The Philosophy Program at A&M University - Corpus Christi offers the Minor (18 hrs.) and the Major (30 hrs.) in Philosophy. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions about studying philosophy.

Atheists are Terrorists

Individuals for Free Thought, who host The Great God Debate and The Graveyard of Dead Gods (and whose membership overlaps with philosophy somewhat) will be interested to learn that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has decreed in a new law that atheists are terrorists (courtesy Leiter Reports.)

In related news, Daesh (aka ISIS/ISIL) has issued a statement of responsibility for the Paris attacks

Whether to Weld or Philosophize?

In a story which no doubt hit very close to home for our own Sam Jimison, Senator Marco Rubio offered this at the recent Republican debate:

For the life of me I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.

Setting aside his disheartening grammar, Rubio's assertions have set off an interesting discussion of the (decidedly non-exclusive) pursuits of techne (τέχνη) and theoria (θεωρία):

From Salmon's article,

There are lots of reasons to like philosophy. For one thing, it’s cost-efficient. A welder needs a large infrastructure of metal and heat to do her job, while philosophers are cheap even by academic standards. (As the old joke has it, a mathematician is the second-cheapest professor at any college: All she needs is a pencil and an eraser. But the cheapest is the philosopher, who only needs the pencil.)

But that’s not why we need more philosophers. The real reason for philosophers is that they are truly the people who will shape the future. Rubio himself, just seconds before his paean to welders, admitted that “if you raise the minimum wage, you make people more expensive than machines”. But the fact is, of course, that people are already more expensive than machines, and the cost of machines, which has been steadily declining for the past 200 years, is going to continue to fall well below even today’s minimum wage. Humans haven’t been able to compete with machines since the days of John Henry, and it’s folly to think they could effectively do so today.

A philosopher, on the other hand, is, at heart, anybody who thinks clearly and rigorously about difficult problems. Sometimes, the issues are directly philosophical – how self-driving cars should be programmed, for instance, or how science should approach technologies like Crispr. But philosophical skills are much more broadly applicable. Hedge fund legend George Soros studied philosophy, for instance. So did PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Stewart Butterfield, the founder and CEO of Slack, has two philosophy degrees. And while I don’t think there were any welders on the panel Tuesday night, there was at least one person with a philosophy degree: Carly Fiorina.

On Guns on Campus

Courtesy Leiter Reports, a classicist (Tom Palaima) and a philosopher (A.P. Martinich) at UT weigh in on the controversial legislation, although without appealing to what would have seemed an obvious Aristotelian cowardice argument. Then again, they sidestep certain legal pecularities some students at UT noticed.

On the SEP

One of the first places the philosophy faculty advise students to visit in beginning their research is The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an open resource unmatched as to quality, range, and usefulness by any other field. Much of the credit belongs to Ed Zalta, who in the 1990's took an off-hand comment by John Perry about maybe creating an online dictionary of philosophy and subsequently built, with the help of hundreds of authors and editors, an authoritative resource which endlessly demonstrates the vibrancy of philosophical inquiry.

Courtesy Leiter Reports, the online journal Quartz has an excellent article discussing how the SEP came to be the crowning achievement it is and how it compares to other resources like Wikipedia.

(An interesting tidbit, if I may: A few years ago I had a very pleasant lunch conversation with Ed at the University of Birmingham (UK). He told the story of attending a talk at Stanford by Google engineers where they revealed that the SEP caused one of the very rare direct manipulations of the Google Search Algorithm. The SEP, you see, was surfacing ahead of Stanford University on searches for "Stanford", much to the embarrassment of Stanford University officials, which hosts the SEP, but much to Ed's obvious amusement.)

The Results Are In and Not Good for Psychology

Following up on an earlier story announcing the Reproducibility Project, which set out to reproduce the results from published studies in psychology, our own Elizabeth Grant alerts us that the project is now reporting only a scant 36 of 100 studies had replicable results. As the NY Times reports,

...a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested. The analysis was done by research psychologists, many of whom volunteered their time to double-check what they considered important work. Their conclusions, reported Thursday in the journal Science, have confirmed the worst fears of scientists who have long worried that the field needed a strong correction.

Note that this is not an accusation of scientific fraud, which is a serious problem in scientific publication generally. It does, however, raise important questions about the field of empirical psychology and the status of its 'results'.

Another Times article sympathetically reports on the mixed reaction by psychologists, and an Op-Ed piece by Lisa Feldman Barrett (Northeastern) defending empirical psychology so completely misses the point as to constitute exhibit A in the case for requiring The Philosophy and History of Science and Technology of all scientists, social and otherwise.

Welcome to the Fall 2015 Semester!

Heeding Russell, let us pose many puzzles and cultivate many doubts this semester...

Philosophy of Religion

Oxford Don and noted philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne sits for a fascinating two-part interview (part 1 and part 2) about his experiences as a student at Oxford and the development of contemporary analytic philosophy alongside the traditional puzzles of the philosophy of religion.

Our own Professor Piker returns this Fall to offer Issues in the Philosophy of Religion (PHIL-4331.001) MWF 11:00-11:50 a.m. in CI-127.

At the Limits of Falsification

The NY Times has an essay by Adam Frank (Rochester) and Marcelo Gleiser (Dartmouth) on the tacit rejection of empiricism in, of all places, physics. From the essay,

Today, the favored theory for the next step beyond the standard model is called supersymmetry (which is also the basis for string theory). Supersymmetry predicts the existence of a “partner” particle for every particle that we currently know. It doubles the number of elementary particles of matter in nature. The theory is elegant mathematically, and the particles whose existence it predicts might also explain the universe’s unaccounted-for “dark matter.” As a result, many researchers were confident that supersymmetry would be experimentally validated soon after the Large Hadron Collider became operational.

That’s not how things worked out, however. To date, no supersymmetric particles have been found. If the Large Hadron Collider cannot detect these particles, many physicists will declare supersymmetry — and, by extension, string theory — just another beautiful idea in physics that didn’t pan out.

But many won’t. Some may choose instead to simply retune their models to predict supersymmetric particles at masses beyond the reach of the Large Hadron Collider’s power of detection — and that of any foreseeable substitute.

Implicit in such a maneuver is a philosophical question: How are we to determine whether a theory is true if it cannot be validated experimentally? Should we abandon it just because, at a given level of technological capacity, empirical support might be impossible? If not, how long should we wait for such experimental machinery before moving on: ten years? Fifty years? Centuries?

The Technology Tail Wagging the Science Dog

Medium has an interesting essay on the light machine learning algorithms may shed on human cognition. If not particularly sensitive to important distinctions, the essay does emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary work:

Much like steam engines, machine learning is a technology intended to solve specific classes of problems. Yet results from the field are indicating intriguing—possibly profound—scientific clues about how our own brains might operate, perceive, and learn. The technology of machine learning is giving us new ways to think about the science of human thought … and imagination.

Lesser Known Trolley Problems

If you're new to the Trolley Problem, have a quick look at Trolleyology-101. If you want a good chuckle, enjoy Kyle York's "Lesser Known Trolley Problems" on McSweeney's.

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