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Why Medieval Thinkers Are Relevant to 2024

What were the perennial questions posed by medieval thinkers, and how are they still important to our world in 2024? Watch faculty members Andrew Arlig, Lauren Mancia, and Nicola Masciandaro discuss medieval ideas about the world and the human place within it.

Sprague and Taylor Annual Lecture

The Philosophy Department has hosted an annual philosophy lecture each spring since 1950. In 1997, this lecture series was renamed the Sprague and Taylor Lecture in honor of two distinguished emeriti of our department, professors Elmer Sprague and Paul Taylor.

The Sprague and Taylor Lecture has always been one of the highlights for the faculty and our majors, as it has given our community the opportunity to bring in an impressive array of experts from a range of subfields in philosophy. Speakers at past annual lectures have included such notable scholars as Anthony Appiah, Peter Singer, Charles Mills, Catherine Wilson, and Lewis Gordon. In the recent past, lectures have been given by such distinguished philosophers as Virginia Held, Christia Mercer, Jason Stanley, Miranda Fricker, Rebecca Kukla, and Dean Zimmerman.


Sentience and Moral Status

with Professor David Chalmers (New York University)

May 4

Under what conditions does a creature matter morally? Do only conscious beings matter? If so, what sort of consciousness is required? The popular “sentientist” view holds that the capacity for positively and negatively valenced experiences, such as pleasure and suffering, is required for moral status. In this lecture, Professor Chalmers will investigate this matter using some thought experiments involving zombies, Vulcans, and the trolley problem.

Chalmers is the University Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science at NYU, co-director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness, and Honorary Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University. His most recent book is Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy (W. W. Norton).


Monuments and the Obligations of Memory

with Michele Moody-Adams Ph.D. (Columbia University)

May 6

Societies preserve healthy collective identities when they can find continuity between the past and present, and hope for constructive connections between the present and their visions for the future. Creating and preserving the right kinds of public monuments and memorials can be a good way to meet this goal. But we have an obligation to remember the past in ways that do not limit our ability to move our society constructively into the future. This talk will consider examples of monuments and memorials that allow us to meet this obligation and several others—like Confederate monuments—that do not. It will also explore the implications of the summer 2020 global campaign against certain monuments and memorials believed to embody symbolic oppression.


Perceiving God—It’s Easy!

with Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers University)

April 16
Woody Tanger Auditorium, Brooklyn College Library

Many people report experiences they describe as “seeing God but not with my eyes” or “feeling God’s presence.” Can one make any sense out of this? If God exists and is causally responsible for everything that happens, then it should be relatively easy to have experiences that qualify as perceptions of God. All that is required is a mode of experience that non-inferentially generates beliefs about God, and that is caused by God, in the right way. But the “right way” could be just about any way God likes. Or so I will argue.


The Social Epistemology of Maps

with Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown University)

May 1
Woody Tanger Auditorium, Brooklyn College Library

Maps are physical entities shaped by the technological, social, economic, and political conditions in which they are generated. They are also potential tools of social power. I argue that there is no such thing as a neutral map; any map is structured by interest-ridden judgments about how to balance epistemic risks. I explore several ways in which values and interests are built into the production of maps and their epistemic function.


Forgiveness—Its Powers and Corruptions

Speaker: Miranda Fricker (CUNY Graduate Center)

May 11
Woody Tanger Auditorium, Brooklyn College Library

Forgiveness is powerful. Powers internal to the mechanism of forgiveness explain how two apparently different kinds of forgiveness—forgiveness earned through apology and forgiveness given as a gift—are of the same moral genus. The powers of forgiveness also explain how acts of forgiveness can be acts of social construction, both in relation to the wrongdoer and reflexively in relation to the forgiver herself. Once these constructive mechanisms are clearly in view, we are in a position to understand how the powers of forgiveness are intrinsically susceptible to certain familiar corruptions.


A Theory of Practice

with Jason Stanley (Yale University)

May 4
Jefferson-Williams Room, Student Center

A desideratum of a theory of practice is thus that it not rob the agency of those who engage in it. I extend work I have done with John Krakauer on the nature of skill to the nature of practice. On the resulting account, which I contrast with Bourdieu’s habitus, engaging in a practice manifests agency, the capacity to do otherwise. It elucidates the role of responsibility involved in complicity in a practice. Finally, it allows us to recognize the role that violence plays in the restriction of agency in practice.


How Women Changed the Course of Philosophy (1300–1700)

with Christia Mercer (Columbia University)

April 20
Gold Room, Student Center

The story we tell about the development of early modern philosophy was invented by German Neo-Kantians about 150 years ago. Created to justify its proponents’ version of philosophy, it is a story that ignores the complications of 17th-century philosophy and its sources. In this lecture, Professor Christia Mercer uncovers the real story behind early modern rationalism and shows that many of its most original components have roots in the philosophical contributions made by women.

Brooklyn. All in.