Essays of Significance 2016

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Saturday, March 12th
9:00 AM

Love and Difference: Refuting the ‘Risk-Free’ Conception of Romance

Matthew Steckle, University of Windsor

9:00 AM - 9:30 AM

Love and Difference: Refuting the ‘Risk-Free’ Conception of Romance

Love, as a philosophical topic, has a convoluted history. Modern considerations of love, which inherit this history, oscillate within a spectrum that ranges from pessimistic conceptions of love as merely instrumental reproductive sexuality (attributable to Schopenhauer), to an ecstatic fusion that presents love as the harmony of two into one (expressed in the work of Simone de Beauvoir). Each of these positions can be characterized as difference-evading, escapist, and ‘risk-free’ approaches to love, which, Alain Badiou claims, denies the necessary elements that make love possible; namely, a commitment to chance, the experience of vulnerability, and perseverance and fidelity in love. By way of Badiou, this paper attempts a refutation of Schopenhauer’s pessimistic rejection of love, and, following this, attempts to think beyond the relationship of insecurity and dependency that Beauvoir associates with the plight of the ‘woman-in-love.’ As I intend to show, Badiou’s theory of love, which is existential in nature, denies the escapism that is inherent to riskless love. Badiou’s solution to both the pessimistic and fusional hypotheses is to present authentic love as a ‘truth procedure’ wherein lovers form a common subject known as “the Two” which operates beyond the non-connected and incommensurable positions Badiou calls ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ This re-invented conception of love fills up (supplements) and compensates this non-related Two, who, together, experience a truth made possible by difference—a pursuit which requires the continuous declaration and affirmation that the procedure is worth the risk.

Keywords: difference, fidelity, fusion, love, pessimism, risk, the Two, truth-procedure.

9:30 AM

Is Naturalism Coherent (Metaphilosophy, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Science)

Thomas Spiegel, University of Leipzig

9:30 AM - 10:00 AM

Is Naturalism Coherent?

Naturalism is the philosophical orthodoxy of the late 20th and early 21st century. However, the content of naturalism is unclear. I aim to demonstrate that naturalism cannot be formulated coherently. I offer two main arguments. First, naturalism presupposes the unity of science thesis; but the unity of science thesis has come under serious attack. But even if the naturalist successfully entitles herself to the unity of science thesis, naturalism is still subject to an argument from incoherence.

First, I reconstruct naturalism as the conjunction of a methodological and ontological theme. The ontological theme of naturalism states that only those things truly exist which can be accounted for by physical science. The methodological theme asserts that “philosophy is continuous with science” (Quine 1960). While this can be interpreted in different ways, it is often taken to state that philosophy should only make statements that can be countenanced by the standpoint of science. Second, I demonstrate that this common construal has the underlying tacit assumption of the unity of science. The unity of science claims that: the entities and laws of the special sciences can be reduced to a master science, commonly identified as physics.

Third, I briefly rehearse two lessons from Fodor (1974) and Horgan (1993). Fodor convincingly argued against the inter-level reducibility of special science laws to the laws of physics. Horgan´s argument starts with the observation that a sensible version of reductive physicalism has to be cashed out in terms of supervenience. He then goes on to argue that no available conception of supervenience captures the reductive ambitions of physicalism. Hence, the naturalist simply cannot entitle herself to an uncontroversial notion of the unity of science that is presupposed by naturalism.

However, and fourth, even if the naturalist can establish the unity of science thesis, it is subject to an argument from incoherence. I take a cue from the coherence problem of the “empiricist criterion of meaning” in logical positivism, and apply it to the naturalist doctrine. The methodological commitment states that in philosophy only those claims can be made which are countenanced from the standpoint of the natural sciences. This is the standard for philosophical practice set by naturalism. And naturalism is itself a philosophical thesis. However, both commitments of naturalism fall short of this standard. The ontological commitment states that, in effect, the only things that really exist are those entities that are accepted and posited by physics. But this claim itself does not qualify as a piece of natural science since it transcends the bounds of what natural science investigates. Similarly, the methodological commitment cannot be countenanced from the standpoint of natural science. The claim that philosophical practice should only include statements that can be countenanced from the standpoint of natural science, is itself not a statement that is countenanced by natural science. Since this standard was set by naturalism qua methodological commitment, I conclude that naturalism turns out to be an incoherent doctrine.


Fodor, Jerry (1974): “Special Sciences (or the Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis),” Synthese 28:2, 97-115.

Horgan, Terence (1993): “From supervenience to superdupervenience: meeting the demands of a material world,” Mind 102, 555-586.

Quine, Williard v. O. (1960): Word and Object, MIT Press.

