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Episode 83: Bob Simpson discusses genealogical anxiety

This month, we discuss genealogical anxiety with Bob Simpson, lecturer in philosophy at Monash University. Click here to listen to our conversation.

simpsonIf you listen to this podcast, then for better or worse, you have likely been exposed to some Nietzsche (hopefully at a safe level!). In the nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche (perhaps notoriously) introduced an epistemological sense of genealogy — a genealogy of what we purport to know — by telling a story about how we have come to know the things we purport to know. Of course, many others have developed intellectual history — history of ideas — history of what and how people and communities have thought and developed. Such history can at least encourage scholarship to be self-aware. Well and good.


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Episode 82: Robert May discusses Frege and the problem of identity

RobertMayReturnsThis month, we pull up our chairs and sit down once again with Robert May, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of California, Davis.  Click here to listen to our conversation.

It seems sublime, unbelievable, groundbreaking — but maybe it actually doesn’t mean anything at all:

e^(iπ) + 1 = 0

That’s Euler’s identity. Its proof is so deep that it’s beyond this podcast, or at least what this blogger knows about math. Yet without this podcast, we might worry that, once realized, Euler’s identity is as trivial as 0 = 0. For, after all, Euler proved that eiπ + 1 is the same 0. He proved that “eiπ + 1″ refers to “0.” So when we write Euler’s identity, we can substitute the left-hand side of the equation to write that… 0 = 0. Logical enough, but also dull. Disappointing.


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Further reading on Peirce and categories

For background on categories in general, Cathy Legg recommends the following:

Amie Thomasson (2013). “Categories”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
Paul Studtmann (2013). “Categories in Aristotle”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Barry Smith (2003). “Ontology”, in Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information, (Oxford: Blackwell)
Manley Thompson (1957). “On Category Differences”, Philosophical Review, 66(4): 486–508.

For background on categories as they figure in Peirce’s work, our esteemed guest recommends the following:

Catherine Legg (2003). “This is Simply What I Do”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66(1): 58-80.
Catherine Legg (2012). “What Achilles Did and the Tortoise Wouldn’t” (conference presentation)

Happy reading!
-Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.

Episode 81: Cathy Legg discusses what Peirce’s categories can do for you

This month, we talk with Catherine Legg, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at New Zealand’s University of Waikato. She teaches us about the philosophical categories of Charles Sanders Peirce’s (pronounced like the bag “purse”). Click here to listen to our conversation.

cathy2At Legg’s university, philosophy is part of the School of Social Sciences. Here at Chicago, philosophy is part of the Division of the Humanities. But given some modern discourse, characterized as philosophically naturalist, you’d wonder if philosophy should be housed under the natural sciences.

Here’s that thinking: Want to know reality? Then go figure out what makes up reality. Figure out what exists — e.g. chairs, electrons, years — and figure out what those things’ properties are: three-dimensional, massive, passive, etc. Do this exhaustively, for every thing and every property, and ultimately you’ll know all there is to know. Of course, in reality, we’ll never know all there is to know, because we have only finite resources with which to experience and experiment with reality. But experimentation and the general scientific method entails the possibility of teaching us ultimate reality (or so the thinking goes). Philosophy, then, can only exist as a support to science, analyzing science’s findings. Or so we may wonder today. (If so, so much for this podcast!)


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Further reading on love and moral value

Those of you who would like a further taste of Mark Hopwood’s views about valuing a person as a particular can take a look at this short piece:

TPA Normativity of Love,’ Mark Hopwood

Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.

Episode 80: Mark Hopwood discusses love and moral value

This month, we discuss love and moral value with Mark Hopwood, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Sewanee: The University of the South, and former co-host of this podcast! Click here to listen to our conversation.

hopwoodIn discussing rights, religion, politics, and much more, we ask: Who has moral value? Who are we obliged to accommodate, support, even love?

Philosophers throughout the ages have answered these questions with principles. Perhaps, some have suggested, people have moral value because they share culture. But should we value people less if they don’t share our culture? Or perhaps, others have suggested, people have moral value because they are rational. But should we only value people who share our ability to act rationally? Then what of people, say, born with cognitive limitations? We could continue hypothesizing, but it seems that any principle must rule some people out.


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Episode 79: Thony Gillies discusses conditionals

This month, we discuss conditionals with Anthony (Thony) Gillies, Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Thony GilliesLately, philosophers have resurrected interest in formal theories of what’s meant by conditional statements, or if-then statements. Conditionals are basic, because they relate conditions — knowns and unknowns, actions and results, etc. But how do they relate them? Let’s examine one simple example that turns out to complicate this question.

First, let’s say someone murdered the owner of the mansion. Now suppose we are told that are two suspects:

Either the butler did it, or the gardener did it.
Therefore:If the butler didn’t do it, then the gardener did.

This seems like a completely valid inference — it’s impossible for the first statement to be true and the second statement false.  And yet, the philosopher Robert Stalnaker argued that if that is a valid inference, then the following two statements have to be synonymous:


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Episode 78: Stephen Engstrom discusses the categorical imperative

This month, we discuss the categorical imperative with Stephen Engstrom, professor of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Stephen EngstromTrue to the Chicago tradition, we philosophers spend a lot of time asking — but perhaps not so much time answering — an everyday question: What’s the right thing to do?

What’s the right thing to do? we have asked many episodes. You’re in need; a stranger helps you and leaves. Should you find them and pay it back? But what if you can’t? Should you find someone else and pay them forward? But what did they do for it? Should you act like nothing happened? And so on. Alternatively: You must decide whether or not to believe in God. Should you believe? If you have no evidence? Should you not? And risk eternal damnation? Or should you reject these formulations?


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Further reading on reasons

Those of you who are interested in following up on the topic of our previous episode can take a look at the following two papers:

Mark Schroeder, “Stakes, Withholding, and Pragmatic Encroachment
Mark Schroeder, “The Unity of Reasons

Happy reading!

Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.

Episode 77: Mark Schroeder discusses reasons for action and belief

This month, we discuss reasons for action and belief with Mark Schroeder, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Mark SchroderConsider one question from this episode. Can we decide what to believe, the way we decide how to act? We can, for instance, decide to worship at a church or temple. But if we do so in January in Chicago, can we decide to believe that the weather on our way to worship is warm? Or, more significantly, can we decide to believe in God? Pascal (in)famously suggested that we should in fact decide to believe in God. He suggested that if we believe in God when we needn’t, we waste a bit of time; but that if we don’t believe and good when we need to, we condemn ourselves eternally. That reasoning may seem right, but many have noted that it does not much help one actually believe in God. Then again, if one finds oneself in a crisis, one may indeed find one’s self believing in God, if only for lack of other hope. In such circumstances, has one decided to believe in God? Does one have reason to? (Perhaps this helps explain why religion often looks beyond reason, to such “unreasonable” traditions as readings, rites, and roles.)


Posted in Podcast.