People who know me know that pessimism and perfectionism are part of who I am. So I’m not great when it comes to doling out praise and celebrating (partial) successes – it is something I’ve worked on over the years, and gotten better at thanks to practice in my volunteer community, Forward STEPS. But I’ve got a ways to go.
One thing that I do enjoy, and that people say I’m pretty good at, is giving public speeches. So this fall I was asked by the Dean’s office in the College of Sciences and Humanities to give a brief celebratory speech at the reception for the students on the dean’s list and their loved ones. I took it as an opportunity to step out of my comfortable pessimist zone and recognize some of the great stuff being done by students at BSU.
In my speech yesterday, I shared about the work that philosophers do and the value it has for communities beyond the narrow confines of academia, in terms of skill development, self-discovery, self-expression, and relationship-building: a message that I think is essential in time of decreasing support for public education.
But I also encouraged the audience to see themselves as all being philosophers already, as all having accomplished that whether they realize it or not, because philosophical activities are part of everyday life, and do not belong only to the privileged. Insofar as we are all doing it already to some degree, we all deserve praise for grappling with tough questions and big ideas, and I’m happy to encourage all of us (myself included) to continually strive to be even better at it.
I’m so pleased that news media outlets are increasingly engaging with the climate crisis. It is hard, and maybe impossible, to overstate the need for us all to work together in taking action that will help stabilize the climate that we, and all living things, rely on.
For folks who are looking for an introduction to many of the key issues regarding climate change ethics, politics, and economics, might I suggest Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World, by John Broome? Broome has been writing about climate change through the lens of his economic expertise for decades, but this book focuses on ethics in a way that his previous work did not. I don’t agree with everything that Broome says, but it is a well-informed, accessible place to start that will give you plenty to think over, whether you are new to the climate debates or not.
Praising doesn’t always come naturally to pessimists like me, but oh my goodness, is Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny a brilliant book!
Manne’s writing is a wonder to behold: she guides the reader through a lot of rough territory (I mean rough in the sense of depressing and rough in the sense of grappling with lots of challenging philosophical issues) without sacrificing clarity or rigor, and her insight into important contemporary cases makes this a great read for general audiences and academics alike. Down Girl has already had such a powerful effect on my thinking that I may just immediately start re-reading it from the beginning now that I’ve finished it.
On her excellent account, misogyny is (roughly) the enforcement wing of the patriarchy, which means that it serves to threaten and punish women who do not provide the services that men have come to expect under patriarchy. This distinguishes misogyny from sexism, which is (roughly) the propaganda wing of the patriarchy, which serves to buttress patriarchy by explaining and justifying it.
I can only speak for myself, but as someone who share a lot of identity categories with Manne, her analysis of current events was revelatory. She helped me make sense of many frustrating, terrifying, and otherwise awful patterns that, though I see evidence of them all around me, I had been struggling to fully wrap my mind around before.
Kudos to Kate Manne for really getting to heart of an under-theorized but essential subject of feminist inquiry!
So I heard about this novel that was about … trees. I had no idea what a novel about trees would be like. But I like trees (that may be an understatement), so I got my hands on a copy. I started reading it, and sure, trees appeared in the initial parts. But I didn’t immediately see where things were going, or why the reviews I read had framed this as a novel about trees. That said, at some point, I’m not sure when, I really got into it.
What a world that Powers creates! His rich descriptions of all aspects of the varied trees that the cast of characters encounter and engage with took me back to childhood nature walks where I was encouraged to notice and revel in the minutiae of a natural world all around us that is all too easy to take for granted. What I’m saying is: stick with it, even if this book doesn’t immediately grab you.
In fact, if you need a break from a cubicle or other dreary workspace, or if inhospitable weather is getting you down, that might be a particularly good time to get this book, and immerse yourself in a story of twisting and turnings, both in the roots below us, the branches above us, and the lives of the people around us.
Looking for a fast, fun read that gets your brain juices flowing about how to make a flourishing community? Well, look no further than Eric Klinenberg’s Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.
That full title is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll give my own gloss: in that book, Klinenberg introduces the idea of social infrastructure – all the places and stuff and systems that can help us develop and thrive as social beings (or get in the way of social flourishing). With chapters about libraries, residential neighborhoods, schools, green spaces, and more, this book really gets you thinking about how those things (or lack thereof) impact quality of life for everyone in a community, whether they realize it or not.
