Past Events

Dr. Noell Birondo
October 15, 2021

“Aristotle and Aztec Human Sacrifice” by Dr. Noell Birondo (University of Texas at El Paso)

This paper discusses the defense of Aztec human sacrifice delivered by the Spanish friar Bartolomé de Las Casas in front of the Spanish tribunal convened in 1550 to consider the nature of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In his defense of the Aztec way of life, Las Casas makes repeated and helpful appeals to Aristotle, for instance to the Topics, Rhetoric, and Nicomachean Ethics. I argue that a detailed examination of the actual historical collision of these two radically distinct belief systems, Christian and Aztec, reveals the possibility—even in the early modern period—of a helpfully “dialogical” Aristotelianism, one that strains to understand, from within, the perspective of alien others. This dialogical approach promises to enrich the best philosophical accounts of the virtues we have, both now and in future research on moral character.
Per-Erik Milam
April 23, 2021

“Letting Go of Blame” by Per-Erik Milam (University of Gothenburg)

Most philosophers acknowledge ways of overcoming blame, even blame directed at a culpable offender, that does not count as forgiving. Sometimes continuing to blame a friend for their offensive comment just isn’t worth it, so we let go instead. However, despite being a common and widely recognized experience, no one has offered a positive account of letting go. Instead, it tends to be characterized negatively and superficially, usually in order to delineate the boundaries of forgiveness. This paper gives a more complete and systematic account of this important practice. We argue that the basic distinction between forgiving and letting go of blame follows from distinctions that most philosophers already accept. We then develop a positive account in terms of the reasons one has to let go rather than forgive and show that letting go is as valuable a part of our shared moral lives as forgiveness.
Eric Winsberg
April 16, 2021

“Why the Models Have Failed Us in the Pandemic” by Eric Winsberg (University of South Florida)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, models have played a larger role in guiding human affairs than perhaps ever in history. Simple models have been used to predict the “herd immunity threshold” for COVID-19. More complex models have been used to predict the natural course of the disease and project the impact of various candidate interventions. Causal modeling has been used to infer the (counterfactual) effects of past interventions. Some of the decisions that have been guided by these models have been disastrous. The brazen character of some of the inferences that have been drawn and widely publicized will likely diminish the future credibility of science in an increasingly politically fractured world. Why has this happened? How can we do better in the future?
March 26, 2021

“Monumentalizing Nature” by Levi Tenen (Kettering University)

There has been much recent discussion of monuments. Such discussions focus primarily on artefactual monuments. Interestingly, however, the first entity designated as a U.S. national monument was a naturalentity: Devil’s Tower. I seek to provide a philosophical analysis of this, and other, natural entities that are designated as monuments. I argue that many of them are genuine monuments but that, in virtue of being so, are subject to three concerns: first, they treat natural entities inappropriately; second, they give rise to a problematic form of ecotourism; and third, they invite a particular kind of political controversy. Forming a contrast, I then argue that designated wilderness areas are a sort of countermonument and that, in virtue of how they differ from monuments, avoid the three previous worries. In this way, my discussion provides a philosophical diagnosis of how The Antiquities Act and The Wilderness Act differ in their approach to the natural environment.

Hannah Tierney is an assistant professor in the philosophy department at the University of Califo...
March 5, 2021

“Don’t Burst My Blame Bubble” by Hannah Tierney (University of California, Davis)

How does social media create “blame bubbles?” Join us for the spring 2021 Philosophy Colloquium to learn more.
Anand Jayprakash Vaidya
February 12, 2021

“The Epistemic Argument Against Illusionism about the Self and Consciousness” by Anand Jayprakash Vaidya (San Jose State University)

I present an epistemic argument against a variety of illusionist theses about the nature of the self and consciousness. Illusionism about xis the view that while the experience of xis real, xs are not real. For example, the experience of red is real, but redness isn’t real. Likewise illusionists about the self and consciousness argue that the experience of the self and consciousness is real, but the self and consciousness (under some definition of them) are not real. Rather, they are presentations of something as being other than it is. Neural-Bi-Directional Illusionism is the thesis that both the self and consciousness are illusions produced by the brain. I offer an epistemic argument against this contemporary position.

Join digitally on Zoom: 

December 4, 2020

“Radical Virtue for Climate Action” by Benjamin Hole (Pacific University)

Since 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, 2020

“On Being Subject to Conscience” by Monica Mueller (Portland State University)

While 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 21, 2020

Philosophy Meet Your Major (via Zoom)

Meet current majors, professors and other students interested in Philosophy!!!!

We look forward to seeing you!!!

October 9, 2020

“The Role of Poetry in Daoist Philosophy” by Phillip Barron (Lewis & Clark College)

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

“Facts and Creative Exclusion” by Catherine Prueitt (University of British Columbia

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. 

Rusty Jones
February 7, 2020

“The Intellectualist Foundations of Plato’s Republic” by Rusty Jones (University of Oklahoma)

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, 2020

“Householder, Renunciate, and the Good Life” by Chris Framarin (University of Calgary)

In 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.
Meet your Major: Philosophy
October 17, 2019

Meet your Major: Philosophy

Join philosophy students and faculty for an introduction to the philosophy major.
April 26, 2019

“Self-Knowledge and Temperance: What is the Lesson of the Charmides?” by Cecilia Li (University of Western Ontario)

My question in this paper is whether the Charmides presents a serious challenge to the Apology’s portrayal of Socratic self-knowledge and Socrates’ enterprise of testing the wisdom of others. The Charmides is an inquiry into temperance (sophrosunē) and after several unsuccessful attempts, Socrates and Critias seem to arrive at a promising definition – temperance is the knowledge of self (epistēmē heatou). Socrates describes the temperate man as the only man “who will know himself and will be able to examine what he knows and does not know, and in the same way he will be able to inspect other people to see when a man does in fact know what he knows and thinks he knows, and when again he does not know what he thinks he know, and no one else will be able to do this. And being temperate and temperance and knowing oneself amount to this, to knowing what one knows and does not know” (Chrm. 167a1-7).

This description has been noted by commentators to bear significant textual affinities to Socrates’ professed ignorance and his Delphic mission most notably presented in the Apology. The Charmides concludes that temperance, understood in this Socratic sense, is ultimately impossible and useless. Even if it were possible, it would be of no use to our happiness or faring well (eu prattein). This final conclusion has been taken by commentators to be a critical reflection, to various degrees, on Socratic self-knowledge and the enterprise of testing the wisdom of others. In section I of this paper, I survey the range of the positions taken by commentators. I argue that, despite the textual affinities, the Charmides and the Apology does not share the same model of knowledge. The former develops a view of knowledge based on crafts (technai) whereas the latter dialogue does not. In section II, I develop the thesis that temperance, understood as knowledge of self and its abstract rendering knowledge of knowledge, is a kind of craft (technē). I argue that the Charmides is an attempt to develop the Socratic notion of self-knowledge with an account of craft knowledge already present in the Apology. In the Apology, Socrates is careful to praise the craftsmen as knowing “many fine things” but their biggest mistake was believing that this expert knowledge amounted to the most important pursuits and as a result, it overshadowed their wisdom (Apology, 22de-5). The Charmides’ account of temperance as ‘self-knowledge’ corrects this mistake. Those who possess temperance recognize the limitations of their expertise. They entrust matters of which they are ignorant to other experts and cautious against anyone who practices outside of their field of expertise (171d-172a5). I conclude the paper in section III with some comments speculating why the Charmides ultimately rejects the definition of temperance as knowledge of self.

November 9, 2018

“Do Experts Really Perceive the World Differently from Non-Experts?” By Kevin Connolly (Minerva Schools)

People sometimes say things like the following: Cabernet Sauvignon tastes differently to an expert wine taster, or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony sounds differently to a seasoned conductor. Such claims are often made by philosophers, from the 14th-century Hindu philosopher Vedānta Deśika to the 18th-century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid as well as to contemporary philosophers like Ned Block, Susanna Siegel, and Christopher Peacocke. But do experts really perceive the world differently from non-experts? According to an alternative story, the wine tastes (or the symphony sounds) the same to the expert and non-expert alike. On this view, it’s just that the expert has specialized concepts for the wine (or the symphony) that the non-expert lacks, while the wine tastes (or the symphony sounds) the same to both. Which of these two accounts is correct? In this talk, I examine and evaluate the evidence, drawing on philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience.
March 21, 2018

Philosophy Extravaganza 2018

We pose a question to speakers from different disciplines and then discuss the question over a free dinner.  You can RSVP here
February 23, 2018

“Abstract on the Possibility of a Neuroaesthetics of Natural Environments” by James Dow (Hendrix College)

Experiences of nature sometimes involve multisensory engagement, immersion of ourselves in nature, and transformative experiences. Could such aesthetic experiences be described, explained, and predicted by neuroscience? Neuroaesthetics has emerged as a discipline that explains and predicts aesthetic experiences of visual art, music, and literature. Enactivists about perception have argued against the possibility of neuroaesthetics based on the claim that perceptual experience involves sensitivity to sensorimotor contingencies. Engagement theorists about nature aesthetics have argued that engaged aesthetic experiences are non-conceptual, participatory, and action-oriented. Do the enactivist arguments against the possibility of a neuroaesthetics of art provide similar challenges to the possibility of explaining and predicting aesthetic experiences of natural environments? I argue for the counterintuitive thesis that while neuroaesthetics of art can overcome hurdles posed by the enactivists, by appealing to pragmatic representations, the neuroaesthetics of natural environments cannot overcome challenges presented by the action-oriented nature of aesthetic experience of nature.
January 26, 2018

