Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lunch Chat (11/8): Time Travel

With Einstein's relativistic physics, we get a sort of fusing of space and time. One of the interesting consequences of this fusing is the fact that no moment is objectively present — it depends on our frame of reference — and past, present, and future are all equally real. All of time exists.

Kurt Gödel (1906–1978)
This raises a fascinating possibility: could we actually travel to other times? As it happens, it was the famous mathematical logician, Kurt Gödel, who demonstrated how to solve the field equations of General Relativity in such a way as to introduce "closed timelike curves". Many other solutions have been offered since. Some of these solutions describe universes that are very unlike ours in structure (despite being physically possible — so far as Relativity is concerned anyway).

Without getting into any details, let's suppose that physics has indeed signed off on the possibility of time travel. What does that mean for philosophy? What consequences does it have on our conceptions of time? Of free will? Of causation? Of information? Think of the time travel stories that involve people intervening in the past. What if the way I intervene is to prevent time travel from ever being discovered — can I succeed? If I succeed, I fail! On the flip side of this coin, suppose a mysterious time traveler appears out of nowhere and provides me with instructions for building a time machine. I spend my life gathering parts and working out the delicate engineering necessary. After 30 years of exhausting work, I realize that I was the time traveler who gave myself the plans. I dutifully travel back 30 years and hand over the plans. Where did the information about how to build a time machine come from?!

In this lunch chat we'll puzzle over these paradoxes, talk about time travel stories/movies good and bad, and (as usual) enjoy some pizza and friendly conversation. Thursday at noon in the Philosophy Lounge (Coleman 62).

Monday, November 5, 2012

LAST Philosophical Film Tuesday: "La Jetée" and "12 Monkeys"

Tuesday November 6th @ 7:30PM | Campus Theatre | $2 admission

The last of our Philosophical Films for the year will be a double feature . . . sort of: Chris Marker's "La Jetée" is only 26 minutes long. It is, however, a science fiction classic — presented to us via a beautifully-restored 35mm print — and the idea on which Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys" was based. Both involve time travel, but in a smart, philosophically responsible way. Gilliam (one of the Money Python troupe) has a quirky director's eye and (in my view) extracted some of the best performances of Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis's careers.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sellars Lecture: Sally Haslanger, "Structural Injustice: What It Is and How It's Hidden"

Thursday, February 28th
Forum, Langone Center: 7PM

Professor Haslanger is Professor of Philosophy and Director of Women's and Gender Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her areas of specialization are analytic metaphysics, epistemology, feminist theory, and social philosophy. A collection of her papers, Resisting the Real: Social Construction and Social Critique was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. She has also co-edited three volumes: Adoption Matters: Philosophical and Feminist Essays, with Charlotte Witt, Theorizing Feminisms, with Elizabeth Hackett, and Persistence, with Roxanne Marie Kurtz. In 2009 she founded the Women in Philosophy Task Force and has collaborated extensively with others to promote gender equity in academia in general, and in philosophy in particular. In 2010 she was awarded the Distinguished Woman Philosopher of the year by the Society of Women in Philosophy. Haslanger gave the Carus Lectures, the American Philosophical Association’s most prestigious lecture series, in 2012 and is President-Elect of the Eastern Division of the APA.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lunch Chat (11/1): Religion in Politics

undefinedWith one more Philosophy Lunch Chat before the election, I wanted to do a special edition on the role of religion in politics and governing with a guest expert, Professor Brantley Gasaway from the Religion Department.

Among other things, we'll talk about whether (and how) a candidate's religion should bear on our voting, whether their beliefs matter as far as their capabilities for effective governance go, and how we should understand the difference between "the separation of church and state" and the separation of religion and politics.

So stop by the Philosophy Lounge (Coleman 62) at noon on Thursday to enjoy some pizza and informal but insightful conversation about question that matter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lunch Chat (10/25): Debating Debate

In keeping with our political theme, I thought that in the next lunch chat we could talk about the role that the presidential (and vice-presidential) debates play — or ought to play — in our deciding who we should vote on. There's been a lot of talk about "who won" certain debates; boxing analogies are common (was it a "victory on points" or a "knock-out"?). Does this talk make sense? What is the relationship between debate and other forms of intellectual discourse? What makes a discussion a debate? And how does any of this matter when it comes to the voting booth?

