2013 Fall Proseminar Professor Blog

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September 4, 2013: 1st Class

Great to meet you all on Wednesday night. Looking over my notes and memory of class, I feel certain that we have a really diverse and interesting group. I'm looking forward to working with all of you. Please feel free to drop by office hours (M-Th 8-10) or make an appointment just to talk about your philosophical interests and work in the course.

Also, let me know if you have any questions about our "poster/responder" system. Looking forward to class next week.


September 11, 2013: 2nd Class

Good discussion, gang. I think we made a start on the problem of how to think about the nature of philosophy given how much our conceptions of it change over time. You all have a good ability to open up a problem, philosophically, which is always a pleasure.

I think we also have some strengths in group discussion. I will mention one problem that arises in philosophy discussions and which I noticed last night. Sometimes you try to say something complicated in a philosophy discussion and it doesn't come out completely clear. Sometimes you can be aware of this as you're talking or after. It's tempting for the group (being appropriately conflict avoidant) to kind of move on without figuring out what the person was saying. That's all good and well for normal mortals, but I think philosophers are supposed to help each "deliver" their ideas. That's why Socrates, in the Apology, considers himself "midwife" (like his mom). So think about some conversational practices that might help with that. You could, for example, reconstruct part of what you think the person said and leave it to them to take another shot at it. You could ask some questions, etc.

Finally, I think we're going to excel at desert and breaks.

Next week we'll be thinking together about what science. This is important to philosophy these days since the question of the relationship between philosophy and science is so contested. More about that later.

Have a great week.


September 18: Science and Philosophy

Thanks for a good seminar. I think the "poster/responder" system is coming along. I think it's giving me some information about your interaction with the material, but I must admit it's hard for me to take notes on the responders because the discussion has achieved a bit of flow these past two sessions. I guess that's a good problem to have, though. You do have a wide range of ways to respond so feel free to try some things out. I'll try to take your total class involvement into consideration in giving you advice, not just what you do in the "poster/responder" roles. But I do think it's working to create more of a seminar atmosphere.

Hopefully, you picked up some handy ways to think about science in relation to realism and see now how the problem of science and especially the notion of "certainty" of knowledge has played such a big role in the history of philosophy. I don't think you can make much sense of the transition to modernity without considering what a huge doubt the rise of science and mechanics posed to traditional metaphysics. Galileo was lucky. My impression is that as a group you all are quick to these connections, but some of you have had more philosophy that others, so please raised questions or get things explained a couple of ways if class is confusing.

I'm eager to schedule appointments with each of you. Please look over the schedule and think about both what's there and not there in relation to your interests. (There's still some room to shuffle or add some topic to the course.) But the goal of our meeting will really be just be to think about some directions you are likely to find interesting topics. You are welcome, of course, to start us off with any list of topics you may already have!

Ok, thanks again, and have a great week.


September 25: Non-academic philosophy

Thanks for your work last night. I think we had good results most of the evening, but by the end of the night I think we were getting to the point of asking how our assumptions about what philosophy and creative work are supposed to be informs our view of whether you can "do philosophy through literature". That's a wonderful thing to wonder about, especially if we consider that philosophy is creative, in the sense of Deleuze. Philosophers create concepts. I don't mind that we got a little bogged down in the logic. Take the same set of documents and review them again for next week. We'll just set the plough back in the ground and keep going till we all understand it. That's how argument theory can be -- deceptively simple but hard to integrate into your practice.

Speaking of philosophy as practice, I really enjoyed and feel grateful for the atmosphere you all are creating. I'm noticing more attention to how we're saying things, more questions of each other, and some good camaraderie (midwifery). As you get to know each other as philosophers you may find that you can use your differences to help you express your own philosophical identities by contrast. And it's fun!

Next week gives us material that is great for practicing our reconstruction and argument skills. You'll notice that Singer writes in a very straightforward anglo-american argument style. It's not the only way to argue, but it lines up with the argument theory pretty well and should reinforce that. Thanks to Sam for the doughnuts and suggestion about dinner. Let's kick that around for a bit. It might work out and could be a fun way to do a class.

