Philosophy Salon. A weekly gathering of students, faculty, and staff to discuss philosophical ideas in a reading, work of art, or media piece including podcasts, YouTube videos, or lecture recordings. The material will always be short but rich in ideas. You are cordially invited to join us on Thursdays at 4:15 in the Reading Room at the Williams College Museum of Art.

Spring 2024 Schedule
(read/listen to/watch/contemplate the material in advance)

April 25, Self, Mind, Point of View. Read Daniel Dennett (1978) “Where Am I?” (20 minutes) or watch an amusing short film adaptation of the essay starring Dennett himself (27 minutes). Dennett passed away last week. You may be interested in this obituary, written by Doug Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach (3 minutes).

April 18, Art and Interpretation. Read Susan Sontag (1964) “Against Interpretation” (25 minutes) or listen to it read aloud (30 minutes).

April 10, Burnout and Depression. Read an excerpt from Byung-Chul Han (2010) The Burnout Society (20 minutes) and/or watch Ellie Anderson’s (2023) lecture “Byung-Chul Han, the Burnout Society” (10 minutes).

April 4, Originality in Art in the Age of AI. Read the United States Copyright Office’s decision letter (2023) on Jason M. Allen’s request to register “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial,” an artwork he created using Midjourney and that had won the 2022 Colorado State Fair Annual Fine Art Competition. (20 minutes.)


March 7, Possibilities and Actualities. Read Vandana Singh (2012) “Ruminations in an Alien Tongue” (23 minutes).

February 29, Emotions. Read Adolphs, Mlodinow, and Barrett (2019) “What is an Emotion?” (20 minutes).

February 15, AI, Politics, Culture. Watch Yuval Harari (2023) “AI and the Future of Humanity” (33 minutes).

February 8th, Memory, Abstraction, and Self. Read Jorge Borges (1962) “Funes the Memorious” (20 minutes). Or listen.



December 7th, Consciousness and First-Person Perspective. Read Greg Egan (1995) “Learning to be Me,” (20 minutes).

November 30th, Creation, Self, and AI. Listen to Sheila Heti’s (2023) short story, “According to Alice,” written in collaboration with a large language model on the Chai AI platform (30 mins). Also read Heti’s reflections on co-authoring the piece with an AI (6 minutes).

November 16th, Techno-Optimism. Read Marc Andreessen (2023) “The Techno-Optimist Manifesto” (18 minutes) and Jag Bhalla & Nathan Robinson (2023) “‘Techno-Optimism’ is Not Something You Should Believe In” (14 minutes).

November 9th, Photography and images. Read Susan Sontag (1977) “In Plato’s Cave” (30 minutes). Or listen to a read aloud of Sontag’s essay by Tara Raani (38 minutes).

November 2nd, Philosophy for the future. Watch (or listen to) interview with Slavoj Žižek, “How philosophy got lost” (36 minutes).

October 26th, Physics and the Purpose of the Universe. Watch Sabine Hossenfelder (2023) “What Could Be the Purpose of the Universe?” (16 minutes).

October 19th, Art, Artists, Struggle. Read James Baldwin (1952) “The Creative Process” (6 minute read) and listen to Baldwin (1969) “The Struggle of the Artist” (30 minutes).

October 12th, Relativism and Receptivity to Misinformation. Read Julia Aspernäs et al. (2023) “Misperceptions in a post-truth world: Effects of subjectivism and cultural relativism on bullshit receptivity and conspiracist ideation” (25 minutes).

October 5th, Equilibrium and Emergence. Read Ted Chiang (2008) “Exhalation” (20 minutes).

September 28th, Therapy and Artificial Intelligence. Listen to or read Pivay (2023) “We Spoke to People Who Started Using ChatGPT As Their Therapist” (10 minutes) and read Stade et al. (2023) “Large Language Models Could Change the Future of Behavioral Healthcare: A Proposal for Responsible Development and Evaluation,” pages 18-21 (10 minute read, skim the rest of the paper).

September 21st, Contingency, Determinism, and Justice. Read Jorge Borges (1941) “The Lottery in Babylon” (20 minutes). Y en español aquí.

Fall ’22 and Spring ’23

May 11, Secular Faith, Mortality, and Spirituality. Listen to part of a lecture and discussion by Martin Hägglund (27 minutes, video starts at 5 minute mark, watch to 32 minute mark) and read Filipe Pereira (2020) “Is Immortality Desirable?” (5 minutes).

