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SU's annual SPAWN conference, Aug. 16-18, focuses on philosophy of perception

July 21, 2008

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

Rob Enslin

The philosophy of perception is the theme of this year's Syracuse Philosophy Annual Workshop and Network conference (SPAWN) taking place Aug. 16-18 on the Syracuse University campus. The conference involves more than 40 distinguished participants from throughout North America and Europe, including keynote speakers Fred Dretske of Duke University, Mohan Matthen of the University of Toronto and Mike Martin of University College London.

Perception generally refers to awareness gained from the senses. As a field of study, it is one of the oldest and fastest growing in philosophy. "It is difficult to talk about philosophy without talking about perception," says Bence Nanay, conference organizer and assistant professor of philosophy at SU. He notes that there has been a "big boom" of interest in perception in the past decade. "Many people now take the empirical findings of vision science and psychology very seriously."

SPAWN includes nine paper sessions that address major questions about perception. Older questions, which stretch back thousands of years and are among the most fundamental in philosophy, explore the relationship between perception and knowledge, belief, sensation and imagination. More recent ones encompass hallucination, evolutionary fitness, visual media and empirical research.

One of SPAWN's distinguishing features is the unique interplay between junior and senior speakers. At most conferences, the senior speakers give the big talks, while the junior speakers provide commentary; here, it's the other way around. "The junior-senior divide is quite wide, with most junior speakers having gotten their Ph.D.s less than 10 years ago," explains Nanay, adding that some junior speakers are full professors at major universities. This year's event features 12 speakers, nine respondents, 12 out-of-town participants--some from as far away as Portugal and the United Kingdom--and several SU graduate students and faculty members.

Founded in 2005 by Tolley Professor and former department chair Robert Van Gulick, SPAWN is an invitation-only annual conference made possible by the Alice Hooker '34 Endowed Fund for Philosophy. Past themes have been practical reason (2007), value (2006) and consciousness (2005).

For more information and updates, contact Nanay at (315) 443-5828,, or visit .

SU's nationally recognized philosophy department is one of the crown jewels of The College of Arts and Sciences. For more information about the college, visit .

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