“Oppressive Things” by Shen-yi Liao (University of Puget Sound)

Minds can be biased. Practices can be biased. Things can be biased too. Oppressive things are parts of the physical world that are biased in congruence with systems of oppression—such as racism, sexism, classism, and ableism. Oppressive things structure and normalize patterns of associations, imaginings, and behaviors. And oppressive things sustain and reinforce problematic epistemological, moral, and aesthetic norms.
November 10, 2017

“Memory as Macrocognition” by Bryce Huebner (Georgetown University)​

We often talk to others about what we remember, and about what has happened to us. A great deal of work in social and cognitive psychology suggests that these practices of collaborative remembering shape what we remember individually, as well as what we will forget. In this talk, I will explore the social implications of these kinds of effects. I will argue that practices of collective remembering play a critical role in shaping our shared understandings of the world, by highlighting aspects of the world that are salient to us, and downplaying the aspects of the world that are not. This process helps to sustain shared understandings of the world; but it can also generate barriers to understanding other ways of thinking, and it can even make other perspectives seem unintelligible. But more importantly, I will argue that  understanding why this occurs helps to open up strategies for exploring novel imaginative possibilities, and constructing ways of understanding the world that go beyond what any of us could imagine on our own. 
November 3, 2017

“A Democratic Conception of Fair Exchange in Markets” by Thomas Christiano (University of Arizona)

Democratic governance is often thought to be the gold standard of fairness in collective decision making. Fairness in voluntary exchange has not similarly received a fully satisfactory analysis. The most prominent views tend to arrange themselves into two basic camps: the voluntariness conceptions of fair exchange and the equal value conceptions. Though there are insights here, I think both of these fail to grasp the basic structural conditions of fairness in exchange. What I propose to do in this paper is to take the democratic conception of fairness in collective decision making and extend it so that it applies in a distinctive way to voluntary exchange. I think this approach solves some of the puzzles inherent in the other approaches and provides a powerful analysis of the normative principles regulating the structural conditions of voluntary exchange. One further benefit of this approach is that it brings to bear the widely accepted values of democracy to the evaluation of voluntary exchange in a deeply illuminating way, without sacrificing an appreciation of the distinctive features and virtues of voluntary exchange. I want to suggest the fruitfulness of this analysis by applying the democratic conception to market exchange, understood broadly in a neo-classical way. I do not intend to endorse the neo-classical approach, I want simply to show the value of the democratic conception buy showing how it can help evaluate the fairness of markets understood in a neo-classical way. I apply the idea to perfectly competitive markets and to imperfectly competitive markets.

November 3, 2017

Philosophy: Meet Your Major

Come eat FREE PIZZA! and learn about all you can do at Lewis & Clark studying Logic, Ethics, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science, Greek and Roman Philosophy, Indian Philosophy, Philosophy of Film…AND MORE!!!
September 22, 2017

“The What, the How, and the Why of Science Denial” by Adrian Bardon (Wake Forest University)

What is going on when someone is “in denial”? Denial, as opposed to lying or bullshitting, arises from a state of sincere self-deception. This seems paradoxical. How can one self-deceive? And why would anyone ever want to be wrong about something? As it turns out, it is all-too-easy to self-deceive, and there are lots of reasons why people are motivated to deny reality.

Science denial is the denial of consensus science on any of a wide range of issues, such as climate change, vaccine safety, GM foods, or water-supply fluoridation. Widespread denial of established science in areas like these can have a big impact on public policy and human well-being. We would do well to form a better understanding of what denial is, how it is maintained, and, perhaps most importantly, why we do it.

Dr. Bardon is well-known philosopher who works in the philosophy of science. It promises to be an great talk. Hope to see you there!

September 15, 2017

“On Characterizing the Fundamental” by Jessica Wilson (University of Toronto)

What is it for some goings-on to be fundamental at a world? Here I argue against ‘independence’-based accounts according to which this is for the goings-on be ‘un-Grounded’ or otherwise metaphysically independent from all others, motivate my preferred account according to which this is ultimately a primitive matter, and defend my account against several recent objections.

Dr. Wilson is well-known philosopher who works in contemporary metaphysics. It promises to be an great talk. Hope to see you there!

April 21, 2017

“Berkeley on the Heterogeneity of the Senses”, Honors Thesis Presented by Bridger Ehli

In his Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision, George Berkeley presents a revolutionary theory of visual perception. Central to this theory is what scholars have dubbed the “Heterogeneity Thesis,” which Berkeley calls the “main part and pillar” of his theory. This thesis is often interpreted as the claim that there are no common sensibles––that the sensible qualities we touch, for example, are not the sensible qualities we see. On the face of it, the thesis appears to be false, or at least to depart from common sense: we think we often see and touch the same quality or the same object. The aim of this paper is not to defend the Heterogeneity Thesis but to answer a series of questions: what is the Heterogeneity Thesis, what role does it play in Berkeley’s theory of perceptual experience, and why did he view it as the main part and pillar of his theory? I argue that Berkeley adopts several versions of the Heterogeneity Thesis, and that each version plays a crucial role in Berkeley’s story of how we navigate a spatial world, visually.

Richard Boyd
April 17, 2017

“What’s A Definition in Biology?” Richard Boyd, Cornell University

According to the ‘homeostatic property cluster’ conception many categories in biology and other sciences are defined by naturally occurring property clusters and their underlying clustering mechanisms.  The HPC conception has been challenged on the grounds that it doesn’t accord with actual definitional practices in biology and that it fails to account for the role of phylogeny in defining biological taxa.  A response is developed that focuses on (1) the role of published ‘definitions’ in the sciences and (2) the relationship between philosophy of science and the (other) sciences.
March 3, 2017

“Meaning and the Good Life” by Dan Haybron (St. Louis University)

It is plausible that good lives somehow include virtue and well-being: living well and doing well. But it also seems to matter that our lives be meaningful. What does it mean to lead a meaningful life? Is meaning a further value, in addition to well-being and virtue? I will suggest that meaning in life concerns engaging with value in certain ways–for example, enjoying worthwhile activities. Meaning is important in life, and people can reasonably trade a good deal of personal happiness to lead more meaningful lives. But meaning is not itself a distinct kind of value. Rather, meaningful lives are desirable because of the contributions meaning makes to well-being and virtue.
December 2, 2016

How Otto did not Extend His Mind, but Might Have: Dynamic Systems Theory and Social-Cultural Group Selection

I start with the back-story on Otto, his career as a NASA scientist, when Otto supersized his embodied mind, embedding it in the natural and social-cultural environments and extending it to both, thereby creating with them, extended and distributed cognitive agents. I explore how this happened, arguing that four major objections to extended cognition: (1) the mark of the cognitive, (2) the function-identity fallacy, (3) cognitive bloat, and (4) scientific irrelevance lose much of their sting in the case of distributed cognition, the extension of cognitive agency to a group of cognitive agents, such as a scientific research team. However, I claim that a crucial fifth challenge, that advocates of the extended mind commit the causal-constitution fallacy, has yet to be satisfactorily addressed. I focus on Spyridon Palermos’ use of dynamic systems theory to refute this charge and I argue that his appeal to dynamic systems theory as a criterion of system-constitution fails. Instead, I suggest a social-cultural group selection hypothesis for understanding system-constitution. But, I leave it for another day to elaborate that hypothesis’ empirical plausibility.
November 18, 2016

Backdoors, Newgenics, and Eugenics Underground, by Rob Wilson (University of Alberta)

 This talk will take up the idea of newgenics–of eugenics persisting in contemporary practices that are not typically identified as eugenic–drawing on the disability theorist Rosemarie Garland-Thompson’s appeal to what she calls eugenic logic.  We’ll review some well-worn arguments concerning prenatal screening and newgenics, and consider several threads of thinking in contemporary bioethics that embolden (and perhaps manifest) eugenic logic.  Throughout the talk there will be a focus on disability, eugenics, and human variation, and I will make some framing comments that locate the talk in the broader framework of the book, The Eugenic Mind Project, from which it drawn.
September 30, 2016

The Veridicality of Perception in Aristotle, Rosemary Twomey (Simon Fraser)

Aristotle repeatedly characterizes our perception of the special objects — colors, odors, flavors, and sounds — as true, or not mistaken. He is less explicit about other kinds of perception, including the perception of so-called common objects like shape and size and the perception of incidental, macro objects, but what he does say about such cases has led many to think that misperception is possible. To the contrary, I argue that Aristotle is committed to the veridicality of all perception, and that his recognition of this commitment can be seen in his treatment of the psychological capacity of imagination. The claim that perception is always veridical might first sound stipulative: we don’t say that someone who mistakes a parrot for a human voice has perceived a human voice. However, I argue that perception’s accuracy follows from Aristotle’s metaphysical account of perception, and in particular from the essential causal role that the external object plays in the activity of perception. As such, the claim that perception is always accurate is a substantive thesis, one that can help to ground his empiricism. I neutralize the passages that have been thought to acknowledge misperception. According to my interpretation, these statements can be read as addressing how likely we are to be in error about the special objects as opposed to the common and incidental objects: Aristotle never claims that when we are wrong about common or incidental objects it is because we are perceiving them incorrectly.
Matt Braich
May 2, 2016

“What’s So Special About Reflection?”

