Nicholaos Jones

About Me

Since 2007, I am an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at University of Alabama in Huntsville. I hail from a former coal mining town in  Western Pennsylvania and the east side of Baltimore.

Prior to becoming a philosopher, I proofread for a medical transcription company, clerked and audited at a hotel, and coached high school soccer. In my spare time, I run, work on landscaping projects, play chess, and laugh at bad jokes. Occasionally, I think fondly about how useless my discipline is.

Contact Research Teaching CV

Introduction to Philosophy [Overview] This course surveys some of the major theories of human nature from the European and Asian philosophical traditions: Aristotelianism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Marxism, and Existentialism. The course focuses on understanding what each of these theories says about what we ought to be, what tends to prevent us from so being, and how we ought to behave in light of this. Its aim is not only to familiarize you with some philosophical traditions from around the world but also to equip you to summarize, explain, and assess ideas with which you are not familiar.

[Syllabus] [Introductory Remarks]

Technology, Science, and Human Values [Overview]This course examines the roles of science and technology in contemporary society, through critically discussing the extent to which scientific inquiry and technical innovation satisfy values regarding reliability, objectivity, authority, progress, and sustainability. There are no prerequisites. 


Introduction to Logic [Overview] This course considers methods for constructing, visualizing, supporting, and evaluating natural language arguments, and it introduces some formal methods of propositional logic. There are no prerequisites. 

[Syllabus] [Supplemental Text]

Introduction to Ethics [Overview] This course considers religion, virtue, and consequences as guides to ethical living and grounds for ethical norms. The course focuses on moral reasoning and epistemology (how we justify our opinions about morality) as well as select case studies and episodes of moral disagreement. Its aim is not only to familiarize you with some theories of morality (and some theories about the nature of morality) but also to equip you to engage in creative and constructive dialogue with others about ethical issues.


Ancient Philosophy[Overview] We'll survey the Greek philosophical tradition from Thales of Miletus through Pyrrho of Ellis, examining such issues as: the birth of philosophy as a discipline in Europe; ancient theories of cosmology; the nature, sources, and extent of human knowledge; the possibility of a rational and naturalistic understanding of the world. 

[Syllabus] [Presocratics] [Plato] [Aristotle]

Modern Philosophy [Overview] We'll survey the European philosophical tradition from Descartes through Kant, examining issues such as the nature, sources, and extent of human knowledge, the composition of the physical world, the nature of the human mind and its relation to the physical world, the possibility of a rational understanding of God and the self, and the nature of human freedom. 

[Syllabus] [Descartes] [Spinoza] [Locke] [Leibniz] [Hume] [Kant]

Philosophy of Science [Overview] This course is a survey of philosophical issues surrounding the concepts and practices of modern science. The course covers the major areas of contemporary philosophy of science, including scientific reasoning, scientific progress, interpretations of scientific knowledge, and the social organization of scientific practice. Its aim is not only to familiarize you with philosophical issues about science but also to equip you to critically interpret popular reports about contemporary scientific research. 


Philosophy of Religion [Overview] This course considers the philosophical foundations of Christianity in the thought of Thomas Aquinas; of Buddhism, in the thought of Nagarjuna; and of contemporary process theology, in the thought of Charles Hartshorne. [Texts] Course Texts: Brian Davies, Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil; Jan Westerhoff, Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka; Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes


Asian Philosophy - Chinese Buddhism [Overview] ...under construction...


Asian Philosophy - Survey [Overview] We'll survey the major ancient philosophies from India and China. From India, the course covers five of the orthodox Upanishadic schools and two Buddhist schools. From China, the course covers three indigenous traditions and the subsequent assimilation of Buddhism. The focus throughout is examining each philosophy on its own terms, as a whole, while avoiding simplistic explanations or translations into more familiar (European) ways of understanding. The guiding theme of the course is that differences between European and Asian philosophies, as well as differences among Asian philosophies, result from treating certain experiences and concerns as more or less salient, and that small-scale difference in emphasis produces large-scale difference in results. 


Symbolic Logic [Overview] This course is a survey of propositional and first-order quantificational logic as well as modal logic. The course develops skills in evaluating the logical status of formulae and arguments, creating examples and counterexamples, constructing informal and formal proofs, and understanding how the language and techniques of formal systems relate to ordinary language and reasoning. 


Reading Aristotle and Newton [Overview] Newton's Principia revolutionized science. But it is probably the most famous unread book of modern European history. We'll to rectify that oversight by reconstructing, from Newton's text, the original argument for the law of universal gravitation--the law that, by unifying terrestrial and celestial phenomena, ended the Aristotelian paradigm. We will unfold what is implicit in Newton's words and fill his proof sketches as he would have, without relying upon contemporary mathematics or blind intuitions. Along the way, we'll discuss Aristotelian physics, critically compare Aristotle's and Newton's philosophies of science, and tune into the excitement of formulating a theory built upon ways of thinking unlike any that preceded it. By the end of the course, you will not only know what Newton said but also understand why the Principia is the most exciting and important work in the history of science. 


