Author Archives: Randolph Carlson

Graduate Student Profiles: Claire Lockard

The following is the continuation of a series of profiles on Loyola philosophy graduate students, giving you a brief sense of their thoughts on their research, teaching, and the value of philosophy. This profile covers Claire Lockard, 2018-2019 AGSP president.

Picture of Claire Lockard
  • What made you become a philosopher?

Looking back now, I notice that I was accidentally doing philosophy back in high school when I took a Great Books class three years in a row – we read from themed anthologies in addition to reading novels that matched the theme. I remember reading Aristotle on happiness and Hobbes on the role of the state, for example. But since the course was sort of billed as an English class, I just thought I was reading cool books with my friends. I ran into my old Great Books teacher a few months back, and he admitted that he didn’t frame the class as one about philosophy, because he wanted students to be excited about it – that is quite funny to me because what it also did (though I don’t think he intended this) was attract lots more women than one typically finds in a philosophy class.

Even my more “formal” introduction to philosophy did not happen in a philosophy class – it happened, funnily enough, in a feminist theory course that was taught by a philosophy professor. Everything that we read and talked about in that class seemed to have this explanatory power that I hadn’t encountered before, even if it did not answer all the questions I had about what kind of a thing gender is, how best to navigate a patriarchal and oppressive social system, what it might mean for so many different feminisms to coexist, etc. I wanted to get better at formulating those kinds of questions, and using those questions to inform how I lived my life.  

  • Since you’re just finishing your coursework, what has been the most interesting class you’ve taken at Loyola, and why?

Definitely the Race Theory course that I took with Jackie Scott in the fall of my second year. Taking Jackie Scott’s class allowed me to approach questions of race through additional philosophic frameworks. I was particularly excited to think more about conceptions of race throughout the history of philosophy, and to explore José Medina’s work on epistemic oppression and epistemologies of resistance. Medina even came and visited our class on one of the days when we discussed his book, and I love meeting the philosophers whose work I am engaging with! I used so much of what I learned in the race theory class to write my master’s paper and I am still drawing from that course material to write my dissertation proposal.

  • What specific idea or topic are you working on for your dissertation?

I am working on a project about the uses and misuses of the call for charitable interpretation in academic philosophy. Often, philosophers seem to take reading charitably or exercising the principle charity as an unambiguously beneficial approach to engaging with philosophic texts. I want to problematize that assumption, particularly when the call for charitable interpretation is made in response to a speaker’s critique of a text or author’s racism and/or sexism.

As it stands now, my central claim is that calls for charity are misused when made in response to concerns about authors’ or texts’ racism and sexism, and it becomes a disciplining move that contributes to unjust and oppressive epistemic conditions. “Charity,” as we use it in North American philosophy now, has racial, religious, and colonial history. In the current climate in academic philosophy, when we call on others to be charitable, we can contribute to what what I have come to call the charitability gap: while we are often willing to give generous interpretations to privileged (predominately white, male, upper-middle class) philosophers, that level of charity is not usually extended to marginalized voices. Additionally, the call for charitability is unevenly distributed – marginalized people in philosophy are, I suspect, more often told that we must be charitable in our interpretations and analyses. This charitability gap emerges, I suggest, because the call for charity is misused.

  • You’ve published (in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, an open access journal) some work on use of in-class focus groups in relation to getting more women involved in philosophy. What were your findings?

Our findings were quite specific to the philosophy department at Elon University (where we conducted the focus groups), but we hope that the results are at least suggestive of what might be at play for female-identified students involved in philosophy at other universities as well! We had three central findings:

  • Taking only one philosophy class did not necessarily cultivate a growth mindset among female-identified students of philosophy. There is some evidence that female-identified students are more likely than male-identified students to adopt a fixed mindset about learning in general, where one’s skill at a given subject is based on inherent aptitude or genius (not so good for learning, because students are more likely to give up if they think they “just aren’t good at” a subject). Growth mindset, on the other hand, involves the belief that one can improve at something if they practice. We found that exposure to philosophy (by taking one course) did not convince students that philosophy was something at which they could get better.
  • Course instructors have the potential to either ameliorate or reinforce students’ (mis)perceptions of philosophy. Many students in the focus groups we conducted mentioned that they stuck with philosophy at least partly because their professor told them that they were talented, or encouraged them in some other way. On the other hand, many students also mentioned that they had some instructors who reinforced the idea that philosophy is only for older white men with beards. Basically, as instructors, we might have more power than we tend to think regarding whether female-identified students feel encouraged to take more philosophy classes.
  • Students who have not taken philosophy are likely to see their manner of thinking as being at odds with the manner of thinking required (or thought to be required) by philosophy. We had participants mention that they just don’t think philosophically, even though they had never taken a philosophy course before. Their ideas of what philosophy was and what would be required of them to succeed at it were already cemented, and often were in contrast with how they saw themselves.

That was fairly long summary of our key findings, so to put it another way, we found that there are tons of factors outside the philosophy classroom that are contributing to female-identified students’ reluctance to take philosophy classes, or to see themselves as unlikely to succeed once there.

  • That article was coauthored with several other people. What did you find most interesting about co-authoring? What was most challenging about the collaboration process? Are there any pieces of advice for how to go about doing collaborative work?

The most interesting part of co-authoring was the way that, after such a long time (2+ years) working and writing together, we were able to predict the kinds of concerns that others would have, the kinds of changes they’d recommend making, and which part(s) of the project they would want to take the lead on. Co-authoring requires, I think, building a lot of trust over quite a bit of time, but it was an incredible experience that taught me more than most of my individual writing projects have.

