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The Fifth Annual Midwest Epistemology Workshop

The program for the fifth annual Midwest Epistemology Workshop (MEW) has been finalized. More details of the program, including papers and local arrangements, will be posted here as they come in.

The meeting will take place in Iowa City, Iowa, Oct. 9-10, 2011; the Philosophy Department at the University of Iowa is hosting the meeting, and Richard Fumerton is the Chair of Local Arrangments.  (He can be reached at <>.)

KEYNOTE: Richard Foley (NYU)

The other presenters will be Michael DePaul (Notre Dame), Gillian Russell (Washington University), Peter Markie (University of Missouri), David Alexander (Iowa State University), Fabrizio Cariani (Northwestern University), Mike Titlebaum (University of Wisconsin), and Wayne Riggs (University of Oklahoma).

As a reminder: the following (sixth) MEW will be hosted in the Fall of 2012 by the Philosophy Department at Indiana University, and the Chair of local arrangements will be Adam Leite.


See posting here.

CFP: BSPR 2011 Conference

The subject of this years British Society for the Philosophy of Religion conference is God, Mind and Knowledge and is being held at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. Keynote speakers include Professor John Cottingham (Reading, Heythrop College, and Oxford), Professor Sir Anthony Kenny (Oxford), Professor Robin Le Poidevin (Leeds), Professor Charles Taliaferro (St. Olaf College).

For information on paper topics and where to send your paper, see the announcement here.

Philosophy of Religion Conference at Baylor

Jonathan Kvanvig has organized Baylor University’s 6th Annual Philosophy of Religion Conference. It is being held at Baylor on January 28-29 (the flyer says 2010 but I expect that’s a typo). Speakers include Andrew Chignell (Cornell), Ed Wierenga (Rochester) and Steve Wykstra (Calvin). Among the papers are “Faith and It’s Relationship to Belief,” Plantinga’s Defeat,” and “Intelligent Design Reliabilism”

More information here.

CFP: Exact2011

Explanation-aware Computing has a call out for papers for their upcoming workshop being held on July 16-17, 2011. Scholars in the fields of cognitive science, linguistics, philosophy of science, psychology, and education are invited to submit papers. For more information, see their flyer here.

A Penny for Your Corbomite

In what has to be my favorite episode of the 1960s TV series Star Trek, “The Corbomite Maneuver”, the Enterprise is outmatched by an alien with superior intellect and technology. Balok has given the Enterprise ten minutes to prepare for their demise. When the clock runs down, he will destroy her. After attempts to break away from Balok’s tractor beam which pushes the Enterprise to her limits, Chief Science Officer Mr. Spock logically analyzes the situation and is forced to admit defeat. “In chess, when one player is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate.” All seems lost until Captain Kirk, never to be constrained by something as limited as logic, realizes a way out: the bluff. “Not chess Mr. Spock. Poker.” he replies with his characteristic confidence and swagger.

I’m a geek. I freely admit it. Okay, I embrace it. I regularly tell my students at the beginning of each quarter that that beneath the good-looking, mild-mannered professor standing before them lies a logic-filled animal oozing with the trifecta of geeky passions: Star Trek, computers, and philosophy. The nervous chuckles that can be heard around the room really is unveiled code for “what have I gotten myself into?” But I didn’t realize how cool I actually am until I started watching the hit television show The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon, an only slightly-exaggerated persona of a semi-robotic theoretical physicist, is a type of Mr. Spock dropped into modern, suburban Pasadena. When the lovely Penny throws a birthday party for his roommate Leonard, Sheldon is lost when Penny asks what he got Leonard for his birthday.

bbt1Penny: Sheldon, I didn’t see your present.

Sheldon: That’s because I didn’t bring one.

Penny: Well why not?

Sheldon: The entire institution of gift giving makes no sense! Let’s say that I go out and I spend fifty dollars on you; it’s a laborious activity because I have to imagine what you need whereas you already know what you need. Now I could simplify things--just give you the fifty dollars directly and then you could give me fifty dollars on my birthday and so on until one of us dies leaving the other one fifty dollars richer. And I ask you, is it worth it?

Penny: Sheldon, you’re his friend. Friends give each other presents.

Sheldon: I accept your premise. I reject your conclusion.

Penny: [mechanically and on the advice of Wolowitz] It’s a, non-optional, social, convention.

Sheldon: Ah! Fair enough.

Wolowitz: [looking at a dumbfounded Penny] He came with a manual. . .

I’ve been writing a series of essays on existentialism and religious faith and one of the main themes is to unpack the distinction between what we can know rationally and what we know existentially. Both Spock and Sheldon exhibit behaviors consistent with a purely rational take on things: I can only know what I can grasp by a set of logical rules. Penny and Captain Kirk fall more on the existential side. You give a friend a present because . . . he’s your friend. You can outsmart an unbeatable alien opponent by using that all-too-human capacity to bluff.  Any fan of the original Miracle on 24th Street—a favorite of my family during the Christmas season—plays out this theme as does the Carl Sagan-written Contact and many many other films and television shows. These themes are played out in popular media because they capture something significant about human nature and the contrast makes for good drama, comedy, and storytelling. They also provide us with the basis to understand a lot of contemporary social conflicts.

So the next time a policeman pulls you over for speeding, try telling him that you’re anxious to get home to a romantic evening with a woman who just can’t wait to tear your clothes off and that if he doesn’t understand this to be good grounds for speeding maybe he should try reading a little Kierkegaard.

