Philosophy Speaker Series
Bringing noted philosophers to the Harper community.
Twice a year the Philosophy Department presents lectures by area philosophers. Attendance is free and open to the public. For more information on the Philosophy Speaker Series, please contact Dr. Rebecca Scott, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Present and Past Speakers
Is the Benefit of the Doubt Beneficial After All? On the (Mis)Uses of Charitable Interpretation
Dr. Claire Lockard
Mount Mary University
In this talk, I will describe and problematize a very common practice in academic philosophy: interpreting charitably. Philosophers tend to assume that offering authors and texts the benefit of the doubt is an effective—perhaps the most effective—way to interpret and enter into conversation with them. The thinking is something like: if we have not been sufficiently charitable, we won’t accurately understand what the texts are saying and any response we offer is unlikely to be relevant. I argue, however, that calling on others to practice interpretive charity, and practicing this charity ourselves, can be problematic. I suggest that when we rely on charitable interpretation as a method for engaging with and navigating the racism and sexism so often found in canonical philosophical texts, we make two mistakes. First, we fail to recognize that calling for interpreting charitably is not a politically neutral practice; in fact, it has the potential to disrupt or to reinforce harmful power dynamics. Second, this ignorance of, or disregard for, charity’s effects contributes to and widens what I call the “charitability gap,” in which marginalized philosophers receive insufficient levels of charity while also being disproportionately expected to offer it.
Are Vaccine Mandates a Matter of Conscience?
Dr. Alida Liberman
Southern Methodist University
This lecture will address whether exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates (e.g., from an employer or university) should be accommodated as conscientious objections, understood as penalty-free exemptions to a law or policy based on moral or religious disagreement with the policy. Liberman develops a framework for assessing the legitimacy of conscientious objection claims by determining whether they violate the basic competencies needed to be a minimally decent member of a profession or community.
Sonzai-kan, jinba-ittai, and other lessons for Human/Machine Interaction from Japanese
Dr. Johnathan Flowers
This talk will ground human/machine interaction as a felt connection between the human user and the machine itself. This felt connection is anticipated through Hiroshi Ishiguro's Sonzai-kan, or human-like presence or spirit, and the ways that users often feel “at home” with or “connected to” their machines. However, contemporary uses of the term ignore the experiential depth implied by the term itself. This talk will elaborate upon human/machine interaction by resituating it in the Japanese aesthetic tradition, to reshape design thinking and how we understand our relationship with machines.
The Arts of Action
Dr. C. Thi Nguyen
University of Utah
Art culture tends to focus on the arts of objects, and neglects the arts of action – the “process arts”. An artist makes something, which we call the “work”. In the object arts, the aesthetic qualities – beauty, grace, drama – are in the work itself. It is the painting that is beautiful; the novel that is dramatic. In the process arts, the work calls forth actions from the audience, and encourages aesthetic qualities in those actions. The process arts include games, urban planning, improvised social dance, cooking, and social food rituals. In the process arts, it is the audience who becomes beautiful, graceful, or fails comically. It is the game player’s own decisions that are elegant, the rock climber’s own movement that is graceful or hysterically klutzy, and the tango dancers’ rapport that is beautiful. And, in many cases, the arts have both process and object aspects. Cookbooks create an aesthetic process – the cooking activity – and an aesthetic object – the dish. But we often ignore or undervalue the process qualities. For example: in cookbook reviews, we review the dish – but not the quality of the cooking process. This leads to some difficult questions: who the artist really is in a piece of process art — the designer or the active appreciator? And why have we ignored the process arts, when they actually surround us?
Sport as a Human Right: The Ethics, Law and Science of Including Trans Women in Women's
Dr. Veronica Ivy
College of Charleston
We argue that the inclusion of trans athletes in competition commensurate with their legal gender is the most consistent position with these principles of fair and equitable sport. We suggest that biological restrictions, such as endogenous testosterone limits, are not consistent with International Olympic Committee and Court of Arbitration for Sport principles. While CAS rulings are consistent with the exclusion of some trans athletes, those very rulings rely on evidence that can be questioned, as well as internal inconsistencies in reasoning. We explore the implications for recognizing that endogenous testosterone values are a “natural physical trait” and that excluding legally recognized women for high endogenous testosterone values constitutes prima facie discrimination on the basis of a natural physical trait. We suggest that the justificatory burden for such prima facie discrimination is unlikely to be met. Thus, in place of a limit on endogenous testosterone for women (whether cisgender, transgender, or intersex), we argue that "legally recognized gender" is most fully in line with IOC and CAS principles.
