Evolutionary Psychology’s Pseudo-Explanations of Art and Culture

Evolutionary psychologists seem to assume that all of an organism’s traits must be the result of natural selection. This is not the case. As Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, it is entirely possible that a given trait is merely a by-product of another trait that is adaptive. This by-product may in fact thwart reproductivity (“fitness”) as […]

Cilliers on Slowness

A PEL fan pointed us to the work of the recently deceased philosopher Paul Cilliers from South Africa, particularly to a short paper he wrote for  “On the Importance of  a Certain Slowness.” (published as a chapter in Worldviews, Science, and Us: Philosophy and Complexity ). In the essay, Cilliers points to the various “slow” movements that have […]

Topic for #62: Voltaire’s Novel “Candide”

On Friday, Aug. 3rd we recorded a discussion of the satirical novel Candide, written in 1751 by Voltaire, whose real name was François-Marie d’Arouet. While the book is widely known for its take on the problem of evil, we’re not in this discussion giving a sophisticated treatment of the historical arguments by Leibniz and others, […]

The Future of Education

How Online Learning Is Shaping The Future Of Education Right Now at Edudemic.com

So the perception is that the college/university system is dying, or at least anachronistic and a new model of learning is needed.  Every other TEDx talk is by an entrepreneur who thinks education is a barrier to creative thinking and a waste of productive years.  Economic analyses show the ROI of attending college isn’t worth […]

Alan Saunders and Han Baltussen on Aristotle’s Legacy

The Philosopher’s Zone is now publishing repeats in light of Alan Saunders’s passing, but one of the most recent of these is more or less on target for us: “Aristotle on Aristotle,” an interview with Han Baltussen that gives a quick overview of his life, the preservation of his works (i.e. most of the best-written […]

Science-Based Anti-Intellectualism

On a regular basis someone publishes a book in which they attempt to apply neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, or the social sciences to questions that the humanities are actually better equipped to address. As a consequence, such authors typically end up dressing up their embarrassingly sophomoric musings related to philosophy, literature, and culture in the trappings of scientific […]

Mark Vernon on Aristotle’s Philosophy of Friendship

As mentioned in the episode, Mark Vernon recorded a series of lectures on Aristotle’s philosophy of friendship (listen to the lectures on iTunes). These were published in 2006 in conjunction with his book, The Meaning of Friendship. As stated in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s account of Aristotle’s view, the source material in Aristotle seems […]

Understanding It Doesn’t Make it Less Freaky

Plaque on Pioneer

Dennis Overbye has a nice article this week in the NYTimes on the recently published explanation of the Pioneer Anomaly. As he explains, The story starts with the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes, which went past Jupiter and Saturn in the late 1970s and now are on their way out of the solar system. In the […]

Truth and Lie in Gulliver’s Travels

Via Jonathan Swift, Lee Perlman reflects on the importance of lying to the human condition. Gulliver’s Travels turns out not to be a defense of enlightenment ideals but a critique, with a subtle defense of untruth reminiscent of Nietzsche : In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift challenges the idea — advanced by his Enlightenment contemporaries — that truth, […]

Looking for Guest Bloggers

Do you have philosophically interesting links to share? Do you listen to our episodes and feel like you have things you’re familiar with that could be usefully related to what we talked about? Do you have some experience writing philosophically, whether in grad school or upper-level undergrad courses; or alternately do you have some other […]

Episode 60: Aristotle: What’s the Best Form of Government?


On Aristotle’s Politics (350 BCE), books 1 (ch 1-2), 3, 4 (ch 1-3), 5 (ch 1-2), 6 (ch 1-6), and 7 (ch. 1-3, 13-15). Aristotle provides both a taxonomy of the types of government, based on observations of numerous constitutions of the states of his time, and prescriptions on how to best order a state. Learn more.

End song: “Don’t Forget Where You Are,” from the Mark Linsenmayer album Spanish Armada, Songs of Love and Related Neuroses (1993)

MacIntyre on Social “Science” and Fortuna

Towards the end of the episode, I brought up MacIntyre’s thesis for chapter 8, “The Character of Generalizations in Social Science,” that the findings of a science like sociology can’t be scientific in the way that those in physics are. Now, laws in physics may be probabilistic, but they are so in a precise way, […]

Philosophy Clubs and the Academy


Apparently public forums for the discussion of philosophy are on the rise: The London Philosophy Club, of which I am an organiser, is the biggest in the UK. Our 2,000 members include bankers, lawyers, therapists, advertising people and a few academics looking for a more social form of philosophy. We hold free monthly meetings in […]

Psychopathy and Empathy

Last year I posted on psychopathy and moral sentiment. This week Cosmos magazine reports that researchers from the Netherlands have determined that psychopaths can ‘turn on’ empathy on demand.  In short, a study was structured that measured psychopath’s empathy for others (not explained how) and then the subjects were told that the study was designed to […]

The Natural History of Chalk


In the 1860s, the naturalist (advocate of evolutionary theory) Thomas Huxley looked at chalk under a microscope. Here’s what he found, according to Robert Krulwich: Chalk is composed of extremely small white globules. They look, up close, like snowballs made from brittle paper plates. Those plates, it turns out, are part of ancient skeletons that […]

