Philosophy Speaker Series

Bringing noted philosophers to the Harper community.

Twice a year the Philosophy Department presents lectures by Chicago-area philosophers. Attendance is free and open to the public. For more information on the Philosophy Speaker Series, please contact Dr. Brett Fulkerson-Smith,

Present and Past Speakers

How to Give a Good Apology
Dr. Teresa Britton
Eastern Illinois University

The current view of apologies holds that the function of an apology is to compensate for the transgression which occasioned it. I argue that on this view apologies lack moral worth. Why? Apologies wrongly privilege the social concerns of the giver over the moral benefit to the recipient. I propose a better analysis of apology. I see them as a special case of an act of consolation - as in, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” This account yields a better normative footing for the concept of the apology and traction on the question of how to give a good apology.

Egg-Freezing Services for Female Employees: Egg-sploitation or Egg-celent?
Dr. Jennifer A. Parks
Loyola University, Chicago

In 2012, egg vitrification (otherwise known as “egg freezing”) was removed from the list of experimental treatments by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, thus formally recognizing it as a new treatment option to preserve the fertility of women undergoing cancer treatment. The removal of experimental status resulted in the ability for women to finally receive health insurance coverage for egg freezing services.

In the few years since this elective procedure has become available, its use has spread to reproductive-age career women who want to freeze their eggs for social purposes (such as career demands or the need for more time to find “Mr. Right”). Indeed, a booming industry is building around “social egg freezing,” and companies like Apple and Facebook have even started to offer egg freezing as part of female employees’ benefits packages.

Supporters of Apple and Facebook claim that these companies should be applauded for taking steps to encourage and support women’s entrance into STEM careers -- where women are significantly under-represented -- allowing them greater choice in pursuing career and family options. By contrast, critics point out that the companies are attempting to save money by encouraging female employees to significantly delay family-making so that the companies are not inconvenienced by maternity leaves and other reproductive-related career interruptions. We will consider these questions in trying to sort out whether egg freezing is “egg-sploitation” or “egg-cellent” for female employees.

Stories, Facts, and Fictions
Dr. Kevin J. Harrelson
Ball State University

Common wisdom has it that there are ‘two sides to a story’, just as there is a difference between the facts and the story we tell about them. It is a fact, for instance, that Chris Columbus captained a voyage of three ships across the Atlantic. But did he also discover America? That is a matter of the story we tell. Critics of the Columbus story express this point by saying that the discovery of America is ‘only a story’, or that it belongs to an outdated narrative about America. This distinction between fact and story, however, seems to threaten the equally important distinction between a true story and a fiction. In this presentation, we will look at a number of popular histories and fictions in the interest of asking what the difference is: what is it to tell a true story?

Responsible Gameplay and the Problem of Sports Spectatorship
Dr. A. Leland Morton
Saint Xavier University

Are there special ethical norms that govern responsible spectating of sporting events? Responsible spectating certainly comes with ethical norms such as respecting fellow spectators, players, coaches and so on. But these are not special in the relevant sense as they are not peculiar to sports spectating or even to spectating more generally. On the other hand a large number of activities do bring with them ethical norms that are special in this sense. Doctoring, lawyering, and playing a game or a sport each involve adopting special concerns if they are to be done responsibly. Part of what makes them special is that they place expectations on the actor to take on a special care that would not ordinarily be expected of others. Recently, Scott Aikin has argued that responsible sports spectating involves special ethical norms in just this sense; since, for him, responsible sports spectating brings with it the special expectation of a heightened care for the game, fantasy football play is irresponsible and unethical. In this presentation, I argue that Aikin is mistaken in thinking that responsible spectating involves special ethical norms.

Feminist Philosophy
Dr. Ann Dolinko
Shimer College

Dr. Dolinko provided a basic overview of feminism in general and feminist philosophy in particular, discussing how feminism applies to our lives and to current issues in politics and academia. She examined some of the history and the current situation of feminist philosophy and addressed what it means to be a feminist philosophy professor at a Great Books college.

Iron Men
Dr. John Patrick Casey, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Northeastern Illinois University

The principle of charity tells us that we always consider the strongest version of an opponent's argument. This entails, among other things, that we avoid straw-manning, or the practice of distorting arguments so as more easily to defeat them. This prohibition raises a couple of puzzles. First, it doesn't always seem wrong to distort arguments to defeat them. Teachers, after all, do this all of the time in instructing beginners.  Distortions are not always bad. More significantly, stronger versions of the prohibition mean that weak arguments and incompetent arguers survive longer than they should in the proverbial market-place of ideas. This practice of encouraging trolling and other argumentative clutter is "iron-manning," a kind of reverse straw-manning. It's wrong, I shall argue, for the same reasons straw-manning is wrong.

Coping with Loss of Freedom and Autonomy in a Detention Center
Dr. Samuel Zinaich, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Purdue University

This essay discusses my experience as a philosophical counselor doing Logic-Based Therapy (LBT) in the Jerome Combs Detention Center (JCDC) in Kankakee, IL. I discuss the problem of loss of freedom and autonomy that is part of life at JCDC and the problem the inmates have in building and exercising willpower in this environment.  Examining a common line of emotional reasoning among inmates, I will spell out two problematic principles many of the inmates live by, from which they deduce a sequence of fallacies, notably, awfulizing and can’tstipation, which, in turn, contribute to their profound unhappiness and inability to cope.  Accordingly, I discuss two antidotes to these principles, which, despite other unpleasant factors present in the JCDC environment, contributed to the positive change in attitude and behavior in several inmates.