Responsibility for Ignorance: A Defense of the Examined Life
Dr. Ali Hasan
University of Iowa
We sometimes excuse people for doing something wrong because they “didn’t know any better.” But not always. In some cases, we blame people even if they are ignorant of the wrongness of their actions, perhaps because they “should have known better” or are somehow responsible for their ignorance. But when does ignorance excuse one for acting wrongly, and when is it no excuse? In this talk, I argue (roughly) that all culpability must trace back to cases in which one knowingly does wrong. I then examine a few historical and contemporary cases of wrongdoing that seem to involve ignorance, including the case of slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson, crusaders, brainwashed members of ISIS, and other cases involving cultural isolation or polarization. It will turn out that (a) the development of intellectual virtues like open-mindedness and humility is crucial for combatting your own biases and ignorance, (b) once you recognize this, you have a responsibility to practice and develop intellectual virtues, and (c) the study of moral philosophy is critical to the development of these virtues. This talk is thus also an argument that you ought to study moral philosophy. Now that you know this, you have no excuse.
Capital Vices, Institutional Failures, and Epistemic Neglect in a County Jail
Dr. José Medina
This talk will examine the phenomenon of communicative and epistemic neglect, that is, the phenomenon of being abandoned as a subject of communication and as a subject of knowledge. I will elucidate this phenomenon through the case study of the neglect of inmates in a county jail in Durham, NC. In my analysis I will highlight the vices that we can ascribe both to individuals and to institutions within the criminal justice system and the prison system. I will also address the kinds of activism that are needed, inside and outside an institution such as a county jail, in order to produce effective transformations. I will focus on what I call epistemic activism and the kinds of interpersonal and institutional transformations it can help achieve.
Toward a Critical Theory of 'Datafication'
Dr. Murray Skees
University of South Carolina, Beaufort
Recently, scholars of various fields interested in research methodology have argued that the increasing reliance on Predictive Analytics in the age of "Big Data" suggests a significant epistemological shift in how we come to analyze information. The "old way" had a scientist testing a theory by analyzing relevant data from a scientifically determined and carefully culled sample. The "new way," however, relies on a data analyst leaning on her knowledge of predictive analytics (as well as petabytes of data) to gain insights "born from the data." No 'theory' will ultimately guide the research. We will become increasingly comfortable with correlations and become less interested in causation. Yet the reflexive nature of social inquiry precludes us from being simply satisfied with knowing the "what" and not knowing the "why." My talk will develop this criticism of the impending shift in information analysis and argue for the merits of a critical theory of "datafication."
Psychopathy is (mostly) irrelevant to responsibility
Dr. Katrina Sifferd
Though psychopaths make up roughly 1% of the general male adult population, some studies indicate they make up between 15% and 25% of the males incarcerated in North American prison systems (Kiehl and Hoffman 2011). Psychopaths are roughly 15 to 25 times more likely to commit crimes that land them in prison than non-psychopaths (Kiehl and Hoffman 2011). Interpersonal or affective deficits (e.g. shallow affect) and specific cognitive deficits associated with self- control (e.g. risk-taking and impulsivity) have been highlighted as causal factors in psychopaths’ criminality and recidivism. However, it is unclear whether psychopaths really suffer from such deficits, and if they do, whether these deficits mean psychopaths are “mad” or just “bad” (Maibom 2008). In this talk I will discuss whether psychopaths as a group suffer from cognitive deficits such that a diagnosis of psychopathy ought to serve as an excuse to criminal responsibility. My position should be clear from the talk title: I will argue that psychopathy is largely irrelevant to criminal responsibility (although it is very relevant to criminal justice policy). However, there is a possibility that psychopaths are less morally responsible than non-psychopaths.
The Philosophy of Spoilers
Dr. Richard Greene
Weber State University
There are many things that one can do these days to get folks really angry, but few things are as ire inducing as revealing spoilers. Interestingly, however, it's not always bad to do so, and not all things can be spoiled. In this talk I'll discuss when it's ok to spoil, when it's not ok to do so, just what constitutes a spoiler, Luke Skywalker's father, who committed the murder on the Orient Express, and many other things that it would be wrong to tell you about until after you've heard the talk.
An Argument for the Existence of an Omniscient Being
Dr. Christopher Gregory Weaver
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Alonzo Church (2009) and Frederic B. Fitch (1963) famously proved that if all truths could be known, then all truths are known. I show how that proof underwrites the further claim that if there could be an omniscient being, then there is an omniscient being. I defend the thesis that there could be an omniscient being, and thereby secure the conclusion that there is one.
How to Give a Good Apology
Dr. Teresa Britton
Eastern Illinois University
The current view of apologies holds that the function of an apology is to compensate for the transgression which occasioned it. I argue that on this view apologies lack moral worth. Why? Apologies wrongly privilege the social concerns of the giver over the moral benefit to the recipient. I propose a better analysis of apology. I see them as a special case of an act of consolation — as in, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” This account yields a better normative footing for the concept of the apology and traction on the question of how to give a good apology.
