Wednesday: Ethics and Values Workshop with Jennifer Lackey

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 
5 PM – 6:15 PM 

Professor Jennifer Lackey of Northwestern University will be discussing a paper on the ethics and rationality of long-term punishment. If you would like to attend the workshop or be added to the list about future workshops, e-mail Dr. Joe Vukov at

This workshop is part of a series of Ethics and Values workshops held at Loyola University Chicago. The workshop focuses on works-in-progress in the areas of ethics and values broadly construed. For more information, click here or email Dr. Joe Vukov. The next meetings will feature:

October 11: Marcella Linn (Loyola)
November 8: Marya Schechtman (UIC)

Illinois Humanities Brown Bag Talk

Nicoletta Ruane is a PhD candidate in our Philosophy department and will be speaking about her assistantship with Illinois Humanities at a brown bag talk on Tuesday, October 3 from 12pm-1pm at Crown Center 528. This is a great opportunity for humanities graduate students looking to explore non-academic options. A recent interview with Ms. Ruane can be found on the Graduate School’s Professional Development page. Ms. Ruane spoke with us about herself and the program: 

I work in the area of social and political philosophy and teach as an adjunct instructor at Loyola and other area colleges. I also work on the Owl of Minerva, the journal of the Hegel Society of America. I’m currently writing a dissertation where I aim to develop a theoretical approach to post-capitalist institution formation. When it’s all over, I hope one day to write on aesthetics again as well.

As a philosopher, one is often acutely aware that few people understand what goes on in the profession and what it’s all for, and that this question mark often hangs over the humanities in general.

What was most appealing to me about working at Illinois Humanities (IH) was learning what public, i.e., non-academic, humanities offerings look like in Illinois and how they are developed. With less than 40 percent of the US completing a bachelor’s degree (and assuming there is some exposure to the humanities in college or university), the wealth that the disciplines have to offer, at least as that is presented in higher education, is not accessed by the majority.

IH has positioned itself as a rather non-traditional state humanities council, and I’ll be talking a bit about what that means. The organization works pretty ambitiously to connect a broad general audience in different areas of interest: to the history of the state, and its regions and towns; to contemporary art, music and culture; to political representatives and leading intellectuals on social and civic issues; even offering programs geared toward the journalism and business communities. The program I was brought on to develop, Illinois Speaks, is a state-wide civic engagement series, so it fell under the public policy umbrella of programs, but as it grew, we were able to draw in some of IH’s sizeable arts and culture audience.

I valued the opportunity to work there for a year because I learned some ways to share what the humanities offer, in particular the historical and cultural perspective they provide, in the form of creative and accessible public programming. Broadly speaking, this sort of work will be attractive to those who are oriented to the social good and enjoy organizational challenges. I’ll be speaking specifically next month on what I learned, the tasks involved, the specific skills needed, and how those may relate to the experiences and training of graduate students.

All humanities graduate students are invited on October 3. Bring your questions!

Interview with Dr. J.D. Trout

Q: What got you interested in philosophy to begin with?

A: If you go really far back, I had a really good Jesuit teacher in public school. He had left the seminary, and we used to beg him to lecture. Usually in high school you were trying to avoid lectures.

Q: What did he teach?

A: There was a “gifted” program at the time and he was involved with that. A lot of his course was European intellectual history. But one of the first things that we read that was philosophical was Anselm’s ontological argument, which fascinated me. And that was maybe 9th or 10th grade. So, that was what got me interested. I then started reading a lot of Nietzsche, everything that I could get my hands on.

Q: That is an interesting shift from Anselm to Nietzsche.

A: I was always very interested in theism. I was raised as a devout catholic, and I also had lots of family friends who were different forms of evangelical Christian. The adopted side of my family was Jehovah’s Witness. I was treated to a whole bunch of different religious backgrounds, and I would indiscriminately go to their religious ceremonies even though I always went to Catholic church every Sunday. Sometimes I would go to Kingdom Hall, and then I would go to these Bible meetings outside of Trenton, not far from where I lived. And it involved thinking foundationally about a lot of things.

Q: So, you studied and received your Ph.D. at Cornell. Who were some of your influences?