One challenge of co-authoring is related to what can make it so generative: not everyone has the time or academic resources to work on a sustained project or to build up collegial relationships outside the context of paper-writing. I’ve done other collaborative work since this paper’s publication, and it is much more challenging when I do not know my collaborators as well!

  • During your academic career so far, what have you changed your mind about? Has there been a figure or argument you initially thought was really wrong but have become more sympathetic to (or vice versa)?

I am going to talk about a topic that I thought would be boring, but that turned out to be quit interesting: Aristotle. I’ve never been very interested in ancient philosophy, and so when I signed up for Dr. Ward’s “Aristotle on Friendship” class it was really only because I needed to fulfill my ancient requirement. But I was really interested in the ways he distinguished between kinds of friends (even though I’m not so sure he’s right to do that!), and in the ways his friendship framework applies (or doesn’t) to the Greek tragedies we also read in that class. I even ended up taking a second class in ancient philosophy.

  • Is there a figure that you would consider to be underrated that you think more people should engage with more?

Sara Ahmed’s work is read super widely in feminist philosophy, queer theory, and critical race theory, but maybe not so widely in other circles. She has written on queer phenomenology, whiteness, affect theory, living as a feminist, politics of diversity in higher education, willfulness, and more. Her work engages tons of figures from the history of philosophy, but always with a creative feminist twist. I find myself returning to her work over and over, for a variety of different purposes. For those new to her work, I would suggest her most recent book, Living a Feminist Life.

  • Are there two or three sources–I’m thinking books and articles mostly, but feel free to include any other sources if you want–that you would recommend for thinking about your area of research and why?

I am going to cheat and do four – two articles and two books!

Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing” by Kristie Dotson.

In this essay, Dotson provides a framework that has been quite helpful to me in thinking about when calls for charitable interpretation are misused. For Dotson, sometimes a hearer of testimony is so ill-equipped to listen properly/justly to a socially-marginalized speaker that once the speaker identifies this “testimonial incompetence, they withhold their testimony. Dotson calls this withholding “testimonial smothering,” which is a kind of coerced self-silencing. Silencing is one branch of epistemic injustice, and so I’ve been using Dotson’s analysis to understand what might happen (or what we risk) when we call for a marginalized speaker to be charitable, rather than engaging seriously with their questions or concerns about a text.

Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay is About You” by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

If you are looking for a charitable reading of the practice of reading, this is the essay for you! Sedgwick talks about the ways that a hermeneutic attitude of suspicion (inherited from Ricoeur) can turn into an unhealthy paranoia, where a reader expects that every text is problematic in some way, and goes looking for those problems from the get-go rather than being open to other, less harmful, readings of the texts. Sedgwick is such a joy to read, and her essay strikes a beautiful balance between acknowledging the reasons that we’d want to be highly suspicious of texts and then offering reasons that we’d want to take on a less suspicious approach as well.

Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times by Alexis Shotwell

Ask my colleagues how often I mention this book to confirm my obsession with it. Shotwell offers a nuanced analysis of “purity politics” – an approach toward the suffering and injustice of the world that assumes one can stand above the fray if only one makes a particular set of good ethical choices on an individual level. Shotwell starts from the assumption that we will always already be implicated in a mess that we cannot solve with our individual efforts (that we cannot solve at all, in fact). From there, she explores what sorts of ways of engaging in the world emerge. She covers issues of disability, environmental degradation, responses to the AIDS crisis, and more. What I take to be useful about her book for my project is that Shotwell helps us understand why we should not entirely reject, or entirely embrace, a charitable approach to philosophy. Either one would be a purity move – assuming that a text can be made to stand outside of its racism or sexism, or assuming that because it can’t, it must be of no use to us.

Epistemologies of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations by José Medina

Medina is interested in both the epistemic injustices that make it difficult for marginalized people to participate in epistemic communities, but also in the resistant ways of knowing and understanding that they/we have developed in response to hermeneutic and epistemic marginalization. I have been using his work to think about how to know when one should offer interpretative charity – Medina suggests that one should allocate more charity when listening to marginalized speakers, because there is a higher risk of not properly understanding their testimony for. I’ve also been thinking about his development of particular kinds of epistemic virtues and vices, and the role the calls for charity might play in cultivating or reinforcing those. I also really recommend his book to anyone who wants to learn more about feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, or epistemic injustice/oppression.

Graduate Student Profiles: Clinton Neptune

The following is the continuation of a series of profiles on Loyola philosophy graduate students, giving you a brief sense of their thoughts on their research, teaching, and the value of philosophy. This profile covers Clinton Neptune.

1. What made you become a philosopher?
I started college as a pre-med student and my program required an ethics class. Shortly into the course, I found myself completely enamored with the reading and discussion of philosophy. I credit my professor, Dr. Michael Byron, whose skill and passion lit a fire in me that has continued to burn for the past decade. I was deeply blessed to have such great teachers and I wanted to follow in their footsteps – teaching others this marvelous content and hopefully modeling a winsome philosophical life.

