Socratic Society - Past Events

Socratic Society Past Events


Professors Berman, Coventry, Cwik, Hiller, and Sager
Tuesday, February 23rd 7pm PST

The Department of Philosophy is hosting its annual Graduate School Panel on Tuesday, February 23rd at 7 pm PST. It features five faculty members and is intended to answer students' questions regarding Graduate School in Philosophy (whether it's right for you, how to prepare, how to apply, how to succeed, etc.). Everyone is welcome!

"Better, Braver, and Less Idle: Faith and Inquiry in Plato's Meno"

Nicholas Baima, Florida Atlantic University
Wednesday, January 27th   4:00 pm PST   Online

A commonly held view about Plato's Socrates is that he maintains that we ought not form beliefs without sufficient evidence or reason - if we are uncertain of something, we should withhold judgment and pursue the issue impartially. Tyler Paytas and I refer to this claim as the Epistemic Caution Claim. In this talk, I aim the show that Plato's Socrates doesn't adhere to the Epistemic Caution Claim in the Meno. I argue that Socrates' solution to Meno's paradox involves an appeal to faith and its relation to virtue. Although humans lack objective grounds for confidence in the possibility of knowledge, we exhibit excellence in the form of intellectual courage by proceeding on the assumption that knowledge is possible. This in turn allows us to engage in the virtuous activity of rational inquiry. If this is right, then there is reason to doubt the Epistemic Caution Claim since the entire enterprise of rational inquiry is rendered possible only through the willingness to take a leap in the dark. 

This talk is related to his forthcoming book Plato's Pragmatism: Rethinking the Relationship between Ethics and Epistemology


"Disability: A Humanistic-Pluralistic Model"

Avram Hiller, Portland State University
Thursday, November 12th  4:00 pm  Online

Many of us are, or at some point will become, disabled, either temporarily or permanently. Most of us know or love someone who is or will be disabled. Disability, as many scholars have emphasized, is part of the human condition. But moreover, the kinds of character traits that persons with disabilities bring to bear in dealing with disabilities are the same human character traits employed by all humans who face significant challenges. And the kinds of attitudes people have towards those with disabilities are similar to the attitudes people have towards other disadvantaged groups. Disability is not just part of the human condition; the human condition is how we deal with disability. In light of this, and in light of the vast diversity of both how people are and the ways and places in which people live, disability must be viewed pluralistically. In this paper, I argue that existing models of disability are inadequate because they pay insufficient attention to the ways in which disability, as a human phenomenon, is also a pluralistic one, in both the meaning of the term "disability" and in its lived experience.


"Competing Claims and the Abuse of the Separateness of Persons"

Jamie Hardy, Portland State University

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020  12:30pm  FAB 170-05

A common objection to utilitarianism is that it violates the separateness of persons. The separateness of persons is a normative doctrine that holds that individuals are distinct from each other and ought to be treated as distinct persons. The problem is that the canonical works offer little explanation of the objection. Decades later, there are still only a handful of attempts that explain the separateness of persons with each offering different interpretations. Yet, instead of working through these difficult issues, recent work has attempted to apply the objection to other moral theories.

As an example of how the doctrine of separateness of persons is abused in philosophical debates and why more theoretical work needs to be done on the separateness of persons, I turn to the debate between Competing Claims and the Priority View. In making the case, I argue for three points. First, that the actual argument against the priority view relies on intuitions about the worse off that has no connection to the separateness of persons. Second, that the competing claims view is derivative of Thomas Nagel's pairwise comparison view. However, Nagel's justification for pairwise comparisons is based on an interpretation of equality and not the separateness of persons. Third, I conclude by arguing that the correct interpretation of the separateness of persons demonstrates that the competing claims view and egalitarian views violate the separateness of persons. 


