that, Asch went on to Columbia University where he received his master’s degree in 1930 and his Ph.D. in 1932. During the early years of World War II, Solomon worked as a Professor in Brooklyn College’s Psychology department. Later on, he also served as a Professor for 19 years at Swarthmore College and Professor of Psychology at the Institute for Cognitive Studies at Rutgers University. Solomon Asch became famous during the 1950’s for his series of psychological experiments, known as the Asch conformity experiments that demonstrated the effects of social pressure on conformity.

The Asch conformity experiments were designed and conducted in 1951 as a way to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform. He chose fifty male students from Swarthmore College to participate in a “vision test”. He then split the men into groups of eight where seven would be associates and one would be the outsider. The seven associates had already agreed on what their responses would be to the line judgment task questions, prior to the test, even if they were incorrect. By doing this, Asch was able to observe and compare the answers given by the outsider in relation to the answers of the other seven kids. The real participant, the outsider, did not know that the other seven had consulted their answers in advance, but thought they were all real and new participants like him. The entire group was given a line vision test where they were told to state aloud which comparing line they thought is most like the target line. Asch took careful precautions to make sure that the answers to the vision test were always obvious and easy so that the real participant would know the truth. Asch also set up the experiment so that the real participant sat at the end of the row of students and gave their answer after everyone else had given theirs.

Eighteen trials were performed total and everyone but the real participant gave the wrong answer, purposely, on a total of twelve trials. Asch’s overall goal was to see if the real participant would agree with the majority view, although he knew the correct answer. At the end of the experiment, Asch concluded that about 75% of the outside participants conformed at least once and only 25% never conformed to the clearly incorrect majority. Asch was also careful to set up a control group where there was no pressure to conform to associates since no one had agreed on answers in advance and found that less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer.
Overall, Asch’s experiment proves that one is most likely to conform if they are in a group setting. Even after the experiment, during an interview, the outside participants claimed that they did not really believe in their conforming answers but went along with the group because they didn’t want to be ridiculed or deemed weird. The main reasons for conformity are highlighted through the experiment, being that people want to fit in or they feel the group is better informed than they are. Asch’s experiments on conformity were a great way to examine the social construction of reality and inspire new research on the power of conformity. Asch’s conformity experiments greatly influenced the works of Stanley Milgram and set up the basis for his studies on obedience to authority.

The video above is not footage from the original 1951 experiment, but of a reenactment study done in the 1970's.

McLeoud,S.(2008).Asch Experiment. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/asch-conformity.html

Cherry,K. (n.d.). Solomon Asch Biography. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/profilesal/p/solomon-asch.htm



Zizek on the toxicity of the other.



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Past Lectures


Trinity Term 2012

Professor Stephen Yablo, (MIT)

'Truth and Content'


“Aboutness” is a grand-sounding name for something basically familiar. Books are on topics; portraits are of people; the 1812 Overture concerns the Battle of Borodino. Aboutness is the relation that meaningful items bear to whatever it is that they are on, or of, or that they address or concern.

Brentano made aboutness the defining feature of the mental. Phenomenologists have studied the aboutness-features of particular mental states. Materialists have sought to ground it in teleology or natural regularities. Attempts have even been made, in library science and the theory of information, to operationalize aboutness.

Stephen Yablo
Brentano made aboutness the defining feature of the mental. Phenomenologists have studied the aboutness-features of particular mental states. Materialists have sought to ground it in teleology or natural regularities. Attempts have even been made, in library science and the theory of information, to operationalize aboutness.


And yet the notion plays no serious role in philosophical semantics. This is surprising — sentences have aboutness properties, if anything does. One leading theory gives the meaning of a sentence by listing the scenarios in which it is true, or false. Nothing is said about the principle of selection, about how and why the sentence would be true, or false, in those scenarios. Subject matter is the missing link here. A sentence is true because of how matters stand where its subject matter is concerned.

I will be asking, first, how we might go about making subject matter a separate factor in sentence meaning/content, and second, what “directed contents” can do for us in other parts of philosophy.

The 2012 John Locke Lecture series was held at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays in weeks 2 to 6 of Trinity Term 2012. The lectures were given at the T. S. Eliot Lecture Theatre, Merton College.


