Texas Tech University

Philosophy Talks 2015-16

Spring 2016 Speaker Series

Costica Bradatan, TTU Honors College

  • Department Colloquium: In Praise of Failure
  • Friday, March 4th, 3:30 pm
  • Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: This paper is part of a larger, book-length study into the phenomenology of failure, provisionally titled "In Praise of Failure. A Manifesto for Humility." It makes the argument that, because of our culture's obsession with success, we miss something important about what it means to be human, and deny ourselves access to a deeper, more meaningful layer of our humanity. A sense of what we are in the grand scheme of things, an openness towards the unknown and the mysterious, humility and reverence towards that which transcends and overwhelms us - these are some of the rewards that a proper grasp of failure could bring about. I will briefly introduce the project, place it within a Gnostic theological perspective, relate it to the thinking of French-Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran, and present a sketch of the opening chapter.

Roberta Millstein, UC Davis

  • Graduate Student Conference Keynote Address: Rethinking Aldo Leopold's Land Community Concept
  • Friday, April 8th, 4:00pm
  • MCOM 075

Abstract: The "land community" (or "biotic community") that features centrally in Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic has typi- cally been equated with the concept of "ecosystem." Moreover, some have challenged this central Leopoldean concept given the multitude of meanings of the term "ecosystem" and the changes the term has undergone since Leopold's time (see, e.g., Shrader-Frechette 1996). Even one of Leopold's primary defenders, J. Baird Callicott, asserts that there are difficulties in identifying the boundaries of ecosystems and suggests that we recognize that their boundaries are de- termined by scientific questions ecologists pose (Callicott 2013). I argue that we need to rethink Leopold's concept of land community in the following ways. First, we should recognize that Leopold's views are not identical to those of his contemporaries (e.g., Clements, Elton), although they resemble those of some subsequent ecologists, including some of our contemporaries (e.g., O'Neill 2001, Post et al. 2007, Hastings and Gross 2012). Second, the land community concept does not map cleanly onto the concept of "ecosystem"; it also incorporates elements of the "community" con- cept in community ecology by emphasizing the interactions between organisms and not just the matter/energy flow of the ecosystem concept. Third, the boundary question can be illuminated by considering some of the recent literature on the nature of biological individuals (in particular, Odenbaugh 2007; Hamilton, Smith, and Haber 2009; Millstein 2009), focusing on concentrations of causal relations as determinative of the boundaries of the land community qua individual. There are challenges to be worked out, particularly when the interactions of community members do not map cleanly onto matter/energy flows, but I argue that these challenges can be resolved. The result is a defensible land community concept that is ontologically robust enough to be a locus of moral obligation while being consistent with contemporary ecological theory and practice.

Mark Webb, TTU Philosophy

  • Department Colloquium: Communication v. Excommunication: a gap in Alston's Doxastic-Practice Epistemology
  • Thursday, April 14th, 3:30 pm [DATE CHANGED]
  • Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: William Alston's defense of religious experience depends on his deployment of doxastic-practice epistemology. He argues that any socially established doxastic practice that avoids massive internal contradictions, and contradictions with other equally-well established practices is rational to engage in, and so is rational to suppose it to be reliable. He argues that the Christian practice of forming beliefs on the basis of religious experiences meets this criterion. Suppose he is right: one consequence is that the same kind of defense is available for religious doxastic practices inconsistent with the Christian practice. This by itself is not necessarily a problem, but it points to a gap in his story. It matters how the practice gets established, and it also matters how it manages to avoid contradictions.

R. Lanier Anderson, Stanford University

  • Public Lecture: Is Clarissa Dalloway Special?
  • Thursday, April 21st, 5:30 pm [DATE CHANGED]
  • Location: MCOM 057

Abstract: Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway engages in a sustained exploration of a remarkable and powerful form of connection between consciousnesses. The character Clarissa Dalloway seems to be able (or to imagine herself able) not only to apprehend the thoughts and feelings of others, but to think, imagine, and feel herself in and along with the other people around her—a version of the "extended mind" hypothesis that is much more radical that those lately brought to philosophical prominence by Clark and Chalmers (1998), which even seems to have pan-psychist implications. The novel, however, complicates our view of Clarissa, providing some evidence that its intimations of her having an extraordinary form of socio-psychological sensitivity are to be taken seriously, and others indicating that in judging so we might be being taken in by self-justifying confabulations on Clarissa's part. In the end, powerful stylistic devices in the novel (in particular, some characteristic deployments of free indirect style) are analyzed to suggest an answer to the question whether or not (in the world of the novel) Clarissa Dalloway has a special psychological sensitivity, and what that would show about our own, essentially finite human condition.

R. Lanier Anderson, Stanford University

  • Department Colloquium: Kant's Analytic/Synthetic Distinction and the Critique of Metaphysics
  • Friday, April 22nd, 3:30 pm [DATE CHANGED]
  • Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: In The Poverty of Conceptual Truth (OUP 2015) I argue that Kant's (remarkably successful) attack on traditional rationalist metaphysics in the Leibnizian/Wolffian mold rest on a remarkably simple basis. The Leibnizians sought to develop a fully adequate system of metaphysics that would reveal the rational basis of the world in that every truth could be represented as a conceptual one, resting on containment relations among its constituent concepts. Such truths count as analyticities sensu Kant, and that indicates the basis for his critique. If there is a foundational distinction between analytic and synthetic truths, so that some scientifically indispensable truths are irreducibly synthetic, then a metaphysical system of the Leibnizian sort could never capture them. The entire research program of traditional metaphysics would be doomed by the narrow expressive limits on conceptual truth. To make this argument stick, it is imperative to have a precise and defensible boundary establishing the expressive limits of conceptual truth, and to show why, in detail, key mathematical and metaphysical knowledge belongs on the synthetic side of that line. This talk outlines the basic shape of the detailed considerations in support of these points that I develop in Poverty.


Peter Muhlberger, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Public Policy Center / OECD Global Science Forum Member--Experts Group on New Data Social Research

  • Big Data Changes Everything: The Shifting Ethical Ground of Big Data Social Research
  • Monday, May 9th, 7:00 pm
  • Eng/Phil 264

Abstract: Big data social research has both substantial quantitative and qualitative differences from much of what has heretofore constituted academic social science research. Some fundamental changes include a much enhanced capacity to link data with or without personal identifiers, the transfer of substantial social and economic activity into an online setting in which volumes of data can be collected on individuals and utilized to structure the online and offline environments of these individuals, and the ecosystem of corporate, political, and governmental institutions that collect voluminous data and utilize big data social research. While big data social research will have very beneficial uses and implications, the new context of social research also poses substantial ethical threats. These include threats to privacy and privacy-related concerns as well as much enhanced capabilities for invisible manipulation of consumers and citizens. This talk will examine the kinds of ethical dangers these changes pose. These dangers will be clarified through an analysis of the critical functions played by privacy and the meaning of "manipulation." Both privacy functions and freedom from manipulation could be compromised by big data and its institutional ecosystem. The dangers of big data will also be clarified by an examination of real-world examples of ethical issues in big data social research.


Department of Philosophy