Philosophy Spring 2023 Speaker Series – 4pm Inamori Center Seminar, TVUC Room 280F

January 20 Chris Haufe “Trust Issues“In this talk, I canvas a range of problems — “trust issues” — which are either insensitive to or actually exacerbated by the reliability of scientific knowledge. Each of these issues emerges out of a conflict between basic features of the scientific process, on the one hand, and basic features of the nature of trust. The overarching theme of my talk is that there are lots of reasons to not trust science that are consistent with the idea that scientific knowledge is reliable.

January 27  J. Arvid Ågren “The Gene’s-Eye View of Evolution” Few phrases in biology have caught the imagination of professionals and lay people alike the way Richard Dawkins’s ‘selfish gene’ has done, and it changed how both groups thought about evolution. The concept of ‘selfish genes’ has been simultaneously influential and contentious. The debate over its value has raged for over half a century and has pitted 20th century Darwinian heavy weights such as John Maynard Smith and W.D. Hamilton against Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould in the pages of Nature as well as those of The New York Review of Books. I will discuss the origins and developments of the gene’s-eye view view: what it is, where it came from, how it changed, and why it continues to be such a popular thinking tool.

February 3 Shannon French “Artificial Ethics-Emerging Technology and Ethical Decision-Making” In this work-in-progress presentation, Prof. French will explore the opportunities and challenges presented by emerging technology as it affects ethical decision-making, intentionally or unintentionally – and the possibility (threat?) of artificial ethics.

February 10 John Huss “Narrative Feedback in Narrative Science” Drawing on case studies from paleobiology, I will describe a process I call “narrative feedback,” the tendency for scientists’ narratives of their research to feed back into their accounts of their object of study.

February 17 Ben Mylius “Ideologies of Human Separation from the Earth” Techno-utopian ideas – think Ecomodernist discussions of “decoupling”, or Elon Musk’s fantasy of colonizing Mars – are increasingly common in debates about climate change. They are powerful examples of human separatism: the ideology that proposes that human organizations should aim to use technology to “separate” from nature. In my wider research around this talk, I unpack where this separatism comes from, explore why it has proven so persistent and resilient, and consider the challenges and opportunities involved in getting beyond it in effective and sustainable ways. For this talk, I want to consider some of the challenges involved in engaging with non-separatist narratives of other cultures respectfully and critically with a view to imagining parallels in my “Western” tradition that take up some of their themes. Specifically, I look at the work of two First Nations Australian thinkers – Mary Graham and Tyson Yunkaporta – on the themes of Country, relationship, and narcissism, and consider some ways that the genre of narrative tragedy might serve as a place to deploy similar stories in a postcolonial cultural context.

February 24 Chin-Tai Kim Paradoxes of the Simile This presentation offers a critique of Plato’s first systematic synthesis of epistemology, ontology, psychology, ethics and politics diagrammatically explained in the Simile of the Divided Line at the end of Republic Book IV. The critical points concern Plato’s account of intellectual intuition (noesis) of the Forms with no explanation of how the human mind can experience this quasi-mystical state, the inconsistency between his view of the societal functions his ideal state requires the three classes to perform and their respective cognitive and practical competences he recognizes, and the dogmatic narrowness of his perspective on the theoretical options competing with his theory on issues that concern him. A question is posed that may have an ad hominem point. Is it not probable that instead of learning from Socrates the view of teaching as midwifery of knowledge Plato himself constructed and attributed it to his mentor because doing so would serve his professional self-interest?  This presentation concludes with what is thought to be a correct assessment of Whitehead’s pronouncement that Western philosophy subsequent to Plato can be considered to be a footnote on him.