10:00 AM

Grounding the Concept of God in the Human Predicament

Clinton B. Neptune, Loyola University Chicago

10:00 AM - 10:30 AM

Contemporary religious epistemology often neglects offering a substantial defense of a particular conception of God, relying instead on appeals to tradition and past great theologians. This neglect is regrettable due to the large impact one’s concept of God has on the kind of expected evidence of God. I aim to correct this deficiency by offering a defensible concept of God grounded in the predicament faced by all human inquirers. My account of this human predicament will focus on three key features that are salient to religious inquiry: death, moral failure, and suffering and severity. I will defend the idea that death, moral failure, and suffering are all bad things that humans do and ought to seek rescue from. I will then argue that we ought to define our concept of God in terms of what it would take to rescue humanity from its predicament, thus allowing our conception of God to capture what matters most to us.

11:00 AM

The Epicurean Notion of Death: Modern Day Support of an Ancient Idea

Christian Vido, University of Windsor

11:00 AM - 11:30 AM

The premise that ‘death is annihilation’ in Epicurus’ argument that death is of no harm to us was justified using his atomistic conception of the soul. In modern times, this conception of the soul isn’t feasible, making his premise unacceptable and his argument unsound. This paper will use the modern notion of the Mind-Brain Dependence Theory to provide justification for his claim that death is the annihilation of the self in order preserve the soundness of his argument.

11:30 AM

The Role of Hypothesis in the Context of Scientific Theory Pursuit

Molly Kao, The University of Western Ontario

11:30 AM - 12:00 PM

There has been much discussion arising from Reichenbach's distinction in the philosophy of science between the context of discovery and the context of justification. More recently, some have also begun to distinguish between these and the "context of pursuit" at which point scientists are pursuing a theory or hypothesis that has been suggested as plausible, but is not yet deemed acceptable. However, there has been relatively little work done on characterizing this process by using specific scientific examples. In this talk, I consider Millikan's 1916 experiment on the photoelectric effect, and its relation to Einstein's light quanta hypothesis in order to clarify the role of hypotheses in the context of theory pursuit. I argue that Millikan's results did not directly support the light quanta hypothesis, but that they did constrain the possible theories that could be subsequently developed. Thus, a hypothesis can be useful for guiding research, but we must be careful to evaluate whether the experimental results genuinely support the hypothesis or not.

1:30 PM

Conditions of Fundamental Metaphysics: A critique of Jorge Gracia's proposal

Jonathan Vajda, Western Michigan University

1:30 PM - 2:00 PM

Jorge Gracia’s paper “The Fundamental Character of Metaphysics” (2014) proposes five conditions that, if satisfied, would be sufficient to establish metaphysics as a fundamental discipline for other sciences: (1) universal extension, (2) ontological neutralism, (3) sui generis character, (4) overall disciplinary integration, and (5) necessity. In this paper, I argue that his metaphysical project requires revision. Not only are the conditions insufficient to establish fundamentality, two of the conditions are themselves problematic. Gracia's intends to be radically inclusive, yet unintentionally excludes certain views. His notion of fundamentality avoids reference to establishing normative principia, yet a key benefit of grounding is to provide such norms. Finally, an examination of the individual conditions shows his inclusivist condition is ambiguous, unclear, and problematic; his neutrality condition is unworkable. Therefore, while it may be desirable for metaphysics to be fundamental to other sciences, metaphysics is not to be characterized as Gracia proposes.

2:00 PM

The Problem of Adopting Subjective Reason in the Values of Higher Education

Josie E. Richards, University of Windsor

2:00 PM - 2:30 PM

The purpose of this paper is to argue that the state of the education system in Canadian Universities undermines the core values of democracy. Contemporary education institutions are dominated by what Horkheimer would call ‘subjective’ or ‘formalized’ reason. The domination by subjective reason undermines the two core values, freedom and autonomy, that Canadian society theoretically holds by creating immature and money-hungry students, rather than mature and free individuals. This will be shown by first turning to Max Horkheimer’s conceptions of subjective and objective reason, in order to establish a basis by which the values of education can be judged. The current education system will then be shown as operating as something other than a way to further learning, and rather as a tool of assimilation and business. The business model of education, described by Franklin Becher, is the idea that an institution views students solely as the monetary value they provide in the form of tuition and that students view degrees solely as the wages of a potential career. The adaptation model described by Theodore Adorno and Hellmut Becker, is the idea that education works to assimilate students into the culture in which they live. These two systems are discussed, to show how the core values of democracy are undermined and replaced with capitalistic values. Finally, an analysis of the repercussions faced by both the individual and society will ensue, in order to highlight the residual effects of this system. In closing, suggestions will be made to possibly fix the residual problems left over from using subjective reason to determine the goals of education.

2:30 PM

Having Significance, or Being Significant?: An Examination of Dooyeweerd’s Positing of Meaning not Existence as the Fundamental Property of Things

Mark F. Novak, Institute for Christian Studies

2:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Having Significance, or Being Significant?: An Examination of Dooyeweerd’s Positing of Meaning not Existence as the Fundamental Property of Things

The search for meaning has been, and continues to be, a perennial problem in human life. This problem has also been addressed throughout the history of philosophy, but without coming to any firm conclusions. The hopes that came with the Enlightenment, and the ‘Existential’ movement of the 20th Century, seem to have come and gone, and yet there is still a sense that something is missing. To find meaning and significance in human life, there are some fundamental questions that must be wrestled with: Is meaning something that we have? Something that is added on to our being? Or, is meaning what we are fundamentally? Is meaning our existence?