A: Well there, my dissertation committee was Dick Boyd, a philosopher of science, Sydney Shoemaker, Robert Stalnaker, and psychologist Frank Keil. I had permission to read and work in the sciences as much as I wanted to, there were no university wide requirements, so I think I did all of the requirements for philosophy, an additional six courses in psychology, and completed the dissertation, in 3.5 years.

Q: That is very efficient of you.

A: Well, not liking being a graduate student can do a lot. And I had an NSF predoctoral fellowship at the time, so I was able to extend that by working as a TA. So, I did two years at Cornell, and then the rest of my time I lived in Berkeley where I finished my Ph.D. in absentia.

Q: What got you interested in the topic of your book on the development of science?

A: Philosophically, I have always been really interested in explaining successes of different kinds. When I thought about the philosophical foundations of psychology, I would think “What sorts of things explain routine psychological successes like visual perception or language learning” and in particular “What do those explanations look like?” “Do they always involve the solipsistic internal mechanisms, like Fodor envisioned, or can they mention, as taxonomic items, things that belong to the environment?” Do scientific generalizations in psychology actually implicate things like clocks, mirrors, furniture (like Gibson would say, the ecological psychologist who thought that the generalizations of psychology involved contingent facts about the world).

Q: So, psychology is developing an externalist approach?

A: The reason that externalism was under such attack by computationalists in the 70s and 80s, is that there were some very loud voices in computationalism, namely Chomsky and Fodor, who hadn’t done any work in developmental psychology. So, they had a model for language learning that was as misinformed as Quine’s, on the other extreme in terms of his behaviorist view. So they never appreciated how finely generalizations in developmental language learning were guided by environmental factors. And that is why on Chomsky’s view, almost all of language learning is endogenous, and it looks like magic!

Q: Or the innate ideas Descartes was talking about.

A: Right. I think there is no shame in being a ground worker, looking at the very specific ways the concrete aspects of the signal guide a child’s generalization to different words. It is easy to get the impression that internalists like Fodor and Chomsky – who were also nativists about language learning — thought such empirical endeavors about learning were preposterous.

Q: So, you were interested in trying to make sense of why psychology is able to successfully explain these various phenomena. How does this relate to the topic in the book, which seems much larger than this isolated case of language development?

A: In philosophy, my main area was philosophy of science, and I was always interested in explanation. I noticed when I would read more history of science and philosophy of science, it was like reading two worlds, when I looked at what scientists actually did, on the one hand, and what philosopher’s normative impositions required, on the other. So, they (the philosophers) would say, in order to be a good explanation, the explanans has to be thus and such, or the presumed causal factor has to be statistically relevant, or it has to have high probability, or it has to be surprising. So, there were normative accounts of explanation by philosophers like Hempel and Salmon, and very austere empiricist ones like Van Fraassen. Some tried to follow scientific practice closely. Still, their normative strictures seemed utterly ignored by good, working scientists, as far as I could tell. It seems like a naturalistic perspective would require that you look at what are regarded as good explanations and extract lessons from them. Salmon does a bit of this in his work in 1984 when he talks about four decades of explanation. He talks about Avogadro’s hypothesis and the sorts of factors that were actually present in historically good explanations.
And so, in the new book I was really asking the central question, “If scientists made such progress without having a theory of explanation, how do you explain that success if the psychological process of explanation acceptance seems to be dominated by a lot of irrational or subjective factors.

Q: So, this seems to be a variant of the standard No-Miracles argument.

A: But, the No-Miracles argument makes no real assumptions about the kinds of things humans are. Whereas, in the position that I take, my argument works best if you take seriously the psychological evidence that people are cognitively limited, and accept certain views for all sorts of psychological reasons, like the desire for epistemic closure, or the attempt to reduce indecision.

Q: Do you hope that philosophers will engage with the actual results of science?