  Matt Braich  (University of California at San Diego)

 “What’s So Special About Reflection?”

April 16, 2016

“The Academic Animal is Just an Analogy: Against the Restrictive Account of Hegel’s ‘Spiritual Animal Kingdom’” by Miguel Guerrero, Presenting at the Pacific University Philosophy Conference

In this essay, I will argue against the restrictive account of Hegel’s “Spiritual Animal Kingdom.” To demonstrate this, I will present the restrictive account, as expressed by Royce, Kojève, Loewenberg, and Shapiro. While the intellectual life analogy is useful, I argue that it must not be understood as the sole content of the “Spiritual Animal Kingdom” for two reasons. The first comes from H.S. Harris, who holds that das geistige Tierreich includes, but is not limited to, intellectuals. However, I argue that the restrictive account fails also due to a misunderstanding of what Hegel means by die Sache selbst (in English, “the matter in hand”). I distinguish between (a) the initial and (b) the universal matters in hand. The restrictive account fails because such interpretations mistake the universal matter in hand for the initial one. Such a mistake restricts the ability of consciousness to progress to absolute knowing, which is the ultimate project for Hegel’s Phenomenology.
April 15, 2016

Festival of Scholars

It is our pleasure to invite you to the Festival of Scholars, an opportunity for student-scholars and artists to present their research and art, while also learning from one another.

April 9, 2016

Is Empathy Necessary for Morality? by Lilly Dragon, Presenting at the 21st Annual SUNY Oneonta Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

Empathy plays a central role in our daily lives. Empathy makes is possible for us to experience perspectives other than our own. It is the ability to understand the concept of other minds, as well as to experience other’s emotions vicariously. Through this experience, the concerns of other’s become meaningful to ourselves and we are alerted when moral events are taking place. This experience is unique to empathy and may stimulate moral judgment and motivation. This is most often true with those who we consider near and dear. The partiality of empathy proposes a challenge to the traditional definition of morality, suggesting that we may have to expand this definition. In this paper, I explain the role empathy plays in our moral deliberations and motivations. First, I propose a working definition of empathy. Second, I explain Jesse Prinz’s argument that empathy is not necessary for morality. Third, I suggest some possible responses to Prinz’s argument. Finally, I suggest some further avenues for investigating the role of empathy in morality.
April 8, 2016

Second Round: Pamplin Society Teacher of the Year Award

The Second Round of Nominations for Teacher of the Year CLOSES APRIL 8!
February 19, 2016

“A Genealogy of Other Minds Skepticism” by Zed Adams (The New School For Social Research)

We can be skeptical about other minds in a variety of ways, from wondering whether we can really know what an other’s experience is like, to wondering whether there are any other minds at all. In this talk, I offer a philosophical genealogy of these different varieties, as a way of clearly demarcating them, as well as better understanding their different sources.
February 12, 2016

The Ethical Dimensions of Understanding in Gadamer’s Hermeneutics, Monica Vilhauer (Roanoke College)

In this colloquium presentation, Dr. Vilhauer introduces the field of philosophical hermeneutics (the philosophy of interpretation developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer), and argues for the ethical dimensions of genuine dialogue, in which communication and a common understanding take place.  Such dialogue is central to all efforts of understanding, whether one is trying to grasp a work of art, a text, historical events, or another in living conversation.  It is also central to philosophy, whose aim is not to out-argue one’s interlocutor, but to come to a shared grasp of our world and its truths. In her accessible presentation, Vilhauer aims to illuminate the practical value of hermeneutics for the humanities and for life at large, while also highlighting her original work.
October 23, 2015

“A New Paradigm of Anti-Racism: Why Discourse of White Privilege, Justice, and Equality Does Not Work” by Naomi Zack (University of Oregon)

Naomi Zack’s recent books are White Privilege and Black Rights: The Injustice of U.S. Police Racial Profiling and Homicide​ (2015), The Ethics and Mores of Race: Equality after the History of Philosophy  (2011), and Applicative Justice: A Pragmatic, Empirial Approach to Racial Injustice (2016). She now presents a new way to think about racial oppression and other forms of present injustice. She rejects White Privilege discourse, Rawlsian Ideal Theories of Justice, and the idea of Equality. Instead, Zack proposes a comparative approach––blacks should not be treated as whites are not treated.

September 25, 2015

Schellenberg’s Evolutionary Religion: How Evolutionary and How Religious? by William A. Rottschaefer (Lewis & Clark College)

In Evolutionary Religion, J. L. Schellenberg formulates an account of religion supported by a Darwinian evolutionary theory understood as a science of the deep future.  The possibility of such a future enables the realization that our present understandings of religion are immature and that the future may bring radically altered understandings of divine reality and a time when religious practice is at the center of human well-being.  In this paper, I argue that Schellenberg’s evolutionary religion represents at best but half the evolutionary story, its epistemic side.  Ontologically, it remains fundamentally non-evolutionary.  Positively, I suggest a naturalistic alternative to Schellenberg’s Ultimate, Darwin’s Hegelian Spirit.  In sum, I conclude that Schellenberg’s evolutionary religion is neither sufficiently evolutionary nor religious.

April 9, 2015

An Investigation of Moral Supervenience and Projectivism from the Perspective of Burning Cats by Kaitlin Louise Pettit (Lewis & Clark College)

Simon Blackburn claims that we hold two statements about moral possibility that jointly lead to moral anti-realism. The first of these statements is a supervenience claim that says that if a moral state supervenes on a natural state, when the natural state occurs necessarily the moral one will as well. The second statement is a non-entailment claim, which says that the relationship between the natural state and the moral one is not one of logical entailment. In other words, the natural states do not lead to the moral ones by any laws of logic and it is possible that the natural states occur without the moral one. In this paper, I argue that Blackburn’s supervenience argument against moral realism fails. Specifically, he has solved the problem for the realist by smuggling in a supervenience claim, or his argument for anti-realism fails. I show how the way in which Blackburn has defined his terms hurts his argument and aids the realist. By his definitions of his terms, his non-entailment clause is incomprehensible and his underlying notion in his supervenience claim either aids the realist or leaves anti-realism on too shaky of a ground. 

April 8, 2015

Philosophy Extravaganza: Are You Ready To Die?

Come to this year’s Philosophy Extravaganza to hear LC Professors discuss the topic, “Are You Ready To Die?” There will be a free dinner and a discussion following the short presentations. Beth Szczepanski from the Music department, Jessica Starling from Religious Studies, Tamily Weissman-Unni from Biology, and Jeff Jones from the Law School will be joining us to present and stimulate our discussion.


March 20, 2015

Moral Disagreement and the Importance of Meta-Ethics by Joel Martinez (Lewis & Clark College)

According to moral cognitivists, moral judgments express beliefs and are, thus, truth-apt.  According to moral non-cognitivists, moral judgments do not express beliefs and, thus, are not truth-apt.  Instead, when one makes a moral judgment, one expresses an attitude that is more like an approval or dis-approval.   One common argument for moral non-cognitivism relies on the phenomenon of moral disagreement.   In this paper, I trace the history of the non-cognitivist argument from moral disagreement.  I also raise objections to this argument.   I argue that the non-cognitivist’s explanation of moral disagreement fails to explain how some moral disagreements are genuine disagreements.  Further, I argue that the cognitivist has the resources for a better explanation of moral disagreement than the non-cognitivist.  Since I do not claim to offer a decisive defense of cognitivism, I then consider what evidence would help us make progress in this debate.  I argue that recent, empirically minded philosophers mis-characterize the role that the natural and social sciences should play in solving this and other problems in meta-ethics.   Instead, Philosophy plays a distinctive role in solving meta-ethical disputes and cannot simply rely on the results of the sciences.
March 6, 2015

Implicit Bias and the Circumstances of Moral Responsibility by Manuel R. Vargas (University of San Francisco)

Implicit bias is a partially unconscious, partially automatic, and often negative evaluative tendency directed at individuals, based on their apparent membership in a socially salient category or group. The phenomenon of implicit bias raises interesting questions for a theory of moral responsibility, in part because implicit bias and our reaction to it provide reasons for both blaming and not blaming agents who act on the bases of those biases. For example, on the one hand, implicit biases can appear to be largely outside the direct control of agents, and not expressive of their values or true selves. On the other hand, it is difficult to shake the sense that one’s discovery of, say, racist bias should give rise to a sense of guilt. How we should navigate these issues, and what they suggest about responsible agency more generally, is the subject of this talk.
February 6, 2015

“Falling Through Time” by Craig Callender (University of California, San Diego)

As we navigate through life, we adopt an implicit model of time that is very important to us. In this model the present is special and the past fixed, and this whole structure “flows” forward. Physics suggests that this conception of time is fundamentally wrong about time. It is commonly dismissed as an illusion and removed from their desks and placed on the desks of psychologists. However, psychologist don’t know it’s been put on their desks. So why we have no explanation of why we all naturally adopt this picture of falling through time. The cosmologist Gold emphasized that before we can dismiss the flow we need to explain the “self-consistent set of rules that would give a beast this kind of phoney picture of time.” Here I take up this interdisciplinary project. Appealing to the hard facts of life in a relativistic world, evolution, cognitive science and psychology, I develop a theory of why “beasts” like us feel like we’re falling through time.

