Mark the date! The next World Philosophy Day will be on Thursday, 16 November 2023, and our keynote talk will be at 6pm ET in a location to be determined.
The speaker will be Prof. Lewis Gordon of the University of Connecticut, on “From Harlem to the World: Philosophy from a Center of the Black World with Questions for the 21st Century.” Gordon will talk about worldliness and public aspects of philosophy, placing them in the context of Harlem both at City College and the public world of Africana philosophy from Du Bois to Malcolm X to contemporaries such as Nathalie Etoke. He will conclude with a set of questions for 21st century philosophy to consider.
Lewis R. Gordon is Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy at UCONN-Storrs; Honorary President of the Global Center for Advanced Studies; Honorary Professor in the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University, South Africa; and Distinguished Scholar at The Most Honourable PJ Patterson Centre for Africa-Caribbean Advocacy at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He co-edits the journal Philosophy and Global Affairs, the Rowman & Littlefield book series Global Critical Caribbean Thought, and the Routledge-India book series Academics, Politics and Society in the Post-Covid World. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization (Routledge, 2021) and Fear of Black Consciousness (hardcover, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022; in the UK, London: Penguin Books, 2022), Picador paperback 2023. He is the 2022 recipient of the Eminent Scholar Award from the Global Development Studies division of the International Studies Association.
The 2022 speaker was Prof. Jenann Ismael, from Columbia University. The title of her talk was: Time and Visual Imagination — From Physics to Philosophy. There are few scientific advances with the kind of revolutionary philosophical import of the theory of relativity. Aside from being perhaps the most beautiful theory in the history of science, it induced a profound change in our ideas of space and time, presenting them as different dimensions in a static four-dimensional manifold of events. The reaction to the theory was immediate and divided. Some (e.g., Bergson) said that physics had lost touch with everything that is essential to time as we know it. Others (following unfortunate language from Einstein) said that physics had shown that the passage of time was an illusion. I want to step back from the controversy and talk about the visual imagination, because I think it is behind a deep misunderstanding about what relativity teaches us about the nature of time. I’ll start with a brief history of space-time theories, then I’ll talk about the images of time coming out of physics and the philosophical confusions to which they give rise. There will be some wider lessons here about the difference between an internal and external perspective on the world. The talk will presuppose no physics and there will be lots of pretty pictures.
Jenann Ismael received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton in 1997. Her areas of specialization are philosophy of physics, metaphysics, philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind. Bas Van Fraassen was her primary advisor and David Albert and Paul Benacerraf were on her committee. Ismael has held various fellowships, including a Mellon Fellowship at Stanford, an NEH fellowship at the National Humanities Center, a QEII fellowship at the Centre for Time in Sydney, a fellowship at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and fellowships from the Templeton Foundation and FQXi.
Our 2021 keynote speaker was Peter Adamson, author of the best selling series “A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps,” based on the ongoing podcast by the same title. The title of Peter’s talk was: Philosophy is the History of Philosophy. In this lecture Peter considers the provocative thesis that the history of philosophy, rather than being a merely antiquarian pursuit or a source of inspiration for today’s philosophers, is in fact simply identical with philosophy itself. To make this plausible, he begins by pointing out how vast the history of philosophy, across times, places, and cultures has been, thus casting doubt on the claim of contemporary philosophy to be definitive of the subject. Peter goes on to suggest that philosophy can be seen as a kind of “map” depicting the interrelations of ideas: in particular between answers to certain core questions recognized as “philosophical,” which in turn raise further questions and implications. This has implications for the way we should teach philosophy and think about the relevance of non-European philosophical traditions. It also puts contemporary philosophy in a new light, revealing it to be simply the latest phase in the history of philosophy as a whole.
Peter Adamson is professor of philosophy in late antiquity and in the Islamic world at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich as well as professor of ancient and medieval philosophy at King’s College London. Aside from articles, monographs, and edited books, he is known for hosting the weekly podcast “History of Philosophy without any gaps”, which has also been turned into a book series, surpassing 25 million downloads by 2019. The podcast has gone through 350 episodes from Pre-Socratic philosophy up to Renaissance philosophy, as well as special series on Indian philosophy (with co-author Jonardon Ganeri), African/Africana philosophy (with co-author Chike Jeffers), and Chinese philosophy (planned, with co-author Karyn Lai). Peter received the Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2003 for “outstanding research achievements of young scholars of distinction and promise based in UK institutions.”
Our 2020 keynote speaker was David Chalmers with a talk 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.
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.
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.” 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.
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 2018 WPD lunch speaker was Simone Gubler. 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.
Gubler 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.
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. Cleary’s existential study of romantic loving draws on five existential philosophers to offer insights into what is wrong with our everyday ideas about romantic loving, why reality often falls short of the ideal, what can be done to overcome frustrations and disappointments, and possibilities for creating authentically meaningful relationships. Cleary argues that existential philosophies reveal to us the notion that once lovers free themselves from preconceived ideals about how romantic lovers ought to behave, and free themselves from being slaves to their passions, they will be free to create relationships that complement and enhance their personal authentic endeavors.
Prof. Cleary 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.
The 2016 WPD keynote speaker was Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, the 2014 winner of the National Humanities Medal. She presented a talk on Plato at the Googleplex: “Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away.” Is philosophy obsolete? Are the ancient questions still relevant in the age of cosmology and neuroscience, not to mention crowd-sourcing and cable news? The acclaimed philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein provides a dazzlingly original plunge into the drama of philosophy, revealing its hidden role in today’s debates on religion, morality, politics, and science.
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). He gave a talk on “The most good you can do: effectively aiding humans and other animals.” Effective altruism is a philosophical and social movement that advocates using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis.
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. Peter 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 2014 WPD speaker was Linda Alcoff (Hunter College). Her talk was on “What philosophy can contribute to the global resistance against rape.” She aims to correct the misleading language of public debate about rape and sexual violence by showing how complex our experiences of sexual violation can be. Although it is survivors who have galvanized movements like #MeToo, when their words enter the public arena they can be manipulated or interpreted in a way that damages their effectiveness. Rather than assuming that all experiences of sexual violence are universal, we need to be more sensitive to the local and personal contexts — who is speaking and in what circumstances — that affect how activists’ and survivors’ protests will be received and understood.
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. Linda’s 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).