Texas Tech University

Philosophy Talks 2016-17

Spring 2016 Speaker Series

Jonathan Dorsey (Texas Tech University)

  • Department Colloquium: Are point particles possible?
  • Friday, March 31st, 4:00-6:00 pm
  • ENG/PHIL 264

Abstract: A relatively simple little argument exists against the possibility of point particles but it requires a special understanding of their density. This paper discusses these matters in reverse order: first, the special understanding of point particle density, called 'the limit definition'; then, the resultant argument against point particles called 'the argument from infinite density'. The introduction of a new, alternative definition of density called 'the quantum definition' places the argument in check and is likely part and parcel of any viable point particle theory. Point particle theory, so-understood, then receives further exploration by way of (i) two thought experiments ('the big squeeze' and 'the magic string'), (ii) comparison with Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG) and its spatial extended simples, and (iii) reflection on the relation between science and philosophy. The final result is that point particles are possible after all despite the argument from infinite density. They need to be taken seriously in metaphysics as well as the sciences whether one is initially inclined to believe in them or not.

Francesca di Poppa (Texas Tech University)

  • Department Colloquium: Spinoza and Gender Inequality
  • Friday, April 14th, 4:00-6:00 pm
  • ENG/PHIL 264

Abstract: Recently, scholars have claimed that there is an incompatibility between Spinoza's attitude on women in Ethics and that in his later, never completed Political Treatise. Passages in Ethics imply that women are men's intellectual and moral equal, while TP dismisses gender equality as unreasonable. In Hasana Sharp's words, TP offers a "symmetrical inversion" of Spinoza's view on women in Ethics.​ In this paper, I will not attempt to explain the tension away. I will, however, show that it is not nearly as drastic as it has been argued. This will come at the cost of offering a reading of Spinoza as less of an egalitarian hero as sometimes thought. At the same time, I will argue that ​Spinoza's sexism is based on empirical, rather than essentialist, claims, and, as such, ​it is​ vulnerable to evidence.​
In Ethics, Spinoza argues that we all have access to certain adequate ideas about God or nature; he also argues that, for most human beings, environmental circumstances will make it impossible pursue a philosophical path. So, Spinoza considers philosophical excellen​ce "as difficult as it is rare," as he famously put it, for both men and women. ​Friendship and marriage between philosophers are rare sources of bliss that should be cherished. However, there is nothing in Ethics that rules out the claim that, for women, philosophical excellence is even more rare than for men. Because the mind is the body, for Spinoza, systematic differences in the body determine differences in mental powers. That the path to philosophy is more difficult for women rather than for men, however, does not mean that it is impossible for women to be intellectually equal to men (or even superior). While men usually have more power than women, it is possible for some women to have ​at least ​as much ​physical and mental ​power as the best of men​​.

Joe Gottlieb (Texas Tech University)

  • Department Colloquium: Verbal Disputes in the Theory of Consciousness
  • Friday, May 5th, 4:00-6:00 pm
  • ENG/PHIL 264

Abstract: The primary aim of a theory of consciousness is to articulate existence conditions for conscious states, i.e. the conditions under which a mental state is conscious rather than unconscious. There are two main broad approaches: The Higher-Order approach and the First- Order approach. Higher-Order theories claim that a mental state is conscious only if it is the object of a suitable state of higher-order awareness. First-Order theories reject this necessary condition. However, both sides make the following claim: for any mental state M of a subject S, M is conscious iff there is something it is like for S to be in M. This is the Nagelian Conception of consciousness. Taking the Nagelian Conception as a starting point, I contend that the best rationalizing explanation for the ways in which Higher-Order and First-Order theorists contribute to their dispute is to see those contributions as consistent responses to two distinct questions.

Fall 2016 Speaker Series

Laurie Shrage (Florida International University)

  • Public Colloquium: "Sex for Pay: Decriminalization vs. Legalization"
  • Thursday, September 22nd, 6:00-8:00 pm
  • MCOM 57

Abstract: Why are sex workers rights organizations advocating for decriminalizing, but not legalizing, sex work? What's at stake in this demarcation, and is decriminalization the best approach? In this talk, I will defend calls for decriminalization, but argue that we need to distinguish private acts of "prostitution" from public enterprises that involve sex for pay. The Lawrence v. Texas (2003) ruling raises the question of whether imposing criminal bans and penalties on cash-incentivized casual sex among consenting adults in private violates our constitutional rights. Yet, decriminalizing private acts of prostitution leaves open the question of how governments should regulate business enterprises that involve sex work.

