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Past EventsDecember 4, 2020Since dominant ethical systems fail to motivate climate action, some climate ethicists call for radical revision and extension of old virtues. “Radical virtue” serves two aims: consolation in unfavorable circumstances, and prescription to achieve better ones. This paper maps out the theoretical nuances that are important for the practical guidance of climate action. For a Stoic, radical virtue is a way to live well through environmental tragedy. For a consequentialist, it is an instrument to motivate us to combat global warming. For an Aristotelian, it is both. I argue that an Aristotelian approach fares the best, balancing the aim of external success with the aim of living well through practical wisdom. This involves criticizing assumptions about living well that underlie behaviors that contribute to global warming. Some might object that virtue theory suffers from application problems, and that an Aristotelian approach suffers even more because it does not tell the virtuous person how to negotiate her aims. In response, Aristotelian revision starts with moral perception that adds valuable content by navigating through the messiness.November 6, 2020While examining a technique of power, Michel Foucault critiques pastoral power that becomes particularly effective when it gains the ability to subject an individual through one’s self-knowledge and conscience. Rather than thinking of power as some quantifiable thing to be analyzed or exchanged, Foucault reads power as effected through relations, including the relationship of being subject and subjected to norms. This notion of relations of power in a social political world is influenced by Martin Heidegger’s treatment of the “call of conscience” in Being and Time. According to Heidegger, one feels, or hears the silent “call of conscience”, during an experience of the uncanny. Both accounts employ a relational account of conscience, yet conscientious reflection and action is an individuated affair. Hannah Arendt identifies conscience as an effect of one’s discourse in thinking. She derives this conception from the Socratic admonition to always be in harmony with oneself. Harmony is challenging given the discordant voices at stake in narratives of identity. The objective of this paper, however, is to investigate the “call” of conscience as discourses of power relations in order to invite the critical reflection required for conscientious resistance to oppressive norms.October 23, 2020
“Essentializing Language and the Prospects for Ameliorative Projects” by Katherine Ritchie (University of California, Irvine)
Some language encourages essentialist thinking. While philosophers have focused on essentialism and generic generalizations, I argue that nouns as a category are poised to refer to kinds and to promote representational essentializing. Our psychological propensity to essentialize when nouns are used reveals a limitation for ameliorative projects. Ameliorated nouns (and their conceptual correlates) can continue to underpin essentializing inferences. Given the way language and cognition function, ameliorative projects can fail to meet core anti-essentialist social and political ends by failing to consider the import of vehicles of representation. Yet, I argue, representational essentialism does not doom anti-essentialist ameliorative projects. Rather, would-be ameliorators ought to attend to the propensities for our representations to essentialize and to the complex relationship between essentialism and prejudice.October 9, 2020
Poetry’s importance to the Daoist tradition goes beyond presenting philosophical content in verse. Authors of the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi make their claims about philosophy of language, not with proofs, but through demonstrations of open-endedness and invitations to consider what meanings are at stake. I examine the Daoists’ use of poetic techniques such as metaphorical language, rhetorical shifts, and allusion to show that the features of poetry which cause many Western philosophers (beginning with Plato) concern are the very features that Daoist authors depend upon. Through further close reading of other philosophical poems, including examples from British and contemporary American poets, I argue that poetry avails itself of a broader range of resources to engage in philosophical exploration.September 25, 2020
Recent work in the epistemology of partisan polarization has wrestled with a growing understanding that appealing to (what are postulated to be) shared objective facts is not sufficient to lead to consensus. Disagreement does not always reflect how parties are interpreting shared facts differently, but rather may reach down to divergences over what “facts” even are. This talk engages constructively with theories of world creation emerging from the Pratyabhijñā Śaiva tradition to develop an enacted, embodied account of human realities that neither rejects facts altogether, nor adheres to the illusion that there is a single, objective reality that is the same for all. The Pratyabhijñā Śaiva tradition claims that the way that humans conceptualize their experience always involves excluding large swaths of potentially relevant information, and these conceptualizations form the contours of our worlds. Since the worlds we experience are just particular carvings of a reality that could be spliced in an infinite number of ways, our resulting realities may only partially overlap. Thinking alongside these traditions about reality as a question of partially overlapping worlds that are continuously created by the interplay of ourselves, others, and our environments opens up space for understanding the partiality of any position, as well as the constitutive role that exclusion plays in creating worlds.February 7, 2020
The thesis of Plato’s Republic is that justice is always good – indeed, that it is always good for the just person and not just good from some impersonal point of view. In this talk I venture an account of why Socrates is concerned to establish exactly this point. I argue that intellectualism about virtue – the view that virtue, and justice in particular, is or crucially involves a kind of knowledge – makes it particularly urgent to establish that justice is always good; denial of that thesis would threaten the coherence of intellectualism. I then show how Socrates’ main line of argument neutralizes this threat. Finally, I speculate on a resultant puzzle: If intellectualism motivates both the thesis and the main argumentative structure of the Republic, how are we to square that with the famous anti-intellectualism of Book 4?January 31, 2020In brāhmaṇical Hindu traditions, the householder and renunciate seem like opposites. The classical formulation of the āśrama (modes of life) system might seem to reconcile these competing ideals. By relegating renunciation to old age, the system allows a person to pursue worldly life and liberation from the world within a single lifetime. This solution might seem more like an uneasy compromise, however, than a genuine reconciliation. Some of the earliest source material on the āśrama system (the dharmasūtras of Gautama, Āpastamba, Baudhāyana, and Vasiṣṭha), however, suggests basic consistencies between the householder and the renunciate that have generally been ignored or underappreciated. First, the debate over the relative rank of the householder and renunciate in these texts amounts to a debate over which mode of life is best for the person who lives it. The intense disagreement over how best to secure optimal welfare is superficial in relation to the more fundamental agreement about the importance of securing optimal welfare. Second, descriptions of those optimal states of welfare that the householder and renunciate pursue are remarkably consistent in these texts. Third, while conceptions of these optimal states of welfare diverge more dramatically in later texts, the tensions are easier to reconcile in the context of the shared assumption about the importance of attaining personal prosperity.