January 30, 2015

“The Stoics on Living in Agreement with Nature: Why Isn’t the Person Who is Doing What is in Agreement with Nature Subject to be Harmed?” by Marcelo D. Boeri (Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Chile)

I argue that the identification of virtue with knowledge (a Socratic view in character) and the thesis that virtue alone is a good closely connects the view that the sage is free from harm with what is ‘in accordance with nature’: if being happy is the end for the sake of which everything else is done, and if this consists in living according to virtue, living in agreement, and living according to nature (which is the same thing), one cannot suffer harm. Why? Because the only real harm is vice, but if one’s soul is virtue, the soul (and thereby the person) cannot be harmed. In some passages of this paper I quote and try to interpret some passages taken from Plato’s Apology, Crito, Gorgias, and to connect them with the Stoics.


December 5, 2014

A Guilt Trip: Moral Psychology, Expressivism, and the Basic Emotions

Jay Odenbaugh, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

According to moral sentimentalism, moral judgments necessarily involve emotions. The most sophisticated version of sentimentalism is that articulated by Allan Gibbard in his Wise Choices, Apt Feelings. On his view, a moral judgment that an action is wrong expresses acceptance of norms that permit guilt for having done it and resentment on the part of others. Shaun Nichols, in his Sentimental Rules, argues that Gibbard’s account is fatally flawed. First, children cannot experience or recognize guilt until they are six or seven years old. Second, children can make moral judgments as early as three or four years old as shown by their ability to pass the moral-conventional task. In this talk, I respond on behalf of Gibbard showing Nichols’ argument fails. Finally, I turn to a more pressing worry about guilt. Since guilt is so difficult to show sincerely, how can it coordinate our moral lives? Using evolutionary game theory, I show how one might respond to this worry.

Visit his webpage here
November 7, 2014

“Libertarianism and the Problem of Metaphysical Flipflopping” by John Martin Fischer (University of California, Riverside)

Professor of Philosophy at University of California at Riverside, John Martin Fischer criticizes Van Inwagen’s strategy for defending free will and moral responsibility under the assumption of causal determinism: metaphysical flipflopping.  Given that flipflopping is unavailable, Fischer contends that libertarianism has the cost of implying that our status as free and morally responsible hangs on a thread.  This is a problem for libertarianism.
Visit his webpage here.
October 31, 2014

Imagery, Expression, and Figurative Meaning - Mitchell Green (University of Connecticut)

Metaphorical utterances are construed as arrayed along a continuum, on one end of which are semi-conventionalized cases amenable to analysis in terms of semantic content, speaker meaning, and satisfaction conditions, and where image-construction is permissible but not mandatory. I call these image-permitting metaphors (IPM’s), and contrast them with image-demanding metaphors (IDM’s) inhabiting the continuum’s other end and whose understanding mandates the construction of a mental image. This construction, I suggest, is spontaneous, is not restricted to visual imagery, and its result is typically somatically marked sensu Damasio. IDM’s may accordingly be used in service of self-expression, and thereby in the elicitation of empathy. Even so, IDM’s may also be vehicles of speaker meaning, and may reasonably provoke banter over the aptness of the imagery they evoke.

October 21, 2014

Explore Potential Majors 2014

Still unsure about your major? Come hear from faculty, staff, and students about why a Philosophy major is exciting!

Already declared? Learn from faculty and upper division students about what’s coming up next!

You can also attend multiple events over four evenings to make or confirm your choice. Each gathering will start with a short presentation, so please be on time. Also, there will be free food! You can RSVP here.

October 19, 2014

Socrates: A Conference in Honor of Nicholas D. Smith

Please join the departments of Philosophy and Classics in honoring Nicholas D. Smith, the James F. Miller Professor of Humanities. Socrates: A Conference brings scholars from across the country who have been influenced by Professor Smith’s scholarly work in epistemology, ancient philosophy, and classical studies, especially his work on Socrates. The conference is free and open to the public.

Please register for the conference HERE.


Here is the schedule for the conference.
until October 19, 2014
October 18, 2014

Socrates: A Conference in Honor of Nicholas D. Smith

Please join the departments of Philosophy and Classics in honoring Nicholas D. Smith, the James F. Miller Professor of Humanities. Socrates: A Conference brings scholars from across the country who have been influenced by Professor Smith’s scholarly work in epistemology, ancient philosophy, and classical studies, especially his work on Socrates. The conference is free and open to the public.

Please register for the conference HERE.


Here is the schedule for the conference.
until October 19, 2014
October 17, 2014

Socrates: A Conference in Honor of Nicholas D. Smith

Please join the departments of Philosophy and Classics in honoring Nicholas D. Smith, the James F. Miller Professor of Humanities. Socrates: A Conference brings scholars from across the country who have been influenced by Professor Smith’s scholarly work in epistemology, ancient philosophy, and classical studies, especially his work on Socrates. The conference is free and open to the public.

Please register for the conference HERE.


Here is the schedule for the conference.
until October 19, 2014
September 19, 2014

Real Moral Progress: Why Pragmatic Naturalism Requires Moral Realism by William Rottschaefer

In his recent book, The Ethical Project, Philip Kitcher offers a pragmatic naturalistic metaethical account of moral progress.  Examining ethical practice, Kitcher presents a functional account of it as a social technology for alleviating altruism failures, one exemplified in a phylogeny of moral practice including elimination of chattel slavery and recognition of both women’s rights and gay rights.  He suggests a theory of bio-cultural evolution as an ultimate explanation of this phylogeny and, as proximate mechanisms, social-cultural learning, socially engaged normative guidance and cognitively equipped emotions.  Given these scientifically supported bases, Kitcher argues that pragmatic naturalism offers the best metaethical account of why these changes in moral practice are morally progressive.  Making use of these same scientific bases, I argue that Kitcher’s metaethical account requires the adoption of an objective moral realism, one, nevertheless, that is compatible with his core pragmatism. 

April 26, 2014

Festival of Scholars

It is our pleasure to invite you to the first Festival of Scholars, an opportunity for student-scholars and artists to present their research and art, while also learning from one another.
April 4, 2014

“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

April 4, 2014

“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.
April 4, 2014

“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 3, 2014

“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.
April 3, 2014

“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 21, 2014

“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 14, 2014

“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 7, 2014

“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 26, 2014

“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 31, 2014

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.
December 13, 2013

Finding Wisdom in Plato’s Euthydemus by Rusty Jones (Harvard University)

Please join us for a talk by Rusty Jones from Harvard University titled Finding Wisdom in Plato’s Euthydemus.

My aim in this talk is twofold:  First, I clarify the aporia (the confused impasse) of Euthydemus 288-92, showing exactly what gives rise to it and then showing a way out of it.  The effect is to undermine the standard view that Plato’s motivation for constructing this section of the dialogue is to repudiate the craft analogy.  This, in turn, indicates that wisdom actively produces eudaimonia (human well-being), rather than simply constituting eudaimonia.  Second, and more briefly, I engage in a more speculative piece of interpretation, suggesting that all this gives us some resources for getting clearer on the nature of Platonic eudaimonia.  In particular, I’ll argue that the conventional goods (such as health, influence, and good looks) are (i) genuine, though conditional, goods, (ii) at least sometimes final goods, and so (iii) are components of eudaimonia, rather than mere conditions for eudaimonia.
November 22, 2013

Felicity and Fidelity by Nellie Weiland (California State University Long Beach)

In this talk I will describe a variety of real-world reporting practices; I call them cases of ‘low-fidelity same-saying’. They are described as ‘real-world’ because they track the ways that speakers actually use expressions like ‘said that’ in messy, theoretically unstable ways. They are ‘lo-fi’ because their content (a) often lacks propositional and locutionary fidelity to the original utterance; and (b) their reported content is derived from contextual artifacts alongside the original linguistic content. Then I will suggesta metaphysics of language around this phenomenon. I will briefly outline the implications for direct quotation, linguistic content outside of reporting practices, and a deflationary speaker- and token-based metaphysics of language.
November 8, 2013

Philosophy Colloquium Series: Ephraim Glick (St. Andrews University)


Please join us for a talk by Ephraim Glick from St. Andrews University.

“What is a Singular Proposition?”

