2015 Papers & Abstracts

Abstracts and Discussants:

To be a discussant for a paper, email Devin Williamson, Discussant Boss, at willdt21@suny.oneonta.edu with requested paper. 

Jon Catlin

University of Chicago

Catastrophe as Religious Experience: Levinas, Leibowitz, and the Shoah

Discussant: Aaron Suduiko

Emmanuel Levinas and Yeshayahu Leibowitz, two prominent Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, maintain opposing positions on the religious significance of the Holocaust: Levinas identifies crises as the defining experiences of Judaism, while Leibowitz declares all historical events, no matter how catastrophic, religiously insignificant. In this paper, I argue that the philosophical positions of both thinkers stem from the same imperative to reconstitute Judaism around the experience of ethical commandment. While I analyze a particular problem in Jewish thought, my question is a universal, philosophical one: what is the grip of experience on thinking, of history on philosophy?

Thomas Costello

SUNY Binghamton

The Phenomenological Bunker

Discussant: Christine Mazzola

Why do we believe the things we do? While humans like to think of themselves as essentially rational creatures, many of our larger basic beliefs about the world are formed during childhood, fulfill emotional needs, and remain relatively static throughout a lifetime. Beliefs about things like religion, political affiliation, and racism or sexism—though they can change—tend to be sculpted by our upbringing and surroundings much more than they are by sound logic. Previous studies have shown that these beliefs are not particularly malleable, even when people are confronted with empirical evidence. Unfortunately, this may apply to philosophical beliefs as well.  This paper examines the psychological basis for philosophical beliefs—namely determinism and free will—and makes the argument that human belief in free will is both psychologically necessary and incorrect. Similarly, it shows the impossibility of any subconscious belief in determinism. This is explained with a theorized psychological construct called the phenomenological bunker, which is both outlined and supported with evidence. Implications concern the field of philosophy as a whole, and the paper reaches the conclusion that seemingly paradoxical or intractable philosophical problems are instead simply the finite human mind running up against its limits.

Sarah Cummings

SUNY Oneonta

The Necessity of Human/Animal Comparative Cognitive Study

Discussant: Christine Garcia

Debate within the animal kingdom has increased in both frequency and intensity since the age of reason and the need for Homo sapiens to categorize and rationalize all of which exists and comes into existence. Many ancient philosophers insist on the dismissal of the study of animal cognition and behavior, which amounts ultimately to the refutation of the comparison between humans and non-human animals. However, this paper will attempt to argue that the study of comparative human/animal cognition ensures that the indiscretions and inadequacies of current and past theories of mind are brought to light; and that, through this process, more clear and more concise theories are developed, leading to a better understanding of both similarities and differences in regard to human/animal cognition, and consequently to a better, more complete comprehension of the surrounding world, in regard to both ethical and interactive systems.

Benjamin Davis

University of North Dakota

Love and Liberation: Openness to God in Postmodernity

Discussant: Brenna Crowe

This paper examines the role of religious narratives in postmodernity, ultimately arguing that liberation theology is both a mystical and a postmodern orientation to the infinite. In doing so, I engage with philosophers (e.g., Jean-François Lyotard and the contemporary phenomenologist Anthony Steinbock), mystics (e.g., the Islamic mystic Rūzbihān Baqlī), and theologians (e.g., Gustavo Gutiérrez). Broadly, I describe the way technology controls humans in the post-industrial context, and I argue that philosophical questioning and a praxis of love challenge technological control. Specifically, I first examine the instrumental view of knowledge in postmodern societies and how that view of knowledge relates to business frameworks and to instrumental views of human beings. I then explain my contention that liberation theology is a postmodern philosophy, despite its appeal to religious narratives. Finally, and drawing on the mystical foundations of liberation theology, I contend that openness to God is an alternative to instrumental, selfish orientations in postmodernity.

Molly Gorsline

University of Hawaii

The Possibilities are Not Endless: Why Death is Bad                                      

Discussant: Camera Walrond

Death is wholly regarded in our society as a negative and sad thing. When someone dies, we mourn the loss of them, and celebrate the accomplishments and relationships they made while they were alive. It is a sorrowful and painful experience for those who knew the deceased. Can we say, however, that death is also a negative and ‘bad’ thing for the one who has died? Is death bad for the dier, and if so, in what way? In this essay, an attempt is made to explain that the essential bad-ness of life lies in the fact that it ends the possibility for further life experience, and that one the whole, it is better for one to have more of life. Through discussions of Epicurus’s argument, distinctions made between kinds of non-existence, what we can call the Comparative Life Model, and absurdity of life, one can begin to unpack this claim and understand the complete negative nature of death.

