Monday, June 13, 2016

New Technology for an Old Dilemma

Most philosophers are familiar with the Trolley Problem.  It's a theoretical scenario where our moral intuitions are tested: Can we provide a moral reason to distinguish between pulling a lever to divert a threat, or actively putting a person in harm's way to prevent a worse consequence?  Is there a moral difference between intentions and consequences in these situations?  Does it matter?  How do we make sense of the conflict of moral intuitions and values that your average person feels when evaluating these cases? 

There are a few conditions to keep in mind when evaluating the Trolley Problem:

1.  The question to ask is, “What is the best or moral thing to do in the situation?”  

2.  We should recognize that this is a thought experiment, and the option is forced.  So you can’t try to get out of the experiment. 

3.  You do not know the people on the tracks.  Such knowledge is a game changer, and may significantly alter the way you think about the situation.

Although the Trolley Problem was conceived as a thought experiment, its application has become more prevalent in the areas of psychology and computer technology (among others).  Below are some links that explore more practical reasons for considering the morality of our intuitions in these "lesser of evil" type situations.

Here's a video on the traditional problem:

Virtual reality and neuroimaging are helping us discover what goes through our heads when we decide.
A. New Technology for an Old Dilemma

Driverless cars will (hopefully) be programmed to avoid collisions with pedestrians and other vehicles. They will also be programmed to protect the safety of their passengers. What happens in an emergency when these two aims come into conflict?

B. The Problem of Self-Driving Cars 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dr. Moser is Taylor Award Winner


The Philosophy Department would like to congratulate Dr. John Moser, Professor of History, on winning this year's Taylor Teaching Award!  Click the link to read more! 

 Ashland University College of Arts

Monday, March 28, 2016

Upcoming FALL 2016 Classes!

The End is Near!  Take a Philosophy Class Before It’s Too Late…
Check out these great Fall 2016 courses!

Phil 311: History of Ancient & Medieval Philosophy
Dr. Louis Mancha [TTh 12:15-1:30 pm]

This course will evaluate some of the basic theories and problems of Ancient and Medieval philosophy. We will study Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas primarily, but will have the opportunity to evaluate some Pre-Socratic thinkers and a few selections from Boethius, Scotus, and Ockham. The major topics to be covered will include the nature of being and substance, Platonism vs. nominalism, modality, causality, truth, free will, & evil.

Phil 318: Topics in Philosophy—Aesthetics
Dr. William Vaughan [TTh 9:25-10:40 am]

What is art? Are some works of art better than others? Does art have as much claim to truth as other fields?  In trying to answer these questions, this course takes a traditional approach in reviewing some major classical (post-Kantian) expressions of aesthetics, and their standard arguments and objections. This course satisfies a core humanities requirement.

Phil 330: Readings in Love & Friendship
Dr. Mark Hamilton [MWF 10-10:50 am]

If your boyfriend says to you, “I love you,” how should you respond?  Should you ask him to define his terms? This is a course on love, the highest expression of human affections. What is love? What have great minds and great lovers said about love? We will explore what thinkers such as Solomon, Plato, C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Sartre, and others have said about this deepest of human emotions. After reading these classic works you should be able to unravel the confusion of your boyfriend or girlfriend’s utterances. If you are not interested in love or the meaning of friendship then please stay clear of this course. Yet if love is something you have been looking for in all the wrong places, then please look for it in one of the right places, specifically, this course! (Which satisfies a core humanities requirement).

COMPLETE YOUR CORE with these offerings!

FALL 2016

Humanities: Phil 210 OL: Phil. of Human Nature, Dr. Tiel
Phil 215: Ethics, Dr. Hamilton or Dr. Mancha
Phil 280D: Bioethics, Dr. Hamilton
Religion:     Phil 217 OL: Thought & Belief, Dr. Tiel


Humanities: Phil 215: Ethics (Sum B), Dr. Mancha

It’s never too late to learn how to think, we hope…

Friday, March 18, 2016

Vagueness was a hit!

Ready to compose...

On Thursday, March 17, Professor Jonathan Parsons delivered his talk on "The Vagueness Argument for Unrestricted Composition", to a well-attended audience.

At first the students were perplexed, and wondered why anyone would believe a theory like this, but quickly they saw both the problems and the solutions that unrestricted composition reveals. Parsons gave a variety of examples to help the students understand why problems concerning vagueness influence our talk about composition and substances.


The presentation generated a healthy Q&A discussion afterwards, and our students were ready to engage our speaker.