"Status Quo Bias, Authenticity, and the Ethics of Eating"

Mylan Engel, Northern Illinois University

Thursday, October 24th, 2019  4:30 p.m. URBN 212G Parsons Gallery

Status quo bias - an irrational cognitive bias in favor of the staus quo - often leads us to make suboptimal decisions and to engage in suboptimal behaviors. After highlighting evidence of the prevalent role that status quo bias plays in many of our ordinary decisions, I illustrate how the principal causes of status quo bias often lead us to make unauthentic, suboptimal food choices. I conclude by offering a method for overcoming status quo bias that can help us autonomously align our dietary practices with our fundamental values so as to live more authentic and more ethical lives.


"Inquiry as Epistemic Improvement"

Avery Archer, George Washington University

Monday, October 28th, 2019  4:00 p.m. URBN 212G Parsons Gallery

The goal of my colloquium talk is to add my voice to the recently growing chorus of philosophers who have sought to clarify the nature and purpose of inquiry. To this end, I defend the thesis that one is inquiring into some matter just in case one engages in information gathering or analysis with the aim of improving one's epistemic standing with respect to that matter. Call this the epistemic-improvement view. The epistemic-improvement view is at odds with the widely discussed view of Jane Friedman, who conceives of inquiry as aimed at arriving at a settled position on some matter. Call this the settledness view. My talk will lay out some of the major points of disagreement between the epistemic-improvement view and the settledness view and explain why the former is preferable to the latter.


"Berkeley, Reid, and Perceptual Learning"

Rebecca Copenhaver, Lewis & Clark College

Thursday, November 14th, 2019  4:00 p.m. SMSU 294

Berkeley and Reid treat perception as a developmental ability by which typical humans acquire greater perceptual sensitivity to a greater range of features through repeated interaction with the environment. According to Berkeley, although humans are born without the ability to see distance, size, shape and other spatial features, humans learn to perceive these features by sight. Through practice, visible features such as light and color acquire spatial significance – a long term change in perception by which typical humans see visible spatial features originally unavailable to sight. Reid expanded Berkeley’s theory beyond vision to all of the sense modalities, and to features not originally presented to any sense: kind features such as ‘being a tomato’ as well as evaluative features, such as ‘being beautiful’, or ‘being cruel’. Reid calls these “additional perceptive powers” acquired perceptions.

Philosophers have assimilated the kinds of long-term changes in perception that Berkeley and Reid describe to changes in judgment or belief, on the one hand, or to changes in the contents of perception that are the result of cognitive permeation (also known as cognitive penetration). By contrast, I argue that the changes Berkeley and Reid describe are best seen as cases of perceptual learning: they are long-lasting changes in perception that result from practice and experience with features in the organism’s environment.


"The Most Peculiar Virtue/Vice of Being Apolitical"

Matthew Robert Adams (McCoy Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University)

Friday, May 24th, 2019  4:30 p.m. URBN 212G Parsons Gallery

I begin by disaggregating different reasons why people can be apolitical. I then set out a framework for evaluating the various respects in which being apolitical can be virtuous, vicious, and blameworthy. Against the backdrop of this framework I explore a number of questions, such as how the virtue of being apolitical correlates with increasing injustice in a society.


"Reputation as Demotic Power in Plato's Republic"

Monday, March 11th, 2019   4:30-6:30 p.m.   URBN 212 Parson's Gallery

The customary view of the regime of Plato's Republic is that power is exclusively located in the philosophers who are in a hierarchical relationship with the other Kallipoleans. I challenge this view by attending to the positional good of reputation which the many (hoi polloi) attribute. Through a discussion of the institutional and extra-institutional features of Kallipolis, such as the honors which the philosophers pursue and the founding myth which its citizens believe, I show how the philosopher-rules care about the reputation of philosophy and that Kallipolis is a regime where the non-philosophic many truly value philosophy.


