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Masking the Meaningful

Why do citizens of the societies we count as democracies fail to react to catastrophic threats? Because those societies aren’t genuine democracies. Electoral choices fail to correspond to the voters’ interests, and citizens cannot identify what is of most concern to them. Climate change is a striking example of this phenomenon. Professor Philip Kitcher, a leading voice in science and ethics issues, will discuss the relationships between the practices of science and of democracy that develop at these conflicting intersections. Kitcher’s talk, part of the Research Ethics Lecture Series, will engage the campus community in a broad discussion about the roles and responsibilities of those of us who are both scientists and citizens.
When Mar 04, 2015
from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
Where Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
Contact Name
Contact Phone 814-863-5911
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Used on Masking the Meaningful event publicity.

There are obvious reasons why citizens of the nations we label as democracies fail to support policies that address catastrophic threats.  The current condition of many such nations allows for marked differences between preferences and interests (to the extent that the choice of the label “democracy” can be seriously questioned).  Failures in the transmission of crucial information are intensified because of market competition among media sources and widespread difficulties in understanding issues couched in terms of probabilities.  Beyond these, however, are prevalent social conditions that interfere with citizens’ abilities to discern their interests.  In my presentation, I suggest an account of the notion of interests (and of the related concept of freedom) in terms of an environment that provides opportunities for reflective choice.  I’ll argue that such environments are highly vulnerable, and that economic institutions within “democratic” nations have systematically destroyed them.  Throughout, I’ll use the example of responses to climate change to illustrate my claims.

Why is the Rock Ethics Institute involved?

As a central hub of ethics research and education at Penn State, the Rock Ethics Institute is proud to host this event.

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This event is approved for SARI@PSU participation credit.

Other Ways to Participate

If you are unable to attend the event, we do have other options. We will be streaming the live event (SARI@PSUparticipation credit not available unless prior approval granted from SARI@PSU) via MediaSites and we will also be Live Tweeting the event. You will be able to ask questions and interact with us on Twitter.

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*No need to register if you are only watching the stream.


Philip Kitcher

Photo used on event page.Philip Kitcher was born in 1947 in London (U.K.).  He received his B.A. from Cambridge University and his Ph.D. from Princeton.  He has taught at several American Universities, and is currently John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia.  He is the author of books on topics ranging from the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of biology, the growth of science, the role of science in society, naturalistic ethics, Wagner’s Ring, and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. He has been President of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division) and Editor-in-Chief of Philosophy of Science.  A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was also the first recipient of the Prometheus Prize, awarded by the American Philosophical Association for work in expanding the frontiers of Science and Philosophy. He has been named a “Friend of Darwin” by the National Committee on Science Education, and received a Lannan Foundation Notable Book Award for Living With Darwin. Among his recent books are Science in a Democratic Society(Prometheus Books), The Ethical Project (Harvard University Press), Preludes to Pragmatism (Oxford University Press) and Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach (Columbia University Press). During 2011-12, he was a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, where he was partially supported by a prize from the Humboldt Foundation.  His Terry Lectures were published in the Fall of 2014 as Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism (Yale University Press).