On one view, for a proposition to be singular is for it to have an object as a constituent. On another view, a singular proposition is one that is ontologically dependent on an object. A variety of other accounts appear in the literature, but rarely accompanied by a careful comparison with rivals or even by an explanation of why the account captures the background ideas that motivate drawing a distinction between singular and general propositions in the first place. Indeed, it is often unclear exactly what the background ideas are which would help us gauge the success of an account of singularity. My project in this paper is to clarify the motivation for the singular / general distinction and advocate a simple analysis of that distinction. The idea will be to give explanatory priority to singular thoughts, rather than explaining singular thoughts as thoughts whose contents are singular propositions. I will argue that there is no promising independent account of what it is for a proposition to be singular. Extant accounts either fail to respect the basic motivations for the notion of singularity, leave the explanation of singularity insufficiently clear, or rely on commitments to the metaphysics of propositions in an undesirable way.
October 25, 2013

Adaptation as the heart of Environmental Ethics for the Anthropocene

Please join us for a talk by Allen Thompson from Oregon State University.

In this paper I outline a broad understanding of adaptation to environmental change, regardless of cause, and argue that such a concept must have a key role in any environmental ethic suitable to the emerging Anthropocene epoch. Since it’s inception, the preservation of nature, either for its intrinsic or instrumental value, has provided the central normative orientation for environmental ethics. On my view, the future of environmental ethics – in light not only of climate change but also other radical anthropogenic environmental changes – will focus more and more on normative questions about adapting our humanity, both individually and collectively – to the conditions of life on Earth for which we, as humanity, are causally responsible. My thesis is that the future of environmental ethics will be about living well at the end of nature, about adapting ourselves and the rest of life to the world that we are morally responsible for. 

October 22, 2013

Philosophy Department: Meet Your Major

Unsure about your major? Come hear from the Philosophy Department about why their major is the most exciting around! Already declared? Learn from faculty and upperclassmen about what’s coming up.

To RSVP, please click here:
October 18, 2013

Hume on Homogeneity, The Mind Body Problem and Emergent Properties by William Uzgalis (Oregon State University)

In the Clarke Collins Correspondence of 1707-08 an important part of the debate involves what has come to be called the Homogeneity Principle.  That Principle says in effect that the properties of matter such as extension, bulk, figure and shape can only produce properties of the same kind – hence homogeneity. Because they can only cause properties of the same kind, they cannot produce either the properties of life or mental properties, properties of a different kind.  In part what this means is that that there are no real emergent properties, such as life or mind arising from matter.  This was one of the main pillars of dualism and in the Correspondence Samuel Clarke, the dualist, maintains the principle while Anthony Collins, the materialist, denies it. Scholars are in some disagreement about how well Collins does in showing that real, emergent properties – the properties of life and mind – arise from material properties.  However, Hume in his chapter on the immateriality of the soul in his Treatise of Human Nature, while rejecting substance claims from both sides, refutes dualist arguments from the Homogeneity Principle on the basis of his new theory of causality thus destroying one of the main props of dualism.  He thus bolsters materialist solutions to the mind body problem and the reality of emergent properties.
September 27, 2013

Philosophy Colloquium Series: Language, the Parent of Thought: Hegel and Language, According to Vernon, McCumber, and Forster

By co-authors Samantha Park Alibrando, J. M. Fritzman, Sarah Marchand Lomas, and McKenzie Judith Southworth:

Hegelian dialectics has three moments, as everyone knows, except when it has more.  Our paper has four.  We read Hegel on language through critiques of the interpretations given by Jim Vernon, John McCumber—followed by an excursus linking monistic Kaśmiri Śaivism’s mantras with Hegel’s mechanical memory—and Michael N. Forster.
April 26, 2013

Natural kinds and ceteris paratis generalizations: In praise of hunches Christopher Boyd (UC Irvine) and Dick Boyd (Lewis & Clark College, Cornell University)

Traditional philosophy of science focuses on ‘laws’ and generalizations that are true, or approximately true, or true ceteris paribus and on highly reliable patterns of scientific inference.  Kinds or categories are said to be ‘natural kinds’ just in case they figure in such laws, generalizations or inference patterns.  Examples from the inferential architecture of synthetic chemistry illustrate the need for a broader philosophical conception encompassing the roles of generalizations that are true ceteris paratis (true if you fiddle things right), of inferences that rely on informed hunches that are true saepe satis  (true often enough), and of natural kinds appropriate for such generalizations and inferences.
April 12, 2013

The ‘Quality’ of Employment Law Rights by Jeffrey Jones (Lewis & Clark College Law School)

Employment law scholars are unanimous in their disappointment with U. S. employment law and the protections provided to employees. A few conservative and libertarian thinkers seek to further deregulate employment laws – that group will always be there. The majority of employment law scholars are searching for ways to provide employees with greater legal protection; protections they believe are required to approximate what might be called legal justice or fairness in work relationships. What is missing from the latter group’s scholarship is any clear moral or theoretical basis for mandating greater protection of employees. The law as it is certainly does not help. The U. S. has made clear it rejects the notion that employment rights are also human or even constitutional rights. Worse still, within the common law, employment protections regularly give way to other common law interests such as contracts and property. What is needed is an account of the interests at stake in employment and a showing that such interests are somehow fundamental rights that deserve greater priority in the American legal landscape. This work in progress looks at several ways to raise the value or moral quality of employment rights.
April 11, 2013

“Evolutionary Theory as Methodological Anesthesia: Methodological and Philosophical Lessons from “Evolutionary Psychology”” Dick Boyd (Lewis & Clark College and Cornell University)

According to mainstream ‘evolutionary psychology’ evolutionary theory makes an important methodological contribution to human social psychology.  Plausible evolutionary scenarios regarding early human social behavior are said to provide a methodologically independent source of insights, identifying some psychological theories as those ‘predicted’ or otherwise especially supported by evolutionary theory.  In practice the theories so identified are reductionist or nativist theories which minimize the role of social structures and of learning in explaining human social behaviors.  

In fact, there is significant methodological independence between evolutionary scenarios and psychological theories but that independence guarantees that such scenarios do not favor reductionist or nativist theories over theories that emphasize the role of learning and of social structures (or vice versa).  So, in practice, appeals to evolutionary theory function as a sort of methodological anesthesia, directing psychologists’ attention away from scientifically important alternatives to reductionist or nativist theories.  
April 5, 2013

“What is the Scope of Aesthetic Experience?” Nicholas Silins (Cornell University)

In the first half of the talk, I examine:

(Blindspot): you only experience a part of a work of art if you attend to it.
I critically examine support for Blindspot one might draw from psychology literature on “inattentional blindness”. I also discuss whether some artistic practice presupposes that Blindspot is false.

In the second half of the talk, I examine:

(Surface): if you can’t tell two works of art or experiences of art apart, then they have the same value for you.  Surface applies to experiences as well as works of art and other entities. I review how one might support Surface, and then reject Surface in light of psychology literature on “change blindness”.
March 15, 2013

“The ‘Quality’ of Employment Law Rights” by Jeffrey Jones (Lewis & Clark College)

March 8, 2013

Representationalism and the Hard Problem of Consciousness by Bryce Dalbey (Lewis & Clark College)

Representationalism in the philosophy of mind holds that every conscious mental state is a representational mental state. Some philosophers claim that representationalism can solve the hard problem of consciousness. The idea is that if conscious mental states are representational and we understand the conditions required for mental representation, then we can also understand the conditions required for conscious experience. However, I argue that the possibility of spectrum inversion - the possibility that, say, what it is like for you when you see a lime is phenomenally identical with what it is like for me when I see a strawberry and vice versa - prevents the representationalist from offering such a solution. Given spectrum inversion, representationalist theories of consciousness must confront the same issues as functionalist theories, and are therefore in no special position to solve the hard problem.
March 1, 2013

“Kant’s Cosmopolitan Conception of Philosophy and the Methodology of the “Critique of Pure Reason” by Pierre Keller (University of California, Riverside)

I argue for a novel reading of Kant’s critical enterprise and of Kant’s Copernican Revolution, but especially of the First Critique. In the process, I explain why Kant devotes the second half of the First Critique to what he calls the Transcendental Doctrine of Method. I interpret the First Critique as a critical defense of what Kant calls the world, cosmic or cosmopolitan conception of philosophy against the pretensions of academic philosophy.

This event is open to the public.
February 8, 2013

“Semantic Externalism: Ignoring Twin-Earth and Doing Naturalistic Philosophy” by Richard Boyd (Cornell University)

Semantic externalists maintain that the semantic content of our beliefs and other propositional attitudes are determined by environmental or social factors.  What they mean by this is not just the commonplace and uncontroversial idea that environmental and social factors are important causes of our beliefs and other propositional attitudes.  That’s uncontroversial.  What they have in mind is a controversial idea about what, for example, makes a belief that the Eifel Tower is in Paris a belief about the Eifel Tower.  There are different varieties of externalism but most would maintain that a person’s belief could not count as a belief about the Eifel Tower unless that person was causally connected (however indirectly) in the right way with the actual Eifel Tower.  Similarly many externalists have maintained that linguistic and conceptual norms in a person’s community constrain what belief contents can be properly attributed to her.  I’ll defend semantic externalism as an empirical claim about human cognitive psychology, albeit a claim that only a philosopher would dream up.
January 25, 2013

Convergence on Divergence: How to be a Relativistic Moral Realist” William Rottschaefer (Lewis & Clark College)

Urging that she meet her own methodological standards, Doris and Plakias have challenged the scientifically minded moral realist to address the long-standing problem of moral disagreement. I use a gene-culture co-evolutionary account of one of their showcase problem cases, the difference between honor and non-honor cultures, to argue not only that significant moral disagreement – and the moral relativism it seems to imply – pose no awkwardness for moral realism, but also that a properly scientifically based naturalistic moral realism explains it, indeed, provides tools for justifying it. In doing so, I show how to be a relativistic moral realist.
December 7, 2012

“Dyadic Truth” by Zoltán Gendler Szabó (Yale University)

The Lewis & Clark College Philosophy Department hosts a regular colloquium series. Distinguished speakers from around the world present on a wide array of philosophical topics.
November 30, 2012

“Schopenhauer’s Transcendental Aesthetic” by Desmond Hogan (Princeton University)

The Lewis & Clark College Philosophy Department hosts a regular colloquium series.  Distinguished speakers from around the world present on a wide array of philosophical topics.
November 28, 2012

Philosophy Extravaganza: What do we inherit?

