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This lecture series aims to create an opportunity for members of the university community to join with residents of the broader Dayton region to consider a topic of current philosophical interest. It honors the memory of Dr. Erik Banks, past member of the philosophy faculty.
Speaker: Dr. Alexander Klein, Canada Research Chair, Director of the Bertrand Russell Research Centre, and Associate Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University
Topic: "Bertrand Russell, William James, and the Politics of Truth"
Should philosophy express the national character of a people? Or should it strive for impartial truth? Since the early 20th century, the English-speaking world has been dominated by approaches to philosophy that friends and foes alike have characterized as "scientific." Through conceptual analysis, philosophers have aimed to uncover truths that are as universal as those discovered through mathematical or chemical analysis. This idea of an impartial, scientific philosophy crystallized in the years just prior to World War I. It was a time of intense political nationalism, some of which was reflected in the philosophical writing of the day. Critics argued that scientific philosophy stood to lose something they thought valuable—the sense that philosophy should reflect a national identity. On this rival sort of view, British philosophy isn't just philosophy written by British people, for example, but the philosophy that exemplifies the British national character. In this talk, I will examine some surprising ways in which nationalist and anti-nationalist politics inflected the development of philosophy in the early 20th century. I will focus especially on two political cosmopolitans—Bertrand Russell and William James. These two men shared a broadly anti-nationalist political outlook, and not coincidentally, shared an aspiration to make philosophy more "scientific." But they disagreed on just how to reach this goal, producing two starkly different visions of what an anti-nationalist, scientific philosophy should look like.
Dr. Erik C. Banks, professor in the Department of Philosophy, joined the Wright State faculty in 2006. While at Wright State he made a major impact on both the university and his field, the history, and philosophy of science. A prolific scholar, he was the author of numerous journal articles and two important books, Ernst Mach's World Elements: A Study in Natural Philosophy (2003) and The Realistic Empiricism of Mach, James, and Russell: Neutral Monism, Reconceived (2014). Erik was also a creative and dedicated teacher, who taught demanding critical thinking and logic courses, and developed such innovative interdisciplinary classes as the Philosophy of Physics, team-taught with Physics professor, and Ancient Science, team-taught with a Classics professor.
Following Erik's sudden death in 2017, his family generously endowed this lecture series as a lasting tribute to his memory.