“Literature in the Digital Age” with Crystal Alberts

Is a book on the web still a book? Do hyperlinks change the role of narrative? What is an author if anyone can publish anything whenever they want? These questions frame Why?’s first episode in front of a live audience. Recorded at the newly renovated opera house in New Rockford, North Dakota, guest Crystal Alberts will crack open “philosophy of literature” to help us investigate our assumptions about reading, writing, and art in general. An expert in “new media,” we will take the opportunity to ask her the kinds of questions that come up all-too-often in today’s computerized world. What does interactivity do to the experience of reading? How does the urgency of “hipness” compare with the time-tested lessons of the classics? What does the world “classic” mean anyway? Is the feel of paper on your fingers a necessary component of good reading?Continue reading “Literature in the Digital Age” with Crystal Alberts

“Exporting Democracy” with Paul E. Sum

“Democracy assistance” has become ever more important to U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Its goal is to help usher in or encourage democratic practices amongst the world. But these attempts raise many philosophical questions including whether it is possible to “export” democracy at all. Paul E. Sum is a political scientist whose research explores the effectiveness of such democracy assistance programs in the post-communist world. In late July, he will travel to Romania for one year to investigate that country’s transition to democracy. With this episode of WHY?, we will catch up with him before he goes and ask a range of preliminary but related questions: What is a democracy? What conditions are necessary for a transition to this form of government? What method most effectively delivers democracy assistance? And, what has the track record of the US attempt to foster democracy been so far? We hope, when he returns, to revisit these questions and discover what new information he can provide about the process of democratization in Romania and around the world. Continue reading “Exporting Democracy” with Paul E. Sum

“America’s So-Called Decline” with Mark Stephen Jendrysik

Today’s pundits and politicians love to tell us that America is in decline. Michael Moore, Bill O’Reilly, Patrick Buchanan, Bill Clinton, and even philosophers like Allan Bloom and Noam Chomsky work to persuade us that America has lost its way. But this message is nothing new. From the earliest moments of North American settlement people have been preaching American downfall, yet this “jeremiad” – the use of the theme of downfall named after the biblical Book of Jeremiah – “does not invite discussion. It is not designed to create debate. It preaches to the converted, or at best draws in those who have not considered the issues before and are ready to be converted.” So writes Mark Jendrysik, author of the book Modern Jeremiahs: Contemporary Visions of American Decline.” Continue reading “America’s So-Called Decline” with Mark Stephen Jendrysik

“Competition, Society, and the Athlete” with Paul Gaffney

What is the meaning of athletic competition and how should we understand its prominence in our society? Is victory the chief criterion of success or are other values significant? Does it play a moral role in our society? Can it teach us something? Is competition beautiful? Can we justify the enormous investments made in our professional and amateur sporting enterprises? What precisely is the satisfaction gained by athletic achievement? Continue reading “Competition, Society, and the Athlete” with Paul Gaffney

“Philosophy of Hunting” with Lawrence E. Cahoone

What happens when a philosopher raised outside of a culture that promotes hunting takes up the sport? What philosophical lessons can he learn from the experience and how can he describe them in existential terms? Lawrence Cahoone asks these questions and more. Growing up in the urban and suburban Northeast, he had no experience of hunting. But in middle-age, after moving to a rural area, he decided that if he was going to eat meat he ought to find some himself. It seemed only fair. So, he began to hunt. But as a philosophy professor, he was forced to reflect on the experience in a very particular way. Was it moral to shoot animals? What does it feel like to seek and to kill? What was involved in entering the “wild on wild” business? Philosophers have debated whether hunting is a violation of animal rights, a friend to the environment, or a sport. But what Larry ended up asking was something more basic. In the end, he wanted to know: what does hunting mean? Continue reading “Philosophy of Hunting” with Lawrence E. Cahoone