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Visiting Scholar Archive

Take the Money: Why Paying People to Not Vote May Make the World Better

November 13, 2023

11am-12:30pm University Union Hinde Auditorium

Jeffrey Carroll, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University

Effective altruism is a movement that advocates for determining the most effective ways to improve the well-being of others. One way to improve the well-being of others is to reduce the number of people who vote for bad candidates and policies, as bad candidates advocate policies that lead to negative outcomes for society as a whole. This paper argues that paying people, specifically those inclined to vote for bad candidates and policies, not to vote is an unexplored way of performing effective altruism. Having billionaires pay people inclined to vote for bad candidates and policies not to vote (instead of buying a new yacht) could help two achieve two normative aims. The first is distributive justice. The payment to not vote would most frequently be a transfer from a wealthier person to a less wealthy person, thereby increasing equality. The second is substantive electoral outcomes: by reducing the pool of bad voters, the likelihood of good electoral outcomes increases. While this proposal has positive attributes, it is not without problems. The paper closes by considering some powerful objections.

Relational Egalitarianism, Social Status and Open Borders

April 25, 2023

Speaker: Michael Ball-Blakely, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas, El Paso

Borders do not just prevent but also change relationships. In this talk I develop a relational egalitarian analysis of immigration justice. First, I distinguish three different relational egalitarian concerns—direct power-over, indirect power-over, and status harms. Second, I illustrate how immigration control facilitates each kind of inegalitarian relationship, both within and beyond the borders of excluding states. And finally, drawing on some empirical literature, I develop a novel explanation as to how discretionary control over immigration can cause status harms in sending communities. Immigration control does prevent people from pursuing and maintaining significant relationships. However, it also corrupts existing relationships. Those who care about relational equality should, I argue, reject the ability of states—especially high-income states—to exercise discretionary control over immigration.

Details: 10:30am - 12pm, Green and Gold Room, University Union

Religious Pluralism, Healthcare Policy, and Civic Discourse

September 15, 2022

Speaker: Robert Audi, John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

This presentation will address three problems. The first is how democratic societies should accommodate religious convictions in determining healthcare policies in a political framework that separates church and state. The second is how to approach certain issues concerning vaccine resistance and the abortion issue, particularly in the light of conflicting rights and conflicting religious views that complicate resolution. The third issue is how to lower the temperature and raise the quality of public discourse, particularly in relation to “heated” topics: how might we enhance civility and mutual understanding, both in and outside government, in determining laws and public policies. These issues will be clarified in relation to an ethical framework for determining appropriate accommodations of religion in democratic societies and, so far as possible, reducing cultural fragmentation in America. The purpose of the presentation is to facilitate good thinking and good communication on these issues; it is not to promote a partisan view. The points made involve standards and methods usable from any rational point of view.

Details: 2 - 3:30pm, Green and Gold Room, University Union

2022 Nammour Symposium: The Philosophy of Astrobiology

April 19-20, 2022

The Philosophy Department's 2022 Symposium was organized by Garret Merriam and John Park as part of the College of Arts and Letters Festival of the Arts.


  • Philosophy of Astrobiology and Space Exploration, Kelly Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Clemson University Watch video
  • When will we know if we've discovered alien life? Carlos Mariscal, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Nevada, Reno Watch video (advance video to 1:06:25)
  • Special CSUS Faculty Panel: Professors Matt McCormick, Russell DiSilvestro, John Park and Garret Merriam Watch video

Are We Obligated to Restrict Our Carbon Footprints?

March 7, 2022

Speaker: Dan Shahar, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of New Orleans

Those who worry about climate change often claim people must restrict their carbon footprints. Some have questioned such claims due to the consequential insignificance of any one person’s climate impacts. Yet, proponents of carbon footprint reductions have formulated defenses that do not depend on one’s ability to alter climatic outcomes. In this talk, Dan Shahar presents new grounds to be skeptical of a specific moral obligation to restrict our carbon footprints. Shahar argues each of us has a duty to make some positive difference in our problem-ridden world, but carbon footprint reductions represent just one option for doing this. Although it is true carbon footprint reductions advance several important values, many of these same values can be promoted in other ways as well. Moreover, Shahar contends focusing too much on carbon footprint reductions can be counterproductive, sending the climate movement down a path that is inefficient, distracting, and polarizing.