Ok, flip roles for posters and responders. I'm not sure, but I think this method is getting our discussions rolling pretty fast. Or maybe that's the natural enthusiasm to do philosophy. Have a great week and send in appointment times for next week if we haven't met yet. Alfino

October 2: Singer and Absolute Poverty

Thanks again for some good discussions and esprit de corps. I think we're getting comfortable making stronger statements about the material and engaging each other more. I do think we might have benefited from some structured smaller group discussion. I think the discussion was great for some of the depth of points pursued. We didn't quite get to a historical discussion of utilitarianism, but that's fine. Some related history is coming up soon.

Great to be finishing the first round of meetings. I do hope to consult with you over the semester (electronically and in person) as you pursue your projects. The course reading load should make room for an hour or two a week on your research and philosophical writing pursuits (from a budget of about 6 hours, right?). I'm available to look at interim results of research and sketches of argument and analysis in your philosophical writing when you get to that point.

Meanwhile, thanks for the reminder to get us on track to take the Methods Test. I'll foreground that next week.


October 9

October 16

October 23

There are just a lot of good things going on this seminar right now, and I'm really grateful to you all for your work. As I mentioned in class, the reports are increasingly articulated in terms of probing questions and efforts to treat views in terms of structured arguments, all of which I think you have natural affinities for doing, of course. As a group, I'm hearing you help "deliver" each other's ideas. It's great. But then there's no end to trying to be clear and get to what you see as the heart of a philosophical matter.

Our topic helped this week. I hope you caught my enthusiasm for way Siderits offers a role model of reconstruction, both in the wholesale reframing of Buddhism as a philosophy and in the specific efforts to find valid structure and investigate the claims of those reconstructed arguments. It's not the only way to express philosophy, but thinking in terms of rationales and having critical skills for evaluating them, is pretty central to the enterprise, right?

Great job with the personal identity phase of the seminar as well. It's a pretty hot topic and I hope some of you will consider writing on it.

Have a great week.


October 30

November 6


Some tough material, but I hope you took two things away from last night: first, that the problem of fixing meaning in language is a deeply (and, ok, annoying) philosophical and practical problem. And two, that in some ways the linguistic turn in philosophy was a legacy of the Kantian turn. In the last part of the seminar, we saw a continental philosopher who tries to bring some realism back to the discussion by looking at the logic of "events and situations" (somewhat technical terms, as we found)and lining it up with historicity, existential choice, and logic.

Sorry to be late with your methods exams. I'll try to have them done by the weekend.

Check out Steven Pinker and let me know if that event (next Thurs at 7pm) appeals to you and fits your schedule. I'll save you a ticket.

Big thanks to AJ for furthering my understanding (like from 0 to "I'm interested") of Badiou. You all have things to school me on, so let's start putting more attention on your writing for the course. I said I'd be back around to ask about that so how about if you try to have something to report by the end of next week? We can do appointments or updates from you by email.

Could we get a dessert volunteer for next week?

Thanks for your work. Also, I will represent the scheduling issues with Quanhua and get back to you about it.


November 13


I guess you could say that the Dennett text is a "gateway text" to naturalism. Lots of others, including passages from Hume, could have been chosen. But the key idea is that that naturalist gives up "skyhooks" in explanation. That doesn't mean you have to let a naturalist perspective dominate your "life world," but it is important to note that when you have kids with ear infections, you don't want interpretations of the infection, you want it gone. And to do that you have to give up skyhooks -- at least the doctors do.

Thanks for handling challenging material well again. Without the pressure of the final, I feel like we have some freedom to run up some steep hills (of philosophy). This stuff would be hard to test you on, but if you understand 50% of what Dennett is saying, you'll have it available to you when you think about the kinds of knowledge that you think there are, for example.

Ok, the focus is on you guys for the remainder. Please see me early and often about your research and writing. Emails are good too. I have plenty of time for you all, so let me help you do some really good work.


November 20

November 27

December 4

December 11