[Department of Philosophy, University of Saskatchewan, 100 Years]

Philosophy in the Community: 2013-2014 Schedule

Oct. 9 "Freedom, Responsibility and Morality"

Professor Emer O’Hagan

If we don’t freely choose our actions, can we reasonably be held responsible for what we do?  In this talk I will discuss some of the relations between freedom, responsibility, and morality. I will focus on those theories of freedom that suggest that freedom is nothing more than being moved by one's deepest desires, or deepest self.  While such views of freedom have merit, they have been objected to on the grounds that the deepest desires of some persons could be "insane." This leads us to consider whether or not true freedom requires morality, and how we should think about the nature of moral responsibility.

Nov. 13 "Can We Learn About the World by Just Thinking?"

Geordie McComb, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto

The answer seems to be no.  After all, you can't find out what a pineapple tastes like without tasting one.  Yet scientists and philosophers have often learned about the world using "thought experiments"—that is, just by thinking in a certain way.  How could this be?  To illustrate the problem, consider a couple of examples.  First, do masses fall twice as fast when they're twice as heavy?  No, said Galileo, they fall at the same speed, and to find this out we need only imagine a couple falling stones and do a little reasoning.  Second, if a fetus is a person, and if all people have a right to life, is abortion obviously impermissible?  No, says philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, and we can come to see this just by thinking about a certain imaginary violinist.  Over the past 25 years, philosophers have argued for a number of fascinating accounts of how we can use these and other thought experiments to learn about the world.  We will have a look at some of the most prominent accounts, and discuss several important objections.

Dec. 11

"The Ethics of Biotechnological Human Enhancement"

Professor William Buschert

Some athletes take steroids. Some students take drugs to enable them to concentrate better or study longer. Some people undergo elective cosmetic surgery and other procedures in order to look better or younger. Some parents have their embryos genetically tested, or choose gametes from screened donors, in order to have children with qualities that they value. All of these things have been going on for quite some time and, for just as long, ethicists have raised various worries about them. In this talk I will review some of those worries (and dismiss most of them). In recent years, however, some philosophers have argued in favour of some forms of biotechnological human enhancement, specifically cognitive enhancement and “moral enhancement.” My main focus will be on enhancements of this sort. Is it morally permissible for individuals to choose to enhance themselves in these ways?  If so, what might the implications be for our understanding of justice? Assuming it is left up to choice, which enhancements will people choose (and which will they reject)? On the other hand, might it be the case, as some theorists have argued, that we have a moral obligation to enhance ourselves so as to become ‘better’ moral agents? If so, what implications might this have for our understanding of human autonomy?


Jan 8

“Philosophical Inquiry, Educational Standards and Freedom”

Professor Erin Delathower

The role philosophy plays in education is often unexamined, despite philosophy’s historical and methodological connection to inquiry based learning. Given the importance of education to the community, many philosophers care very deeply about the subject. Plato, Rousseau, and Dewey (to name just a few) each took education to be a fundamentally important philosophical endeavor. That said, it is not just up to philosophers to examine the role of philosophy in education. This is so, in part, because the inquiry process is most effective in social matters when the community of inquiry is widely inclusive.

In this talk I will suggest that a potential risk of not examining the role of philosophical inquiry in education is that our standards of education – the expectations we have of ourselves to affect our own lives, for instance – may thereby become compromised. Furthermore, when education is the topic of philosophical inquiry, one benefit is that the inquiry process itself becomes a measure of the degree of freedom a community agrees upon having, resulting in the clarification of that community's educational standards. I support this hypothesis by way of empirical evidence drawn from the experience of teaching Philosophy in Education: Introduction to Philosophy for Children.

Feb 12 "Reasons that Explain, Reasons that Justify"

Dr. Alex Beldan

There are commonly taken to be two kinds of reasons for action. There are, on the one hand, the reasons that best explain our actions, often called motivating reasons. Motivating reasons are the reasons for which we do act. These reasons are commonly taken to be elements of the psychology of the person acting – the person's desires and beliefs. On the other hand, there are reasons which justify our actions, often called normative reasons. These are the reasons for which we should act, which are usually taken to be facts of the matter. The different natures of motivating and normative reasons lead some to conclude that normative reasons, if they are facts of the matter, aren't really reasons at all. This creates a problem for those, like myself, who think that there are moral facts that give us normative reasons to do certain actions, regardless of what any person is actually motivated to do. In my talk, I will examine and discuss a number of possible solutions to this problem.

Mar. 12 "Life as Art"

Professor Eric Dayton

Granted that there is an art to living well, can (or even should) one make one’s life into a work of art? Attempting to answer this question, I will canvas some views on what could constitute a legitimate aim of living, draw some distinctions, and in the end argue that there is a confusion between the idea that 'life has to be worked at to be good' and 'that life has to become a work of art in order to be good’.

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