Lecture 1 (2nd May) 'Semantic Excuses'

[Handout] [MP3]

Lecture 2 (9th May) 'The Truth and Something But the Truth'

[Handout] [MP3]

Lecture 3 (16th May) 'Extrapolation and its Limits'

[Handout] [MP3]

Lecture 4 (23rd May) 'Knowing About Things'

[Handout] [MP3]

Lecture 5 (30th May) 'Saying Things: Pretense and Presupposition'

[Handout] [MP3]

Poster Thumbnail


Trinity Term 2011

John Cooper, (Princeton)

'Ancient Greek Philosophies as a Way of Life' 

The 2011 John Locke Lectures


Philosophy is a demanding intellectual discipline, with many facets: logic, epistemology, philosophy of nature and science, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of art, rhetoric, philosophy of language and mind. But a long tradition of ancient Greek philosophers, beginning with Socrates, made their philosophies also complete ways of life. For them reason, perfected by philosophy—not religion, not cultural traditions and practices—constitutes the only legitimate authority for determining how one ought to live. They also thought philosophically informed reason should be the basis for all our practical attitudes, all our decisions, and in fact the whole of our lives. In these lectures we examine the development of this pagan tradition in philosophy, from its establishment by Socrates, through Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicurus, the Pyrrhonian Skeptics, and Plotinus and late ancient Platonism.

The 2011 John Locke Lecture series was held at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays in weeks 1 to 6 of Trinity Term 2011. The lectures were given at the Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, St Cross Building, Manor Road. The classes took place at the Faculty of Philosophy, 10 Merton Street.

Lecture 1 (4th May): 'Philosophy in Antiquity as a Way of Life' [Handout] [MP3]

Lecture 2 (11th May): 'Aristotle's Philosophy as Two Ways of Life' [MP3]

Class/Seminar (18th May): 'The Epicurean and Pyrrhonian Ways of Life' (Texts and Discussion).

Lecture 3 (25th May): 'The Stoic Way of Life' [Handout] [MP3]

Lecture 4 (1st June): 'Platonism as a Way of Life' [Handout] [MP3]

Class/Seminar (8th June): 'Plotinus on the Human Person and the Virtues' (Texts and Discussion)


Trinity Term 2010

Professor David Chalmers (ANU)

'Constructing the World'

John Locke Lecture


In Der Logische Aufbau Der Welt, Carnap argued that all truths are definitionally entailed by a very limited class of truths. Most philosophers think that the project of the Aufbau is a failure and that nothing like it can succeed. I will investigate the prospects for an Aufbau-like project, centering around what I call the Scrutability Thesis: all truths are a priori entailed by a very limited class of truths. I will also discuss applications to Carnapian projects in epistemology, the philosophy of language and mind, metaphysics, the philosophy of science, and metaphilosophy.

The lectures took place on Wednesdays, Weeks 2 to 7, of Trinity Term 2010. They started at 5pm, and took place at the Gulbenkian Theatre, St Cross Building, Manor Road.

Lecture Schedule:

  • Lecture 1 (5th May): A Scrutable World [Handout] [MP3] [Slides]
  • Lecture 2 (12th May): The Cosmoscope Argument [Handout] [MP3] [Slides]
  • Lecture 3 (19th May): The Case for A Priori Scrutability [Handout] [MP3] [Slides]
  • Lecture 4 (26th May): Revisability and Conceptual Change: Carnap vs. Quine [Handout] [MP3] (No slides were used)
  • Lecture 5 (2nd June): Hard Cases: Mathematics, Normativity, Ontology, Intentionality [Handout] [MP3] [Slides]
  • Lecture 6 (9th June): Whither the Aufbau? [Handout] [MP3] [Slides]

The book manuscript can be found at http://consc.net/oxford/


Trinity 2009

Thomas M. Scanlon (Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, Harvard) 

'Being Realistic about Reasons'

Abstract: The idea that there are irreducibly normative truths about reasons for action, which we can discover by thinking carefully about reasons in the usual way, has been thought to be subject to three kinds of objections: metaphysical, epistemological, and motivational or, as I would prefer to say, practical. Metaphysical objections claim that a belief in irreducibly normative truths would commit us to facts or entities that would be metaphysically odd—incompatible, it is sometimes said, with a scientific view of the world. Epistemological objections maintain that if there were such truths we would have not way of knowing what they are: we could “get in touch with” them only through some strange kind of intuition. Practical objections maintain that if conclusions about what we have reason to do were simply beliefs in a kind of fact, they could not have the practical significance that reasons are commonly supposed to have. This is often put by saying that beliefs alone cannot motivate an agent to act, but it is better put as the claim that beliefs cannot explain action, or make acting rational or irrational in the way that accepting conclusions about reasons is normally thought to do.

I will argue that all of these objections are mistaken. The idea that there are truths about are reasons for action does face serious problems. But these are normative problems—problems internal to the normative domain, whose solutions, if there are such, must themselves be normative.

The lectures took place on Wednesdays, Weeks 1 to 5, of Trinity Term 2009. They started at 5pm, and took place at the Gulbenkian Theatre, St Cross Building, Manor Road.


