2016 Minnesota Philosophical Society Meeting

November 5

Winona Sate University

Minne Hall






"Teaching Effective Altruism"  Monica Janzen  and Jeff Johnson

In this discussion session, Monica Janzen and I will talk about some novel approaches we’ve been taking in teaching practical ethics. For the sake of a particular examples, we will focus in on teaching effective altruism (the view that we ought to use reason and evidence to try to help others as much as we can). We'll begin by highlighting some of the motivations for these approaches to teaching. Then we'll outline the course and the materials we use. We’ll devote a good bit of time to describing a number of unconventional course activities. We’ll discuss some tips about how to make space for students to explore their own thinking on the issues. And we’ll close by having folks in the room participate in one of our activities.


"The Logic of the Broken" Robyn Gaier

It is commonly thought that those who suffer from depression (as a mental illness) are prone to thinking illogically due to their depressive state of being. In this paper, I offer a challenge to the claim that persons with depression engage in illogical thinking by focusing upon how agency may be impaired through depression. I will begin by briefly examining a definition of “illogical” before proceeding to offer an account of how the stated beliefs and observed actions of persons suffering from depression may appear to be illogical. I will conclude by highlighting a couple of the implications that follow if, in fact, the charge of illogical thinking among depressed persons is found wanting.


"On the Concept of the Buddha-Nature"  Chang-seong Hong and Sun K. Yu

Zen and other East Asian Buddhist traditions have accepted the existence of the Buddha-Nature and developed their philosophical views based on its universal presence. But the concept of the Buddha-Nature cannot be separated from the concept of Brahmanical atman. This close association with the essentialist and realist view of non-Buddhist philosophy has recently stirred up much debate initiated mostly by the circle of Critical Buddhists in Japan. This essay aims to show a way to incorporate the notion of the Buddha-Nature within the Buddhist philosophical system. This project is completed by interpreting “the Buddha-Nature” as a second-order designator of a physical and/or psychological state of a Buddhist practitioner that is optimally conducive to the achievement of his or her enlightenment on a given occasion. 


"'Comparisons in Guilt Argument' for Moral Realism"  Patrick Clipsham

Some of the most common and influential arguments against moral realism turn on the metaphysical or epistemological strangeness of categorical moral reasons (for prominent examples, see Mackie 1977, Joyce 2001, and Pigden 2010). Many defenders of categorical moral reasons respond to this line of argument by pointing out the similarities between moral and other normative reasons. This argumentative tactic has come to be known as the ‘companions in guilt argument’ or, as I will refer to it, the ‘CIGAr.’ Because of the popularity of this type of argument, a number of philosophers have sought to respond to it. My goal in this paper is to engage with two responses to the CIGAr that have been proposed by Christopher Cowie (2014, 2015) and Stan Husi (2011).


"Time and the Gorilla"  Jason Ford

I examine how changing various features of Simons and Chabris's Gorilla experiment impact the rates at which subjects report seeing the person in the gorilla suit. The results I would like to present will provide evidence that inattentional blindness is not related to memory, that subjects are paying more attention to the task at the outset than they are as it progresses, and that if subjects are peripherally aware of the person in the gorilla suit, they are not seeing her as a gorilla.


"Postmodern Emerson and the Sorites of Ethical Difference"  Richard Gilmore

Cornell West, I believe, was one of the first to make the connection of Emerson with postmodernism in his The American Evasion of Philosophy in 1989.  The typical way of treating Emerson’s relation to the postmodern is as a precursor to and, via Nietzsche (and those that Nietzsche influenced—Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida), an influence on postmodernism.  This is, for example, the tact taken by George Stack and Mary DiMaria in their essay “Emerson and Postmodernism.”  I will be doing something a bit different in this essay.  I will be reading some passages from Emerson in light of some passages by a postmodernist feminist writer, Luce Irigaray, to reveal some remarkable similarities between the two.  I am not treating Emerson as an influence on postmodernism, but as already postmodern avant la lettre.


"Can Something be Both Offensive and meaningless?"  Alexis Elder

How can someone find an action both meaningless and (justifiably) offensive? For example, the Mormon practice of proxy-baptizing Jewish holocaust victims offends living members of the Jewish community, even though they do not believe that these baptisms are efficacious. I consider a variety of cases in which offended parties seem, intuitively, to be both justified in being offended, and simultaneously truthful in reporting that the offensive actions are, by their own lights, meaningless. After surveying extant accounts intended to provide frameworks for understanding such scenarios as failures of intercultural respect, I identify problems with each, and propose a revised approach. I conclude that the problematic cases of offense surveyed here are explained by the cross-cultural value of reciprocal respect.


