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April 4th, 2014

  • Image preview 1:10pm - 2:25pm: “Morton’s Skulls, Gould’s Statistics, and the Objectivity of Data” by Jonathan Kaplan (Oregon State University)
    In 2011, Lewis et al published a paper arguing that Gould’s criticisms of Morton’s analyses of skull volumes were, broadly, mistaken. Gould had argued that the average differences in the volumes of skulls between the ‘races’ reported by Morton were the result of Morton’s unconscious biases; Gould further argued that more appropriate methods showed no average volume differences of any significance. Lewis et al counter that in fact Morton’s analysis is to be preferred, and Gould’s analysis inappropriate and biased. But both Gould and Lewis et al are mistaken; both attempt, somewhat foolishly,  to analyze data that cannot speak to the questions it is supposed to. In the end, arguments about the best statistical techniques to deploy serve only to obscure the poverty of the data. While it is possible to accurately measure the skulls that Morton happened to collect, and both Gould and Lewis et al believe, in the end, that Morton did so, there is no appropriate way to use those skulls to answer any of the plausibly interesting questions about the ‘populations’ from which those skulls were drawn (often stolen).

    Followed by a panel discussion, with:

    Jay Odenbaugh, Lewis & Clark College
    Janet Kourany, University of Notre Dame
    Scott Gilbert, Swarthmore College
    Jonathan Kaplan, Oregon State University
    Quayshawn Spencer, University of San Francisco

  • Image preview 10:35am - 12:00pm: “Biological Reality and the Problem of Biological Races” by Quayshawn Spencer (University of San Francisco)
    Since Noah Rosenberg et al.’s (2002) discovery of human population structure that looks racial, philosophers have been scrambling to understand what these results mean for the nature and reality of race.  Although there have been many objections to interpreting any level of human population structure as racial, for the purposes of this talk, I will focus on one specific objection: that biological races must be objectively real.  In my talk, I will debunk this view by arguing that biologically real entities can reasonably be understood as what I call ‘genuine biological entities’, which are not necessarily objectively real.  After introducing the theory, I will motivate it with examples from the history of biology.  Finally, I will return to the original problem and show that all human populations are biologically real despite not being objectively real.  I leave it as an open question as to whether any human populations are races.
  • Image preview 9:00am - 10:25am: “Science—For Better or Worse, a Source of Ignorance as well as Knowledge” by Janet A. Kourany (University of Notre Dame)
    Science is gendered in a variety of ways. One is the way science has produced knowledge of men at the same time that it has produced ignorance of women. Until the end of the twentieth century, for example, archaeology investigated men’s contributions to the great turning points of human evolution while it ignored the contributions of women, and this left the impression that still persists today that men are the great innovators and controllers of human destiny, not women. A second way in which science is gendered also concerns the balance of knowledge and ignorance produced by science, but this time it concerns the way science sometimes persists in producing knowledge when it might more usefully refrain—that is, when it might more usefully maintain ignorance. For example, for centuries it was claimed that women are intellectually inferior to men, and for centuries the basis for such inferiority was sought in biology and later also in psychology. And now, even after centuries of such research, scientists are still seeking to determine whether women are the intellectual equals of men. Meanwhile, studies have documented the harm done to women and girls by the publication of much of this research. So, the question arises whether such cognitive differences research should still continue, or whether ignorance would be preferable.

    I shall argue that an acceptable balance of scientifically produced knowledge and ignorance regarding women and men should reflect societal needs for gender equality as well as the need for freedom of research and the intrinsic value of knowledge. And I shall argue that this will also best meet the demands of objectivity.

April 3rd, 2014

  • Image preview 4:35pm - 6:00pm: “Nothing in Ethics Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution?? by Jay Odenbaugh (Lewis & Clark College)
    Philippa Foot and Rosalind Hursthouse, along with other philosophers, have argued for a metaethical position, the natural goodness approach, that claims moral evaluations are, or are on a par with, teleological claims made in the biological sciences. Specifically, an organism’s flourishing is characterized by how well they function as specified by the species to which they belong. In this essay, I first sketch the Neo-Aristotelian natural goodness approach. Second, I argue that critics who claim that this sort of approach is inconsistent with evolutionary biology due to its species essentialism are incorrect. Third, I consider the prospects of understanding ethical normativity as a species of biological teleology claiming that this would be incompatible with our considered moral judgments. Fourth, after presenting gene-culture coevolution theory, I argue that the only way of reconciling naturalism and normativity in accordance with the natural goodness approach requires amending the selected effects function account to include cultural evolution. However, this approach, though not biologically reductionistic, still generates claims incompatible with our considered moral judgments. Finally, I end with a discussion of methodology and revisionistic moral theories.
  • Image preview 3:00pm - 4:25pm: “Legends of the Sperm” by Scott Gilbert (Swarthmore College)
    Accounts of fertilization are narratives of origins. Since the discovery of fertilization in the 1870s, these narratives have often reflected the idea that the sperm and egg are the respective microscopic embodiments of that which is masculine and that which is feminine. The scientific discoveries of the interactions between the sperm and egg often become enmeshed in socially constructed stories, wherein the sperm and egg becoming surrogates for men and women. This has skewed the way that we think about our bodily origins, emphasizing differences between the gametes and focusing on masculine agency. Recently, fertilization narratives have begun to include the idea of DNA as the secular analogue of soul. The notion that our DNA is our essence and the basis of our behaviors is delivered to us daily by advertisements, news reports, and visual culture. These ideas play important, but often unacknowledged, roles in the abortion and stem cell debates. Analyzing fertilization stories allows us to propose a critical realism wherein being socially constructed does not necessarily mean being wrong and where controls are needed to rein in social myths as well as alternative scientific explanations.