The proposed paper will explore these questions by examining the notions of essence and existence, meaning and significance, and monistic versus dualistic approaches to understanding the world. By pointing out some of the inconsistencies that occur in a dualist framework with regards to meaning as something additional to being, this paper will show that the unity within a monist paradigm secures meaning as inherent to human being, not something added to it, and so endorses a more robust understanding of meaning. This move highlights the contingency, and not self-sufficiency, of human beings and all created things as meaning as being points to something beyond created things.

The main support for this paper will come from the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), as well as from other philosophers working in the neo-Calvinist tradition, such as Alvin Plantinga. Using Dooyeweerd’s dictum that ‘Meaning is the being of all creaturely things’ as our starting point, I will endeavour to show that the fullest form of meaning and significance is not something added on to human being, but is the essence of human being. This paper will argue that meaning as being points to the necessary contingencies of human nature. As, like Charles Taylor opines, there is a felt sense of loss and malaise with the eclipse of transcendence, Dooyeweerd’s position shows that meaning as being is rooted in a contingent reliance of humanity on the transcendent. However, a return to some form of transcendence may be the answer for the questions of meaning that continue to plague humanity.

Mark F. Novak
Student, MA in Philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies (Toronto) E-Mail: Cell: 403-481-7004

Keywords: meaning, being, Dooyeweerd, contingency, transcendent

3:30 PM

The Role of Advertising in a "Democratic" Society

Jim M. Murphy, University of Windsor

3:30 PM - 4:00 PM

In so-called “democratic” societies, advertising of consumer products has remarkable success increasing demand for consumer products by manipulating people’s unconscious desires. The prerequisite for a democracy is maturity, in the sense of a rational, autonomous self-determinacy, which should lead to a suspicion of the methods used to sell many consumer products. Under the economic conditions faced by one today, one is forced into a situation in which one is unable to determine the nature of one’s own existence in vital ways. Immaturity, conformity and dependence are consequences of this economic condition. Democratic values are important to everyone, both the mature individual and the immature individual alike. These values of rational self-determinacy, autonomy and maturity are being sold to people in very phony and dangerous ways. This paper argues that, advertising – by manipulating conditions of immaturity, conformity and dependence – is incompatible with the aims of democracy, which requires autonomous, free thinking, and mature individuals to determine themselves in order to participate appropriately in governing their society. This tendency for individuals to falsely identify with democratic values undermines the possibility of a real democracy.

This paper argues this by: (I) formulating Kant’s conception of the way-out of self-incurred immaturity in psychoanalytic terminology; (II) describing the importance of one’s work life to one’s psychological well-being, and outlining Marx’s ideas about the way that the capitalist mode of production leads to alienation and the inability to meaningfully determine one’s existence; (III) discussing the predominance of narcissism in consumer culture and the individual’s conformity to the interests served by this culture due to the dependence on an existence over which the individual has no control; (IV) explaining Freud’s ideas about the role of narcissism in relation to the submission of individuals to authority in groups, along with Adorno’s criticism of the way that conditions of conformity can be manipulated; and (V) discussing the culture industry and the role of advertising in manipulating the condition of conformity and dependence by releasing narcissistic libidinal energy into consumer products. This is done by selling what Adorno calls a ‘pseudo-maturity’ to those who are psychologically incapable of the true maturity and autonomy necessary for democracy.

4:00 PM

The Wrongness of Killing Animals

Rainer Ebert, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA

4:00 PM - 4:30 PM

There are few moral convictions that enjoy the same intuitive plausibility and level of acceptance across cultures and traditions as the conviction that, normally, it is morally wrong to kill people. Yet, as far as I can see, no moral philosopher has ever provided a satisfactory explanation of why that is so.

Utilitarians argue that killing is morally wrong, when it is wrong, because it fails to maximize utility. The impact of a particular killing on the victim, his or her relatives and friends, and society more generally will typically make the outcome of that killing bad, and worse than the outcome of all alternative actions. While utilitarianism explains the wrongness of killing in terms of its consequences for the world, harm-to-the-victim accounts explain the wrongness of killing in terms of the harm killing an individual inflicts on that individual. Finally, respect-based accounts see the wrongness of killing in its typically involving a failure to show due respect for the victim and his or her intrinsic worth.

I will argue that none of these attempts to explain the wrongness of killing is successful. Paying close attention to the different ways in which they fail will allow me to outline a new account of the wrongness of killing. I will argue that the reason that typically makes killing normal adults morally wrong equally applies to atypical humans and a wide range of non-human animals. My account hence will challenge the idea that killing a non-human animal is normally easier to justify than killing a human being. This idea has persisted in Western philosophy from Aristotle to the present, and even progressive moral thinkers and animal advocates such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan are committed to it. I will argue that, once we understand the ground for the moral objection against killing, we have to recognize that the anthropocentrism that makes it a priority that humans beings not be killed cannot rationally be maintained.