Events at City College’s World Philosophy Day
Mark the date! The next World Philosophy Day will be on Thursday, 18 November 2021!
Our 2020keynote speaker was David Chalmers. David is an Australian philosopher specializing in the areas of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. David is also Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science, and a Director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness (along with Ned Block) at New York University. In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. His books include The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory; The Character of Consciousness; and Constructing The World.
David’s talk was on “Consciousness and moral status.” Under what conditions does a creature matter morally? Do only conscious beings matter? If so, what sort of consciousness is required? The popular “sentientist” view holds that the capacity for positively and negatively valenced experiences, such as pleasure and suffering, is required for moral status. I’ll investigate this matter using some thought experiments involving zombies, Vulcans, and trolley problems.
The 2019 Philosophy Day took place on Thursday, November 21. Our keynote speaker was Prof. Elise Crull, from the City College of New York. She talked about “Metaphysics & the Multiverse.”
Although the idea of a multiverse has long been a staple in the realm of science fiction, of late this hypothesis has garnered increasing attention in realm of science proper. For instance, cosmologists have cited the multiverse hypothesis as motivation for deciding which sets of models to investigate, and in explaining the value of constants or choice of parameters within a given model. In this talk, I first look at the kinds of multiverses being invoked by cosmologists themselves (e.g., are they causally-independent “bubble” universes sharing a single spacetime? Or fully independent universes existing across multiple spacetimes? Etc.) I then try to get clear about the metaphysics attached — explicitly or otherwise — to these multiverses, and investigate whether this philosophical ground is sufficient for countenancing the sorts of explantations cosmologists seek. In examining these questions, we shall come to see that in as much as contemporary cosmology involves sustained and significant interpretational questions of this sort — questions which actively influence the direction of theoretical and experimental progress — it becomes a fruitful arena for dialogue between philosophers and scientists.
Elise Crull received a B.Sc (2005) in Physics from Calvin College, and holds an M.A. (2008) in Philosophy and Ph.D (2011) in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Notre Dame. Before coming to City College, Dr. Crull held post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Aberdeen and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, conducting research into the historical and philosophical foundations of quantum mechanics. In addition to work within history and philosophy of science, Crull is interested in addressing philosophical problems associated with theories of quantum gravity and traditional cosmology. She also works at the intersection of physics and metaphysics, exploring the import of quantum decoherence (and other microphysical processes) for traditional ontologies and for inter-level relations like reduction and emergence. Since her research interests are deeply interdisciplinary, Prof. Crull frequently engages with associated meta-issues such as the ethics of emergent science and technology, the perception of science and technology in the public sphere, history and philosophy of science in education, and the nature of the science-theology-philosophy triad.
The 2019 Philosophy Day lunch speaker was Prof. Ben Vilhauer, from the City College of New York. He talked about “Taking free will skepticism seriously.” We do seriously harmful things to each other in the name of free will. We say the guilty deserve to suffer because they freely did evil, and on this basis, we justify killing them, or torturing them in prison. But ideas about free will also seem fundamental to the moral reasoning which guides us to do beneficial things for each other. Reasonable people disagree about whether or not we have free will. If we take this disagreement seriously, we see that our reasons for believing in free will are not strong enough to justify seriously harmful retribution, but are strong enough to justify the beneficial things we do in the name of free will.
Prof. Vilhauer has an A.B. in Philosophy from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago. He is currently Professor and Chair of the City College Philosophy Department. His research interests include free will theory, Kantian ethics, and non-retributive approaches to the philosophy of criminal law. He has published a variety of articles on these topics in edited volumes and journals including The Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, the American Philosophical Quarterly, and the British Journal for the History of Philosophy.
The 2018 World Philosophy Day speaker at City College was Prof. Taylor Carman of Barnard College, on “Why there can be no science of ourselves.” Professor Carman is the author of Heidegger’s Analytic (2003) and Merleau-Ponty (2008; 2nd ed. forthcoming) and has coedited The Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty (2005). He has published articles on topics in phenomenology and is currently writing a book on Heidegger. His academic focus is on 19th & 20th Century European Philosophy, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Hermeneutics; especially Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, Foucault.
The natural sciences have enjoyed spectacular success and made undeniable progress over the past four centuries. By contrast, there have been no enduring and uncontroversial discoveries in the human sciences. Why? René Descartes thought it was because the mind is not part of physical nature. In a similar spirit, Jean-Paul Sartre insisted that human consciousness is a kind of nothing. Michel Foucault attributed the failure of the modern sciences of man to the paradoxical construction of their putative object, the historically contingent fiction called “man.” Others maintain that cognitive science has already sketched out a theory of human thought and that artificial intelligence will soon be a reality. Or perhaps the human brain is just too complex, and we have no idea how it works. But there is a deeper reason for the lack of success and progress in the human sciences. Any explanatory study of us must define its object on the basis, or as it were through the filter, of the necessarily prescientific self-image – our sense of who we are – that it would then analyze in terms amenable to scientific explanation.