A: Yes, but also to help reorient the kind of perspective that philosophers can have about science. For example, if people accept an explanation because it conveys a sense of understanding, and that sense of understanding comes cheap and is often unreliable, then how do you explain the great successes of science, if scientists are accepting the explanations for the same sorts of reasons. And if the Experimental Method was the silver bullet for the rise of modern science, why didn’t it propel Islamic science – which developed the canons of experimentation 400 years before the Latin West around 1000 AD. And my answer in the book is that, after a certain point the theoretical hunches in Boyle’s and Newton’s time were right – they were roughly accurate. So blindly following their sense of understanding actually turned out to be a reliable cue to accurate understanding. So, that places limits on how devastating the meta-induction arguments can be against realism. It defangs a lot of the empiricist or social-constructivist criticisms of realism, because now we have a ready explanation for why unreliable psychological processes could result in grand successes.

Q: You mention early in the book a distinction between providing a good explanation and framing or elucidating a good explanation. Can you elaborate more on the significance of this distinction?

A: The point I try to make in the book is that the Newtonian view of the world pre-dated Newton. The idea that matter is made of corpuscles of course goes back to Democritus and folks like that. But even immediately before Newton, it went back to Boyle, and Boyle’s teacher Van Helmont, who was chiefly an alchemist, and the late 16th century alchemists, who thought that reality was largely corpuscular. When Boyle framed his laws, there was a very incomplete physics underlying it. But the idea, that whatever these items were, they were hard, and roughly round. It gave them an idea of what the collisions must be like in, say, an enclosed volume of gas. What the force would be like when they collided and what the trajectories would be like bouncing off of them. So, they could get the very basis of kinetic theory from this corpuscular hunch, even though alchemy itself might invoke all sorts of occult forces — the corpuscles would conform to the phenomenological equations of the gas laws.
So, that example is one where,+ if you frame the explanation using a description theory of reference, you get this very incredible and unlikely sounding precursor to a grand success. And so, an explanation by Boyle might invoke corpuscles, and nobody would understand how they operate in that way. Boyle might say, using a causal theory, “Well look, all the explanation is is just a causal account of what is going on, and I am just telling you what is going on. I don’t care whether you understand it or not, whether the description matches anything in our current conceptual repertoire, it is still a good explanation.” And you can see the same thing in the explanations of the electromagnetic field in the late 19th century. I think a good explanation for the use of the term “ether,” how it shifted, and how it was deployed is to say that “ether” referred to “field.”

Q: So, you are making use of the causal theory of reference?

A: Yes, and the causal theory proposes, against the description theory, that terms get regulated in ways that people often can’t articulate (because the causal influences can be arcane or otherwise not transparent to people). On that view, the term ‘Moses’ refers to Moses even if the actual Moses fails to fit a description you associate with him. And it allows you to explain errors when people actually have the resources to explain it in other ways. For example, Locke thought that certain fruits have that acidic flavor because some of the molecules were pointy and they poked at our tongues. He had the resources to avoid that if he wanted to, and Daniel Sennert, in the early 1600s, gave all sorts of reasons for supposing, as did Newton, that the corpuscles were exceedingly small. But historians of science, don’t like this realist pattern of argument using things like the causal theory of reference or inference to the best explanation, because they insist it is a backwards looking way of understanding history. Historians are not chiefly motivated, like philosophers of science are, with issues of success.

The book acknowledges that there are certain constituents or participants that you want to be talking to who you inevitably cannot satisfy. I am only interested in the broad features of the history of science that drove science, not on what happened to Newton on that special Tuesday, unless it is that rare epiphanic moment that changed a whole theoretical view. But, a lot of historians of science take a very close, fine-grained look at the development of the mind of a particular person, how they are training, their endless appetite for fame, and all of these factors that contributed to what they ended up doing. Scientists’ conception of what they were doing really matters to historians of science. But for most of my purposes in explaining success, it only matters what they actually were doing.

Q: Newton’s discoveries were not in rigid adherence to some ahistorical scientific method, but rather in making use of dubious metaphysical structures and beliefs, but nevertheless such beliefs were able to get him close enough or orient him in the right way. What does this say about the value of the scientific method? Because someone like Paul Feyerabend might say, “Newton was able to get the right stuff with alchemy, so let’s let a thousand theories bloom.”