This term’s Philosophy Extravaganza poses the question, what do we inherit? And is on Wednesday, 28 November  from 6:00  to 8:30pm in Smith Hall (in Albany Quadrangle). This semester, our speakers include:

Andrew Bernstein, professor of history
Monica Miller, professor of religious studies
Deborah Heath, professor of anthropology
Jay Odenbaugh, professor of philosophy

Our speakers plan to discuss an interesting variety of issues, such as the rhetorical invocations of past events for the interpretation of current events, the origins of normative discourses like aesthetics and ethics, epigenetics and social perspectives on epigenetic research, and religious and cultural legacies in our own society.

November 2, 2012

“Notes from a Nominalist: How to Excavate Philosophy from its Past” by Brian P. Copenhaver

The Lewis & Clark College Philosophy Department hosts a regular colloquium series.  Distinguished speakers from around the world present on a wide array of philosophical topics.
October 26, 2012

“Interpreting the Barcan Formula” by Ori Simchen (University of British Columbia)

The Barcan formula (BF) is a schema of quantified modal logic that can be paraphrased as the schematic conditional that if it is possible that there be F then something or other is possibly F (e.g. if it is possible that there be a talking donkey, then something or other is possibly a talking donkey). It is validated by the most straightforward systems of quantified modal logic. It is also widely considered to pose a threat to a commonsensical modal metaphysical view (‘actualism’) according to which there are no non-actual things. I will show how BF can be cleared of such a charge by construing it as a bridge principle connecting possibility de dicto – or what is generally possible – and possibility de re – what is specifically possible for particular things – while retaining a Russellian robust sense of reality in modal matters.
October 25, 2012

“Revealed Irrationality” by Ian Evans (LC Alum)

Is it possible to believe something, while simultaneously – and in full consciousness – believing that this belief is unsupported by your evidence? I say “yes”: I believe this about many of my own beliefs and I bet you do, too. But several philosophers have argued that this is precluded by the very nature of belief. The arguments – there are several – have been influential, but have received little scrutiny in print. In this paper, I take a hard look and find that none of the arguments holds water. Even if you agree with me that _these_ arguments fail, you might still find it puzzling how someone could believe that her own belief is irrational. The second part of my paper tries to help by making such a doxastic situation intelligible from the first-person perspective. What we can call “revealed irrationality” is possible and not as puzzling as it might seem.
October 19, 2012

Philosophy Colloquium: “Cultural Minds: Using Rules to Buttress Reasoning”

The Lewis & Clark College Philosophy Department hosts a regular colloquium series. Distinguished speakers from around the world present on a wide array of philosophical topics.
September 21, 2012

Philosophy Colloquium: “Alienation and Eudaimonism”

The Lewis & Clark College Philosophy Department hosts a regular colloquium series. Distinguished speakers from around the world present on a wide array of philosophical topics.
September 7, 2012

Philosophy Colloquium: Kaśmir to Prussia, Round Trip: A Comparison of Monistic Śaivism and Hegel

The Lewis & Clark College Philosophy Department hosts a regular colloquium series. Distinguished speakers from around the world present on a wide array of philosophical topics.

April 20, 2012

Honors Thesis Presentation by Davida Grimes “Moral Disagreement, Moral Inquiry, and Moral Problem Solving”

Relativistic treatments of the phenomenon of moral disagreement have been widely criticized and defended in recent years. There are, however, two closely related phenomena, namely, what I call moral inquiry, and moral problem-solving, that I wish to bring attention to in this paper. I argue that just as the Metaethical Relativist must provide an adequate account of moral disagreement, he must also make sense of the phenomena of moral inquiry and moral problem-solving. Both phenomena, like the problem of moral disagreement, involve uncertainty about moral answers. However, whereas the problem of disagreement involves two parties who have apparently opposing moral positions, moral inquiry involves a single inquirer’s attempts to figure out whether or not something is morally permissible. Moral problem-solving is similar in that it need only involve one person, but different in that the individual is trying to figure out what to do when faced with a moral decision.
April 19, 2012

“The Nature of Wilderness”

Should humans be understood as a part of nature or distinct from it? And how should we approach conservation efforts so that we balance the needs of a growing world population with the need to preserve some aspect of the wild in our lives?
April 19, 2012

Philosophy Talk - The Nature of Wilderness

NPR’s Philosophy Talk 
“The Nature of Wilderness”
Jay Odenbaugh, Philosophy
Thursday, April 19, 7 p.m.
Agnes Flanagan Chapel
Free and open to the general public.
Advance online registration required.

 Philosophy Talk is radio that celebrates the value of the examined life. Each week, our two host philosophers invite you to join them in conversation on a wide variety of issues ranging from popular culture to our most deeply-held beliefs about science, morality, and the human condition. Philosophy Talk challenges listeners to identify and question their assumptions and to think about things in new ways. We are dedicated to reasoned conversation driven by human curiosity. Philosophy Talk is accessible, intellectually stimulating, and most of all, fun!
March 22, 2012

Philosophy Extravaganza - Disagreement

This spring, the Philosophy Club is putting on an Extravaganza on the topic of ‘Disagreement’. Overwhelming disagreement drives revision of philosophic and scientific theories. Social conflict drives change within its own sphere. Our political system is premised on the utility of disagreement. Indeed, over the next few months our country will deliberately engage in political disagreement in the hope of progress. Join Barry Glassner (President), Reiko Hillyer (History), Daena Goldsmith (Rhetoric), and Joel Martinez (Philosophy) in attempting to address issues concerning how and why we disagree, whether disagreement is good, and how to resolve disagreements.
March 9, 2012

So you want to law school with a philosophy degree?

What can I do with a law degree?
How many years does it take?
How do I prepare for the LSAT?
What can I expect in law school?

Professor Jeff Jones (Lewis & Clark LawSchool, philosophy Ph.D) and MeredithPrice (Lewis & Clark alum and currentLewis & Clark law student) will answerthese questions and more.
March 2, 2012

Temporal Neutrality, Death, and Time’s Passage - Edward Cushman (Lewis and Clark College)

Temporal neutrality affirms that the temporal distribution of goods and harms within a life has no normative significance of its own. The view is the intrapersonal analog of impartial conceptions of distributive justice. Under impartial distributive views, no agent is given a privileged position. That a distribution of goods privileges one particular agent cannot be a reason for favoring it, even when that agent is you. Under temporally neutral conceptions of prudence, no time is given a privileged perspective. That a distribution of goods privileges one moment over another cannot be reason for favoring that distribution, even if that moment is now.
February 29, 2012

So you don’t want to go to grad school in philosophy?

Lead by Adonica De Vault 

What careers does philosophy prepare you for?

writer (David Foster Wallace)
journalist (Juan Williams)
actor (Steve Martin)
business (George Soros)
law (David Souter)
politics (Al Gore)
rock star (Kim Thayil)
artist (Robert Motherwell)
peacemaker (Aung Sun Suu Kyi)
comedian (Ricky Gervais)
filmmaker (Ethan Cohen)
game show host (Alex Trebeck)
…and many, many more. 
February 24, 2012

So you want to go to grad school in philosophy?

What can I do with a philosophy Ph.D.?
How many years does it take?
What kind of transcript would I need?
How do I prepare to apply?
Can I take time off before going?