Junior Research Seminar [Overview] This course, required for philosophy majors, provides a practical introduction to writing a philosophical research paper. The course aims to develop skills for reading, researching, and analyzing sources; outlining, drafting, and revising writing; constructing and communicating arguments; engaging with competing points of view; and presenting ideas orally. The course focuses on writing clearly, concisely, and charitably. We will read various materials as a class, and you will pursue your research project on your own time (seeking help as needed). 


Mereology East and West [Overview] Mereology is the study of the relation between parts and their wholes. In this seminar, we'll survey the literature on two mereological issues: the Problem of the One over the Many and the Problem of Material Constitution. Along the way, we'll discuss the standard axioms of contemporary formal mereology. We'll discuss methods of research for philosophy, including tricks for constructing objections and tips for developing original ideas. We'll practice formalizing natural language arguments and "naturalizing" formal language arguments. The main product of this course will be a substantial research paper. 


Advanced Moral Theory - Care Ethics [Overview] Care ethics is a relatively new and recent theoretical orientation within philosophical discussions of morality. Based upon psychological research about gender tendencies regarding moral judgment as well as feminist emphases on women's lived experiences, care ethics prioritizes caring over justice, intimate concern over impersonal principles, and private relationships over public policies. It thereby offers an alternative to moral orientations such as utilitarianism, deontology, contractualism, and virtue ethics. This course considers the theoretical foundations, prominent criticisms, and sociopolitical applications of care ethics. 


"Don't Blame the Idealizations," Journal for General Philosophy of Science 44 (2013). [Abstract] Idealizing conditions are scapegoats for scientific hypotheses, to ooften blamed for falsehood better attributed to less obvious sources. But while the tendency to blame idealizations is common among both philosophers of science and scientists themselves, the blame is misplaced. Attention to the nature of idealizing conditions, the content of idealized hypotheses, and scientists' attitudes toward those hypotheses shows that idealizing conditions are blameless when hypotheses misrepresent. These conditions help to determine the content of idealized hypotheses, and they do so in a way that prevents those hypotheses from being false by virtue of their constituent idealizations.

"Toward Modeling and Automating Ethical Decision Making: Design, Implementation, Limitations, and Responsibilities" (with Gregory S. Reed), Topoi 32 (2013). [Abstract] One recent priority of the U.S. government is developing autonomous robotic systems. The U.S. Army has funded research to design a metric of evil to support military commanders with ethical decision-making and, in the future, allow robotic military systems to make autonomous ethical judgments. We use this particular project as a case study for efforts that seek to frame morality in quantitative terms. We report preliminary results from this research, describing the assumptions and limitations of a program that assesses the relative evil of two courses of action. We compare this program to other attempts to simulate ethical decision-making, assess possibilities for overcoming the trade-off between input simplification and output reliability, and discuss the responsibilities of users and designers in implementing such programs. We conclude by discussing the implications that this project highlights for the successes and challenges of developing automated mechanisms for ethical decision making.

"Diagrams as Locality Aids for Explanation and Model Construction in Cell Biology" (with Olaf Wolkenhauer), Biology and Philosophy 27 (2012). [Abstract] We argue that diagrams in biology can provide functional explanations and facilitate the construction of mathematical models. Extending beyond prior analyses, we also show how diagrams facilitate the construction of mathematical models, we argue that the diagrams permit nomological explanations of the cell cycle, and we argue that what makes diagrams integral and indispensible for explanation and model construction is their nature as locality aids: they group together information that is to be used together in a way that sentential representations do not.

"General Relativity and the Standard Model: Why Evidence for One Does Not Disconfirm the Other", Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40 (May 2009). [Abstract] I develop a program for understanding why General Relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics are not disconfirmed by evidence about phenomena for which, respectively, quantum effects and gravity matter.

"Is All Abstracting Idealizing?", The Reasoner 2:4 (April 2008): 4-5. [Abstract] I propose a necessary condition for a substantial distinction between abstracting from a property of a physical system and idealizing that property.

"Fazang: Hermeneutics, Mereology, and Causation", forthcoming in Dao Companion to Chinese Buddhist Philosophy, ed. Sandra A. Wawrytko (Springer). [Abstract] This chapter surveys Fazang's hermeneutics, accompanying theories of causation, and the teaching of the six characteristics that results from his preferred theory of causation. The chapter shows how Fazang's commitment to an ideal of inclusivity motivates these views, it evaluates extant proposals about what justifies his views, and it compares those views to those of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of whether Fazang's metaphysics is paradoxical.

