Saturday, December 31, 2011

Inception and Philosophy

Kyle Johnson talks about the movie Inception and philosophy. The book (Inception and Philosophy) explores questions about dreaming and reality, knowledge, the unconscious mind, free will, and much more.

The book explores the movie's key questions and themes, including how we can tell if we're dreaming or awake, how to make sense of a paradox, and whether or not inception is possible. It also gives new insights into the nature of free will, time, dreams, and the unconscious mind. In addition, it discusses different interpretations of the film, and whether or not philosophy can help shed light on which is the "right one,' and deepens your understanding of the movie's multi-layered plot and dream-infiltrating characters, including Dom Cobb, Arthur, Mal, Ariadne, Eames, Saito, and Yusuf.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sir Michael Dummett

The philosopher Michael Dummett has passed away.

Dummett was a staunch advocate of "analytic" philosophy, the fundamental tenet of which he took to be that "the philosophy of language is the foundation of all other philosophy". He also once characterised it as "post-Fregean philosophy", the 19th-century German philosopher Gottlob Frege having done as much as anyone to treat the philosophy of language in this way. Much of Dummett's own work was accordingly devoted to the interpretation and exposition of Frege's ideas, and he will be as well remembered for his exegesis of Frege as he will for his own seminal contributions to analytic philosophy.

The Future of Moral Machines

Will machines one day have intelligence and autonomy comparable to human intelligence and autonomy? How will we integrate them into our lives--into our society-- and importantly, will they have rights and responsibilities in the moral sense? Colin Allen writes about the future of moral machines.

...the topic of machine morality is here to stay. Even modest amounts of engineered autonomy make it necessary to outline some modest goals for the design of artificial moral agents. Modest because we are not talking about guidance systems for the Terminator or other technology that does not yet exist. Necessary, because as machines with limited autonomy operate more often than before in open environments, it becomes increasingly important to design a kind of functional morality that is sensitive to ethically relevant features of those situations. Modest, again, because this functional morality is not about self-reflective moral agency — what one might call “full” moral agency — but simply about trying to make autonomous agents better at adjusting their actions to human norms. This can be done with technology that is already available or can be anticipated within the next 5 to 10 years.
The Future of Moral Machines

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Philosophy Major Start-ups

How many internet start-ups were launched by philosophy majors?

The answer is 103. <>
English majors? 65. <>
Religion majors? 7. <>

All these results are from TNW Index. <>

Thanks to Peter Suber for the initial post.

Are animals persons?

Are animals persons? Bioethicist Jessica Pierce argues they are not.
The concept "personhood" should only be introduced when we are trying to solve purely human questions (e.g., when is it appropriate to discontinue medical treatment?), not human-animal questions (e.g., what separates humans from animals? what makes a person a not-animal?). We need a more nuanced moral vocabulary-that much is certain. Should there be a concept of "animalhood" that allows us to affirm the qualities in animals that accord them moral value, that transform them from objects into subjects? This might be better than "personhood," since we really aren't arguing that chimps and whales are exactly like humans in the relevant respects, or, for that matter, that whales are like chimps. So maybe we need the terms "whalehood" and "chimphood" and possibly "doghood" (remembering, of course, that even these terms encourage us to overlook uniqueness).
What do you think? Read the entire article here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Alvin Plantinga’s New Book on God and Science

Alvin Plantinga has a new on God and science, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism.
For too long, Mr. Plantinga contends in a new book, theists have been on the defensive, merely rebutting the charge that their beliefs are irrational. It’s time for believers in the old-fashioned creator God of the Bible to go on the offensive, he argues, and he has some sports metaphors at the ready. (Not for nothing did he spend two decades at Notre Dame.) 
In “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism,” published last week by Oxford University Press, he unleashes a blitz of densely reasoned argument against “the touchdown twins of current academic atheism,” the zoologist Richard Dawkins and the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, spiced up with some trash talk of his own.
Watch Plantinga discuss God and evolution. He argues that theris a conflict between naturalism and science, not between theistic religion and science.