"Borders: Representation and Reality"

Border Panel featuring Elena Aviles (PSU, Chicano/Latino Studies), Nica Aquino (artist), Craig Epplin (PSU, World Languages, Spanish), Hector H Hernandez (artist), and Angela Coventry [chair] (PSU, Philosophy)

Feburary 13th, 2019, 5:00pm, AB 200 (School of Art & Design)

In his seminal essay, "What is a Border?" Etienne Balibar write of the "heterogeneity and ubiquity of borders" and observes that "borders are everywhere". Though people often conflate borders with official political borders, borders are also social, cultural, economic, and psychological. Border walls and barbed wire fences gouge landscapes. Borders are etched in law books and embodied by state officials charged with coercing, confining, and deporting transgressors. Languages and dialects nourish communities, but also exclude people without linguistic knowledge or access to interpretation. Borders are mobile, etched on bodies, accompanying people as they traverse space. Furthermore, they are polysemic so that their effects and even their visibility vary depending on people's individual characteristics and social belongings. As a result, borders immobilize some and facilitate the mobility of others, perpetrating structural inequalities. 

Though borders structure the fabric of the social world, their nature is mysterious and opaque. Borders are not static. Indeed, borders in significant ways are the efforts to maintain and contest them - if people do not recognize and legitimize them, they cease to exist. In many respects, it is more sppropriate to speak of bordering rather than borders.

The heterogeneity, complexity, and peculiarity of borders call for multidisciplinary efforts to explore the ontological, socio-political, and cultural dimensions of borders. In this spirit, we invite artists and theorists across disciplines and media to present and exhibit in our gallery/symposium Borders: Representation and Reality. 


"Why There are So Few Diverse Voices in Philosophy: A Psychodynamic Systems Account, with Recommendations" by Alyssa Luboff (PSU)

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019  4.00-6.00 p.m.  SMSU 294

Philosophy, more than any other branch of the humanities, is dominated by white men. Yet the solution to its diversity problem may be as old as the discipline itself: embracing the ancient practice of philosophy as dialogue. In contemporary academic settings, philosophy is most often practiced as the analysis of arguments. The problem with this narrower conception of philosophy is the aggressiveness of the methods it tends to employ; participants must defend their arguments as if in a duel. While psychologists and neuroscientists have described the "fight-flight-freeze" response that such stressful situations elicit, philosophers have yet to recognize the social and political significance of this response, or of trauma in general. Whether we fight like predators or freeze/flee like prey in response to a social threat depends on our experience of power. Our experience of power, in turn, depends on our personal histories and our social locations. While a philosophical duel may encourage those with a positive experience of social power to argue well, or "fight", it primes those with a negative history of social power to "freeze" or "flee", leaving the conversation in a re-enactment of their past experiences of marginalization. In this way, the aggressiveness of philosophical argument reinforces the power divisions of systemic oppression, creating a discipline that mirrors our current social hierarchies, instead of one that is able to carefully discern and profoundly transform them. By cultivating instead the calm curiosity and respectful exploration of dialogue, philosophy may not only solve its diversity problem, but find that inclusiveness brings it closer to its ideals of truth, freedom, and an ever-expanding perspective.

Alyssa Luboff earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 2014 and is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor of University Studies at Portland State University. Her book, Facing Relativism, is forthcoming with Synthese Library (Springer) Studies in Epistemology, Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science Series.


"Affirming Racial Equality: Justice, Acknowledgement, and Collective Memory" by Andrew Valls (OSU, Political Science)

Thursday April 19th, 4:30 pm, Meyer Memorial Trust Boardroom (URBN 710)

Much philosophical work has been done on how to address the material harms of historic injustice. There has been a lively debate, for example, on whether slavery and Jim Crow provide a basis for black reparations. Less philosophical attention has been given to the nonmaterial harms of historic injustice, such as the denial of moral and civic equality. In this paper I argue that justice requires that the state acknowledge the harms of the past and reaffirm the equal citizenship and equal moral worth of all citizens. It must reject the racist practices and norms of the past and the symbolic and cultural expressions associated with them. It must memorialize the past so as to convey the appropriate interpretations and evaluations. I explore these requirements of justice by considering the role of truth commissions, apologies, museums, memorials, among other means of affirming the values of a liberal society in the wake of historic injustice. I also consider symbols that express resistance to racial equality and that reflect nostalgia for de jure racial hierarchy. 


