PIKSI Boston Teaching Fellows and Seminars
Dana Francisco Miranda
UConn graduate student
Seminar: The Bad Faith of Monuments
- The word monument comes from the Latin “monere,” which means “to remind” or “to warn.” But what are we reminded or warned of collectively by “racist” monuments? The historian Nell Irvin Painter has argued that America has never come to grips with what the Germans call Vergangenheitsbewaltigung (understanding the past), meaning that the United States has not reconciled itself with either its white supremacy or antiblack racism. The clinging on to “racist” monuments could be described as historicizing in “bad faith,” i.e. having the commitment to draft history while disregarding facts. This phenomenon is not restricted to the U.S., rather, it is highly visible in the contested battles over public space occurring worldwide. Using this framework this seminar will examine the Monument to the Forgotten Slaves in Savannah Georgia, Battle of Liberty Place Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Cecil Rhodes Statue in Cape Town, South Africa to interrogate the various calls of retention, removal, or replacement of monuments. In doing so, students will understand the political nature of representing history.
- This seminar will devote attention to philosophy of history and Black existentialism in order to understand the political implications of monuments. Students will apply the existential concept of “bad faith,” the refusal to face evidence, to analyze the public campaigns against and for “racist” monuments. Additionally, students will also examine political responses against monuments, such as with #BlackLivesMatter graffiti appearing on confederate statues and the #RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa. Lastly, students will listen to ‘Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holiday, ‘Be Free’ by J. Cole, and ‘Oh I’m A Good Old Rebel’ by Hoyt Axton in class in order to understand the political climate in which monuments stand. In doing so, students will be asked to articulate the meaning of monuments in racialized contexts and whether or not public history is ever impartial?
- How does Schedler’s definition of racism differ from Gordon’s definition of antiblack racism? How do these differences impact any reading, or more importantly, the meaning of monuments? Moreover, how is “evidence” crucial to the distinguishing of racism for both thinkers?
- Is removal a form of censorship? How do Millian arguments against censorship conflict with the public and political role of monuments? How does the public meaning of monuments relate to historical research and the view of the masses?
- How does Prof. Lewis Gordon define “bad faith” and how would this concept be applied to arguments surrounding monuments? Does Schedler’s view of ambiguity show elements of bad faith?
MIT graduate student
Seminar: On What There Is
- What exists? What is existence anyway? These are philosophical questions if ever there were. One answer to the question “What exists?” is “Everything.” Maybe we can be more specific. Does the number 9 exist? Does courage exist? My left sock exists, my right sock exists — does the pair of socks exist? Do thoughts exist? The average student? Harry Potter? The law of gravity? You seem to exist, but does your absence exist? With Quine as our guide, we’ll think about what it takes to exist.
- Certainly Santa Claus doesn’t exist. But it looks like there’s a problem about how the sentence “Santa Claus doesn’t exist” can be true. What is that problem? What, according to Quine, do you have to say about how language works so that there is no problem of this sort?
- One way to read Quine is that the question of what exists gets broken down into two pieces: what is the true theory of the world and what must exist in order for that theory to be true. What does Quine’s theory of ontological commitment have to do with this? How do we determine what the ontological commitments of a theory are? For the adventurous: what does that have to do with Quine’s statement: “To be assumed as an entity is, purely and simply, to be reckoned as the value of a variable” (p. 7). Do you think Quine is right about this?
- Does science tell us what exists? Why or why not? What does Quine say about this and why?
- Come up with some types of things that you think exist or, at least, might exist. How would you go about deciding whether or not they exist?
UMass Amherst graduate student
Seminar: Against Empathy?
- We typically think that, when it comes to moral matters, there’s no such thing as too much empathy. Lately, however, a few philosophers and psychologists have argued that empathy leads our moral reasoning astray. We will read Prinz’s paper “Against Empathy”, and examine whether empathy really is as problematic as he claims. In particular, we will consider what it means for an emotion to be ‘biased’, and think about whether Prinz’s prescription against empathy is justified.
- Can you think of any problems with Prinz’s definition of empathy?
- What does it mean for an emotion to be ‘moral’? And what role, if any, do the moral emotions play in moral reasoning?
- Are the other moral emotions immune from the criticisms that Prinz deploys against empathy?
Syracuse University graduate student
Seminar: Moral Responsibility and Implicit Bias
- Implicit bias is a mostly unconscious and automatic evaluative tendency towards people, based on their apparent membership in a socially salient category or group, such as African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas, women, and the LGBT community. We will focus on two questions about implicit bias: a) are agents morally blameworthy for their actions that result from implicit biases? And b) can our current views about agency be successfully applied to implicit bias? Does this phenomenon suggest that there are problems with such views?
- Vargas claims that sometimes people are blameworthy for actions that are the result of implicit bias, and also that sometimes they aren’t. What makes the difference according to Vargas? Why not claim instead that people are always blameworthy for actions that are the result of implicit bias. What do you think about this? Do you agree with Vargas? Why?
- What is Vargas’ argument for the claim that implicit bias is a significant challenge for our current views about agency? What is the challenge? What do you think about this? Can you think of a way for those views to reply to Vargas’ objection?