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2013-14 Philosophy Speaker Series

All lectures are free and open to the public. They will be held in Blanchard Hall Room 339 and begin at 7:30p.m. unless indicated otherwise.

Fall 2013 Speakers

September 26, 2013 
Merold Westphal Dr. Merold Westphal
, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus (Ph.D., Yale University) at Fordham University

Kant, Hegel and the Fate of Reason

Kant and Hegel are Enlightenment thinkers whose ultimate faith is in reason.  The dramatic differences between their understandings of reason will be sketched, and some problems raised by their respective faiths will be explored.


October 16, 2013
Jon McGinnis Dr. Jon McGinnis
, Professor of Classical and Medieval Philosophy (Ph.D., M.A., Univeristy of Pennsylvania) at University of Missouri-St. Louis

To Be or Not To Be: The Avicennian Distinction between Essence and Existence and Its Repercussions in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas

Avicenna (980-1037) is arguably the most important medieval Muslim philosopher: his works are still taught as living philosophy in Muslim countries and his thought has had a profound influence even on the history of Christian philosophy.  He is perhaps best known for his distinction between essence and existence, which philosophers and theologians alike, such as Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), used to clarify, for example, the relation between God and creatures, necessity and possibility, universals and particulars and even explain how we know the external world.  Yet the distinction is not without its problems: How could an essence considered distinct from existence "exist"? In this talk Professor McGinnis reconsiders these and other issues and suggests that most of purported difficulties in Avicenna's formulation of the distinction are more linguistic than philosophical.


November 12, 2013
Richard Taylor Dr. Richard C. Taylor
, Professor of Philosophy (Ph.D., M.A., University of Toronto) at Marquette University

Ibn Rushd Averroes and Aquinas on Ultimate Human Happiness

The Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd or Averroes is repeatedly criticized by Aquinas for his theory of human knowing.  However, for the formulation of his own doctrine of ultimate human happiness in the knowledge of God in the afterlife, Thomas Aquinas draws directly and explicitly on Averroes's theory of knowledge to explain the Christian religious teaching on the vision of God in His essence or 'face-to-face'.  This presentation explains this surprising influence of a key thinker of the Arabic/Islamic tradition on this Christian theologian and philosopher in his theology of the vision of the essence of God.



December 3, 2013
Luke Yarbrough  Dr. Luke Yarbrough
, Assistant Professor of Philosophy (Ph.D., M.A., Princeton University) at Saint Louis University

What Makes Our Actions Right or Wrong? Al-Ghazali's Islamic Virtue Ethics


So great was the influence of Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) within the Muslim world that he is sometimes called Hujjat al-Islam, or "proof of Islam." He is known both for his blending of legally oriented Muslim piety with Sufi mysticism, and for his strident critique of the philosophers of his day. In ethics, al-Ghazali has often been thought to embrace divine voluntarism — the view that God's will alone determines what makes a human act right or wrong. On this view, philosophical reflection can tell us little about morality; we are dependent on divine revelation to discover God's will. In this talk, however, Professor Yarbrough argues that Ghazali's ethics also assigns an important role to virtue — moral and intellectual excellence — in determining the rightness or wrongness of our deeds. Since analyzing human virtue is a task long embraced by philosophers, al-Ghazali thus allows philosophical reflection, within a Sufi framework, a more important role in the moral life than has sometimes been appreciated.


Spring 2014 Speakers

January 23, 2014
Anthony Steinbock  Dr. Anthony Steinbock,
Associate Professor of Philosophy (Ph.D., SUNY at Stony Brook University) at Southern Illinois University

Repentance in Human Experience: On Interpersonal and Historical Turning 

Dr. Steinbock will discuss the meaning of repentance by considering the unique time of repentance, the possibilities it opens, and the difficult historical conditions under which repentance is lived with others. This paper is a part of a larger project on moral emotions.



March 19, 2014
George Sher  Dr. George Sher
, Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Philosophy (Ph.D., Columbia University ) at Rice University

Morality and Blame

Although blaming is something we all do, there are deep questions both about what blame is and about what role it plays in our lives.  In particular, because we cannot change the past, it is often argued that there is no point in blaming wrongdoers for what they have done.  In this talk, Dr Sher will argue that that view is badly mistaken, and that blame is the backward-looking face of morality itself.