Details: 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m., Zoom webinar

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Trust in a Polarized Age

April 19, 2021

Speaker: Kevin Vallier, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University

Americans today don't trust each other and their institutions as much as they once did. The collapse of social and political trust has arguably fueled our increasingly ferocious ideological conflicts and hardened partisanship. But is today's decline in trust inevitable or avoidable? Are we caught in a downward spiral that must end in institutional decay or even civil war, or can we restore trust through our shared social institutions?

In this talk, Kevin Vallier offers a counter-narrative to the prevailing sense of hopelessness that dogs the American political landscape. In a defense of liberalism that synthesizes political philosophy and empirical trust research, he argues that we have the power to reduce polarization and rebuild social and political trust. The solution is to strengthen liberal democratic political and economic institutions -- high-quality governance, procedural fairness, markets, social welfare programs, freedom of association, and democracy. These institutions not only create trust, they do so justly, by recognizing and respecting our basic human rights.

Details: 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Zoom webinar

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2021 Nammour Symposium: Misinformation and Public Trust

April 6-7, 2021

We are at a moment of historically unprecedented concern about how true and false information spreads through communities and around the world. This concern took center stage with the arrival of the global COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Much of what we know about the pandemic is learned from other people, but learning from others is vulnerable to faulty attributions of credibility and mistaken judgments of trustworthiness. This year’s symposium will provide an opportunity to discuss misinformation, public trust, and related topics with invited guest speakers, faculty, and students.


  • Truth and Democracy, Dr. Michael Patrick Lynch, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of Connecticut and Director of the Humanities Institute Watch video
  • What Isn’t Fake News? Dr. M.R.X. Dentith, Associate Professor, Beijing Normal University Watch video
  • The Misinformation Age, Dr. Cailin O’Connor, Associate Professor, UC Irvine Department of Logic & Phil Science Philosophy of Science Watch video
  • Faculty Panel Discussion on Misinformation with Sac State Professors Chong Choe-Smith, Garret Merriam, John Park, and Brandon Carey Watch video

Escaping Paternalism

March 30, 2021

Speaker: Glen Whitman, Professor of Economics, CSU Northridge

Behavioral economics purports to offer a novel justification for paternalist policies, from retirement-plan nudges to sin taxes to nutritional mandates. The crux of behavioral paternalism is the claim that regular people aren’t fully “rational,” and therefore targeted interventions can help them make better decisions in terms of their own preferences and values. But what does “rational” mean in this context? It turns out that behavioral paternalism relies in an excessively narrow definition of rationality borrowed directly from neoclassical economic theory – a definition whose normative justification is weak at best. In this lecture, Professor Whitman will discuss the deficiencies of the neoclassical definition of rationality and what a more inclusive notion of rationality would entail.

Details: 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., Zoom webinar

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The Fabric of Civilization

February 25, 2021

Speaker: Author and columnist, Virginia Postrel

Textiles are one of humanity’s oldest and most influential technologies, yet we take them for granted. Drawing on her widely praised new book The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, author Virginia Postrel will take us on a tour of some of the innovations that gave us today’s textile abundance and the ways textiles shaped civilization as we know it.

Details: 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m., Zoom webinar

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Ethics for Police: Lessons from the Opioid Epidemic

February 3, 2020

Speaker: Jake Monaghan, Assistant Professor (Research) of Philosophy, Urban Entrepreneurship and Policy Institute (Greaux!), University of New Orleans

The number of Americans dying of opioid related overdoses is unacceptably high, and police have been asked to take the lead in bringing this crisis under control. Yet, hardly a week goes by where police are not being embroiled in new controversies, and concerns about police militarization and excessive use of force are widespread. This urges the question: what would a good police response to the opioid epidemic look like? In this talk, Jake Monaghan uses the tools of political philosophy to examine how law enforcement and public health professions respond to the problems of drug abuse. He shows how principles of proportionality, leniency, and equality provide useful tools for evaluating law enforcement strategies and policies, empowering police to isolate morally problematic elements of existing strategies and identify alternatives that would be more equitable and just.