A: There is an upside to Feyerabend’s conception and a downside. What my view shows you about the nature of the scientific or experimental method is that there is no scientific method proper, no canons that are both are both general and very informative. The sciences are very different from one another, and if you mean by the scientific method the idea that you hold some things fixed and one factor you manipulate, then Kant was using the scientific method when he would hold the forms of intuition constant and manipulate sensibility. Or, children are using the scientific method when they realize that if they act up they won’t get the treat that they want (or that they will). The scientific method looks different in different disciplines. In some areas of medicine it is a simple 2 X 2 design, and in population ecology it might be an elaborate regression model. And any simple description of the scientific method will look like something we learned at our parents’ knee. We inherited a belief in “the” experimental method or “the” scientific because there were people who wrote textbooks that talk about an official version of them we owe to one figure or another, like Bacon, after which science began its ascent. Even Popper, as sharp as he was, thought that there was a single, distinctive feature of science – falsifiability – pronouncing that certain domains are not science because you were not making predictions. Well, where does that leave historical geology or evolutionary theory – they aren’t sciences? So, there are some disciplines where you need a very sophisticated experimental design, but that is not what Daniel Sennert was doing when he was pouring solutions through filter paper, he was just doing a standard design.

As an aside, one of the things that was a real joy to learn about when writing the book was Islamic science. Islamic science from 950-1150 AD made advances that were akin to advances that the Latin West had to wait for, until the 1300-1400s. All of Bacon’s canons were roughly captured by experiments that were both described by people in practical medicine in the Islamic world 3-400 years before they were in the German and British west.

Q: Right, and this helps break the euro-centric view that someone in Europe just magically got things right.

A: It allows you to make two points at once. First, figures like Ibn Sina made advances in things like discovering the rectilinear propagation of light or practical medicine, but they had really poor theories. So, they were able to make practical achievements, but their explanations were very inaccurate – and this was all with experimental design. You can create practical outcomes from poor theories when you apply the design in a controlled way. But of course, you can produce great achievements if you get the theory right as well. And that is what Newton’s precursors and Newton did.

Q: So, the method is valuable, but only if it is operating on some sort of true theory?

A: Or approximately true. If you are toiling away in some standard area of study, like the effectiveness of antibiotics, it is very important to have a careful experimental design, where the design is basically giving a thumbs up or thumbs down on whether the antibiotic is effective – whether the infection is handled better in the treated or untreated group. And when you make a great discovery you need an experimental design to make sure the effect isn’t by chance. The main point about experimental design is that it is not the answer to how you grind out a fantastic theory, it is not like once people discovered the experimental method it was relatively inevitable that there would be an advanced science that would be ground out of it. It is much easier to produce significant results when your theory is accurate. And if you have a really poor theory, it is hard to discover anything using experimental design.

Q: Another important idea in the book is that the understanding we get from a particular theory is not necessarily indicative of the theory’s truth – we shouldn’t take understanding as a cue for theory correctness. What should we do instead?

A: That’s a good question. I think what you should do is ask yourself one step removed, what would the world have to be like if my hypothesis is true? And how else might these phenomena emerge under what other circumstances? In short, what you should look for is unification. You should look for the robust persistence of objects under diverse tests, and in diverse sources of evidence. So, that is why Salmon’s work on Avogadro’s number was really important; Avogadro’s number emerges in all these different circumstances, in places that look unconnected. So, it is more plausible that such a measure is not an artifact of the particular instrumentation that you are using to study it; it is a more general feature of the world. It turns up in beta decay (radioactivity), in electrolysis, in Brownian motion, in things people do not normally associate with Avogadro’s number. We are not stuck relying on our understanding of a theory. We can ask, “Well, independent of our understanding of the theory, is this the kind of result that turns up in disparate ontological domains?” Understanding, then, is a gratuity; it may not be ultimately persuasive. That we rely on it is a healthy outgrowth of the idea that justification for a belief is closely associated with reason-giving. But as we increasingly appreciate the complicated nature of theoretical understanding, we come to appreciate how difficult it is for people to understand the arcane products of science. That (among other natural cognitive limitations), beyond a certain number of items, we are not good at representing those items to ourselves and, if understanding requires that, then we understand a lot less than we thought.

