a note on The Latest Zizek Thing


The New Statesman is a ‘British political and cultural magazine’ – it’s mostly a place for budding writers to attempt journalism, or sarcastic British public intellectuals to write editorials. It’s the kind of place where articles begin with a tid-bit of academic general knowledge, a theoretical curio, which is immediately dispensed with when the underequipped authors drop … [Read more...]

Ricoeur on the “Second Naïveté”


If you were curious and confused as I was when Law started talking about the "second naïveté" on our Ricoeur episode, check out this page for a quick explanation. We start out (with the "first naïveté") taking all these religious fairy stories at face value. We then grow up and acquire critical distance, which not only involves applying what we've learned by actually dealing … [Read more...]

Intellectual Character and the so called Hot Hand Fallacy

11_14 Steph 3

Quassim Cassam wants you to know that conspiracy theorists have bad character. In other words, bad thinking is not just bad thinking; it’s also a vice. Maybe Cassam is right. Intellectual character or the lack thereof is often overlooked, at least in general conversation. It’s not that we have an overabundance of trust and tolerance in our public discourse, which is obvious to … [Read more...]

Philosophical Crumbs 03/17/2015: Heidegger, Chuang Tzu, Sex and Promises


This is intended to be the first token of a new type of post at PEL: a roundup of recent philosophical activity on the Internet that may be interest to our readers. The introductions and comments provided here come from much-too-cursory readings of the things they link to; objections, preferably in the form of new blog posts, are invited. The title come from Kierkegaard's … [Read more...]

Philosophy in Mobile Games: Two Great Ways To Waste Time And Still Feel Mentally Engaged


There are days you sit down on the subway with your copy of Leviathan or [insert current reading here], think “I woke up too late to get coffee; the hell with this,” and turn your off your brain.  Good news; there are video games for your phone that will keep your mind engaged while you solve simple puzzles or kill monsters. In all seriousness, this is good stuff.  These two … [Read more...]

This Philosophical Melancholy


"The world of the happy is a different world than the world of the unhappy." Ludwig Wittgenstein "Boring" is one of the kinder things that can be said about conventions of the American Philosophical Association. That these meetings are arduous ordeals for newly minted PhDs seeking academic jobs goes without saying; but I've heard even comfortably tenured professors describe … [Read more...]

The Eternal Relativism of the Freshman Mind


Everyone with experience as a humanities professor is aware of the "it's all relative" mantra of college freshmen. Justin McBrayer believes that their moral relativism in particular -- the fact that they don't believe in "moral facts" -- is attributable to lapses in their K-12 public schooling. I doubt it. Like the philosopher Michael Sandel, I see such relativism as … [Read more...]

How To Survive a Philosopher Attack


The Philosiologist has some useful information that readers of this blog may want to share with their friends and loved ones. She describes the phenomenon: I don’t know how many times we’ve been at a philosophy party when I wander back to my philosopher after making the rounds of conversation with other non-philosophers, I discover that he is in heated and angry-sounding … [Read more...]

The Montaigne Project


In 2011, Dan Conley started, and completed, My Montaigne Project: a series of 107 essays, one a day for 107 days, each inspired by one of Montaigne's 107 Essais. The project almost, but not quite, landed him a book deal; this week he brought it back to the web with a newly designed website. He's writing some new essays; intends to focus, among other things, on Montaigne's … [Read more...]

A Solution to the Washington Redskins’ Name Problem

The Coronation of Powhatan via Wikipedia

Overseas fans scroll to the end for context. Last Thursday the Washington football team lost 45-14 to the NY football Giants. The game was nationally televised and, as has so often happened in the last 20 or so years, the Redskins failed to rise to the occasion. After another embarrassing beatdown by a hated rival I, a long suffering fan, am ready yet again to renounce my … [Read more...]

Nadler on Immortality for Maimonides vs. Spinoza


I'd like to clarify my comment on the podcast about how the emphasis on rationality as it regards the afterlife is common to Maimonides and Spinoza. I'm looking here at a review by Martin Lin of Steven Nadler's book Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind. Now, Nadler is my go-to local Spinoza scholar--you can see him here and here--and he's the guy Seth was … [Read more...]