March 21st, 2014

  • 3:30pm: “How Research on Symbiosis Should Transform Our Understanding of Adaptation” by Frédéric Bouchard (Université de Montréal)
    Evolutionary Biology has relied ever increasingly on the modeling of population dynamics. Most have taken for granted that we all agree on what is a population. Recent work has re-examined this perceived consensus. I will argue that there are good reasons to restrict the term population to collections of related replicators and interactors, and that if this is correct, many existing models in population biology exclude by definition many genuine evolving biological individuals such as symbiotic communities. We will examine how symbiotic associations transform our understanding of adaptation and biological individuality.

March 14th, 2014

  • 3:30pm - 5:00pm: “Responsibility from the Outside In: Shaping the Moral Ecology Around Implicit Bias” by Daniel Kelly (Purdue University)
    The main claim I aim to defend is that people can be responsible for actions that are influenced by implicit biases they do not know they have, and that they would disavow if they were made aware of. My defense of that claim will involve framing the issue in terms of kinds of control-based and knowledge based exculpating conditions commonly taken to excuse actions, laying out the core features of implicit biases, and considering whether anything about the character or operation of implicit biases themselves satisfies those conditions, or guarantees that actions influenced by them should be excused. I formulate and reject several arguments that suggest a positive answer. I then present a thought experiment designed to support my central claim, and pump the intuition that not all of the knowledge relevant to moral responsibility and exculpation need be “in the head” of the agent whose actions are being evaluated. Finally, I comment on some general features of my approach and the questions that it raises.

March 7th, 2014

  • Image preview 3:30pm: “What Linguistic Determinism can Teach Us about Embodied Cognition” by Lawrence Shapiro (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
    A line of research within embodied cognition seeks to show that an organism’s body is a determinant of its conceptual capacities. Comparison of this claim of body determinism to linguistic determinism bears interesting results. Just as Slobin’s (1996) idea of thinking for speaking challenges the main thesis of linguistic determinism, so too the possibility of thinking for acting raises difficulties for the proponent of body determinism. However, recent studies suggest that the body may, after all, have a determining role in cognitive processes of sentence comprehension.

February 26th, 2014

  • Image preview 3:30pm - 5:00pm: “Metaphysical Contention over the Ontological Status of Species” by Matthew Slater (Bucknell University)
    When I close my hand into a fist, have I created a new object or merely rearranged some previously existing things? Is a sheet of paper with letters written on its two sides one object or two? Do holes exist? Such questions — seriously addressed by many philosophers — are often cited as examples of the excesses of speculative metaphysics. Philosophers of science have argued that the only way to make metaphysics an intellectually respectable enterprise is to “naturalize” it. But it is not at all straightforward to say what naturalized metaphysics amounts to. If it means only maintaining a sort of vague “science-friendliness”, then it will not rule out much; if it means (as Ladyman and Ross hold) limiting its scope to very specific unification projects in science, then it appears unduly restrictive. A popular (and initially plausible) happy medium suggests that metaphysics should defer to science on all matters — for after all, while the former is speculative and a priori, the latter is empirical and (as these things go) secure. I will use the case study of the attempt to provide a metaphysics of species — a paradigm topic for naturalized metaphysics — to argue that this proposal also fails. I will then make some suggestions for how to best approach the naturalistic project.

January 31st, 2014

  • Image preview 3:30pm - 5:00pm: Values and Climate Science: Who Needs A Consensus Anyway? by Kristen Intemann (Montana State University)
    There has been much concern about the problem of “manufactured doubt,” where powerful corporations and think-tanks appear to have funded research aimed at generating doubt about climate change and stall regulatory policies (Michaels 2008; Oreskes and Conway 2010; Brulle 2013).  In response to climate skeptics, scientists and science studies scholars have emphasized the existence of a scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change (Oreskes 2004; Lichter 2008; Doran and Zimmerman 2009; Cook et al. 2013).  Moreover, the IPCC has adopted practices aimed at consensus-building (van der Sluijs 2008).  I argue that the focus being placed on consensus is problematic for several interrelated reasons.  First, consensus strategies neglect the ways that values play a role in scientific decision-making and (as a result) can require agreement about, or masking of, the underlying values at stake which is problematic.  In particular, it gives disproportionate power to scientists in endorsing particular values that may neglect the interests of some stakeholders. Second, insofar as the public becomes aware that reasonable disagreements (particularly about the values involved) exist, such strategies undermine rather than increase public trust in climate scientists.  Finally, such strategies reinforce the false assumption that consensus (or lack of disagreement) is necessary for rational public policy decisions.   Implications are considered for how we might more successfully address climate skepticism and build public trust in climate science.

Philosophy

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