Matthew Paul LeJeune

Fordham University

Habit in Psychology: “The Philosopher” and “The Theologian”

Discussant: Garrett Stephens

Aristotle and Aquinas’s analyses of habit within virtue ethics are closely examined andcritically contrasted, particularly in light of the topic’s popularity in current literature and culture. A systematic review of both Aristotle and Aquinas’s concepts of habit or disposition is presented. Habit is defined, and the essential questions regarding habit in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics as well as in the Summa Theologica are discussed, specifically the attributes of habit are seen as general characteristics of all the virtues (as well as vices).  Good habit is then placed within the proper context of Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s concepts of virtue, as well as the need for habit to be viewed inseparably from both a teleological view of anthropology and the classic definition of eudaimonia; all good habits are ultimately held between these two points. The challenges from contemporary literature and culture to Aquinas’s view of teleology and to Aristotle’s eudaimonia will also be briefly examined.  With a genuine model of habit established, a representative sample of contemporary literature in business ethics, medical ethics and psychology, where authors claim Aristotelian-Thomistic models of virtue and habits, is reviewed.

Ellen Lehet

SUNY Potsdam

Boethius’ Discussion of Human Free Will and God’s Foreknowledge

Discussant: Alice Lee

The conflict between God’s foreknowledge and human freedom of will is notoriously worrisome. It does not seem satisfactory to resolve this conflict by limiting God’s knowledge nor by accepting that humanity lacks freedom of will. In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius addresses this problem and proposes a solution that does not depend on either of the aforementioned unsatisfactory options. The correct interpretation of his argument, however, has not been concretely identified. There is the traditional interpretation and a relatively recent alternative interpretation. The strength and success of Boethius’ argument is largely dependent on the way in which his argument is interpreted. In this paper, I argue that the alternative interpretation is the correct way to interpret the argument and that on this interpretation Boethius’ solution is more likely to be successful.

Kyle Logan

Boston College

Not for the Squeamish: How Nietzsche’s Thoughts on Instinct and Art Show Us How to Live More Naturally

Discussant: Devin Williamson

The paper focuses on Nietzsche’s ideas of the natural cruel instincts of human beings and his idea that through art one may engage and arouse the will. Through separate consideration of each area of thought within Nietzsche’s work the paper argues that through violent and cruel art we may truly engage our savage animal instincts in a way that allows us to overcome the stifling morality which Nietzsche fought against without acting outwardly violent. Film is put forward as the greatest medium for such engagement given its dual visual and narrative form allowing the audience to experience the story in two important ways. Lastly, two possible objections to the argument are considered, that violent films are well-received and popular, and that such a way of engaging the animal instincts capitulates to the morality that Nietzsche deplored.

Elizabeth Miraglia
SUNY Potsdam

Meditations on First Philosophy and The Dark Night of the Soul

Discussant: Morgan Harris

This paper draws a comparison between Descartes’ rationalism and Christian mysticism during the 16th and 17th centuries. In particular, this paper deals with the poetry of St. John of the Cross, and includes an in-depth analyzation of his work entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul.” I also work to accentuate a particular interpretation of Descartes’ third and fifth Mediations, which identifies unity with God as the climax of the meditative process. By comparing the steps required in “The Dark Night,” to the steps required by Descartes to achieve this common goal of unity with the divine, I am able to draw fruitful conclusions about the nature of the soul as it appears in Meditations on First Philosophy.

Benjamin Price

Boston College/Trinity College Dublin

Finding Value after Post-Modernism

Discussant: Franki Wilson

Contemporary aesthetic theory remains very much in the shadow of post-modernism. Despite their age, essays and books dedicated to announcing the end of various humanistic endeavours still gather an immense number of citations in contemporary critical discourse. Like relativism in ethics, or skepticism in epistemology, the spectre of deconstruction haunts a great deal of modern critical theory. The threat of its despondent conclusions has become almost the sole motivation to try and move beyond it. Although the end of history has been announced, and the consequent loss of human individuality declared, it is becoming clearer that the philosophy of late capitalism did not spell the end of culture. In the aesthetic of contemporary visual art in particular, there is a new optimism and interest in affirmative rather than deconstructive narratives. With this shifting attitude comes a need to develop a new way of evaluating works of art. In this paper, I attempt to mark out at least some common trends in recent literature which point towards a new critical mode – one that dissociates singular, objective truth from the aesthetic value of a work. In doing so, I hope to take at least some tentative steps towards a new mode of aesthetic evaluation in the wake of post-modernism.