If you're interesting in debates or politics (or both), stop by the Philosophy Lounge on Thursday at noon for some pizza and (polite) discussion. I swear I'll reign in my use of "zingers". . . .

Monday, October 22, 2012

Philosophical Film Tuesdays: "The Prestige"

October 23rd @ 7:30PM | Campus Theatre | $2 admission

In this thought-provoking and suspenseful film by acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (of Batman and Inception fame), two rival magicians compete to develop the ultimate magic trick. Stay after the film to participate in a discussion with yours truly about some of the philosophical themes.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lunch Chat (10/18): A Vote for Reason

As the political wrangling heats up heading into the presidential election, I thought we might talk about some of the pathologies familiar in political discourse. For background, you might read this column in "The Stone" by Michael Lynch on the role that reason might well play in our thinking about how to cast our vote. Lynch writes:
Suppose I offer, at no charge, to drop a drug in the water supply that would cause almost everyone in the country to vote like you this November. You would probably feel at least a little bit tempted to take the deal. Presidential politics is a matter of grave import, after all. Still — many of us would hesitate, and rightly so. There seems to be something really wrong with manipulating people to believe things even when the stakes are high. We want to convince our opponents, yes, but we want them to be convinced by our reasons.
And yet, many seem content to attempt to influence our vote by non-rational means. Is this simply the ever-present debate between ends and means? What should we care more about in this arena: product or process?

I propose that we inject a little philosophical rigor into presidential politics leading up to Election Day — stay tuned to the blog for topics. So if you're a "politics-wonk" (of either or neither political party), stop on by the Philosophy Lounge on Thursdays at noon for some pizza and reasoned discussion.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

No Lunch Chat this Week

However, I noted this lunchtime talk sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology that sounds fascinating. I would encourage you to attend:

Michael Yarbrough, Yale University

"I Now Pronounce You: Law and the Making of Marriage in Two South African Communities"

Thursday, October 11th
12pm, Willard Smith Library (VL 125), Lunch will be provided

South Africa is one of the growing number of places around the world where same-sex marriages are now recognized by the state. Among these, it is the only place that has also recently expanded its marriage-recognition laws to a second social group: those living under indigenous or "customary" law. In this talk, Yarbrough will draw on two years of fieldwork among LGBT and indigenous South African communities to compare the different ways people understand what state marital recognition means to them. By doing so, he will propose new ways of conceptualizing how law can influence the meanings of marriage, in South Africa and beyond.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lunch Chat (10/4): Thinking Meat!

That's us! H/T to my colleague Jason Leddington put me on to this little short, "They're Made Out of Meat", based on the short short story with the same title. After teaching topics in the philosophy of mind for the last couple of weeks, I've really been getting caught up the issues (and feeling torn about them). One issue I've never felt very torn about, however, is the possibility of artificial intelligence. It seems, though, that lots of people presume that there's something special about our neurology that allows us to enjoy mentality.

The fun conceit of this short is that there's something a little unbelievable about this too.

And here's where I do start feeling torn: It's difficult to conceive of how "meat" can think — or, what's more, have subjective experiences. For this lunch chat, I'd like to talk about the prospects for artificial intelligence and its relevance to our conception of ourselves. See you on Thursday at noon as usual: 62 Coleman Hall.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lunch Chat (9/27): The Self

Hopefully you were able to check out our screening of "Being John Malkovich" last night. What a wonderfully wacky movie!

The movie got me thinking about the idea of "the self". Like many concepts that have received philosophical attention, the self seems in one sense totally accessible and unproblematic — it's just my consciousness, my internal monologue, my beliefs and desires, &c. — but in another, it is rather elusive. What makes me me? In virtue of what have I persisted over time? Is my conception of my "self" a product of a particular cultural or religious background? Where is the self "located"?

If any of these questions seem interesting and/or you like pizza, stop on by the Philosophy Lounge (62 Coleman Hall) on Thursday at noon and we'll see if we can make any sense of them.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Philosophical Film Tuesday: "Being John Malkovich"

"I mean, it raises all sorts of philosophical-type questions, you know . . . about the nature of self, about the existence of a soul. You know, am I me? Is Malkovich Malkovich? . . . Do you see what a metaphysical can of worms this portal is? I don't see how I could go on living my life the way I've lived it before." — Craig Schwartz

Being John Malkovich
Tuesday 9/25, 7:30PM @ The Campus Theatre
413 Market Street in Lewisburg | $2

With an introduction by a very special surprise guest!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lunch Chat (9/20): Is Enhancement Cheating?