Q: One of things you talk about in the book is the reliance on Statistical Prediction Rules and other heuristics that are in many ways better at getting at the truth than our own expertise. Do you consider someone who relies on a heuristic and gets the truth an instance of understanding, or something else?

A: Well it may be understanding, but it would be understanding something different than we would ordinarily suppose. So, when you use a heuristic that works, a rule of thumb, that you can substitute for lots of complicated reasoning (like what a credit score does), you may be able to apply it to a domain that is too detailed for you to understand, but it may require some kind of understanding to know that this is a context in which this heuristic works, and there are other contexts where it would not work. And hopefully this will be the way of the policy future. The model of people making democratic decisions is not going to be having to decide arcane matters of science, but knowing that experts deciding can be identified properly by some set of heuristics.

Q: There seems to be some virtue in deferring your epistemic autonomy to another person.

A: Yes. One way to think about it is this: imagine you are about to go to a science conference, and someone is desperately trying to get a poster done, and they are at the end of their rope. You, as an observer, may not know whether the results are reliable, but you do know that a drunk person is careless. And, if your judgment is that this person is unreliable for those reasons, that is something you can understand. And that justifies your caution about their results independently of whether you have an understanding of what those results say. No one would fault you for withdrawing your assigned justification.

Q: What do you take to be the strongest criticism that you have met in people responding to your book?

A: I think there are things that are unresolved in the book, and the criticisms often come from areas of philosophy that are less central to science, like philosophy of language, or traditional epistemology. I try to answer even though I don’t fully belong to those fields. For example, I am inclined to say that the term “understanding” is like the term “madness,” “sick,” or “health” in that it has an ordinary use, but the extension is very uncertain; it is overextended and overgeneralized. I have a paper coming out in an upcoming Oxford volume that Stephen Grimm is editing on understanding, and there I try to raise doubts about the idea that philosophers are trying to insist that there is something deep and common to our ordinary idea of understanding, by placing really precise demands on what understanding has to be like. For example, Zagzebski claims that transparency is essential to understanding. Those sorts of issues. I don’t think my account of understanding is going to be satisfying to anyone who legislates what understanding is, or what “understanding” means, — that it has a clear extension, that attributing understanding marks a legitimate elevation of their epistemic status, etc. I think we have cognitive successes of various sorts, but the taxonomy has to come from psychology, not philosophy.

Q: Much of your book and research has been on the overlap between philosophy and science, and in particular, psychology. What is the relationship between these two fields? Stephen Hawking recently said something like “philosophy is dead” in a recent book, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson has been derisive of philosophy. Does philosophy contribute something to those discussions that science does not have?

A: Yes, but I do not think it is systematic enough to have a discipline devoted to it. I think if you look at, for example, philosophy of mind, or philosophy of psychology, and most of phenomenology, there are people working at the foundation of psychology that rival anybody in those areas. Take Lance Rips on personal identity, a psychologist at Northwestern, he talks about straight metaphysics, about the persistence of the self over time, what sense it makes to talk about the self as an object. I do not know if philosophers bring anything special to the table. I think they may bring a patient sentiment to the tasks that psychologists could learn, but people at the foundation of those fields already have that kind of patience. Reid Hastie, who teaches at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, does very foundational work on judgment-decision making and problem solving that rivals anything that you can find in the philosophy of decision making. In philosophy of science, this is not an issue. Philosophers of science are naturalistic in the sense that they usually know when to shut up or defer when they are out of their depth, and lots of the major figures in philosophy of science have Ph.Ds or post BA/BS training in their specialized fields outside of philosophy. But, if you look at the dominant strains in contemporary philosophy, analytic epistemology is just as smitten as it always has been with the justification condition, counterexample philosophy, and reliance on intuition. Action theory is extremely phenomenological; it describes what constitutes an action in terms that individuate acts by intuitive assessments of when something begins and ends. And all of this stuff is apparently casually introspectable, unlike the actual processes themselves. For instance, when we talk about people deciding to execute an action, I don’t mean to wax Wittgensteinian, but we almost never decide to execute a particular action. When I make pasta, I never decide to put olive oil on it, or I never decide to pepper it, let alone NOT. So, it is undeniable that certain philosophers find some distinctly philosophical questions interesting, but I just think they are wrong that those are interesting problems or that they have the techniques to pursue them. So, the question is, what would the university look like if it did not have a philosophy department?

