Philosophy Program

Program Events

Yearly Events

  • Faculty and Students
    There are a number of occasions during the year where Philosophy faculty meet with students, sometimes just to socialize, other times for such specific purposes as the following:
    • meeting with prospective majors to talk about Moderation;
    • meeting with Junior majors to discuss the senior project process;
    • meeting with majors to discuss the vicissitudes of applying to graduate school.
  • Senior Project Conference
    Each spring semester, the program holds a Senior Project conference at which seniors present their work in panels of three or four students, moderated byi Junior majors and followed by questions from the audience.
  • Philosophy Speaker Series
    The program hosts a Philosophy Speaker Series, with three or four philosophers each seminar invited to talk about their work.

Are Birds Dinosaurs? 

Friday, February 28, 2020

Justin E. H. Smith, Professor of Philosophy, University of Paris
In a classic paper, the philosopher of biology John Dupré argued that the reclassification of whales in the 19th century, from fishes to mammals, was not so much a correction of a scientific error as it was a reshuffling of largely arbitrary folk categories, since until the 19th century there was nothing in nature preventing the class of fish from including warm-blooded, milk-producing, live-birth-giving animals. More recently we have been encouraged, or perhaps pressured, to correct our previous “error” of believing that the dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous. They are still among us, we are told, chirping and flying about. Yet whatever phylogenetic discoveries reveal, so far the folk category of “dinosaur” has resisted most efforts to stretch it far enough to include, e.g., sparrows. That is not what a dinosaur looks like, the person in the street will reliably insist. Unlike the case of whales and fish, no one has ever seen an actual dinosaur, and a priori we might expect the folk category that contains them to be more, not less, flexible than the one from which whales were lately expelled. What can this example show us about the relationship between scientific taxonomy and the semantics of natural-kind terms? Is there any sense at all in saying that birds are really dinosaurs in spite of the way we talk about them? In this talk—in which I range broadly to explore a number of basic conceptual problems of the philosophy of taxonomy—I willl argue that there is not. 
Time: 4:45 pm – 6:15 pm
Location: Olin, Room 102
Contact: Jay Elliott
Phone: 845-758-7280