Category Archives: philosophy

Climate Strike!

Today millions of people around the world acted in solidarity to bring attention to the climate catastrophe and demand climate action now. Want to learn more about the Global Climate Strike? Start here.

I was pleased to be able to support the approximately 10% of my students who engaged in climate activism today instead of coming to class. They wrote me justifications for their choice, so they were doing some philosophy, too!

In addition to participating in a local rally organized by Muncie Resists this afternoon, I’ve been working for the past few weeks to organize a Sustainability Challenge for the members of my favorite community poverty-alleviation group (Forward STEPS) during the month of October. We’re doing some educational programs (including a couple of vegan cooking classes led by yours truly) and making commitments to do various sustainability-promoting activities. If you want to play along with us (for a chance to earn prizes!), just send me an email about how to get involved.

Philosophy for all!

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.

Book recommendation: Climate Matters, by John Broome

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.

Book recommendation: Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne

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!

Pacific APA in Vancouver BC

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!)

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.

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.

“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.