Laurie Shrage (Florida International University)

  • Department Colloquium: Integration vs. Desegregation
  • Friday, September 23rd, 4:00-6:00 pm
  • ENG/PHIL 264

Abstract: Two prominent philosophers, Elizabeth Anderson and Tommie Shelby, are in substantial disagreement about what should be done to address pervasive and persistent racial segregation. In this paper, I will explore the philosophical sources of their disagreement, how far apart their views actually are, and the strengths and weaknesses of each thinker's views. I will try to show how the differences between their views can point the way toward better policies and programs for addressing ongoing anti-black discrimination and disadvantage.

John Haldane (St. Andrews)

  • Public Colloquium: "Taking History Seriously"
  • Thursday, October 13, 6:00-8:00 pm
  • HUMCSCI 69

Abstract: In a famous essay the logician Quine wrote of how "there are three different degrees to which we may allow our logic, or semantics, to embrace the idea of necessity". I will be proposing that there are three degrees to which we may allow our normative moral and social philosophy to embrace the idea of history. First, in taking full account of actual social practice and its implicit values when considering the need and legitimate role of political philosophy. Second, in noting the extent to which famous and influential philosophical ideas and arguments were fashioned in response to actual history, rather than being arrived at a priori. And third, in considering history as itself a medium of moral and political rationality. As I interpret them these require increasing levels of acceptance of the importance of history, and I shall claim that all three grades of involvement should be accepted.

John Haldane (St. Andrews)

  • Lecture: "Virtue and Ethics in the Medieval Period" (cosponsored by the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies)
  • Friday, October 14, 10:00 am -12:00 pm
  • MCOM 266

Abstract: The idea that virtue might be one of the central features of ethics is rightly associated with Aristotle, and his Nicomachean Ethics had a deep influence in the high middle ages, especially in the 13th century. Indeed it may be said that ethical theorizing as we now recognize it did not exist in medieval thought until the reception of Aristotle's ethical writings. Yet diverse notions of virtue, and of the virtues, (including Aristotelian ones), were in circulation long before then via the writings of Cicero such as De Inventione and Augustine. Further the medievals do not distinguish between philosophy and theology in the ways that we do, for example by discipline or genre. This lecture will explore these issues historically and philosophically suggesting that, contrary to general impressions neither the medievals as a whole, nor Aquinas in particular were 'virtue ethicists'.

John Haldane (St. Andrews)

  • Department Colloquium: "Some Problems for Virtue Ethics"
  • Friday, October 14, 4:00-6:00 pm
  • ENG/PHIL 264

Abstract:The last two decades have seen a considerable increase in discussions of the claim that virtue is central to morality and that ethical theory should find a prominent (and perhaps dominant) place for the ideas of moral character and virtue. There are, however, ambiguities in these claims. Additionally there are both longstanding and new challenges to 'virtue ethics' which need to be examined. I will clarifying what is at issue in giving a place to virtue in ethical theory and exploring a variety of issues arising from this as well as objections from other parts of philosophy and areas beyond it.

Jacoby Adeshei Carter (John Jay College, CUNY)

  • Public Colloquium: "Inter-American Philosophy of Race: José Vasconcelos, Alain Locke, and José Martí on Race and Nationality."
  • Thursday, October 27th, 6:00-8:00 pm
  • MCOM 57

Abstract:The following paper is divided into four parts. The first three sections offer a critical presentation of three different theories of race, those advanced by José Vasconcelos, Alain Locke, and José Martí and the last considers the value of an inter-American approach to philosophy of race. All three of these thinkers radically reconceived the concept of race and argued, for different reasons, in favor of the radical transformation, if not elimination, of races. Against Vasconcelos, Martí argues that the supposed superiority of the "Cosmic Race" is false, that the notion of racial amalgamation itself reifies racial difference, and that all forms of racialism obstruct the success of an independent nation. Against Locke, Martí argues that even racialism aimed at social uplift for an oppressed group perpetuates racism, and that racial identification impedes individuals' abilities to form more meaningful associations. The aim is to engage in an inter-American exploration of attempts to overcome race as a barrier to a broader cosmopolitan outlook. In the end, I argue that this Inter-American philosophical approach to race has theoretical, practical and historical advantages.

