Nicholaos Jones

"Everything is water."

About Me

Since 2007, I work 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. I'll get to revisit this area of the country during Fall 2014, as a Visiting Fellow at the Center for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Prior to becoming a philosopher, I proofread for a medical transcription company, clerked and audited at a hotel, and coached high school soccer.

I am married to Holly Jones, a professor of ethnic American literature, and together we are raising our son Dorion. We have had our 15 minutes of fame, and we don't know whether we'll get the Ultra Violet bonus minute.

In the little spare time I have, I run, work on landscaping projects, tell True StoriesTM, and laugh at bad jokes. Occasionally, I think fondly about how useless my discipline is.


Contact Research Teaching CV

Introduction to Philosophy [Overview] What does it mean to be human, and what is our place in the world? We'll think hard about these questions, with help from Aristotle, Confucius, Buddha, Marx, and Sartre, among others. There are no prerequisites.

[Syllabus] [Reading Guide] [Introductory Remarks] [Wiki]

Introduction to Ethics[Overview] We'll learn how to discuss contemporary ethical issues in an intelligent manner, how to understand and apply some classical and modern ethical theories to moral debates, how to critically assess and support their opinions on various ethical issues, how to assess and understand the opinions of others, and how to compromise when there is a rational stand-off of opinion. 


Technology, Society, and Human Values[Overview] This course aims to understand technology as a social practice, focusing on the role and significance of technology as a harbinger of revolutionary change. Our investigations will combine theoretical approaches and case studies, with particular attention to revolutions regarding agriculture, computers, domestic appliances, and automobiles. There are no prerequisites.  


Introduction to Logic [Overview] This is basic course in the formal logic of propositions. Some of the course is technical, involving truth tables and natural deduction proofs. Some of the course is historical, including a brief history of the role of computing in developing modern logic. And some of the course is applied, using technical tools of propositional logic for issues from Christian theology, European philosophy, and Systems Biology. There are no prerequisites. 

[Syllabus] [Supplement]

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 historically-oriented survey of philosophy of science as it developed after World War II. We will discuss central ideas from and challenges to Logical Positivism as well as historicist ideas regarding paradigms and revolutions. We will also engage more contemporary research projects in philosophy of science, including the role of diagrams and idealizations in scientific explanation. Central texts for the course are Carnap's -Introduction to Philosophy of Science- and Kuhn's -Structure of Scientific Revolutions-.  


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 [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. 


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. 


"Bowtie Structures, Pathway Diagrams, and Topological Explanation", forthcoming in Erkenntnis [Abstract] While mechanistic explanation and, to a lesser extent, nomological explanation are well-explored topics in the philosophy of biology, topological explanation is not. Nor is the role of diagrams in topological explanations. These explanations do not appeal to the operation of mechanisms or laws, and extant accounts of the role of diagrams in biological science explain neither why scientists might prefer diagrammatic representations of topological information to sentential equivalents nor how such representations might facilitate important processes of explanatory reasoning unavailable to scientists who restrict themselves to sentential representations. Accordingly, relying upon a case study about immune system vulnerability to attacks on CD4+ T-cells, I argue that diagrams group together information in a way that avoids repetition in representing topological structure, facilitate identification of specific topological properties of those structures, and make available to controlled processing explanatorily salient counterfactual information about topological structures, all in ways that sentential counterparts of diagrams do not.

"Diagrams as Locality Aids for Explanation and Model Construction in Cell Biology" (with Olaf Wolkenhauer), Biology and Philosophy 27.5 (September 2012): 705-721. [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.

"Don't Blame the Idealizations", Journal for General Philosophy of Science 44.1 (July 2013): 85-100. [Abstract] Idealizing conditions are scapegoats for scientific hypotheses, too often 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.

"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.

"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.

"Toward Modeling and Automating Ethical Decision Making: Design, Implementation, Limitations, and Responsibilities" (with Gregory S. Reed), Topoi 32.2 (October 2013): 237-250. [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.

"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
332C Morton Hall
301 Sparkman Drive
Huntsville, AL 35899

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