The 2018 WPD lunch speaker was Simone Gubler. She holds a law degree from the Australian National University and is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. At present, she is based at Princeton University as a visiting student research collaborator. Her research explores issues at the intersection of ethics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of law. Her dissertation, Forgiveness in the Public Realm, deals with the role of forgiveness in secular ethics and public life. She has published works of public thought in venues including the New York Times.
What role should forgiveness play in public life? In particular, what role should forgiveness play in contexts of transitional and restorative justice – where communities are seeking ways to heal in the aftermath of serious wrongdoing? As a potential mechanism of social reconciliation, forgiveness has significant appeal. But there are problems with the promise of public forgiveness. Simone’s talk surveys three cases of forgiveness that illustrate both what is moving and powerful about private forgiveness, and why it is the sort of thing that we should refrain from seeking to effect, emulate, or facilitate in institutional contexts. While forgiveness may be an admirable moral accomplishment in the context of private relationships, it is neither an appropriate nor a practical end of state action.
The 2017 keynote address was given by Jesse Prinz, of CUNY’s Graduate Center, and was entitled “The genealogy of Western values.” Nietzsche argued that some of our most deeply cherished values can be exposed as deeply problematic when we look into their history. He was writing in 19th century Germany and focusing on “Christian values.” But what about the values that are most enshrined in contemporary “liberal” societies like our own? Most Americans, for example, would say they value freedom, equality, democracy, human rights, and empathy. Would these cherished values emerge unscathed if we looked at them through a historical lens? Perhaps not. This talk aims to show that our core values emerged through historical events that are not entirely noble, and they continue to be applied in ways that reflect their troubling past.
Jesse’s research interests include the philosophy of psychology, with an emphasis on the role on perception, emotion, and socialization of various aspects of thought and behavior. His current research projects are focused on three topics: the relationship between morality and the self; an empirically-informed defense of social constructionism; and the nature of art. Jesse has published a number of books, the most recent of which is The Conscious Brain: How Attention Engenders Experience (2016).
The 2016 WPD lunch speaker was Skye Cleary, author of Existentialism and Romantic Love. She holds a PhD and an MBA and teaches at Columbia University, Barnard College, the City University of New York, and the New York Public Library. Skye is the Managing Editor of the American Philosophical Association’s blog, an advisory board member of Strategy of Mind (a global executive learning firm), and a certified fellow with the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. Previously, she was an international equity arbitrageur and management consultant.
Her work has been published with TED-Ed, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Huffington Post, The Conversation, Business Insider, New Republic, The Philosopher’s Zone on ABC Radio National, YourTango, Aeon, Womankind, Actualise Daily and others. She is currently co-authoring a book on philosophy and cocktails with Monica McCarthy.
The 2016 WPD keynote speaker was Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, the 2014 winner of the National Humanities Medal. Rebecca graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College, receiving the Montague Prize for Excellence in Philosophy, and went on to do her PhD in Philosophy at Princeton University. She is well known for a number of fictional and non-fictional books inspired by her philosophical understanding, including The Mind-Body Problem, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, and — most recently — Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away.
In 1996 Rebecca became a MacArthur Fellow. In awarding her the prize, the MacArthur Foundation described her work in the following manner: “Rebecca Goldstein is a writer whose novels and short stories dramatize the concerns of philosophy without sacrificing the demands of imaginative storytelling. Her books tell a compelling story as they describe with wit, compassion and originality the interaction of mind and heart. In her fiction her characters confront problems of faith: religious faith and faith in an ability to comprehend the mysteries of the physical world as complementary to moral and emotional states of being. Goldstein’s writings emerge as brilliant arguments for the belief that fiction in our time may be the best vehicle for involving readers in questions of morality and existence.”
The 2015 WPD speaker was Peter Singer (Princeton University). Peter is an Australian moral philosopher. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specializes in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, utilitarian perspective.
He is known in particular for his book, Animal Liberation (1975), a canonical text in animal rights/liberation theory. For most of his career, he supported preference utilitarianism, but in his later years became a classical or hedonistic utilitarian, when co-authoring The Point of View of the Universe with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek. The title of Peter’s keynote address will be: “The most good you can do: effectively aiding humans and other animals.”
The 2014 WPD speaker was Linda Alcoff (Hunter College). Linda is the past President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association. She earned her PhD in Philosophy from Brown University, and was recognized as the distinguished Woman Philosopher of 2005 by the Society for Women in Philosophy and the APA. Her writings focus on epistemology, feminism, race theory, and existentialism.
Her interest in diversity led her to co-edit (with Paul Taylor and William Wilkerson) the Pluralist Guide to Philosophy. Linda most recently co-authored Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices: An Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies (2014). She is also the author of Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self (2009). The title of Linda’s keynote address was: “What philosophy can contribute to the global resistance against rape.”