2. What is the topic of your dissertation? What made you become interested in this topic?
My dissertation offers an alternative to prevailing assumptions in philosophy religion concerning certain conceptions of God. I argue that we ought, for the purpose of inquiry into God’s existence and nature, to think of God as a being that is willing and able to rescue humanity from their predicament of death, moral failure, and suffering. Other prominent ways of thinking about God’s existence frontload the conversation with several confusing and complicated properties of God that can serve as stumbling blocks to religious inquiry. For example, ascribing the property of exhaustive foreknowledge to God is quite challenging to defend and, in my opinion, is not a central property of God that must be endorsed at the outset when searching for evidence of God’s existence. I think it is an intellectual barrier to potential salient evidence.

Paul Moser’s work in religious epistemology has been enormously influential for me. His work caused me to seriously rethink the project of Natural Theology. I found myself relying on the power of the traditional arguments for God’s existence when discussing my religious belief with others—arguments like the cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments. Now I view them as a bit misguided and ultimately wanting as an explanation or defense of my religious beliefs. Moser’s focus instead on the evidential value of religious experience and God’s hiddenness has reshaped the core of my philosophy of religion.

3. How have you found the writing process? Are there any tips you would recommend for other graduate students to follow?
For me, the most important marker of success in my writing process is simply the discipline to set aside a set amount of time each day to work on it. I started using Google calendar to intentionally carve out two hours in the morning to write. A mental hurdle you have to jump is the thought, “I don’t have to work on it today.” It’s tough because that sentence is true of every day from start to finish – not working on it a single day will not wreck the project entirely. But, of course, if you never work on it, it will never get done!

One tip that has worked well for me is doing a bit of exercise before my writing time. I try to get up early, run for two miles, and then sit down to write at my local coffee shop. I think it helps your mindset going into the writing session when you have already accomplished something of value that day – keep that production train rolling!

4. You’re currently in a non-academic position. How have you found that your philosophical training can contribute to work outside the academy?
I currently work at Heartland Community Church in Medina, OH as their Connections Director. I am tasked with providing support and leadership to ways folks can live in community with one another. I have found that people, like myself in that first philosophy class, are hungry for what philosophy can offer even if they don’t say it or know it. I have meetings every week with people that want to dig deeper into the realm of ideas, and it has been good to see how clear thinking in the context of relationship can be transformative.
A fellow philosophy-lover and I started a podcast called Open to Truth where we discuss theology and philosophy that is accessible for folks in the church without formal philosophical training. You can find it on iTunes, Spotify, and our website: Opportunities to serve my community with my specific training have been surprising and satisfying.

5. Are there any pieces of advice that you wish you had known earlier on in your philosophical career?
I had been acquainted with many of the typical warnings you hear about the job market. One that I did not fully appreciate and greatly influenced my decision to go non-academic, was the idea that one might not have very much control over where one could secure a tenure-track position. It has been increasingly important for my wife and two kids (and one on the way!) to live near close friends and family. This was simply not as important to me when I first started, and I suppose I failed to think carefully about how my attitude would change on this in the future.

6. Are there two or three sources–I’m thinking books and articles mostly, but feel free to include any other sources if you want–that you would recommend for thinking about your area of research and why?
I just finished reading What is the Bible: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell. It is an engaging, easy read and towards the end draws some fascinating implications concerning topics in philosophy of religion such as inspiration, divine revelation, and evidence for divine activity.

I am eager to get my hands on the Pascal’s Wager, a collection of essay Paul Bartha and Lawrence Pasternack. It will pay homage to the ways Pascal’s argument has influenced the history of philosophy and decision theory while spending some time offering contemporary analyses of its validity. It should be a hoot!

Graduate Student Profiles: Jacob Andrews

The following is the first in a series of profiles on Loyola philosophy graduate students, giving you a brief sense of their thoughts on their research, teaching, and the value of philosophy. This first profile is on Jacob Andrews, who specializes in medieval philosophy and philosophy of religion.


1. What made you become a philosopher?

Growing up in a household of faith was definitely the biggest influence. It has always been normal for me to suppose that (1) the most important questions a person can ask are the kinds of fundamental questions asked in philosophy and religion, (2) these questions are distinct from the matter of fact questions studied in other disciplines, (3) some of the best answers to these questions are found in books.

2. What is your dissertation about?

My dissertation is on the relation between religious faith and philosophy in William of Auxerre (1156-1231). Lots of people ask whether there is good non-religious evidence for God’s existence (as well as more particular doctrines, like the Incarnation, etc.). Suppose there was such evidence. Wouldn’t having proof or strong evidence for a religious belief make it hard or impossible to have faith in that belief? It seems difficult to say that you can believe some proposition on the basis of faith or trust in someone while also knowing for yourself that that proposition is true. But William says that you can have faith and natural knowledge simultaneously, and my dissertation explores his reasons for thinking so.

3. What has surprised you most during the process of writing your dissertation? Has writing this dissertation substantially changed your opinions? Are there any arguments or philosophical figures that you came to appreciate more as you went along, or any arguments that you are more skeptical of now than when you started?

Several times I have found William or other writers making a distinction or pioneering a concept or argument in order to solve a theological problem, and the distinction or concept ends up enriching, challenging, or changing my purely philosophical thought. William is talking about whether it’s permissible for Christian theologians to give proofs for God and the Trinity, but he ends up with valuable insights into the nature of trust and belief in general.

