Jun 302011
 

The talk is somewhat misleadingly titled “Roger Scruton – Persons and their Brains”, but what he’s really concerned to do is point out the limits of neuroscience and justify a place for philosophy in the study of human behavior.  Not sure if that’s a straw man or not, but he has some critical things to say of our podcast guest Patricia Churchland.    Take a look:

Watch at DailyMotion.com.

So he leads with a bit of arrogance: “I’m English so I don’t see things like Americans,” which I guess is supposed to signal to us that he – what?  If I interpret the subtext (pun intended, see below), he’s saying that he doesn’t worship at the church of science, like we Americans.   Scruton refers to Churchland’s work and reiterates her question:  What does philosophy have to contribute to our understanding of human mental processes, compared to neuroscience?

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Jun 272011
 

With special Guest Pat Churchland herself!

What does the physiology of the brain have to do with ethics? We were contacted by Pat Churchland’s publisher and invited to speak with her about her new book Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality.

She was good enough to chat with us (Mark and Dylan) for a full, regular length show yesterday, and not only about her own book, but also about one of her major influences, David Hume, who pioneered a “naturalistic” approach to ethics: we look not for normative laws to provide commands for our behavior, but at the moral sense we already have, and how this plays as a practical matter into the challenges we face in making laws, deciding on punishments, and just getting along in a society.

Churchland’s addition to this project is reporting on and synthesizing the broad swath of current scientific findings on what exactly this moral sense is: how is it realized in the brain and our endocrine system? What mental operations make moral assessments and rule-following possible? Much of her book is taken up with reporting on animal physiology and behavior, so we can see where on the evolutionary path we picked up the abilities to expand the circle of self-regard to include kin and associates, to represent others’ intentions and beliefs to predict their behavior, and to understand and follow social norms.

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Jun 272011
 

With special Guest Pat Churchland herself!

What does the physiology of the brain have to do with ethics? We were contacted by Pat Churchland’s publisher and invited to speak with her about her new book Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality.

She was good enough to chat with us (Mark and Dylan) for a full, regular length show yesterday, and not only about her own book, but also about one of her major influences, David Hume, who pioneered a “naturalistic” approach to ethics: we look not for normative laws to provide commands for our behavior, but at the moral sense we already have, and how this plays as a practical matter into the challenges we face in making laws, deciding on punishments, and just getting along in a society.

Churchland’s addition to this project is reporting on and synthesizing the broad swath of current scientific findings on what exactly this moral sense is: how is it realized in the brain and our endocrine system? What mental operations make moral assessments and rule-following possible? Much of her book is taken up with reporting on animal physiology and behavior, so we can see where on the evolutionary path we picked up the abilities to expand the circle of self-regard to include kin and associates, to represent others’ intentions and beliefs to predict their behavior, and to understand and follow social norms.

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Jun 272011
 

You suck at PowerPoint

Given Schleiermacher’s dense prose, I found it a lot easier to prepare for the podcast by “translating” his first two speeches into a more modern voice. As a result, here’s On Religion, the PowerPoint! (Well, the first two speeches, anyway.)

If you want to review Schleiermacher’s basic arguments without having to wade through 18th century German translated into 19th century English, I’m hoping this might provide a useful aid. I likely committed all five of the shocking design mistakes I was warned to avoid. But hey, they’re just notes. Be gentle.

-Daniel Horne

Jun 232011
 

Heidegger card

Let us think for a while of a farmhouse in the Black Forest, which was built some two hundred years ago by the dwelling of peasants. Here the self-sufficiency of the power to let earth and heaven, divinities and mortals enter in simple oneness into things, ordered the house.

- Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking” (1951)

Schleiermacher’s On Religion provided me a kind of Rosetta Stone by which to decipher certain Heideggerian concepts. Heidegger discussed On Religion’s Second Address in lectures he gave on religion in 1920-21. I agree with those who believe Schleiermacher’s influence remained well into Heidegger’s later writings, and I feel that in any event the Second Address informed Heidegger’s monism.

Heidegger’s later gnomic talk of “the relation of man and space” is more understandable to me if viewed through the prism of Schleiermacher’s “third realm” of religious intuition, separate and distinct from either conceptual thought or moral action.

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Jun 222011
 

Forum signHey, there, blog readers,

I know you’re there; I’ve seen the site stats. Yet many of you likely don’t look at the reader comments on our posts or consider adding one (unless we say something really dumb). You might be surprised that the blog has evolved to be a right spiffy forum, with a dozen or so regular commenters and many more that pop in and out (this leaving aside our ever-growing Facebook Group, which has a mostly different crop of commenters).

However, we’ve had the problem in the past that new blog postings immediately push down the existing discussions out of the sight of new readers, and comments on old topics or episodes tend not to get noticed by anyone except us podcasters.