Get answers to these questions and more. All philosophy majors and those considering a major in philosophy welcome, first-year and sophomore students especially encouraged. 
February 17, 2012

Explanation and Interpretation in The Knowledge Argument for Phenomenal Realism by Joshua Fost (Portland State University)

The Knowledge Argument is often invoked to show epistemological and/or ontological limitations of a physicalist account of mind. I move the burden of explanatory sufficiency away from science and toward the person processing the explanation, arguing that the purported limitations exposed by the Knowledge Argument are dissolved by making slight changes to the neurocognitive machinery with which a knower might process an account of mind. I also invoke a Turing-style formulation to distinguish knowledge of physical mechanisms (e.g. color vision) from knowledge of the entailments of those mechanisms. I argue that the notion of “complete physical knowledge” used in in the Knowledge Argument is not consistent with computational realities. My ontological project is to circumscribe assessments of ontic status to the confines of mental representations. I argue that the intrinsic internality of phenomenal facts and properties prevents them from having objective referents. This exonerates science from having to include those facts and properties for the same reason that science need not incorporate “facts” about other not-objectively-real entities. Another way of saying this is that some philosophers’ desiderata for a scientific account of mind are misguided consequences of mostly unspoken tendencies toward linguistic reification and semantic externalism.
February 3, 2012

Essentialism, Natural Kinds and the Naturalistic (Social) Epistemology of Science by Richard Boyd (Cornell University)

It’s pretty much standard to see contemporary philosophical approaches in the humanities as falling into two antagonistic camps with philosophers in the analytic tradition arrayed against philosophers, literary theorists, critical theorists, feminist theorists, etc. who deploy postmodern intellectual resources.  In particular there appear to be deep disagreements between the two approaches with respect to such issues as objective knowledge, expertise and authority, correspondence truth and essentialism.  Among positions advocated in the analytic tradition scientific realism stands in sharpest apparent contrast to postmodern conceptions.In fact, however, consistently developed realist philosophy of science ratifies almost all of the prevailing postmodernist ideas about the  socially and historically situated, irreducibly political, and non-foundational aspects of scientific knowledge and confirms about scientific “natural kinds” that they are all social constructions and that many are open textured, historically situated, relationally and historically defined, (and thus) non-eternal, and non-intrinsic.  It remains nevertheless consistently committed to correspondence truth, to the reality of natural kinds, and to the real, albeit socially and historically contingent, possibility of objective knowledge.Moreover, the politically and socially critical functions of postmodern ideas about science are ill-served by self-defeating postmodern relativism.  Those important critical functions are better served by a sophisticated, historically and politically informed, realist approach which is not compromised by relativism.
January 20, 2012

“Counterfactualism” Troy Cross (Reed College)

I show that the debate about whether fundamental properties are “dispositional” or “categorical” rests on the assumption that property P = property P’ if all possible instances of P are instances of P’. Since proponents of Humean Supervenience typically accept that assumption, along with categoricalism, it follows that I will am
arguing that Humean Supervenience, in its familiar guise, is incoherent.  Following that negative project, I will sketch a metaphysics of properties according to which they are neutral with respect to the dispositional/categorical divide.
December 2, 2011

Knowing Better by Sruthi Rothenfluch (Pacific University)

Epistemic contextualists draw analogies between ‘knows’ and other context-sensitive expressions in order to show that the semantics they attribute to ‘knows’ is not unique, but rather applies to a particular class of expressions of which ‘knows’ is a member.  The trend with respect to such identification is to classify ‘knows’ as a non-gradable context-sensitive expression, such as ‘sufficiently tall’.  Here, I will argue, however, that such an analysis is mistaken, as propositional knowledge ascriptions are gradable.  I will argue that there are certain high-standard contexts in which ‘S knows that p’ is true if and only if S knows why p, which thereby explains the epistemic demands of such contexts Knowledge-why comes in different degrees.  Propositional knowledge ascriptions, then, can come in different strengths under certain circumstances.  Therefore, ‘knows’ must be identified with gradable context-sensitive expressions, which include members such as ‘tall’ and ‘rich’. 
November 18, 2011

The Extended Mind and WE-ness: How Far Can It Stretch Without Breaking?- William Rottschaefer (Lewis & Clark College)

Advocates of cognitive extension argue that the human mind super-sizes itself by embodying itself in a body, embedding itself in an epistemic environment and uniting itself with both in extended cognitive agency.  Call this the 3E-ness thesis.  In this paper, I propose a strong version of 3E-ness, WE-ness: In some instances super-sizing results in the creation of a plural subject, a WE.  I outline the ontological lineaments of WE-ness, distinguishing it from other forms of situated cognition, and suggest a bio-cultural model of its origin based on a biological model of the emergence of multi-cellular life from single- celled life.  I then examine recent findings and theories in developmental psychology concerning we-intentionality and its features of normative and supra-personal intentionality.  Developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello has argued that we-intentionality has played a central role in the social/cultural achievements that distinguish humans from their primate cousins.  Drawing on these findings, I argue that we-intentionality and its consequences suggest WE-ness for their bases.  I then lay out an argument for the existence of WE-ness based on a bio-cultural account of its origin and maintenance, indicating how we-intentionality might play in a role in those processes.  Finally, I examine three major objections to the extended mind thesis that also raise problems for WE-ness.
November 4, 2011

Relativism about the Normative by Paul Boghossian (New York University)

This is in conjunction with the Northwest Philosophy Conference.

If possible, please carpool or take public transportation. 
October 27, 2011

Philosophy Extravaganza: Can animals think?

This fall, the Philosophy Extravaganza has chosen as its topic, “Can animals think?” Questions of whether animals, or more generally non-humans, can think have long puzzled philosophers and non-philosophers alike, and are today of an especially high importance; for example, we all must deal with questions of how non-human thought informs our ethical views. Please join us for a panel discussion on animal thought, featuring: Ken Clifton (Biology), Becko Copenhaver (Philosophy), Erik Nilsen (Psychology), and Kathy Hessler (Animal Law). Refreshments will be provided.
October 21, 2011

Hume’s Sense of Probability- Don Garrett (New York University)

“The imagination, according to my own confession, [is] the ultimate judge of all systems of philosophy.” So writes David Hume in A Treatise of Human Nature (T But how can the imagination, of all things, be the ultimate judge of systems of philosophy? And how can Hume’s granting of this august judicial role to a faculty generally regarded as the source of whimsy and error be reconciled with his confidence, expressed in the Introduction to the Treatise,  that he is proposing in his own philosophy a “complete system” that is built on a “solid foundation” (T Intro. 6-7)? Those are the central questions that I propose to address. My answer to the first question will be that the Humean imagination serves as the ultimate judge of systems of philosophy chiefly by being, through what I will call its sense of probability, the sole judge of the probability that they are true. My answer to the second will be that, on Hume’s view, a system with sufficient probability of being true, as judged by the imagination, can properly be regarded as well-founded.

I will begin by explaining Hume’s general approach to those abstract ideas that are derived from a sense—that is, what we would now be likely to call response-dependent concepts—and examining the applicability of that general approach to the specific abstract idea of probability. I will then set out what I take to be his general approach to normative ideas and examine the applicability of that approach to the specific abstract idea of probable truth. Combining the results of these two investigations will allow us to see his abstract idea of probable truth as a concept that is both response-dependent and epistemically normative. We will then be in a position to understand the imagination’s use of that concept in properly judging systems of philosophy—including, of course, Hume’s own system. I will conclude by drawing several consequences for Humean epistemology and its relation to skepticism.
October 14, 2011

Superstrong Multimodality: A New Approach to Perceptual Experience- Rebecca Copenhaver and Bryce Dalbey (Lewis & Clark)

We present a taxonomy of approaches and position to studying perceptual experience.  Perceptual experience has been studied primarily as a unimodal phenomenon: philosophers and cognitive scientists have approached each sense modality as isolated and encapsulated and as having unique, proprietary objects.  In addition, philosophers and cognitive scientists have focused almost exclusively on vision.  Recently, some have begun to study audition, olfaction, gustation, proprioception and other neglected sense modalities.  We argue that while this shift in attention is an advance, a more radical shift in methodology is called for: superstrong multimodality.  On this approach, there are no modally-specific, distinct, proprietary, invariant contents.  Rather, overall perceptual experience is the most basic form of content, and it cannot be specified in modally-specific terms.
September 30, 2011

German Idealism meets Indian Vedanta: A Comparison of Schelling and Hegel with Sankara and Ramanuja (plus Abhinavagupta)- Katherine Elise Barhydt and J.M. Fritzman (Lewis & Clark)

We compare the German Idealism of Schelling and Hegel with the Indian Vedānta of Śaṅkarā and Rāmānuja, as well as Abhinavagupta’s Kaśmir Śaivism. We argue that only Hegel’s philosophy does not fail according to its own standard of success.
September 23, 2011

“Gut Reactions” and Abstract Art by Jay Odenbaugh and Levi Tenen (Lewis & Clark)

It is commonplace to claim that abstract, non-representational artworks such as Rothko’s No. 14 or Miles Davis’ Blue in Green express emotions like sadness. However, this seems problematic since expression generally requires a person doing the expressing. In this paper, we attempt to address this “missing person problem”. First, we present the problem of “abstract expression” and we articulate the various ways in which the concept of expression is used regarding persons and artworks. Second, we sketch our best understanding of what the emotions borrowing from the work of Jesse Prinz and Jenefer Robinson. Finally, combining both the conceptual clarification and work on emotion discussed above, we provide an account of how emotions can be expressed by abstract art.
September 2, 2011

Socratic Aversion to Suffering Injusticen by Nicholas Smith and James Mire (Lewis & Clark College)

Socrates claims that he would rather that he neither suffer injustice, nor perform it. The notion that someone would have an aversion to suffering injustice seems so commonsense as to require no justification. Yet if Socrates accepts the thesis that virtue is sufficient for happiness (“no evil comes to a good man”), then it is hard to see why Socrates, being a good man, would have anything to fear from victimization. This paper aims to make these views consistent through a reinterpretation of several important Socratic positions, notably the relation between virtue and happiness, and Socrates’ moral psychology.
March 11, 2011

“Virtue and the Demands of Morality” by Joel Martinez (Lewis & Clark College)

J.O.  Urmson (1958) recognized that merely providing a criterion of right action is insufficient for capturing common sense morality.  Providing a criterion of right action helps us give an account of 1) the permitted (actions that are neither right nor wrong), 2) the obligatory (actions that are wrong not to do), 3) the forbidden (actions that are wrong to do).  However, there is another class of actions that forms an important part of common sense morality that cannot be captured by the standard three-fold deontic classification.  That is, there are ways of behaving that are neither required nor prohibited, but in being laudable they are not merely permissible.  These are supererogatory actions; actions that go above and beyond the call of duty.

