Past PHRE Conference – 2010


The 21st Annual
Undergraduate Philosophy & Religion Conference

Saturday, November 6, 2010
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Georgian Room, Student Union Building

(note change from earlier announced location)

Hosted by the Truman State University Department of Philosophy and Religion

Conference Schedule

9:05 a.m.
Dr. Mike Ashcraft

9:05 a.m.
Stephanie Hulsey
Truman State University

William James and the Importance of Doubt: Our Imperative to Recognize We’re Probably Wrong

William James’s pragmatic theory of truth says that humans make truth, and truth is what is useful to us. Many people believe this constitutes as a sort of hedonism with a flagrant disregard to what is actually true as long as we can demonstrate our belief’s usefulness. This is not the case. First of all, behaving carelessly with truth would not lead to useful places. Second of all, doubt was very important to James, because he believed we could never be absolutely “right.” Therefore, in order to have useful truths, we must be ready to admit that we’re probably wrong.

9:35 a.m.

Jonathan Green
Northwestern University

Faith, Reason, and the Possibility of Dialogue: Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho

What is Christian philosophy?  Is there a Christian philosophy?  In addressing these questions, the current paper draws on the religious – and allegedly ‘philosophical’ – thought of Justin Martyr, a prominent Greek apologist of the early Church.  I argue for the plausible coherence of Justin’s ‘Christian philosophy’ by couching his Dialogue with Trypho in terms of his contemporaries’ intellectual assumptions.  Justin’s system of beliefs, I suggest, operated well within the ancients’ accepted boundaries of philosophy, even if it contradicts the parameters of philosophic debate that are dominant today.

10:05 am

Austin Meeker
Truman State University

The Space-Time Person-Stage Theory

Personal identification has been a philosophical topic of debate for hundreds of years.  In Daniel Dennett’s writing “Who am I?” the author constructs a particular situation addressing this topic.  Daniel has his brain cloned and placed into a different body, and then his original body and brain are destroyed.  Does this new “person” have any claim to being Daniel Dennett?   Being able to answer this question requires a way to uniquely identify each person, and my paper sets out to do so.  I improve upon the usual concept of person-stages (i.e. stretches of consciousness) by taking the limit as their time interval approaches zero and having them be dependent upon space as well.  Then people are defined as collections of their own person-stages.  Finally, the “Space-Time Person-Stage Theory” is used to counter any arguments against such a definition and to answer Mr. Dennett’s question.

10:35-10:40 a.m.



Ryan Rojo
Conception Seminary College

Dawkins and the Divine

Richard Dawkins, in his best selling book The GOD Delusion, offers a response to Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for God’s existence. Dawkins while charismatic, witty, and well-versed in his scientific endeavors, commits a straw-man fallacy in his dealings with Aquinas’ third proof, sometimes called the cosmological argument, by simply reducing the argument to terminating an infinite regress while mistakenly maintaining the commonly held “who created the creator” argument. What this presentation attempts to do is expose the void in the traditional antitheistic argument, explain Aquinas’ notions of contingency and necessity, and reconcile this necessary being with a personal Deity.

11:10 a.m.

Brandon Schetgen
Loras College

The Doctrine of the Mean: Aristotle to Maimonides

This essay seeks to respond to the question “What is virtue?” In response, the Doctrine of the Mean is proposed as a canonical ethical system which both stands the test of time and spans across various ethnic and religious traditions. A brief examination of the core principles of this doctrine is attended to, and Aristotle’s original thoughts on the doctrine of the mean are presented. Then, at the heart of the work, connections are made between the classical academic work of Aristotle and the writings of Moses Maimonides, a medieval Jewish philosopher. Problems are addressed regarding the compatibility of the Doctrine of the Mean and the Jewish Law, and Maimonides’ explanations are examined.


Lauren Greenspan
Truman State University

Johannes de Silentio – A Kind of Poet: The Problems of Faith, Pathos and Poetry in Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling

Contra the systematic philosophies of his age, Søren Kierkegaard penned Fear and Trembling,  a “dialectical lyric,” to explore the nature of faith and in so doing reveal its commodification in Golden Age Denmark. The pseudonym Johannes de Silentio authors this poetic exposition, a strange choice, as de Silentio is neither a poet nor is he able to take “the plunge of faith.” In unraveling these apparent contradictions, I seek to examine the ambiguous role of poetry in Fear and Trembling as well as the necessary function of pathos in Kierkegaard’s conception of faith.

12:10 p.m.

Lunch and Keynote Speaker:

Minds and Morals: The Experientialist (Hypo)thesis Revisited

Dr. Philip Robbins
University of Missouri-Columbia

We naturally think of some things, but not others, as worthy of moral consideration, in the sense that we feel morally obligated to protect them from harm. We feel morally obligated to protect people from harm, for example, but we do not feel so obligated when it comes to everyday inanimate objects, like tables and chairs. In other words, we think of people, but not tables and chairs, as worthy of moral consideration. Why is that? In this talk I present the results of recent empirical investigation into the basis of commonsense attributions of moral considerability, starting with the relative contribution of different dimensions of mindedness (roughly, thinking and feeling) and moving on to the e_ect of biological and aesthetic properties on moral perception. I close with a brief discussion of a parallel investigation into commonsense attributions of the capacity for moral agency.