William’s religious epistemology is complicated for me. It is an odd blend of intellectualism (prizing rational argument above religious faith) and what seems a times like fideism (rejecting rational argument and evidence as inappropriate for or dangerous to religious faith). He thinks that faith is a kind of perception of God, such that someone with proper Christian faith really knows that Christian doctrine is true, and so must refuse to rely on any other evidence (he’s rather Kierkegaardian in this regard, and both are accused of fideism for this reason- I think falsely). On the other hand, precisely because faith is knowledge, other forms of knowledge present no danger to it: someone who already relies on their faith that God exists and is triune, can also merely possess rational arguments for these doctrines, while still having faith that those doctrines are true. William seems to think that having some argument or evidence Z that justifies belief in P is not the same as actually believing in P on the basis of Z. For example, I have ample justification for believing that the Leuven is a city in Belgium on that basis of testimony (of friends, professors, Wikipedia, etc.). But I do not actually believe that Leuven is in Belgium on that basis: I believe it because I lived there once. Likewise, someone could possess a sound and valid argument for God’s existence, but nevertheless believe that God exists on the basis of faith.

I remain attracted to this view of faith, which gives maximum power to both the radical commitment of religious faith and the God-given expansiveness of human reason. It seems superior to the view of Aquinas, who thinks that faith is not a form of knowledge, but a supposition which requires an act of the will to push the intellect toward certainty. But recently I have become more appreciative of Aquinas’ position. There are important phenomenological features of faith- personal trust in God, the ability to waver and doubt while still believing- that are difficult to explain on William’s account, but easy on Aquinas’.

4. How have you found the writing process? Are there any tips you would recommend for other graduate students to follow?

1. Write every day. I mean new philosophical prose, not just notes or editing, even if it’s just especially polished freewriting or a blog post. Get in the habit of articulating your thoughts to an actual or potential public.

2. Keep a steady pace. There will be seasons when you can write like a madman all day long. As hard as it is when you’re coming up on a deadline, resist those urges, lest you end up the next day with nothing to write and kill your habit. Once you hit your word goal for a day, work on outlining the next day’s work, so that you can jump right into writing the next day.

3. Read philosophers who write well. As a newbie writer, I’m a big mimic. If I’m reading Plantinga or Zhuangzi or Hume, I’ll start to write like Plantinga or Zhuangzi or Hume. Unfortunately, that means that if I’m reading a poor writer, I’ll write like them, too. You can’t avoid bad writers, but you can regularly refresh your palette with good ones.

4. Reward yourself. The kind of work we’re in doesn’t generate automatic rewards: it’s a long path, sometimes years, from conceiving an idea to publishing an article. You don’t even get the satisfaction of clocking out of a shift! To keep yourself going, set concrete goals between starting and finishing and reward yourself for meeting those goals.

5. You’ve had some experience with teaching. What topic have you found most interesting to teach, and why? What have you found to be the most difficult aspect of teaching, and how have you tried to address that?

Logic is just fascinating to me, and I enjoy teaching it in any class. I love showing students how a little bit of skill in logic can illuminate so many practical and theoretical problems. If, at the end of every semester, one student comes away knowing how to find and correct flaws in their own thought, or how to locate fundamental disagreements and discuss those rather than yelling at or talking past their opponents, I have done my job.

The most difficult is also the most important: getting my students to really see what philosophy is; to get behind matters of fact and to see fundamental questions; to see why it is vital that they do so, to impress on them their duty and privilege as human beings to seek and hold onto truth. It isn’t that they’re opposed to this line of thinking; they just haven’t even considered it, and their environment conditions them against considering it. How do I do counteract this? Currently, I’m teaching ethics, with an emphasis on classical Chinese ethics. I began the first session with a little talk on relativism and skepticism; it’s important that I empower my students to imagine that they really can discover truth for themselves. I try, as much as possible, to apply the theories we’re studying to situations my students may actually encounter, especially to universal human experiences of family loyalty, friendship, death, etc. And I always make a point of including material from non-contemporary and non-Western sources, to show students that philosophical questions are perennial human questions, not just Western or modern ones.

6. Are there any pieces of advice that you wish you had known earlier on in your philosophical career?

1. Treat your graduate work like a 9 to 5 job. Commit to 7-8 hours a day, at least, of real philosophical work: close reading and careful writing. Keep a log or homespun timecard, if that sort of thing helps you (it helps me).

2. Use the flexibility of an academic career to your advantage. Setting my own schedule is a pain, and a great temptation to laziness; but it means that I can provide childcare for my son while my wife works. I can have a long lunch with my grandmother and work after dinner to make up for it. I can decide for myself what times of day are most productive for writing, and make sure that my schedule is clear at those times. Don’t overcommit, but use what you’ve been given.

3. Try to unify your research interests. Once you find your avenue of dissertation research, however vague, bend all your work toward it. Keep your conference papers on that topic. Wrestle all your term papers into its mold. Be like Confucius, whose work “could be strung together on a single thread” (Analects 4.15).

4. Read widely. Get grounded in the philosophical tradition by reading widely in different eras, cultures, and subdisciplines. Make a discipline of reading off-topic philosophy. If I hadn’t taken an unproductive detour into Chinese thought a few years ago, I wouldn’t be teaching the class I am today!

5. Stick to primary texts.The philosophical classics of any culture are generally easier to understand and more profound than the newest articles. If you have to choose between reading Aquinas and reading about Aquinas, just read Aquinas.