Alvin Plantinga’s New Book on God and Science

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Joshua Knobe: Indie Rock Virtues

3ammagazine has an interesting interview with Joshua Knobe. Knobe wrote the Experimental Philosophy Manifesto with Saun Nichols. As an "indie philosopher who breaks with academic style" Knobe has very interesting ideas about how one does philosophy.
Josh Knobe has already got a philosophical idea named after him, ‘The Knobe Effect’. This is the idea that corrodes the idea that we add moral judgments to preconceived non-moral facts about the world. The Knobe Effect suggests that that picture gets the flow of judgments the wrong way round. So Josh Knobe is now a very famous philosopher. Josh Knobe thinks about stuff like, do babies have morals? Are we born believing in God? Do we have free will? Do we think what we think we think? What do drunk people calculate? Where does greed come from? Why do we think God is to blame for bad weather? Why do conspiracy theories have sinister plots? Do we justify our own oppression? Why don’t political activists fit their stereotypes? Why can Google plan but not feel? Why the chair of the board will be held responsible for the bad he does but not the good? Can a lobster feel sad? How being yourself makes a punk band singer and a corporate businessman disagree? Why college students turn into Raskolnikov without regressing? Why Nietzsche is better than Aristotle and Kant at describing moral agency? Is being happy the opposite of being unhappy ? What is the role of disgust? Are infants little scientists?
3:AM Magazine » Indie Rock Virtues: "

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


From BBC Radio 4: Online discussion of pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus
Writing in the 5th century BC, Heraclitus believed that everything is constantly changing or, as he put it, in flux. He expressed this thought in a famous epigram: "No man ever steps into the same river twice." Heraclitus is often considered an enigmatic thinker, and much of his work is complex and puzzling. He was critical of the poets Homer and Hesiod, whom he considered to be ignorant, and accused the mathematician Pythagoras (who may have been his contemporary) of making things up. Heraclitus despaired of men's folly, and in his work constantly strove to encourage people to consider matters from alternative perspectives. Donkeys prefer rubbish to gold, he observed, pointing out that the same thing can have different meanings to different people. 
Unlike most of his contemporaries he was not associated with a particular school or disciplinary approach, although he did have his followers. At times a rationalist, at others a mystic, Heraclitus is an intriguing figure who influenced major later philosophers and movements such as Plato and the Stoics. 
With:Angie Hobbs,Associate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Warwick; Peter Adamson, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College London; James Warren, Senior Lecturer in Classics and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge
Listen Now

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind

The Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind, Chris Eliasmith (editor), is a very useful web site that provides brief but sound background on many key concepts found in the philosophy of mind. The entries are peer reviewed.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Is Free Will an Illusion?

Shaun Nichols argues that we should not trust our instincts about free will or consciousness.
The debate over free will is one example in which our intuitions conflict with scientific and philosophical arguments. Something similar holds for intuitions about consciousness, morality, and a host of other existential concerns. Typically philosophers deal with these issues through careful thought and discourse with other theorists. In the past decade, however, a small group of philosophers have adopted more data-driven methods to illuminate some of these confounding questions. These so-called experimental philosophers administer surveys, measure reaction times and image brains to understand the sources of our instincts. If we can figure out why we feel we have free will, for example, or why we think that consciousness consists of something more than patterns of neural activity in our brain, we might know whether to give credence to those feelings. That is, if we can show that our intuitions about free will emerge from an untrustworthy process, we may decide not to trust those beliefs.
Is Free Will an Illusion?: Scientific American

Monday, December 05, 2011

Peter Carruthers Interview

Here's an interesting interview with philosopher Peter Carruthers. He talks about introspection, self-knowledge and our mind-reading ability.

...what I argue is that there is a single ‘mindreading’ faculty that enables us the perceive our own thoughts as well as the thoughts of other people. This faculty evolved initially for social purposes, enabling us to anticipate (and sometimes to manipulate) the behavior of other people, as well as to better coordinate cooperative activities. But it can likewise be turned on the self, relying on the same channels of information that are used when interpreting the behavior of others. Sometimes we attribute thoughts to ourselves by literally perceiving our overt behavior. But often we rely on sensory cues that utilize the same perceptual channels, such as our own visual imagery, or our own inner speech.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Philosophy Program Survey

Philosophy majors and minors should have received our survey about the Philosophy Program in an email recently. If you haven't yet done so, please take a minute to complete and submit it. We're anxious to find out what we can do to make it a better program for you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Adventures in Thought

Here are several episodes of 60-Second Adventures in Thought. Is motion impossible? What about time travel? Can computers think? Could there be an infinite number of something? And then there is quantum mechanics....

