The January 28th talk has been changed due to a schedule conflict

1-14-2014What is Justice?

David Pruessner, JD, LLM

All across America court houses inscribe the word “justice” in stone, and promise to deliver “justice.”   Yet, the judges inside constantly differ on what it means to achieve justice.   These disagreements are much more than subjective arguments based on a judge’s personal views.   Each judge’s view of justice tends to fall into one of several “camps,” each of which has a long tradition in Western Civilization.  And, each of these traditions found its way into some portion of our United States Constitution, such as equal protection, due process, equitable jurisdiction, etc..  

David Pruessner, a Dallas civil lawyer for more than 30 years, will address the different theories of civil justice as they are applied on a daily basis in courts of law, particularly the United States’ Supreme Court.  He will examine individual cases, including one murder case in which Supreme Court justices handed down their conflicting opinions, each following one of the long traditions of what it means to render justice.

1-28-2014The burgeoning resurgence of Aristotle’s notions of formal and final causation

David Drumm

Aristotle believed that four categories were necessary to explain the phenomena of causation, which he described as material, formal, efficient and final causation. In the wake of the Newtonian scientific revolution, the paradigm emerged that causation could be adequately explained using only the categories of efficient causation (a mechanical force acting on an object) and material causation (the material structural composition of objects).

This simplification of the Aristotelian framework has been challenged by two emerging developments. First, recent work in the study of epigenetics has shown that the development of an organism through cellular division and differentiation is better explained through a theory of developmental (or morphogenetic) fields than with theories of mechanical causation, echoing Aristotle’s category of Formal cause. Secondly, the study of morphodynamic and thermodynamic systems (such as ice crystal formation or whirlpools) has led to the postulate by Terrence Deacon of Berkeley and others that theories of end-directed purposive processes provide a better explanatory model than mechanical or efficient causation in the case of complex evolutionary dynamic systems. So maybe four categories of causation does not violate the principle of Ockham’s razor after all, as aptly summarized by Steve McIntosh in his recent work Evolutions’ Purpose.

2-11-2014: How and Why Religion Developed

David Alkek, M.D.

Since Emile Durkheim's ground-breaking work, other important workers and thinkers have discussed the possible scenarios for the development of religion in human culture. This discussion will include the evolutionary, paleontologic, and sociologic studies of Robert Bellah, Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong, and the neuroscientific research of Andrew Newberg. We will investigate issues such as the definition of religion, the functions of religion, the roles of play, ritual, and myth in the development of religion, and the role of the brain's evolution in religious evolution.  The conclusion may be that religion is neurologically programmed and will not go away for a long time.



2-25-2014:  Results of the 1929 Cassirer-Heidegger Davos debate that still matter

Gary R. Brown, Ph.D.

Reverberations are still being felt from the seismic shift in Continental philosophy that took place at Davos, Switzerland, in 1929 in the no holds barred disputation between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger. The event climaxed a two-week conference, during which Cassirer and Heidegger lectured separately on topics that would lead to their featured confrontation, an abstract of which has been published in Heidegger’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, and recently (2010) in Peter Gordon’s Continental Divide. The disputation occurred mostly as a conflict of interpretations of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, as both of these most famous philosophers in Germany had been trained in the then competing and dominant schools of neo-Kantian thought. My talk will focus on the differences between them by examining the use each makes in their own work of the central core of Kant’s First Critique, the Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding. With this focus, I hope to clarify why the confrontation altered the course of Continental philosophy and still remains an open issue in European thought.


3-11-2014:  At the Crossroads of Freedom and Facticity: Ambiguity in Simone de Beauvoir.  

Geoffrey Manzi, M.A.

A longtime collaborator and romantic partner of Simone de Beauvoir, fellow existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that man is “condemned to be free,” to which he adds, “we are a freedom which chooses, but we do not choose to be free” (Being and Nothingness).  Such claims encapsulate the Existentialist understanding of the human condition as inherently bipolar: on the one hand, every individual is born into a particular pre-established set of circumstances to which she did not consent and, as such, limits her future possibilities; however, equally primordial is the fact that everyone is born with the freedom to accept or reject many aspects of one’s inherent circumstances—especially the seemingly preordained roles that one’s circumstances appear to impress upon an individual—for the sake of creating new circumstances for oneself in light of  pursuing a goal that one freely chooses.  Furthermore, the decision to pursue certain endeavors tends to follow from the values that one freely creates for oneself, thereby encouraging one to take on roles of her own accord and, as such, engage in the ultimate project of forging a personal identity whose constitutive character is oriented (projected) toward the future and, therefore, remains open to continuous revision and revaluation.  

Because the human being appears to inhabit simultaneously the poles of determinate facticity and radical freedom, human existence is characteristically ambiguous.  Accordingly, the first half of my presentation explores several related ways in which Beauvoir’s notion of ambiguity—understood broadly as the paradox of one’s “situated freedom”—acts as a structural feature of human existence.  

Of course, human beings face constant temptations to evade the anxiety of existing, what with its incessant demand for choice and uncompromising self-accountability. To that end, Beauvoir identifies various possible ways in which one might abuse or retreat from the inescapable freedom one has to create a life for oneself.  In the second half of my presentation, I flesh out some concrete examples of this denial of the ambiguity of existence as it manifests in the life of the nihilist (and, perhaps by extension, the cynic and the comedian), the serious person, the adventurer, and the passionate person, respectively.     