March 3 Jessica Wolfendale “Defining Torture and Terrorism Without Intention”  In this paper, I propose a victim-centered definition of torture and defend (with some caveats) David Rodin’s moral definition of terrorism without intention. The definitions I defend in this paper are victim- centered because they prioritize the perspectives and experiences of the victims of torture and terrorism, rather than perpetrators’ intentions and purposes. The aim of a victim-centered definition of torture and terrorism is to enable the identification of acts of torture and terrorism for the purposes of a) recognizing and naming the distinctive moral harms inflicted on victims of torture and terrorism, (b) to give voice to victims whose experiences and suffering are routinely ignored, minimized, and silenced and, (c), to assist in developing strategies for reforming institutions and practices that inflict forms of torture and terrorism.

One of the consequences of my approach is that, when we understand the nature of the moral wrong inflicted on victims by clear cases of torture and terrorism, we are forced to recognize that some widely accepted practices and institutions in US society inflict the same degree and kind of suffering on those subjected to them. Far from diluting the significance of the concepts of torture and terrorism, expanding the range of cases to which these terms apply reveals the existence of severe harms that have not been adequately recognized or addressed by social, political, or legal institutions. Recognizing this fact highlights the need for urgent action, and the need for recognition and repair for the victims of these practices.

March 24 Matthew Talbert “Outcomes, Luck, and Blameworthiness” How should we think about moral responsibility and moral blameworthiness for the causal outcomes of behavior, and what is the relationship between responsibility and blameworthiness in this context? In this paper, I outline a framework for answering this question. Whether a person is morally responsible for an outcome partly depends on whether certain causal relations obtain between that person and the outcome. I argue, however, that moral blameworthiness is independent of causation. So, blameworthiness and moral responsibility come apart in an unexpected way: while we can be morally responsible for bad outcomes, we cannot be blameworthy for them. Neither the occurrence of an outcome, nor an agent’s causal relation to that outcome, nor their moral responsibility for it, affect that agent’s blameworthiness. I’ll try to motivate this conclusion by considering various causally complex instances of agency. 

March 31 Ryan A. Olsen Grounding, Dependence, and Identity” Intuitively, the fundamental facts ground—or give rise to—all the facts about any non-fundamental thing, like Elle the elephant. If so, that includes the fact that Elle is self-identical. How exactly are such identity facts grounded? One finds many proposals in the literature, e.g. involving qualitative or mereological facts. But I argue that many of these proposals fall prey to the same problem, one stemming grounding’s relation to dependence. Specifically, grounding and dependence are related by the following principle: grounds never depend on what they ground. I argue that many proposed grounds of Elle’s self-identity actually depend on that identity fact. If so, then given the principle, Elle’s self-identity cannot be grounded in the proposed facts. And that motivates the search for alternative accounts of what grounds identity facts.

April 7  Lindsay Turner “On Secrets: Translating Anne Dufourmantelle’s Philosophy and a Philosophy of Translation”  This talk addresses translating philosophy and the philosophy of translation. I’ll reflect a little on my work as a translator of several books of contemporary French philosophy and theory, including work by Eric Baratay, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Anne Dufourmantelle, and Frédéric Neyrat. I’ll dwell at greater length on my translation of the late French psychoanalyst and philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle’s book In Defense of Secrets, which was published by Fordham University Press in 2021. I’ll argue that this book does double work, offering both a philosophy of the secret and—as I came to understand as I translated it—a new way of looking at translation as intricately bound up with both the difficulty and the generative power of secrecy.

April 21 Jeremy Bendik-Keymer “The Inner Life of the Planet:  Earth System Science in Moral Time” In this talk, I look at the intellectual historian Dipesh Chakrabarty’s engagement with Earth system and planetary sciences to reflect on the understanding of deep time at work in his account of planetary history as a new societal phenomenon.  Using the category of moral time (time as told by moral relations), I argue that the scientific discourse Chakrabarty reproduces is socially alienated.  In its place, I argue for a relationship to planetary science that is morally inflected and coded, a soulful relationship to the nature of Earth.  One consequence of this argument is grounds for centering Earth system science in the wake of the Middle Passage as an ambivalent but needed discipline for addressing the legacies of colonialism, industrialism, fossil capitalism, and industrial production in some of their practical forms and predominant narratives shaping economies of scale.