The AU Philosophy Dept., Philosophy Club, and Phi Sigma Tau want to thank Prof. Parsons for a wonderful talk, and hope he will have the opportunity to fit us into his schedule in the future!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Show Your AU Pride

The Ashland Fund announces the first Ashland University Day of Giving. Up to $10,000 can be won for different areas across campus based on votes.  A gift to the Ashland Fund on that day allows the person to vote for the area they support.  Throughout the day there be hourly challenges where the winner will receive $1,000 along with an overall winner for the day with the most votes receiving $5,000 for that area.  

Across campus we will be passing out t-shirts to get everyone to show their #AUeaglepride!  We also will have a social media toolkit that will be available on the day of giving website where we hope everyone will change their profile picture and banner picture to show pride in AU. In addition we will have a caption contest where the best caption can win $500 for the area he or she supports and a selfie contest with another $500 on the line.

Click on this link to contribute:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Philosophy Talk on Vagueness

The AU Undergraduate Philosophy Colloquium
proudly presents: 

Prof. Jonathan Parsons
Interim Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Joliet Junior College, IL

The Vagueness Argument for Unrestricted Composition

Thursday, March 17, 2016
3:30-4:30 pm

Ronk Lecture Hall
138 Schar, COE

In metaphysics, unrestricted composition is a position concerning how parts and wholes are related to each other. On this view, composition occurs any time there are disjoint parts and there are no “special conditions” in which this composition takes place; if there are parts then necessarily there is a whole that those parts compose. So, if there is a trout swimming in a river in Alaska and a turkey walking the plains of South Dakota, then the truth of unrestricted composition implies there is an object—a trout-turkey—that is composed of exactly those two parts. Despite the initial feelings of “huh?” one might have towards such a view, the view does have several attractive features. In particular, one attractive feature of unrestricted composition is that it eliminates cases of ontic vagueness by saying that borderline cases of composition are impossible. In this presentation I will discuss a specific kind of vagueness argument for unrestricted composition

Come join us for an intense and
enlightening philosophical discussion! 
Bring your bodies, and your minds get in for free!

Sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, the AU Philosophy Club and phi sigma tau

Monday, February 8, 2016

Psychology of Reasoning?

This is a useful video which explains the way a conditional is employed in a deductive argument.  It actually reveals very little about the psychology of reasoning, unless the point is to show that most people do not understand the validity of certain forms of argumentation, namely modus ponens, modus tollens, etc.  Who would have questioned that?  Yet if you actually explain the rule, most people can employ it properly.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Spelman to Talk on Moral Luck

Everyone be sure to check out our colloquium next week (after Thanksgiving)!  Our very own alumnus, Jonathan Spelman, will be delivering a talk on moral luck.  Click on the link for more details!

Philosophy Colloquium to be Held at Ashland University


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Metaphysics and Science

The relationship between Philosophy and Science has been less than ideal since the 18th century.  Their love affair survived distance, infidelity, and numerous other challenges, and if we are to believe the tabloids, they're heading for a rocky divorce, justified by "irreconcilable differences."  In his short blog entry reproduced below, Michael Egnor focuses on one significant point that, were it understood and taken seriously, might help us heal the relationship that actually emerged between these two disciplines.


Metaphysics Is Prior to Science

Over the past couple of days I have been commenting on the modern debate about philosophy of the mind (see here and here). What follows are some thoughts on scientific versus philosophical discussions of the mind and other matters.

I was at a conference recently and was asked by friends who are quite sympathetic to the immaterial understanding of the mind if I could discuss some of the scientific evidence for it and not rely as heavily as I otherwise do on philosophical reasoning. It's an understandable request, and one that I hear often from allies and adversaries alike. 

Indeed there is much scientific evidence that the mind cannot be explained adequately in material terms, especially if one understands matter according to modern mechanical philosophy. I have an aversion to the use of scientific arguments to bolster claims that are inherently logical and metaphysical. Such recourse to scientific, rather than logical and metaphysical, arguments are the mainstay of materialist arguments about the mind, about biology, and about many aspects of physics. 

The difficulty with using raw scientific evidence, untethered from a valid metaphysical framework, is that it gives free reign to ideological bias. In that sense our metaphysical framework -- whether explicit or implicit -- is analogous to train tracks, where the trains are our scientific investigations, and the destination is the truth. Our scientific investigations are restricted to the tracks that the trains run on, and if we are to understand the truth of our science we must understand the tracks that constrain our work. If our metaphysical framework is materialistic, the destination of our inquiries will always be materialistic -- we can do no other.

Metaphysics is prior to science, and science goes horribly wrong if we have an error in metaphysics. An obvious example of profoundly misguided science that arose from metaphysical error is Francis Bacon's abandonment of teleology in the 17th century in favor of a mechanical understanding of nature. Evolution of living things is understood quite readily in a teleological framework -- the nonsensical invocation of tautology (survival of survivors) in the Darwinian fallacy is the direct consequence of the abandonment of teleology in natural science.