Friday, November 25, 2011

The legacy of David Hume

Oxford philosopher Peter Kail discusses the legacy of David Hume in this podcast.
Hume’s work has had an enormous impact on contemporary thought about induction and moral psychology, to name just two. In our interview, Prof. Kail discusses the ways in which Hume’s influence in these areas rests on some significant misunderstandings of his own views.
Episode 29: Peter Kail discusses the legacy of David Hume

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Frans de Waal on the Natural Origins of Morality

Frans de Waal talks about the natural origins of morality and empathy.
Human morality is older than our current religions, and may go back to tendencies observable in other mammals. In a bottom-up view of morality, this talk is one man's road to discovering an array of positive tendencies in animals at a time when competition and aggression were the only themes.

Inception and Philosophy: Life Is But a Dream

If you've seen the movie Inception, you may have wondered whether the character Cobb is dreaming throughout the film. Can Cobb know whether he is dreaming? How do you know whether you are dreaming now? This is the famous question Descartes asks, suggesting we can never, at any given moment, be sure we are not dreaming.
You may feel certain that you are not dreaming right now, but you have been just as certain that you are not dreaming while you have been dreaming! (We've all had that dream that we were so certain was real.) Thus we can't use our own subjective feeling that we are not dreaming as evidence that we are not-but what else could settle it? Although many philosophers have tried to solve this problem, all have failed. One cannot be certain that one is not dreaming; in fact, it seems that one cannot even know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How we (should) decide

MIT philosophy professor Casper Hare talks about practical rationality and its role in real world decision-making.
Caspar Hare is interested in your choices. Not the ones you’ve already made, but the ones you will make, and how you’ll go about making them. The more important, the better.
“What people, and young people in particular, think about moral questions is powerfully influenced by emotional responses that they have — in particular, disgust-related emotional responses, which are acquired via socialization,” Hare says. “It’s good for people to be able to step back and think about how to respond to a moralized case not by just saying, ‘How do I immediately feel about this? Does it set off my ‘yuck response’?’ but knowing how to think carefully about it and really evaluate what’s going on.”
How we (should) decide

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are Corporations People?

Should we think of corporations as people? Maybe from a legal point of view, but what about from a philosophical oint of view? What is a person? Mike Labossiere discusses the issue in a recent Talking Philosophy blog post.
I am committed to trying to treat corporations as people. Perhaps they can be treated as people in terms of their moral status and moral obligations. Of course, if they are morally people, then this would seem to have some interesting implications for moral theories. Since corporations apparently cannot possess virtues, then virtue theory would be out as a moral theory. The same would also apply to many forms of utilitarianism. Since, for example, corporations do not feel pleasure or pain, they would not count morally, so these theories would need to be rejected. Kant’s theory would also be right out-his account of persons and the role they play in morality would be completely incompatible with the corporation-person. Of course, there is always the option of arguing that there are persons and there are corporation-people. They are both persons, but different sort of persons in fundamental ways. So different that one might suspect that corporations are not people.
Talking Philosophy | Corporations as People

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Science and Philosophy of Free Will

This is a very impressive panel of philosophers and scientists discussing free will and the relationship between philosophy and science.

NKU Philosophy on Facebook

The NKU Philosophy Program is now on Facebook and Google+.  Check us out.

NKU Philosophy
on Google+

Ethics Bowl Team

Congratulations to the NKU Ethics Bowl team, who competed admirably at the 2011 Regional Ethics Bowl Debating competition at Marian University in Indianapolis, November 12, 2011. Organized and coached by Dr. Yaw, the team included Amy Rector-Aranda, Thomas Weatherford, Jessica Whyte, and Andrew Witte. They won one debate and finished ahead of some very good schools. Very impressive.

IBM's Watson: Bettered By A Plant

Recently a computer has beaten humans at the challenging game of Jeopardy. According to Alva Noë IBM's remarkable computer Watson "has the mind of a plant," though even that is an exaggeration. Find out more....

