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Daniel N. Boone Speaker Series


April 11, 3:00 p.m. (Eberly 121)

Danielle Wylie, University of Illinois at Chicago

"Reasoning and Rationalism in Moral Psychology"

Abstract: In moral psychology, “Psychological Rationalism” is the view that we form moral judgments primarily through a process of reasoning. This view has been relatively unpopular lately, largely due to two recent objections from Jonathan Haidt and Shaun Nichols. Haidt has claimed provide evidence against such a view by showing that people succumb to “moral dumbfounding,” a phenomenon in which people cannot adequately provide their reasoning after forming a moral judgment. Nichols argues that the psychology of psychopaths provides evidence against the view, as psychopaths reason well but are unable to form moral judgments. In this talk, I argue that these objections depend on problematic assumptions about reasoning and the commitments of Psychological Rationalism and that Psychological Rationalism can survive both objections after these assumptions are corrected.

March 28, 3:00 p.m. (Eberly 121)

Wesley Cray, Grand Valley State University

"An Ontology of Ideas"

Abstract: Philosophers often talk about and engage with ideas. Scientists, artists, and historians do, too. So does practically everyone else. But what is an idea? In this talk, I first develop and motivate an ontology of ideas that satisfies various folk platitudes associated with the idea of idea, and does so within an ontologically parsimonious framework. I then discuss some nuances of the account, focusing particularly on the individuation and survival conditions of ideas. In the final section, I show how the account developed herein can be applied to give an account of the ontology of musical works, and of so-called "works for performance" in general. (This talk is based on collaborative work with Timothy Schroeder.)

October 24, 5:00-6:30 p.m. (Eberly 121)

Brian Besong, IUP

“Being Appropriately Disgusted”

Abstract: Recent psychological research suggests that feelings of disgust play interesting roles in the formation of moral beliefs and in moral motivation. Yet, given the evolutionary history of disgust, it is legitimate to wonder whether these roles are justified. In this talk, I'll sketch a positive account that accords disgust some appropriate role to play in ethics. In order to motivate my position, I'll first consider and then reject Dan Kelly's recent philosophical work on disgust, arguing that the positions he takes against the propriety of disgust's role in ethics are problematic and should be abandoned in favor of the more moderate position I lay out.


May 3, 3:30 p.m. (McElhaney 101)

Preston Stovall, University of Pittsburgh

“The Lamp of Reason and the Mirror of Nature”

Abstract: In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty argues that analytic philosophy inherited a program founded on the thought that the mind “mirrors” reality, and he contends that this program is bankrupt. In this talk I show that C.S. Peirce and Wilfrid Sellars were engaged in the sort of project for which “mirroring” talk is apt, and I argue that their work affords a productive way of countering certain of Rorty’s views.

September 14, 3:30 p.m. (Eberly Boardroom)

Jonathan Surovell, University of Pittburgh

“Carnap’s Critique of Ontology”

Abstract: Carnap’s conception of linguistic frameworks, and his associated distinction between internal and external questions, is supposed to give rise to a view on which philosophers’ ontological question—“Are there properties?”, e.g.—are pseudo-questions that are somehow confused or discontinuous with science. But what is the confusion that Carnap sees in ontology? According to the received view, Carnap rejects “external” existence questions because they are posed outside of any language for science, and for this reason lack cognitive meaning. I argue that, contrary to the received view, the rejection of external questions is not sufficient for Carnap’s critique of ontology. I then offer an alternative interpretation. I argue that Carnap’s critique of ontology involves a rejection of arguments that move from statements of existence to prohibitions against language forms (such as second-order variables). Carnap, I claim, rejects arguments of this form regardless whether the existential claim occurring as premise is internal or external. I then propose what I call Carnap’s “pragmatism” as an account of what is wrong with the problematic arguments. Carnap’s pragmatism holds that, in science, languages are to be used as instruments to facilitate inferential moves to and from observation reports. The incorrectness of the language’s existential theorems need not reduce its effectiveness as an instrument for manipulating observation reports in this way. This is why, given Carnap’s pragmatism, we cannot argue from an existential statement to the prohibition of a language.


April 20, 3:30 p.m. (Eberly, 411)

Michael Ivins, IUP

“Socratic (im)Piety: Philosophy as a Way of Life”

Philosophy’s first tragedy was the conviction and execution of Socrates by the citizens of Athens. Plato famously recounts the trial and defense in his dialogue, Apology of Socrates. But that defense is deeply ambiguous. Though Socrates is charged with impiety by not believing in the gods and for corrupting the youth, he never explicitly rebuts the former charge or even seeks to establish that he’s not an atheist. Rather, he aims to prove his own piety by appealing to the existence of his personal daimon (“divine voice”) and to a certain prophecy of the Delphic Oracle of Apollo who is to have said: “no one is wiser than Socrates.” These accounts serve as evidence that the activity of questioning and interrogating politicians (and anyone in the city who naively considers themselves wise) is sanctioned by divine command of a god whom the city officially recognizes.