MacIntyre: Biology Is Needed for Ethics After All

I think during the episode we were too busy trying to understand After Virtue to just say straight out that the attempt to ground morality solely on cultural narratives just doesn’t work, at least not to any more determinate degree than some of the other moral theories that MacIntyre suggests. In the Kant episode, I […]

Love and Metamorphosis in Fairy Tales and Philosophy

Marie Rutkowski  has written a very nice piece on the role of nature in fairy tales: The effect, I think, is to make nature seem to be in collusion with love. One message in some versions of the tale, particularly Grimm’s, is that love is like a force of nature, and nature will take its […]

Wisdom Studies

 It is oft said (at least when exercising etymology muscles) that philosophy is “love of wisdom.” Just like other mind-related topics such as emotion and creativity, wisdom is getting the scientific treatment. One of our listeners pointed us to a book by Stephen S. Hall titled Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience which surveys a variety of […]

“Worst Attack on Jewish Life Since the Holocaust”

Conference of European Rabbis President Pinchas Goldschmidt

These are the words of the Conference of European Rabbis as reported by Spiegel Online in this article.  Exceptionally inflammatory words, particularly coming as they do in response to a German court ruling.  The Rabbi who issued the statement for the Conference, Pinchas Goldschmidt, is the Chief Rabbi of Moscow.  A Rabbi from Munich took a less […]

Topic for #61: Nietzsche on Truth

Listen to the episode. We discussed Nietzsche’s conception of truth as presented in his essay “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” written in 1873 but unpublished until after his death with guest Jessica Berry of Georgia State University, who published Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition just last year. This Nietzsche essay has […]

Rousseau, Aristotle, and Freud on Political Narcissism

Rousseau was not a cheerful fellow. According to Terry Eagleton, he’d be even less cheerful if he were alive to see what has happened to the public sphere and educational system in Europe: … would no doubt have been appalled by the drastic shrinking of the public sphere. His greatest work, The Social Contract, speaks up […]

MacIntyre Speaks on Academic Moral Philosophy

In this 2009 lecture (posted in four parts), MacIntyre describes the progress of his thinking on moral philosophy. Watch on YouTube. He started as a Thomist, i.e. a Catholic Aristotelian, briefly embraced verificationism (well, he admired Ayer, in any case), and was frustrated with the number of seemingly permanent disagreements within both philosophy and politics/culture […]

Jim Holt Considering Why the World Exists

Jim Holt has a new book out with the provocative title Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, featuring encounters with the mathematician Roger Penrose, author John Updike, physicist Steven Weinberg, philosopher Adolf Grünbaum, and theologian Richard Swinburne, among others. David Ulin at the L.A. Times summarizes: That question — “Why is there […]

The Guardian on Raymond Tallis

Stuart Kelly at the Guardian gives an interesting review of Raymond Tallis’s new book, In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections, which features such essays as “An Introduction to Incontinental Philosophy.” Kelley stresses Tallis’s essay in this collection on time: Tallis’s express wish is to redeem time from physics – he might also have […]

What is Mystification? A Review of Derrida (2002)

How strange it is see the banal paired with the almost Talmudic elements of Derrida’s thought. This pairing, this humanizing of Derrida in Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman’s documentary that shares his name is, in an subtle way, the mystification of abstract thoughts.  The idea that one must humanize the philosopher still implies a certain […]

Gregory Sadler on Emotivism

Last post showed a piece of theological propaganda that distorted what emotivism is. This introductory ethics lecture by Gregory Sadler of Marist College uses a more academically respectable approach, to make essentially the same point, which is that emotivism and relativsm are essentially the same thing as subjectivism, which amounts to giving up on ethics […]

Episode 59: Alasdair MacIntyre on Moral Justifications

Alasdair MacIntyre

On Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (1981), mostly ch. 3-7 and 14-17. What justifies ethical claims? MacIntyre claims that no modern attempt to ground ethics has worked, and that’s because we’ve abandoned Aristotle. We see facts and values as fundamentally different: the things science discovers vs. these weird things that have nothing to do with science. In Aristotle’s teleological view, everything comes with built-in goals, so just as a plant will aim grow green and healthy, people have a definite kind of virtue towards which we do and should naturally strive.

End song: “Indefensible,” by Mark Lint, 1998.

MacIntyre and the Morality of Patriotism


Gary Gutting reflects this Fourth of July on the morality of patriotism, which is grounded in a kind of in-group loyalty at odds with moral theories that require that we treat all human beings equally, regardless of whether we are part of the same family, tribe, or nation. He notes that Alasdair MacIntyre has given […]

Higgs Boson Day

Higgs Boson Event Display

Not only is today “Independence Day” here in the US, celebrating 236 years since a group of American rabble-rousers declared independence from Britain, it is also now the day that the Higgs Boson discovery was announced at the LHC in Switzerland. (Read about it in the Washington Post and the NYTimes as well.) In one […]

Graphing the History of Philosophy

Gephi graph on Philosophers from drunksandlampposts.com

This is a crazy cool interactive visualization of the relative influence and importance of philosophers.  This guy simonraper (that’s his handle anyway) did a data pull from Wikipedia determining what philosophers are identified as having influenced other philosophers and used a graphing platform to visually map it. If you are interested in his methodology, go […]