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Episode 90: Ásta Sveinsdóttir discusses social construction

This month, we talk to Ásta Sveinsdóttir (San Francisco State University) about social-institutional entities, like money, the economy, political borders, nation states, and, interestingly, categories of people. Click here to listen to our conversation.

For a while now, philosophers have been interested in the status of things like money. A $5 bill has the purchasing power it has not because of any intrinsic features that belong to the paper it’s printed on, but because we all agree to treat it as having that purchasing power. By treating liquid currency as something that can be exchanged for lattes or ice cream cones, we confer on it the property of being something that can be exchanged for these things, but not for many other things (like a car, or the latest iPhone). That doesn’t mean this purchasing power isn’t real, or that it isn’t objectively true or false that a $5 bill currently has the purchasing power it has. Quite the contrary–these are verifiable/falsifiable objective facts that we can discuss. But it does mean that our attitudes are playing an special role in making such facts obtain. By contrast, the fact that Saturn is more massive than the planet Earth is a fact that does not obtain in virtue of what anyone thinks about anything. Saturn just is the size that it is, independently of how we treat it as being.

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Further reading on language universals

For a further taste of our guest’s thoughts on the theory of universal grammar, the following dialogue is an incredibly fun read:

Language: a Dialogue,’ John Collins

I also heartily recommend that you visit his website and his academia.edu page, where he’s got lots of great papers on some of the most central issues in the philosophy of language and foundations of linguistics.

Happy reading!
Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.


Episode 89: John Collins discusses language universals

This time, we have the privilege of talking to John Collins (University of East Anglia) as we shift our attention to the human language faculty. Click here to listen to our conversation.

collinsSmallHuman beings are the only animal in the world that can natively acquire a language like English, French, Czech, Nahuatl, Yoruba, or Tamil. Take any baby, raise it among caretakers who speak language X, and it will arrive at perfect native mastery of X as early as age 7. If you try the same experiment with a baby walrus or even a baby chimp, you’ll find the results are way less impressive. This is because the human mind has some intrinsic features that enable it to learn languages by osmosis, as it were, in this intuitive manner.

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Further reading on snap judgments

For those who are interested in following up on our previous episode, you can take a look at Section 5 of the following paper:

Knowledge In and Out of Context

The following papers by our guest are also a really great read!

Default Reasoning: Jumping to Conclusions and Knowing When to Think Twice
A Rationale for Reliabilism

Happy reading!
Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.


Episode 88: Kent Bach discusses jumping to conclusions

This month, we talk to Kent Bach (San Francisco State University) about his picture of how beliefs relate to particular thoughts. Click here to listen to our conversation.

bach_smallIn this episode, Kent Bach discusses two of his big ideas at the border between the philosophy of mind and epistemology. The first is that when someone is engaged in everyday, commonsense reasoning, the fact that that person isn’t thinking about irrelevant distractions irrelevant can in and of itself be evidence that those consideration are indeed irrelevant. For instance, if I’m trying to remember which presidents were carved into Mount Rushmore, the fact that I’m not even considering Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush can actually serve as evidence that they aren’t worth considering as possibilities. (Assuming my ability to make accurate snap judgments is in order.) Adopting this perspective on fast, everyday reasoning means taking seriously a lot of what we do subconsciously. Snap judgments can carry real evidential weight, not just in the conclusions they reach, but in what they exclude from consideration.

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Further reading on perceptual particularity

If you’re in the mood to do a deep dive and learn more about the view that Susanna Schellenberg shared with us during the previous episode, she suggests taking a look at the following papers of hers:

Perceptual Particularity
Phenomenal Evidence and Factive Evidence
Experience and Evidence
Belief and Desire in Imagination and Immersion
Perceptual Content Defended
Ontological Minimalism About Phenomenology

Enjoy!
-Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.


Episode 87: Susanna Schellenberg discusses perceptual particularity

This month, we sit down with Susanna Schellenberg to talk about what ordinary perception does and doesn’t have in common with hallucination. Click here to listen to our conversation.

schellenbergWhen you picture to yourself how vision works, you probably imagine something along the following lines. There’s some light which gets projected into your eyes, and the light stimulates the rod and cone cells in your retina. These sensations create a blob of unanalyzed, 2D sensory information that doesn’t ‘mean’ anything yet. Then your mind goes to work on that 2D sensory information and interprets it, so that instead of looking like a meaningless blob, it ends up looking like e.g. a pine tree to the left of another pine tree.

According to that intuitive view, there are three entities that enter into your visual experience: a) some actual pine trees, reflecting light into your eyes, b) the raw, intermediate, blob of sensory information, and c) the final visual experience, which comes across as looking like some trees.

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Further reading on photographs

For those of you who would like to follow up on our discussion with Daniel Smyth, he recommends the following papers:

Snapshots, Perception, and Intimacy,’ Daniel Smyth
Photography, Vision, and Representation,’ Joel Snyder and Neil Walsh Allen
Picturing Vision,’ Joel Snyder
Transparent Pictures,’ Kendall Walton
What’s Special About Photography?‘ Ted Cohen

He also recommends the following book on Hubble imagery:

Picturing the Cosmos, Elizabeth A. Kessler

Happy reading!
Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.


Episode 86: Daniel Smyth discusses photographs and their vicissitudes

smyth2This month, we discuss photographs and their vicissitudes with Daniel Smyth, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sage School of Philosophy of Cornell University. (And yes, Smyth used to study and teach at the University of Chicago!)  Click here to listen to the episode.

In this episode, Smyth asks: What does a photograph evidence? Away from philosophers, you might simply answer: A photograph evidences what it depicts. And it depicts what happened — what a camera detected in front of it when the photograph was taken. Of course, no? Well, consider the three photographs below (and keep them in mind as you listen to this episode). We can start with a straightforward photograph. Amidst the Olympics, you may have seen a photograph like this one:

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Posted in Podcast.


Episode 85: Bryce Huebner discusses race and cognitive science

This month, we discuss race and cognitive science with Bryce Huebner, associate professor of philosophy at Georgetown University. Click here to listen to our conversation.

huebnerOf course, we as individuals can be racist. Of course, so can our institutions. But when do we realize this, so that we might get something done about it? In this sense, two years ago, we here at the University of Chicago found ourselves “ahead of the curve.”

A year before Yale made national headlines following some students’ racist Halloween costumes, our school had strikingly similar trouble. Two years ago, for Halloween of 2014, a few UofC students dressed up as Mexican gangsters. Two Latino UofC students, Vincente Perez and Jamie Sanchez, then publicly called out the costumes as racist. The gangster-dressing student Perez first noticed went on to apologize publicly, but by then, Perez and Sanchez had developed their calls around such individuals into calls around their institution, their university. For instance, in the short term, Perez and Sanchez, and almost 2,500 petition supporters, called on the University to survey the campus about its climate around racial, ethnic, and other identities. And in the long term, they called on the University to diversify its core curriculum and faculty. A year later, then, as Yale and a slew of other schools saw protests, the University of Chicago saw relative calm. Though the University had not agreed to most of Perez and Sanchez’s calls, it had launched a survey of its campus’s climate, hopefully with an eye to larger reforms. (Survey results are to be released in the coming months.)

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Posted in Podcast.