Details: 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., University Union, Orchard Suite

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Breaking Deathbed Promises: The Case Against Posthumous Harm

October 28, 2019

Speaker: Beth Seacord, Instructor of Philosophy, College of Southern Nevada.

Most of us have a deep-seated psychological investment in post-mortem events: We care a great deal about the status of our reputations, the success of our projects and the wellbeing of our children after our deaths. Further, the belief (1) that we can be wronged/harmed by posthumous events, like broken death-bed promises is nearly universal. However, many of us also believe the prima facie plausible, yet inconsistent, proposition (2) that death puts us beyond the possibility of harm. I will argue that if persons do not persist after death, then the dead cannot be harmed or wronged. In addition, we cannot harm or wrong the deceased by breaking a deathbed promise. Though the act of promise-breaking might be wrong for other reasons, these reasons will be independent of any obligation we might have to the dead. But what of our strong and nearly universal intuitions to the truth of (1)? Finally, I will give an error theory that will explain why so many of us believe we can be wronged/harmed after death.

Details: 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., University Union, Cottonwood Suite III

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Love and Social Justice

October 14, 2019

Speaker: Ryan Preston-Roedder, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Occidental College.

There is a highly influential and widely admired principle within Black American moral and political philosophy that directs us to respond to certain forms of wrongdoing and injustice with love. In his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. argues that the “way of love and nonviolence” is “an integral part of our struggle” for racial justice in the United States. In its 1960 Statement of Purpose, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee affirms its members’ commitment to remaining “loving and forgiving even in the midst of hostility.” And in the opening section of The Fire Next Time, which takes the form of a letter to the author’s nephew, James Baldwin writes, “there is no reason for you to try to become like white people, and there is no basis whatsoever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them … and accept them with love.” But, despite its influence, this principle is puzzling on its face, and it may seem apt to be applied in ways that do more harm than good. Indeed, reflection on some influential formulations of the principle raises some pressing questions: What does it mean to love someone in the relevant way? What are the grounds for the view that such love is an appropriate response to relevant forms of wrongdoing and injustice? How can we respond to any form of wrongdoing in this way without merely facilitating further, more severe mistreatment? Can we reasonably adopt this principle without also adopting certain religious beliefs or commitments? I want to characterize and defend a version of this principle that Baldwin develops in his early fiction and his early essays, and I want to address these four questions as they apply to Baldwin’s view.

Details: Noon – 1:30 p.m., University Union, Cottonwood Suite III

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How Prison Gangs Govern the California Prison System

September 24, 2019

Speaker: David Skarbek, Associate Professor of Political Science, Brown University.

When many people think of prison gangs, they think of chaotic bands of violent, racist thugs. Few people think of gangs as sophisticated organizations (often with elaborate written constitutions) that regulate the social and economic life of the prison. Yet as David Skarbek argues in his award-winning book, The Social Order of the Underworld (, gangs form to create order among outlaws, producing alternative governance institutions to facilitate illegal activity. This book is a fascinating look into the seemingly irrational, truly astonishing, and often tragic world of life among the society of captives.

Details: Noon – 1:30 p.m., University Union Hinde Auditorium

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Justice As Convention?

April 12, 2019

Speaker: Peter Vanderschraaf, Professor of Political Economy and Moral Science, University of Arizona.

What is justice? Why should we follow the requirements of justice? The Classical Greek philosophers launched political philosophy when they raised and tried to answer these questions. One proposal for answering both questions is that justice is best understood in terms of distinguished social conventions. This proposal had currency even in Plato’s and Aristotle’s time, but it has traditionally been a minority view among political philosophers. In our own time, justice conventionalism is enjoying a tremendous revival. I believe this revival is sparked in large part because with the tools and empirical finding of contemporary social science, philosophers are able to give a far more satisfactory analysis of convention than was possible in pre-modern times. In this seminar I will discuss how philosophers’ understandings of convention have advanced over the centuries, and in particular how the mathematical theory of games created by John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern and John Nash provide an analytic vocabulary for analyzing convention. I argue that with a properly precise and general account of convention, one can mount a persuasive case for the ancient claim that justice is indeed a set of special social conventions.