"Mereological Heuristics for Huayan Buddhism", Philosophy East & West 60:3 (July 2010). [Abstract] This paper attempts to explain, in a way familiar to contemporary ways of thinking about mereology and in a way that does not violate the principle of non-contradiction, why someone might accept some prima-facie puzzling remarks by the Chinese Buddhist philosopher Fazang, such as his claims that the eye of a lion is its ear and that a rafter of a building is identical to the building itself.

"Nyaya-Vaisesika Inherence, Buddhist Reduction, and Huayan Total Power", Journal of Chinese Philosophy 37:s1 (June 2010). [Abstract] Huayan Buddhism offers a solution to the Problem of the One over the Many that preserves the reality of wholes without treating the whole-part relation as eternal. I reconstruct the details of this solution, and contrast it with competitors from Nyāya-Vaisheshika and Indian Buddhism.

"Fazang's Total Power Mereology: An Interpretive Analytic Reconstruction", Asian Philosophy 19:3 (November 2009). [Abstract] This paper interprets some of Fazang's mereological remarks--that wholes are in each of their parts and that each part of a whole is every other part of the whole--and reconstructs his arguments for these remarks. In the interpretation I favor, Fazang means that the presence of a whole's part suffices for the presence of the whole and that the presence of any such part is both necessary and sufficient for the presence of any other part.

"The Logic of Soku in the Kyoto School", Philosophy East & West 54:3 (July 2004). [Abstract] This paper presents a formal system for the logic of soku that relies upon a distinction between internal and external negation and preserves the principle of non-contradiction.

"Civility, Sincerity, and Ambiguity", Alabama Humanities Review 1:1 (2011). [Abstract] Winner, 2011 Whetstone-Seaman Faculty Development Award

"An Arrovian Impossibility Theorem for the Epistemology of Disagreement", Logos & Episteme 3:1 (2012): 97-115. [Abstract] According to conciliatory views about the epistemology of disagreement, when epistemic peers have conflicting doxastic attitudes toward a proposition and fully disclose to one another the reasons for their attitudes toward that proposition, each peer should always change his attitude to one that is closer to the attitudes of his disagreeing peers. According to pure higher-order evidence views, higher-order evidencealways suffices to determine the rational response to disagreement among epistemic peers. Using an analogue of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, I argue that no conciliatory and pure higher-order evidence view can provide a true and general answer to the question of what disagreeing peers should do after fully disclosing to each other the (first-order) reasons for their conflicting doxastic attitudes.

"Idealizing, Abstracting, and Semantic Dispositionalism" (with Adam Podlaskowski), European Journal of Philosophy 20:1 (2012): 145-165. [Abstract] According to certain dispositional accounts of meaning, an agent's meaning is determined by the dispositions that an idealized version of this agent has in optimal conditions. We argue that such attempts cannot properly fix meaning. For even if there is a way to determine which features of an agent should be idealized without appealing to what the agent means, there is no non-circular way to determine how those features should be idealized. We sketch an alternative dispositional account that avoids this problem, according to whichan agent's meaning is determined by the dispositions that an abstract version of this agent has in optimal conditions.

"Unreliable Informant Testimony" (with Jeffrey Neuschatz), in Conviction of the Innocent: Lessons from Psychological Research, ed. Brian Cutler (Washington, D.C.: APA Press, 2012): 213-238. [Abstract] The goals of this chapter are fourfold. First, we outline the problems associated with jailhouse informant testimony by giving a brief history of the practice of using informants and reviewing the relevant data on wrongful convictions, major cases, and infamous informants. Second, we identify the foundations for the research on informant testimony. Third, we review the current psychological research on informant testimony. Finally, we discuss suggested legal reforms pertaining to informant testimony and their likely efficacy in light of the psychological research.

"Is Theology Respectable As Metaphysics?", Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 42:3 (September 2008): 579-592. [Abstract] I discuss theology's intellectual standing as a metaphysical discipline in light of the criteria that make modern science reputable. I conclude that, barring the development of an epistemology of modern science that is amenable to theology, theology as metaphysics is intellectually disreputable.

"Evidence and Falsification: Challenges to Gregory Peterson", Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 42:3 (September 2008): 599-604. [Abstract] This is a reply to Gregory Peterson's "Maintaining Respectability," which itself is a response to my "Is Theology Respectable as Metaphysics?" Here I elaborate upon the claims, in the latter article, that theology treats God's existence as an absolute certitude immune to refutation and that modern science constitutes the canons of respectable reasoning for metaphysical disciplines.

Ineliminable Idealizations, Phase Transitions, and Irreversible Behavior, Ph.D Dissertation, The Ohio State University (2006). [Abstract] This is my dissertation. It focuses on how to best interpret certain idealizations that occur in scientific explanations of phase transitions and irreversible behavior.


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Department of Philosophy
332A Morton Hall
301 Sparkman Drive
Huntsville, AL 35899

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