Brian Robinson

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Category: Value of Philosophy

Responding to Egoism

I’ve been teaching ethics since 2006, and just about every semester I teach the problem of ethical egoism. In short, that problem is: Why should I do what’s right if it’s not in my self-interest. To me, this is THE central question in ethics. Continue reading

The Danger of Philosophy

Tania Lambrozo recently argued that philosophy’s “tools for critical evaluation run counter to another valuable set of tools: our tools for effective social engagement.” Philosophers’ training teaches them to critically analyze statements, which is a degree of scrutiny that most statements made in typical, social conversation are not meant to withstand. Applying our philosophical tools outside of philosophy, Lambrozo argues, is socially determinantal. Danielle Wenner, while agreeing with Lambrozo’s hypothesis, contends that philosophers should not learn to “turn it off” sometimes (at least outside of academic settings). Continue reading

Research Institute for Humanity and Nature

RIHN-posterMichael O’Rourke and I just returned from Kyoto, Japan, where we spoke and conducted Toolbox workshops with the environmental researchers at the national Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN). On the first day, we spoke on problems of communication and collaboration in cross-disciplinary research. As a way of introducing the problem, I compared inter- and transdisciplinary research (collectively cross-disciplinary research, CDR) to the game Double Cranko, which comes from an old episode of M*A*S*H. The game is a cross between chess, checker, poker, and gin (both the drink and the rummy).RIHN2There are no rules; players make them up as they go along. The problem for CDR is much worse. Imagine 2 scientists from different disciplines working on a research project and 2 non-research stakeholders in that project (say one from government and another from business). Each knows one game only, and all the rules, terms, and objectives of that game. In collaborating on this project, they have to develop a way to integrate 4 different games (chess, checker, poker, and gin) into one game. But they don’t even speak the same game language. A point we emphasized over the two days with the RIHN researchers is the need for a co-creation of meaning of ambiguous terms or concepts for effective collaboration. In the morning workshop of the first day, we facilitated dialogues among the researchers to begin that process of co-creation of meaning. They had to negotiate various ambiguous terms that we gave them in a set of prompts. In the afternoon session, the researchers broke into their research teams to produce a concept map of their projects from which to find project-specific ambiguous terms or concepts that will have to be negotiated with their projects’ non-research stakeholders. [cross-posted at]

West Michigan Climate Resiliency Conference

copy-wmsbf-logoYesterday I attended the West Michigan Climate Resiliency Conference in Grand Rapids, MI, put on by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. It was a terrific event that brought together government officials (including the mayor, George Heartwell), local business (including Amway and Spectrum Health), farmers, and academics. Prof. Adm. (ret.) David Titley gave a fantastic keynote address on climate change. I was in attendance with Michael O’Rourke and a contingent from the Toolbox Projecttoolbox_logo. The Project, in conjunction with Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute, have developed a new Toolbox instrument on climate resiliency. We led facilitated dialogues using the new instrument. In the session I led, there were leaders from the West Michigan Business Forum, including VPs from Amway and Spectrum Health, an academic, small business owners, and a representative from Grand Rapids’s city government. I facilitated their conversation on the prompts in the instrument. The dialogue that followed was a rich exchange of ideas and perspectives on the role of businesses and government in responding to climate change as it affects West Michigan. The new climate resiliency Toolbox instrument is still being evaluated, in part based on the workshops conducted yesterday (so I can’t share it with you). Work will be progressing, so look for more on this front from the Toolbox Project. This is exciting work of engaging local stakeholders in a philosophical discussion about climate resiliency.

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