I saw this column by Alva Noë in NPR's 13.7 blog called "Making Peace with our Cyborg Nature" stimulated by the Lance Armstrong doping controversy. He says of Armstrong:

He is a trailblazer. One of the greats. He didn't win races on his own. No, like each of us in our social embeddings, he created an organization, one drawing on other people, and the creative and effective use of technology, the mastery of biochemistry, to go places and do things that most of us never will, and that no one ever had, before him. That we now attack him, and tear him down, and try to minimize his achievements ... what does this tell us about ourselves?
What indeed? Assuming that Armstrong did dope, are his achievements diminished? Were his actions unfair? What ought to be allowed in sport? We'll chat about this on Thursday the 20th at noon, in the philosophy lounge (62 Coleman Hall).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Philosophical Film Tuesday: "The Truman Show"

"We accept the reality with which we're presented." — Christof

I'm not giving anything away by saying that The Truman Show is a story about "Reality TV" on a grand scale. This genre had been around for a while in 1998, but hadn't yet seen anything like the explosion of popularity that occurred in the 2000s. Like The Matrix, the film raises some hard questions about the nature and possibility of knowledge and the nature of reality — Is Truman's world real for him? Does this differ for his "friends" and "family"? Does he even have friends? — but in a strikingly different way.

Come see, Tuesday the 11th at 7:30PM in Trout Auditorium (in Vaughan Lit; free admission, all are welcome)

We'll be back at the Campus Theatre on September 25th; more screenings here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lunch Chat (9/13): Science Fiction as Philosophy

I've been reading and thinking about science fiction and its connection to philosophy recently — primarily because of my Philosophy and Film course — and came across this nice little piece in the io9 blog: "The Philosophical Roots of Science Fiction".

I'm sure plenty of people have thought harder about this than I have, but what defines this genre? Suppose I wrote a fictional story about a tangled romance in the Royal Society and how it indirectly lead to Newton's Principia Mathematic. Would that count as a "science fiction" story? It seems to me clearly not! So what's the key ingredient? Perhaps it's some level of "fantasy" — something out of the ordinary occurring? But then why the focus on science? I wonder if this is an accidental association: science is often an enabler of technologies that seem fantastic (or that we can imagine might lead to fantastic possibilities). It's a literary device for generating willing suspension of disbelief. (A lunch chat participant from last week sent me a link to this fun short story that seems to have this feature: invoking an "infinitely powerful computer".)

If that's so, then perhaps the core of the genre is better thought of as philosophical fiction. Of course, similar problems with this definition crop up too — imagine a tawdry romance novel involving some academic philosophers [yawn...]. Help me think this through, literary, science, philosophy, computer-science, (and so on)-types! I'll give you some pizza in exchange. . . . As usual: noon in 61 Coleman Hall; Thursday 9/13.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Philosophy Lunch Chat (9/6/12): Are You in a Computer Simulation?

Might we be living in a computer simulation? Unlike the humans' "envatted" predicament portrayed in The Matrix, might we in fact be simulations — computer programs with consciousness? Oxford philosopher and futurist Nick Bostrom has offered an argument — "The Simulation Argument" — that suggest that this might in fact be quite likely! "Whoa...."

Given that we'll be screening The Matrix on Tuesday, I thought we could start Philosophy Lunch Chats this term by considering this even more radical possibility. Bostrom has assembled quite a lot of different presentations of this idea — see, e.g., this whole website (!) complete with many links to papers and more popular outlets — or better yet, just have a listen to this discussion on the Philosophy Bites podcast and stop by the Philosophy Lounge (Coleman 62) at noon on Thursday.

About Philosophy Lunch Chats
(Nearly) Every Thursday from noon to 1PM during the term, interested faculty, staff, students, and community members get together to chat about some philosophical topic over pizza in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. There's nothing to sign up for, and you won't get a grade, ever. Feel free to be a regular or show up just once. For more information about Philosophy Lunch Chats or to offer suggestions for future chats (warmly welcomed), contact Professor Matthew Slater <>.

The Matrix @ The Campus

The first of the Philosophy Department's Philosophical Films Series for the Fall will be playing at the beautiful Campus Theatre on Tuesday, September 4th at 7:30PM:  The Matrix! 

