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

Philosophy in the Community: 2014-15 Schedule

Sep. 10 "Self-Unity, Action and Identity"

Professor Emer O'Hagan

If a person is not united over time by an essential self, or a soul, then must we give up on thinking of ourselves as selves? Some have argued that selves are united over time by action. When we decide what to do we identify with a reason and create a sense of what we are like that continues into the future. On this view selves are pragmatically real and constructed. I will outline the arguments in favour of this view and then complicate matters by advancing some examples which seem to count as cases of self-constitution and involve identification, but do not involve action. I’ll suggest that the unifying force of identification is also present in cases of accurate self-recognition, when we come to see ourselves from a new perspective.

Oct. 08 "Philosophical Urbanism"

Professor Avi Akkerman
(Department of Geography and Planning)

Some recent reflections upon the built environment have related urban design with what has been termed Dionysian and Apollonian dispositions of the arts. The Dionysian is an artistic expression that emphasizes time or temporal flows as its medium, and these include poetry and other literary forms, music, or dance. The Apollonian is an artistic expression that emphasizes space, such as painting, sculpture, or architecture. The Dionysian often represents femininity, while the Apollonian often represents masculinity. Where does urban design or urban planning fit? This question is not of a merely scholastic nature. The Philosophical Urbanism of Walter Benjamin has shown almost a hundred years ago that there is linkage between city-form and mind. Benjamin points out that this linkage suggests a psychoanalytic discourse related to foundational gender aspects in the process of urban design. In the contemporary milieu of urban society, policy and politics, such a discourse has its own significance. Its implications upon gender representation in the built environment, i.e. our own city-form, are of particular significance.

Nov. 12 "Multiculturalism, Individuality, and State Neutrality"

Devin Ens

In a liberal democracy the state does not mandate a conception of the good life for its citizens, but instead leaves individuals to pursue the good as they see fit. This commitment to both individual freedom and state neutrality can lead us to ask whether there can be conflicts between individual rights and group rights. Does multicultural accommodation, for example, allow for discrimination in certain cases? What is a culture, anyway? How is a "culture" to be distinguished from a "subculture"? In this talk I will address some of the philosophical problems behind these issues and promote discussion of them.

Dec. 10 "Robot Ethics: Can Machines Be 'Moral'?

Professor William Buschert

Ever since the term “robot” was first introduced by Karel Čapek in 1920 science fiction has been preparing us to believe that robots are capable of morally bad behaviour. Yet while fictional robots are often portrayed as fully-fledged moral agents, capable of self-directed, autonomous action and possessing distinctive moral character, many people continue to believe that, in actuality, robots will never be capable of ‘real’ moral agency. For many years this was an essentially speculative, ‘merely philosophical’ topic. In recent years, however, it has assumed increasing practical significance. In the already-upon-us world of driverless cars, military robots, and automated financial software systems, questions about how (or whether) morality can be programmed into machines are becoming more and more acute. This talk will explore some of those questions, including questions about what the investigation of machine ethics might be able to tell us about the nature of morality generally.

Jan. 14 "Addiction, Autonomy and Authenticity"

Professor Sarah Hoffman

Our world is saturated in drugs. From prescribed medications, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, to stigmatized and criminally controlled substances, it is hard to imagine a life untouched in some way by drugs. The problems caused by drug addiction are impossible to see as anything but gravely serious, even tragic. But are psychoactive drugs always negative and threatening? Might they sometimes enhance autonomy or allow individuals to live more authentically? In this talk I take up this issue and survey the complicated conceptual terrain revealed by reflecting on freedom and compulsion, autonomy and responsibility, and artificiality and authenticity through the lens of drug use and addiction.


Feb. 11 "Free Will and Moral Responsibility: What Does It Mean to Be Free?"

Matthew Dean

Am I writing these words of my own free will? I endorse the activity as consistent with my past actions: I am not acting out of character. My actions do not appear externally caused by illness, phobia, intoxication, or threats. My actions feel internally caused and free from coercion. By any common definition of free will, then, my actions count as free. However, hard determinism is one side of a millennia-old debate within philosophy that argues that because I am not an uncaused cause, that all my future behavior is the result of previous causes, free will is an illusion. Said another way, I may will how I act, but I may not will what I will (Schopenhauer). Hard determinism's thesis has unsettling conclusions: the decisions one makes are not a matter of the will, there is no metaphysical "I" and moral responsibility may be impossible. I will present recent arguments for and against the existence of free will, with a particular focus on the consequences of each for moral responsibility, criminal justice, and interpersonal relationships.

Mar. 11
“Vice and Harm Reduction Strategies.”

Professor Sarah Hoffman

Behaviours considered vices in many quarters cause a lot of social problems and harms to health. Many arise in part because activities like drug use and sex work are criminalized, and the people involved in them lack information and strategies to protect themselves. Harm reduction approaches assume that people will engage in these risky but pleasurable behaviours despite social ostracization; they seek to prevent avoidable harms and nonjudgementally arm people with protective information whether through safe injection sites, provision of condoms, needle exchanges, workshops on safer sex or drug use or other related things. These approaches have been criticized as encouraging dangerous and socially negative behaviours. In this talk I will consider the arguments in this area, arguing myself that harm reduction strategies are the wise and moral thing to do.

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