1:45 p.m.

Hannah Rubin
University of Missouri

Rationality and Native American Conceptions of Knowledge

This paper evaluates several nonliterate Native American bodies of knowledge using three methods: the Western philosophical objective/subjective dichotomy, Western anthropological/sociological theories, and Native American beliefs. The purpose is to further understanding of Native American beliefs through multiple approaches and demonstrate that irrationality, real or apparent, is falsely attributed to their bodies of knowledge.  In doing so, I hope to illuminate some shortcomings of common Western methods of analyzing indigenous beliefs and the dangers of developing theories designed to capture “ordinary” conceptions inside an intellectual bubble.

2:15 p.m.

Michael Downs
Longview Community College

The God-Man: A Philosophical Consideration of the Nature of Jesus Christ

The nature of the God-Man (Jesus Christ) has been something theologians, philosophers and laymen alike have pondered and debated for nearly two millennia; some of them believed the God-Man to be an impossibility while others believed Him to be the necessary condition of faith. I will argue two main points: (1) that the concept of the God-Man generates self-contradictory propositions, and (2) that the self-contradictory propositions the concept of the God-Man generates don’t necessarily disprove the reality of the God-Man.

2:45 p.m.

Ryan Harker
Truman State University

Menno Simons: His Conversion and Subsequent Impact on the Beliefs, Practice, and Future of the Anabaptist Movement

This paper is an exploration of the conversion experience of Menno Simons and its subsequent impact on the peaceful Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century Radical Reformation. Relatively little is known of Menno Simons outside of the Anabaptist faith tradition, which consists of groups like the Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, the Church of the Brethren, and to some extent the Bruderhof Communities and the Quakers. After placing Menno in his historical context, I examine the formative years of his conversion process, 1524-1535, during which time he slowly and transitioned from a Catholic priest to a committed Anabaptist leader. I then examine the extraordinary impact that Menno had on the fledgling peaceful Anabaptist movement as its leader.




Nathan Mueller
Creighton University

Resuscitation of Culture: Understanding Culture as Knowledge

This paper sets out to explore and examine the relationship between philosophy and literature and the transmission of knowledge, through culture, from one generation to the next.  In particular the paper aims to uncover an understanding of culture as providing knowledge to those that possess an understanding of its importance.  The paper begins by exploring, in brief, Plato’s critique of literature.  It then moves to explore a conception of cultural knowledge that puts literature at the fore.  It concludes by turning to examples of poetry that balance a spiritual combination of words with historical and cultural meaning to great effect.

3:50 p.m.

Mark Lambert
Truman State University

Outside the Camp: Medieval Leprosy as Examined through Mary Douglas

Leprosy is a disease as old as the Hebrew Scriptures, and in spite of its age, the disease has remained remarkably resilient becoming a byword for “outcast” and transmitting its “infectious immorality” to the contemporary rhetoric surrounding AIDS.  Given the fervent concern with boundaries and purity that surrounds the treatment and perception of lepers, it would be fortuitous to investigate the intricacies of the concept of taboo, best represented in the work of Mary Douglas.  These anthropological theories concerning the danger and power of taboo, combined with various Biblical traditions, illuminate a complex tradition that alternated between revulsion and reverence.

4:20 p.m.

Thomas Hughes
Truman State University

Cartesian Concept of Error in the Light of Augustinian Tradition

Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy has many undertones from the Augustinian tradition. In examining the IV Meditation, I will propose that Descartes’ notion of epistemic error caused by privation is rooted in Augustine’s concept of sin. Descartes and Augustine assert our own culpability of error and sin in privation, which is making a judgment in ignorance. Thus, the interplay between intellect and will is pinpointed as the source of error and sin. Descartes and Augustine converge on this source of error and sin, respectively, in focusing on the will that extends further than the intellect.

4:50 p.m.

Klay Baynar
Millikin University

The Values of Religion: A Close Examination of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals

Friedrich Nietzsche is typically regarded as being essentially hostile to religion, per se.  However, his works reveal that he recognized the pragmatic value that holding particular religious beliefs could have to a particular person;  this pragmatic value, he points out, can be completely independent (although not necessarily so) of a particular claims truth value.  This lays the groundwork for his discussion of how competing moral systems, namely that of the noble and the slave, use religion as a medium to facilitate the expression of power.  This paper seeks to closely examine the relationship between these two competing moralities, explore how each uses religion as a moral vehicle, and make aware the dangers of extremism within each system.

5:20 p.m.

Alex Lewandowski
Nebraska Wesleyan University

On the Legitimacy of Spinoza’s “Ethics”

This paper takes a brief look into the work entitled “the Ethics” by the late medieval Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza; mainly the historical, philosophical, and religious nature of Spinoza’s exile from the Portuguese Jewish community from whence he originated. In this paper, the focus is on three major conceptions; that of panentheism, mutliverse-theory, and Judaism which can all be found in “the Ethics.” The goal of this paper is to argue that these conceptions may appear contradictory at first glance, but logically speaking, are not actually contradictory, thus showing that Spinoza’s excommunication was perhaps in bad theological and philosophical standing.