Aug 312010

Just so I’m not just harshing on the religious right, this seemed an opportune time to post a video I ran across during my search for consciousness/mind-related videos a few months back:

One of the major interpretations of mystical experience is that in it, we shake off the individual ego and somehow are able to merge with a larger unity. Continue reading »

Aug 302010

Whether Spinoza should be technically considered a pantheist or atheist, pastor Mark Driscoll here does sum up how the resultant view is different than the idea of a personal God standing outside of and judging his creation:

In reviewing some Buddhist texts and listening to Buddhist podcasts for an upcoming podcast episode (ep 27), I’ve been thinking more about the relation between religion and philosophy. Continue reading »

Aug 292010

It’s time to address over-representation of the English in my podcast reviews. Today I pay homage to the Australians, who come in at 10% of our listener/reader base, second only behind the US.  By comparison, the UK is at 6%.  Based on this one slim fact, I am prepared to claim that Australia is the most Philosophical country on earth. Exhibit A:


Relative Pop %

Our Listenership %

Relative Listenership %





















So by this special calculus, the US is as philosophical as it should be, the UK half so, and Australia almost three times as much.  One asks oneself why the thinkers from Down Under have taken to us in such a disproportionately large number and why they contribute so much to the world-historical development of philosophy relative to their population (and location on the other side of the world).  You’ll recognize a few names on this list.

I, of course, cannot answer that question and that, in any case, wasn’t the intent of this post.  Rather, I’d like to talk about a little show called “The Philosopher’s Zone” (TPZ).

Continue reading »

Aug 262010

We talked a bit on Ep 24 about Spinoza’s relationship to Leibniz, and here’s the first of a series of videos that gives more detail on that relationship:

To watch this on youtube:

McGee’s introduction for the first three minutes or so just repeats biographical information we gave on the podcast. Quinton focuses on the metaphysics of the two figures, casting Spinoza’s view as radically unitary: Continue reading »

Aug 252010

Via Open Culture, religion scholar Karen Armstrong (whom Mark has discussed several times — and who’s book The Case for God may be the text for a future episode) comes out in favor of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” noting that it would be a Sufi Mosque. “We all need a good dose of Sufi-ism,” she says, and quotes Ibn Arabi, a twelfth-thirteenth century Sufi mystic, as saying:

Do not praise your own faith exclusively so that you disbelieve all the rest. If you do this you will miss much good. Nay, you will miss the whole truth of the matter. God, the omniscient and the omnipresent, cannot be confined to any one creed, for he says in the Koran, wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah. Everybody praises what he knows. His God is his own creature, and in praising it, he praises himself. Which he would not do if he were just, for his dislike is based on ignorance.

By: Wes Alwan

Aug 242010

People who only check our our podcast via iTunes and bookmark this page can ignore this message (unless you’d like to have blog content delivered to you instead…).

If you previously subscribed to the Partially Examined Life via e-mail, or use a feed reader, or have this feed streaming to your site:

The blog feed address has now changed. It used to be, but that feed will now have only our podcast episodes.

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This was due to my shortsightedness in initially setting our blog and our podcast using one and the same feed, which caused feed size issues that caused our feed to not be updated for the last 5 days or so before this.

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Aug 242010

Discussing Spinoza’s Ethics (1677), books 1 and 2.

We mostly discuss his weird, immanent, non-personal conception of God: God is everything, therefore the world is God as apprehended through some particular attributes, namely insofar as one of his aspects is infinite space (extension, i.e. matter) and insofar as one of his aspects is mind (our minds being chunks or “modes” of the big God mind).

Also, if you’re not going to sell out and go for a university position in philosophy, should you instead grind lenses in your attic without adequate ventilation? (Hint: no) Plus, the Amsterdam of yesterday, whose heady aroma drove people to write like Euclid, property dualism rears its ugly head, and Mel Gibson as Rousseau!

Read a free version online or purchase the book.

One place to read the earlier Spinoza book I refer to, A Short Treatise on God, Man, and his Well-Being (1660), is here. The Karen Armstrong book I keep referring to is The Case for God,and at the end Wes recommends Matthew Stewart’s The Courtier and the Heretic. Seth also brings up Giles Deluze’s Spinoza: Practical Philosophy.
The dumbed down, non-geometric presentation of the Ethics that I talk about is here.

End song: “Spiritual Insect,” by Mark Lint and the Fake from the album So Whaddaya Think? (2000).

