Friday, September 25, 2015

WMU Grad Conference

The WMU Graduate Student Association of Philosophy is pleased to announce its 9th Annual Graduate Conference at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan on December 4-5, 2015. 

We are excited to have Helen Frowe (Stockholm) and Jonathan Schaffer (Rutgers) join us as our keynote speakers this year.

Submissions by graduate students in any field of philosophy are welcome, but special attention will be given to papers on the keynote speakers’ areas of specialization.  Please keep submissions to no more than 4000 words.  Submissions must be sent to  Please include your name, affiliation, and paper title in the email, and please have your submission prepared for blind review by removing any identifying information from the body of the paper itself.  The deadline for submission is October 1, 2015.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Makinga a $1500 Sandwich

This guy made a sandwich completely from scratch (including the cheese and he made salt from ocean water). It took him six months and $1500 and I'm sure he learned a lot in the process. 

So, did it taste good? After his first bite, he said, "It's not bad. That's about it. Six months of my life... were not bad..."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Vertical Farming

We had an interesting discussion in my Food Ethics course today. Part of it turned to vertical farming and whether such agricultural techniques could be used as an alternative to contemporary agriculture and whether such farming could adequately feed the world.

Here's an interesting article about vertical farming that appeared in the NY Times. The author, Dickson Despommier, is a professor of public policy at Columbia who also has a book on the topic. He contends that vertical farming is a viable source of a tremendous amount of food, especially in urban areas. It seems (from a brief perusal of his book) that vertical farming isn't as input-intensive as we had said in class. In fact, he claims that it's a highly efficient way to farm. If readers of this blog have other resources related to this issue--especially those critical of vertical farming--please let me know.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ethics and Future Generations--Call for Papers from CJP

The Canadian Journal of Philosophy announces a call for papers for a Special Issue edited by Rahul Kumar

Ethics and Future Generations

Traditionally, albeit with a few notable exceptions, moral and political philosophers have either neglected, or treated as a matter of peripheral concern, questions concerning our obligations to future generations.  But that is rapidly changing.  Faced with the now-vivid threat of catastrophic climate change, the public officials and social scientists involved in shaping climate-change policy increasingly look to philosophers for guidance. This has prompted philosophers both to take an active interest in how the tools of traditional moral and political theorizing can be employed and extended to help us better understand what we owe to future generations, and to develop new approaches for assessing what morality demands of us with respect to securing their interests.

The purpose of this volume is to bring together fourteen original papers that address a range of issues concerning ethics and future generations.   We particularly welcome submissions rooted in theoretical or applied ethics and political philosophy.   Theoretical questions of interest include: to what extent might the tools of ethical theory and political philosophy help us to formulate our obligations to future generations?  Are our current tools equal to this task, or do we need to approach the ethical implications of our current choices for future generations in wholly new ways?  Problem-based questions include: Do our obligations to future people extend beyond refraining from creating foreseeably miserable lives to include a positive duty to create lives of a high rather than just decent-quality?  Are there moral reasons to try and ensure a certain population size in the further future?  How should we weigh the interests of those who will live in the next few generations against those of distant generations in both moral theorizing and policy-making?

Submissions (10,000 words strict maximum) and a brief abstract should be submitted here. Follow the link for ‘Future Generations’. Submissions must be received by January 15th, 2016. Inquiries should be sent to Rahul Kumar at

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Is morality relative?

It may be that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some people think that Chagall's paintings are masterpieces while others don't see what all the fuss is about. Some find Wagner to be a marvelous composer while others prefer to listen to 50 cent. (Woody Allen once joked that he couldn't listen to Wagner for longer than a few minutes since he'd start to develop the urge to invade Poland. I wonder how he feels about 50 cent.) Perhaps, then, one ought to conclude that there is no objective truth about whether something is beautiful. Rather, it may be that what counts as beautiful is simply a matter of opinion or personal preference. And, of course, it may also be that one's culture contributes a great deal to what one finds beautiful.

Plenty of things are thought to be matters of taste or opinion. Taste is a trite example. Some people like coffee and some don't. Etiquette is clearly relative to culture. In some places bowing is an appropriate greeting and in others it's considered rather odd behavior.

One might be tempted by the idea that morality is relative. But is morality a matter of taste? Does morality depend upon personal opinions or cultural context? Could it be that there aren't any objective moral truths that hold independently of one's beliefs or culture? Are there no moral "truths" at all? Is each person's (or culture's) set of moral attitudes equally valid? If you answer in the affirmative to these questions, you're a moral relativist. If you answer in the negative, you're a moral objectivist.

One can be an objectivist about, for example, humor. One might think that Anchorman is a funny movie and that anyone who thinks otherwise is just wrong. According to this sort of person, it's a fact that it's a funny movie and even though there might be room to dispute this fact, it nevertheless remains a fact. Many philosophers say something similar about morality.

This is a podcast with a contemporary moral philosopher named Simon Blackburn. He discusses whether morality is a matter of opinion and he offers a number of reasons against moral relativism. What do you think about his arguments? Are you convinced by his position that there are universal moral principles that bind us all, no matter where we're from or what our personal beliefs might be? More generally, what sorts of reasons do you find persuasive in settling this dispute between moral relativists and moral objectivists?