"Pritchard's Neo-Wittgensteinian Epistemological Disjunctivism"  Joshua Stuchlik

Duncan Pritchard proposes a biscopic solution to the problem of radical skepticism, which consists in epistemological disjunctivism and a theory about the limits of rational evaluation inspired by Wittgenstein’s On Certainty. According to the latter theory, we cannot have rationally grounded knowledge of the denials of radical skeptical hypotheses, a consequence that Pritchard finds attractive insofar as he thinks that claims to know the falsity of radical skeptical hypotheses are epistemically immodest. I raise objections to the Wittgensteinian proposal, and I question whether Pritchard’s concession to skepticism is an advantage over a neo-Moorean version of epistemological disjunctivism.


"Parsimony, Methodology, and Causal Closure: Can the Supernaturalist Compete?"  Eric Kraemer

In his recent discussion comparing naturalism and supernaturalism, Robert Audi examines three general claims that naturalists typically take to provide decisive philosophical advantage for naturalism over its supernatural rivals.  These include [1] Occam’s Razor, [2] the Success of Methodological Naturalism, and [3] Causal Closure.  In this paper after examining his attempts to press the traditional difficulties for naturalists and his defensive efforts against the standard naturalist advantages, I will argue that in spite of Audi’s best efforts to the contrary to date, the naturalist program continues to enjoy significant philosophical advantages over and, thus, to be rationally preferable to supernaturalism.


"Eudaimonist Ethics and the Distribution of Healthcare Resources"  Martin Gunderson

Martha Nussbaum grounds her version of the capabilities approach in a surprising variety of philosophical sources.  Several decades ago she attempted to derive the capabilities approach from Aristotle’s ethics and political theory and even argued that a properly tweaked Aristotle could be interpreted as a social democratic.  In more recent work she uses notions of dignity and democratic process rather than appealing directly to Aristotle’s eudaimonist ethics to determine thresholds of the capabilities to which all citizens are entitled.  I believe that Nussbaum is correct that the eudaimonist ethics developed by Aristotle and the Stoics can provide helpful insights on the distribution of socioeconomic resources.  My goal is to note the sort of guidance that can be achieved in determining state entitlements in the distribution of health resources by appealing directly to Aristotelian virtues.  The surprising results include government support of euthanasia and abortion under certain circumstances as well as prioritizing medical care for the young rather than the elderly.


“Gyges of Lydia: A Comparative Ethical Analysis of the Herodean and Platonic Myths”  Richard Berg

Both Herodotus and Plato tell the tale of a Gyges who kills the king of Lydia and marries the queen he has widowed, thus replacing him as king. Although they recount basically the same story, Plato's myth of Gyges the shepherd at Republic 359e-360b, and the tale of Gyges the king's bodyguard told by Herodotus at Histories I.7-13, are not much compared in the literature from the ethical point of view which I attempt to set in three contexts: their historical setting, the Platonic and Herodean literary frameworks, and what modern scholarship has to say about them. When these tales of Herodotus and Plato are compared with one another, the comparison gives insight into the respective social status of men and women in their cultural context and the moral privilege that status confers, but most importantly it gives insight into a secret desire that haunts us still. 


"Classification Scheme for Moral Universalization"  Scott Forschler

A variety of moral universalizability tests have been proposed by moral philosophers. Debates over their relative merits and features are often confused due to a failure to analyze them into discrete components. I identify three: a universalization condition, a test predicate to be applied therein, and specific satisfaction conditions for the test predicate. Once distinguished, we can more easily evaluate the different tests for soundness and plausibility.


"Paternalism is Paternalism!!"  Marisol Brito

“You don’t want blueberries?” I asked, “But you love blueberries.” My son became more upset, and was soon on the floor shouting, “Blueberries are blue!! My blueberries are blue!!” I stood there, looking down at him, baffled by how one could be so upset over what amounted to little more than a tautology.  For adults, the world of children can often seem amusing, irrational, or downright frustrating. However, close relationships with children, such as parenting a child, present an opportunity to adopt an epistemically advantaged position that can help us to critically evaluate pervasive societal norms that reinforce childism. Building on work in critical race theory and John Stuart Mill’s notion of reciprocal superiority, this paper examines attitudes and practices that resist paternalism and can encourage us to learn from and with children, and in turn, that can open us to alternative ways of knowing and being.



Minnesota Philosophical Society,
Feb 18, 2015, 11:50 AM