3-25-2014:  The Natural Basis for an Ethic of Care

Gerald Casenave, M.D.

The fundamental question of ethics is not “What is the right thing to do?”  The fundamental question is “Why be ethical?”  If there is a divine basis for ethics, the answer is simple, “To not get punished.”  But post Nietzsche, it is problematic to base ethics on religion.  Rationality produces the categorical imperative which is formal and without content, and leads to the question of “Why be rational?”  The idea of finding a natural basis for ethics has always been appealing, but by nature we do terrible things to each other.  Hume argued that ethics derives from feelings.  Scheler laid out a non-formal ethics of value.  Ian McGilchrist argues that ethics arises as a feeling in the non-dominant, usually right, hemisphere.
    Heidegger argues that the fundamental nature of human being is care; we care about the world.  We evaluate and determine worth.  Our care and concern about the world is a continuum, from just noticing to caring about intensely.  We are strange creatures that care about the infinitesimally small and the ungraspable immensity of the universe.  We have increasing explicit knowledge of the connectedness of things.  Out of these aspects of our nature arises the soft obligation we have to take care of each other and the world.
    Our ethical feeling and care about each other and things is fragile.  It develops when nurtured and encouraged.  It can be extinguished.  Ethical reasoning, as Kohlberg first laid it out, appears to advance from Pre-Conventional to Conventional to Post-Conventional, when such development is fostered.  But only with the Gilligan corrective, the component of care, does ethical reasoning lead to acting ethically.

4-8-2014:  Anchoring, Imaginative Variation, and Existential Phenomenology: On the problem of naturalizing content in the philosophy of psychology

Frank Scalambrino, Ph.D., University of Dallas

What we may call the primary question-problem complex today in the philosophy of psychology and cognitive science involves the interpretation of data regarding various human brain states.  At the forefront of this question-problem complex is a tension between first-person and third-person perspectives.  Beyond material naturalistic and normative behavioristic approaches which may seek to eliminate first-person perspectives, my thesis seeks to interpret the data, while at the same time affirming the first-person perspective.  My thesis differs from other approaches which affirm the first-person perspective in a number of ways.  Most noticeably, I suggest a shift from a Cartesian/Husserlian-based vocabulary which heavily relies on the term “consciousness” to an “existential”/Heidegger-based vocabulary, invoking terms such as “being-in-the-world.”  In this way, I argue for an interpretation of the data in terms of a being’s mnemonic-grasp (cf. Scalambrino, 2012) of its environment by critically discussing eliminative interpretations of the data and the psychological activities of “anchoring” and “imaginative variation.”  My non-eliminative position differs from similar positions in the emphasis I place on memory and the manner in which I link memory and fundamental ontology.  Simply put, I argue memory goes “all the way down,” and I articulate being-in-the-world as a transcendental unity which mnemonically encompasses empirical aspects indicated by brain states.

4-22-2014:  What Scientific/Methodological Skepticism Owes to Traditional Philosophy

Erling Beck, President—North Texas Skeptics Society

Rooted in Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952), Methodological and Scientific Skepticism are both recent and overlapping incarnations of the modern skeptical movement, which was born, not to debunk, but to test the claims made by pseudoscientists and opportunistic spiritualists. “Skepticism" can be a loaded word, yet it has a rich intellectual tradition that stretches over centuries. It incorporates techniques pre-dating Pyrrho of Elis (365-275 BCE), credited as the founder of the "school" of skepticism, to contributions as recent as Daniel Dennett’s (1942-  CE) Intuition Pumps.

5-13-2014:  Voodoo Pharmacology: Drug Use and Loss of Control

Jacob Sullum

Do drugs make people sin? That myth lies at the heart of the so-called war on drugs, argues Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason magazine and the author of Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (Tarcher/Penguin).  Sullum, who blogs about drug policy for Forbes and writes a syndicated newspaper column, has been covering the war on drugs from the perspective of a conscientious objector for more than two decades. He maintains that the distinctions drawn by our drug laws are morally arbitrary, reflecting mistaken beliefs about the way people respond to certain intoxicants. If Americans applied the same distinctions to illegal drugs that they routinely apply to alcohol,  he says, the injustice of punishing people for their taste in psychoactive substances would be impossible to deny.

5-27-2014:  The Crisis of the Eastern Zhou and the Rise of Classical Chinese Thought

J. Michael Farmer, Ph.D., University of Texas at Dallas

The Eastern Zhou dynasty (ca. 770–256 BCE) is considered the axial age of Chinese philosophy, with “A Hundred Schools of Thought” contending for patronage and prominence. Among them, Confucius and Lao Tzu would eventually become household names (as well as fodder for fortune cookie wisdom and internet memes). But what was the reason behind this flowering of intellectual activity, and what were the various thinkers proposing? This lecture will place the thought and activity of key figures of the Confucian, Daoist, Mohist, and Legalist schools into its original historical context, as well as highlight the main ideas and socio-political programs of these classical Chinese thinkers.