Hale Ethics Series, 2013-14

Sponsored by the Hale Chair in Applied Ethics


Thursday, September 26th, 4-5:30, Stan McKenzie Commons (Liberal Arts, Room #1251, ground floor)

"Motivating Hume's Natural Virtues"

Philip Reed (Philosophy, Canisius College)

What motivation does Hume think we have for performing naturally virtuous actions? Hume claims that the answer is a passion or inclination present in human nature. Based on this straightforward answer, many commentators propose that Hume thinks that we are not or should not be motivated to perform naturally virtuous actions from moral sentiments. I argue on the contrary that Hume fully incorporates the moral sentiments into his understanding of how human beings act when it comes to the natural virtues and that such motivation does not weaken the virtuous status of the action.

Thursday, October 10th, 4-5:30, Stan McKenzie Commons (Liberal Arts, Room #1251, ground floor)


Bruce Landesman (Philosophy, University of Utah)

The authors of the Declaration of Independence found it self-evident that all men are created equal. Equality has clearly played an important role in American and Western political thought. Equality, however, is a complex concept with different meanings. There is equality of rights, equal citizenship, equality under the law, equality of opportunity, economic equality, and more. What did the authors mean by equality? What do or should we mean by equality today? The aim of this talk is to explain the most basic idea of human equality and explore its implications for political policy and practice.

Thursday, November 14th, 4-5:30, Bamboo Room, Campus Center, Room #2650

Of Friendship and Factions

Margaret Watkins (Philosophy, St. Vincent College)

Unlike other early modern essayists, such as Michel de Montaigne and Francis Bacon, David Hume did not write a single essay dedicated to friendship. From the beginning, however, Hume's essays show an interest in friendship as essential to the most pleasant and the most important aspects of human life. Hume judges institutions and practices in part by their tendencies to promote or damage friendships. And without naiveté about the darker side of human relationships, he devotes serious consideration to which activities and character traits promote friendship in its better manifestations. The results challenge us to reconsider our preconceptions about the place of friendship in modern life. I will examine what the Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary have to teach us about friendship, with special attention to friendship between the sexes and the influence of friendship on political factionalism.

Thursday, November 21st, 4-5:30, Imagining Science Auditorium (76-1125)

“From Crooked Wood to Moral Agency: On Anthropology and Ethics in Kant”

Jennifer Mensch (Philosophy, Penn State)

Immanuel Kant has long been famous for his deontological or “duty-based” approach to ethics. Even as critics have complained about Kant’s excessive formalism regarding the formulation of moral maxims—maxims which seem to many thinkers incapable of capturing the rich texture of moral life—Kant’s emphasis on the role played by free will continues to attract moral theorists and remains a mainstay in bioethical discussions of patient autonomy and rights. Worries over moral contextualism aside, in recent years there has been an entirely different set of concerns raised against Kant’s ethical program. These stem from the increasing attention being paid by scholars to the connection between Kant’s anthropological writings—that is, material taken from both his lecture courses and his published essays on race—and his social and political philosophy. This work has led to charges ranging from racism and hypocrisy to, at minimum, inconsistency on Kant’s part.  In today’s talk we’ll take a look at these charges by way of laying out Kant’s approach to both natural history and what he calls “the history of freedom,” before turning to some of Kant’s later work to think about ways we might be able to reconcile these two sides of Kant.



Thursday, March 20th, 4-5:30, 01-2000

Morality and Evolution

Geoff Sayre-McCord (Philosophy, University of North Carolina)

Primate ethologists have long explored the evolutionary roots of morality, with wonderfully interesting results. Most recently they’ve discovered compelling evidence that some non-human primates have, in addition to the capacities to act altruistically and cooperate, the capacity to adjust their behavior to whatever norms are in place as they move from community to community. Primate ethologists rightly celebrate this last capacity as central to morality. Yet humans have a further capacity that is no less central to morality: the capacity not merely to conform to norms (intentionally or not, from ulterior motives or not), but the capacity to do so because they judge it to be right or good or their duty. In this talk I explore this last capacity asking, "What we would have to discover of a group of primates (human or otherwise) to establish that they have this morally significant capacity?"

Thursday, April 10th, 4-5:30, 01-2000

Structural Conditions for Civility

Deborah Mower (Philosophy, Youngstown State University)

Although many assume that civility is merely polite behavior, it functions to aid rational discourse and provides basic conditions for the development of citizenship, deliberative democracy, and education. But civil exchanges require civil action and a desire for the exchange on the part of both parties, so how can we foster civility in the midst of uncivil environments? In this talk, Dr. Mower poses some solutions to this problem using insights from psychology, sociology, and Confucianism. Rather than focusing on how to develop civil exchanges, she examines the social and structural conditions for civility and argues that civility is a by-product of an individual's own engaged action.

Thursday, April 24th, 4-5:30, 01-2000

Kierkegaard's Existential Choice: Continuing a Recent Dialogue between Agnes Heller and Richard J. Berstein

Dr. Marcia Morgan (Philosophy, Muhlenberg College)

How does a person make an ethical decision? This question becomes all the more compelling and problematic when trying to behave ethically during, as Agnes Heller puts it, "the total breakdown of 'normal' ethical worlds." In her philosophical work Heller pieces together a moral compass internal to individual subjectivity to employ during such times. Kierkegaard's model of existential choice has played a formative role in Heller's solution to the problem. In my lecture I begin with Kierkegaard's framework of choosing oneself as an ethical being and consider a recent critique of Heller's Kierkegaardian ethics by Richard J. Bernstein, continuing the substantively productive tension between the irrational and rational forces that determine our ethical actions.



These presentations are free
and open to all.

If you need interpreting services, contact Cassandra Shellman as early as you can at 585.475.2057 or via e-mail.

Presentations for previous years