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Philosophy Talks 2015-16

Fall 2015 Speaker Series

Francesca di Poppa, Texas Tech University

Department Colloquium: Superstition and Piety in Spinoza's Theological Political Treatise

Friday, September 18, 3:00 pm

Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: Superstition is usually defined in terms of epistemic or psychological features. While it is acknowledged that superstitious beliefs and practices have important political consequences, the nature of superstition per se is defined independently of its political implications. This is also how most 'commentators have read the concept of superstition in Spinoza's Theological Political Treatise (TTP): according to them, superstitious beliefs are characterized by features such as irrationality and aggressive anti-intellectualism. In this paper, I will argue that superstition is, for Spinoza, an exclusively political concept. In particular, Spinoza defines as "superstitious" religious beliefs, attitudes, and practices that create demands that compete with the obedience that citizens owe their rulers. This strategy allows Spinoza to make "superstition" a concept that is relative to the political concept, and is related in important ways to his discussions of "libertas philosophandi" and seditious speech.


Anne Eaton, University of Illinois, Chicago

Public Lecture: A Lady on the Street But a Freak in the Bed: On the Distinction Between Erotic Art and Pornography

Thursday, September 24, 5:30 pm

Foreign Languages 105

Abstract: How, if at all, are we to distinguish between the works that we call "art" and those that we call "pornography"? This question gets a grip because from Classical Greek vases and the frescoes of Pompeii to Renaissance mythological painting and sculpture to Modernist prints, the European artistic tradition is chocked full of art that looks a lot like pornography. In this paper I propose a way of thinking about the distinction that is grounded in art historical considerations regarding the function of erotic images in 16th century Italy. This exploration suggests that the root of the erotic art/ pornography distinction was – at least in this context - class: in particular, the need for a special category of unsanctioned illicit images arose at the very time when print culture was beginning to threaten elite privilege. What made an erotic representation exceed the boundaries of acceptability, I suggest, was not its extreme sexuality but, rather, its widespread availability and, thereby, its threat to one of the mechanisms of sustaining class privilege.


Anne Eaton, University of Illinois, Chicago

Department Colloquium: Artifact Function

Friday, September 25, 3:30 pm

Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: How do artifacts get their functions? It is typically thought that an artifact's function depends on its maker's intentions. I argue that this common understanding is fatally flawed. Nor, I argue, can artifact function be understood in terms of current uses or capacities. Instead, I propose that we understand artifact function on the etiological model that Millikan and others have proposed for the biological realm. This model offers a robustly normative conception of function, but it does so naturalistically by employing our best scientific theories, in particular natural selection. To help make this case, I propose "living artifacts" (organisms designed for human purposes through artificial selection) as a bridge between the artifactual and the biological realms.