June 3, 2020

Nima Khodabandeh proposes Social Phenomenal Conservatism in his PhD thesis defence

Why we must listen to the experts in order to have justified beliefs

On June 4, 2020, Department of Philosophy graduate student Nima Khodabandeh successfully defended his PhD thesis “Social Phenomenal Conservatism: Justification of Beliefs Through Self and Community” to committee members Dr. Jeremy Fantl (supervisor), Dr. John Arthur Baker and Dr. David Liebesman (supervisory committee members), Dr. Ann Levey (neutral chair), Dr. Dean F. Curran (internal examiner, Department of Sociology) and Dr. Chris Tucker (external examiner, William and Mary College).

Nima Khodabandeh defence committee

(clockwise from the top left) Nima Khodabandeh, Jeremy Fantl, David Liebesman, John Baker, Dean Curran, Chris Tucker

Ann Levey

Nima explains his thesis topic as addressing the limitations of a theory by Michael Huemer called Phenomenal Conservatism (PC), which states that if it seems to you that some proposition is true, and you are not aware of any reasons to doubt or reject the truth of the proposition, then you are at least somewhat justified in believing that proposition. In his dissertation, Nima extends PC into the social realm, creating Social Phenomenal Conservatism (SPC): “Often it's not enough just to have some proposition seem true to you in order for you to justifiably believe it; it also needs to seem to the supermajority of the relevant expert community that the proposition is true.”

We asked Nima about his graduate program experience in the Department of Philosophy. “I've been able to meet some amazing people in the Department of Philosophy, from administrative staff to faculty to fellow graduate students. Everyone in the department is so kind, so generous, so inclusive, so wonderful.” He explains that, in his five years at UCalgary, he’s also come to learn much about life in general, such as learning to cook (his first meal was barely edible!), managing financial resources, and dealing with life's stresses (moving four times in five years, for instance). He jokes to his father that “these past five years have been a crash course on how to be an adult.”

Although Nima won’t be pursuing an academic career in philosophy, he promises to “keep my eye on the world of philosophy from afar.” In addition to working outside of academia, he intends to focus on more creative endeavours, and is currently writing a short story collection, which he hopes to complete by next summer.