James Conley ’20: Summer Research on Kierkegaard’s Early Works

James Conley, a ’20 Philosophy major, embarked on his summer research project last summer to explore Søren Kierkegaard’s works in depth. (For more information on Summer Research Grants in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, look here!)  Here, he provides details on his project and his experiences working on it:

My summer research project focused on Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s early aesthetic works. Kierkegaard published two of his most enduring books, Either/Or and Fear and Trembling, in 1843, at the onset of his career. The content of these books is not traditional systematic or analytic philosophy, but rather pseudonymous accounts of life, love, value, and experience, akin to literary fiction, from three primary pseudonymous characters invented by Kierkegaard. The three pseudonymous characters embody three conflicting existential perspectives or modes of living that Kierkegaard wanted to highlight and set against each other dialectically in the mind of his reader. His intention was to develop the subjectivity and self-understanding of the reader in an indirect and inward way, something not possible in an analytic, critical philosophical project. These existential perspectives are the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious, represented in Either/Or: Volume I, Either/Or: Volume II, and Fear and Trembling respectively.

In order to understand Kierkegaard’s existential dialectic, my research narrowed in on one central theme salient in each of the three accounts. This theme is love. My research culminated in a paper detailing the philosophy of love of each of the three pseudonyms and juxtaposing them in order to gain insight into Kierkegaard’s project. The aesthetic philosophy of love, embodied and valued by the first pseudonym in Either/Or Volume I, is akin to a refined hedonism. Love, for the aesthete, is only valuable and existentially effective in its romantic form and as long as it provides pleasure or distraction. The ethical philosophy of love embodied and valued by the second pseudonym in Either/Or Volume II, values social conventions and institutions, such as marriage, presupposing a roughly Hegelian belief that commitment to and identification with the universal conception of ethics is fundamentally important and the highest mode of living. The religious philosophy of love, discussed by the third pseudonym in Fear and Trembling, values a subjective and fully faithful relationship with God and a subsequent experience of earthly love and desire founded in faith.

My interest in Kierkegaard was sparked initially by my time spent studying abroad in Copenhagen in the fall of 2018. Copenhagen is the city where Kierkegaard lived most of his life. He often wrote poetically about his surroundings and used the city as an illustrative device for his philosophy. My immersion in the city left a deep and insightful impact on my philosophical growth and understanding of one of the most important philosophers of the 19th century. Thank you, Copenhagen.

I was aided in my project by the University of Puget Sound philosophy department. Specifically, Sara Protasi, my academic adviser who helped me apply for the research grant, and William Beardsley, my research adviser, who spent many hours with me discussing and helping me to understand Kierkegaard and helping write my research paper.

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Great Lakes Philosophy Conference — Ethics in Action

Sienna Heights University is calling on students with a passion for ethics in the world today! The Great Lakes Philosophy Conference will be held in Adrian, Michigan on April 3rd through April 5th, 2020.

To be considered in joining this conference, students are asked to write papers related to the theme of “Ethics in Action.” Possible paper topics include trends in ethics, interpersonal ethics, social ethics, ethics within and across disciplines and specialties, the intersection of ethics and politics, applied and professional ethics, metaethics, and ethical theory, but alternative prompts are welcome as well. The official submission requirement page is here.

A special stream will be featured for presentations relating to the topic of “The Crisis of American Democracy.” The goal for these presentations will be to compile them into a publication as conference proceedings.

All undergraduate and graduate students are welcome to submit a paper. Final papers should be appropriate for a 20-30 minute presentation and contribute to an inclusive, collaborative environment. To submit a paper, you will need to submit an abstract of up to 500 words here. The deadline for submissions is on January 1st, 2020 and the deadline for acceptance notifications is on January 8th, 2020. There are $100 respective prizes for the best undergraduate and graduate student papers.

If your paper is accepted to be presented at the Great Lakes Conference, you can apply for a travel award here!

This is a wonderful opportunity to get involved with people from all sorts of different fields and professions! If you have any questions, email lharper3@sienaheights.edu for more information.

Philosophy Party: October 25th!

Happy midterms everyone! Hopefully, things aren’t too stressful, but luckily the Philosophy Department has the perfect way to unwind!

On Friday, October 25th, the Philosophy Department will be hosting an event for all philosophy majors, minors, or any students interested in philosophy — come by for an afternoon of games and free food! It will be hosted from 3:30p.m. to 5:00p.m. in the University Club on 1302 N. Alder Street.

Hope to see you there!

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Opening the Tower Gates: Philosophy’s New Relationship with Technology

guest post by Peter O’Meara ’19

A new age could be dawning for philosophy beyond the Ivory Tower. From A.I. to design to data, tech leaders express a desire to see philosophy incorporated into the developmental process for products and services (see for example articles like this, this, and this). Given the human connections many innovations seek to simulate, knowledge of ethics, for just one example, is coming to be appreciated by different types of companies. There are few roadmaps on how to translate the skills of digital native philosophy undergraduates into careers in technology that are in need of the skills developed by philosophy majors in their undergraduate education.

SXSW 2019, the annual ideas festival in Austin, saw a congregation of tech titans and start-ups, each vying to reinvent the relationship between humans and innovation. For example, the Google Home Mini was likened to a pebble, while some social networks were compared to a hearth, aiming to bring communities together. Such designs, chameleon in imitation, raise questions about impact on behavior and what it means to be human. “We should ask philosophically ‘what makes us human?’ ‘Can technology try to be human in that way?’ ‘What is this good experience we are trying to design?’” says Yihyun Lim, MIT Design Lab director and one of SXSW’s many speakers. “As we are developing tech, if we remember what the core value is, that can direct where tech will go in the future.” Philosophy grads can be shepherds on that journey.

