Mostly in blank verse, I consider the question "What value can a student receive from a single course in philosophy?" More specifically, in line with my own teaching duties, I focus on the value to students of a single course in, say, epistemology, metaphysics, or philosophy of science or mind. I consider and reject answers based on the examples of introductory instruction in science or in art, finally concluding that even just a bit of this sort of philosophy can communicate some of the delight philosophers enjoy in finding a world of questions in apparently obvious facts of everyday life.
In "Contextualism and Confusability" I defend Epistemological Contextualism. Contextualists think that the statements "I know that I have hands," "I don't know that I'm not a brain in a vat," and "if I don't know that I'm not a brain in a vat, I don't know that I have hands," are all true—albeit not simultaneously. The first statement is true when an individual is not cognizant of the hypothesis that he might be a brain in a vat receiving just those sense impressions he is currently receiving. However, once the hypothesis is considered, the standards for knowing become more strict—so strict that the statement "I know that I have hands" is false. People have mistakenly thought that the three statements present a paradox because they have failed to recognize that the skeptical hypothesis really does issue in stricter standards for knowing.
The main critic of this approach has been Stephen Schiffer. Schiffer believes that it is implausible that language users would overlook the context sensitivity at work. I begin by explaining and setting out the virtues of accepting the contextualist approach to skepticism. Subsequently, I set out Schiffer's argument and attempt to meet Schiffer's criticism. Specifically, I argue that people can confuse the context of an utterance when that context is relatively unfamiliar. The reason one mistakenly thinks that he knows he has hands, while entertaining the skeptical hypothesis, is that he is overwhelmingly more familiar with the context in which he knows that he has hands.
This paper attempts to make sense of religious fundamentalists' distorted assessment of the evidence for evolution through natural selection—evidence the scientific and educational and religious communities at large see as unassailable. It argues that philosophical and logical categories and tools are useful in exploring the ideological fracture within the creationist debate, and it goes on to put some of them to work. I examine the epistemic or doxastic position of the audience-members from as neutral a point of view as possible, in order to better understand both what is being expected, by us, of them as believers and information-processors and their response to this expectation. Since that response illustrates one dimension of the sudden and global resurgence of religion in an age of increasing secularization, a phenomenon which has surprised social scientists, this perennial topic deserves study.
This paper queries why we are more reluctant to perform stem cell research on human than on nonhuman embryos, given their remarkable similarities together with the former's greater promise for addressing human illnesses. I begin by examining two leading arguments for prohibiting stem cell research on human embryos. The first type of argument suggests that we should not interfere with the potential for human life. This argument, advanced in different ways by both (some) utilitarians and (some) religious believers, inadequately grapples with the moral complexities raised by current technologies, such as IVF and cloning. Moreover, it fails to address the significant adverse effects of human overpopulation to both human and nonhuman well-being. The second line of argument addressed here suggests that we are morally prohibited from "playing God." This argument overlooks the various ways in which we do—indeed, we must—make life and death decisions. Further, the argument rests on an undefended assumption that we are only prohibited from making such decisions with regard to (actual or potential) human life, while remaining free to make such decisions with regard to animals without apparent moral qualms. On the contrary, I argue that, from a fully ethical Darwinian standpoint, we must treat both human and nonhuman life with respect. Far from requiring us to abstain from difficult moral decision making, an attitude of respect toward all life requires human willingness to take responsibility for making difficult—indeed, sometimes excruciating—moral decisions.
Is incivility in the U.S. increasing? Certainly, there is a widespread perception that it is. In this paper, I examine the extent of that perception in a variety of settings. Of necessity, almost all of the evidence is anecdotal in nature. Equally inconclusive is the analysis of that evidence, since it consists almost entirely of interpretations. However, the reader may become persuaded that incivility seems to be an indicator of deleterious social psychological effects. More specifically, I suggest that Emile Durkheim's anomie theory provides insight into the relation between apparently superficial incivility and more deep-seated social pathologies, so that it becomes plausible to see incivility as a barometer of underlying societal decay.