Garrett Stephens

University of Michigan

The Old, The Dark, and The Grey

Discussant: Macayla Cleeves

In The Old, The Dark, The Grey I present a short conversation between fictional characters, which each hold different views of what ethics are, and what ethical arguments should be used for. I write the story in first person, and I am in a hospital having a conversation with an old man (“The Old Man”). He tells me that he does not believe in ethics, which sparks a conversation between him and myself. He describes two characters from his past: One, whom he calls “The Dark Man”, is a ruthless murderer, a military leader from a tribe that had been in constant conflict with the Old Man’s tribe. The Dark Man does not see ethics as applying at all to his actions against the Old Man’s tribe, against a people that he unconditionally hates. The other figure is “The Grey Man”, who is a subtly acting and politically active business owner who operated a mining company in the Old Man’s tribe. This man would use ethical rhetoric in order to justify his own political control, the power that he held over his employees, and the terrible work conditions that he subjected his employees to. The Old Man considers whether it is justifiable for the good of society that ethics be used instrumentally as the basis for political actions in this way. The question that I look to draw primarily is whether or not ethics are or will be inherently used by individuals as a mere justification in support of one’s acting in one’s own self interest. Is it even possible for ethics to become a tool for the betterment of society and will not be misused by individuals who see ethical arguments as simply potentially powerful instruments?

Hannah Strom

Hartwick College

Considering Consciousness: Dennett’s Multiple Drafts Model


In this paper, I will argue that Dennett’s Multiple Drafts model (MDM) best explains the complexities of consciousness, despite many preexisting theories. MDM asserts cognitive resources are competed for among different subsystems, while multiple narratives occur simultaneously. In MDM, at any point, many drafts exist at various stages of editing in various brain locations. The commonly accepted Cartesian Theatre claims all conscious states unify in a single mental location. However, studies suggest mental functions cannot be localized to a specific brain region, especially abstract phenomena such as consciousness. Dennett claims the Cartesian Theater objectively examines subjective material, leaving room for doubt. Other theories attempt to explain temporal anomaly color phi, but MDM has particular explanatory power comparatively. Still, MDM takes into consideration relevant aspects of other theories, accepting higher-order thoughts (i.e., being conscious of a conscious state). Rejecting the Cartesian Theatre alongside supporting evidence for MDM will show MDM’s superiority when considering consciousness. Many mysteries exist within the mind, but consciousness seems to interact with all other core aspects, linking them together. For any brain function to be possible begins with some form of consciousness, thus rendering consciousness an essential building block to understanding the intricacies of the mind.

Aaron Suduiko

Harvard University

Case Study of Player Authority in “Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask”

Discussant: Corrie Reno

In this paper, I offer the beginnings of an aesthetic theory of video game narratology, using “Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask” as a case study.  As the interactive relationship between player and video game is central to video games as a medium, I frame the study as an examination of the player’s authority within the narrative of the game.  In Part I, I defend the thesis that the player is metaphysically responsible for substantiating the universe described within the game.  In Part II, I supplement this thesis with the claim that the player is also responsible for determining the apparent ethics of the universe, although the universe, at bottom, is metaethically nihilistic. I offer two conclusions that I anticipate will be generalizable to the analysis of other video games in the future.  The first is a theoretical framework of what I call ‘narratological three-space’, which differentiates video games from other storytelling media and equips the analyst to rigorously describe their narratives.  The second is the conceptual framing of the player as a character within the video game’s narrative; I argue that this is unintuitive, but a concept requiring consideration in light of the case study.

Camera Walrond

SUNY Oneonta

The Problems with Locke’s Theory of Property and Asteroid Mining

Discussant: Veronica Lo Primo

The possibility of mining on an asteroid for raw materials is quickly becoming a reality. Private companies have expressed interest in being the pioneers of such an endeavor. The problems they face however, comes from the international laws regarding outer space. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 places limitations on claims to state sovereignty and claims to property in terms of land and of resources. As an exercise to explore previous philosophical outlooks regarding property on Earth and how they might be applied in space, this paper examines the positions of John Locke and discusses how in some areas his positions fall short of being sufficiently applicable to the current state of outer space law.

Lauren Young

SUNY Binghamton

The Price of a Human: Defining Voluntary Slavery and Capitalistic Dehumanization as Defined under Marxist and Randian Ethics

Discussant: Emmanuel George

Under the economic system of capitalism humans cannot voluntarily sell themselves into slavery when they are restrained under a system that already defines them as such. The economic ideals of Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged define and develop upon this capitalistic concept of multi-faceted economic slavery by dissecting how capitalisms leads into exploitation, and subsequently, objectifies working human beings into property. Within this realm of economic depravity and commodification, the altering views of Marx’s pro-communism and Rand’s pro-capitalism aid in defining how capitalism ultimately fails to free humans from both physical, social, and intellectual captivity. The main ethical concepts of Marx and Rand I will define concern the enslaving supremacy of capitalism fortified by pro-humanist atheism, the theory of self-estrangement, intellectual property, wage slavery, institutionalized oppression, and the nonexistent separation between the human conscience and the physical body.

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