Majors Seminar Class Notes

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AUG 30

First Day Notes:

  • Welcome: introductions
  • Goals -- becoming better philosophers, developing philosophical voice, improving expression
  • About the course
  • Previous versions and influences -- problems of method and style in philosophy.
  • Philosophy and creative writing - parallels bt writers' workshop classes and seminars
  • Applied philosophy -
  • Philosophy as personal vocation -
  • Structure of this course
  • Websites in the course: --> &
  • fill out Roster Information
  • Note on wiki editing
  • Course Resources
  • Break
  • Philosophical ice breaker
  • The Writing & Performing Philosopher
  • Link to some of my current interests: [1]


1. Writing and Philosophy

Let's thinking about Stafford's view of writing as discovery in relation to both the NYT piece and the Dillard piece. How do these two pieces engage philosophy?

2. Discussion of Lakoff and Johnson chapter, "How Philosophical Theories Work"

This reading gives us an introduction to some of the "embodied consciouness" literature from it's early days. We'll track both the view and it's rhetoric. Note the rhetoric of the sample chapter as well and the reviewers.


3. Philosophical Method, Progress in Philosophy, and Defining Philosophy

We'll do some philosophy together here by outlining and evaluating some positions on these three topics and their interrelationships.
  • Look at some list of philosophical methods:
  • Do philosophers' have unique methods, unique goals, or neither?
  • What does progress mean for a discipline or form of inquiry? (ask parallel questions: Has there been progress in physics? In the novel? In film?

4. Browsing in Philosophy

A variety of search tools can help you find interests, pursue them, and join active philosophical communities.

SEP 13

Misc notes

  • schedule student meetings
  • NIC conference: [2]

Writing, Seeing, Highlighting Experience, Speculating

  • Overbye, Stafford, Dillard

Method: Embodied Mind, Early Statement

  • Lakoff and Johnson, chapters 1 and 24, reviews.
  • Baggini and Fosl - TOC

Dennett & Crawford


  • Fox and Grapes: Taking a few steps back, the fox jumped and just missed the hanging grapes. Again the fox took a few paces back and tried to reach them but still failed. Finally, giving up, the fox turned up his nose and said, "They're probably sour anyway," and proceeded to walk away. It's easy to despise what you cannot have.
  • Chinese Room argument. [3]


SEP 20

Crawford, Chapter 1, The Jig, the Nudge, and the Local Ecology

  • jigs -- constrain environments, reduce degrees of freedom, embody thought.
  • The Intelligent Use of Space [4]
  • Andy Clark and embodied / extended cognition -- 34-35 Could this apply to culture and morality?
  • Nudge -- Sunstein & Thaler
  • What's the diff between being nudged and using your own jig? not saying autonomy is nec. DIY.
  • works with some critical theses at 40-41

Crawford, Chapter 2, Embodied Perception

  • Hockey player and stick -- Blind person's stick -- Polanyi and Merleau Ponty.
  • Perceiving as a form of action. Kitten experiment, 49
  • Motorcycles -- the intelligence you need to safely ride a motorcycle has to be cultivated by doing it. social knowledge also, 58. at 61, discussion of learning from close calls reminds me of Dennett; need for criticism 63. states of mind in motorcycling -- "alert watchfulness without meddling"
  • theses at end 67: self into relation of fit with world, embodied perception challenges idea that representation comes first. reread 67-68 to see where he's going. Typical forms of abstraction in ethics seem suspect to Crawford in light of embodied cognition. "ethics of attention" "alive to the concrete particularity of others" (?!) wants to get to the technological concept of virtual reality and show it's implicit moral ideal.

Dennett, Intuition Pumps, Chapter 2 A Dozen General Thinking Tools

  • 1. Making Mistakes -- History of philosophy important for the mistakes. Also, important to intentionally make mistakes! evolution as trial and error. how natural selection handles mistakes. 22. Importance of examining the wreckage. Evolutionary "mistakes" disappear.... no ancestors. Credit Assignment Problem 25 [5]
  • 2. Reductio ad absurdum
  • 3. Rapoport's Rules
  • 4. Sturgeon's Law 90% of Everything is Crap
  • 5. Occam's Razor
  • 6. Occam's Broom

SEP 27


  • Philosophy (argument) in everyday life: NPR story with Ga. voters. [6]


Philosophy News

Crawford, Chapter 5, "Autism as a Design"

  • Leap Frog Learning Table
  • Natasha Dow Schull, "Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas"
  • exposition of book and comparision with previous examples of interaction with machines
  • 92: connection with autism
  • delvering goods and services vs. creating experiences; affective capitalism
  • 95ff: details from Schull
  • [interesting parallell between processed food products and gambling addiction by design.]
  • Argument summary at the end: Doesn't just want to complain about how slot machines (and related phen.) compromise autonomy, but also to raise the question of what sort of autonomy should we want. What are healthy "ecologies of attention"?

