It can be very hard to figure out what’s true, or what’s right. But often we do know these things, and what we struggle with is how to live in accordance with what we know. In turn, those of among us who live wisely (Aristotle’s term for this kind of wisdom was “phronesis”) may not have good insight or competence in articulating why they believe and act as they do. Nevertheless, it is clear that thinking about what is true and right can help us to discover more and live better, and that working on living in line with our goals and our values can help us to better understand the world and our place in it.
Although philosophers and scientists across traditions have historically been interested in figuring out how to live in accordance with the truth as much as figuring out what the truth is, this question often takes a backstage in contemporary academic discourse. Relatedly, forms of bias and harassment, as well as mental health, physical health, and substance abuse issues, are rife in academia and many of other high-achieving educational and professional environments.
This seminar will have two parts. In the first part we explore this interplay between theory and practice in contemporary epistemology. How should we study knowledge, justification, and rationality in way that helps us to live better lives? Does this kind of study take us further away from the truth or closer to it? In contemporary debates, there’s a distinction between two projects that are typically thought to be incompatible: “metaphysical inquiry” — inquiry into the nature of things — and “ameliorative inquiry” — inquiry aimed at developing concepts that make the world a better place. We will explore why there is a supposed conflict between these two projects and explore possibilities for integration and resolution.
In the second part, we will discuss how this tension between metaphysical and ameliorative projects plays out in practice — how we think and talk to ourselves about what we should believe, what it would be rational to do, what we are blameworthy for. A lot of us know that the stark “pressure cooker” environment prevalent in academia and many professions is unhealthy, but see it as an essential sacrifice for worthy or necessary pursuits. We will discuss how this attitude might not reflect how things really are, and how practicing healthier and more integrated ways of living can support us in even our most strenuous pursuits.
Facilitator: Lisa Miracchi is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Her areas of specialization and competency include: mind, epistemology, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, action, language, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and feminism. You can read more about her research and activities at her personal website.
From her faculty page:
“My research focuses on issues concerning the nature of mental events and their place in the natural world. I want to better understand the distinctive features of the mental, how they might be grounded in the non-mental natural world, and how philosophers and scientists might make progress on these questions.
I am the Wellness Advisor for U. Penn’s Philosophy Department. The primary role of the Wellness Advisor is to support philosophy students by providing informal advice and counseling about any issue related to well-being. I also provide information to students and faculty about campus resources.”
Cost: Pay-what-you-can upwards to $90
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