Dr. James Kreines of Claremont McKenna College’s Department of Philosophy/Religious Studies spent his summer writing a new and especially ambitious paper, and finishing two others for publication. The new paper outlines a fresh approach to the largest and most important issue concerning Kant’s theoretical philosophy: the nature of his “transcendental idealism”—Kant’s claim that we cannot have knowledge of things as they are in themselves. In his paper, Kreines explains the sense in which TI is an ambitious metaphysical view, but he also addresses the concerns central to recently dominant epistemological interpretations of TI—specifically, that Kant’s epistemological commitments, and especially his criticisms of previous forms of rationalism, should rule out metaphysical interpretations of TI: “The basic idea is that Kant should not be entitled to any claims about things as they are in themselves—not even the claim that there are things in themselves of which we can have no further knowledge.” Kreines’s two earlier papers are “The Logic of Life: Hegel’s Philosophical Defense of Teleological Explanation in Biology,” forthcoming in The Cambridge Companion to Hegel, second edition, edited by F. Beiser, 2008; and “Hegel: Metaphysics without Pre-Critical Monism,” forthcoming in Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain.
Dr. Seth Lobis of CMC’s Department of Literature is completing the final chapter of his book manuscript, Moral Magic: Sympathy, Literature, and Crisis in Seventeenth-Century England, an exploration of the shifting and competing conceptions of sympathy in literary and scientific writing between 1611 and 1714. Lobis’s final chapter, entitled “Paradise Found: Shaftesbury and the Cambridge School,” carries the discussion into the early eighteenth century. Long recognized as a central figure in the development of “a cultural of sensibility”—the—role of feeling in everyday life, morals and manners, ethics and aesthetics—the third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) published his meditations on sympathy in his massively influential Characteristicks (1711). Lobis argues, however that “Shaftesbury’s most sustained meditations on sympathy—as a cosmic ordering principle, as a natural drive, as a potential danger to the self and to society—come in the notebooks he started keeping in 1698. Previous discussions of Shaftesburian sympathy have not taken this important body of material into account.” Lobis, who gave a paper on Shaftesbury and Milton at a conference in London in early July, spent weeks going through the Shaftesbury’s notebooks at the Public Record Office. “This research [will] deepen my understanding of Shaftesburian sympathy and to present a more comprehensive view of it than has hitherto been available.”
Dr. Daniel Michon of CMC’s Department of Philosophy/Religious Studies is using the methods and technologies of the emerging field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to produce a three-dimensional model of the early historic South Asian city of Sirkap (inhabited ca. 100 BCE – 100 CE). Using computer-aided drafting software, Michon aims to give new life to the two-dimensional maps created by Sir John Marshall and his excavation team during their twenty-year exploration of Sirkap’s ruins by “re-placing” the unearthed artifacts in their original locations within the ancient city. The resulting computer-generated models can then be used “to produce more nuanced histories of life at Sirkap, and for my project in particular, religious life at Sirkap.” Clearly, the integration of Historical GIS into his work is essential for the next phase of Michon’s project: analyses of the site plans of three other cities in Punjab, which, along with detailed spatial for the artifacts discovered therein, Michon obtained from the Punjab State Department of Archaeology. Michon has published extensively, and given numerous academic presentations, on the early historical links—religious, political, economic, and social—between Punjab and Central Asia.
“My specialties are ethics and political philosophy,” writes Dr. Alex Rajczi of CMC’s Department of Philosophy/Religious Studies, “so my work relates directly to the Gould’s mission of examining the ‘attitudes and values at work in the modern world.’… In 08-09, I will take these interests in two new directions. My goal is to work intensely on two particular questions and complete two new articles by the end of the summer. One project is about the morality of abortion; the other is about the ethics of war.” Rajczi approaches the abortion question by presenting a theory of parenthood: “Creating a child puts another creature into a desperately needed state. Generally, if we put people into needy states—for instance, by stealing their food and leaving them to starve—we are obligated to fulfill their needs. Those duties are not uniform, though. If we intentionally put people into needy states, then we must definitely fulfill the needs; this fact explains why people who voluntarily have children must make large sacrifices for their children’s benefit. But if we accidentally put people into needy states, the extent of our duties depends on whether we took reasonable precautions to prevent the problem in the first place. This general principle implies that women who accidentally become pregnant will have to carry their babies to term if they failed to take reasonable precautions against getting pregnant. If they did, though, then they do not have duties to their children, and abortion in such cases is permissible.”
About his other Gould Center-sponsored project Rajzci writes, “Since the Iraq War, there has been a large philosophical debate about preemptive war—war that is not a reaction to an imminent threat, but rather a reaction to a future threat that may or may not materialize. Almost the entire debate has focused on whether the existence of a future threat is a just cause for war. Concretely, the question is whether the fact that Iraq presented a distant and amorphous threat (if indeed it did) is a good justification for attacking it, killing in the process hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
“In this paper, I take the debate in a new direction. My argument is that preemptive war will almost always be counter-productive for the country that undertakes it, and thus it violates a separate principle of warfare, one known as the principle of proportionality. The principle of proportionality says that a war is justified only if a war does more good than harm to all involved. I claim that even if we leave aside the enormous death and destruction to, say, the Iraqis, we still find that a policy of preemption does more harm than good to our own citizens. Thus preemptive war is immoral for a very interesting reason: it violates a duty we have to our own people.”