Let me know if it works.

Four philosophers--and one psychologist--you've never heard of (but should know)

Even if you’re not a professional philosopher, you’ve heard of Plato and Kant and probably Russell and Descartes because of their enormous influence on just about everything academic. But what about great thinkers that rarely show up in introductory philosophy courses? While most professional philosophers are familiar with their names, to most people they don’t exist (if a philosopher isn’t known by the general public, do they have a thought?). Here are a few that either had one really good idea that’s worth knowing or got so many things right, they deserve to be on a list somewhere even if only 10 people in the history of mankind can understand them.

alt Thomas Reid – The only philosopher on my list who did his work prior to the 20th century, Reid is known as the “common sense” philosopher. Using the tools of philosophy, he came to the defense of the “poor, untaught mortals” against the professionals who pity “the credulity of the vulgar.” Just when philosophy was at risk of floating away, Reid tied it back down.
alt Roderick Chisholm – All of Chisholm’s books should come with a warning: reading this volume may cause blurry eyes, dizziness, and could lead to a severe case of anal retention. Chisholm is not for the faint of heart (or mind) but it is because we can stand on his shoulders that many of us are able to see farther. Chisholm examined the mind, free will, knowledge, personhood, perception etc. and was right on most of it (I think).
alt Saul Kripke - How many people do you know could publish a completeness theorem in modal logic at 18, develop a semantics of modal logic which would later be named after him, teach all that hard stuff at Harvard, Princeton, and MIT with just a Bachelor's degree, and be listed at number 7 on Brian Leiter's "The most important philosopher of the last 200 years”? Saul Kripke has done all of the above and more. His Naming and Necessity was, and is, a game changer.
alt John Searle – Someone once referred to Searle as philosophy’s “bad boy” because he has the annoying habit of following an idea wherever it leads. If he thinks an idea—even one he is supposed to agree with—is absurd, he’ll say it. Searle is one of the clearest, and most honest, philosophers writing. Dagmar is one lucky person.
Ernest Becker – Becker’s The Denial of Death is on my list of top 3 most personally influential books. Why do we do just about everything we do? Becker explains. And imagine, such a philosophically relevant book coming from a psychologist. Who knew?

Who’s on your list?

Postgraduate Scholarships at University of Birmingham 2011-2012

We are pleased to announce that applications are now open for the following postgraduate Scholarships for 2011-2012.

We welcome applicants interested in philosophy of religion. We currently have 11 MA students, 2 MPhil students and 3 PhD students in this specific area.

  1. AHRC doctoral awards (fees + maintenance) open to UK students and non-UK students who have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years for reasons other than education in the following disciplinary areas:
    Philosophy (1)
    Religious Studies (1)
  2. 12 College Doctoral Scholarships (Home/EU or Overseas, fees + maintenance) AHRC equivalent awards, open to UK, EU and international students in all disciplines in arts and law
  3. Up to 5 College Doctoral Overseas Scholarships (full-fees only)
  4. Up to 2 College MA/MPhil Overseas Scholarships (full-fees only)
  5. 2 fee remission (Home/EU) Scholarships in any Masters/MPhil Programme in Philosophy, Theology and Religion
  6. Dinshaw Bursary for Theology/Inter-religious studies (to be confirmed)

For more information please see:

OCC Program Finalized

The program for the third Online Consciousness Conference is finalized and is available at the conference website.

The conference begins February 18th and lasts until March 4th. Papers (but not commentaries) will be available to read one week before the conference starts February 11th. To be updated on conference events, subscribe to the rss feed at the conference website, or join them on Facebook.

Reposted from Brains

Religion and Evolutionary Value

Nick Spencer considers the question, “Is there a God Instinct” in a series for The Guardian. He concludes that evolutionary explanations—both modern and historical—for religion are severely lacking and that it appears that unbelief is what needs to be explained. Even if the claims of religion aren’t true, that fact won’t be determined by the hard sciences.

No longer able to find refuge in the idea that belief in God is an unnatural or neurotic accretion on human nature (save the rather clumsy virus metaphor that is still doing the rounds in some quarters), the atheist finds himself saying: "Yes, OK, religion may well be an inherent part of human nature, but that doesn't mean it is good or true.

Perhaps not, but few serious religious believers would claim that any scientific discipline is competent to adjudicate on the goodness or truth of religious claims.

See article

A Reflection on Elizabeth Anscombe

Mark Oppenheimer, for the New York Times, writes considers the impact and life of this influential Catholic philosopher (her philosophy and her life are inseparable, he says) who died a decade ago. More pointedly, he observes a resurgence in interest in her work and life. “Philosophers are primarily interested in Miss Anscombe’s action theory. But Professor Vogler says that a true appreciation of her includes the religious writing.”

See article.

Philosopher Spotlight

Conversations with philosophers, professional and non-professional alike.
Visit our podcast section for more interviews and conversations.

Interview with

Dr. Robert McKim
  • on Religious Diversity
  • Professor of Religion and Professor of Philosophy
  • Focuses on Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Alvin Plantinga
  • on Where the Conflict Really Lies
  • Emeritus Professor of Philosophy (UND)
  • Focuses on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Peter Boghossian
  • on faith as a cognitive sickness
  • Teaches Philosophy at Portland State University (Oregon)
  • Focuses on atheism and critical thinking
  • Has a passion for teaching in prisons
See all interviews


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