Notes on Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell,” Part 1

For our atheism episode (which has, incidentally been pushed back to be recorded in late May or possibly June... sorry, Russ!), I'm trying to read through the most popular of the "new atheist" books, and I'm sure we'll only end up discussing some select portions of the books in any detail, so as I'm going through these, I'm going to generate a few blog posts to fill readers in … [Read more...]

Frege’s Notion of the True

When we did the Frege episode, we read "The Thought", which was a new text to me and I found it quite interesting.  Even though we were supposed to be talking about other things, we got caught up on Frege's notion of 'The True'.  Specifically, we were asking ourselves what kind of ontological status 'The True' or 'Truth' had for Frege and why he didn't seem to care. To walk … [Read more...]

Topic for #37: John Locke on Legitimate Powers

What gives a government the right to rule over its citizens? John Locke in his Second Treatise of Government (1689) says that government requires the real (though often implicit) consent of the people, which means it has to be in the people's interest. Unlike Hobbes, Locke thinks that the state of nature (i.e. the alternative to having a government) isn't completely chaotic … [Read more...]

Clare Carlisle’s Spinoza Walk-Through (via The Guardian)

I just stumbled across an 8 part series on Spinoza (discussed by us here), completed today and begun here on 2/7/11, written by U. of Liverpool lecturer Clare Carlisle, who I see has written some books on Kierkegaard,which will give you some idea where she's coming from. I've not read the whole series, but it seems pretty clear and cogent, and will remind you (or fill you in … [Read more...]

Yet More on Logic: Quantification

Against both my better judgment and the hue and cry of many, I will continue my semi-informed-by-past-years-of-studying "exposition" of predicate logic which I started here.  If I accomplish nothing else, I will give Burl something to complain about for the next week or so. In the previous installment, we talked about how syllogistic statements about "all x's" assert the … [Read more...]

Possible Worlds? Ask Philosophy Bro.

We derisively brought up modal logic, "possible worlds" talk, on our Frege episode, and we'll likely do an episode on that if we're still podcasting a couple of years down the road, but if you want to know a bit more now, you could look at Wikipedia here, or better yet, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Really, though, why not take the easy route and learn about David … [Read more...]

A.J. Ayer and Bryan Magee on Frege and Russell

Bryan Magee and A.J. Ayer, a famous philosopher in his own right, here give an overview of Frege's project and Bertrand Russell's reaction to it. Watch on Youtube. The whole first clip here is just an overview of Frege, with his sense and reference distinction coming in around minute 8. In part two, Ayer and Magee talk up Michael Dummett just like I did on the podcast, … [Read more...]


In the recent Frege episode, Mark related the famous anecdote of how Bertrand Russell, the man who "discovered" Frege, later confounded him by pointing out a paradox apparent within his logical system. As Wes recounted, Russell's own attempt to ground mathematics in logic was also later frustrated by a young Kurt Gödel, whose early incompleteness theorems crippled the central … [Read more...]

The Personal Philosophy of (i.e. for) a Budding “New Atheist”

We've received a nice donation from Russ Baker, who is a Christian who claims not to be offended by our podcasts. I asked him if he wanted to "target" a Personal Philosophy at someone, and he replied that while he was not interested in targeting anyone, he does want us to hurry up and do an episode on the "new atheists" as we've long been threatening to do. [The eventual … [Read more...]

Some more on logic

So Matt Teichman was kind enough to post a primer on basic logic, showing with syllogisms how informal logical inference was turned into formal notation by Frege and thus predicate calculus was born.  There is a wealth of stuff to learn about the predicate calculus and many serious logicians (as well as frustrated mathematicians) have developed and extended systems in a number … [Read more...]

Michael Dummett on Frege: Is “the True” an entity?

I made heavy mention on the Frege episode of this book by Michael Dummett. I want to try to give a couple of textual references over a few posts here to elaborate points from Dummett I was trying to make during the discussion. For instance, one of the pieces we picked on Frege about was his designation of "the True" and "the False" as objects in his ontology, which was done … [Read more...]