So get out your trench-coats and nighttime sunglasses and get ready to start questioning the nature of reality! I'll offer a few pre-screening remarks on radical skepticism and the possibility of indefinitely-stacked matrices.

Check back here or bookmark the series page for more opportunities to enjoy some great films that ought to stimulate some interesting discussion. Next up, another skeptical hypothesis: are you sure that your friends and family aren't really all actors?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lunch Chats Coming Soon

I've had a few inquiries about whether Philosophy Lunch Chats were going to happen this term. The answer is yes — but not until next week at the earliest. Check back here in a few days or monitor the Message Center and look out for some related, exciting announcements.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Philosophical Journal: Thought

A new philosophical journal of "short, sharp philosophical essays" has just been established at the Northern Institute of Philosophy in Scotland and published by Wiley-Blackwell: Thought. Better still, the first two years of the journal will be open access.

Here's what the editors, Crispin Wright and John Divers have to say about its focus in their inaugural editorial:
Thought will specialise in the publication of short original analytical philosophical papers bearing within the following areas of the subject: Philosophical Logic, Philosophy of Mathematics, Philosophy of Language, Metaphysics, Epistemology (including formal epistemology and confirmation theory), and Philosophy of Mind. We intend that our readers will be exposed to the most central and significant issues and positions in contemporary philosophy that fall within this broad remit. We will publish only papers that exemplify the highest standards of clarity, and that promise to have significant impact on existing front-line debates or to lead to new ones. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Epistemology of Climate Change Denialism

Duane Griffin
Senior Philosophy Majors Jaclyn Skurko and Rachel Moger-Reischer recently interviewed Professor Duane Griffin of the Geography Department about anthropogenic climate change and the skepticism surrounding it as part of a project for Philosophy 311: Doubt, Disagreement, and Dogmatism. Listen to the audio of their discussion:

You might also be interested in a recent "Ask the Experts" Professor Griffin participated in.

Philosophical Films at the Campus Theatre next Fall!

We're excited to announce that four of the films for the upcoming Philosophy in Film course will be screened at the beautiful Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg. This year's course will focus on philosophical questions about knowledge, mind, and reality primarily through contemporary science fiction film. For further information about the course, check out the course website and the Course Guides (8AM / 9AM).

Stay tuned to the blog for film announcements (you don't have to be in the class to come watch!).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Phi Beta Kappa Philosophers

On Friday, forty Bucknellians were inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society in a lovely ceremony at the Campus Theatre. Three of them were philosophy majors. Congratulations and well done!

Ryan Sappington ’12, Rachel Moger-Reischer ’12, and Chris Renaud ’13

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lunch Chats Winding Down

As the term winds down and final papers and projects begin coming due, we'll close up our lunch chat shop for the term. If you didn't get a chance to come this year, we hope to see you at some point in the fall. See you then and good luck with the rest of the term!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Talk on Group Improvisation and Collective Intention

Garry Hagberg (of Bard College) will be giving a Philosophy talk on Monday, April 23rd, at 7PM at Bloomsburg University, entitled "Playing as One: Group Improvisation and Collective Intention". It's a talk focused on intentionality in jazz improv and will include a live jazz combo demonstrating improvisation. Garry is an accomplished jazz musician as well. This is the first of many talks in the new "Center for Applied and Popular Philosophy" at Bloomsburg University.

Gary Steiner on Animal Rights

Gary Steiner, John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy has an interview in Bucknell's "Ask the Experts" forum on animal rights and the vegan imperative.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Honors Thesis Defense

Rachel Moger-Reischer will defend her honors thesis, "Knowledge in Context" on Friday the 20th at noon in Olin 266.
Abstract: Cartesian skepticism is a problem that has plagued epistemology for centuries. Historically, attempts to solve this problem have dissolved in failure as soon as they got off the ground. These sorts of attempts all had something in common: they were invariantist theories. That is, theories that maintain that truth-conditions of knowledge claims remain invariant under changes in conversational and epistemic context. In the 1970s, a new line of thought was considered. Contextualism states that truth-conditions depend on context. Thus, I may know some ordinary claim while in a context with low standards for knowledge, but not while in a context with high epistemic standards. For example, the statement ‘I know that I have hands’ may be true when I’m walking down Market Street, but not when I’m in epistemology class considering Putnam’s Brain in a Vat argument. While contextualism seems to have the potential to successfully counter skepticism, the view is underspecified. In this paper, I will unify competing contextualist theories and give greater coherence and clarity to view. I will both respond to objections and fill in the holes in the contextualist theory indicated by problems Pritchard and Neta raise.
All are welcome to attend.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lunch Chat (4/19): Dangerous Knowledge?

