Monday, April 14, 2014

Colloquium (4/22): "Scientific Understanding and Model Explanation"

Collin Rice, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Lycoming College

Tuesday, April 22 @ 4:30 PM
   » Willard–Smith Library (Vaughan Literature Building) 

Abstract: Scientists frequently provide explanations with highly idealized models. In this presentation, I will argue for what I call the counterfactual account of model explanations by drawing on the recent literature regarding different kinds of explanation in science, the nature of scientific understanding, and the use of idealizations in science. I first identify three important desiderata that arise from considering the explanations provided by highly idealized models. First, a satisfactory account of model explanations must tell us the kind of information provided by models that explain. Second, it must explicate how that information is related to the cognitive achievement of understanding. Finally, the account must show how ineliminable idealizations can make positive contributions to explanations. I contend that the counterfactual account of model explanations satisfies these three desiderata better than other prominent views of how models explain. Consequently, we ought to adopt and continue to develop the counterfactual account.




Monday, March 31, 2014

Colloquium (4/2): "Maimonides on Perfecting Perfection"


Roslyn Weiss, Clara H. Stewardson Professor of Philosophy at Lehigh University

Wednesday, April 2, 4:30 pm
Willard Smith Library (Vaughan Lit Bldg) 


Maimonides (or as he is sometimes known in the Jewish tradition, RaMBaM) is one of the towering figures of medieval philosophy, and indeed of the whole history of philosophy. The Guide of the Perplexed, a book designed to reconcile the apparently conflicting truths of faith and reason, is his magnum opus. This talk will examine some practical questions raised by Maimonides' book about the best possible human life. 

In the Guide, Maimonides argues that the perfection of the intellect is the highest perfection of which human beings are capable, and he admires Mosesalong with the three patriarchs of the Hebrew nation, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacobfor being so intellectually absorbed in the Deity as to engage in life’s activities “with their limbs only.” At the same time, Maimonides describes these four human exemplars as devoting their lives to creating a God-loving and God-fearing community on earth. This talk examines the life of acting “with one’s limbs only” as the perfection reached once perfection has been perfected by service. I consider as well other methods of “training” whose purpose, in Maimonides’ scheme, is to perfect those who have already attained perfection.  

Roslyn Weiss is the Clara H. Stewardson Professor of Philosophy at Lehigh University. She earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy at Columbia University in 1982, and a Master’s in Jewish Studies at Baltimore Hebrew University in 1992. She has published four books on Plato: Socrates Dissatisfied: An Analysis of Plato’s ‘Crito’ (Oxford, 1998); Virtue in the Cave: Moral Inquiry in Plato’s ‘Meno’ (Oxford, 2001); The Socratic Paradox and Its Enemies (Chicago, 2006); and Philosophers in the ‘Republic’: Plato’s Two Paradigms (Cornell, 2012), as well as many articles on Plato and Aristotle. She has also published articles in the field of Jewish philosophy, particularly on Maimonides.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Colloquium: "Experiments in Aesthetics: From Bad Art to Beauty"

Aaron Meskin, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Leeds (UK)
Thursday, April 10th @ 4:30PM
   » Willard–Smith Library, Vaughan Literature Building

There is a long tradition of skepticism about the role of scientific investigation in our understanding of the aesthetic domain. For example, Kant claimed ‘there is no science of the beautiful, but only critique’. Nevertheless, many contemporary philosophers who work on aesthetic issues engage seriously with the sciences—especially psychology and the related set of disciplines that fall under the heading of cognitive sciences. Perhaps the most surprising way in which philosophical aestheticians engage with scientific psychology is by doing it themselves. In this talk, I shall discuss some recent research in experimental philosophical aesthetics on which I have collaborated. This research addresses such topics as the effects of exposure to bad art and the nature of aesthetic adjectives such as ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Philosophical Film: "Project Nim"

Tuesday, March 18th @ 7PM @ the Campus Theatre ($2 admission)
413 Market Street Lewisburg, PA

The Philosophy Department is proud to sponsor the screening of this fantastic documentary about a chimpanzee (Nim) raised in a human family in New York City. "Project Nim" is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal that science tried to make human; it won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.



Professor Gary Steiner, John Howard Harris Chair in Philosophy and an expert on moral considerations involving animals, will introduce the film and lead a post-screening discussion of it. Note as well that Professor Steiner will be our guest for the next Philosophy Lunch Chat on Thursday the 20th (at noon) concerning the moral status of animals (for more information, see this post). We hope that you can join us for what promise to be very interesting discussions!

