Monday, November 17, 2014

Colloquium (11/20): Gary Hardcastle, "(Really) Recovering Understanding"

Gary Hardcastle, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bloomsburg University

Tuesday, November 20th, 4:30PM  » Willard Smith Library, Vaughan Literature Building


Abstract: Focusing upon his 1947 On Understanding Science: An Historical Approach (the published form of his 1946 Terry Lectures), this talk recounts James B. Conant's theory of understanding, as well as the social, political, and pedagogical projects Conant associated with it. In 1946 Conant had been the President of Harvard University for ten years; he had served as the Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee during WWII, overseeing the Manhattan Project; he had, with Vannevar Bush, laid the foundation for what would be America's National Science Foundation; and he had brought into being a model of post-war university education, a vision distilled in 1945's General Education in a Free Society, aka the Harvard "Red Book." These achievements brought Conant to regard understanding as vitally important to human survival, and they brought him to articulate a theory of understanding and its transmission, a project he would continue for the rest of his life. Though Conant's thinking about understanding was acutely tuned WWII and the ensuing Cold War, his questions are just those that have motivated a resurgence of interest in understanding in the (heretofore somewhat insulated) fields of epistemology and philosophy of science: "Why," Conant asks, "should any but a relatively few experts need to understand science," and what, for that matter, does it mean, to "understand science"? Moreover, Conant's answers to these questions illuminate some contemporary debates (or so I'll argue).

This event is co-sponsored by the Philosophy Department and the Production of Public Understanding of Science project, which is itself funded by Professor Grimm's Varieties of Understanding project!


Phi Beta Kappa Lecture: James Nevels '74

November 17th @ 7:30PM in the Gallery Theater

Nevels to Discuss Liberal Arts Education and Success

James Nevels will give the talk, "The Path from a Liberal Arts Education to Success," Monday, Nov. 17, in the Gallery Theatre of the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell University. The talk, which is free and open to the public, is the inaugural talk in the Phi Beta Kappa Lecture Series. The series is initiated by Bucknell's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa to promote the organization's values — a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences, freedom of inquiry and expression, intellectual integrity, and tolerance for other views.

A 1974 alumnus of Bucknell, Nevels is chairman of The Swarthmore Group, an investment advisory firm which he founded in 1991, as well as chairman of The Hershey Company Board of Directors. He has more than 34 years experience in the securities and investment industry.
Nevels will speak about how the broad-based, liberal arts education he pursued as an undergraduate at Bucknell has impacted his professional and personal success.

In 2001, the Governor of Pennsylvania appointed him chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission to oversee the turnaround of the financially distressed Philadelphia School System, then the ninth largest school district in the United States. He served as chairman until 2007.

Nevels was appointed by President Bush to the Advisory Committee to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and served a three-year term including two years as chairman. He also has served as a board member of Tasty Baking Company, the Gettysburg Foundation, Bucknell University, Berea College, St. Joseph's University, the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities, the Board of Visitors for Temple University-Fox School of Business and Management, the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Advisory Board of Drexel University, LeBow College of Business, Baiada Center.

He is a member of the Board of the Hershey Trust Company and Milton Hershey School, chair and member of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and board member of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, MeadWestvaco, MMG Insurance Company, The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and corporate member of the Orange Bowl Committee. In addition, he serves as Member of Council and Chair of the Nominations Committee of The Pennsylvania Society.

Nevels is an honors (cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) graduate of Bucknell and holds an A.B. degree in Political Science and Philosophy, an M.B.A. degree from The Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania, and a J.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He has also received four honorary degrees.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lunch Chat (11/13): Engineering and Philosophy

Thursday (11/13) at noon in the Willard-Smith Library (125 Vaughan Lit)

We live in a world that is increasingly defined by technology. From the food we eat to the energy that we use we rely on a technological infrastructure that is largely hidden from view. Although we rely on this infrastructure on a daily basis, we often only notice its absence, the rare times that it becomes visible through failure.

This infrastructure and many of technologies that utilize this infrastructure are built and maintained by engineers, a group whose definition as a profession goes back about one century in the United States. Despite the large effect engineers have on everyday life they are largely invisible in modern culture. Can you name five famous artists? Five famous scientists? What about five famous engineers?

Professor Alan Cheville
Professor Alan Cheville, the T. Jefferson Miers Chair of Electrical Engineering, will join us on Thursday to talk about the ethics of modifying the world for our own ends, what mandate one needs to modify the world others live in, and what it means to "engineer". This is not a new conversation since the virtue of techne, the Greek root of technology goes back at least to Aristotle. Yet in a world in which human survival relies increasingly on engineered systems, an discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of engineering is important to engage in.