We talked in our last lunch chat about whether poetry could provide us with knowledge — whether it was a distinctive source for knowledge. I thought that this time we could talk about a more general question about knowledge: whether the fact that knowledge is sometimes dangerous entails that we should sometimes constrain scientific investigation or censor results.

This is related to a recent controversy surrounding the research of the Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier, who created a more virulent strain of the H5N1 bird flue virus. The work is scientifically significant and reveals (we're told) something interesting about the virus that could help us respond to natural variants of the virus. But many people were very concerned about Fouchier publishing his lab's results. Prominent journals like Nature and Science agreed to at least delay publication (here's a letter published by Fouchier and colleagues in Nature about the case). Journalist Michael Specter discusses this case in the New Yorker Outloud podcast (here) in relation to the article he wrote about the controversy (there's also been good coverage in the Times).

The thought that we should squelch the research runs counter to a strong argument for free inquiry. Here's how E.O. Wilson put it in defending his work in Sociobiology:
All political proposals, radical and otherwise, should be seriously received and debated. But whatever direction we choose to take in the future, social progress can only be enhanced, not impeded, by the deeper investigation of the genetic constraints of human nature, which will steadily replace rumor and folklore with testable knowledge. Nothing is to be gained by a dogmatic denial of the existence of the constraints or attempts to discourage public discussion of them. Knowledge humanely acquired and widely shared, related to human needs but kept free of political censorship, is the real science for the people. ("Academic Vigilantism and the Political Significance of Sociobiology" in A. Caplan, The Sociobiology Debate, p. 302)
It's not clear in the bird flu case whether the censorship is political in nature — nor that it matters. Perhaps Wilson's claim could be extended to any sort of epistemic censorship. To modify the NRA's famous slogan: Knowledge doesn't hurt people, people hurt people. So it follows that there should be no constraints placed on inquiry.

Clearly there are a number of interesting questions lurking here. If it is sometimes appropriate to squelch knowledge (for fear that it may "fall into the wrong hands", say), then would it also be appropriate to forbid or otherwise prevent that research from being conducted in the first place — or is there a difference? In matters of risk-assessment, who decides whether the potential benefits exceed the potential risks? What about cases where the risks and rewards and their probabilities are inscrutable?

This — along with some pizza — should give us plenty to chew on this Thursday. Hope to see you at noon in the Philosophy Lounge!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lunch Chat (4/12): Poetry as a Way of Knowing

"Do not forget that a poem, although it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information."
So claimed Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his Zettel, but was he right? Does this mean that poetry does not (or even cannot) count as a way of increasing our knowledge of the world?

This week for our lunch chat, I thought we could talk about a suite of issues discussed on the recent episode of "Philosophy Talk" about whether poetry offers us a distinctive "way of knowing."

"Philosophy Talk", if you haven't heard it before, is a radio program and podcast hosted by two eminent Stanford University philosophers, John Perry and Ken Taylor who take on different topics each week (either from a studio or in front of a live audience), host expert guests, and take questions from callers or audience members. Their motto is that it's "the program that questions everything . . . except your intelligence!" They're well worth listening to and the previous week's stream is always free on their website.

This particular program — recorded live — hosts Jane Hirshfield, a poet who has some interesting things to say about how poetry can contribute to knowledge. If you don't have time to listen to the program, you might instead check out their introductory blog post.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Colloquium: Lissa Skitolsky, "Raising the 'Walking Dead': Der Muselmann and the Course of Holocaust Studies"

The next talk in the Bucknell Philosophy Colloquium series will be offered by Lissa Skitolsky, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Susquehanna University on

Raising the "Walking Dead": Der Muselmann and the Course of Holocaust Studies
Wednesday, April 11th: 4:30–6PM
Traditional Reading Room (213 Bertrand Library)

Abstract: The term 'Muselmann' was common slang in concentration camps in Nazi Germany, designating a category of prisoner who was recognized as already dead while still alive. Survivors refer to them as the 'living skeletons' or the 'walking dead' of the Nazi camps. This talk maps out three key philosophical attempts to come to grips with the meaning of Holocaust victims' experiences, each corresponding to a distinct view of this figure.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lunch Chat (4/5): Does it Matter Whether Got Exists?

