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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.


Posted in Podcast.

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:


Hooray for the Bahama’s Shaunae Miller! She’s the one who literally dove to victory, in lane seven. And too bad for the United States’s Allyson Felix, in lane four. This photograph evidences Miller’s victory by depicting it. That, after all, is what a camera detected in front of it when the photograph was taken, on Monday.

But, evidently, you are not at the Olympics, for you are on a philosophy podcast’s blog. So you will remember that, of course, photographs can’t all be so straightforward. Consider this second photograph, then:


What is being depicted here? And how? Notice that the numbers, which you can see clearly, are on the horses, not the track, which is a blur. The photograph depicts the horses in full, but it turns out that it only depicts the track’s finish line. Listen to Smyth to understand just how this works! In short, a “photo finish” like this one doesn’t simply depict the area a camera could have detected in front of it when the photograph was taken. Rather, such a photograph depicts what happened right at the finish line, over the period of time that the horses crossed it, way back in 1953. Common photography, as in the first image, would only have depicted a blur, whereas this photograph evidences a three-way tie! Hooray for Patchover, Payne Hall, and Penny Maid!

Such photography sure proved helpful in 1987, for instance:


This third photograph, also a photo finish, evidenced that Sabine Busch ran the race in 53.24 seconds, just ahead of Cornelia Ullrich’s 53.55 seconds. (Hooray for Busch.) For us as philosophers, the stories of these three photographs evidence: What a photograph depicts depends on how a camera detects what’s in front of it. More generally, what a photograph evidences depends on how the photograph is made.

Listen to Smyth to hear about the making of even more complex photographs, such as those of animal cells and outer space. And then consider the vicissitudes of what photographs evidence, and mean!

Dominic Surya

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.)


Posted in Podcast.

Further Reading on democracy

For those who are interested in following up on democracy and governmental legitimacy, check out the following article by our distinguished guest:

Consent and Political Legitimacy,’ Amanda Greene

For a deeper dive, Amanda Greene recommends the following:

Democratic Legitimacy, Fabienne Peter
Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework, David Estlund
On Legitimacy and Political Deliberation,’ Bernard Manin, Elly Stein and Jane Mansbridge
Arguing for Majority Rule,’ Mathias Risse
‘Procedure and Substance in Deliberative Democracy,’ Joshua Cohen (in Deliberative Democracy)
Defending the Purely Instrumental Account of Democratic Legitimacy,’ Richard Arneson
‘Democracy: Instrumental vs. Non-Instrumental Value,’ Elizabeth Anderson (in Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy)
Democracy: A History, John Dunn
Max Weber on Democracy: Can the People Have Political Power in Modern States,’ Tamsin Shaw
Can International Organizations Be Democratic? A Skeptical View,’ Robert Dahl
The Meaning and Measure of State Legitimacy: Results for 72 Countries,’ Bruce Gilley

Happy reading!
Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.

Episode 84: Amanda Greene discusses the legitimacy of democracy

Last year, we talked about anarchism. This year, we turn to democracy with Amanda Greene, Lecturer in Philosophy at University College, London, and Law and Philosophy Fellow at the University of Chicago. Click here to listen to our discussion.

Amanda GreeneIn the West, at least, most of us consider democracy to be the obvious choice for the best form of government, but we rarely take a step back to think about why. Amanda Greene agrees that democracy is the best choice, but thinks that most attempts to understand why it is the best choice build the idea that democracy is the most legitimate form of government into the very definition of democracy. That makes democracy hard to object to, but it also isn’t very illuminating as an explanation. Her approach, instead, is to start with a pretty austere definition of legitimacy, which allows that some governments can be legitimate without being democratic, and then argue that democracy is the best way to achieve that.

Join us as our guest takes us through the ins and outs of our modern political system!

Matt Teichman

Posted in Podcast.

Further Reading on Genealogical Anxiety

Those of you who would like to follow up on our interview with Bob Simpson can check out this article, which was the impetus for a lot of what we talked about:

You Just Believe that Because,’ Roger White

That one requires a journal subscription, but you can look at Bob’s own paper on this (with Josh DiPaolo) without a journal subscription here:

Indoctrination Anxiety and the Etiology of Belief,’ Joshua DiPaolo and Robert Mark Simpson

Happy reading!

Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.

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.


Posted in Podcast.

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.


Posted in Podcast.

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.