Lecture Schedule:



Trinity 2008

Professor Hartry Field (NYU), ‘Logic, Normativity, and Rational Revisability’ - Wednesdays at 5pm, Weeks One to Six (23rd April to 28th May 2008) was held in the Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, St Cross Building, Manor Road, Oxford 
(n.b., the Lecture in Fifth Week (21 May) took place in Lecture Theatre II of the St Cross Building, not the Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre)


Handouts Podcasts
Wednesday 23rd April 2008 - Lecture 1 (PDF) Podcast Icon (MP3 - 28.8Mb)
Wednesday 30th April 2008 - Lecture 2 (PDF) Podcast Icon (MP3 - 31.9Mb)
Wednesday 7th May 2008 - Lecture 3 (PDF) Podcast Icon (MP3 - 27.7Mb)

Wednesday 14th May 2008 - Lecture 4 (PDF)

Podcast Icon (MP3 - 27.0Mb)
Wednesday 21st May 2008 - Lecture 5 (PDF) Podcast Icon (MP3 - 30.3Mb)
Wednesday 28th May 2008 - Lecture 6 (PDF) Podcast Icon (MP3 - 26.5Mb)


Trinity 2007 

2006-2007 Professor Robert Stalnaker
(TT2007) MIT
Our knowledge of the internal world
Lecture One (Wednesday 2nd May):
Starting in the middle
abstract (PDF) handout(PDF) lecture(MP3)
Lecture Two (Wednesday 9th May): 
Epistemic possibilities and the knowledge argument
abstract (PDF) handout(PDF) lecture(MP3)
Lecture Three (Wednesday 16th May): 
Locating ourselves in the world
abstract (PDF) handout(PDF) lecture(MP3)
Lecture Four (Wednesday 23rd May): 
Phenomenal and epistemic indistinguishability
abstract (PDF) handout(PDF) lecture(MP3)
Lecture Five (Wednesday 30th May): 
Acquaintance and essence
abstract (PDF) handout(PDF) lecture(MP3)
Lecture Six (Wednesday 6th June): 
Knowing what we are thinking
abstract (PDF) handout(PDF) lecture(MP3)


Trinity 2006

Professor Robert Brandom Between Saying and Doing: Towards an Analytic Pragmatism
  Pittsburgh University

Lecture 1 - Week 2 (3 May): “Extending the Project of Analysis”


Text (PDF)

Lecture 2 - Week 3 (10 May): “Elaborating Abilities: The Expressive Role of Logic”


Text (PDF)

Lecture 3 - Week 4 (17 May): “Artificial Intelligence and Analytic Pragmatism”

Handout(PDF) Text (PDF)

Lecture 4 - Week 5 (24 May):“Modality and Normativity: From Hume and Quine to Kant and Sellars”

Handout(PDF) Text (PDF)

Lecture 5 - Week 6 (31 May): “Incompatibility, Modal Semantics, and Intrinsic Logic”

Handout(PDF) Text (PDF)

Lecture 6 - Week 7 (7 June): “Intentionality as a Pragmatically Mediated Semantic Relation”

Handout(PDF) Text (PDF)
Professor Ernest Sosa
Brown University and Rutgers University

Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge

Lecture 1 Dreams and the Cogito
Lecture 2 A Virtue Epistemology 
Lecture 3 Intuitions 
Lecture 4 Epistemic Normativity
Lecture 5 Virtue, Luck, and Credit 
Lecture 6 Circularity and Easy Knowledge

(TT 2004)
Professor J. Barnes
Paris-Sorbonne University
Truth, etc. Some Topics in Ancient Logic

Lecture 1 Truth
Lecture 2 Predicates and Subjects
Lecture 3 What is a Connector?
Lecture 4 Forms of Argument
Lecture 5 How to Justify Deduction
Lecture 6 What is the Point of Logic?

(TT 2003)
Professor K. Fine
New York University

Reference, Relation and Meaning

Lecture handouts:

Lecture 1 Variables 
Lecture 2 Frege's Puzzle 
Lecture 3 Names 
Lecture 4 Kripke's Puzzle 
Lecture 5 Belief
Lecture 6 Moore's Paradox of Analysis

2001-02 (TT 2002)
Christine Korsgaard 
Self-constitution: Action,Identity and Integrity

A copy of the lectures is held in the Philosophy Library, 10 Merton Street.