Lunch Chat (3/20): The Moral Status of Animals

Thursday (3/20) at noon in Willard–Smith Library 

Building on our film screening of "Project Nim" on Tuesday the 18th, the Philosophy Department will host a lunch chat discussion with Professor Gary Steiner, John Howard Harris Chair in Philosophy at Bucknell, on the moral status of animals. Among the many questions we might address are the following:
  • The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that every year, worldwide, over 50 billion land animals are killed for human consumption. Does this fact raise any ethical questions?
  • Do human beings "count" more in the moral scheme of things than nonhuman animals? If so, on what basis should we consider human beings to be morally superior to nonhuman animals?
  • Even if we believe that human beings are morally superior to nonhuman animals, should we recognize any limits in the ways we treat nonhuman animals (e.g., in food production, experimentation, entertainment, field labor, etc.)? If so, how should we determine the proper limits or parameters of the treatment of nonhuman animals?
  • Do measures such as California's Proposition 2, passed in late 2008 and mandating provisions such as more living space for the animals that we raise for food, accomplish any significant improvements in the lives of the animals we kill for human consumption? 
  • Are the ways our society currently treats nonhuman animals morally acceptable? If not, what sorts of changes would you propose? 
  • Is experimentation on nonhuman animals justifiable? Does it yield valuable information that is likely to improve human welfare? Is the improvement of human welfare a sufficient basis for justifying experimentation on nonhuman animals? 
  • Do institutions such as zoos, rodeos, and circuses pose any ethical problems? If so, what problems do they pose? If not, how do our uses of nonhuman animals in such institutions reflect our values regarding nonhuman animals and the relative moral status of human beings and nonhuman animals?
You might also be interested in watching this recent interview with Professor Steiner:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lunch Chat (3/6): Is the United States a Racial Democracy?

Join us at noon on March 6 in the Willard-Smith Library in Vaughan Lit for a lunch chat with Professor Nikki Young (Women's and Gender Studies) to discuss the question, "Is the United States a Racial Democracy?"

Like many lunch chats in the past, this one was inspired by a recent post on the NY Times philosophy blog, The Stone. Here's a choice passage. The authors are Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver.
The fairness of a system of justice is measured by the degree to which its laws are fairly and consistently applied across all citizens. In a fair system, a group is singled out for punishment only insofar as its propensity for unjustified violations of the laws demands. What we call a racial democracy is one that unfairly applies the laws governing the removal of liberty primarily to citizens of one race, thereby singling out its members as especially unworthy of liberty, the coin of human dignity.
There is a vast chasm between democratic political ideals and a state that is a racial democracy. The philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argues that when political ideals diverge so widely from reality, the ideals themselves may prevent us from seeing the gap. Officially, the laws in the United States that govern when citizens can be sent to prison or questioned by the police are colorblind. But when the official story differs greatly from the reality of practice, the official story becomes a kind of mask that prevents us from perceiving it. And it seems clear that the practical reality of the criminal justice system in the United States is far from colorblind. The evidence suggests that the criminal justice system applies in a radically unbalanced way, placing disproportionate attention on our fellow black citizens. The United States has a legacy of enslavement followed by forced servitude of its black population. The threat that the political ideals of our country veil an underlying reality of racial democracy is therefore particularly disturbing.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Colloquium: "Friendship's Underbelly: Ethical and Epistemic Considerations"

Sheila Lintott, Associate Professor of Philosophy & Chair, Department of Women's and Gender Studies
Monday, March 3rd @ 4:30PM
   » Willard–Smith Library, Vaughan Literature Building

Abstract: Significant inequalities persist in the United States today despite a multitude of anti-discrimination laws and virtually everyone’s alleged commitment to egalitarianism. Explanations for these obstinate inequities have been sought in the structure of institutions, the culture of organizations, the momentum of power, and even in the possibility of innate “natural” differences among races, genders, and ethnicities. A critical unexamined aspect necessary for a full understanding of the seemingly intractable inequalities that plague the United States is how the personal relationships that ground and shape our lives might contribute to furthering or frustrating the attainment of democratic ideals. In our democratic society, personal relationships like friendship largely escape critical ethical scrutiny.
    Traditional philosophical analysis shows friendship is important largely for the roles it plays in individual lives and for the ethical issues that confront it in that context such as friendship’s apparent unfair privileging: we favor our friends while claiming to believe all people should be treated equally. Personal relationships, friendships in particular, are also important for the social and political roles they play and for the ethical issues they confront as social phenomena. Friendship formation, for example, seems to be guided by myopic and provincial tendencies; in selecting friends as we gravitate too easily to those we perceive as most similar to us, a phenomenon known as homophily (“love of the same”) or in-group preference. When we share our lives, our assets, and our knowledge with our friends, we favor people who share significant aspects of social identity with us. As a result, friendship helps maintain structural inequities, including systems and arrangements that participate in large-scale institutional racism and sexism. In this talk I explore the possibility that friendship plays a mechanistic role in maintaining and reproducing inequality.