Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science

Social constructivists maintain that we invent the properties of the world rather than discover them. Is reality constructed by our own activity? Or, more provocatively, are scientific facts constructed? Is everything constructed? André Kukla presents a comprehensive discussion of the philosophical issues that arise out of this controversial debate, analysing the various strengths and weaknesses of a range of constructivist positions. He argues that current philosophical objections to constructivism are drastically inconclusive, while offering and developing new objections. Kukla shows that the strongest constructivist arguments still suffer from conceptual difficulties, illustrating the divide between the sociology and the philosophy of science through examples as varied as laboratory science, time and criminality. Throughout, Kukla distinguishes between the social causes of scientific beliefs and the view that all ascertainable facts are constructed.

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Bakhtinian Thought – An Introductory Reader

Mikhail Bakhtin, and the writers associated with him, have come to be recognised as writers of trail-blazing importance. Working in the extraordinarily difficult conditions of Stalinist Russia, they nevertheless produced a body of writing in literary theory, linguistics, the history of the novel, philosophy, and what Bakhtin called ‘philosophical anthropology’, which continues to inspire and challenge people working in a number of different areas. Above all, Bakhtin insists on locating all utterances, whether spoken or literary, between the participants in a dialogue and thus involves them in considerations of power and authority.

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Philosophy and Computing: Essays in Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, Logic, and Ethics

This book collects papers from the 2015 meeting of CEPE-IACAP, an interdisciplinary international conference focusing on philosophy of computing. Including the introductory overview by editor Thomas M. Powers, there are 12 papers by authors from a variety of disciplines, including non-academic co-authors. Though not organized as such, the papers fall under three main themes: traditional philosophy of computation, ethical issues raised by new technology, and the possibility of creating ethical constraints for new technology.

The first group of papers considers venerable questions in philosophy of computing, such as the role of representation, different levels of computational explanation, and the relationship between computation and our interpretation of computing objects. William Rapaport’s contribution, delivered as a talk on the occasion of winning the 2015 Covey Award from IACAP, gives that perspective. Rapaport notes that there are two strands of philosophy of computation: one which focuses narrowly on syntactically formulated descriptions of (parts of) the world, and one which focuses on the world itself. Rapaport’s wide-ranging, conversational piece uses this distinction tReado illuminates many debates in philosophy of computation.

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Read also: Philosophy and Computing: Essays in Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, Logic, and Ethics

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Feminist Phenomenology Futures

Johanna Oksala has asked, “How can phenomenology as a philosophical method of investigation account for gender?”[1] With their recent book, Helen A. Fielding and Dorothea E. Olkowski bring together essays that seek to answer this question. Together with Emily S. Lee’s Living Alterities: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and Race,[2] Fielding and Olkowsi’s volume demonstrates the changing meaning of phenomenology in the present.

The book begins with two introductory pieces, a ground-breaking “A Feminist Phenomenology Manifesto” by Helen A. Fielding and a detailed introduction to the volume by both editors. Fielding presents feminist phenomenology as a method made possible by material multiplicity. Phenomenology properly understood is an engagement on the part of a material multiplicity in the study of its collective self. Perception, a multiply located embodied event, is the occasion for consciousness as well as knowledge and politics. Such materiality in its multiplicity thus serves as the focus of a feminist phenomenology, a phenomenology that can turn its method on sites of relevance for feminist projects that are not confined to the study of gender alone.

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Pragmatism, Pluralism, and the Nature of Philosophy

At the core of this book are a philosophical idea and a bitter inter-personal rivalry. The idea is compelling and worth exploring; the inter-personal rivalry is not. Let me explain.

In 2005 Aikin and Talisse published a provocative article called “Why Pragmatists Cannot Be Pluralists”. Their main argument is repeated and improved upon in chapter 10 of their new book. They begin by characterizing value pluralism as the view that there is no single source of value (such as human happiness or flourishing or whatever), and that as a result some rival goods will be inherently incommensurable. “One implication of pluralism,” they then point out, “is that there can be conflicts among values that do not admit of a uniquely rational resolution” (171). Next, they claim that all varieties of pragmatism are (or should be) at least committed to the view that any well-formed inquiry is in principle rationally resolvable. They conclude that value pluralism is inconsistent with pragmatism.

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Passionate Engines: What Emotions Reveal about Mind and Artificial Intelligence

Human emotional and affective life is so rich, naturally expressive and circumstantially variegated, that any attempt to philosophically theorize about it may appear, at first thought, ridiculous. The phenomena may seem to resist distinctively philosophical analysis. But philosophers on emotion, is this truly ridiculous? For three reasons, I believe, it is not.

In the first place, emotions are difficult to manage and often destructive. Philosophers are in the business of identifying how not to ruin lives. In the second place, emotions, can, in their essential complexity, be fecund bases from which to draw lessons about virtues and vices, means between extremes, the emotional modification of behavior – indignation, shame, gratitude, caring, love. To ruminate about such matters has been part of the philosophical enterprise since Plato and Aristotle.

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Understanding Marxism

At various points since the death of Karl Marx in 1883, his work has been regarded as a dead issue — no longer relevant, too ideological, methodologically flawed, too rooted in the nineteenth century. And yet each of these periods of extinction has been followed by a resurgence of interest in Marx’s ideas, as new generations try to make sense of the tough and often cruel social conditions in which they find themselves. What are the important dimensions of a theory that Marx presented through his writings? And how can any of these be considered valuable in trying to come to grips with the global, capitalist, turbulent, unequal, violent world that we now inhabit?

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Group Agency: The Possibility, Design, and Status of Corporate Agents

In this book, Christian List and Philip Pettit argue that group agents are real and irreducible, in a straightforward functional sense, to individual agents and their beliefs and preferences. They do this while holding on to methodological individualism, the doctrine that all explanations of the social world are to be couched essentially in terms of individuals and their properties. The tension between these two claims forms the main philosophical interest of this book, which also includes important work in judgment aggregation theory that is integrated to the theory of group agents created in the book.

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On Latour’s “Political Theology”

Latour has begun to refer to “political theology” in some of his recent writing. He begins his first Gifford lecture, for example, by declaring that “the ideas I will pursue in this lecture series could certainly receive the label of political theology”. But then, in almost the same breath, he goes on to qualify this statement by suggesting that the political theology he has in mind will be “a strange and an unusual one, to be sure”. A similar qualification is offered in other texts. Thus, it seems that there is an idiosyncratic and perhaps even an eccentric dimension to his use of the term. Latour invests the idea of “political theology” with critical significance but then does not define his understanding of the term relative to a previous writer or critical heritage.

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Hannah Arendt – The Philosopher in Dark Times

What is the relationship between thinking, acting, and historical consciousness? How do we preserve a spirited intellectual autonomy that yet includes enough sense of the past to contextualize and resist those power-grabbers who would bamboozle the public with their own funhouse versions of the truth? Hannah Arendt, the philosopher, and political theorist, was always acutely concerned with questions of how to make thought and knowledge matter in the struggle against injustice, never more so than in the last two decades of her life, when the rich medley of the material collected in “Thinking Without a Banister” was created. “What really makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other kind of dictatorship to rule is that the people are not informed,” she remarked in a 1973 interview. “If everyone always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but that no one believes anything at all anymore — and rightly so, because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, to be ‘re-lied,’ so to speak.” A lying government pursuing shifting goals has to ceaselessly rewrite its own history, leaving people not only dispossessed of their ability to act, “but also of their capacity to think and to judge,” she declared. “And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

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