A.I. is not exempt from similar considerations: in discussions from totalitarian code to autonomous vehicles to musical instruments, the need for ethics is embraced. Already government leaders are seeing the wielding of A.I. for deplorable ends, and it becomes clear that new voices are needed alongside programmers. Josh Marcuse, executive director of the Defense Innovation Board, warns SXSW, “not all nations share our values, and the world authoritarian regimes compel engineers to create AI for repression.” On an ethical note, he adds “If you have a consequentialist, you care more about what you are emphasizing than what you are explaining. In autonomous cars, you are asking how many thousands of people will die? Why should explainability be the standard?” Ultimately, he calls for integration, declaring “We need to think of diversity in a broader context. Philosophers and engineers working together, working in teams.”

Data repeatedly demonstrates its capacity to harm as much as it helps with its unintended consequences. Facial recognition systems have been known to discriminate based on race, while surveillance data frequently ignores inferences. Josh Klein, CEO of H4X Industries LCC and SXSW speaker, argues that data can be used for good, but often isn’t due to human laziness. This is a bad excuse, he argues, and while change is difficult, “we ought to endeavor to improve data on people such that ethics are met, and business still thrive.” Klein further remarks “treating people like robots does not equal profit. If you get data on toothpaste wrong, toothpaste doesn’t have a bad day. If we don’t face biases, we don’t create large scale positive social change.”

While there is a desire by science and technology to incorporate philosophical rigor, a meaningful roadmap for integration doesn’t yet exist. While some, like Klein, have given isolated, concrete suggestions, there are few real, tangible initiatives. Jake Silberg and James Manyika of McKinsey & Company reiterate this priority for collaboration between tech and philosophy. In their piece “Tackling Bias in Artificial Intelligence (and in humans)”, bias in A.I. is described as an issue only addressable with a multidisciplinary approach. “Business leaders can also help support progress by making more data available to researchers and practitioners across organizations working on these issues, while being sensitive to privacy concerns and potential risks” they argue. “More progress will require interdisciplinary engagement, including ethicists, social scientists, and experts who best understand the nuances of each application area in the process.” Several potential routes undergraduates could take can promote this participation include: Universities could offer bachelor’s degrees with emphasis in certain areas of tech or philosophy of science. Internships with organizations and think tanks facilitating discussions across disciplines could be created as well. Philosophers working alongside programmers, insofar as both parties are involved in decision-making or influencing capacities, could also be a great way to implementation more integration. Panels focusing on empathy and bias, areas which philosophy is adept at reflecting on, could be held on a regular basis to evaluate the current codes and products.

Philosophy’s role in tech appears unquestionable, and the attitudes presented by the latter’s leaders are a welcome sign for those feeling trapped in the Ivory Tower or believing their degree has limited use.

Peter O’Meara holds a philosophy degree from the University of Puget Sound outside Seattle and has studied multiple coding languages. He can be reached via LinkedIn and at pcomeara@comcast.net.

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Join the GQS & Philosophy Summer Book Club

This summer, the Gender & Queer Studies and Philosophy Book Club will be meeting to discuss Prof. Kate Manne’s work Down Girl. These meetings are open to all and lunch will be provided at every meeting. Contact nkranzdorf@pugetsound.edu for more information.

Kate Manne is an assistant professor of the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University. She will be guest lecturing from September 18-19, 2019 as part of the Brown and Haley lecture series.

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CFA: 2019 Ethics and Broader Considerations of Technology Conference (University of Nebraska–Lincoln)

University of Nebraska–Lincoln have sent out a call for abstracts for their 2019 Ethics and Broader Considerations of Technology Conference. Submissions should be on topics of ethics and technology. This conference is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Prof. Tubert will be a featured speaker at this conference.

Submission Deadline: June 15, 2019
Conference Dates: October 31–November 2, 2019

Students are also invited to create a game about ethics and technology for the The Ethics and Technology Game Jam.

For more information about submission requirements, featured speakers, or other conference inquiries, visit the conference website.

2019 Fall Ethics and Technology conference

UPS Ethics Bowl Team Competes in First Ever Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

The Puget Sound Ethics Bowl team competed in the first ever Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) on April 14, 2019. The University of Puget Sound and the the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (FEPPS) teams debated questions such as: Should we bring back species that have been driven to extinction? Are laws allowing terminally ill children to choose euthanasia morally defensible? Is China’s social credit system, which assigns a social credit score based on behavior, morally justified? Do wealthy nations owe a climate debt obligation toward less-wealthy nations? 

FEPPS describes their mission as being:

A rigorous college program for incarcerated women, trans-identified and gender nonconforming people in Washington and creates pathways to higher education after students are released from prison. Our goals are to increase FEPPS students’ economic and personal empowerment, contribute to family stability and reduce recidivism through college education.

The event was sponsored by Freedom Education Project Puget Sound and the University of Washington, Philosophy Department.

This event was also made possible by Paul Tubig, a Philosophy PhD candidate at University of Washington. In addition to coaching the FEPPS team, Paul established ethics bowl at WCCW and organized the event.

Visit the FEPPS Facebook page to read more about the event.

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Left table: FEPPS ethics bowl team

Middle table: Puget Sound Ethics Bowl team

Right table: Judges and moderator

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Paul Tubig

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