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Episteme Vol. VII


"You Just Can't Crispin Brains in a Vat" by David Miguel Gray

In this article, the author lays out a defense of Putnam’s controversial “Brains in a Vat” paper, and it’s famous refutation of the Cartesian brain-in-a-vat skeptic. The author looks closely at the paper, its argument, and its relation to skepticism. In addition to properly understanding the thought experiments and logical argument put forth by Putnam, one must also understand that his refutation is not aimed at the infinitely regressive skeptic, but rather the internal skeptic. The author shows this fact by inventing his own brain-in-a-vat scenario. So, although it remains a possibility that we are brains in a vat, we cannot talk or think about it. The author concludes by commenting on Wright’s response to Putnam, which seems to want Putnam’s metaphysical realists (the brains in the vat) to have what the author calls a “transcendental imagination,” which, in point of face, is something logically ruled out by the parameters of Putnam’s scenario. Thus, Wright’s critique misses the mark, despite presenting some valuable insights into metaphysical realism.

"Kant and the Noumenal Agent" by Heather M. Kendrick

This paper’s goal is to defend Kant’s version of freedom, in spite of the confusing metaphysical issues that surround Kant’s rational being (who belongs both to the world of phenomena and the world of noumena). Contrary to a certain line of criticism, the author argues for how Kant’s agent manages to be free—how the noumenal agent can affect action in the sensible world. Kant does not believe that our noumenal selves cause the world our phenomenal selves act in. Some readers misunderstand him. And while sure, Kant’s theory gives rise to questions about how our noumenal self can account for changes in an agent’s moral behavior, Kant does not fall victim to logical absurdity. Kant’s goal is to give us freedom to act in a causally connected natural world, not to totally explain how a mysterious version of ourselves affects the entirety of the sensible world.

"And Levinas Created a Controversy About Women" by Shulamit M. Shapiro

Feminist critiques railed against Levinas are not convincing. The “politically correct” feminist critics miss the Biblical and Talmudic application in Levinas’ philosophy. In this paper, the author rejects Luce Irigaray’s argument about the importance of sexual pleasure. Neither does Catherine Chalier succeed with her argument that Levinas essentializes the feminine in a way that keeps women from “the highest destiny of human beings.” In point of fact, Levinas believes in the interdependence of men and women. He finds that the human psyche is better probed through the notion of ethical responsibility than sexual liberation. There’s not anything immoral about this perspective.

"A Question of Ethics" by Joe Landau

“If we look around us, there is no doubt that the question of ethics is currently more complex than it has ever been,” writes the author of this paper, who examines the existential importance that the question of ethics carries in modern times. The author believes that out of this age of confusion and difference, what is needed is an ethic that emphasizes community and mutual understanding. We cannot rely on capital T truth or the ethicists that came before us. Instead, once we realize our dialectical, interdependent identity, we will be able to increase our mutual conversation and acceptance. The author pays special attention to the relationship of the Jewish culture to African American culture, as well as the gay culture to straight culture.

"Inchoate Feminism in Plato's Republic V" by Amy Coplan

Is Plato a feminist from the classical era? No, but he comes closer than any other man from that time. Although by no means reducible to modern feminist arguments about equality, Book V of the Republic espouses some important ideas about women, nature, and society. There is no doubt that Plato challenged the prevailing wisdom in Athens and sought a utopia that produced the best possible men and women—at least for the guardian class. We should understand that it is Plato’s elitism, not his misogyny, which influences his handling of the lower social strata. And furthermore, his sexist remarks are most likely directed at the women of his day in Athens—not his ideal of woman. In light of the various arguments made in secondary literature, the history of Athens in Plato’s day, and the absence of prejudice in Plato’s philosophy, we can find a lot to like in Plato’s proto-feminist political philosophy.

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