Headshot of Robert Stalnaker
Robert Stalnaker

Robert Stalnaker, the Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will deliver the first virtual Howison Memorial Lecture, “Counterfactuals, Compatibilism and Rational Choice,” on Wednesday, October 27, 2021 at 4:10 p.m. This lecture will be streamed live on the Berkeley Graduate Lectures website. Audience questions can be submitted during the event.

Stalnaker’s interests are wide-ranging, from philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and decision theory to pragmatics. Of his lecture, he notes: “I will discuss a puzzle about counterfactuals and determinism that parallels a more familiar puzzle about free will and determinism, arguing  first, that the general puzzle gives us reason to look more closely at the details of the semantics for counterfactuals, and second that the parallel with the standard argument for incompatibilism  gives us reason to look more closely at the central role of counterfactuals in practical reasoning. In this context, I will look at some debates about the foundations of decision theory, and at the interaction of causal, epistemic, and temporal concepts in reasoning about what to do, and about how to explain why rational agents do what they do.”

A prolific writer, Stalnaker is the author of four books: Inquiry (MIT Press, 1984), Our Knowledge of the Internal World (Oxford, 2007), Mere Possibilities (Princeton Press, 2012), and Context (Oxford, 2015). His most recent book, Context, explores the notion of the context in which speech takes place, its role in the interpretation of what is said, and in the explanation of the dynamics of discourse. He recently published, “Counterfactuals and probability” as a chapter in Conditionals, Paradox and Probability: Themes from the philosophy of Dorothy Edgington, Oxford University Press (2021).

Robert Stalnaker received his PhD from Princeton University in 1965, and subsequently taught, over the next fifty years, at Yale University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cornell University and MIT. In addition to the works mentioned above, he has published three collections of papers, all with Oxford:  Context and Content (1999), Ways a World Might Be (2003), and Knowledge and Conditionals (2019).  He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy.

Stalnaker was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992, and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy in 2013. He gave the Wedberg Lectures at the University of Stockholm (2010), the Gaos Lectures at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (2011), the Casalegno Lectures at Milan (2017), and the Rutgers Lectures in Philosophy (2018).

“I’m very pleased to welcome Professor Stalnaker to UC Berkeley,” says Lisa García Bedolla, Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division. “The Berkeley Graduate Lectures series continues a proud tradition of bringing some of the most prominent thinkers of our time to the Bay Area community. These engagements expose our students as well as the public to perspectives that stimulate both deeper reflection and better-informed action.”

The Howison Lectures in Philosophy are one of UC Berkeley’s oldest endowments. Friends and former students of the late Professor George Holmes Howison, a popular philosophy professor, endowed a memorial lectureship at Berkeley in his name in 1919.