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School of History, Philosophy and Culture
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+44 (0)1865 488566
Stephen Boulter is Senior Lecturer and Field Chair of Philosophy and Ethics within the Division of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies.
He has an Hons BA and MA from the University of McMaster (Canada) and a PhD from the University of Glasgow. Before coming to Oxford Brookes Stephen was Gifford Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.
His research interests include the philosophy of language, the philosophy of evolutionary biology, perception, metaphysics, virtue ethics and metaethics, Aristotle and medieval philosophy. He has also been contracted to the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum (SCCC) as a Development Officer and National Trainer of the new Scottish Higher and Advanced Higher in Philosophy (the Scottish equivalent of the English A-Level) in the past.
Boulter SJ, 'Can Consequences be Right-Makers?' Philosophia 45 (1) (2017) pp.185-205ISSN: 0048-3893 eISSN: 0048-3893Abstract This paper sets out a novel challenge to consequentialism as a theory in normative ethics. The challenge is rooted in the ontological claim that consequences of actions do not exist at the time required to be that in virtue of which actions are right or wrong, and so consequences cannot play the role attributed to them by consequentialists. The challenge takes the form of a dilemma. The consequentialist is confronted with a set of propositions she will find individually plausible but incompossible if taken in conjunction with consequentialism. The task is to restore consistency. There are ways of maintaining the view that consequences are right-makers, but they come at the cost of endorsing highly implausible and unattractive theses. Versions of what might be called quasi-consequentialism can be rendered metaphysically coherent, but these are consequentialisms in name only, and they are best seen as components of an account of practical rationality that has strong echoes of traditional natural law theory. Since this is
unlikely to appeal to contemporary consequentialists, their best bet is to reject consequentialism altogether.
Boulter S J, 'On the Very Possibility of Historiography' Journal of the Philosophy of History 11 (2) (2016) pp.196-220ISSN: 1872-261X eISSN: 1872-261XAbstract The familiar challenges to historiographical knowledge turn on epistemological concerns having to do with the unobservability of historical events, or with the problem of establishing a sufficiently strong inferential connection between evidence and the historiographical claim one wishes to convert from a true belief into knowledge. This paper argues that these challenges miss a deeper problem, viz., the lack of obvious truth-makers for historiographical claims. The metaphysical challenge to historiography is that reality does not appear to co-operate in our cognitive endeavours by providing truth-makers for claims about historical entities and events. Setting out this less familiar, but more fundamental, challenge to the very possibility of historiography is the first aim of this paper. The various ways in which this challenge might be met are then set out, including ontologically inflationary appeals to abstract objects of various kinds, or to “block” theories of time. The paper closes with the articulation of an ontologically parsimonious solution to the metaphysical challenge to historiography. The cost of this approach is a revision to standard theories of truth. The central claim here is that the standard theories of truth have mistaken distinct causes of truth for truth itself. This mistake leads to distorted expectations regarding truth-makers for historiographical claims. The truth-makers of historiographical claims are not so much the historical events themselves (for they do not exist) but atemporal modal facts about the order of things of which those events were a part.Website
Boulter S J, 'Education From a Biological Point of View' Studies in Philosophy and Education 36 (2) (2016) ISSN: 0039-3746 eISSN: 0039-3746Abstract There appears to be an irresolvable disagreement between “progressives” and “conservatives” regarding the ultimate aims of education. This paper argues that the dispute is irresolvable as it currently stands because the traditional progressive/conservative dichotomies are false and based on distorted half-truths. The current impasse is due to the fact that educationalists and philosophers alike have hitherto misunderstood the fundamental purpose of educational activities. The central claim of this paper is that a biological perspective on education allows one to see past the traditional dichotomies and affords a coherent rationale for a set of curricular priorities by providing the framework necessary to draw principled distinctions between education, training, indoctrination, and enculturation, all without having to draw on contentious politico-ideological commitments.
Boulter S, 'Aquinas on Biological Individuals: An Essay in Analytical Thomism' Philosophia 41 (2013) pp.603-616ISSN: 0048-3893 eISSN: 0048-3893Abstract This paper presents a version of analytical Thomism that brings the principles of Aquinas into systematic and sustained contact with the sciences as opposed to contemporary philosophy. The leading idea of this version of analytical Thomism is to test the viability of scholastic principles by seeing if they provide the resources to cope with problems emerging from the natural and social sciences. If they do, then Thomism vindicates itself in the marketplace of ideas. If not, then the analytical Thomist knows where the perennial philosophy needs further development and perhaps revision. The first part of the paper sets out the rationale for this project. The remainder of the paper illustrates this approach by examining a problem emerging from evolutionary biology, namely, the provision of a theory of individuation for living entities.Website
Boulter S, 'Can evolutionary biology do without Aristotelian essentialism?' Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 70 (July) (2012) pp.83-103ISSN: 1358-2461 eISSN: 1358-2461Website
Boulter S, 'The medieval origins of conceivability arguments' Metaphilosophy 42 (5) (2011) pp.617-641ISSN: 0026-1068 eISSN: 0026-1068Abstract The central recommendation of this article is that philosophers trained in the analytic tradition ought to add the sensibilities and skills of the historian to their methodological toolkit. The value of an historical approach to strictly philosophical matters is illustrated by a case study focussing on the medieval origin of conceivability arguments and contemporary views of modality. It is shown that common metaphilosophical views about the nature of the philosophical enterprise as well as certain inference patterns found in thinkers from Descartes to Chalmers have their origin in the theological concerns of the Scholastics. Since these assumptions and inference patterns are difficult to motivate when shorn of their original theological context, the upshot is that much post-Cartesian philosophy is cast in an altogether unfamiliar, and probably unwelcome, light. The methodological point, however, is that this philosophical gain is born of acquaintance with the history of ideas.Website
Boulter S, 'The aporetic method and the defence of metaphysics' in Aristotle on method and metaphysics, Palgrave Macmillan (2013) ISBN: 9780230360914 Website
Boulter S, review of The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus., in Philosophical Quarterly 54 (2004) pp.321-323ISSN: 0031-8094 eISSN: 0031-8094Website
ConferencesConferences“What Philosophy Is”, delivered at the Cave Hill Symposium on Conceptualising Philosophy. The University of the West Indies, April 2005.“Evolutionary theory and Reid’s metaphilosophy of common sense”, delivered at Hume and His Critics: A Conference on the Scottish Enlightenment. Baylor University, Texas, USA. May 2005.