7. Are there two or three sources that you would recommend for thinking about your area of research, and why?

Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief. An accessible introduction to what’s at stake in religious epistemology. In particular, he does an excellent job exposing and exorcising the intellectual bogeymen that often attend modern inquirers (religious or not) into questions about God and religion.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles. The discursive style is more palatable for modern readers than the quaestio format of his other, more famous Summa. Chapters 3-8 of Book 1 give a quick and dirty explanation of the need for divine revelation and its compatibility with natural reason.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The film and TV industry never seems to get the experience of religious people. But DS9 comes close. A normal, secular Starfleet commander is declared the messiah of an alien religion. He wants nothing to do with it- but then he meets their gods. In particular I’d recommend the following episodes: 3×15 “Destiny,” 5×10 “Rapture” (despite a truly awful conversation about faith- you’ll know it when you see it), 7×09 “Covenant.” But you really should just watch the whole show, which isn’t even mostly about religion.


Jacob working with his son, Ivan.

Dogs, God, Goya, and Levinas

Goya’s “The Dog”

Here is an blog post on the connection between dogs and spirituality. It includes a touching anecdote from Levinas on a dog’s recognition of his humanity:

There were seventy of us in a forestry commando unit for Jewish prisoners of war in Nazi Germany. . . . We were beings entrapped in their species; despite all their vocabulary, beings without language. . . . How to deliver a message about one’s humanity which, from behind the bars of quotation marks, will come across as anything else than the language of primates.

And then, about halfway through our long captivity, for a few short weeks, before the sentinels chased him away, a wandering dog entered our lives. One day he came to meet this rabble as we returned under guard from work. He survived in some wild patch in the region of the camp. . . . He would appear at morning assembly and was waiting for us as we returned, jumping up and barking in delight. For him, there was no doubt that we were [human].

Allen Wood’s Interview on Kant, et al.

3 AM’s interview with Allen Wood

This is a incredibly rich interview with Kant scholar Allen Wood. There’s a lot in this interview (including a subtle discussion of utilitarianism, a plug for reading Fichte more, and a shout out to a deep cut from St. Anselm’s De Casu Diaboli). But the headline discussion is Wood’s interpretation of Kant that challenges the way we often teach him. Here are some highlights:

On the constructivist interpretation of Kant:

If you emphasize the ‘nomos’ (the law), then you get one picture: the objectivity of ethics. If you emphasize the ‘autos’ — the self — you get the idea that we make the law. Kant never hesitated in his choice between the two emphases. He emphasizes the nomos (the universal and objective validity of the law). The relation of the law to the self is only a helpful way of thinking about the law, that helps us better understand its validity for us….Kant says that we may regard ourselves as legislator of the moral law, and consider ourselves as its author, but not that we are legislators or authors of the law (G 4:431)…We can think of rational faculty…as the legislator or author of the law because reason recognizes an objective standard, and to that extent is already aligned with objective moral truth.

On the division of labor for the respective formulas of the categorical imperative:

Formula of Universal Law (FUL): “an aid to judgment…employed when we seek to exempt ourselves from this duty, and to rationalize doing this through the formulation of a maxim that would appear to justify making an exception of ourselves.”

Formula of Humanity as End in Itself (FH): “formula that specifies the motivating incentive for obeying a categorical imperative — that incentive is our respect for the dignity of rational nature as end in itself — and which also provides the means of interpreting or specifying the duties required by the moral principle”

Formula of Autonomy (FA): “the [law] resulting from the combination of [previous formulations] which presents the moral law in its fullest and most proper form…It is a conception of the law (the imperative) that constitutes the truth about what we ought to do….

“Kantian ethics has no decision procedure. It is grounded on a general principle (FA), which is then specified or interpreted (by way of FH) as a system of duties….Their use presupposes that we already recognize some specific duty, and their function is to keep us from being motivated by self-preference to misjudge in a particular case how the duty applies.

the relationship between reason and virtue:

Kant does not think there is anything wrong with being beneficent from sympathy. He thinks we have a duty to cultivate sympathetic feelings by participating in the situations of others and acquiring an understanding of them….He thinks we also have a duty to make ourselves into the kind of person for whom the recognition that something is our duty would be a sufficient incentive to do it (if no other incentives were available to us)…He thinks all is well if I act beneficently, realizing that it is my duty but also having sympathetic feelings for the person I help. But I ought to strive to be the sort of person who would still help even if these feelings were absent.

I’m curious if people who know Kant more than I do want to weigh in on where Wood is correct. But it’s certainly thought-provoking. Check it out!

Time: an interview with Prof. James Harrington

cropped harrington


Q: So before we get into a discussion about your book, Time: A Philosophical Introduction, tell me about what got you interested in philosophy?

A: In one sense the answer goes so far back that I don’t even know how to answer that question. My dad was a great books major with an interest in philosophy, so I grew up with a family who had philosophy books on the shelves. It was a very intellectual Catholic environment, so it means philosophy was very central even in our dinner table conversations.

Professionally, though, I always thought I was going to be a physicist. . I was a science fiction reader from very early on. Ultimately I wanted to understand the world. To me that’s what ties together everything I’ve ever been interested in: how things worked. And through high school and much of college, physics seemed like the best bet for that. But I wasn’t quite good enough at math to do the kind of high level physics that I wanted to do. I could follow it, but I wasn’t quite good enough to add to it. In my year I graduated in a class of 5, and I am the only one without a Ph.D. in either physics or engineering.

But more than that, as an undergrad I was also in the Program of Liberal Studies, Notre Dame’s great books program. And what I loved about philosophy was that it allowed me to play in this much bigger sandbox. I mean, what other academic discipline can I do relativity theory in the morning and Plato’s Symposium in the afternoon?

