2023 Program

The 2023 program ran from June 25 to July 8, and brought together students and teachers from 18 different universities and 4 different countries; the U.S., India, China and Singapore. 


Language, Games, and Logic, Prof. James Garrison (Baldwin Wallace University)

In his early 1900s work, Ludwig Wittgenstein famously and influentially likens languages to games. Hence, “Language, Games, and Logic” will use a game-based approach to investigate Wittgenstein's thought. However, while examining his work in terms of logic and language, we will also go beyond the text to play around with the larger implications of Wittgenstein's thinking for our computer-driven life today. What does this mean?


On the one hand, computing technology runs up against the limits of logic when using large binary data sets to mimic human expression, and this will be explored in the context of Wittgenstein's earlier work. On the other hand, there exists a demand now for genuine artificial intelligence to operate with fuzzy, more flexible logic in reading and generating complex symbolic information, and we will use Wittgenstein's later work to grapple with this monumental task. 


By reading Wittgenstein's text together and playing with the big ideas, we will be in a position both to appreciate key moments in the history of philosophy and to anticipate the course and contours of the data age yet to come.

The Value of Beauty, Prof. Alexandra Grundler (Auburn University)

In this seminar, we will be asking all kinds of questions concerning the value of beauty: Is the experience of beauty merely a source of pleasure or does it contribute to our overall well-being and flourishing? Can we gain self-knowledge from aesthetic experiences that cannot be gained otherwise? Does our relationship to beauty contribute to our moral character? Does it make us better members of society? If the answer to even some of these question is yes, how do we pursue and cultivate our relationship with beauty? 


We will be looking for these answers by reflecting on our own experiences and discussing our reflections as a group, looking to historical and contemporary figures on how they have answered these questions, and cultivating new experiences in light of these questions (meaning we get to experience beauty in nature and art as a part of the class!!).  


The State of Nature (Ultimate Survival Mode), Prof. Rebeccah Leiby (University of Baltimore)

Without a common power–a government–to keep everyone in line and on their best behavior, our lives would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At least, so claims Thomas Hobbes, whose 1651 masterwork, Leviathan, fundamentally changed the way that political legitimacy has been conceived of in Western political philosophy. Hobbes’ revolutionary insight was that the consent of the governed authorizes the legitimacy of the government, an idea which had no small impact on the core claims of such foundational documents as the U.S. Declaration of Independence. But interestingly, Hobbes doesn’t advocate in Leviathan for anything approaching representative democracy. Rather, his contentious claim is that we have good reason to consent to a form of government closer to absolute monarchy: a form of government that he considers to be more stable, and therefore more desirable, than any other. The foundation of Hobbes’ argument for consent-based monarchy is found in his famous (or infamous) “State of Nature” thought experiment, in which he invites his readers to imagine that awful state without a stable government. Life in such a state would be so bad, so deeply undesirable, that Hobbes argues we would have good reason to do everything we could to avoid it: namely, to abandon most of our freedoms to an absolute Sovereign. Before Hobbes can make that argument, however, he needs to convince us that life in the State of Nature really is untenable, and it is precisely this assumption that we’ll seek to test together over the course of the program.


In a dedicated Minecraft realm, we’ll find something as close to a State of Nature as we’re likely to discover. Our mission is simple: stay alive and accumulate points for various achievements conducive to living a good and comfortable life. If we find that we can do this with minimal difficulty, then the heuristic foundations of Hobbes’ argument become suspect. If, however, we find that life in a (artificial) State of Nature really is as bad as Hobbes promised it would be… then we have some serious thinking to do about whether we’re interested in accepting Hobbes’ contentious and unpopular conclusions. Over the course of the program, we’ll intersperse close readings of key sections of Leviathan with structured shared gameplay in Minecraft, and reflect upon how our experiences in this digital political community provide us with answers to some of the questions that have lingered since the birth of the social contract tradition.

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