Recently, there has been a discussion as to whether virtue ethics can capture the common sense notion of supererogation. In this paper, I argue that there is no compelling reason why virtue ethics ought to give an account of the supererogatory.   The argument that supports the claim that virtue ethics needs to account for the supererogatory rests on a fundamental confusion about the virtue ethical account of right action.  That is, philosophers who argue that virtue ethics ought to offer a virtue ethical account of supererogation mistakenly take the virtue ethical criterion of right action to tell us what our obligations are.   But, this is a mistake. It is an easy one to make, though, because so many prominent virtue ethicists have felt comfortable using deontic notions.  In this paper, I explain why this is a mistake and point the way to a better and more pure virtue ethical approach to understanding the actions of heroes and saints.  In the end, I think the virtue ethicist should jettison the notion of supererogation.  However, I think this is a small price to pay and it need not threaten the virtue ethical project of conceptualizing common sense morality.
March 4, 2011

“Living Behind the Wall: Plato’s Philosopher in an Unjust City” by Michelle Jenkins (Whitman College)

Unlike the philosopher in the Kallipolis of the Republic, the philosopher in non-ideal circumstances will live in a city run by unjust laws and surrounded by individuals who live guided by false beliefs and who pursue false goods. In this talk, I want to think about how Plato’s philosopher would act if faced with these circumstances. My investigation begins with a brief look at Plato’s philosopher more generally - who is he and what does he desire? I argue that, ultimately, the philosopher wants to become like god. But what does it mean to become like god? Figuring out the answer to this gets us to the heart of the question of how the philosopher in an unjust city will act. I argue that two popular interpretations - (1) that becoming like god involves withdrawing from the world and (2) that it involves attempting to morally improve the world - are both incorrect. So, if both of these interpretations are incorrect, what does it mean to say that the philosopher wants to become like god? I argue that becoming like god involves modeling ourselves after god’s order and coming to have (godlike) knowledge of what is valuable and not valuable. Thus the philosopher, in aiming to become like god, will put himself in order and will act so as to maintain that order and preserve his virtue. I caution against saying much more than this, though, since the details of the philosopher’s life will vary quite a bit, given the wide variety of circumstances into which he (or she) may be born. He may be commanded by the gods to be a moral exhorter (as was Socrates), he may be obligated to share in the rule of his city (as was the philosopher ruler), or lacking any external obligations, he may choose to live a private life, doing his best to keep away from the injustice of the majority. Without knowing the details of the philosopher’s life, we simply cannot say much about it, except that it will be a life that is ordered, virtuous, and as much like the god’s as a human life can be.
January 31, 2011

“Analogy as the Core of Cognition” by Douglas Hofstadter (Indiana University)

Sponsored by the Pamplin Society of Lewis & Clark College
December 3, 2010

“Biting the Bullet: Levelling-Down and Radical Egalitarianism” by Alexander Sager (Portland State University)

Radical egalitarians advocate a moral standard under which people should not only enjoy equal rights, liberties, and opportunities, but also share approximately equal goods. Most philosophers who defend distributive justice reject radical egalitarianism in favour of a version of the difference principle or the doctrine of sufficiency. One reason for this rejection is the levelling-down objection. Radical egalitarianism is a comparative view: the goodness of a distribution depends partly on how much other people have. This has a counterintuitive implication. It is possible to achieve equality by levelling down – instead of improving the lot of the worst off, levelling down would involve taking goods away from people with more until everyone has an equal share. In this case equality is achieved in a way that harms the better-off people while appearing to benefit no one.

I argue that radical egalitarians should not be daunted by the levelling-down objection. Drawing on an analysis of the moral emotions of sympathy and envy, I provide a number of examples in which levelling-down appears morally permissible and is perhaps even required. This provides grounds for a version of radical telic egalitarianism in which levelling-down sometimes results in outcomes that are better all-things considered.
November 12, 2010

Moral Properties and Patterns: Some Problems for Particularism by Joel Martinez (Lewis & Clark College) and Sarah Raskoff (Lewis & Clark College)

Moral particularism is the view that there are no justifiable moral principles. The particularist insists that the relationship between the descriptive and the evaluative is irreducibly complex: she denies that there is any non-trivial and explanatorily significant pattern to the way descriptive or natural properties determine supervening evaluative or moral properties. Hence, the particularist also denies that proper moral judgment consists in the application of general moral principles to particular cases because she doubts that there are any moral principles that are sufficiently precise and contentful to be action-guiding.  The foundation of moral particularism is a commitment to holism rather than atomism about moral reasons. Atomism about moral reasons is the view that “a feature that is a reason in one case will be a reason, with the same polarity, in any other” (Dancy, 2006).  In contrast, holism about moral reasons is the view that a feature that is a reason in one case may be no reason or even a reason with the opposite polarity, in any other. Whether a particular feature is morally relevant, and if so, to what polarity, is not linked to the feature itself, but varies from situation to situation. The move from holism about moral reasons to particularism, then, is straightforward: if the very valence of moral-making features varies from case to case, then we have good reason to suspect that the moral landscape is not the sort of place that lends itself to exceptionless and explanatory codification. 

In this paper, we briefly explain some of the more common objections to particularism.  We articulate a problem for the particularist, what we call “the application problem,” that has not been discussed in the literature.  In addition, we consider how some prominent particularists might respond.  We conclude by spelling out some lessons we have learned from investigating particularism.
November 5, 2010

“Virtue Ethics” and the Problem of Advising Fools by Eric Brown (University of Washington at St. Louis)

“Virtue ethics” tells us to do what the virtuous person would do in our circumstances. But if we are not virtuous—if we are “fools”—then the virtuous person would not be in our circumstances. What, then, can virtue theory say to advise a fool about what to do? I quickly suggest reasons to be pessimistic about recent approaches to this problem, and then I turn to the ancients’ eudaimonism for a more a fresh alternative. The ancient Socratics, including especially the Stoics, counsel not causally promoting one’s virtue or trying to follow “v-rules” but approximating virtue. I argue that Stoic psychopathology offers considerable help in making sense of how fools might approximate virtue and how advisers might use Socratic eudaimonism’s conception of virtue to guide fools to the best action in their circumstances.
October 28, 2010

So you think you want to go to law school from philosophy?

Come find out about how philosophy prepares you for law school, about how law school differs from philosophy, and about what careers you might seek with a law degree.
October 21, 2010

so you DON’T want to go to grad school in philosophy?

Come find out about the many options, resources, and opportunities you have as a philosophy major to begin planning for a career right now.
October 15, 2010

Reason and Evaluative Luck by Eddie Cushman (Lewis & Clark College)

In his classic paper “Moral Luck,” Nagel argues that a dilemma is embedded in our common moral thought. On the one hand, there appears to be a deep form of incoherence in the thought that moral evaluations are applicable to an individual as a result of good or bad luck—that is, by virtue of factors that lie outside her control. On the other hand, if we deny that moral evaluations can apply to an individual by virtue of factors that lie outside of her control, then morality appears to evaporate. We are never suitable objects of moral evaluation.

In this talk, I explore how these issues generalize to the epistemic domain. On the one hand, there seems to be some form of incoherence in the idea that evaluations of reasonability in belief are open to luck, though this is arguably the defining claim of a thoroughgoing externalism in epistemology. On the other hand, our concept of reasonable belief may be immune to luck only under a version of access internalism so strict as to have external world skepticism as a consequence. Thus, there is a genuine threat that Nagel’s dilemma is robust in the epistemic domain.

I close by offering an explanation for these striking affinities. The problems of moral and epistemic luck are particular manifestations of more fundamental problem—the problem of evaluative luck. Though our evaluative concepts are heterogeneous and many of them remain unproblematically applicable on the basis of good or bad fortune, our concept of reasonability—applicable to both choice and belief—remains immune to luck.
February 26, 2010

Berkeley and Reid on Acquired Perception by Rebecca Copenhaver (Lewis & Clark College)

A common view in psychology and philosophy holds that strictly speaking we see very little – we see only facing surface features like color, boundaries and illumination.  Everything else is filled in by the mind.  I think that this view is wrong.  I use George Berkeley and Thomas Reid to illustrate how this putatively common sense view is a piece of theory and a product of history.


February 19, 2010

Immortality by John Martin Fischer (University of California Riverside)

I discuss various objections to the idea that embodied immortality could be desirable for human beings. I argue against the “immortality curmudgeons”, such as Heidegger and Bernard Williams, that such immortality could conceivably be attractive to human beings.

11/05/2009, 3:30pm, Albany Quadrangle, Smith Hall
November 5, 2009

Two Cheers for Affirmative Action

David Boonin, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, will offer a talk titled, “Two Cheers for Affirmative Action.”