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.