Dennett, Section 3, "Meaning" Sections 13-19

Pinker, Chapter 3, "The Curse of Knowledge"

Writing Prompts for 1st Writing

  • Write 3-5 pages on a philosophical topic of your choice. You are welcome to write an academic piece, but you could also experiement with creative fiction or creative non-fiction. Here are a couple of specific choices:
  • Reconstruct and critically evaluate the argument (through Chapter 5) in Crawford, "The World Beyond Your Head". Are the problems Crawford is identifying as serious as he thinks they are? Do they point toward a problem with our historic model of autonomy?
  • Use the discussions in Crawford of attention and/or skill as a starting point to write a personal philosophical essay in which you reflect on the challenge of maintaining attention and focus in a world characterized by the commercialization of the "attentional commons". The essay may discover a personal insight about our relationship to technology (perhaps a response you have made or want to make to this relationship) or direct the focus to a critical assessment of the ways in which contemporary culture (and capitalism) attempt to manage our attention and expectations.

OCT 11

  • News and research reports

Elizabeth on Pet Abolitionists.

Smith, Chapter 1 "An Unsettling Question"

  • Workshop on A Philosophic Case: Andrew Smith's argument in A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism
  • let's look at both the writing style and argument structure in this overview chapter. I'll try fill in from the book.
  • Argument
  • Traditional vegetarianism assumes that there is no moral problem with eating plants,
  • But, plants are sentient (review from book)
  • Therefore, sentientists might want to embrace "expantionary sentience"
  • But, expantionary sentience is anthrpocentric, because it violates equal consideration.
  • Moreover, it isn't even possible to be a vegetarian -- 'transitivity argument" We are what we eat and we are who what we eat eats.
  • Solutions:
  • Plumwood: ontological vegetarianism vs. ecological complexity
  • Animism: the world is full of people only some of whom are human.
  • Land-centered ethic.

Note contrast to FAO report, "livestock's long shadow" and the movie cowspiracy.

  • Something on why theories of meaning matter.

Crawford, "Brief History of Freedom" pp. 115-123

OCT 18

Philosophical News

  • report on liberty of thought research
  • the attentional economy and the election -- new book on Google, the attention merchant.

Some notes on Carnal Hermeneutics

  • Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. How we come to understand. What we will be reading about is an excerpt of Carnal Hermeneutics, an opening up to the body as interpretation. Here is somewhat of a mapping out of Carnal Hermeneutics as Richard Kearney and Brian Treanor explain it:
  • Carnal Hermeneutics follows these 7 basic principle:
  • o Human existence requires an art of understanding as well as a science of explanation
  • o Our understanding involves a finite, spatiotemporal being-in-the-world
  • o Our finite experience calls for a phenomenological appreciation of meaning as a projection of possibility and reception of reality
  • o This meaning involved “sense” mediations in a wide arc from sensing to linguistics
  • o This hermeneutic arc transcends traditional dualism between rational understanding and embodied sensibility
  • o Our most carnal sensations are already interpretations
  • o All of this invites hermeneutics to go all the way down, abandoning the tendencies to oppose language to sensibility, word to flesh, or text to body
  • • The basic lesson of carnal hermeneutics: all of our experience, from birth to death, is mediated by our embodiment. Word is flesh.
  • • It is basically a way of understanding and interpretation that happens through the body. This, although not out rightly, could be tied to embodied consciousness in the way our body can know, remember, sense, things that we don’t necessarily think about anymore.

Rambo, Shelly. "Refiguring Wounds in the Afterlife (of Trauma)" (Presenter, Ali R)

  • Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Thomas. [[8]]

Dennett, Sections 19-23

Crawford, Chapters 6 (Elizabeth) & 7 (Ali R)

OCT 25

  • News and research reports
  • briefly back to trauma -- therapies for locating trauma in the body. -- normal/extraordinary trauma?
  • excerpt from Emrys' book on frugality.
  • Crawford, Chapters 8, 9, 10
  • Looking for volunteer presenters.
  • Pinker, Chapter 4, "The Web, the Tree and the String" 1st 1/2 of the chapter
  • The goal here is to come to class with one or two points from this reading that you found helpful.
  • Dennett, pp. 107-150, Sections 24-27
  • Section 24, "The Seven Secrets of Computer Power Revealed". On this section, I'd like to see if we can each write 1-3 sentences summarizing his point.
  • Section 25, "Virtual Machines"
  • Section 26, "Algorithms" Elizabeth
  • Section 27, "Automating the Elevator"



NOV 15

NOV 17

NOV 22

  • Thanksgiving Week: Optional Meeting Time