Jacoby Adeshei Carter (John Jay College, CUNY)

  • Department Colloquium: "Alain Locke's Critical Pragmatist Philosophy of Ethnic Race"
  • Friday, October 28th, 4:00-6:00 pm
  • ENG/PHIL 264

Abstract: Michael Omi and Howard Winant present in their book Racial Formation in the United States three paradigms of race: the ethnicity theory of race, the class-based theory of race, and the nation-based theory of race. This paper will focus on the first of these three paradigms: the ethnicity theory of racial formation. Key to that theoretical perspective is the view that races are cultural, rather than, biological groups. As such, the boundaries that demarcate racialized populations are not static and fixed. For this reason, the concepts of assimilation and cultural pluralism are essential features of the ethnic theory of race. The African American pragmatist philosopher Alain L. Locke is arguably a representative of the ethnicity paradigm of race. However, it is argued in this paper that Locke's philosophy of race represents a critical pragmatist version of the ethnicity theory of race that avoids many of the criticism aimed at that paradigm. The paper considers assimilation as a racial program/practice that Locke advocated early in his career. It is further argued that Locke begins as an assimilationist but as his philosophy of race becomes more critical, he is compelled to abandon that position in favor of cultural pluralism. The paper ends with a presentation of cultural pluralism as Locke's mature philosophy of race, one that is informed by aspects of the African American intellectual tradition that make it a more critical philosophy of race than any pragmatist alternatives.

Jameliah Shorter Bournahou (Georgia College and State University)

  • Public Colloquium: "Universalism and Postraciality"
  • Thursday, November 10th, 6:00-8:00 pm
  • PHIL 260

Abstract: Whenever racism and racial equality are being discussed in my college classroom, the first thing that most of my students say is that, "we are all humans." My students do not know what they are actually saying. While they do not mean any harm by this statement, they do intend for this "fact", supported by biology and political correctness to quell any and all current concerns about racial equality.

In the 2014 MTV survey on millennials and bias, over 84% of respondents said that issues with race are in the past. With regard to personal encounters with racialized experiences such as microaggressions, young people of color were over twice as likely to say that they had been personally affected. However, despite their lived experiences, they were against affirmative action as firmly as whites because of their commitment to equality (65% and 70%, respectively). It is this commitment to a universalized notion of equality that is, at bottom, supported by a firm belief in universalism, despite being problematic. Namely, many young people support the ideal of universal equality in spite of the continued disenfranchisement of African-Americans.

In this paper, I explore one of the central tenets of postraciality, the claim that "we are all humans." I argue that this claim has its roots in a problematic understanding of universality that is in fact less equitable than it seems. I offer some ways in which we can reevaluate this statement that opens new possibilities for meaningful dialogue in the college classroom and in the public about racial equality.

Jameliah Shorter Bournahou (Georgia College and State University)

  • Department Colloquium: "The Illusion of Equality in Kantian Cosmopolitanism"
  • Friday, November 11th, 4:00-6:00 pm
  • ENG/PHIL 264

Abstract: Some scholars argue that Kant is universally egalitarian because in the essay "Toward Perpetual Peace" (1795), Kant offers new provisions that displace the racist views that he previously held in the essays on race of the 1780s. This argument presumes that Kant's cosmopolitan philosophy is synonymous with universal egalitarianism because it is understood to be opposed to inequality. In this paper, I argue that Kant's cosmopolitan philosophy is not universally egalitarian and in fact allows for inequality. I refer to a lesser recognized discussion Kant has in "Toward Perpetual Peace" where he argues that the cosmopolitan goal is to unify the nations and not the moral improvement of the species which would presumably establish universal egalitarianism.


Department of Philosophy