Workshop on Moral Responsibility & Blame at Wayne State University

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.

Book Recommendation: My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

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.

Gender & Sexualities Working Group Research Colloquium

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.

“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.