Seth Paskin

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Mar 022014

tom_selleck_01Nikos V’s Personal Philosophy*

Let’s face it.  No big name philosopher since Aristotle has lived at the beach and Western Philosophy has suffered.  That’s why I intend to revitalize the Love of Wisdom with my toes in the sand.  No Germanic, land-locked, rainy plateaus or primeval forests for me – I do my best thinking under a palapa with a  piña colada.  This makes sense as, like Western Philosophy, I am Greek.   I will solve the riddle of Consciousness and Nature through a phenomenological analysis of nude beaches, beginning in the Mediterranean.

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Dec 222013

[From PEL Citizen and friend of the podcast Roy Spence]

The publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in the early 1970s led welfare economists to derive various interpretations of the Rawls’ second principle of justice, generally known as the “difference principle.  By way of background, a primary objective of “welfare economics” is to provide a guide for distinguishing between good and bad states or outcomes of economic activity. However, given the diversity of opinion as to the meaning of these terms, the ultimate validity of much of welfare economics remains a matter of personal value judgments, or an appeal to various philosophical positions. 

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Dec 172013
Courtesy of

Courtesy of

When reading Rawls for the podcast, I took note of a seemingly innocuous distinction between Rawls and the traditional social contractarians that nonetheless struck me as odd given his appeal to social contract theory.  The traditional social contract theorists assume that rational individuals enter into social contracts to secure natural rights.  ”Secure” here means ‘protect from the vicissitudes of the state of nature’ – I have a natural right to life of which, in the state of nature, I can be deprived by anyone with the strength or ingenuity to take it.  The same for my property. Continue reading »

Nov 262013

Hey all!

Transcription of Episode 84 - Nietzsche's Gay Science

Professionally transcribed by

Just a quick note to let you know you know that we are making available a transcript from the Gay Science episode.  Special thanks to Jessica T. for her generous donation.  The file was Professionally transcribed by

Read the transcript here.

Note that while we are releasing this to the hoi polloi we have others available for PEL Citizens so join

Oct 062013


It was 20 years ago today…

The Center for Consciousness Studies (CCS) at the University of Arizona is holding its annual Toward a Science of Consciousness (TSC) conference in Tucson, Arizona on April 21 – 26, 2014.  Fans of the discipline and podcast will be aware that CCS was co-founded by previous guest David Chalmers.  This year PEL is proud to help promote participation in the 20th Anniversary incarnation of the conference by passing along the call for papers.

The mission of CCS is to promote “open, rigorous discussion of all phenomena related to conscious experience”.  TSC is interdisciplinary, emphasizing broad approaches to all aspects of the study and understanding of conscious awareness.  Topic areas include Philosophy, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science and Psychology, Physical and Biological Sciences, Experiential Approaches and Culture & Humanities.  Here is the full taxonomy. Continue reading »

Jul 192013
Eva Brann Paul Dry Books

Eva Brann courtesy of Paul Dry books

So Eva was a terrific guest and a great sport on the podcast and while Dylan had talked her up to the rest of us, I didn’t realize what a towering figure she is.  She has been teaching at St. John’s for 57 !?!?! years, which is longer than most of us have been on this planet.  She’s the author of 15 books, not including translations, on subjects as diverse as Time, Plato and Abraham Lincoln.  And of course Heraclitus.

We had the good fortune to talk philosophy with her and also to chat a bit before recording.  She’s got a fantastic sense of humor and a lively spirit that shape her sharp and occasionally irreverent observations.  To get more of a flavor of her personality and enjoy her observations about St. John’s, Homer, Plato, education and other subjects, check out the following interviews. Continue reading »

Jun 122013

Wikipedia tells us that Experimental Philosophy (X-Phi) is:

an emerging field of philosophical inquiry that makes use of empirical data—often gathered through surveys which probe the intuitions of ordinary people—in order to inform research on philosophical questions. This use of empirical data is widely seen as opposed to a philosophical methodology that relies mainly on a priori justification, sometimes called “armchair” philosophy by experimental philosophers.

So what makes X-Phi experimental is the use of data rather than (presumably) data-less a priori reasoning. This is confusing. Even when employing ‘pure reason’, philosophers use data – if only the data of their senses, experience and consciousness. Would anyone deny that Descartes used data when he came up with the Cogito? That it was the data of his own experience doesn’t make it less valid qua data. Continue reading »

Mar 312013

Simon Baron Cohen vis Cambridge Neuroscience

[DISCLAIMER:  Although I am using a conceptual distinction I got from the embedded Simon Baron-Cohen TEDx talk (where ever he got it from), I am not taking a position on his stance on Autism or Psychopathy.  I have no point of view about Autism and have reflected on empathy and psychopathy in this blog before, here and here.  I'm interested in the constituent parts of empathy that he lays out in relation to Smith and Hume's Moral Sentiment.  If you want to see some responses to Baron-Cohen on Autism, check out this blog or this one.]