May 4, Love in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Listen to Hi-Phi Nation’s “Love in the Time of Replika” (50 minutes).

April 27, Free Will, Blame, and Neurolaw. Listen to RadioLab’s “Neurolaw” on YouTube (16 minutes) and Adina Roskies, “Neuroscience and Free-Will” on the Philosophy Bites podcast (18 minutes).

April 20, The Ethics of GradingRead John Danaher (2020) “The Moral Problem of Grading: An Extended Analysis” (25 minute read).

April 13, Ironic Aesthetic Appreciation. Read Alexandra King (2023) “Taco Bell and the Paradox of Ironic Appreciation” (15 minute read). Also this quotation from David Foster Wallace (1 minute read).

April 6, Colonization and Human Bondage. Read Octavia Butler (1984) “Bloodchild” (30 minute read). Note special venue for this meeting: We will convene salon in the Object Lab Gallery at WCMA rather than in the Reading Room.

March 16, Equity Language. Read George Packer (2023) “The Moral Case Against Euphemism” (15 minute read) and skim the sections of “A Progressive’s Style Guide” that interest you.

March 9, Aztec Philosophy. Read James Maffie (2005) “Aztec Philosophy” from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (25 minute read).

March 2, Aphantasia and Consciousness. Read Kathryn Nicolai (2020), “I’m blind in my mind, here’s what it’s like to live with Aphantasia” (4 minute read), Neesa Sunar (2021), “I have no mind’s eye: Let me try to describe it for you” (4 minute read), and watch Raquel Albieri Krempel (2020), “Conscious thought and aphantasia” (20 minutes, the q&a at the end of the talk is optional).

February 23, Would it be bad if human beings went extinct?, Émile Torres, “The Ethics of Human Extinction” (20 minute read).

February 16, Lookism, Social Judgment, Ted Chiang’s (2002) short story “Liking What You See: A Documentary” (25 minute read).

December 8th, What is Philosophical Writing?, Jennifer Whiting, “Cultivating Dialectical Imagination,” (20 minute read) and Joshua Habgood-Coote et al. “Can a good philosophical contribution be made just by asking a question?” (10 second read).

December 1st, a conversation with Amy Levine ’14, University of Chicago Social Thought and Philosophy, on Normativity, Identity, and Love. As background, read Jordy Rosenberg, “Gender Trouble on Mother’s Day,” (20 minute read) and Heinrich von Kleist, “On the Marionette Theatre” (15 minute read).

November 17th, Metaphysical Beliefs and Psychedelics, Timmermann et al., “Psychedelics alter metaphysical beliefs.” (20 minute read.)

November 10th, Everyday Ethics, Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethicist column from recent issues of the New York Times Magazine. (25 minute read.)

November 3rd, a conversation with Kimberly Ann Harris, University of Virginia, on Objectification. As background, view this video. (10 minutes.)

October 27th, Happiness, Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” (15 minute read.)

October 20th, Manga Introduction to Philosophy: Time and Existence. Read Chapter 1, Parts 1 & 2, “What is Time?” and Chapter 2, Parts 1 & 2, “What is Existence?” from Masahiro Morioka’s Manga Introduction to Philosophy. (Approx. 30 minute read, depending on how long you spend on the manga illustrations.)

October 13th, The Ethics of AI Art. Watch this Vox Video (13 minutes) and read Rohita Naraharisetty, “Why AI Art Makes the Internet—and Art—Less Authentic” (5 minute read) and Anders Sandberg, “Reflective Equilibrium in a Turbulent Lake: AI Generated Art and The Future of Artists” (7 minute read). If you’re curious, experiment with Stable Diffusion.

October 6th, Gamification of Public Discourse, C. Thi Nyguyen, “The Gamification of Public Discourse” 2019 Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture on YouTube. (40 mins.)

September 29th, Free Will and Physics, Jenann Ismael, “Physics and Free Will with Jenann Ismael,” from the Free Will Show Podcast. Listen from 22:30 to 42:00 (20 minute segment.) and read “Physics Forgets that We Are Part of Reality” (12 minute read).

September 22nd, Large Language Models and Sentience, LaMBDA, “Is LaMDA Sentient? —An Interview” (Interviewer: Blake Lamoine)

September 15th, Meaning and the Universe, Jorge Borges, “Library of Babel.”  Y en español aquí.