For our next Philosophy Lunch Chat, we'll return to "The Stone" column and the issues raised by Gary Gutting's interesting piece "Does it Matter Whether God Exists?". One of the more interesting ideas broached by Gutting's discussion is the thought that given what some theists feel compelled to say about the problem of evil (i.e. the problem of how to square the idea of an omnipotent/omnibenevolent god with the existence of great evil in the world), they might have to admit that they know considerably less than they're comfortable about god's intentions in general.

Should we consider the possibility of religion as pure tradition — as a practice that doesn't depend on specific beliefs about god's intentions (or even his/her existence)? We'll talk about these and other questions Thursday in the Philosophy Lounge (Coleman 62) at noon over pizza as usual.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lunch Chat (3/29): Philosophy of Music

For our next lunch chat, I thought it'd be appropriate to think philosophically about music at little in "preparation" for the Departmental Colloquium on Friday afternoon by Tiger Roholt, an expert in this area. Personally, I don't know much about the philosophy of music. Nor do I know much about Professor Roholt's lecture topic of music subtlety — one of whose manifestations he calls 'groove' in his forthcoming book — much less phenomenology. But I have inchoate questions and, as an amateur musician and professional philosopher, some nascent opinions. . . .

Here's one question that interests me: what is the relation between a piece of music and its performance? Perhaps the most straightforward view would be to think of the relation as analogous to the relation between a word and a particular printing of the word. For example, how many words are printed in the following three lines?
The answer depends on whether we are counting word type and a word token — a particular instance of a word. There are three instances of one type above. Perhaps performances of musical pieces are simply instances of the piece of music; their differences could be likened to different font sizes and styles for words. It's still the same word: simply gets presented in different ways.

This analogy might be helpful, but it also raises some trick questions. We know more or less what a word type is — a sequence of letters (I suppose) — but what is a musical type? Is it just a sequence of notes? A sequence of notes with their associated timings? Can it be defined by a printed score? When we think about the variation between performances that (apparently) count as the same song, this latter proposal looks pretty difficult to maintain. One example that comes to mind is the difference between the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and a cover of the song that was featured in the movie "Across the Universe". They have pretty dramatically different tones and effects, I'd say. I imagine that there are other nice examples out there (feel free to use the comments to post some).

And don't the issues get even trickier with jazz?!

Anyway, my plan is to lead some clumsy stumbling through this and other philosophical questions you might have about music. For a little more adept discussion, you might check out the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the "Philosophy of Music". Professor Roholt also has a number of papers available on his website. In particular, you might check out this blog post he wrote about music and "scientism".

Hope to see you on Thursday at noon in 62 Coleman (the Philosophy Lounge)! Pizza and friendly discussion provided as usual.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Colloquium: Tiger Roholt

The Bucknell Philosophy Department is pleased to present a talk by Tiger Roholt, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Montclair State University on

"A Phenomenological Approach to Musical Subtlety"

Friday, March 30th: 3:30–5PM
Walls Lounge (213 Elaine Langone Center)

Abstract: How can we understanding the experiential richness of a guitar tone? — or the effect of a note performed slightly high by a violinist? — or the effect of a vocalist singing a certain word slightly late? By drawing upon Maurice Merleau-Ponty's account of subtle visual perceptions, Roholt takes issue with analytic accounts of subtle music perception put forward by philosophers such as Diana Raffman and Daniel Dennett.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lunch Chat (3/22): Love & Death

Something about this post seems oddly familiar. . . .

This column from "The Stone" on "Love and Death" caught my eye — partly because it looks to the 1993 film "Groundhog Day" (one of my favorites) for examples to consider. I've never really thought about these issues before but now that we have some safe distance from Valentines Day, perhaps it'd make for some interesting conversation.

So stop on by the Philosophy Lounge on Thursday at noon for pizza and the last lunch chat before Spring Break. Hope to see you then. If we somehow get stuck in a Groundhog Day loop, let's hope for some good company and weather, at least.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Deadline extended for Lehigh Valley Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

Faculty, Friends, and Fellow Philosophers:
We graciously appreciate your continued support for the 2012 Lehigh Valley Undergraduate Philosophy Conference. As we became aware of communications mishaps throughout the past few weeks, we have decided to extend the submission deadline until March 9, 2012. Regardless of whether your college has submitted papers or not, we encourage you to register your attendance via our website ( As we make reservations for morning refreshments and the catered lunch with presenters and the plenary speaker, confirming your attendance as soon as possible would greatly assist our efforts to make this conference our best on yet.
At this time, we are working to organize the current submissions into panels. A schedule of events for the day will be posted on our website in the coming weeks. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Armando Chapelliquen '12 & Kathryn Miller '13
Program Coordinators
2012 Lehigh Valley Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pizza or Philosophy = False Dichotomy

Come join other philosophy majors and faculty for a dinner of pizza and some stimulating yet casual conversation.