Q: So what got you interested specifically in questions about time?

A: I really started with a very particular question about time. I knew from what I’d read that the twin paradox was not really a paradox, but that that wasn’t quite the end of the story. The twin paradox is the idea Einstein raises in the very first relativity paper. In its classical form, you have two identical twins, one on a rocketship traveling some significant fraction of the speed of light, while the other is on earth. The rocketship does a round trip and comes back to earth, and the twins don’t agree on how long the trip takes. The trip takes longer for the trip on earth than it does for the one on the rocket. And while you can do the math showing this to be true, it still seems counter to our common sense of how time seems to behave for us. I think it reveals a deeper puzzle that we don’t actually know how to fit our common sense notion of time in with this picture of time from science.

Now at the time people like philosopher Henri Bergson thought that the counterintuitive nature of Einstein’s theories this just showed that relativity theory was confused and not a theory of time. Now it’s generally thought that Bergson lost that debate with Einstein, to disastrous effects to his reputation as a philosopher. This episode exemplifies what I call Simplicius effect, after the Aristotelian figure in Galileo’s dialogue: when philosophers get in fights with physicists over physics, bad things happen to philosophers. To try to argue that the physics is bad because it doesn’t make philosophical sense has just been a losing argument, historically speaking.

But thinking more generally about relativity, though, what interested me here was that if we really understood the implications of the idea that there is no determinate quantity of time between events—that the quantity depends on the path between them—then this would radically alter our view of time.

Q: So this brings us to your book Time: A Philosophical Introduction. Can you give us a sketch of how you see the debates you discuss in the book?

A: The organizing theme of the book is being versus becoming, starting with the ancient argument between Parmenides and Heraclitus, and then Plato as the middle ground between them. But over the last 50 years several different questions of time have collapsed into a single question of time, whether time is metaphysically fundamental. For example, take the question of the existence of the past and future. There’s one position, presentism, that in its classical form holds that that which exists now, in the present, is the only sort of thing that exists at all. So the past and the future don’t exist in quite the same way that the present does. On the other side, you have eternalism or block universe theories, which hold that past, present, and future, all have the same ontological status. The former position is usually called A-theory, the latter called B-theory, following J.M.E McTaggart’s usage.

In a famous paper in Mind called “The Unreality of Time” McTaggart argued that time isn’t real because it’s self-contradictory. He begins by noticing that we have two different ways of “ordering” the moments of time. On one ordering, which he calls the A-series, we order moments according to their distance into the past or the future from the present. The B-series simply orders them by earlier or later. McTaggart’s actual argument is dense, and probably incoherent, but he claims that the A-series is self-contradictory. He seems to see “presentness” and “pastness” as incompatible properties that moments, or events, can possess. That is, the same thing cannot be both past and present, obviously. However, past events are past now. In order for them to have the property of “pastness” now they must be present, in some sense. Therefore he concludes that every moment or event always possesses both properties, contrary to the definition of the properties. The whole things a bit of a mess—I try to unpack a lot of the messiness in Chapter 3—but I think a lot of people miss that McTaggart is making a claim about temporal passage, not ontology.

Q: You say he isn’t talking about ontology, but his article is titled “The Unreality of Time,” which does suggest that a question of ontology and reality is pretty central issue for him. Why do you think this title is misleading?

A: It’s misleading because McTaggart isn’t interested in whether the contents of various times are real or not. McTaggart wants to claim that reality isn’t arranged in time at all; time is purely ideal. I don’t talk about it in the book, but I think one of the problems with the way people treat McTaggart on time is that his arguments regarding time tends to get isolated from the fact that he’s a full-blown Hegelian absolute idealist. His actual ontology is simply bizarre to say the least.

One of the things I try to show in the book is how there are several different questions about time that are related but ultimately independent of each other. Many people follow C.D. Broad who says the only way to believe in temporal passage coherently is to subscribe to the ontological claim that things come into existence and, maybe, out of existence. Relativity theory–especially something called Stein’s Theorem–gives us really strong reasons to be an ontological eternalist. But many philosophers want to go right from these kinds of claims to the idea that time doesn’t pass at all, i.e. the block universe. That’s what I want to resist.

The problem is that both sides want to immediately go from the ontological question to the question of whether time is an illusion. I want to resist that inference; these are logically distinct questions.. I want us to be aware of the plurality and independence of these questions.

I guess it ultimately comes down to the distinction Wilfrid Sellars described between the manifest and scientific images. There are good reasons from a scientific perspective to think that there is no passage of time, but in the manifest image of how we experience the world time is fundamental. Indeed a world without time is hard to imagine. And I want to say that these positions are working at cross-purposes, addressing different kinds of problems.

Q: How would you respond to the objection that we need some sort of resolution between the competing conceptions? Or are you just willing to that these are two irreducible facets of reality?

A: So, I think time is a natural phenomenon, in that it gets its traction from the perspective of what the Scholastics called a philosophy of nature and Aristotle called physics, namely what the world looks like on the inside. This kind of philosophy is neither science nor metaphysics, strictly speaking. I think this perspective of a philosophy of nature is really missing from contemporary Anglo-American philosophy, largely because of the impoverished taxonomy of what counts as philosophy. We might say that philosophy of nature studies things that are fundamental for us as occupants of a particular kind of material world, but are not necessarily fundamental to the nature of existence itself that would make them belong to metaphysics proper.