I have very fond memories of my family walking to the local Carnegie library on Friday nights with an old, half-broken picnic basket to fill with kids books. I remember the “ka-thunk” sound of the librarian putting cards into the slot on the top of a machine that would stamp on the due date and then tucking them into the special envelopes at the back of the books. I remember the majestic-seeming stuffed bison head that hung at the top of the stairway, and the smooth glide of the drawers in the adults’ rooms card catalog. Everything about the public library was, to me, a source of wonder and delight – may we all, together, take the necessary steps to ensure that our public libraries, parks, and other elements of our social infrastructure do as much to support the flourishing of the new generation as they did for me when I was young.
Kudos to the organizers of this year’s Pacific APA for providing me (and many other attendees) with a great experience in Vancouver.
I went to a number of stand out sessions, and I especially appreciated the panel about publishing and the author meets (all-star) critics session on Victoria McGeer’s work. Thanks also to Katherine Cheng, whose paper on transformative decisions I had the pleasure of providing commentary on. And gratitude to the city of Vancouver for a beautiful setting along the water, among the grey-blue sky and the grey-green glass towers, and the embarrassment of riches in terms of delicious vegan food.
(That said, here’s hoping that I manage to avoid the foolishness of leaving town for work twice in the final month of classes for the rest of my career – jet lag and a full inbox upon return make the end of the semester that much more challenging!)
Last week, Dr. Jada Twedt Strabbing organized a fabulous workshop on moral responsibility and blame. Her hard work really paid off, and set a great example for her graduate students of what a productive, collegial, and fun professional gathering can look like. I was so pleased to be included in the event, and I learned scads from my fellow presenters: Justin Capes, Randy Clarke, Michael McKenna, and Angie Smith (in addition to Jada herself). Thank you all – not least for lighting a fire under me to turn my work in progress into something resembling a complete version for public consumption!
It was also lovely to meet some of Jada’s colleagues and graduate students from the Wayne State Philosophy Department, and especially to have a chance to catch up with my old friends/colleagues Katherine Kim & Angie Smith. You couldn’t ask for better people to have in your intellectual community.
PS: Hooray for the Detroit Institute of Art – their amazing frescoes by Diego Rivera are a must-see! It was my first trip to Detroit, and I didn’t have time to do much besides the conference, but I’m so glad I was able to spend some time with those extra-special murals. Does anyone know what pigments Rivera used to get the amazing turquoise color at the center top panels on the long sides of the courtyard? It is enough to make the swimming pools at any luxury resort look positively mundane in comparison.
Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, which is about about her childhood, education, and early career up through her first appointment as a judge, is a book that I’ve had on my list for a while, and now that I’ve finished it, I’m really glad I made time for it. Her writing style drew me in right from the first few pages, and her story shed light on places, times, and cultural practices that I didn’t know all that much about. When you add to that Sotomayor’s finely tuned skills in self-reflection, by the end, the book left me feeling like she and I could be old friends.
Sotomayor’s life has been different from mine in many, many ways, but I found a lot of what she had to say about growing up resonating with me. (What she had to say about integrating logic and emotions was particularly welcome to me.) And, since part of her stated purpose for writing it was to be of use or reassurance to others whose ambitions somehow outstrip the circumstances of their upbringing, I can safely say that the book served that purpose for me.
Please join Ball State’s Gender and Sexualities Working Group for our first research colloquium of the year.
Thursday, October 4, 2018
2:00 – 3:30 p.m.
Bracken Library 2014
Dr. Rachel Fredericks, an Assistant Professor in Philosophy, will present her paper “(How) Should We Use the Concept of a Daughter?”
About half the people in the world are described as daughters immediately after birth, if not before, and being classified as a daughter has a huge impact on the material conditions of one’s life, one’s social position, and one’s self-identity. During this talk, we’ll think critically about the concept of a daughter and whether we have moral reasons to stop using it or to use it differently than we tend to do now. The work under consideration is part of a larger project that explores why we should see ourselves as morally responsible for the concepts (that is, the basic mental representations) that we use to think about the world that we inhabit.
We hope you can join us.
Some papers are just more fun or challenging to write than others, and some papers are both of those things. My latest publication, “Moral Responsibility for Concepts,” is both. And it is now available from the European Journal of Philosophy via Early View at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14680378/0/0
In that paper, I argue that sometimes we can be morally responsible for the concepts that we possess and use (or do not use) for the same reasons that Angela Smith says that we can be morally responsible for our attitudes even when we do not have full or direct voluntary control over them. If I’m right, that argument gives us a reason to reconsider a lot of common views and practices!