9-11-2012: The New Language of Genetic Medicine and its Implications for the Ethical Conduct of Human Research
Fred Grinnell, UT Southwestern

Four questions are relevant to the condition of sick individuals. What is the disease? What is the treatment? Why did this happen now? Could it have been prevented? In the age of genetics, the conventional language of medicine is undergoing radical transformation. The new normal increasingly equates disease with risk rather than already present symptoms. The embryo increasingly becomes a potential patient even though society does not agree on whether or not the embryo is a person. And treatment increasingly means preventing the disease by preventing the person who might get the disease. These changes in the meaning of the language of medicine present new and difficult challenges to the ethical conduct of human research.


9-25-2012: The Mind/Body Problem in the 21stCentury
Robert Howell, SMU

With developments in neuroscience coming at a breakneck speed, there seems little room for doubt that our minds can be largely explained in terms of our brains. It can appear as though the mind-body problem that has plagued philosophers for centuries is on the verge of being solved, but by the advancement of science rather than the musings of philosophy. In fact, I maintain there is at least one feature of our minds that has remained recalcitrant to scientific explanation: phenomenal consciousness. The subjective character of consciousness will inevitably escape full explanation by the objective sciences. I argue that this does not show that consciousness is non-physical, though it does require us to be humble about what we can explain scientifically.

10-09-2012: Thinking Critically in the Age of the Mindless Quest for Euphoria
Jack Youngkin

The quality of our life and that of that we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought.  Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.  As Chris Hedges states, the quest for knowledge and systematic thinking has been replaced by the quest for euphoria in crowds, in mass emotions, rather than individual transcendence.  The process of critical thinking will be examined followed by a discussion of steps we can take to live creatively in the 21st century.

10-23-2012: Possibility of afterlife????
Justin Fisher, SMU

This fun halloween-themed talk critically examines various ways in which philosophers of religion have tried to make sense of an afterlife.  Many common understandings of an afterlife wouldn't work at all.  Other more complicated conceptions might potentially work, but we have no evidence of their truth.

11-13-2012: Ensoulment and the Morality of Abortion: A History and a Critique
Steve Sverdlik, SMU

Catholics and some other Christians often defend the position that abortion is morally wrong by claiming that ensoulment occurs at conception, so that abortion kills a being with a soul. I give a short history of Christian thinking about ensoulment. Contrary to popular opinion, over most of their history Christians did not believe that ensoulment occurs at conception. So their moral objection to early abortion rested on another claim. It was only about 1620 that Catholics started to assert that ensoulment occurs close to the time of conception. I go on to criticize Christian thinking about ensoulment from a secular point of view.

11-27-2012: The Politics and Ethics of Texas Public Policy

Cal Jillson, SMU


SMU Professor Cal Jillson is the author of a new book, Lone Star Tarnished: A Critical Look at Texas Politics and Public Policy. This book asks how Texas came to be so good at economic growth and job creation and so poor at education, health care and social provision, infrastructure development, and environmental protection. Given the demographic changes continuing in Texas, we ask whether Texas can prosper by continuing down its small government, low tax, path or whether a more activist state government will be required to meet the policy challenges facing the state.


12-11-2012: Wait, there’s a baby in that bathwater: a naturalistic defense of free will and agency

David Drumm

Since Descartes, the western intellectual tradition has tended to view nature as an interlocking system of mechanistic parts, devoid of meaning purpose and value. Attempts to interject concepts of agency, autonomy, and will, from Kant to Hegel, to Kierkegard, to Whitehead, have been met with brief periods of acceptance, but have ultimately been rejected as illicit attempts to smuggle in supernatural “skyhooks” from the other side of the Cartesian divide.

Recent theories developed by Terrance Deacon, Stuart Kauffman, and David Deutsch, among others, present novel challenges to the  deterministic mechanistic worldview grounded firmly within the naturalistic framework. Using concepts of emergence and creativity developed from chaos, complexity, and information theories, these new theories postulate an emergent series of orthograde thermodynamic, morphodynamic, and teleodynamic systems which act to introduce “absent referents” as causally relevant factors in the material world.