On this view, from the inside view of the world time seems to pass. But it shouldn’t be surprising that if we try to describe the world sub specie eternitas, we find eternity. To describe the world in the language of mathematical physics is to see the world in eternity. And these are both true. I think we can tell a story why there is a world where in a certain sense there really is a four-dimensional space-time manifold—i.e. with no passage of time—but yet it still looks this other way to those of us who live on the inside of it. This account isn’t psychological or idealistic, but physical: it’s not just a four-dimensional manifold, but one with a particular structure given by the Lorenz metric, which makes a clear distinction between temporal and spatial dimensions. Time only passes along the world-lines of entities within space-time. For long, thin beings like us, that’s just the way the world would appear.

Q: You’ve been using the concept of nature a lot. Do you have a specific conception of what you take a “natural” entity to be?

A: Peter Hylton was at UIC when I was a grad student. Hylton was developing a conception of naturalism, following Quine, that I find very attractive. This kind of naturalism is a big tent notion of naturalism, where the natural world is the world as it presents itself to us, both in common sense and in experiments, theorizing, etc. I go back in forth on this: take a question like whether David Chalmers of The Conscious Mind a naturalist. There is some way of construing naturalist such that the answer is “Yes,” but that’s going to look a whole lot different from what often goes by “naturalism.” To me the attractive feature of naturalism is that they serve usefully as a replacement for the benefits that the Logical Empiricists got from verificationism. Carnap was trying to capture that our philosophical theorizing needs to be disciplined by the world. Does this philosophical theory provide a useful understanding of some phenomena? Ultimately there is some kind of pragmatism at base here, which of course is very much there in Quine’s work as well.

Q: Is there something that surprised you or something you changed your mind on while working on this?

A: One thing that I am convinced is more of a problem than I used to think is accommodating agency within eternalism. Students were actually the ones who convinced me of this: being responsible for an event can’t just be that we bear a particular causal connection to it, but rather that one is the entity that brought it into existence. That’s what we hold people responsible for (for good or ill). If it was already there to begin with, then it’s difficult to see how I’m responsible for it. I’m not convinced there’s a solvable problem. I used to think that a kind of compatibilism was the right answer, but I’m more convinced that there’s a missing piece to that account. I just don’t know what that missing piece is.

That students showed me this is what I find valuable about teaching undergraduates: they don’t come to these problems with sophisticated accounts, but rather with very straightforward approaches. That perspective can be useful in a lot of ways.

Q: So, as you said, you find something attractive about some kind of continuity between philosophy and science. How do you see the relationship between science and philosophy?

A: I see what I’m doing as scientific theorizing at a very high level of abstraction. If theoretical physicists are researchers who build models of experimental phenomena, then I see what I’m doing is treating the outputs theoretical physics as data for building a model of the world. I really don’t think there is anything that can be distinctly called philosophical knowledge. Just to give one example, relativity theory pretty much blows up our understanding of space and time. And philosophy of time in particular that isn’t in contact with the science just seems like wheel-spinning to me; whatever it is that they’re generating theories of doesn’t seem real.

Q: So it’s interesting you claim that there’s no distinct philosophical kind of knowledge. The more eliminativist brands of naturalism would probably agree with that and conclude that philosophers should just be doing science, and that there’s no need to have a distinctive philosophy department separate from the other departments in the academy. Do you agree with this? Is there something philosophy brings to the table that other departments wouldn’t necessarily provide?

A: I think what philosophy provides is a connection to broader conceptual frameworks. As I mentioned earlier, it creates a situation where you can make connections between, say, relativity theory and Plato. Philosophy is where you engage with valuable ideas that help us engage with active problems that probably would otherwise not be read or taught. Having a place where people can come learn from those kinds of sources is valuable, even for science. Einstein was engaged with much of the philosophical tradition. He read Schopenhauer as a child, he was deeply influenced by Spinoza. It’s now clear that the verificationist kinds of arguments you see in Einstein from 1905-1915 are anchored in careful readings of Hume’s Treatise, of Mach, and plenty of others.

If I were reasonably confident that people would learn those things elsewhere in other departments, that physicists were still being educated on big picture stuff in philosophical terms, then I would be happier with the diffusion of the philosophy department. But for legitimate reasons that doesn’t happen. The technical knowledge necessary for getting people up to speed in physics is enormous. I tell my philosophy of science class—most of whom are science majors—that what they’re learning in science classes is not to help them understand science as such, but to get them as quickly up to speed so that they can be trusted to make meaningful contributions at the frontiers of science.

Q: An additional worry here might be the division of labor argument, what’s sometimes called the problem of dual expertise: it’s really difficult to train people to be sensitive to the philosophical aspects while simultaneously getting them up to speed on, say, the physics. It’s hard to get people who can do both of those things well.

A: Right, and for me, I think of philosophy departments as the place where people who are doing interesting, valuable work, but don’t have natural homes elsewhere in the academy.

Q: I think it’s Michael Friedman who suggested in his lectures in Dynamics of Reason that the value of philosophy is that it provides a source of ideas and possibilities that scientists can turn to when their current paradigm is inadequate to solve a given problem. Would you agree with this kind of position?

A: Yeah, Michael was my original dissertation advisor at UIC until he left to go to Indiana University-Bloomington. He stayed on my committee even after he left, though. I think his neo-Kantian direction was one of two major influences on me, the other being, as I mentioned earlier, the kind of naturalism exemplified by Peter Hylton and Bill Hart. So, yes, I think that sounds pretty close to my position.

