NANCY BAUER How to Do Things With Pornography

Nancy Bauer

We live in a world awash with pornography, in the face of which anti-porn feminist philosophizing has not had much impact. In How to Do Things With Pornography (Harvard University Press, 2015), Nancy Bauer takes academic philosophy to task for being irrelevant and argues that philosophers should emulate Socrates in giving people reasons to reflect on their settled views. Bauer, who is a professor of philosophy and dean of academic affairs for arts and sciences at Tufts University, considers the sexual objectification of women in contemporary society from several overlapping angles. She discusses the sense of empowerment that young women feel in today’s ‘hookup culture’ and defends a radical new reading of J.L. Austin’s work on language that is at odds with the standard interpretation behind prominent feminist critiques of pornography. She also considers how white male dominance in academic philosophy has contributed to its lack of effectiveness, while applauding recent efforts by some to increase its diversity and its engagement with the public.

CASS SUNSTEIN Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice

Cass Sunstein

The political tradition of liberalism tends to associate political liberty with the individual’s freedom of choice. The thought is that political freedom is intrinsically tied to the individual’s ability to select one’s own path in life – to choose one’s occupation, one’s values, one’s hobbies, one’s possessions, and so on – without the intrusion or supervision of others. John Stuart Mill, who held a version of this view, argued that it is in choosing for ourselves that we develop not only self-knowledge but autonomy and personality. Yet we now know that the image of the individual chooser that Mill’s view seems to presuppose is not quite accurate. It is not only the case that environmental factors of various kinds exert a great but often invisible influence over our choices; we must also contend with the limits of our cognitive resources. Sometimes, having to choose can be a burden, a hazard, and even an obstacle to liberty.

In Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice (Oxford University Press, 2015), Cass Sunstein examines the varied phenomena of choice-making. Bringing a range of finding from behavioral sciences, Sunstein makes the case that sometimes avoiding or delegating choice is an exercise of individual freedom.

COLIN KLEIN What the Body Commands: The Imperative Theory of Pain

Colin Klein

Nothing seems so obviously true as the claim that pains feel bad, that pain and suffering go together. Almost as obviously, it seems that the function of pain is to inform us of tissue damage. In What the Body Commands: The Imperative Theory of Pain (The MIT Press, 2015), Colin Klein denies both apparently obvious claims. On his view, pain is a “protective imperative” whose content is to protect the body or body part: for example, “Don’t put weight on that left ankle!”. Klein, Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Macquarie University, discusses the problem of pain asymbolia, in which people report feeling pain but are not the least bit motivated to do anything about it; considers how to explain masochistic pleasure, where we deliberately act in ways that do not protect the body; and addresses the question: why do pains (typically, but contingently) hurt?

JASON STANLEY How Propaganda Works

Jason Stanley

Propaganda” names a familiar collection of phenomena, and examples of propaganda are easy to identify, especially when one examines the output of totalitarian states. In those cases, language and imagery are employed for the purpose of shaping mass opinion, forming group allegiances, constructing worldviews, and securing compliance. It is undeniable that propaganda is employed by liberal democratic states. But it is also undeniable that the use of propaganda is especially problematic in liberal democracies, as it looks incompatible with the democratic ideals of equality and autonomous self-government. It’s surprising, then, that the topic of propaganda has gone relatively unexplored in contemporary political philosophy.

In How Propaganda Works (Princeton University Press, 2015), Jason Stanley develops an original theory of propaganda according to which propaganda is the deployment of an ideal against itself. Along the way, Stanley distinguishes various kinds of propaganda and explores the connections between propaganda, ideology, stereotypes, and group identities. Stanley’s central thesis is that propaganda poses an epistemological problem for democracy, as propaganda is the vehicle by which false beliefs are disseminated and opportunities for knowledge are closed.

BETH PRESTON A Philosophy of Material Culture: Action, Function, and Mind

Beth Preston

Many philosophers have written on the ways in which human beings produce artifacts and on the nature of artifacts themselves, often distinguishing the act of producing or making from growing, and distinguishing artifacts from natural objects. However, such discussions have tended to be theoretically restrictive – for example, in the philosophy of technology, the focus is primarily on non-religious and non-artistic artifacts. In A Philosophy of Material Culture: Action, Function, and Mind (Routledge 2012), Professor Beth Preston of the University of Georgia provides a foundation for understanding material culture in general – indeed, she uses the phrase “item of material culture” to avoid the restrictive connotations of “artifact”. Preston approaches her subject from two basic vantage points: the philosophy of action, to consider the nature of production and use of material culture, and the philosophy of function, to consider the nature of the items that are produced and used. In doing so she breaks new ground in understanding collaboration and improvisation and draws on work on biological and system functions to develop a concept of ‘function’ appropriate to understanding the functions of the items we make and use.