“Moral Responsibility for Concepts”

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!

Book recommendation: The Mechanical by Ian Tregilis

Let the summer reading commence!

The Mechanical, by Ian Tregilis, is an adventure story set within an alternate history in which Christiaan Huygens used alchemy to create and enslave thousands of mechanical people, which allowed the Dutch to maintain a worldwide empire for over 250 years. The story puts you inside the perspective of a range of characters, including a mechanical named Jax, a noblewoman at the head of a French spy network, a Dutch pastor, and many more. It is a fun read that can be taken at a galloping pace, but if you slow to a walk, there is a lot to think about regarding free will, sectarian religious disagreements, colonialism and slavery, human reliance on technology, and other substantial philosophical issues.

You can read a sample at https://www.orbitbooks.net/orbit-excerpts/the-mechanical/ and the good news is that once you get sucked in (like I did) there are two more books in the series: The Rising and The Liberation.

Book recommendation: Teeth by Mary Otto

Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America is a great book, one that I strongly recommend.

Whether you are interested in health care justice; the history of dental practices, education, and policy in America; ways to use public and private resources more efficiently; the biology of the human mouth; or ways to alleviate the significant suffering of your neighbors, this book by Mary Otto has something for you.

Painful toothache, oral disease, and tooth loss are chronic, widespread, devastating problems in our society. Huge numbers of our fellow citizens have no access to dental services, whether because of lack of money to pay for insurance or dental services on the private market, shortages of dental providers in many geographical areas, or a number of other reasons. These dental problems often make it difficult or impossible to get or keep various types of jobs. These problems are easy to ignore IF you are a relatively well-off person with access to dental care on the private market. Such people often blame dental problems on the individual choices of those who suffer them, without a full understanding of the facts about access to dental care in the US. Otto’s book shines a brilliant light on that bigger picture.

The good news is that these dental problems are largely preventable. All we need is the will to devote some of our existing resources to the solutions that have already met with significant success in places where people have fought hard to implement them.

“When Wanting the Best Is Bad”

My most recent publication “When Wanting the Best is Bad” is now available on the website for Social Theory and Practice. In that paper, I identify a particular set of desires, which I call exclusionary desires (very, very roughly: a specific subset/type of competitive desires), and give multiple arguments for why we should generally try to avoid having such desires.

This paper has a special place in my heart, because the view defended therein colors my thinking about a lot of different social phenomena. In fact, it would be fair to say that in writing this paper, I uncovered a core commitment that was lurking the background while I was writing my dissertation on jealousy.

“Awe In (and Out of) the Classroom”

Ball State University is very fortunate to be the home of the David Owsley Museum of Art, which is real Muncie gem. In part because I organized a field trip to the museum last spring for the students in Philosophy 320: Emotions, Character, and Moral Responsibility, I was invited to give a presentation to the friends of the museum (the David Owsley Museum of Art Alliance) on February 14, 2018.

During that presentation, I explained how I’ve used the museum’s collection as a pedagogical tool in philosophy and how my students’ experiences at the museum illuminate some of the research I’ve done regarding the emotion awe (which, I’ve argued, we can feel even about abstract objects). But the main argument that I made in my presentation was that because (a) philosophy is particularly well-suited to spark feelings of awe in those who study it, (b) recent empirical research from a variety of sources shows that feeling awe has a variety of highly valuable effects, therefore (c) we have good (and under-recognized) reasons to support access to philosophical education for all students.

I had a great time meeting the friends of the museum, who raised all sorts of interesting questions and comments during our time together. I also want to express special thanks to Tania Said for the invitation and support!

PHIL / RELS job applications workshop

Some people go to college knowing (or thinking that they know) exactly what they want to study and exactly what kind of career they want to have. More power to them! My dad was like that – he once told me that in junior high, he already knew that he wanted to be an engineer, and sure enough, that is what he did for his whole working life as an adult – he even worked for the same company all those years!
But lots of people don’t have that experience. Lots of people change what they are studying or what job or career they are pursuing, often more than once. My mom was like that – she changed her college major relatively late in the game, and (compared to my dad, anyway) used her skills in more different employment contexts between college and retirement.
Despite their different paths, both my parents secured steady work that contributed to a financially stable family, and both used their talents to provide something of value to their community. Both were able to earn others’ respect for their work. Both had ups and downs in their careers. So my parents provide evidence that there isn’t a single path through college and into a career that everyone needs to follow. While studying philosophy (as many folks will tell you) may not be the surest route to a life like my dad’s, it can be a great route to a life more like my mom’s, which is something that many people don’t realize. And lives more like my mom’s are only becoming more and more common.
Studying philosophy gives you skills that easily transfer from one context to another – for example, thinking and communicating clearly, dealing with people who disagree with you, and solving problems independently are skills that are highly in demand across many career fields, and that are developed by studying philosophy. The key is to know how to explain what skills you’ve developed through your experiences studying philosophy and their relevance for a particular job to a particular employer.
On Wednesday, January 31st, from 5:15 to 6:50 p.m., some of my colleagues and I will be hosting the second of three events in our department’s career preparation series for this academic year. This time, we invite Philosophy & Religious Studies students to bring drafts of their resumes, cover letters, and/or job descriptions that they find appealing (if you have them), and we will have a workshop to help translate your specific skills and experiences into the language that employers want to see. (We’ll bring the pizza!)