Where: Coleman 62 (Philosophy & Classics Lounge
When: Wednesday, 29 February, 4:30-5:30
Why: That's a philosophical question. Hey, we can talk about that over pizza on Wed!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lunch Chat (3/1): Thought Experiments

Breaking Philosophical News!: Famous Philosopher Faked Results of Thought Experiments!

So reports the new, hilarious Philosophy "News" Blog, FauxPhilNews — a sort of philosophical analog of The Onion. The parody got me thinking, though: how important are thought experiments to philosophy? — or to science, for that matter? How, exactly, do they differ from mere intuitions?

In a way, this picks up on the game, . . . er, discussion from last week about counterfactual conditionals: we often decide what to do based on thinking about how things would go if we acted in a different way. I decide not to give in to my craving for a third slice of pizza because I know that if I did, I'd feel sick. Perhaps something similar goes on when physicists use thought experiments. One famous example is Einstein's "Elevator" thought experiment. Here's the best video I can find on it (though there must be better ones — anyone?):

But the worry here is pretty obvious: if we find that in reasoning about certain counterfactuals absurd (as in the "Big Bang Theory" game), how can we be assured that thought experiments won't lead us astray? Brown and Fehige summarize this worry nicely in their article on thought experiments in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

How can we learn about reality (if we can at all), just by thinking? More precisely, are there thought experiments that enable us to acquire new knowledge about the intended realm of investigation without new data? If so, where does the new information come from if not from direct contact with the realm of investigation under consideration? Finally, how can we distinguish good from bad instances of such thought experiments? These questions seem urgent with respect to scientific thought experiments because most philosophers and historians of science “recognize them as an occasionally potent tool for increasing man's understanding of nature. […] Historically their role is very close to the double one played by actual laboratory experiments and observations. First, thought experiments can disclose nature's failure to conform to a previously held set of expectations. In addition, they can suggest particular ways in which both expectation and theory must henceforth be revised.” (Kuhn, 1977, p. 241 and 261) The questions are urgent regarding philosophical thought experiments because they play an important role in philosophical discourse. Philosophy without thought experiments seems unthinkable (see e.g., Myers, 1968).
So that's what I'd like to talk about on Thursday over pizza. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lunch Chat (2/23): The Counterfactual Game

A friend of mine recently alerted me to this scene from "The Big Bang Theory" (I haven't watched more than an episode or two, but this makes me think that perhaps I should watch more!). So I thought that for a change of pace for our next Lunch Chat, we should try playing the game "Counterfactuals" a bit.

I'll start here with a famous example: If Caesar had been in command of the U.S. forces in the Korean War, would he have used the atom bomb or would he have used catapults? The philosopher W.V.O. Quine used examples like this to suggest that such questions lack single correct answers. There are straightforward arguments that the suggest that both of the "counterfactual conditionals" 'Had Caesar had been in command of the U.S. forces in the Korean War, he would have used the atom bomb' and 'Had Caesar had been in command of the U.S. forces in the Korean War, he would have used catapults' are true — but then again, they conflict; so how can they both be true? So perhaps there are no objective facts about counterfactuals such as these. . . .

On the other hand, it seems that many counterfactuals are objectively true. We certainly seem to act as if they were in many cases. We constantly make use of them when planning about our actions. We might consider what would happen, say, if we didn't study for the next test or if we moved to New York rather than L.A. They show up in the sciences and humanities too. CERN physicists assure us that if they fired up their particle accelerator all the way, it wouldn't create any earth-destroying black holes. Closer to home, you know that if were to release your grasp on that book, it would fall on our foot and we would yelp in pain (so you'd better readjust your grip!).

What makes all these (apparent) facts true? Are there similar facts about who would have won WWII had Rhinos been domesticated? Join us this Thursday at noon and let's see if we can figure this out. Pizza provided as usual.

Monday, February 13, 2012

No Lunch Chat this Week

Sorry folks, I'll be out of town at a conference on Thursday. But we'll be back with pizza and philosophy talk next week — stay tuned. In the meanwhile, I'd encourage you to check out some of the offerings on Ken Taylor and John Perry's fabulous Philosophy Talk radio program (the last week's discussion on the philosophical foundations of Black Solidarity) is available for free streaming.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

TED Talk: Philosophy in Prison

I just came across this short TED talk by a philosophy professor who teaches courses in prisons. Definitely worth watching. . . .

Philosophy in an Inclusive Key: A Summer Institute for Undergraduates



June 24–July 1, 2012

Philosophy: Experience, Reflection, Transformation

Ellen K. Feder, Director
Associate Professor of Philosophy, American University

Guest Faculty:
Charles Mills, John Evans Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, Northwestern University
Elizabeth Millan, Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University

Along with works in feminist, critical race, disability, and queer theory, students will read historical and contemporary philosophical texts that explore recurring human concerns and investigate the ways in which experience informs philosophical reflection. In addition, writing assignments, visiting lecturers, and mentoring will help students learn that their own perspectives matter to philosophy.

Participants will be named Iris Marion Young Diversity Fellows
One international student will be designated the Golightly Fellow

Undergraduate women or men from underrepresented groups including racial, ethnic and sexual minorities, and people with disabilities are urged to apply. All students will receive a stipend, free transportation, and lodging.

APPLICATIONS DUE: March 15, 2012

For more details see

Co-Sponsors: APA • FEAST • Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute, College of the Liberal Arts, and Department of Philosophy • Iris Marion Young Diversity Scholars Fund • The Program on Philosophy after Apartheid • American Society for Aesthetics

2010 Institutional Co-Sponsors: Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, Edmonton • Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan • Department of Philosophy, University of Oregon • Ann Arbor Philosophers’ PIKSI Funding Initiative

To download a flier for posting: PDF.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lunch Chat (2/9): Are We Ready for a 'Morality Pill'?

For the next Philosophy Lunch Chat, I'd like to continue thinking about potential sources of moral commitments by reading Peter Singer's fascinating article "Are We Ready for a 'Morality Pill'?"

Hope to see you there! Thursday, February 9th at noon in 62 Coleman Hall. We'll have pizza and no one will run you over on purpose. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Washington and Jefferson Undergraduate Conference

Saturday, April 14, 2012
Washington and Jefferson College Washington, Pennsylvania

Papers in any subfield of philosophy are welcome. All submissions should be 1500-3000 words in length and be readable in 15-20 minutes. Please prepare papers for blind review by striking all references to the author’s name or other identifying features in the manuscript and include all contact information as a separate file.

Only papers submitted for undergraduate coursework are eligible for submission. Please include contact information for a faculty sponsor to confirm that the paper was written for a class.
Please submit all papers electronically directly to Michael P. Wolf ( in either .doc, .docx, .rtf. or .pdf format.

Submission Deadline: February 17, 2012
Lunch and dinner will be provided for all students involved in the conference. We will also provide overnight accommodation for conference participants who need it.
The Washington and Jefferson Undergraduate Philosophy Conference is coordinated by the PA-Zeta Chapter of Phi Sigma Tau and the Washington and Jefferson Philosophy Club. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lunch Chat: Good without God? (2/2)

Lunch chats continues this week — again merging pizza and deep philosophical chitchat, nourishing brain and body alike. Stop by on Thursday, February 2nd at noon in 62 Coleman Hall. Our topic will be whether atheists can make sense of morality or whether theists have an inherent philosophical advantage there. Suggested reading is Louise Anthony's Stone column, "Good Minus God?"

Please feel free to leave a comment on any of these posts if you have a request for a particular topic you'd like to see considered in a future lunch chat.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lunch Chats Return for Spring 2012!

Philosophy Lunch Chats are back starting this week — and now with pizza! As we begin a new term, I thought it'd be appropriate to read and discuss Gary Gutting's recent "Stone" column  "What is College For?".

We'll talk about this on Thursday the 26th at noon in the philosophy lounge (Coleman 62). Copies of the reading will be outside of my office (Coleman 61) as usual and made available at the lunch.

You might also be interested in looking at the provocative follow-up  Professor Gutting posted in response to many reader comments.

Hope to see you there. Stay tuned for more chats and upcoming events.