Why Biology Still Needs Teleology

A Modern Aristotelian Account of Life, Knowledge, and Health


When: Thursday, November 13th, 2014; 5:00 p.m.
Where: College Hall 209, Penn Campus, Philadelphia

Featuring: Dr. Robert C. Koons, Professor of Philosophy at University of Texas at Austin. He specializes in philosophical logic and in the application of logic to long-standing philosophical problems, including metaphysics, philosophy of mind and intentionality, semantics, political philosophy and metaethics, and philosophy of religion.

With Comment By: Dr. Harun Küçük, Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at Penn, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He has written extensively on issues relating to History of Early Modern Science, Science and Religion, and the Enlightenment.

Moderated By: Dr. Peter Dodson, Professor of Anatomy and Paleontology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-editor of The Dinosauria, a definitive scholarly resource, and the author or co-author of more than one hundred academic papers and books, including The Horned Dinosaurs (Princeton, 1996). He is a Senior Fellow at the Collegium Institute.

The Aristotelean notion of teleology explains the existence or functions of purposes in nature. This was a predominant view until the Galilean Scientific Revolution in the 17th century, and especially the death of vitalism and the rise of Darwinian evolutionary theory (in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively), when biologists started treating teleology as an outdated notion. At best, they have considered it a heuristic device or useful fiction.
Professor Robert C. Koons believes that this position is untenable, for biological inquiry exists primarily for the sake of biological knowledge, and biological knowledge is inextricably bound up with teleological concepts, like that of gene or enzyme. During the event, Professor Koons will explain his view that the very possibility of rational thought and knowledge depends upon a teleological foundation. Through this interesting discussion, he will ultimately explain how this proposition has great implications for biomedical ethics and the vocation of the physician. 

Cosponsored by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.

To RSVP for this event, please click here.

Click here for a PDF of our event poster.

Can a Secular Society Last?

A Luncheon Lecture with Rémi Brague

When: Thursday, October 30, 2014; 12 Noon

Where: McNeil Center, Wolf Auditorium (Located at 3355 Woodland Walk, Philadelphia)

Rémi Brague, Emeritus Professor of Arabic and Religious Philosophy at the Sorbonne & Romano Guardini Chair of Philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

With comment by:
Eric GregoryProfessor of Religion, Princeton University
Jeffrey GreenAssociate Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

Moderated by:
Mark ShiffmanAssociate Professor of Humanities and Classical Studies, Villanova University

Cosponsored by:
The Department of Political Science, The Program of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), The Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society (PRRUCS), and The Penn Secular Society at the University of Pennsylvania

To RSVP for the luncheon and lecture, please visit the following short link:

For a PDF of our event poster, please click here.

Syria’s ‘Blood Diamonds’

A Preview of “What Happened to Syria?” with Christian Sahner on October 16, 2014

While the wanton destruction of Syria’s historical patrimony—from Roman temples to Byzantine churches, Umayyad mosques to Crusader castles and Ottoman palaces—has received a lot of attention, the real purpose behind that destruction hasn’t always been clear. These aren’t necessarily isolated acts of vandalism or profiteering. They are an intrinsic part of the battle in Syria over identity, values and history that has claimed nearly 200,000 lives over the past three years. The nation’s heritage has been used as a weapon to finance bloodshed, to settle sectarian scores and to erase entire chapters of the country’s past in the expectation of radically reshaping its future.

The most pronounced manifestation of Syria’s war on cultural heritage has been the sale of treasures looted from archaeological sites and museums for guns and cash, much like blood diamonds. The most prized commodities on the black market include Roman mosaics, Palmyrene statues, ancient jewelry, medieval manuscripts and prehistoric religious artifacts, which are slowly making their way into private collections across the Middle East, Europe and North America. Many groups in Syria’s civil war profit from trade in such objects, including regime-affiliated militias and rebel battalions. Among the most notorious is the Islamic State, or ISIS, the hardline Islamist group that controls a “caliphate” stretching from Raqqa, its capital in eastern Syria to the suburbs of Baghdad. According to scholars Salam Al Kuntar, Amr Al Azm and Brian Daniels, ISIS derives a steady income from stolen antiquities, especially the taxes it imposes on looters and smugglers operating inside its territory. While income from antiquities may not match the cash ISIS derives from plundering banks or selling oil, it still accounts for millions of dollars a year, which go to pay for bullets, terrorist training and other war-related expenses.