Aug 202010

At the New York Times’ Room for Debate some philosophy professors are discussing the following question:

As philosophy departments have come under attack for being costly and impractical, do experimental methods, called “x-phi” by its proponents, offer new horizons for old problems? Or are they immaterial and a waste of time?

Most of the participants note that Philosophy’s use of evidence from science and other disciplines (really, every and any discipline) is nothing new. Ernest Sosa points out that experimental philosophers go one step farther, becoming scientists rather than merely making use of science — “a welcome development”; yet “attacks on the traditional methodology based on experimental results have been unconvincing.”  That traditional method is dialectic.

I’m inclined to agree with Timothy Williamson, who notes that there are:

philosophy-hating philosophers who would like to replace the traditional methodology of philosophy, with their stress on a combination of abstract reasoning and particular examples, by something more like imitation psychology. Without even properly defining what it is they are attacking, they use experimental results in a selective and unscientific spirit to try to discredit the traditional methodology.

In other cases experimentalists draw lessons for morality from the results of brain scans in comically naive ways, without realizing how many philosophical assumptions they are uncritically relying on in their inferences — precisely because they neglect traditional philosophical skills in making distinctions and assessing arguments. The danger is that the publicity such crude work attracts will give a bad name to constructive developments in which experimental results really do cast light on philosophical questions.

Philosophy has most to contribute to the pursuit of truth by refining its own distinctive methods, not by imitating other disciplines. Philosophers are not needed as amateur experimentalists or writers of pop science.

Aug 182010

Philosopher’s Annual selects what it takes to be the ten best philosophy in a given year and makes them available online. Leiter has a list of forthcoming 2009 selections, including two that look interesting to me:

Selim Berker (Harvard), “The Normative Insignificance of Neuroscience”, Philosophy & Public Affairs 37:4, 293-329

James Dreier (Brown), “Relativism (and Expressivism) and the Problem of Disagreement”, Philosophical Perspectives 23:1, 79-110

By: Wes Alwan

Aug 182010

Sam Harris makes it clear that his atheism is in fact motivated less by reason and more by spleen:

Should a 15-story mosque and Islamic cultural center be built two blocks from the site of the worst jihadist atrocity in living memory? Put this way, the question nearly answers itself.

He compares it to building a shrine to Satan or a 9/11 truther institute. And: “At this point in human history, Islam simply is different from other faiths.” Namely:

And honest reasoning declares that there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the religion of Islam and about the state of discourse among Muslims living in the West, and it is decidedly inconvenient that discussing these facts publicly is considered a sign of “intolerance” by well-intentioned liberals, in part because such criticism resonates with the actual bigotry of not-so-well-intentioned conservatives.

To prove this, who quotes the Koran and notes that he doesn’t hear “from Western Muslims … any frank acknowledgment of these unpleasant truths.”

But of course, the Old Testament is equally terrifying, and Christians and Jews aren’t in a habit of putting out press releases frankly acknowledging all its unpleasant truths. And one’s being unaware of something doesn’t mean that it’s not happening: an empirical investigation would be required to see what kinds of conversations are going on in communities all over the world. It’s not something Harris, in this case, seems to care about — but of course it’s not something he could do thoroughly enough in principle to allay his suspicions. That’s why intelligent people refrain from generalizing in such situations.

Continue reading »

Aug 172010

This is a follow up to my last post, which you should look at the comments on for some good comments by Wes. I’ve now read the part in Armstrong where she addresses Dawkins directly (from p. 304 of “The Case for God”):

For Dawkins, religious faith rests on the idea that “there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence, who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it.” Having set up this definition of God as Supernatural Designer, Dawkins only has to point out that there is in fact no design in nature in order to demolish it. But he is mistaken to assume that this is “the way people have generally understood the term” God.

In discussing Sam Harris, she says:

Like Dawkins and Hitchens, he defines faith as “belief without evidence,” an attitude that he regards as morally reprehensible. It is not surprising, perhaps, that he should confuse “faith” with “belief” (meaning the intellectual acceptance of a proposition) because the two have become unfortunately fused in modern consciousness.

Continue reading »

Aug 162010

Continuing my independent (i.e. not directly for the podcast) reading into the atheism debate:

Nearly done with the Karen Armstrong book. This is a good bit of secondary literature, with short summaries of the views re. God of a really impressively wide range of historical figures. Her overall view is that of apophatic, or negative theology, which is to say that an essential part of our experience is that language has limits, and that it helps us to get through life’s hardships if we can engage with this pull within us towards transcendence through devoted practice of some sort (ritual) and symbolic gestures (myths) towards this unknowable. Religious dogma and literalism entirely miss the point, and consequently atheistic attacks on these weak “fundamentalist” positions also miss the point. I’ve not sorted out exactly what I think about this but now have a number of potential authors for us to look at to explore this position.