IBM's Watson: Bettered By A Plant

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Could a Computer Think?

At Friday's Philosophy Cafe (Nov. 18, 3:00-4:00, Room SU 108) we'll be talking about whether a computer could think? We'll want to get a little clearer on what a computer is and, of course, on what thinking is. Neither is a simple task. The philosopher John Searle has written extensively on this, arguing that thinking is more than just running a computer program. It's got something to do with the special ways in which a biological brain works, but we still have a long way to go to understand all that. I recommend reading Searle's article "Is the Brain's Mind a Computer Program?" and then joining us in discussion Friday.

The controversial science of free will

Micheal Gazzaniga talks about neuroscience and free will.
...many neuroscientists have maintained a long-standing opinion that what we experience as free will is no more than mechanistic patterns of neurons firing in the brain. Although we feel like free agents contemplating and choosing, they would argue that these sensations are merely an emotional remnant that brain activity leaves in its wake. If these neuroscientists are right, then free will isn’t worth much discussion.
Michael S. Gazzaniga, professor and director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California at Santa Barbara, seriously disagrees. In his new book out this month, “Who’s In Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain,“ Gazzaniga uses a lifetime of experience in neuroscientific research to argue that free will is alive and well. Instead of reducing free will to the sum of its neurological parts, he argues that it’s time for neuroscience to consider free will as a scientific fact in its own right.
The controversial science of free will

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

John Rawls and Occupy Wall Street

What would John Rawls think about the Occupy Wall Street movement?  This interview with Stanford's  Prof. Cohen is interesting.
To celebrate Bank Transfer Day, I sat down with Stanford Professor of Political Science, Philosophy and Law Joshua Cohen to discuss how political philosopher John Rawls might view the Occupy Wall Street movement. The late Rawls, a Harvard professor and the author of A Theory of Justice, is widely recognized as the most important political philosopher of the 20th century. His theory about how to set up a just society, called ‘Justice as Fairness,’ could provide a legitimate philosophical framework for the Occupy the Wall Street movement. I talked with Cohen about what Rawls’ theory says, and what it means for the 99%.
A discussion of John Rawls, author of A Theory of Justice, on Occupy Wall Street

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Martha Nussbaum at EKU

“Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities”
Thursday, November 10, 2011, 7:30 pm
O’Donnell Hall, Student Success Building, Eastern Kentucky University

7th Annual Distinguished Lecture in International Studies
Free and Open to the Public

Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?

From The Atlantic (online).
One of the many small surprises of the recession has been a significant growth in the number of philosophy majors, according the the Philadelphia Inquirer. It has slightly exceeded the growth of enrollments in the last ten years; many other humanities and social science fields have just kept up. At the University of California at Berkeley, despite or because of the state's economic turmoil, the number of majors has increased by 74 percent in the last decade.

What makes philosophy different? It can seem self-absorbed; philosophers themselves joke about Arthur Koestler's definition: "the systematic abuse of a terminology specially invented for that purpose." But it also is a tool (like history and religious studies) for thinking about everything else, and every profession from law and medicine to motorcycle maintenance.
Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major? - Edward Tenner

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Bio-Ethics Bites

New series of podcasts on bio-ethics. Includes interviews with Tim Lewens, Jonathan Wolff, Onora O'Neill, Nick Bostrom, and Peter Singer.
This series of interviews, representing various ethical perspectives tackling controversial subjects arising out of recent scientific advances, is freely available.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Is the United States Conscious?

Eric Schwitzgebel writes, "It would be bizarre to suppose that the United States has a stream of conscious experience distinct from the streams of conscious experience of the people who compose it. I hope you'll agree. (By "the United States" here, I mean the large, vague-boundaried group of compatriots who sometimes act in a coordinated manner.) Yet it's unclear by what materialist standard the U.S. lacks consciousness. Nations, it would seem, represent and self-represent. They respond (semi-) intelligently and self-protectively, in a coordinated way, to opportunities and threats. They gather, store, and manipulate information. They show skillful attunement to environmental inputs in warring and spying on each other. Their subparts (people and larger subgroups of people) are massively informationally connected and mutually dependent, including in incredibly fancy self-regulating feedback loops. These are the kinds of capacities and structures that materialists typically regard as the heart of mentality. Nations do all these things via the behavior of their subparts, of course; but on materialist views individual people also do what they do via the behavior of their subparts. A planet-sized alien who squints might see individual Americans as so many buzzing pieces of a diffuse body consuming bananas and automobiles, invading Iraq, exuding waste."