"The science of number in Plato's Parmenides" by Sophia Stone (Lynn University, Philosophy)

Thursday May 17th, 7:00 pm, location TBD

The deductions in the Second Part of Plato's Parmenides are puzzling. The traditional view is that Socrates is correcting Plato's theory of Forms from the First Part of the dialogue, and the First Part represents Plato's developmental "middle period". Another view is that he is just being playful and that these deductions in the Second Part aren't serious. Perhaps there is a third way of thinking about the deductions. Perhaps we should think about them as preparing us for a study in number? When we analyze the propositions in the Second Part with respect to the problems and proofs that the mathematicians were concerned with about number in ancient Greece that Plato would have known, the deductions seem to prepare one for the study of mathematics. 

Perhaps contrary to the tradition, the Second Part is not meant to correct Plato's mistakes in the theory of Forms from the First Part. The properties of number, equality, oddness and evenness, commensurability and incommensurability, seem to be treated in the same manner as they were in Plato's Phaedo. Perhaps it is our understanding of Plato's theory of Forms that needs to be revised, not the theory itself, and perhaps the deductions in the Parmenides are exercises for thinking about mathematics, not Forms, and that once we've understood the deductions, we then are prepared to read correctly Plato's theory of Forms. 

If it is true that Plato thought the philosopher needed instruction in mathematics before studying his theory of Forms, then we might first try to understand how Plato thought about and used number before we think about Forms. This paper would be the beginning then, of such a project.

What is Philosophy?

Panel featuring Ken Brashier (Reed College, Religion), Monica Mueller (PSU, Philosophy), and Alex Santana (University of Portland, Philosophy)

Friday, February 9th, 7:00 pm, Cramer Hall 269

The discussion will consider the nature of philosophy with an eye toward diverse philosophical traditions, including Aztec Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy, as well as the Western Tradition. The panel is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. 

Check out the audio recording of the What is Philosophy? event by clicking the link! 


"Care as an Improvisational Ethic" by Maurice Hamington (PSU, University Studies and Philosophy)

January 18th, 2018  4:00pm URBN 212G

This presentation addresses the nature of care ethics, arguing that care is embodied and performative with implications for epistemology, ontology, and moral theory. Drawing from performance philosophy and phenomenology, the improvisational character of care is emphasized in contrast to the a priori and abstract approaches valorized in mainstream moral thinking. The seemingly contradictory notion of "emergent normativity" is discussed in light of the responsive and contextual quality of care. Given this improvisational approach, the question of whether one can "rehearse" for care is discussed. Dramatic improvisation is the guiding metaphor for the presentation in seeking a moral method of care.


"Empiricism in the Philosophy and Physics of Time" by Matias Slavov (UCLA, Post-doc)

November 17th, 2017  3:00pm SMSU 026

Is time an empirical concept? More specifically, what is th relation of temporal notions denoting temporal order, like simultaneity and succession, to observations? I tackle this issue by examining the argument for the relativity of simultaneity in special relativity from a historical-philosophical viewpoint. Does it render the concept of time empirical? If so, this favors empiricist argument over absolutist and transcendental arguments. Nevertheless, I also consider the trouble of radical concept empiricism. I show that it entails a problematic position. It is in tension with a key ontological requirement of special relativity, to wit, the reality of physical events. Therefore a moderate, realism-compatible empiricism is propounded as an explanation for time's concept.


"Emerging Technologies and a Sustainable Future": a panel featuring Bryan Cwik (PSU, Philosophy), Theresa McCormick (PSU, Chemistry), Julius McGee (PSU, Sociology), and Brianne Suldovsky (PSU, Communication)

October 26th, 2017  4:00pm SMSU 296

Technologies that are "just around the corner" have the potential to dramatically remake our world, changing everything from how people work (or whether they work), what they eat, how we relate to each other, and even how long we can expect to live - or so we are told. When it comes to emerging technologies, it is often hard to tell the hype from the reality, the science fiction from the rela possibilities. What developments in fields such as bio-technology, nano-technology, artifical intelligence, envrionmental engineering, and energy really will have the biggest impacts on the future of our world? What do we need to do to ensure that these developments contribute to a sustainable future?