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Midwest Philosophy Colloquium

IRRATIONAL HUMAN CONDUCT

September 25, 2000, 7:00 p.m.,First Lutheran Church, Morris
Mike Martin (Chapman University, Orange, CA)
“Responsibility in a Therapeutic Culture: Integrating Moral and Therapeutic Perspectives on Irrationality”

Professor Martin will propose integrating moral and therapeutic perspectives on a range of irrational conduct including alcoholism, pathological gambling, and violence.

It has become routine to call people sick when they engage in wrongdoing that is extensive, entrenched, and extreme. For example, alcoholics are now said to have a disease and gambling problems are labeled “pathological gambling.” Professor Martin proposes that this therapeutic trend--the trend of applying therapeutic perspectives to areas of human conduct--is both promising and confusing. It is promising because it offers powerful new avenues for dealing with irresponsible conduct. It is confusing because we tend to think in terms of morality versus therapy, such that to call someone sick seems to excuse or partially excuse their conduct. In his talk, Professor Martin moves toward integrating moral and therapeutic perspectives on a range of irrational conduct including alcoholism, pathological gambling, and violence. He argues that sickness (mental or physical) is not automatically a moral excuse, for we have moral responsibilities to take care of our health. He will end with the proposal that, in many contexts (especially therapeutic, helping ones), the focus can and should be on enabling people to accept responsibility, rather than engaging in “moralistic” forms of blaming.

Professor Martin will also present “Are Bigots Sick?“ at 2:30 p.m., Prairie Lounge, UMM, September 25. All are cordially invited.

October 30, 2000, 7:00 p.m., Federated Church, Morris
Alison McIntyre (Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA)
“The Standpoint of Reflection and the Norms of Rationality”

Professor McIntyre will argue that certain forms of allegedly irrational behavior, such as denial (the disregarding of evidence that would undermine one's beliefs), and the adoption of inconsistent policies (for example, being “penny wise and pound foolish”), may play a benign or even useful role in an agent's life.

Two alleged examples of irrational behavior include denial and the adoption of inconsistent policies. Traditional accounts of irrationality would imply that we would be better agents than we actually are if we were incapable of denial and acute enough to identify and eliminate any inconsistencies in our policies or beliefs. Drawing on the work of the neurologist V.S. Ramachandran on denial as an epistemic strategy, and the work of the psychiatrist George Ainslie on personal policies as techniques of self-control, Professor Alison will argue that only some cases of denial and inconsistent policies deserve to be condemned. Further, she will propose that these cases are not to be condemned as straightforward cases of irrationality, but as cases in which the complex capacities that constitute our rational agency have failed to reach and maintain an equilibrium.

Professor McIntyre will also present a paper, “Private Policy Initiatives and the Self-Legislative Virtues: Weakness of Will As a Failure of Self-Management,” at 2:30 p.m., Prairie Lounge, UMM, October 30. All are cordially invited.

April 16, 2000, 7:00 p.m., Newman Center, Morris
Professor Alfred Mele (Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL)
“Weakness of Will”

In central cases, we exhibit weakness of will when we act contrary to what we judge it best to do (from the point of view of our own desires, beliefs, values, and the like) and are not compelled so to act. Some philosophers--most notably, Socrates--have argued that such exhibitions of weakness of will are impossible. Drawing partly on some empirical work, Professor Mele will argue that they are possible and he will explain how they are possible. He will also explain the possibility of a related phenomenon featuring a motivated change of mind about what it would be best to do.

Professor Mele will also present a paper, “Negative Actions,” at 2:30 p.m., Prairie Lounge, UMM, April 16. All are cordially invited.


The evening lectures are made possible by a grant from the Minnesota Humanities Commission in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Minnesota State Legislature, the U.S West Foundation, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs and Dean, University of Minnesota-Morris.