Through the magic of Twitter, I was recently connected to a TEDx talk of Simon Baron Cohen on the erosion of empathy (embedded below).  After the requisite National Socialist reference, he outlined a distinction between two different aspects or types of empathy:  cognitive and affective.  Cognitive empathy is the ability to imagine someone else’s thoughts and feelings, the ability to put yourself in their position.  It is the recognition of the other’s state of being.  Affective empathy is the drive to respond with the appropriate emotion.

This put me in mind of our past discussion of Adam Smith and David Hume on Moral Sentiment.  Smith and Hume claimed that we build our understanding of morality by reflection (reason) on our reactions to people and events in comparison with the reactions of others.  These sentiments, filtered through the lens of rational moral judgment, form the basis of morality in any given society.  Smith explained the mechanism of sentiment as sympathy with others:  the ability to use imagination to put oneself in another’s place, feel their woes and judge oneself with respect to that experience.  That’s having a conscience. Continue reading »

Mar 292013

Paul Fry of Yale!

One of the groovy things about our new “open” society is how venerated institutions of higher learning like Yale are being strong-armed into sharing their course content online with the unwashed masses (aka you and me).  This means you don’t have to go to The Interwebs or TedX to get quasi scholarly ramblings about your favorite intellectuals or ideas:  you can get qualified scholarly ramblings instead.

Paul Fry has a named chair at Yale in English and Literary Theory and has done work on psychoanalytic criticism.  This hour long seminar on Lacan covers key Lacanian concepts from a psychoanalytic perspective but works as an explication of these ideas in a philosophical context as well.  Additionally, this lecture serves as a good bridge between our struggle with Lacan as philosopher and the reading of Poe’s Purloined Letter we’re about to undertake.   Continue reading »

Mar 212013

Last week Being spoke through me in the saying of Martin Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism as part of a PEL Not School study group.  Joining me were Marilynn, Daniel, Rian and Alyson.

We worked through Heidegger’s idea that Humanism as a concept was inextricably tied to the history of western metaphysics that sees man as a animal rationale, language as techne and understands Being only through beings.  We recorded our 2-hour discussion and it is available now to Not School members.

If you’re a Not School member (or as we like to say, PEL Citizen), you can access the audio of this discussion here, join the group for discussion or our forum for discussions on a number of other topics.

If you’re not a member, please consider joining. For $5 a month you’ll get access to regular audio discussions above and beyond our regular podcast episodes and lots of other extra content.  Membership also gets you access to study groups and discussion forums and the opportunity to participate in Skype/Google Hangout audio or video discussions yourself if you’re interested.  Fame and/or notoriety await you!  Read more about Not School and sign up!

– Seth


Feb 242013

In looking for web resources on Buber to blog about, I’ve come across an interesting phenomenon:  there are very few and they are mostly introductory.  Every time we do a podcast, I cast the Google net to see if there are interesting, useful or funny things out there on the net I can share with our audience about the subject of the episode.  When I did this for I and Thou, the vast majority of the top hits are expository whether in video or text.

This tells me two things:  first, lots of people are looking for help understanding the text so there are a lot of people out there doing basic summary/intro work on it.  Second, after reading it folks typically don’t engage/re-engage with it as part of the tradition.  There are, for example, few if any easily accessible online talks or papers on the relationship between Buber and Kierkegaard, Heidegger or Husserl.  There is more work on Buber treated as a theologian both from the Jewish and Christian perspective.  For the most part, however, this kind of engagement work is limited to scholarly articles. Continue reading »

Jan 192013


Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle from

I have never shared the vitriol in Plato’s dialogues for rhetoric.  I understand why he goes after people for holding what he considers to be untenable positions, particularly if they are teachers or otherwise influencers of others.  But only insofar as they hold beliefs which don’t accord with his own or if they appear to have a methodology or agenda that is antithetical to the Truth.  

In the first part of the Gorgias, Plato’s Socrates undertakes to do something unusual:  rather than disabuse someone of the idea that they know X or Y, he tries to show that an entire sphere of human endeavor – persuasive speech – is morally bankrupt.  If practiced in the wrong way, that is.  I believe he is wildly off the mark here and in puzzling through this, I came to a better understanding of why I disagree with Plato on this point. Continue reading »

Dec 292012



If you don’t know what the acronym “PPT” means, consider yourself lucky that you have avoided a work or social context where doing presentations is required.  If you are like me, the power of those three letters to inspire dread is almost unparalleled.  The phrase ‘Can you put together some slides…’ evokes panic, fear and nausea made worse only when accompanied by ‘What’s the business case?’

