Category Archives: philosophy

Book Recommendation: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

Oh, wow – it is great to end the summer with a really spectacular novel. Everyone should go out and read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (and that goes double for any budding scholars interested in philosophy of mind and/or cognitive science).

Don’t read any blurbs or reviews first, just get straight into it!

Why? There is a significant surprise reveal midway through it, and it would be a real shame if you didn’t get the chance to figure things out on your own. This sometimes funny, often thought-provoking, and consistently well-written book starts out as just a regular story about growing up in a family of flawed people, but I’ll leave it for you to decide whether we can say that it ends that way …

“Moral Responsibility for Concepts, Continued: Concepts as Abstract Objects”

My latest article is now available via Early View on the website for the European Journal of Philosophy. “Moral Responsibility for Concepts, Continued: Concepts as Abstract Objects” is a companion piece to the one that I published in the same journal back in 2018.

While I make a different set of metaphysical assumptions about the nature of concepts in each article, in both of them, I argue for the same conclusion about the scope of our moral responsibilities. Specifically, I argue that we can be morally responsible for the concepts in our repertoires and how we put them to work in our thinking. So, when the two papers are taken together, they show that on either a psychological or semantic account of concepts, we can be morally responsible for our relations to those concepts for the same reasons that we can be morally responsible for our actions and attitudes.

Juneteenth!

In celebration of Juneteenth (today, 6/19, the day on which we who continue to work toward justice celebrate the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans), the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia has put together a two-part curated collection of previously published work by Black feminist scholars and made it freely available without subscription.

I encourage you to start by checking out Hypatia co-editor Camisha Russell’s introduction, then take a look at the article collections themselves. As Dr. Russell writes there, “Black thought matters.”

Book recommendation: Zoopolis, by Sue Donaldson & Will Kymlicka

I’ve always loved animals, but I don’t always see myself in other people’s vision of what it means to be an animal lover. For instance, I don’t keep pets, and lots of people would expect an animal lover to do so. However, I am a vegan, which might be (and I think should be, but often isn’t) expected of people who self-identify as animal lovers. Plus, I generally love learning about animals more than I love interacting with them, but I do find it deeply painful when I witness harm to animals, even in fiction. And I’m seriously committed to environmentalism, which many people think means choosing what is good for whole species and ecosystems, even if and when that means killing or otherwise harming various individual animals.

I suspect there are a lot of other people out there who love animals in some sense, but that maybe don’t fit into stereotypical ideas about what it means to be an animal lover.

For an awesome book that challenges all of us to rethink what it means to stand in an ethically good relationship to non-human animals, I strongly recommend Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka’s Zoopolis. They don’t frame their book in terms of being by or for animal lovers, (though their work clearly expresses love for animals, along with many more intellectual virtues). Instead, they make a powerful, extended argument that existing academic and activist work regarding animal ethics is limited in key ways that can be overcome by shifting to a political model of human/non-human animal engagement. Here’s some high praise from any philosopher: their insights and arguments really changed my mind about a lot of things!

And (bonus!) this is among the most engaging and accessible books in academic philosophy that I’ve had the pleasure to read. It is one of those unicorns that falls into both the “for fun” and “for work” categories that I often use to mentally sort books. Seriously, check it out.

“The Creeps as a Moral Emotion”

Have you ever felt the creeps? I sure have! But it turns out that historically, philosophers have pretty much ignored this emotion, and there are lots of philosophical questions about the creeps and about creepiness that are definitely worth considering.

I had a lot of fun co-writing “The Creeps as a Moral Emotion” with Jeremy Fischer, and the final version of the article has now been published by Ergo! Ergo is an open access academic journal (which means that anyone with an internet connection can find and read the article for free), so hurray for that! 

Co-writing is still pretty rare for philosophers, but bouncing ideas off each other can be invigorating, challenging, and rewarding. I probably wouldn’t commit to doing it if I didn’t already know my co-author pretty well, but based on my experience, I would recommend it as an interesting change of pace for folks who have a track record of productive philosophical exchange.

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!)