Q: Michael Friedman has the thought that philosophy has a connection to a larger conceptual framework. That philosophy is the sandbox for someone like Einstein to find new ways or possibilities to address the current inadequate ideas and science.

A: I think this goes back to temperament issues. Almost immediately, other scientists take up residence in that sandbox, and they begin duking it out. For example, what does it mean to say there is a particle that knows what is happening to another particle at a distance. Philosophers are sometimes good at pointing out inconsistencies, but that is something other people can learn to do. I was always stunned, when I was at Cornell, by how much deference was shown to philosophers by psychologists. Philosophers used to go to seminars in psychology all the time, and when a philosopher started to talk, the room went quiet. It was a really marked effect. And the psychologists would look on at something Boyd, Sydney, and even the philosophy graduate students had to say. The psychology students were really interested in theorizing; they were good at generating results, but they could not always place them in a framework. And that is what, after all, philosophers were trained to do. They would come up with some deductive story and could see the remote deductive consequences were of being committed to causes of certain kinds. So, they could spin these theories and talk about theories of mental representation, and everyone would pay close attention. But, philosophers could not resist the normative impulse, and they might say, “any psychological theory that does not honor this view has to be a mistaken.” My story has not been a story of feeling like I was beaten up by empirical scientists – quite the contrary. Empirical scientists are unbelievably welcoming, and I did psychological research and published it in peer-reviewed journals around psychologists who were endlessly indulgent of an initiate in their field who had a philosophical background.

Q: You have said before that if philosophers are not producing anything distinctive, that instead of being cloistered in their own department, that they should be diffused into the rest of the academy. What do you think of the problem of dual expertise? If there is no centralized philosophy department to train philosophers, but we still want philosophers spread out in the academy, isn’t there a logistical problem of finding people that are experts in say, physics, and the relevant philosophy that goes with it?

A: That is a legitimate worry, as long as it is balanced against the potential waste of having philosophers who do not know why a stone falls, to use Feyerabend’s expression. I think one way of addressing that is to show hiring preference to people with two Ph.Ds. If you look at most law schools now, certainly at law schools like Northwestern’s or Cornell’s, there is a strong preference to hire faculty who hold both a J.D. and a Ph.D. Now, that means somebody has done three years of a J.D. degree and five years of a Ph.D. degree, if not more. A good model might be someone like Erik Angner at U of Stockholm, who has an economics Ph.D. from Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from Pittsburgh. He did it at the same place; Pittsburgh happens to be a top-notch school for economics and virtually unparalleled in philosophy of science. Instead of the constant proliferation of philosophy Ph.D. programs, the curricular vision that I have would naturally produce 20 philosophy Ph.D. programs. People could get two Ph.Ds, one in philosophy and another in a special field, like physics or biology or psychology or political science. They might get two PhDs at the same school or one PhD at each of two different schools. But the idea is that there would be many fewer philosophy PhD programs. And you might be able to do that in 8 total years if it is a properly integrated program of study. So, for example, people that do Aristotelian ethics now would have a naturalistic outlet in the form of doing inquiries into the theoretical accounts of character that are designed to address questions about the requirements of human flourishing, but naturally informed by empirical results. So, it would be a completely empirical program in the sense that you are looking at the kinds of things humans are, not about someone’s 400 B.C. prejudices about slaves and women and their natural place, but rather about what humans require to lead a good life, and the theoretical architecture that is required to support that in light of empirical results. And this might more or less support a trait view or character view, or whatever the data is leading you to.

