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2020-2021 Schedule

Wednesday, October 14: Can (and Should) We Ever Be Disinterested?

  • Location: 7:00p via Microsoft Teams
  • Moderator: Dr. Emily Ransom (English, Holy Cross)

When literary criticism emerged as a scholarly discipline of its own, Matthew Arnold famously described it as “a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” The ambition for scholarly disinterest (an unbiased, uninvested, even-handed assessment) has been an ideal for public education and a counterpoint to approaches that mask indoctrination and propaganda behind the guise of education. But can any of us, whether teachers, students, or citizens, ever be truly disinterested? Might it actually be more dangerous to hide our biases? Moreover, even if we could, would it even be desirable to approach ideas in the world as if we did not have a dog in the fight? Or on the other hand, might a disinterested approach run the risk of reducing the human to a merely rational being, negating the physical, emotional, and (potentially) spiritual dimensions of the human person? After accepting a job at a Catholic liberal arts college with a mission for “educating minds and hearts,” Emily Ransom returns to the Café to explore what may be gained or lost in a holistic approach to education and cultural engagement.

Wednesday, November 11: Do Electrons Exist: Anti-Realism in Science

  • Location: 7:00p via Microsoft Teams
  • Moderator: Dr. Chris Martin (Philosophy & Religious Studies, University of Toledo)

Ever since Isaac Newton’s counter-intuitive yet powerfully predictive theory of universal gravitation, scientists have had to grapple with the possibility that their theories may not explain the world, but only help us to make predictions about its future. Anti-Realism, one of the dominant views in the Philosophy of Science, maintains that scientific theories are nothing more than fictional constructs whose only aim is to make correct predictions. Asked whether electrons are real, the Anti-Realist will reply that the very question is nonsensical; because there is no way to visually verify the existence of an electron the question of its reality cannot be answered. In this month’s Philosophers’ Café we will delve into the murky waters of Anti-Realism in science.

Wednesday, December 9: The World in Pandemic

  • Location: 7:00p via Microsoft Teams
  • Moderator: Mr. Justin McDevitt (Holy Cross)

Succeeding in college is difficult. Doing so during a pandemic is even harder. But being an incarcerated student during a pandemic is something close to a nightmare, especially during a pandemic that saw prisons and jails become deadly hotspots. How can faculty respond with courses that explicitly help students cope with COVID? Prof. Justin McDevitt (JD, MA) of Holy Cross College discusses his new course "The World in Pandemic" and how his students at Westville Correction Facility thrived when given the knowledge and tools to engage with this unique and challenging moment in history. More generally, how can the classroom be a nimble educational space that doesn't just prepare students for the future, but helps them navigate emergent crises in the present? 

Wednesday, February 10: Arguing by Analogy

  • Location: 7:00p via Microsoft Teams
  • Moderator: Dr. Michael Wreen (Philosophy, Marquette)

A very common form of argument uses an analogy to show that something is the case or that something isn't the case. Sometimes these arguments don't generate any controversy. Some of the arguments for the conclusion that certain drugs are safe and effective for treating human diseases, for example, are arguments from analogy, and they're fine. But arguments from analogy on matters of ethics or religion many times do generate controversy. People tend to jump into such arguments to make points without thinking much about what an argument from analogy is or what the general criteria are for determining how strong or weak an argument from analogy is. After briefly discussing those two matters, we’ll have an open general discussion of a famous argument from analogy for the existence of God. This is the Design Argument for the Existence of God.

Wednesday, March 10: Is Cultural Conflict Inevitable?

  • Location: 7:00p via Microsoft Teams
  • Moderator: Dr. David Coury (German and Humanities, UWGB)

The rise and speed with which globalization has spread across the world has increasingly brought different ethnic and cultural groups into greater contact than ever before. Wars, famine and climate change have also increased the numbers of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers which, in turn, has led to increased cultural conflict as well as renewed nationalism and ethnocentrism. But is conflict unavoidable? Are multicultural societies still possible or is integration and assimilation the goal again for most societies? Is globalization of the future only an economic and neo-liberal construct or can it be positively applied to culture?

Wednesday, April 14: The Liberty of Thought and Discussion

  • Location: 7:00p via Microsoft Teams
  • Moderator: Dr. David Louzecky (Philosophy, UWGB-Sheboygan)

As much as I’d like to maximize the liberty of thought and discussion, the burdens imposed by misinformation and disinformation are making it difficult to form rational beliefs and actions. Should I get vaccinated? Should we go green? Reasoning requires data. Where can Diogenes find an honest source? China controls what’s reported. Burma shuts down the internet. Facebook blocks sites. Twitter censors. Allegedly, the head of the FDA was told to approve or get fired. That’s prescribed, rather than proscribed, speech: it’s why Henry VIII removed St. Thomas More’s head. A French schoolteacher was recently beheaded for showing cartoons in a class on civil liberties. Bloom County’s cartoon on “Offensivity” was published 30 years ago. The death and suffering in the Texas snowstorm was blamed on wind mills. In a speech to the Federalist Society, Justice Alito expressed his hesitation to express himself on certain topics. Since civil servants have lost due process, and we seem more devoted to psychological manipulation than truth, I struggle to keep nihilism at bay. What troubles you about expression and thought? I’m interested. Perhaps we can skirt politics and the law and the First Amendment—and examine the issue philosophically. The classic argument can be found in Chapter 2 of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Since I get stalled with utilitarian consequences, perhaps you can point me to rights or virtues. Lenin asked, “What is to be done?” Should we censor? What? By whom? Or should we increase the space that’s safe for discussion? More fundamentally, philosophically, why should the liberty of thought and discussion be valued?

Wednesday, May 12: High School in America: Change the Metaphors, Change Everything

  • Location: 7:00p via Microsoft Teams
  • Moderator: Dr. Jennie Young (English & Humanities, UWGB)

What if we're doing almost everything wrong in American high schools? What if we could radically change things? Right now, "the kids are not okay," and there is ample evidence to suggest that the environments in which we are educating young adults is not only not protecting our kids but actively harming them -- mentally, emotionally, and physically. To kick off this discussion, Jennie Young will share her experiences teaching high school and her subsequent research interrogating high school cultures and exploring other alternatives.