As usual, pizza and salad will be served. Hope to see you there.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Philosophical Film: "Crimes & Misdemeanors"

Tuesday, November 11th @ 7PM
Campus Theatre — admission $2

Woody Allen's classic dark comedy ensemble piece about infidelity and murder raises a number of really fascinating moral questions. How do we know how to live? What kind of moral structure do we need? Our film programmer Rebecca Meyers puts it this way: "Clearly influenced by his admiration for Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic worldview — an absent God and the universe’s indifference to the problems of mere mortals — Allen conceived a story in which Manhattanites grapple with alternately shocking and hilarious philosophical quandaries concerning adultery." 


“The movie’s secret strength — its structure, really — comes from the truth of the dozens and dozens of particular details through which it arrives at its own very hesitant, not especially comforting, very moving generality.”  
      – Vincent Canby, New York Times
Jason Leddington and I will say a bit more by way of introduction before the showing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Colloquium (11/4): Stephen Grimm, "How Understanding Human Beings Differs from Understanding the Natural World"

Stephen Grimm, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University

Professor Grimm

Tuesday, Nov. 4, 4:30pm  » Willard Smith Library, Vaughan Literature Building

Abstract: When we try to understand the natural world, we often appeal to things like causes or mechanisms or laws. But what happens when we try to understand other people? Do we need to appeal to something different—perhaps to notions like values or goods? I will consider a few ways in which philosophers have claimed that there is something distinctive when it comes to understanding human beings, and argue that these attempts have fallen short in various respects. I will then offer my own view about how understanding human beings differs from understanding the natural world.


Professor Grimm specializes in epistemology, the philosophy of science, and value theory. Since July of 2013 he has led a three-year $4.5 million dollar project on the nature of understanding, supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, with additional support from the Henry Luce Foundation.  The project examines the various ways in which human beings understand the world, how these ways of understanding might be improved, and how they might be combined to produce an integrated understanding of the world.  More details can be found at the website for The Varieties of Understanding project: www.varietiesofunderstanding.com.

This event is co-sponsored by the Philosophy Department and the Production of Public Understanding of Science project, which is itself funded by Professor Grimm's Varieties of Understanding project!


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Colloquium and Lunch Chat (10/23): Gary Francione on the Ethics of Veganism and Animal Rights

Professor Francione

Gary Francione, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law & Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy


Lunch Chat: Wednesday, Oct. 23rd @ 12 PM   » Traditional Reading Room, Bertrand Library

Talk: Wednesday, Oct. 23rd @ 7:30 PM   » Forum, Elaine Langone Center


We're very pleased to welcome Professor Francione, the leading animal rights legal theorist worldwide, to campus for two events. The first is a Lunch Chat that asks "Why Don't Philosophers Take Animal Rights Seriously?" The second is a talk entitled "The Ethics of Veganism." Both events are co-sponsored by the Philosophy Department, the Environmental Studies Program, the Center for Sustainability and the Environment, and Managing for Sustainability.

For more information about Professor Francione, check out his website and blog, Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach. Also, Professor Francione has been in the news recently discussing the outrage that followed the posting of a video in which a man kicks a cat. For his contribution to a NYTimes "Room for Debate" discussion, see here. For his CNN interview, see here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lunch Chat (10/9): Is Race Real?

Thursday (10/9) at noon in the Traditional Reading Room, 2nd floor, Bertrand Library 

We talk a lot about race and racism today, but do we have a good idea of what we're talking about? Is race a genuine feature of the world? Is it biologically real? Or is it merely a social construct — a fiction of our thought and practice? Does it have an important political reality?

Professor Michael James
To help guide us through these and other questions, we will be joined by Professor Michael James from the Political Science Department. Professor James has written extensively on race from historical, political, and philosophical angles. He is the author of the entry on Race in the prestigious and indispensable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

James opens his recent article "The Political Ontology of Race" this way:
On November 4, 2008, America elected Barack Obama to be its first black president. Or did it? Not according to Marie Arana, whose headline in the Washington Post screamed, “He’s not Black.” Arana argues that because his mother was white, “Barack Obama is not our first black president. He is our first biracial, bicultural president.”
Is she right? Is this a useful way of thinking about race? Join us on Thursday at noon to chat about this and other fascinating and important issues in this vicinity. As usual, there will be pizza, salad, and relaxed and open conversation. Note the unusual location in the Traditional Reading Room rather than our usual Willard–Smith Library setting.