So, it’s not like people couldn’t address philosophical issues. And I see the same vision for political science. Political science departments do not generally want to hire political theory people, but political theory people are what political philosophers are. So, the same would be true. You would have political philosophers who were well trained in institutional analysis, which is what political scientists and sociologists are often trained in. And they look at things like feelings of political efficacy and party defection, but they put it in terms of a much larger context of what democracy is actually for. Is it so that an economy can make the most amount of money? Is it so that citizens can have the most amount of well-being? Is it so that everybody gets treated fairly? And how do these goals trade-off? So, I do not see any reason why you need a philosophy department to do that, but you may need 20 philosophy Ph.D. programs across the country that tend to feed them and there would have to remain a natural balance. We have no such balance now.

Q: What are some works that you would recommend for further reading for people that are interested in the topics of your book?

A: There is a really good book coming out by Michael Strevens called the Knowledge Machine, and it is attempt to describe a philosophy of science from the ground up. Garfinkel’s Forms of Explanation and some of the standards like, Salmon’s Four Decades and Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World are all really good. I love Atoms and Alchemy, which is a history of science book by William Newman.

Q: Final question: what’s next for you?

A: I will continue “policy” writing on science for popular venues. I have another book that is based on the Phi Beta Kappa Romanell Lectures that I gave at Loyola in March of 2013. That will be out with Oxford in the next couple of years. There is another book I have been working on that focuses on the psychology of language. It is a popular book about the drama of speech perception and what a delicate ballet spoken communication is.

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

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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.

Happy Finals Week and Summer Break!

The last week of the regular semester is over, and now it’s the Finals rush of e-mails, grading, and summeritis. Hang in there!

The Department of Philosophy end-of-year celebration for the graduate program is this Thursday, April 30, at 4:30 p.m. in the Rambler Room (in the Damen Center).

This blog will be updated less frequently over the summer. If you have announcements that you wish to be posted prior to August 1, please e-mail the current Webmaster, Corbin Casarez, at In the new academic year, we will have a new Webmaster, Jay Carlson, and the faculty profile series will resume. In the meantime: be well, do well!

Professionalization Opportunities

The Department of Philosophy is offering two opportunities to develop your professional skills for an academic career.

On Monday, April 20, 1:00-2:300, in Crown 530, there will be a publishing workshop, facilitated by a panel of Loyola faculty.

On Tuesday, April 21, 10:30 a.m., in Crown 530, there will be a meeting for anyone wanting to enter the job market next year.

Please take advantage of these opportunities. Good turnout encourages more events like these.

Faculty Profile: Victoria Wike

Dr. Victoria Wike is Professor and Graduate Program Director at Loyola University Chicago. She kindly agreed to participate in AGSP’s Faculty Profile Series. Her faculty page is here:

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AGSP:    Thank you for participating in our Faculty Profile Series. Because you serve as the Graduate Program Director at Loyola, most if not all of us have interacted with you on a professional level, but focused on our needs and concerns. We’re excited to turn the attention back to you.  How did you decide to go into academic philosophy?

VW:       I found philosophy because the small liberal arts college I attended had a required series of Humanities courses.  I got started teaching thanks to the confidence of a teacher of mine.  As an upper-classman, I applied for a filing job in the philosophy department and the chair told me, no, we want you to be a discussion leader for the Humanities course.  After college, I was awarded an ITT-Fulbright grant to study philosophy in Paris where I completed a Licence degree and heard Foucault and Derrida lecture.  Then I came back to grad school at Penn State where I became interested in Kant and left behind the French philosophers!

AGSP:    From discussion leader to full professor and graduate director! What brought you to Loyola University Chicago?

VW:       I came to LUC straight from grad school, thanks to Ardis Collins who contacted one of my teachers about job openings.  That year, there were four new hires in the philosophy department.   At the time, I was keen on teaching at a small liberal arts college, but I found that there are definite advantages to being at a larger mission-driven university like Loyola.  For one thing, philosophy is valued here, so we’re not at the fringes of the university.  For another thing, a large department like ours means that we have a variety of specializations and teaching styles available to students.  It also means no faculty member has to do everything…if your area is modern, nobody is going to ask you to teach ancient.

AGSP:    I imagine that enables you to focus on your research interests. What is your area of specialization, and what are you currently working on?