Well, now you’ll see in the right-hand margin of our web page a string of hyperlinks to the most recently posted comments. Better than that, the “Forum” tab just below the site title now links to a more sprawling list of recent comments that will key you into all the active, recent discussions. Check it out and raise the level of the discussion! Contribute to your fellow listeners’/readers’ (and our) understanding of these difficult yet amusing issues! Use exclamation points if you like! OR SHOUT!

Best,

-Mark Linsenmayer

Jun 222011
 

Julian Sanchez has some criticisms here (hat tip to commenter HPG) of Metcalf on Nozick and libertarianism. They seem fair, although I don’t have time to evaluate them in detail (it’s been a long time since I read Anarchy, State and Utopia):

Nozick is here setting up a dilemma: Under these idealized circumstances, from what is stipulated to be a perfectly just starting distribution by your preferred theory, a series of free choices yield a very different, and much more unequal pattern. On what we might call a strictly orstrongly patterned theory, then, Nozick observes that a highly counterintuitive conclusion follows: That from a perfectly just starting point, we quickly progress to an unjust state by a series of moves themselves involving no apparent injustice, but only people’s voluntary deployment of the holdings to which your favorite pattern theory entitles them. Alternatively, one’s preferred pattern might be loose enough to permit this transfer without dubbing it unjust—in which case one acknowledges that a pattern is not all there is to it, and one must know something about the history of holdings and transfers, not merely the overall distribution, to know whether it meets standards of justice.

Unfortunately, Sanchez doesn’t address Metcalf’s central point. The question is whether “liberty is the only value the state should concern itself with,” to quote another (poor, ill-conceived) critique by the Cato Institute. If the state can’t concern itself with liberty without concerning itself with other values, the libertarianism is in trouble. This is an empirical question: if refraining from redistributive measures lead to essentially authoritarian political conditions by concentrating wealth and power among a few, then libertarianism simply doesn’t work. There is ample economic and historical evidence to support this view — although I’d like to see a substantive challenge, rather than more conversations about the extent to which Nozick repudiated his views in Anarchy (which is a relatively trivial historical or scholarly question).

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Jun 222011
 

MercierAll reasoning is in service of winning arguments? I knew it all along! It’s hard for me to express any skepticism of the study cited in this New York Times article without going all meta, so I’ll just let the article speak for itself:

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality. . . is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.

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Jun 212011
 

The snark-factor is high in this entertaining, well-written indictment of libertarianism by Slate critic Stephen Metcalf:

“Libertarianism” places one—so believes the libertarian—not on the political spectrum but slightly above it, and this accounts for its appeal to both the tricorne fringe and owners of premium real estate.

Yowza.

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Jun 202011
 

fish sandalsDuring the episode I made a comment about the seeming weirdness of Christianity that I feel it would be helpful for my thinking to try to elaborate.

I’ve said in several posts here that I think that the new atheist movement is primarily political: it’s not about advancing new arguments to philosophers, but about shifting the tide of opinion so that, for instance, an atheist could have some shot at winning an election in this country.

In the heat of conversation on the episode, I articulated something like this by saying that all I want is for Christianity to be acknowledged as, on the face of it, really weird. I’m wondering now whether I actually believe that and whether it makes any sense as a goal.

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Jun 192011
 

We talked a bit on the episode towards the end about S’s take on immortality. His take on miracles and on revelation is similar. In short, miracles are all around us, and all creativity is inspiration. It takes a pious person to recognize our ordinary environment as full of magic and wonder.

From his second speech:

The more religious you are, the more miracle would you see everywhere. All disputing about single events, as to whether or not they are to be called miraculous, gives me a painful impression of the poverty and wretchedness of the religious sense of the combatants. One party show it by protesting everywhere against miracle, whereby they manifest their wish not to see anything of immediate relationship to the Infinite and to the Deity. The other party display the same poverty by laying stress on this and that. A phenomenon for them must be marvellous before they will regard it as a miracle, whereby they simply announce that they are bad observers.

What is revelation? Every original and new communication of the Universe to man is a revelation, as, for example, every such moment of conscious insight… Every intuition and every original feeling proceeds from revelation… If nothing original has yet been generated in you, when it does come it will be a revelation for you also, and I counsel you to weigh it well.

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Jun 192011
 

Lee AbramsonListen and read about Lee Abramson’s “Shalom.”

Thanks to Lee for his donation to support our podcast. I encourage you all to look here and read about his struggle with ALS, his candidacy for president (here’s his platform), and his musical career. I know he’d love to hear any nice things you have to say about his music, so don’t be shy in contacting him through his site or commenting here.

Lee used to play bass with my band The Fake Johnson Trio back in Austin from the summer of ’95 through the summer of ’96, and we’ve been in periodic e-contact since then. As I haven’t gotten a chance to collaborate with him since he started writing music in the wake of his illness (he’s got very limited mobility at this point and can’t speak), I took this opportunity to throw together a quick ““Shalom”/”Nipple Song” 2011 Mashup” using some goofy tunes I recorded back in 1991 (part of a collection of “Spoo” songs that will likely be explained in some future post).