Socrates thus implicitly accuses the Athenians themselves of wishing to interfere with his divine mission. Athens therefore, ironically, demonstrates its own impiety by depriving its youth of the genuine improvement which only philosophy can provide, namely an education in true justice. Socrates’ attempt to vindicate his own way of living has the further important consequence of illustrating an unavoidable tension between how philosophy and society understand piety.

November 11, 3:30 p.m. (McElhaney, 101)

Vanessa Wills, University of Pittsburgh

“Freedom and Morality in the Thought of Karl Marx”

Abstract: Marx speaks, especially in Capital, of the capitalist as “capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will,” a person who acts in a manner that is to a great extent determined by economic laws that guide the movement of the capital she possesses. He also speaks, in Capital and elsewhere, of the actions of the proletariat understood in terms of what it is as a class and what, by virtue of that nature, it will be compelled to do. Numerous authors have taken this strand in Marx’s thought to indicate that he thinks human actions are one-sidedly determined by economic laws that operate beyond their control. Indeed, it has become something like conventional wisdom that Marx subscribes to a crude economic determinism that would make human freedom unintelligible, and thereby rule out or at least render incoherent and unintelligible any genuinely moral content in his later work. I argue that this is incorrect. While he analyzes the ways in which capitalism limits human action, Marx also recognizes that human beings under capitalism have a range of freedom within which they act, and which can be expanded through that action. It is precisely this historically limited yet growing capacity of human beings to intervene consciously into their historical situation that forms a key aspect of his moral philosophy. While economic factors, on Marx’s view, play an important role in determining human history, it would be wrong to construe this observation as one that rules out human freedom.

October 21, 3:30 p.m. (Eberly, 411)

Brett Caloia, University of Pittsburgh

“Educating the Guardians: Using Plato’s Republic as a Model for Capturing the Value of Wilderness”


One of the more radical views to emerge from the study of Environmental Ethics is the claim that come kinds of value are not anthropocentric. It is quite common to see this claim asserted as a justification for protecting particularly remote or barren pieces of wilderness. These places are said to have a kind of intrinsic value that is particularly resistant to being recognized by human beings. Here, our normal methods of discovering value seem inadequate to the task of recognizing these values. However, this is not to say that there is no way for a human being to become aware of their existence. It is sometimes claimed that only a conversion experience can put one in contact with these forms of intrinsic value. But this raises a question. Assuming that these forms of intrinsic value exist, what political system is best able to protect them? I will argue that theories which ground political authority in a social contract risk being unable to account for these intrinsic values in the right way. In addition to this problem, democratic systems are prone to develop self-defeating strategies in attempting to protect these values. I then go on to argue that the form of government presented in Republic contains the elements necessary to properly treat this form of value. I conclude that a form of political authority grounded in expertise, rather than consent, represents the most promising method of accounting for, and ultimately protecting, the intrinsic value of these spaces.


March 18, 3:30-5:30 p.m. (Location: Eberly Boardroom)

Matthew Talbert, West Virginia University

“Unwitting Wrongdoers”


The discussion is concerned with the degree to which a wrongdoer may be morally responsible, in the sense of being open to moral blame, for an action when she was unaware of the moral status of her behavior. I will argue that while ignorance of the consequences of one’s behavior often does undermine blameworthiness, mere normative ignorance typically does not. So, for example, while I may not be blameworthy for having unjustifiably injured you if I was unaware that my action would have that result, I would be blameworthy if I was simply unaware that unjustifiably injuring you is impermissible. First, I develop this claim in the context of rebutting a skeptical challenge to moral responsibility based on the supposition that normative ignorance excuses wrongdoers. Second, I consider several different examples of unwitting wrongdoing and formulate an account of the knowledge condition that applies to blameworthiness.

February 18, 3:30-5:30 p.m. (Location: Eberly Boardroom)

Patrick Miller, Duquesne University

“Heraclitus’s Crosswise Logic”


Divinity was the destination of many Greek philosophers. Their route: pure reason. Thinking consistently, and thus of the eternal, they understood the divine to be likewise. Indeed, they understood god to be identical with their authentic self. Heraclitus also saw an identity between god and self, but he understood both very differently. Starting from his meditation on the temporal cosmos, this talk shows him challenging consistency, providing instead a logic of “chiasmus.” This impure reason proves to be his becoming god, as well as his own route to it.


October 29, 3:30–5:30 p.m. (Location: Eberly Boardroom)

Jesse Steinberg, University of Pittsburgh (Bradford)

“Ought, Can, and Appraisability”


A number of philosophers are rather sanguine about the truth of the principle that “ought” implies “can.” Many philosophers hold that an agent cannot be morally obligated to do something that she is unable to do. The speaker offers reasons for denying this principle, and for thinking that this popular approach to the relationship between obligation and ability is mistaken.