VW:       My primary area of specialization is Kant’s moral philosophy and in terms of teaching is bioethics.  On Kant, I’m working on Robert Johnson’s claim that the derivation of the duty to self-improve involves the premise that one is pursuing one’s own happiness, and in bioethics I’m looking at the virtue of humility in medicine. I’m always interested in the pieces on the edges of Kant’s philosophy that get overlooked in the big picture view…pieces like the highest good, friendship, moral education, and philanthropy.


AGSP:    What do you enjoy most about being a professional philosopher?

VW:       I think a really wonderful thing about being an academic is the variability and flexibility of the work.  There are such a variety of opportunities that arise and there are so many different possible ways in which one can work.  So, in my own experience, I’ve done research, taught, and administered programs (the Bioethics Minor, and now the Grad Program), served on College and University committees that revised the core curriculum, reviewed faculty appeals, awarded fellowships, and I’ve taught at the Rome Center, traveled on faculty-staff international trips, single authored and co-authored publications, created new courses, etc.

AGSP:    Wow, that is a wide variety of opportunities! Probably many aspiring philosophers are attracted by the life of contemplation—which tends to be equated with “research” in contemporary parlance. But as you point out, there are so many more responsibilities, and privileges, from the academic life. Take teaching for instance: what is the most important thing that you hope students take away from your classes?

VW:       The main thing for me, especially at the undergrad level where we can’t presuppose this in students, is to try to have students do philosophy and not just learn about philosophy.  Obviously they need to read and study philosophers, but I’m willing to sacrifice some of the details of the content of what they are reading in order to encourage them to analyze, assess, defend a claim, and so forth.  I try to give students lots of opportunities to respond. In health care ethics courses, I have them do assignments where they read an editorial and then justify their agreement or disagreement with the author.  Students also work in small groups on class presentations and all written assignments are essay based—no multiple choice or true/false questions.  I want the students in my courses to be able to explain, qualify, critique, and evaluate various ethical and philosophical positions, and to do so, I think, they need opportunities to talk and write.  Even in graduate courses, I ask students to present summaries of their final papers in class and do peer responses to others’ papers.

AGSP:    It is easy to think of philosophy as content, and forget that it is an activity, one which requires practice. Let’s shift gears. How do you like to spend your time when you’re not doing philosophy?

VW:       I like to travel.  My family and I went to Guam in December to visit our daughter who was on a work assignment there. I also like to cook and bake, walk, and read fiction and nonfiction. Currently, I am planning a walking tour on the coast of Wales—combining travel and walking!  Oh, and I should say, I enjoy watching sports; I believe I am the only philosophy faculty member with season tickets to the Loyola men’s basketball games. Go Ramblers!

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AGSP:    Well, we have benefited from your baking—we appreciate the cookies you bring to meetings! In closing, what advice would you give to aspiring academic philosophers?

VW:       Don’t take forever to complete your dissertation.  Your dissertation is not your life’s work, but a step towards it.  Also, find your own style.  Not everybody has to research or teach in the same way.  Go with your strengths.

AGSP:    Well, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with us. Go Ramblers!

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Upcoming PRG Event

The Phenomenology Research Group is proud to present another workshop on Monday, April 20:

PRG Symons_April 20

This Friday: HOPR

The next session of the History of Philosophy Roundtable will take place this Friday at 3:45 p.m. in Crown 530. Peter Hartman will facilitate discussion on his work-in-progress, “Cognition and Causation: Ockham and Buridan on Content.” This is the last of the HOPR series scheduled for this spring term.

History of Philosophy Roundtable

The flurry of events this week continues! HOPR is meeting again this Friday (March 27), where Dr. Kristen Irwin will present her paper, “The Implication of Bayle’s Skepticism for Moral Knowledge.”

Crown 530, 3:45-5:00 p.m.

Contact Dr. Irwin ( if you would like a draft of the paper in advance.

Undergraduate Research Workshop

On Thursday, March 26, two more students will be presenting their research in Crown 530, beginning at 4:00 p.m.

Nina Darner, “Nestedness and Infinity in Leibniz’s Natural Machines”

Anna Ulyanenkova, “The Value of Bio-Parenting: Homosexuals’ Right to State Mandated Infertility Services”

Come support our undergraduates. (And refreshments will be provided.)