Q: Very interesting. So we’ve mentioned several instances in the history of science that are very influential on our understanding of philosophy. More abstractly, what sort of value do you find in studying—and teaching—the history of science.

A: I think it does a couple things. First, as all history does for me, it creates a real sensitivity to contingency: that we took this path rather than some other way, for reasons that don’t seem to have any clear explanation. That sense of contingency is important for itself, but, second, sometimes these paths not taken often have valuable stuff in them that’s worth mining. For example, I’ve been looking at how Leibniz’s monadological metaphysics can be useful to make sense of field-based ontology. Monads have two interesting features. One is the property of occupying space but without volume, so that in any finite volume there are an infinite number of monads. But the other interesting feature is that the state of a given monad depends on the state of the other monads in the universe without causally depending on them. So think about an electric field at a given location in space; the value of the field at that location is precisely what it is because that is the only value that is consistent with all the other values in the universe. So there is a kind of holism at work in Leibniz’s work where the value of the field is something representing to itself the value of everything else into the world. He’s really trying to make sense of continuity that doesn’t collapse into monism. It might be useful to apply that Leibnizian language to the behavior of fields.

Q: You’re an avid reader of science fiction. How does science fiction help you think through philosophical issues?

A: At its best, it forces us to consider things as possible that philosophers like to say are not. We philosophers insist that the world can’t work this way, then someone writes a story that forces us to think carefully on these issues. The classic case of this is Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. The whole structure of the novel is based on the time dilation of the twin paradox, where a soldier in the first interstellar war gets left further and further behind by the culture he’s ostensibly defending because he’s flying to worlds at close to the speed of light, so he doesn’t age. Now while the novel is in one sense about Haldeman’s return from the Vietnam War, it’s also a meditation on relativity theory.

Q: Finally, what are some sources you would recommend for people interested in this subject area?

A: If you’re interested in the physics, it’s a bit dated now, but it’s hard to beat Hawking’s Brief History of Time. A more updated account would be Kip Thorne’s Black Holes and Time Warps. From the science fiction element, Thorne was an executive producer for the movie Interstellar. By the way, all of the space-time physics in that movie is pretty much perfect. In fact, designing the scene approaching the mouth of the wormhole for that movie actually generated two published papers for Kip Thorne: one on the mathematics of what a mouth of a wormhole would look like, and another on the computer coding required to generate that visual.


On the philosophical side of things, even though he’s a physicist Paul Davies’ About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution helps bridge the gap between the science and the philosophy. I also highly recommend Barry Dainton’s work Time and Space.

Regarding the statement on the collective bargaining of contingent faculty

In our December meeting, the AGSP voted to draft a statement regarding the ongoing discussion of the collective bargaining of contingent faculty at Loyola. The current state of that draft is as follows:

“The Association of Graduate Students in Philosophy affirms the right of contingent faculty at LUC to collectively bargain under representation of SEIU.”

Any comments or suggested emendations may be forwarded to Jean Clifford at or Katherine Brichachek at The comment period will end this Sunday, the 17th.

For those wanting additional information, here are some links.

The webpage for SEIU:

– See also the page specifiacaly for SEIU activity in Chicago:

– The situation via LUC:

CFP: Contemporary European Philosophy Workshop, UChicago

We are pleased to announce that the Contemporary European Philosophy Workshop will be returning from its year-long hiatus this coming Fall quarter. The CEPW seeks to foster a space of ongoing and genuinely interdisciplinary dialog among students and faculty from across the humanities and social sciences working with and within Continental philosophical traditions. On behalf of our two new faculty sponsors, Sarah Hammerschlag (Divinity) and Raoul Moati (Philosophy), and our long-time advisor Arnold Davidson (Philosophy), we would like to invite both general participation and paper submissions from graduate students working in all disciplines to present at our biweekly meeting for the academic year.

The aim of the workshop is twofold: First, to give students the opportunity to present and receive feedback on their work in the context of a supportive conversation with colleagues and peers; second, to have a regular occasion to meet and discuss European philosophy in its historical and contemporary development, its relationship to other philosophical traditions, and the central theoretical role it has come to play in disciplines across the humanities and social sciences.

Our format for the Fall will consist of an initial introduction and plenary meeting, followed by a second meeting in which our three faculty advisors lead the group in reading a relevant philosophical text from the 20th-century Continental tradition. From the third meeting on, the workshop will be wholly devoted to graduate student presentations, and beginning in the Winter quarter we will also host invited guest speakers from other institutions in Chicago and elsewhere.  The CEPW sessions typically take one of three forms: 1) a presentation of a graduate student paper, and commentary from a colleague, 2) discussion of a text by a major European thinker, or 3) a talk given by an invited guest speaker.  Possible figures to be discussed include: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Gadamer, Hadot, Heidegger, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, Sartre, Kristeva, Irigaray, and Fanon, amongst others.

We will meet every other Wednesday from 3-5pm, and will announce our exact room in September.  Please be in touch with us if you require any assistance in attending the workshop. If you would like to be added to the CEPW list-host, please visit the university list-serve management page at, or email the coordinators at

We welcome submissions from all departments, and from both PhD and MA students, visiting graduate students, Harper-Schmidt fellows, visiting scholars, and other members of the wider, cross-disciplinary philosophical community.  Again, at the moment we are particularly interested in graduate student submissions, as graduate student work will be the workshop’s focus for the fall.

We look forward to seeing you in the Fall.