J.D. Trout Gives 2013 Romanell Lectures

J.D. Trout, professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, is the recipient of the 2012-2013 Romanell-ΦBK Professorship.

Awarded annually, the Romanell-ΦBK Professorship recognizes the recipient’s distinguished achievement and substantial contribution to the public understanding of philosophy. Phi Beta Kappa provides a $7,500 stipend to supplement the awardee’s salary, and the professor gives a series of three special lectures open to their institution’s academic community and the general public.

Well before the publication of his Measuring the Intentional World (Oxford, 1998), Trout treated the philosophy of science as a place to grow scientific ideas. He practices a version of Philosophical Naturalism that takes philosophical reflection seriously, and guides that reflection with a careful analysis of empirical evidence delivered by the sciences.

As Phi Beta Kappa’s Romanell Professor for 2012-2013, Trout gave three public lectures connecting philosophical reflection to relevant evidence in three important areas of Philosophy: Reasoning, Explanation, and Well-Being.

All three of these themes display their indebtedness to groundbreaking work in the field, by contemporary epistemologists like Sosa, Feldman, Alvin Goldman, Kornblith, and Zagzebski, philosophers of explanation like Hempel, Salmon, Kitcher, Woodward, Strevens, and Humphreys, and philosophers of well-being like Sen, Griffin, Nussbaum, and Crisp. By integrating philosophical reflection and scientific evidence, naturalistic approaches can improve reasoning, advance explanation, and create policies that enhance human well-being.

Romanell-ΦBK Lectures

March 12, 14, and 18

Loyola University Chicago


“The Stakes of Good Reasoning”
Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 4:00 p.m.
Information Commons, 4th Floor

The earliest efforts in epistemology saw philosophers setting standards on how to reason, and on what counts as knowledge. These normative standards were admirable, and still form a core of work in contemporary epistemology. This lecture provides examples of excellent reasoning that don’t meet these standards, and cases where these standards lead you astray. The results are both jarring and illuminating, and I will elaborate on several themes in Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment (Oxford; with Michael Bishop) in 2005. Improving our decisions about health and happiness is desirable, but doing so may require developing even better reasoning strategies than are now available.

“The Natural Limits of Explanation”
Thursday, March 14, 2013, 4:00 p.m.
Information Commons, 4th Floor

This theme explores the cognitive and social limits on explanation. There are some facts that fleas, crows, and bonobos will never know. Why not humans too? We are familiar with at least some problems that seem deeply, if not irreducibly, mysterious: certain kinds of quantum effects, details about the origin of the universe, the phenomenon of consciousness and the evolution of human intelligence. Expanding upon issues I introduced in a Philosophy of Science article in 2002, this lecture will explore candidate obstacles to knowledge and understanding, including the seductive and often misleading feeling of cognitive fluency delivered by good and bad explanations alike. Ultimately this lecture promises to show how these limitations are compatible with an ‘ontic’ view of explanation, in which the quality of an explanation is determined by its possession of certain objective factors, like its accurate description of causal factors. One consequence of this ontic account is that an explanation can be good even if no one is in a suitable position to comprehend it. By acknowledging these natural contours of human understanding, the ontic view allows us to re-assess our intellectual trajectory since the Enlightenment.

“Human Well-being as We Find It”
Monday, March 18, 2013, 4:00 p.m.
Information Commons, 4th Floor

People across the world arrive at well-being – both subjective and objective – in different ways. Rather than beginning at home, in the mind of potentially idiosyncratic philosophers, this lecture begins in a way that is thoroughly empirical, by examining the personal and social norms that are in place when people have all the signs of well-being. Animating new approaches in the closing chapters of Trout’s The Empathy Gap (2009, Viking-Penguin), this lecture proposes distinct techniques to improve well-being through policy. These kinds of promises often carry the scent of paternalism, but the resulting measures are not paternalistic in any troubling sense of the term.

The Romanell-ΦBK Professorshipis made possible by an endowment from Patrick and Edna Romanell. Patrick Romanell, a Phi Beta Kappa member from Brooklyn College, was H.Y. Benedict Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso. The first award was given for the academic year 1983-1984.