Conversations in the Liberal Arts happen every Friday Afternoon in Ellis Hall. Informal discussions include a variety of topics such as politics, literature, social issues, scientific questions, as well as religion and philosophy.
Friday, November 9th, 2018
Art as Educator: Why and How
It is often thought that art, and other aesthetic phenomena, can teach us about the world and ourselves, and that artistic and aesthetic activity can help us to learn truths and acquire and develop such knowledge (often in ways that suggest that we could not have accomplished these things via other means). But just how does this happen, exactly, and why? What are some of our reasons for engaging art and other aesthetic phenomena for this sort of purpose? In what ways can art, and other aesthetic phenomena, be morally and epistemically good, and in what ways can they be bad—and how can these different types of value interact (if they can)? Finally, how do different philosophical traditions—such as South or East Asian or European-influenced—address these kinds of questions? This interactive discussion will address these, and other related topics, all depending on audience interest.
Friday, November 1st, 2018
The Forgotten Books of the Bible
While the biblical books of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther serve as festival scrolls in the Jewish tradition, the Christian church has all but forgotten about them. In his book The Forgotten Books of the Bible: Recovering the Five Scrolls for Today, Robert Williamson insists that these books have urgent significance for contemporary life. In this talk, he will present some of the ideas in his book, covering topics ranging from human sexuality to immigration reform to resistance against ethnic nationalism.
Friday, October 26th, 2018
Ecoglogical Self-Understanding: A Cross-Cultural Epistemic Virtue
Dr. Jesse Butler
Cross-cultural analyses often emphasize differences between worldviews. While there are significant differences across the diverse ways that humanity has understood itself, however, the tendency to emphasize differences can obscure important and revealing commonalities between worldviews as well. The goal of this talk is to identify one such commonality among indigenous worldviews and their capacity to address our collective ecological well-being together on planet Earth. Specifically, I will argue that contemporary philosophers Viola Cordova and Tu Weiming exhibit ecological self-understanding as an epistemic virtue in their conceptions of human existence. Ecological self-understanding (ESU) is veridical acknowledgement of human beings as embodied agents in the world, fundamentally situated within interdependent relations between self and environment. As contemporary exemplars of Native American and Confucian philosophy, respectively, Cordova and Tu illustrate how both worldviews exhibit ESU and thereby serve as models toward the cultivation of ecological well-being through their understanding of the human condition.
Friday, October 19th, 2018
How Should Moral Disagreement Inform Health Care Policy?
Dr. Michael Brodrick
“My argument has four parts. First, there is such a thing as - what I call- moral disagreement or moral diversity; second, Western intellectuals have long believed that rational deliberation can eventually eliminate moral disagreement and discover the one true morality that applies to all humans; third, this cherished belief of Western intellectuals is false; fourth, this has important implications for the ethics of health care policy. In particular, health care policy should rely as much as possible on rules that treat different people the same and avoid rules that treat different people differently. In other words, health care policy should be constrained by the Rule of Law and should, whenever possible, avoid legislation and regulation. This amounts to a moral argument for significant reform of the current health care policy landscape in the United States.” – Dr. Michael Brodrick
Friday, October 5th, 2018
In the Midst of the City: The Gospel and God’s Policies
Faith communities are often politically involved, but what shape should such involvement take? The Very Rev. Barkley Thompson's new book God in the Midst of the City: The Gospel and God's Politics argues that the Gospel is never partisan, and that Christian people must immerse themselves in the Gospel as a prelude to determining their social and political commitments. Thompson, who serves as dean of historic Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, will read from his new book and answer questions from attendees. Longtime NPR host Diane Rehm says of Thompson’s book, “…Those who read this book will feel [Thompson’s] extraordinary ability to help us interpret both the divisions and connections we experience as we move through this complex religious, secular and political world.”
Friday, September 28th, 2018
Human(un)kind and the Rape of the World
This paper sketches the history of unethical behavior of Homo sapiens to other forms of life on planet Earth. I ask, and sketch responses to, the question: How and why is it that we, the so-called “ethical animal,” have been the worst of all animals in relation to other life-forms on our planet? In response to the answers to this question, I claim that we know, and have known for a very long time, what it means to be morally good. But in light of the natural bases of our behavior, I wonder if it will ever be possible for us, as a species, to become so. Led by Dr. Charles W. Harvey, University of Central Arkansas.
Friday, September 21st, 2018
Religion in a Warmer World: Cosmotheism and the Anthropocene
The term "Anthropocene" is much discussed lately as a way of thinking about large-scale shifts in earth systems—including but not limited to global warming—caused by human activity operating at the level of a geophysical force. Though not without confusion and controversy, the term is gaining currency as it emphasizes the increasing untenability of distinctions between the human and the natural. If such distinctions are untenable, what consequences are there for our understanding of religion? This talk will offer an approach to religion in the context of the Anthropocene, first by critically examining the heritage of monotheistic thought with regard to the relation between humans and the nonhuman world, and then by suggesting an immanent and materialist understanding of both divinity and religious practice. Led by Dr. Michael Norton, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Friday, September 14th, 2018
Antonio Damasio and the Implications of Neuroscience for Developing a Philosophy of Life Today
Antonio Damasio explains recent discoveries in Neuroscience, especially the integration of mind and brain. Dr. Beck explains Damasio’s view of the goal of life as “homeostasis,” or human flourishing. She then explains Aristotle’s notion of eudaimonia and the way Greek culture cultivated it. Led by Dr. Martha Beck of Lyon College.
Friday, September 7th, 2018
Nosewise Dogs and Perceptual ‘Smell-how’ in Human-Canine Dyads
It is no secret that dogs have a much richer olfactory picture of the world than humans, but little is known about the mechanisms subtending this skill. There is also not much by way of philosophical discussions of olfaction generally, whether in humans or in other species. In this paper, I show why this lacuna is an unexplored treasure trove for philosophy of cognitive science, particularly when it comes to debates concerning mental and perceptual content. I argue that current enactivist conceptions of cognition – those that are radically anti-representational in nature – are the best fit for explaining how dogs ‘see’ the world through their noses. This perceptual capacity is a sort of know-how whereby dogs are not representing the world internally, but instead, when they interact with the environment, they are constituting information-for action. Smells, in other words, are natural signs for how best to engage with the world. While humans have largely ignored olfactory input as a source of ‘smell-how,’ they are not entirely ‘smell-deaf’, and the enactivist account of cognition is further strengthened by examining how smelling, like other skills, can be improved with practice. Even more compelling is when humans and dogs are paired together for smelling-specific tasks, such as bomb or human remains detection. In the final parts of this paper, I examine how these human-canine dyads suggest ways in which interspecific relationships can afford even more perceptual know-how for each member of the dyad, all without appealing to an overtly representational or cognitivist framework. - Dr. Michele Merritt, of Arkansas State University. Dr. Merritt will be leading the discussion.
Friday, August 31st, 2018
What makes a good conversation possible? What are some virtues of good conversations? Open-mindedness? Empathy? Charity? What are some vices? Closed-mindedness? Lack of listening? We will discuss the values that structure virtuous conversations. Led by Dr. James Dow