Immersive Learning Project in Spring 2018

I’ve been looking forward to teaching a new course on Justice (Phil 380) for a while now. But now I have one more reason to look forward to teaching it in spring 2018.

One of the best parts of my two and a half years of living in Muncie has been my weekly involvement with a local non-profit that is dedicated to poverty alleviation. (When I first got involved, they were called TEAMWork for Quality Living, but they have merged with Second Harvest Food Bank, and are now undergoing a name change.) I’ve made some of my best friends in Muncie through this incredibly diverse group of wonderful people.

I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to arrange for my Justice class to do a project in collaboration with this non-profit. As a way of unifying and applying what we learn in our units about epistemic justice and economic justice, we’ll be participating in a poverty simulation, conducting a listening session with the participants in the poverty alleviation program, and using what we learn from their experiences and expertise to formulate proposed action plans for how to help eliminate some of the systematic barriers that keep people in poverty here in Delaware County.

Once we’ve formed relationships with and actively listened to the participants in the poverty alleviation program, we’ll be presenting our action plans to them for their feedback. And after hearing from my students, the program participants will have an opportunity to collectively decide to implement some components of the proposed action plans as part of their once monthly “Big View” sessions, which are set aside for work designed to positively impact everyone in our community who lives in poverty, not just those specifically and directly involved with our group.

Though this project is going to involve a lot a work, I have high hopes, and I can’t wait to share this opportunity with my students.

Book recommendation: Animals in Translation

While I was terrified of dogs as a child, basically never had pets, didn’t grow up on a farm, and thus haven’t spent a lot of time directly interacting with animals, I’ve always enjoyed learning about them. That is part of why I loved a book that I read recently, Animals in Translation. If you aren’t familiar with Temple Grandin, the author of the book, this is a great way to start learning about her important work. Her accomplishments are staggering – it is safe to say that by restructuring the physical environments in which livestock animals live and die, she has done more to improve the safety and well-being of domesticated animals in America than any other individual.

Temple Grandin’s success is possible because of her autism, not in spite of it. As a person whose sensory experience of the world differs from most humans, she is able to see things from a perspective that she says is like that of non-human animals in many ways. By translating that perspective into action, she has earned her fame. And by translating her first-person experiences and expert knowledge into a highly engaging book, Temple Grandin gives all of us incredibly valuable insight into the inner lives of both people on the autism spectrum and non-human animals of various kinds.

Career Preparation Event for Philosophy Students

Philosophy students, whether they are majors, minors, or just interested students who have taken a few classes, are sure to have been asked, “What job can you get by studying that?” or “What use is a philosophy degree?” And in some cases, “asked” isn’t really the right word – in uttering those words, a fair number of people mean such questions as a challenge and a criticism, assuming the answer is “none.”

But that just isn’t so. Nor is it the case that the only jobs for philosophy students involve going to graduate school and becoming a philosophy professor.

So a few of my colleagues in the Philosophy & Religious Studies Department, along with a career coach from the Career Center, have planned a series of events for this academic year designed to help our students better (a) understand the range of jobs available to them, (b) narrow down their career goals, (c) formulate a specific plan of action, and (d) get to work on cover letters, resumes, interviews, and so on, by taking tangible steps in a supportive environment.

Our first event will focus on career exploration and discovery. We’ll be reflecting on the variety of kinds of jobs for which PHIL / RELS students are suited and identifying personal interests, talents, preferences, and skills that will help focus one’s career plans and goals. This first event will take place from 5:00 – 6:15 p.m. in North Quad 078 on Wednesday, November 15th. Please consider joining us!

Book recommendations about democracy & the workplace

Elizabeth Anderson’s new book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It), was even more of an eye-opener for me than her last one (The Imperative of Integration). In her latest book, Anderson defends answers two main questions: (a) “why do we talk as if workers are free at work, and that the only threats to individual liberty come from the state? (xx)” and (b) how could we talk differently about the ways that employers constrain workers, potentially helping restructure workplaces to better serve the interests of workers?

In answering those questions, Anderson critiques the ideology that undergirds the dictatorial control that many employers exert over their employees, both on and off the job. In doing so, she carefully analyzes the historical context in which that ideology arose and explains why that ideology (which appeared to be rational prior to the Industrial Revolution) cannot be defended in the world as we now know it.  The book also includes critical comments from two historians, a philosopher, and an economist, as well as Anderson’s responses to them, which I found very useful.

While reading it, I couldn’t help but think back on Richard Wolff’s Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, another excellent book about how workers could have more say in their working conditions, and the many benefits that could be gained from structuring workplaces as democracies. I particularly appreciated the clarity with which Wolff explains distinctions between various kinds of capitalisms and socialisms, which are easy to mix up (and often are mixed up).

While you are at it, or if you want something on the lighter side that engages with similar ideas, why not try The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki?