The Examined Year - 2013

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What Is It

A new year offers an opportunity to reflect on the significant events of the previous year.  But what ideas and events took shape over the past twelve months that have prompted us to question our assumptions and to think about things in new ways?  Join John, Ken, and their special guests as they celebrate the examined year with a philosophical look back at 2013.

The Year in Philosophy and Gender: Linda Alcoff from City University of New York looks at events in 2013 that have higlighted the evolving but still-fraught nature of gender in academia.
The Year in Whistleblowing and HacktivismPeter Ludlow from Northwestern University examines the ethics of leakers like Edward Snowden and Pvt. Manning (sentenced in 2013) who have claimed the moral high ground in their actions.
The Year in Dysfunctional DemocracyJon Elster from Columbia University explores the breakdown of democratic process in the US, including the work of political scientist Juan Linz, who passed away in 2013.

Listening Notes

Ken and John introduce the main events of the year 2013 to be examined through a philosophical lens: the underrepresentation of women in philosophy, hacktivism and whistle-blowing, and the future of democracy in light of events such as the government shutdown.

2013 was a landmark year for women fighting for a series of rights, including reproductive rights, as was illustrated by Wendy Davis and her 13 hour filibuster. In philosophy, women have been concerned with severe underrepresentation. Ken and John are joined by Linda Alcoff, Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, for the first segment of the show. John wonders if there may be undercurrents of sexism present in philosophy departments which are responsible for the low percentage of women faculty representing said departments. Linda explains that the progress in numbers of women faculty has stalled over the past 20 years, so that women form a mere average of 17% of department faculty. This is not the case for other departments in the social science and humanities, where the percentage of women is almost equal to that of men. Ken wonders if it is an intrinsic fault of philosophical methodology, and Linda suggests that the low numbers have to do with the sociology and institution of the profession. John asks Linda whether the confrontational or aggressive style of discussion that often takes place in philosophy seminars may be off-putting to women, but Linda disagrees, comparing the example to equally challenging law school discussions which are well represented by women. The potential of implicit bias in philosophy departments is further discussed.

Peter Ludlow, Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University, joins the conversation for a new segment. John poses to Peter that in a speech given after the Edward Snowden NSA leaks, President Obama encouraged conversation about surveillance. Peter explains that it may be too late for a conversation on the subject which should have happened when the surveillance system was first being implemented. Did Snowden carry out a valuable task, and was he right in working individually, Ken asks? Peter recognizes that Snowden’s independence undercuts the system, and that is not necessarily a negative thing. The position of David Brooks, who Peter responded to in a paper, is also discussed. Ken then brings up the hacktivist movements, where individuals hack information for public use. Peter explains that there are no easy ways to determine whether a hack is moral or not. Ken, John, and Peter elaborate on the morality of hacking, bringing forth examples such as the Stratfor global intelligence hack.

A short interlude on selfies, the word of the year, takes place. Ken explains why he thinks that the concept of selfies is narcissistic, and the pair reveal their favorite words of the year.

Jon Elster, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, joins John and Ken to discuss the state of democracy in the U.S. in 2013. John asks Jon whether the governmental problems of the U.S. in 2013 are due to events that took place during the year or whether they are the fruition of a long-term structural problem, perhaps running back as far as the writing of the Constitution. Jon brings forth the idea of counter-majoritarian and political extremist views that prevail in the country. Too many checks and balances are in place, argues Jon, and the political culture in the states is unlike that of many other countries. Ken asks Jon for a sketch of a new constitution, granting it could be re-written, and invites participation on the newly launched Community of Thinkers.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 1:26): Philosophy Talk's Reporter Caitlin Esch asks questions originally posed in “The Book of Questions” by Gregory Stock, author and scientist, to regular folk. These thought-experiments, explains Gregory, are catalysts for conversation on issues of the most current significance.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 49:18): Ian Shoales runs through a list of 2013’s major and most talked about events: Obama and public response to his policies, drones, Miley Cyrus and a host of pop culture figures, the inauguration of Pope Francis, the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Boston Bombing, and numerous other topics of relevance.