April 16, 3:00–5:00 p.m. (Location: Eberly Boardroom)

John Christman, Penn State University

“Freedom and the Shadow of Slavery: Autonomy, Recognition, and Social Dislocation”


In numerous philosophical accounts of what it means to be a free person, theorists have insisted that standing in certain social relations are required, specifically ones involving recognition and non-domination. Millions of people around the globe, however, live in places and under conditions where the terms of such recognition is up for grabs, since the language of their own self-conception differs, often radically, from the language and culture of their surroundings. In this paper, I argue that in cases where people find themselves completely dislocated from the social and cultural homes that had provided them with the language in which to formulate and express their values, it is clear that social recognition may be causally but not conceptually required for agency to be (re-)established. This is shown by noting that often victims of human trafficking or smuggling find themselves in foreign settings where it is quite up for grabs where and how they will attempt to reconstruct a life narrative which they can generally embrace. Therefore, seeing social recognition as conceptually required for autonomous agency or freedom would ignore the variability in the ways that such recognition must be expressed.

February 19, 3:00–5:00 p.m. (Location: Eberly Boardroom)

Christian Becker, Penn State University

“Sustainability Ethics”


The paper aims to develop sustainability ethics as a new field of applied ethics and, with this, to provide a substantial input to the analysis and solution of the issue of sustainability. I argue that the issue of sustainability has an inherent ethical dimension, and demonstrate that the ethical issue is a rather complex and new one which requires a new type of sustainability ethics to adequately approach it. The ethical dimension is grounded in a specific relational meaning of the modern concept of sustainability, which refers to fundamental relationships of the human being: its relation to other contemporaries, future generations, and nature. I analyze these sustainability relations in detail, and argue that an encompassing sustainability ethics must be able to simultaneously address all three relations in an integrated way. However, the main established ethical approaches of Utilitarianism and Deontology are not appropriate to fully capture all the specifics of these relationships due to two reasons: First, they have been mainly developed for addressing the relationship between contemporaries. They are not originally designed for an analysis of the ethical aspects of the relationship with future generations or with nature. Their application to these relationships raises several problems. Second, the ethical dimension of sustainability has a fundamental structural aspect, as social and global structures play a crucial role for the constitution and actualization of the sustainability relations. Sustainability ethics, therefore, is not just about fundamental relationships, but is also about an adequate design of institutions and structures which allows an ideal realization of the sustainability relations.

I develop a conception of sustainability ethics which refers to both: the meaning of individual morality and structural aspects. My analysis of the role of individual morality is inspired by virtue ethics and ethics of care. I discuss the self-identity and individual morality of the individual person as a relational and dependent being existing within the sustainability relations, and develop the concept of a sustainable person. The characteristics of the sustainable person are (1) a relational self-identity as a temporal, interdependent, culturally, and naturally contingent being placed in the context of the sustainability relations; (2) relational competences of attentiveness and receptiveness; (3) a set of specific relational virtues, such as respect and care; and (4) an encompassing understanding of the human being as an emotional, rational, communicative and creative being.

For discussing the structural aspects, I introduce the concept of meta-structures. Meta-structures are a composition of basic assumptions, basic evaluations, driving forces, and institutionalizations. Crucial examples are science, technology, and the economy, which are at the center of my analysis. Meta-structures influence our self-identity and set us automatically into specific relationships with other humans, future generations, and nature. Based on a detailed analysis of the elements and dynamics of the meta-structures, I provide an ethical critique of them. The essence of my critique is that specific characteristics of the existing meta-structures impede the development of a self-identity as sustainable person, as well as the development of its sustainability relations. Thus, I argue that the meta-structures have to be redesigned in regard to sustainability, and provide some general guidelines for this structural change.

I conclude with some remarks about the development of applied ethics, and the role of philosophy in analyzing crucial issues of society and humankind.

January 29, 3:00–5:00 p.m. (Location: Eberly Boardroom)

Jennifer Bates, Duquesne University

“Hegel and Kierkegaard on the Generation of Anxiety”


According to Hegel, we experience an “urge to overcome contradiction” (Philosophy of Mind and Aesthetics). This urge propels us to develop more complex forms of cognition. In its earliest cognitive phase, the urge is an experience of wonder. But wonder is insufficient for philosophy: wonder must develop into knowledge. I discuss this in the light of Hegel’s claim that “The original disease of the animal, and the inborn germ of death, is its being inadequate to universality” (Philosophy of Nature). I then contrast this urge and germ of death with Kierkegaard’s notion of anxiety (in Concept of Anxiety). In that work, Virgilius Haufniensis (Kierkegaard’s pseudonym) discusses the psychology of anxiety in religious terms as the “presupposition of hereditary sin.” But I engage that text in existentialist terms. I focus on Haufniensis’ investigation of anxiety as the presupposition for conceptual and ontological (as well as human phylogenetic) generation and on his claim that anxiety is a response to “Nothing.” In both Hegel and Kierkegaard, these issues are finally about the nature of human, embodied time.

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