Egg-Freezing Services for Female Employees: Egg-sploitation or Egg-celent?
Dr. Jennifer A. Parks
Loyola University, Chicago
In 2012, egg vitrification (otherwise known as “egg freezing”) was removed from the list of experimental treatments by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, thus formally recognizing it as a new treatment option to preserve the fertility of women undergoing cancer treatment. The removal of experimental status resulted in the ability for women to finally receive health insurance coverage for egg freezing services.
In the few years since this elective procedure has become available, its use has spread to reproductive-age career women who want to freeze their eggs for social purposes (such as career demands or the need for more time to find “Mr. Right”). Indeed, a booming industry is building around “social egg freezing,” and companies like Apple and Facebook have even started to offer egg freezing as part of female employees’ benefits packages.
Supporters of Apple and Facebook claim that these companies should be applauded for taking steps to encourage and support women’s entrance into STEM careers -- where women are significantly under-represented — allowing them greater choice in pursuing career and family options. By contrast, critics point out that the companies are attempting to save money by encouraging female employees to significantly delay family-making so that the companies are not inconvenienced by maternity leaves and other reproductive-related career interruptions. We will consider these questions in trying to sort out whether egg freezing is “egg-sploitation” or “egg-cellent” for female employees.
Stories, Facts, and Fictions
Dr. Kevin J. Harrelson
Ball State University
Common wisdom has it that there are ‘two sides to a story’, just as there is a difference between the facts and the story we tell about them. It is a fact, for instance, that Chris Columbus captained a voyage of three ships across the Atlantic. But did he also discover America? That is a matter of the story we tell. Critics of the Columbus story express this point by saying that the discovery of America is ‘only a story’, or that it belongs to an outdated narrative about America. This distinction between fact and story, however, seems to threaten the equally important distinction between a true story and a fiction. In this presentation, we will look at a number of popular histories and fictions in the interest of asking what the difference is: what is it to tell a true story?
Responsible Gameplay and the Problem of Sports Spectatorship
Dr. A. Leland Morton
Saint Xavier University
Are there special ethical norms that govern responsible spectating of sporting events? Responsible spectating certainly comes with ethical norms such as respecting fellow spectators, players, coaches and so on. But these are not special in the relevant sense as they are not peculiar to sports spectating or even to spectating more generally. On the other hand a large number of activities do bring with them ethical norms that are special in this sense. Doctoring, lawyering, and playing a game or a sport each involve adopting special concerns if they are to be done responsibly. Part of what makes them special is that they place expectations on the actor to take on a special care that would not ordinarily be expected of others. Recently, Scott Aikin has argued that responsible sports spectating involves special ethical norms in just this sense; since, for him, responsible sports spectating brings with it the special expectation of a heightened care for the game, fantasy football play is irresponsible and unethical. In this presentation, I argue that Aikin is mistaken in thinking that responsible spectating involves special ethical norms.
Dr. Ann Dolinko
Dr. Dolinko provided a basic overview of feminism in general and feminist philosophy in particular, discussing how feminism applies to our lives and to current issues in politics and academia. She examined some of the history and the current situation of feminist philosophy and addressed what it means to be a feminist philosophy professor at a Great Books college.
Dr. John Patrick Casey, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Northeastern Illinois University
The principle of charity tells us that we always consider the strongest version of an opponent's argument. This entails, among other things, that we avoid straw-manning, or the practice of distorting arguments so as more easily to defeat them. This prohibition raises a couple of puzzles. First, it doesn't always seem wrong to distort arguments to defeat them. Teachers, after all, do this all of the time in instructing beginners. Distortions are not always bad. More significantly, stronger versions of the prohibition mean that weak arguments and incompetent arguers survive longer than they should in the proverbial market-place of ideas. This practice of encouraging trolling and other argumentative clutter is "iron-manning," a kind of reverse straw-manning. It's wrong, I shall argue, for the same reasons straw-manning is wrong.
Coping with Loss of Freedom and Autonomy in a Detention Center
Dr. Samuel Zinaich, Associate Professor of Philosophy
This essay discusses my experience as a philosophical counselor doing Logic-Based Therapy (LBT) in the Jerome Combs Detention Center (JCDC) in Kankakee, IL. I discuss the problem of loss of freedom and autonomy that is part of life at JCDC and the problem the inmates have in building and exercising willpower in this environment. Examining a common line of emotional reasoning among inmates, I will spell out two problematic principles many of the inmates live by, from which they deduce a sequence of fallacies, notably, awfulizing and can’tstipation, which, in turn, contribute to their profound unhappiness and inability to cope. Accordingly, I discuss two antidotes to these principles, which, despite other unpleasant factors present in the JCDC environment, contributed to the positive change in attitude and behavior in several inmates.
