I welcome private and public nominations for my weekly, splendid philosopher of the week post! [Yes, enough folk persuaded me that "most underrated" could cause unintended harms.] Here are the rules: 1. no dead people; 2. no people currently or about to be employed in a Leiter top 50 (or equivalent) department (even thought these are also filled with splendid folk); 3. no former dissertation advisors, or other teachers from graduate school; 4. no former students; 5. No un-tenured junior folk (again accepting emendation); 6a: Excellence in more than one AOS, or 6b: noticeable public impact; 6C Just plain inspiring. (That is I want to recognize interesting philosophers, not just hyperspecialized ones!)
This week's splendid philosopher of the week is Kathleen Akins an associate professor at Simon Fraser, whose moving struggle with HLA-B27 Negative Ankylosing Spondylitis is recounted at Disabled Philosophers. (A site worth visiting and reflecting on regularly.) I adore her work because she doesn't merely use neuro-science to answer philosophical questions, but she also offers a critical and pro-active stance back on the sciences. (She also provided one of the first public mentions in philosophy of one of my undergraduate mentor and sometime co-author, George Smith.) Akins is one of the best color vision people in philosophy, and I can't wait to read her book-in-progress.
But Akins' fame rests, I think, on two remarkable articles. One is a paper that challenged one of the central dogma's of the second half century of analytic philosophy (that is) that intentionality/aboutness is somehow central to mental states. (It is amusing that this Scholastic concept been so greedily adopted by so-called naturalistic philosophers.) Her (complex) argument does not deny that there is such a thing as aboutness, although she insists -- "pace Sellars" [and Chisholm] -- with lots of empirical evidence that we really don't know what it is. But she simply dislodges it from its central position in the explanatory enterprise. More significantly, her 1996 article lays the groundwork for much of the recent focus on embodied and active cognitive capacities in philosophy of mind (so beloved by many of my fellow NewAPPSers).
Second, her two (related) papers in which she criticizes Nagel's famous essay with bats in its title. "What is it like to be boring and myopic" (1993) and "A Bat Without Qualities" [Sadly, I couldn't an electronic copy of each available online.] For me the take home message of these papers is that science can and will surprise us in many ways about how we experience the world. Science won't settle philosophic questions, but it can undermine our confidence in our thinking that we asked the right question. In doing so, it can also change our sense of who we are.