Thick As Thieves: Nietzsche’s Debt to Aristotle
Dr. Daw-Nay Evans, Jr.
Lake Forest College

What is Nietzsche's relation to Aristotle? How should we assess it? Unlike Nietzsche's view of other ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle's influence on Nietzsche has received scant attention from scholars. Nevertheless, critics and defenders alike mention the plausibility of linking Nietzsche with Aristotle. On the one hand, critics argue that no one has convincingly demonstrated a philosophically substantive connection between the two philosophers. On the other hand, defenders argue that Nietzsche's debt to Aristotle is extensive and worthy of further investigation. Taking up the critic's challenge, I argue that Aristotle's influence on Nietzsche is evident in his views on logic, moral psychology, free will, and Greek tragedy. I contend that Nietzsche's philosophical development owes more to Aristotle than has generally been acknowledged. This account undermines the critic's denial and bolsters the defender’s affirmation of Nietzsche’s indebtedness to Aristotle.

Global Warming and Techno-Madness: The Ethics and Politics of Technological Responses to Environmental Destruction
Dr. Tama Weisman
Dominican University

From albedo enhancement to genetic alterations of human DNA, technological solutions to global warming are rapidly replacing significant political action in the struggle to effectively deal with the problem. As global warming poses greater and more immanent threats to life on earth, one question we must answer is whether we have entered an age of techno-madness?

Techno-madness, the hubristic over-reliance on technology, is the result of many converging elements. It emerges from the common confusion of is and ought, of can and should. It is what we face when we replace the question of what technologies are permissible in our struggle to come to terms with global warming with the question of what technologies are possible. Questions of permissibility are taking a back seat to expedience, thus resulting in a techno-madness wherein our reliance on technology is viewed as a replacement for political will rather than as one element to be considered alongside political, economic and social action.

Infinity in Modern Thought
Dr. Anat Schechtman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
University of Chicago

This talk explores the rich tradition of philosophical work on paradoxes of infinity. Take the natural numbers, which are infinite: how can there be as many even numbers as natural numbers (since every even number can be matched with a natural number, and vice versa), and yet less (since the even numbers are but a part of the entire collection of natural numbers)? Or consider divisibility: how can the circumferences of two concentric circles be divided into the same infinite number of points, yet one has a greater circumference than the other? Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz all attempted to tackle such centuries-old problems. While the solutions they offered may seem outdated in light of Georg Cantor's revolutionary work on infinity in the late nineteenth century, there is still something to learn from these seventeenth century thinkers. In particular, I will argue that they invite us to take a uniquely "metaphysical" perspective on infinity that is quite different from the mathematical perspective we are accustomed to today.

Immoralism: Why Some Morally Bad Art Is So Good
Dr. Anne Eaton
University of Illinois at Chicago

This paper examines one aspect of the vexed relationship between aesthetics and morality. It argues for Immoralism, the idea that works of art can in specifiable cases be aesthetically improved by their moral flaws. To this I append the converse thesis, that works of art can in specifiable cases be aesthetically flawed because of their moral virtues. I make substantial use of examples from popular culture, the history of art, and literature.

Leadership, Business & Ethics in a Post-Enron World
Dr. Al Gini
Loyola University Chicago

What happened with Enron, WorldCom, Andersen, Adelphi and, let's not forget Bernie Madoff? How were these major corporations transformed form paragons of virtue to pariahs? What went wrong? Was it a failure of corporate structure? Personal character? Leadership? Ethics? Yes! Yes! Yes! And, yes! But at its core, this collective scandal is really about the breakdown of a very basic virtue in business and life-trust. Trust is the "social glue" that allows us to operate in community with others. Trust is confidence in the predictability, reliability, dependability and integrity of others. Without trust, societies and business falter and collapse. This presentation will examine the importance of trust in our lives, the importance of re-establishing ethical standards in business, and the role that leadership plays in both creating and modeling rules and standards of appropriate ethical conduct.

How Does One Escape the Inexorable Pull of Nature and Instinct?
Dr. James Swindal

Some philosophers have developed comprehensive and holistic normative models that purport to exhibit the various deontic constraints that agents adopt in order to achieve what otherwise would be an unattainable social order. Robert Brandom's semantic inferentialism purports to show how a rational construction of social coordination is possible through specific mappings that agents make of each other's commitments (beliefs) and entitlements (justified beliefs). Strongly influenced by Brandom's account, Joseph Heath reconstructs a number of historically emergent deontic constraints that solve what are otherwise unsolvable game theoretic problems in the maintenance of the social order. But both accounts omit a sufficient analysis of the way in which individual agents, who comprise the normative order, are effectively addressed of norms. I argue for a theory of agency that occupies a middle ground between a pure naturalism (where instinct dominates) and a pure regularism, or "normativism" (where reason dominates).