Thick As Thieves: Nietzsche’s Debt to Aristotle
Dr. Daw-Nay Evans Jr.
Lake Forest College
What is Nietzsche's relation to Aristotle? How should we assess it? Unlike Nietzsche's view of other ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle's influence on Nietzsche has received scant attention from scholars. Nevertheless, critics and defenders alike mention the plausibility of linking Nietzsche with Aristotle. On the one hand, critics argue that no one has convincingly demonstrated a philosophically substantive connection between the two philosophers. On the other hand, defenders argue that Nietzsche's debt to Aristotle is extensive and worthy of further investigation. Taking up the critic's challenge, I argue that Aristotle's influence on Nietzsche is evident in his views on logic, moral psychology, free will, and Greek tragedy. I contend that Nietzsche's philosophical development owes more to Aristotle than has generally been acknowledged. This account undermines the critic's denial and bolsters the defender’s affirmation of Nietzsche’s indebtedness to Aristotle.
Global Warming and Techno-Madness: The Ethics and Politics of Technological Responses
to Environmental Destruction
Dr. Tama Weisman
Techno-madness, the hubristic over-reliance on technology, is the result of many converging elements. It emerges from the common confusion of is and ought, of can and should. It is what we face when we replace the question of what technologies are permissible in our struggle to come to terms with global warming with the question of what technologies are possible. Questions of permissibility are taking a back seat to expedience, thus resulting in a techno-madness wherein our reliance on technology is viewed as a replacement for political will rather than as one element to be considered alongside political, economic and social action.
Infinity in Modern Thought
Dr. Anat Schechtman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
University of Chicago
This talk explores the rich tradition of philosophical work on paradoxes of infinity. Take the natural numbers, which are infinite: how can there be as many even numbers as natural numbers (since every even number can be matched with a natural number, and vice versa), and yet less (since the even numbers are but a part of the entire collection of natural numbers)? Or consider divisibility: how can the circumferences of two concentric circles be divided into the same infinite number of points, yet one has a greater circumference than the other? Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz all attempted to tackle such centuries-old problems. While the solutions they offered may seem outdated in light of Georg Cantor's revolutionary work on infinity in the late nineteenth century, there is still something to learn from these seventeenth century thinkers. In particular, I will argue that they invite us to take a uniquely "metaphysical" perspective on infinity that is quite different from the mathematical perspective we are accustomed to today.
Immoralism: Why Some Morally Bad Art Is So Good
Dr. Anne Eaton
University of Illinois at Chicago
This paper examines one aspect of the vexed relationship between aesthetics and morality. It argues for Immoralism, the idea that works of art can in specifiable cases be aesthetically improved by their moral flaws. To this I append the converse thesis, that works of art can in specifiable cases be aesthetically flawed because of their moral virtues. I make substantial use of examples from popular culture, the history of art, and literature.
Leadership, Business & Ethics in a Post-Enron World
Dr. Al Gini
Loyola University Chicago
What happened with Enron, WorldCom, Andersen, Adelphi and, let's not forget Bernie Madoff? How were these major corporations transformed form paragons of virtue to pariahs? What went wrong? Was it a failure of corporate structure? Personal character? Leadership? Ethics? Yes! Yes! Yes! And, yes! But at its core, this collective scandal is really about the breakdown of a very basic virtue in business and life-trust. Trust is the "social glue" that allows us to operate in community with others. Trust is confidence in the predictability, reliability, dependability and integrity of others. Without trust, societies and business falter and collapse. This presentation will examine the importance of trust in our lives, the importance of re-establishing ethical standards in business, and the role that leadership plays in both creating and modeling rules and standards of appropriate ethical conduct.
How Does One Escape the Inexorable Pull of Nature and Instinct?
Dr. James Swindal
Some philosophers have developed comprehensive and holistic normative models that purport to exhibit the various deontic constraints that agents adopt in order to achieve what otherwise would be an unattainable social order. Robert Brandom's semantic inferentialism purports to show how a rational construction of social coordination is possible through specific mappings that agents make of each other's commitments (beliefs) and entitlements (justified beliefs). Strongly influenced by Brandom's account, Joseph Heath reconstructs a number of historically emergent deontic constraints that solve what are otherwise unsolvable game theoretic problems in the maintenance of the social order. But both accounts omit a sufficient analysis of the way in which individual agents, who comprise the normative order, are effectively addressed of norms. I argue for a theory of agency that occupies a middle ground between a pure naturalism (where instinct dominates) and a pure regularism, or "normativism" (where reason dominates).