An interesting idea. Read more at The Splintered Mind.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Women in the Philosophy of Mind

Over that the Philosophy of Brains blog Berit Brogaard posted "More on the current climate for women in philosophy of mind (empirically informed or not)." This is partly in response to philosopher Rebecca Kukla's post at Leiter Reports on the climate for women in the subdisciplines and partly to Sarife Tekin's attempt to clarify the nature of an empirically informed philosophy of mind.

After an interesting discussion about whether we should distinguish something called an "empirically informed philosophy mind" Brogaard writes, "My impression is that none of the sub-disciplines of philosophy are great for women. The fact that there are 20 percent women in the top 50 philosophy departments, about 10 percent female contributions to philosophy volumes and countless male-only conferences is a pretty good indicator that the climate for women isn't great and isn't improving. So when you ask women the questions formulated by Rebecca over at Leiter Reports, women will naturally report that things aren't great. It probably doesn't matter which sub-discipline you ask the questions about. Things aren't great for women in any sub-discipline (that I have worked in, anyway)."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

2011 Loebner Prize

No AI system won the Loebner Prize this year but the chatbot Rosette did take home the bronze medal.

The Loebner Competition functions much like the Turing Test. Judges hold blind conversations with either a computer or a human. To win a computer must fool a judge into thinking that it is human. This hasn't happened yet, though a number of AI systems have scored rather high.

In 2008 NKU computer science alum Fred Roberts and his team at Artificial Solutions earned a bronze metal with Elbot, a chatbot. - 2011 Loebner Prize

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Neuroscience And Justice

Michael Gazzaniga talks about neuroscience and its impact on the law and our notion of justice. Watch the video or read the transcript.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is Self-Knowledge Overrated?

Jonah Lehrer reviews the new book by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow.

"One of the most refreshing things about “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is his deep sense of modesty: he is that rare guru who doesn’t promise to change your life. In fact, Kahneman admits that his decades of groundbreaking research have failed to significantly improve his own mental performance. “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy”—a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task—“as it was before I made a study of these issues,” he writes. As a result, his goals for his work are charmingly narrow: he merely hopes to “enrich the vocabulary that people use” when they talk about the mind.

"This new book will certainly accomplish that—Kahneman has given us a new set of labels for our shortcomings. But his greatest legacy, perhaps, is also his bleakest: By categorizing our cognitive flaws, documenting not just our errors but also their embarrassing predictability, he has revealed the hollowness of a very ancient aspiration. Knowing thyself is not enough. Not even close."

Can You See What I See?

Alva Noë talks about brain reading and our understanding of the mind. Scientists seem to have been able to reconstruct what is going on in your brain when you are watching a film clip. Is this reading the brain?   Noë argues that "we cannot find out what you are thinking or feeling or experiencing by 'reading' your brain." We only find out about what your are thinking or feeling or experiencing by knowing you, 

Brain reading, then, is more like reading a person's facial expression than it is like a direct encounter with the soul. And brain reading is something we can do not because the brain is the seat of consciousness, but precisely because it is not.

Can You See What I See? - Alva Noë - Life - The Atlantic

Noel Sharkey talks about the Loebner contest...

Noel Sharkey talks about the Loebner contest. Machines are pitted against humans every year for the Loebner prize to find out which AI program can best imitate a human being.

Would artificial intelligence outsmart me? I needn't have worried

Paul Boghossian on Moral Relativism

The philosopher Paul Boghossian talks about moral relativism in a podcast from Philosophy Bites. Is all morality relative to the codes of individuals or cultures? What does it mean? Is this a plausible view? Listen to Paul Boghossian on Moral Relativism.

Read Paul Boghossian's article 'The Maze of Moral Relativism' from the New York Times.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Philosophy News

We'll use this blog to post news and information about philosophy.