To read the full article, which appeared on September 8, 2014 in the Wall Street Journal, please click here.

Holy Ghosts

Presented by the Penn Newman Club for Newman Night

When: October 23, 2014; 7:00 p.m.
Where: Penn Newman Center

Matt Chominski, Theology teacher at Archmere Academy, regular contributor to Crisis and The Distributist Review.


The topic of ghosts is at once exhilarating, exciting, challenging, and perhaps frightening. Seemingly every town and region has some ghost lore, stories of some frightening or friendly spectre awaiting aid, sympathy, or the opportunity to terrorize. Philadelphia is certainly not lacking in this regard.

While ghosts lurk on the periphery of modern life, in the 16th-century the possibility and nature of ghostly activity was hotly debated by Protestants and Catholics. This talk will address fundamental concerns and questions elicited by this debate. It will further be seen that despite the historical distance of over four centuries, this early-Modern debate has much to suggest to present-day Catholics, aiding the formulation of answers to the question: “In what ways should a Catholic understand and interpret potentially ghostly phenomena?” In other words, “what does the Catholic have to say about the spooky and spectral?”

Tentative Outline:

  1. Introduction and Talk (25 minutes)
  2. Small Group Discussion (10 minutes)
  3. Large Group Discussion, Question & Answer (10 minutes)
Cosponsored by the Collegium Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture.

Is Justice Possible?

A professional and personal conversation

with David Skeel (S. Samuel Arscht Professor of Corporate Law) and Rogers Smith (Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Associate Dean for Social Science) and moderated by John DiIulio (Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society).

When: October 22nd, 2014; 7:00 p.m.
Where: Cohen Hall Auditorium G-17 (249 South 36th Street)

Reception to follow

Hosted by the Veritas Forum and the Collegium Institute at Penn.

Happiness Ancient and Modern


November 7th & 8th, 2014

The University of Pennsylvania,
Department of Philosophy
402 Claudia Cohen Hall
249 South 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104

Friday 7th
Terence Irwin, University of Oxford: “Happiness and the good: does Aristotle’s ethics rest on a mistake?”

5:00 p.m.: Reception

Saturday 8th
9:45 a.m.: Coffee & Light Breakfast

10:30 a.m.: Hendrik Lorenz, Princeton University: “Natural Goals of Actions in Aristotle”

12:00 p.m.: Break for Lunch

2:00 p.m.: Fay Edwards, Washington University, St. Louis: “Saying ‘No’ to Meat, Artichokes and Sex: Porphyry’s Practical Ethics”

3:30 p.m.: Coffee & Sweets

4:00 p.m.: David Brink, University of California, San Diego: “Normative Perfectionism and the Kantian Tradition”

Presented by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium.

For information contact Susan Sauvé Meyer (

Graduate Fellows Colloquia: Spring 2016

Collegium Institute invites all graduate students and other interested individuals from the University of Pennsylvania and Greater Philadelphia Area to join its graduate fellows for the spring colloquia series focusing on John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University.  Fellows will explore excerpts of Newman’s book paired with various snapshots of the modern academy.

All readings are provided free of charge and refreshments are served!

Thursday, March 17 at 7p.m. in Arch 107. We will read Discourses 1-4 of Part I which, following an introduction to the university as a whole, argue for the place of theology in the university.  We will juxtapose that to the mission statement of Penn’s Religious Studies Department as well as with the video welcome to Trump University.

Thursday, March 31 at 7 p.m. in Arch 106. We will read Discourses 5-8 of Part I on the pursuit of knowledge in the university along with David Brooks’ seminal article on the over-professionalization of elite liberal arts students, in preparation for a lecture by Anthony Grafton on Friday, April 8.

Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m. in Arch 107. We will read Discourses 1-3 of Part II on Christianity and Literature in preparation for a lecture by Joseph Bottom on Thursday, April 27 on the same topic.

For more information or to receive reading materials, contact Katie Becker:

Circle of St. Bede

Upcoming Meetings for October 2014 

CIRCLE OF ST. BEDE invites faculty, post docs, grad students, professionals and other interested early risers to join us. We seek to promote the integration of faith with our academic lives and to foster a sense of Catholic community in the campus setting. We meet for coffee and socializing following the 7:30 a.m. mass. Presentations begin promptly at 8:10 a.m. and finish at 8:50 a.m. Typically the group discusses a reading on the topic distributed a week before. [in the lower level of the Penn Newman Center].

“Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love.

Pope Francis
The Joy of the Gospel


Tues. Oct. 7. “On the holy rosary.” Discussion led by Dr. Marisa Marsh, astrophysicist, Dept. of Physics. .

Tues. Oct. 14. “On consulting the faithful in matters of doctrine” by John Henry Newman, 1859. Discussion led by Dr. Peter Dodson, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Oct. 21. Open

Oct. 28. Open

A note on parking. The parish of St. Agatha-St. James kindly permits limited use of the rectory parking lot for those attending morning mass and/or Circle of St. Bede. This is a privilege that must be used with respect. The slots available on a first-come basis face the Newman Center and are situated towards the upper end of the lot. On-street meter parking is available on 38th St. beside the church or on Sansom St behind the center, which is located at 3720 Chestnut St. The south side of Chestnut directly in front of the Newman Center was formerly a tow zone but now is potentially available as meter parking from 8 a.m. onward. However, due to heavy construction across the street currently it may not be available there on any given day.



What Happened to Syria?

A presentation by the author of “Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present”

When: October 16, 2014; 5:30 p.m.

Where: Amado Room of Irvine Auditorium (3401 Spruce Street, Philadelphia)

Featuring Christian C. Sahner, a former Rhodes Scholar who, while completing his Ph.D. in History at Princeton University, wrote “Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present,” which was just published by Oxford University Press this August.

With comment by Dr. Ronald Granieri,Director of Research of the Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and moderated by Dr. Heather Sharkey, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, and Affiliate Professor of Middle East Center, University of Pennsylvania.

Cosponsored by:

The Alexander Hamilton Society, The Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania

A light reception to follow.

To Register for this lecture, please click here.

How to Redesign an American Metropolis

Water, Transportation, and Land Use in the Notre Dame Plan for Chicago 2109

A Luncheon Lecture featuring Professor Philip Bess

When: October 2nd, 2014; 12noon

Where: Houston Hall 218, Ben Franklin Room


Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago was one of the last efforts (perhaps the greatest) to employ classical principles of architectural, landscape and urban design in and for and at the scale of a rapidly expanding modern industrial metropolitan region. Though Burnham’s classical humanist sensibilities are often downplayed by contemporary admirers more admiring of his environmental and civic sensibilities, modern metropolitan Chicago to its detriment has turned away from all three. The Notre Dame Plan of Chicago 2109 picks up where Burnham’s Plan left off, critiquing contemporary Chicago and proposing for it a 100-year vision comparable in scale and scope — and also showing how the long tradition of classical humanist urbanism speaks directly to contemporary concerns for better human stewardship of nature, and for making cities, towns, villages, and hamlets both economically and environmentally sustainable.

Philip Bess is Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. He teaches graduate urban design and theory, with a particular interest in Catholic and classical humanist intellectual and artistic traditions in the context of modern American life and the contemporary culture of architecture and urban design. He is the author of several books, including: Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred (ISI, 2006).

Moderated by Dr. Lothar Haselberger, the Morris Russell Williams and Josephine Chidsey Williams Professor of Roman Architecture and Art History at the University of Pennsylvania



The Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania

The Department of the History of Art and the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

To RSVP for the Luncheon, please click here.