Another metaphysical error for which we have paid dearly is the abandonment of the concept of potency and act which is at the heart of Aristotelian metaphysics. Our misunderstanding of the "strangeness of quantum mechanics" such as the existence of myriad indeterminate quantum states that collapse to a single actual state upon observation is the direct consequence of the abandonment of Aristotelian potency and act with the rise of mechanical philosophy in the 17th century. Quantum indeterminacy confounded Bohr and Einstein and Schrodinger, who were trapped in mechanistic Newtonian metaphysics.

Aristotle wouldn't have blinked an eye at quantum indeterminacy -- the collapse of the quantum waveform is a simple manifestation of reduction of potency to act. Heisenberg, who understood Aristotle, understood this.

The use of scientific arguments for things for which they are not suited is a hallmark of scientism, and it is among the most pernicious errors of modern thought. It is important that we who oppose materialism and scientism don't employ scientistic arguments to refute scientism.

So my arguments about the mind are strongly metaphysical, with only occasional reference to clinical experience and to neuroscience. It is not true that neuroscience supports materialistic understandings of the mind; neuroscience in fact only makes sense if one sets aside modern mechanical metaphysics and looks instead to the classical hylomorphic metaphysics of Aristotle and the Scholastics. Bennett and Hacker have made this point in their profoundly important work to rid neuroscience of its philosophical junk.

Wholly materialistic models of the mind are wrong for logical and metaphysical reasons. Only when we understand those metaphysical errors can we properly interpret the scientific evidence.

Modern science is a metaphysical wasteland. Our sad state of affairs is that we moderns have much more scientific evidence than we have metaphysical insight with which to make sense of that evidence.

Image: Francis Bacon, by Frans Pourbus the younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Spring 2016 Classes!

A scientist and an English professor walk into a bar.
The philosopher following them was careful to duck

Check out these great Spring 2016 courses!

Phil 314: 19th Century History of Philosophy
Dr. William Vaughan [M 6:30--9:15 pm]
The 19th century remains one of the most volatile episodes in the history of philosophy, with revolutionary movements of thinking emerging in rapid succession. The first half of the century is marked by philosophical system-building, embodied by the efforts of German Idealism. We will look at Kant and Hegel as representatives of this endeavor. The second half is marked by system-destroying, that any philosophical ‘system’ of thought necessarily suffocates and suppresses human being. We will look at Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche as representatives of this task. After their explosive efforts, some have concluded that any efforts to construct a comprehensive philosophical system are fruitless. We will explore whether or not this is the case. Note: This course does NOT satisfy a core Humanities requirement, but non-majors can still get a lot out of this class.

Phil 317: Philosophy of Religion
Dr. Louis Mancha [TTh 12:15--1:30 pm]

Traditionally, it is claimed that the God of Western monotheism has certain distinct properties. God is said to be all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and all-good (omnibenevolent), for example. The significant worry is this: Are those properties consistent? In other words, is God really a possible being? If God is not a possible being, then is it even rational to believe in God? Many philosophers and theologians have developed problems and paradoxes that appear to result from a deeper analysis of these properties. The purpose of this class is to address and respond to these issues. We will study what it means to say that God has certain perfections or properties, and what is implied by them. We will also analyze some of the paradoxes and apparent inconsistencies that philosophers have observed in connection with these properties, and attend to some possible solutions to those paradoxes. Satisfies a Humanities core requirement.

Phil 330: Readings in Philosophy (C.S. Lewis)
Dr. Mark Hamilton [MWF 10--10:50 am]

Is Christianity reasonable?  What are the best arguments to confirm Christianity’s truth claims?  Do you know anything about the author of The Chronicles of Narnia?  This is a course on the most vital and most important Christian writer of the Twentieth Century, C.S. Lewis.  Lewis, an Oxford scholar, wrote marvelous works of fiction on unseen worlds and challenging books defending issues like the validity of miracles and the problem of suffering, along with popular essays probing life’s great mysteries.  Lewis has boundless insight to the historical and philosophical issues emerging in the Twentieth Century. Enjoy a course that will be explicitly Christian while addressing questions every non-believer asks concerning God. Satisfies a Humanities core requirement.

  COMPLETE YOUR CORE with these other Spring offerings!

Math/Logic:     Phil 220: Practical Thinking, Dr. Mancha
Humanities:     Phil 210: Phil. of Human Nature, Dr. Tiel
Phil 215: Ethics, Dr. Hamilton, and Dr. Mancha
Phil 280A: Sports Ethics, Dr. Hamilton
Phil 280B: Environmental Ethics, Dr. Vaughan

Bring your ‘A’ game to all your classes, whatever your major!
Learn to think philosophically.