Lecture Handouts:
Lecture 1 RTF copy
Lecture 2 RTF copy
Lecture 3 RTF copy
Lecture 4 RTF copy
Lecture 5 RTF copy
Lecture 6 RTF copy
2000-01 (TT 01) Bas van Fraassen
Structure and Perspective: An Empiricist View 
1997-98 (TT 98) Lawrence Sklar
University of Michigan
Philosophy within Science
1996-97 (TT 97) Robert Nozick
Invariance and Objectivity
1996-97 (MT 96) Jerry Fodor
Rutgers University
Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong
1994-95 (TT 95) Frank Jackson
Australian National University
Supervenience, Metaphysics, and Analysis
1992-93 (TT 93) Tyler Burge
Sources and Resources of Reason
1991-92 (TT 92) Jonathan Bennett
Syracuse University, NY
Judging Behaviour: Analysis in Moral Theory
1990-91 (TT 91) John McDowell
University of Pittsburgh
Mind and World
1989-90 (HT 90) Thomas Nagel
New York University
Equality and Plurality
1988-89 Professor Ernst Tugendhat
University of Berlin
Withdrew due to illness
1986-87 Barry G. Stroud
University of California, Berkeley
The Quest for Reality
1983-84 David Lewis
Princeton University
On the Plurality of Worlds
1982-83 Daniel C. Dennett
Tufts University, MA
The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting
1979-80 David B. Kaplan
This and D That: A History of Demonstratives (postponed)
1978-79 Professor H.P. Grice
University of California, Berkeley
Aspects of Reason
1975-76 Hilary W. Putnam
Harvard University
Meaning and Knowledge
1974-75 Professor R.B. Brandt
University of Michigan
Psychology and the Criticism of Desires and Morality
1973-74 Saul Kripke
Rockefeller University, NY
Reference and Existence
(Lectures available in the Philosophy Library)
1971-72 Sydney S. Shoemaker
Cornell University
Mind, Body and Behaviour
1969-70 Donald Davidson
Princeton University
The Structure of Truth
1968-69 Noam Chomsky
Language and the Study of Mind
1967-68 Paul Lorenzen
University of Erlangen
Non-Empirical Truths
1965-66 Wilfred S. Sellars
University of Pittsburgh
Science & Metaphysics: Some Variations on Kantian Themes
1963-64 Jaakko Hintikka
University of Helsinki
Some Main Problems in the Philosophy of Logic
1961-62 Nelson Goodman
University of Pennsylvania
Languages of Art
1959-60 Gregory Vlastos
Princeton University
Mysticism & Logic in Heraclitus, Parmenides and Plato
1957-58 A.C. Jackson
University of Melbourne
Material Things
1955-56 A.N. Prior
Canterbury University College, NZ
Time and Modality
1954-55 Hao Wang
Harvard University
On Formalizing Mathematical Concepts
1950-51 Oets Kolk Bouwsma
University of Nebraska
The Flux


Dr Rodger Penrose and David Chalmers tackle the, "Hard question of consciousness."




What if the great men of history were modern liberals?

(e.g. walking talking cliches)

GEORGE WASHINGTON: "I deplore any thought of violence, there's nothing we can do anyways, I mean they're so powerful, what could we ever do? Yo, check out my new nipple piercing - it's rad! "

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: "I oppose attacking Hitler. Why stoop to his level, I mean really, then we become just like him!"

GHANDI: "The news says that our civil disobedience is against the law. It does seem kind of negative. And a thousand mile salt march? Maybe that'll come across as projecting too much?"

JOHN F KENNEDY: "I am committed to all decisions being made by consensus - Therefore, the question on whether Negros should have equal rights in the South shall be determined via a consensus decision making process... of the people of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina! "

MARTIN LUTHER KING: "Gosh, I hope I'm not being too assertive or judgmental, I mean, at least they let us ON the bus, what's wrong with the back?"

CHE GUEVARA: "I was just thinking, fighting these Gringos just 'empowers' them. Lets just ignore this massively financed oppression machine and hope it goes away by itself. What's that? They've turned our country into a feudal whore house? I don't want to hear all this negativity."

- A belief system cannot be built upon a foundation of cliches -


Gore Vidal comments on Athiesm



A discussion between one of America's great thinkers, Gore Vidal, and Lewis Lapham the editor of Harper's Magazine. 




Asch Conformity Experiment

Solomon Asch and his conformity experiments “ The human mind is an organ for the discovery of tru... Read more

Zizek - The Toxic Other

Zizek - The Toxic Other

Zizek on the toxicity of the other. Read more



Get free Philosophy courses from the world’s leading universities. You can download these audio &... Read more



Past Lectures   Trinity Term 2012 Professor Stephen Yablo, (MIT) 'Truth and Content' ... Read more

Consciousness Lectures

Consciousness Lectures

Dr Rodger Penrose and David Chalmers tackle the, "Hard question of consciousness." {youtube}MTuVozQ... Read more

What if:

What if:

What if the great men of history were modern liberals? (e.g. walking talking cliches)GEORGE WASHING... Read more

Gore Vidal - Why I'm an Athiest

Gore Vidal - Why I'm an Athiest

Gore Vidal comments on Athiesm Read more

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