For those who don’t know, “PPT” is short for “PowerPoint” and more commonly a “PowerPoint Presentation”.  PowerPoint is a Microsoft Office application used for creating visual presentations.  It allows for the presentation of information in text, visual, graphical and audio/visual format through a slide-show series of pages.   Continue reading »

Nov 132012

During our recording on the Federalist Papers, we mentioned at some point Schoolhouse Rock, a PBS television series that ran regularly when I was a child. For anyone who doesn’t know, it was a cartoon with skits and songs about grammar, science, civics, American History and some other topics.  In addition to state and federal civics classes in junior high and high school (do they still teach these) it was a primary learning aid for my generation.

While I’m more familiar with Conjunction Junction and A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing there are some salient little ditties about the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence and even a musical version of the Preamble to the Constitution (which is how I and I suspect many of my peers know it – I can’t recite it, only sing it). Continue reading »

Nov 052012

Lief Parsons graphic from New York Times Steven Pinker article

Steven Pinker of Harvard recently posted an article on The Stone at the New York Times called “Why Are States So Red and Blue?” His summary of his thesis:

The North and coasts are extensions of Europe and continued the government-driven civilizing process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and West preserved the culture of honor that emerged in the anarchic territories of the growing country, tempered by their own civilizing forces of churches, families and temperance.

In essence, the North and South were originally settled by two distinct groups. In the North it was English farmers and in the South it was Scots-Irish herders. These two groups have differing views of human nature based on their property. Herders whose animals can be stolen in the blink of an eye have a negative view of human nature and emphasize self-defense and protection; farmers whose land is more secure are more communitarian and willing to accede to legal resolutions of disputes.

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Oct 092012

Shameless cleavage shot of Mrs. Famous

Andy Warhol famously said that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”  This is commonly interpreted to mean that the hierarchical structure that identified worthy subjects of art – ‘celebrities’ – from those not worthy – ‘civilians‘ (thanks Liz!) was breaking down.  In other words the structure that delineated who was famous from who was not would break down, making it possible for everyone to be famous.

You could also infer that this would mean that no one would be famous, but Warhol was clearly right as we still have fame and there are people now who have become famous outside of the traditional model of celebrity (Honey Boo Boo).  So if anyone can now become a celebrity, that is, can be sacrificed on the alter of fame, what does that mean for Payne’s thesis that celebrities serve a social function in society? Continue reading »

Sep 252012

Peg Tyre

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Peg Tyre documents the remarkable turnaround in student performance at an underperforming high school when the curriculum was altered to put a focus on analytic writing.  Analytic writing, it turns out, is a marker of critical thinking:  if you can craft clear and coherent written sentences, paragraphs and essays it generally means you have clear and coherent, well considered thoughts.  Sounds like common sense or maybe even obvious?  Apparently not.  And the ability to write well translates into improved performance in all disciplines, not just English and the Social Sciences.What?  Critical thinking skills help you no matter what subject you are studying?  Sacre bleu!  I was part of that generation that had to do grammar exercises as part of my core studies – I remember what felt like a whole year (probably a semester) doing nothing but diagramming sentences.  Also spelling, handwriting (cursive and block), debate, all that stuff.  Then when I got into advanced grades, we wrote.  First it was outlines, then summaries of books (aka the book report).  Then we had to have ideas about those summaries. Continue reading »

Sep 082012

Being the wife of an unemployed philosopher might be worse than being the unemployed philosopher from

Dan Mullin is a philosophy grad student and part-time teacher who runs a blog called The Unemployed Philosopher’s Blog.  His mission statement is to challenge the view that a philosophical education isn’t of much value for employment.  As he says:

 My name is Daniel Mullin and I’m a philosophy grad student and part-time teacher. The other part of the time, I’m unemployed and/or looking for work. I’ve been relatively successful in finding work in the traditional job market for philosophy — teaching at universities — but that market consists mainly of contract positions that don’t really provide a liveable wage. Continue reading »

Aug 202012

As usual, Rick Roderick proves to be a great go-to guy on Nietzsche.  In this series of videos (one lecture put together by Daniel Horne), he takes on the accusation that Nietzsche is taking a relativist stance towards truth, or as it can be labeled, a ‘perspectivist’ stance.  Roderick does an (as usual excellent) exposition of Nietzsche’s.

It starts with ideas about one’s belief about one’s beliefs.  Nietzsche is attacking the idea that one usual thinks that one’s beliefs should be held by everyone else – your belief about your belief is that it should be everyone’s belief.  That’s dogmatism, not universal truth.  But it parades around as truth.

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Jul 292012

Courtesy of

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 it for many graduates.  The government funded primary school system is severely mismanaged.  That thing that Aristotle thought was the foundation for a virtuous life is in shambles.

Witness the rise of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  Coursera, Udemy, MITx aka edX which now includes Berkeley and Harvard are all different implementations of online learning systems intended to address the problem statement above.  There are others.  (Udacity) Udemy is a free market of instruction, allowing anyone to be an instructor or student, in any subject.  Teach what you want, charge what you want and if someone is interested, great.  It has a less traditional course structure focusing on skill development. Continue reading »