Details: 11am -- 12:30pm, University Union Green and Gold Room

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Experience & gender in workplace misconduct

Pooria Assadi, March 26, 2019

Full Title: How experience mitigates for gender in punishment for workplace misconduct

Abstract: This talk empirically examines the career consequences of one form of Wall Street misconduct where stockbrokers cheat their customers by generating higher fees through conducting unnecessary, unsuitable, or unauthorized transactions. It specifically examines when the U.S. securities industry punishes misconduct and explains variation in who gets punished for it. I approach these questions by separately estimating a stockbroker’s likelihood of exiting the profession and changing employers in the aftermath of misconduct that primarily harms the customers versus regulators. I further examine whether these effects are different for more versus less experienced brokers, and for male versus female brokers. In doing so, my talk offers theory and evidence as to what experience means for men versus women pertaining to punishment for misconduct.

Pooria Assadi is an Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business Administration at CSUS.

Probability is probably not the very guide of life

Lok Chan, November 29, 2018

Abstract: Is probability, as Joseph Butler suggested, the very guide of life? Probably not, I shall argue, at least when it comes to our epistemic practice. Consider two fundamental questions we face during inquiry, one pertaining to its beginning and one to its end:

  1. When should we begin gathering more evidence?
  2. What should we believe after collecting the evidence?

A Bayesian, who conceives a rational agent as someone who diligently updates her prior opinions by applying Bayes’ theorem, thinks that the entire import of evidence can be captured by probability. I suggest, however, that we run into perplexing problems if we treat probability as “the very guide” in dealing with these questions. I'll show that making decisions solely based on expected values could mean that you never know when to stop collecting evidence. And, deciding on what to believe based solely on posterior probability can lead you to accept that extra-sensory perception (ESP) is real. The issue is not just an academic one. In medical decision making, relying solely on probability could mean a patient might receive invasive treatments that are unnecessary. In this talk, I will present these problems intuitively using data visualization, rather than technical demonstrations.

Lok Chan is a Post-Doctoral Associate in the Duke University Social Science Research Institute. He earned his PhD in Philosophy from Duke in 2018, an MA in Philosophy from San Francisco State in 2011, and BAs in Philosophy and Classical Guitar from Sac State in 2008. At SSRI, he works on the communication and epistemology of risk.

The Ethics of Taste

Madeline Ahmed Cronin, October 10, 2018

Full Title: The Ethics of Taste: What Mary Wollstonecraft Can Teach Us about Class, Classism, and the Politics of Taste.

Abstract: Does it matter what Americans find beautiful or what character attributes they find appealing? It might seem that these are mere preferences or purely aesthetic judgments independent of our moral or political commitments and conduct. Given the evidence that our tastes impact out votes however, it seems hard to say that American tastes are not politically or even morally relevant. Yet, it would be wrong to deem certain tastes more moral or politically correct if (as Pierre Bourdieu has argued) our tastes are merely the product of our acculturation into a particular class background. In this context, to deem the tastes of a working-class person inferior presents a threat to the ethical principle of equal moral standing. In order to untangle these questions therefore, I propose turning to Mary Wollstonecraft—an 18th-century moral philosopher who assumed that taste was morally and politically relevant, but who challenged the class- and gender-based assumptions of existing ideals of taste cultivation. Perhaps Wollstonecraft can help us make sense of our own American polity and the moral relevance of our tastes.

Madeline Ahmed Cronin is Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at Santa Clara University. She earned a PhD in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame. Her primary teaching and research interests are in Social and Political Philosophy, Ethics, and Feminist Theory. Recent publications include “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Conception of ‘True Taste’ and its Role in Egalitarian Education and Citizenship” in the European Journal of Political Theory. This article underscores a key finding from her dissertation entitled, “The Politics of Taste: Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen on the Cultivation of Democratic Judgment,” in which she demonstrates that Jane Austen’s novels elaborate and even develop Mary Wollstonecraft’s vision for a more thoroughly democratic, but also more tasteful society. She argues that together Wollstonecraft and Austen offer unique perspective on contemporary debates about the future of higher education, just access to healthy food, and the nature of truly civil discourse and public speech.

