Nature and Culture
Graduate seminar, Fall Semester 2023, Monday 1-3:40pm, including special weekend session on October 28-29 (block course on Matter featuring Jobst Landgrebe)
PHI 579SEM Special Topics Class Number 23815
- Graduate 
Venue: Park 141
Prerequisites: Open to all persons with an undergraduate degree and some knowledge of philosophy
Office hours: By appointment via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Course Description: Monism is the view that there is only one kind of entity in the universe, namely (on many versions of monism, at least) matter. Dualism is the view that there is a second kind of entity, namely mind. On a simple account, we might identify nature with the sum total of what is material, and culture with the creations of the mind. This course will take this simple account as its starting point, focusing especially on questions such as:
- what is nature?
- what is culture?
- how do we treat cultural entities -- such as laws, debts, works of music, theorems in mathematics and models in physics -- which are not made of matter?
- what does it mean to say that something is made of matter?
- is everything in nature made of matter?
- to what degree is nature itself a product of the mind?
The course will have a strong ontological emphasis. In the block seminar on matter on October 28-19 it will also dig deeply into matters of physics.
Course Structure: This is a three credit hour graduate seminar.
The final session will be structured around powerpoint presentations by the students in the class. These presentations will be recorded.
Target Audience: The course is open to all interested students with an undergraduate degree and some knowledge of philosophy.
August 28: Introduction to the Course: The Ontology of Services
We focus in this lecture on the ontology of services, starting out from the idea that in the state of nature, as revealed still today by behavior within a single family, humans performed acts for others in an informal way. Nowadays, people perform acts for the benefit of others to a significant degree on the basis of agreements, contracts, and payment.
Background reading on services
Parallel studies can be made in relation to the ontology
- of documents
- of planned environments
- of mind/body continuum
- of crime
- of art
- of science (physics),
- of measurement
- of multiculturalism
September 4: Labor Day Observed
September 11: Husserl, Scheler, Reinach, Ingarden, Wojtyła and Gehlen on the Ontology of Cultural Entities
- Husserl: Nature and Spirit
- Husserl on Common Sense
- Reinach and Edith Stein on the State
- A. A. Чикин (2018) Alexander Pfänder and the New Science of Will
- Reinach and Religious Phenomenology
- Ingarden and the Ontology of Cultural Objects
- Ingarden on the Ontology of Social Reality
- Gehlen, Man
- Gehlen on Institutions
- Gehlen on Culture and Institutions
Gehlen: Man is by nature a cultural being
- One can bring together a number of anthropological perspectives into the formula that "man is by nature a cultural being". . . . At any rate, we only know of men in possession of cultural attainments, which, no matter how primitive we may find them, are still so fundamental that human existence would be unthinkable without them. The distinction between natural man and cultured man is therefore imprecise, and taken literally, quite false — only cultured humanity exists or has existed, though with
an astounding range of cultural inventory.
Cassirer, An Essay on Man:
- Man cannot escape his own achievement. He cannot but adopt the conditions of his own life. No longer in a merely physical universe, man lives in a symbolic universe. Language, myth, art, and religion are parts of this universe. They are the varied threads which weave the symbolic net, the tangled web of human experience. (…) Physical reality seems to recede in proportion as man’s symbolic activity advances. Instead of dealing with the things themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself. (p. 43, cited in this review)
The natural attitude of common sense
- The Social World: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Human Institutions
- The natural, cultural, cognitive and social niches of human activity
- A political ontology of territorial boundaries
- Environments Inside and Outside the Organism
- The Justice and Ontology of Gastrospaces
September 18: No class
September 25: Adolf Reinach and Hernando de Soto on the Ontology of the Social World
- Part 1: Reinach and the Ontology of Social Acts
- Part 2: de Soto and the Ontology of Extralegal Institutions
Delaney McNulty on: Angela Roothaan, Indigenous, modern and postcolonial relations to nature
Giacomo De Colle on Edith Stein, Investigation on the State
Reading: Scott Shapiro, Massively Shared Agency"
Reading: Scott Shapiro, Massively Shared Agency"
Culture, AI and the Digital Realm: Are We Living in a Simulation?
Matthew Jones on Nancy Cartwright, How the Laws of Physics Lie
Ji Soo Seo on Cartwright's How the Laws of Physics Lie and Searle's Making the Social World
Joshua Billig on Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics
Modes of existence: fictions and virtual reality
Oct 9: Fall Break
October 16: Searle on Money
We will once again summarize Searle's theory of social entities and show that it has a fatal flaw -- which is revealed most easily by the way it treats the phenomenon of money
Along the way we will discuss the ontology of blind chess, and the approach to oughtness that is dictated by the Basic Formal Ontology.
October 23: Aristotle, Common Sense, and the Ontology of Environments
Background reading on common sense
- The natural attitude of Common sense
- Primary vs secondary theory
- Robin Horton
- Life and Motion of Socio-Economic Units
October 28-29: Gehlen; The Replication Problem; Physics (with Jobst Landgrebe) (weekend block course)
- 09:00 Gehlen, Man: His Nature and Place in the World
- 10:15 Break
- 10:30 Gehlen 2
- 12:00 Lunch
- 13:30 The Crisis of Replication in Science
- 14:45 Break
- 15:00 Replication 2
- 15:15 Break
- 15:30 Replication 3
- 17:00 Close
- 09:00 How we study matter today?: Problems of quantum physics
- 10:15 Break
- 10:30 Physics 2
- 12:00 Lunch
- 13:30 BFO and the ontology of physics
- 14:45 Break
- 15:00 BFO and the ontology of mathematics
- Nancy Carwright: How the laws of physics lie
- J.S. Bell: Speakable and unspeakable in quantum mechanics (Extract)
- R. Griffiths: Consistent Quantum Mechanics
October 30: The Ontology of Science, the Canonical Life, Truthmaking
Book presentation: Olivia Hobai on Man’s Place in Nature by Max Scheler
The Ontology of Science Video
The Canonical Life Video
November 6 Nature, Culture and Mathematics: How to Do Things with Devices
Visiting speaker: Elliott Hauser, University of Texas at Austin
November 13 Student Projects
1:00pm Delaney McNulty: Gehlen, Henrich and Distributed Cognition
1:40pm Jisoo Seo: Race as Social/Natural Kinds in BFO
2:00pm Matthew Jones: Zombie Documents And The Curse Of Inappropriately Enduring Punishment
2:20pm Giacommo de Colle: Edith Stein on the Essence of the State
Student Learning Outcomes
|Program Outcomes/Competencies||Instructional Method(s)||Assessment Method(s)|
|The student will acquire a knowledge of the philosophy of both the natural and social sciences.||Lectures and class discussions||Review of reading matter and associated online content and participation in class discussions|
|The student will acquire experience in using the methods of philosophical argument, in formulating complex propositions on the interrelations between between matter and mind and between nature and culture||Participation in practical experiments||Review of results|
|The student will acquire experience in formulating ideas using powerful persuasive prose.||Creation of documentation and youtube presentations||Review of results|
How to Write an Essay
- Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style, Penguin Books, 2014
- Strunk and White, The Elements of Style
- Harvard's guide to writing philosophy
- Jim Pryor's guide to writing philosophy
- Jordan Peterson's Essay Writing Guide
- How to Use ChatGPT to write an essay
|Sep 11||- submit book review choice, and start to discuss the content of your essay with Dr Smith|
|Sep 25||- submit proposed title and abstract of your essay|
|Oct 2||- last day to present book summary|
|Oct 23||- submit a table of contents of your essay and 300 word summary plus draft of associated ppt slides|
|Oct 30||- submit first draft of essay (~1000 words) and associated powerpoint (~10 slides)|
|Nov 13||- submit second draft of essay (~2000 words) and associated powerpoint (~10 slides)|
|Nov 13||- class presentation|
|Dec 10||- submit final version of essay and powerpoint slides and upload final version of video to youtube|
Grading will be based on two factors:
I: understanding and criticism of the material presented in classes 1-12
All students are required to take an active part in class (and where relevant on-line) discussions throughout the semester.
II: preparation of an essay, and associated powerpoint slides and recorded presentation.
Content and structure of the essay should be discussed with Dr Smith.
Grading Policy: Grading follows standard Graduate School policies. Grades will be weighted according to the following breakdown:
- 20% - class discussions
- 15% - youtube video presentation
- 15% - powerpoint slides
- 50% - essay
Percentages refer to sum of assignment grades as listed above
Grade Quality Percentage
|A-||3.67||87.0% - 89.9%|
|B+||3.33||84.0% - 86.9%|
|B||3.00||80.0% - 83.9%|
|B-||2.67||77.0% - 79.9%|
|C+||2.33||74.0% - 76.9%|
|C||2.00||71.0% - 73.9%|
|C-||1.67||68.0% - 70.9%|
|D+||1.33||65.0% - 67.9%|
|D||1.00||62.0% - 64.9%|
|F||0||61.9% or below|
An interim grade of Incomplete (I) may be assigned if the student has not completed all requirements for the course. An interim grade of 'I' shall not be assigned to a student who did not attend the course. The default grade accompanying an interim grade of 'I' shall be 'U' and will be displayed on the UB record as 'IU.' The default Unsatisfactory (U) grade shall become the permanent course grade of record if the 'IU' is not changed through formal notice by the instructor upon the student's completion of the course.
Assignment of an interim 'IU' is at the discretion of the instructor. A grade of 'IU' can be assigned only if successful completion of unfulfilled course requirements can result in a final grade better than the default 'U' grade. The student should have a passing average in the requirements already completed. The instructor shall provide the student specification, in writing, of the requirements to be fulfilled.
The university’s Graduate Incomplete Policy can be found here.
Related Policies and Services
Academic integrity is a fundamental university value. Through the honest completion of academic work, students sustain the integrity of the university while facilitating the university's imperative for the transmission of knowledge and culture based upon the generation of new and innovative ideas. See http://grad.buffalo.edu/Academics/Policies-Procedures/Academic-Integrity.html.
Accessibility resources: If you have any disability which requires reasonable accommodations to enable you to participate in this course, please contact the Office of Accessibility Resources in 60 Capen Hall, 645-2608 and also the instructor of this course during the first week of class. The office will provide you with information and review appropriate arrangements for reasonable accommodations, which can be found on the web here.
University suppert services: Students are often unaware of university support services. For example, the Center for Excellence in Writing provides support for written work, and several tutoring centers on campus provide academic success support and resources.
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- Counseling Services: 120 Richmond Quad (North Campus), phone 716-645-2720
- Health Services: Michael Hall (South Campus), phone: 716-829-3316
- Health Promotion: 114 Student Union (North Campus), phone: 716- 645-2837