Episode 34: Frege on the Logic of Language

Gottlob Frege

Discussing Gottlob Frege's "Sense and Reference," "Concept and Object" (both from 1892) and "The Thought" (1918). What is it about sentences that make them true or false? Frege, the father of analytic philosophy who invented modern symbolic logic, attempted to codify language in a way that would make this obvious, which would ground mathematics and science. Applying his … [Read more...]

The Personal Philosophy of (i.e. for)’s Robert Wright

More donations = More custom-crafted Personal Philosophies. Our sponsorship this time is by someone who wants to remain anonymous (but whom I can tell you has actually appeared as a guest on the podcast). He recommended three targets for such a Personal Philosophy, one of whom was Robert Wright, who "plays himself on" I have not researched this fellow, as … [Read more...]

Information Theory and Metaphysics

Courtesy of listener Matt Gantner, here's a Scientific American article on "Why Information Can't Be the Basis of Reality." The author, John Horgan, criticizes information theorists like James Gleick who posit that information is somehow the basic structure of the universe (which seems to be a modern variation on Anaxagoras's idea that mind, or Nous, is the fundamental … [Read more...]

Motherfuckin’ Leibniz

For a philosophy site that's at the same time bizarre, funny, and genuinely informative, see His "Secret History" video series appears to be baiting crackpots and cranks everywhere only to give them a good dose of ... the philosophy of mathematics (to begin with). To see what a (sometimes too loud) soundtrack and visuals can do for a subject that might otherwise … [Read more...]

Amateur Philosophy at it Worst: How to Write a David Brooks Column

Here's how you write a David Brooks column: Take a common conservative meme: some easy complaint or claim that has been beaten to death -- in its usual form -- in political opinion pieces far and wide. Dress it up and soften it significantly -- avuncular-ize it -- by replacing the usual objects of axe-grinding with less direct symbols taken from your vaguely-remembered … [Read more...]

Topic for #35: Hegel on Self-Consciousness

We will at last be breaking open the most notoriously obscure, fantabulous work of philosophy ever: Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.This is the early Hegel: anti-metaphysical and historicist, as opposed to the later Hegel previously discussed in our philosophy of history episode and ripped on by Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer. It's a frickin' acid trip, this book is. We'll … [Read more...]

Montaigne, Mirror Neurons, and Men with Guns

Here's an excerpt from a good series on Montaigne the Guardian UK ran last year, written by Sarah Bakewell, who just published a well received book on Montaigne: To take just one example of how we can derive wisdom from Montaigne: his Essays give us a wealth of anecdotes exploring ways of resolving violent confrontations. As a teenager in Bordeaux, Montaigne had witnessed one … [Read more...]

The Duh of Charlie Sheen: getting high off your high horse

Sheen is a Drug

Enjoying Charlie Sheen's meltdown? Winning! Engaging in guilty ruminations about how wrong it is to be enjoying Charlie Sheen's meltdown? Duh - Losing! The New York Times has a useful rundown of such ruminations, beginning with Craig Ferguson's giving a speech about how he's going to refuse to talk about Charlie Sheen because doing so reminds him of the 18th-century … [Read more...]

Borders Raid

Bankruptcy Road Sign from Foreclosure Data Online

So the Borders bookstore chain filed for bankruptcy (it's a US-based brick & mortar retailer that apparently had small forays into the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore) and recently I went in to stock my shelves with what I was sure would be a bonanza of discounted philosophy books.  I am here to tell you of my disappointment. To begin with, the store was half … [Read more...]

Should Philosophy be Accessible?

Here's a Guardian.UK article questioning Simon Blackburn's view that philosophy should be understandable by the non-specialist. The author's article critiques British popularizers of philosophy by saying: In their bland readability, these books defeated their own avowed project of getting everybody interested in the great philosophers, by confessing how unreadable the texts … [Read more...]