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Modeling the Costs of Perspectival Diversity

Keith Hankins, September 13, 2018

Full Title: Modeling the Costs of Perspectival Diversity (to Capture Its Benefits)

Abstract: The idea that perspectival diversity is a resource that groups can benefit from has recently received a lot of attention. Formal work illustrating these benefits has been taken to have implications for politics, management, and science. Unfortunately, existing work on diversity has tended to do a poor job of modeling the costs associated with it, and this has led philosophers, social scientists, management consultants, and others to frequently draw conclusions that are too sweeping on the basis of this work. This paper tries to advance our understanding of how to capture the benefits of perspectival diversity by considering two challenges associated with it: 1) translation and 2) skepticism.

Keith Hankins (Ph.D. University of Arizona, M.A. Rutgers University) is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Scholar in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise. He is also a faculty member in the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy. His research interests lie at the intersection of philosophy, economics, and social psychology. He is especially interested in the ethics of economic growth, the costs and benefits diversity, and the norms that mediate collective decision making and our responsibility practices. His recent articles include, "Searching for the Ideal: The Fundamental Diversity Dilemma" (w/ Jerry Gaus in Political Utopias 2017), "Adam Smith's Intriguing Solution to the Problem of Moral Luck" (Ethics 2016), and "When Justice Demands Inequality" (w/ John Thrasher in Journal of Moral Philosophy 2015). Dr. Hankins teaches courses in political philosophy, business ethics, and decision theory (including game theory and social choice theory), as well as courses in the Humanomics program.

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Firm Responses to Mass Outrage: Social Media, Blame, and Termination

April 18, 2018

Speaker: Vikram Bhargava, Assistant Professor of Management, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University.

This talk is about how businesses should respond to employee immoral conduct that occurs outside the workplace. In particular, I focus on cases that generate mass social media outrage. When an employee is the focus of this outrage, managers commonly respond by firing the employee. This, I argue, is often a mistake. The thesis I defend is that firing an employee in response to outside-of-work immoral (or allegedly immoral) conduct that gives rise to mass social media outrage constitutes an inappropriate form of blame. Even if a business is not concerned with the immoral conduct per se, but is rather strictly concerned about public relations, the argument I advance nevertheless provides strong moral reason against firing in mass outrage contexts.

A Bloody Mess: On the Moral Arguments against Markets in Blood Plasma

November 2, 2017

Speaker: Peter Jaworski, Associate Teaching Professor, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University

May you sell your blood plasma? While it’s legal in the U.S., many still shudder at the thought. To put some goods and services up for sale offends human dignity. If everything is commodified, then nothing is sacred. The market corrodes our character. Or so many people say. In his talk, Peter Jaworski seeks to undermine all of these objections. If you may do it for free, then you may do it for money, he argues. A market in blood plasma would not corrupt our character, would not commodify any persons (nor parts of them), would not result in people having the wrong attitudes. And at any rate, what morally matters most is that we save as many lives as possible. Markets in blood plasma would do that. We are morally obligated to permit them.

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Honor and Revenge

October 6, 2017

Speaker: Tamler Sommers, Professor of Philosophy, University of Houston

Honor cultures are sometimes referred to as “revenge cultures,” because of their enthusiasm for the practice. Critics of honor point to this association as another reason to reject honor in favor of dignity. But revenge has many virtues, and the source of these virtues lies in the very features that moralists condemn about it: revenge is costly, revenge is risky, revenge is personal. Because of these features, the act of revenge can demonstrate personal qualities like courage, self-respect, loyalty, and even love. Revenge has a dark side, however, and is often difficult to contain. I’ll examine some ways to harness what’s good about revenge without suffering unacceptable costs.

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The Reality of Social Kinds

September 18, 2017

Speaker: Rebecca Mason, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of San Francisco

The idea that social kinds (e.g., money, migrant, marriage) are mind-dependent is pervasive in the social ontology literature. So too is the thesis that social kinds are not real. Indeed, it is frequently asserted that social kinds are unreal in virtue of being mind-dependent. Thus, the thesis that social kinds depend on our mental states is thought to entail anti-realism with respect to them. Call this view Social Kind Anti-Realism. Despite the widespread acceptance of Social Kind Anti-Realism, I will argue that it is false. To the contrary, social kinds are as real as many mind-independent kinds.

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Charles Koch Foundation; Institute for Humane Studies; Academic Technology and Creative Services; Event Services Office (University Union); Visiting Scholars Program (Center for Teaching and Learning) Sacramento State.