-Mark Linsenmayer

Jun 172011
 

Watch on YouTube

Many of the books discussed on PEL advance their thesis methodically. Not so with Schleiermacher’s On Religion. (Schleiermacher’s approach changed after he became a university professor, whereupon he became more systematic and less interesting.) Schleiermacher’s lack of structured argument may have resulted from his theological, as opposed to philosophical, training. But it’s also a function of his audience. On Religion was not primarily a philosophical tract, but a religious work addressed to a literary circle of cultured atheists. Think McSweeney’s with more money.

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Jun 172011
 

naturalism[editor's note: Here's our guest blogger Tom McDonald with a bit of original philosophizing. You can read more like this on his blog zuhanden.com. -ML]

I want to pose some general questions to all readers, but especially to those scientifically inclined and favorable to a naturalistic worldview. The questions are about the naturalistic worldview that is presently normative but problematic in modern society.

Firstly, the problem I see is not with science per se, but with philosophical naturalism.

I would argue that the ultimate rift between science as culture and religion as culture should be understood in terms of the broader rift between philosophical-metaphysical naturalism and the remarkable historical phenomenon of human normativity, i.e., our ability to reason and deliberate about rightness in theoretical and practical matters.

If anyone of a liberal or humanistic persuasion thinks through the above problem philosophically, they should (a normative-theoretical claim by me) come to realize that they share much more with religiously-flavored objections to naturalism than they otherwise might be inclined to based on more superficial political issues.

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Jun 172011
 

naturalism[editor's note: Here's our guest blogger Tom McDonald with a bit of original philosophizing. You can read more like this on his blog zuhanden.com. -ML]

I want to pose some general questions to all readers, but especially to those scientifically inclined and favorable to a naturalistic worldview. The questions are about the naturalistic worldview that is presently normative but problematic in modern society.

Firstly, the problem I see is not with science per se, but with philosophical naturalism.

I would argue that the ultimate rift between science as culture and religion as culture should be understood in terms of the broader rift between philosophical-metaphysical naturalism and the remarkable historical phenomenon of human normativity, i.e., our ability to reason and deliberate about rightness in theoretical and practical matters.

If anyone of a liberal or humanistic persuasion thinks through the above problem philosophically, they should (a normative-theoretical claim by me) come to realize that they share much more with religiously-flavored objections to naturalism than they otherwise might be inclined to based on more superficial political issues.

Continue reading »

Jun 162011
 

Listen on YouTube

On the Schleiermacher episode, we spent some time comparing On Religion to Kant’s religious arguments, particularly citing Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. Kant did not try to prove God’s existence or the soul’s immortality. Rather, he postulated those concepts as helpful ways to help realize the summum bonum, the highest good. “Postulate” is defined as a “a hypothesis advanced as an essential presupposition, condition, or premise of a train of reasoning.”

With that in mind, read along as you listen to this passage from the Critique of Practical Reason. Reviewing it may help highlight what Schleiermacher was rejecting:

The Immortality of the Soul as a Postulate of Pure Practical Reason

The realization of the summum bonum [highest good] in the world is the necessary object of a will determinable by the moral law. But in this will the perfect accordance of the mind with the moral law is the supreme condition of the summum bonum. This then must be possible, as well as its object, since it is contained in the command to promote the latter.

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Jun 152011
 


On the Schleiermacher episode, we referred tangentially to Is God a Delusion? A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers, by Oklahoma State University’s Eric Reitan (who has his own blog). Thanks to my nicely networked local library system, I now have a copy of this in my possession and thought I’d give you a taste from his introduction.

He stated that his working title for the book was “How the Religious Right Gets Religion Wrong,” and that it was only upon reading Dawkins’s The God Delusion that he felt he should change his approach. He says that a colleague suggested he should call it “A Pox on Both Your Houses,” and even though the book is an attempt to rebut point by point Dawkins’s arguments (which Reitan summarizes nicely in this introduction), Reitan is also very critical of the very beliefs Dawkins attacks (from p. 7):

I will not be defending the doctrine of biblical inerrancy because I think it is both mistaken and dangerous. I will not be defending the doctrine of hell because I think that it is mistaken and (at least in its most traditional formulations) dangerous. I will not be defending the divine command theory of ethics… because I think it is both mistaken and dangerous. I will not be defending the legitimacy of “faith” understood as stubborn belief without regard for evidence because faith in that sense is a dangerous and inappropriate basis for forming one’s convictions…

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Jun 142011
 


Watch in YouTube

Can modern film depict Schleiermacher’s nature-obsessed 18th century Romantic mood? Probably not, but let’s go.

I thought I better understood Husserlian phenomenology after reading Sartre’s Nausea, which even in translation has some gripping prose. The clip above, from Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979) exudes both the German Romantic aesthetic, and a phenomenological approach of sorts. Bonus points if you catch the moment where subject separates from object. Plus, it stars the totally insane Klaus Kinski as Dracula. Not to be missed.

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