I’ve also started a book Wes likes to bash, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. I am initially pretty amused by it: a great work of original philosophy it is not, but it’s more thorough than I expected (given that he’s a non-philosopher!), and given that I’m sympathetic with the position on a political level, it doesn’t make me gnash my teeth in the way that a pro-religion book of equal erudition might. (And if anyone wants to recommend such a book to me, I might take a look…) Continue reading »

Aug 162010

Leiter approves of a recent “very successful” post on the New York Times’ philosophy blog about “reclaiming the imagination.” His wrath has been appeased … for now.

Here’s the gist of the piece: Imagination has survival value because it allows one to choose the best plan by running through possible consequences. This is meant to be a response to the (imaginary) interlocutors who “downplay the cognitive role of the imagination” by restricting its role to discovery rather than justification. Rather: “… imagination is not only about fiction: it is integral to our painful progress in separating fiction from fact.” The author is a logician, and is apparently is unaware of the self-parody involved in his assumption that if imagination were involved only in discovery and fiction, it would somehow be debased. But he’s also worried about justifying the ways of philosophy to science, or at least “Critics of contemporary philosophy,” who (remaining unnamed but amply imagined) claim that philosophy “loses touch with reality.” Self-flagellation before and alms-begging from the scientific royals (note the use of the word “painful” in opposition to “playful”).

There’s the further irony that the kind of (painful) caution that makes this piece — as one commenter notes — an exercise in “stating the obvious” is just as bad for the reputation of philosophy as airy (and imaginative) speculation (read the other scornful comments as well).

Ahh, ye self-hating philosophers: grow some balls (figuratively, in your imagination) and stop apologizing. You’re damned either way, so you might as well have the courage of your convictions.

Aug 132010

McSweeney’s does Rand:

After all, we’ve managed to raise a bright, self-reliant girl who achieves her goals by means of incentive and ratiocination and never—or very rarely—through the corrupt syllogism of force. We know, despite what you and a number of other parents we’ve met have said—as they carried their whimpering little social parasites away—that Johanna’s defiant, quasi-bellicose nature only superficially resembles that of an out-of-control toddler, and in truth posits her as more of a latter-day Dagny Taggart than any kind of enfant terrible.

Aug 102010

By: Wes Alwan

There’s a new bio of Montaigne out, How to Live: a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, reviewed here:

Because Montaigne’s great question was Socrates’s question—“how to live?”—she arranges her portrait of him around the answers he offered.

Familiarly, the key to Montaigne is his scepticism. It is the scepticism of Pyrrho, as recorded by Sextus Empiricus, which teaches that because the arguments for and against any proposition are equally good or bad, one must suspend judgement (a state known as acatalepsia). This open-minded, non-committal, often ambiguous stance suited Montaigne.

Which reminds me: Sextus Empiricus was rediscovered in the 16th century after a long period in which he was ignored (from the fourth century onwards). As Luciano Floridi puts it (pdf), the “… Middle Ages show no driving interest in sceptical arguments within the restricted philosophical and theological debates that may address issues concerning the nature and reliability of knowledge, when discussing ethical, religious and epistemological questions ….”

Continue reading »

Aug 092010

By: Wes

As a follow-up to Seth’s post on teaching philosophy to children, I wanted to mention a New York Times article published in April on this subject: The Examined Life, Age 8. Second graders at a charter school in Springfiled, Mass. are being taught some philosophy via classic children’s books like Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree (you’ll notice that Amazon comment-ers also seem to think the book is worthy of a lot of heated discussion).

Here’s the exchange between second graders as quoted in The New York Times:

“It’s only a tree,” Justin said with a shrug.

“The tree has feelings!” Keyshawn replied.

Some reasoned that even if the tree wanted the boy to have its apples and branches, there might be unforeseen consequences.

“If they take the tree’s trunk, um, the tree’s not going to live,” said Nyasia.

Isaiah was among only a few pupils who said they would treat an inanimate object differently from a human friend.

“Say me and a rock was a friend,” he said. “It would be different, because a rock can’t move. And it can’t look around.”

This gave his classmates pause.

Continue reading »