The Examined Year - 2014

Sunday, January 4, 2015

What Is It

The unexamined year is not worth reviewing. But what ideas and events that took shape over the past year have prompted us to question our assumptions and to think about things in new ways? What significant events – in politics, in science, and in philosophy itself – have called into question our most deeply-held beliefs? John and Ken celebrate the examined year with a philosophical look back at the year that was 2014:

• The Year in Academic Freedom with Katherine Franke, Professor of Law at Columbia University and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law
• The Year in Race and Justice with Chris Lebron, Professor of Philosophy and African-American Studies at Yale University and author of The Color Of Our Shame: Race and Justice In Our Time
The Year in Neuroscience and the Brain with Rudolph Tanzi, Professor of Neurology at Harvard University and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital

Listening Notes

Ken and John introduce this special edition of Philosophy Talk: a look back at the philosophical events and ideas that shaped the year. Among the topics that will be discussed are the fraught relations between law enforcement and African Americans, incited in part by the killing of unarmed black people by white police officers and the consequent protests nation-wide. Another focus of the conversation will be the year in neuroscience and the brain, and a third focus will be the nature of free speech on college campuses and the stance and mission of universities in regards to academic freedom.

John and Ken welcome Katherine Franke, Professor of Law at Columbia University and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. Ken says that while academic appointments are the result of a long and rigorous process, the University of Illinois dismissed this process and let go of Salaita, whose case is discussed in the Roving Philosophical Report, just because his tweets troubled influential donors. Katherine speaks about the rigorous process that rules appointments and dismissals and believes this process was not followed regarding the case of Salaita. John wonders whether there is any room to ignore the wishes of donors when it comes to appointments when universities live off of these donations. Katherine explains how this relates to the evolution of universities, both public and private, becoming more like corporations and owing more responsibility to donors. Ken speaks about his personal experience at the university and worries about the weight and influence that the funding sector has on this type of decisions. The Salaita case is further discussed, and the question of whether all points of view – controversial and uncomfortable included – should be allowed on university campuses is debated.

The next guest welcomed to the Philosophy Talk stage is Chris Lebron, Professor of Philosophy and African-American Studies at Yale University and author of The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice in Our Time. John first asks Chris whether the events that occurred this year, like those in Ferguson, are potentially as galvanizing in terms of civil rights as was the murder of Emmett Till in 1955. Chris explains that indeed they might be as galvanizing if they were exceptional. But the way stories are picked up and covered nowadays has changed, and technology is allowing for attention to be called these events more frequently, and so the occurrences feel galvanizing. Ken asks what these events teach us about race. Chris explains that while a large proportion of the population feels we are past racial differentiation, that we have moved forward, another part of the population is showing that they think blacks should be the focus of the police. The perception of police and what Chris would change – he would write a radical epistemic ground for our educational system – are discussed.

The next guest welcomed to the show is Rudolph Tanzi, Professor of Neurology at Harvard University and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. Ken invites Rudolph to speak about a paper recently published in the journal Nature about the creation of Alzheimer’s Disease in a Petri dish using what is referred to as a mini-brain. Ken asks Rudolph whether this is called a crucial experiment in philosophy of science; Rudolph explains that from all his experiments it comes closest. The mapping of the human genome is also discussed, as is the intersection of philosophy and science.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 2:58): Shuka Kalantari files a report on the growing trend of disinviting college commencement speakers such as Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers and Michael Bloomberg at Harvard. The report also touches on the comments made by Steven Salaita, a tenured professor who was fired after being accused of making anti-Semitic comments.
  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 15:55): Shuka Kalantari brings up the names of individuals caught in a confrontation with a police officer and tells their story.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 48:26): Ian Shoales reminisces on the year in mainstream media, including what gets ranked on the lists of “tops.”