How Not to Be a Public Intellectual: Amartya Sen’s Terrible Piece in the New Republic


I'm not going to assess the policy merits of Nobel Prize-winning economist (and aspiring philosopher) Amartya Sen's piece in the New Republic, Stop Obsessing About Global Warming. Because as a lengthy and repetitious series of platitudes calling for a more “rational assessment” of the problem, it doesn’t possess any substantive merits or demerits. What interests me is how … [Read more...]

Inverting the Gaze: Pagan Political Philosophy

Courtesy of University College London Library via cartome.org

[From Michael Burgess, edited by Seth.]  A traditional means of founding political or moral philosophies in the west has been the construction of a point from which we can be seen and judged. This is an internalization and politicization of the Christian God who surveys and intervenes in his creation: we are always under the gaze of God and must therefore be Good. For Hume this … [Read more...]

Ecce Zizek! Feynman Homo


In the normal functioning of intellectual discourse we expect interlocutors to obliterate themselves before the alter of the Eternal Progress of Human Wisdom, that is, people should not feature amongst that which we praise, contemplate or idolize. That a particular person has offered us an idea is a purely contingent fact: he is merely at the right place and time to do it and … [Read more...]

Free Will Worth Having

What are your thoughts on machines that can predict what you're going to do in the next five minutes? Do you think that everything that happens now in the universe was causally determined by some event(s) that happened before it? When professional philosophers check people's intuitions it looks as though sometimes people generally agree that we have free will even if the … [Read more...]

Convenience, Thought and Technology


No-one could argue that technology does not make our lives easier, or that technology has not been one of the great liberators in the history of humankind; it certainly has been. Our lives would be more solitary, poorer, nastier, more brutish and shorter without technology, to steal a line from Hobbes. We should hope for continued advances in this liberating sort of technology, … [Read more...]

Originality, Music and Noise: Some References


I am a regular listener of the show, and my dad, Jonathan White, has even been a guest (episode 72, "Terrorism"). I am a music history professor at Mercer University and became very excited when the discussion on episode 94 focused on music and, in particular, two major issues: 1) music and noise; 2) music and the cult of originality (which in turn suggests an exploration of … [Read more...]

Is “Do What You Love” Elitist?


Thanks to JSully for pointing me--in the context of our discussions here of New Work--in the direction of the recent Slate article, "In the Name of Love," by Miya Tokumitsu. Tokumitsu here describes the Steve-Jobsian commandment to "do what you love" as elitism, in that only the elite can afford such a luxury, and valuing only work done through love devalues the work … [Read more...]

Please Stop Contributing to the Publish-or-Perish Landfill

<br /> Bernard Williams was the rare academic who was also a great writer. In his review of Williams' Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002, Paul Sagar lets academia have it: We can now see that Williams was not lazy: he spent an immense amount of time reading and thinking, and knew much beyond his own … [Read more...]

Apoplectic About Outsourcing Apps

When the Partially Examined Life discussion of human enhancement (Episode 91) turned to the topic of digital technology, the philosophical oxygen was sucked out of the room. Sure, folks conceded that philosopher of mind Andy Clark (not mentioned by name, but implicitly referenced) has interesting things to say about how technology upgrades our cognitive abilities and extends … [Read more...]

Philosophy Bro on Transhumanism


Our main man Philosophy Bro was way futurist compared to us, and covered transhumanism way back in 2011. Go check it out. I quote: So, broadly transhumanism is a movement that seeks to move past our human limitations by using technology. Think of all the cool shit we can do - we are already giving injured bros robotic limbs. And not shitty arms that just open and close like … [Read more...]

A Heap of David Brin Links


If you wanted to hear or read more from David, the place to start is his blog Contrary Brin. Here also is a collection of articles, nicely categorized, which in turn links to this collection of interviews. A couple of the topics he touched on with us include the "disputation arenas" and self-righteousness as an addiction. … [Read more...]

On Woody Allen and the Presumption of Innocence


Dear Reader: You do not know whether Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow. You do not know this, because the only evidence you have are her accusations, his denials, and heaps of evidence that call Dylan Farrow's account into question. Further, you are aware of or ought to be made aware of the many cases of false accusations of molestation elicited from children by adults with … [Read more...]

The Wisdom of the ‘Ignorant Schoolmaster’


“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” ― Socrates [From Sotiris Triantis] An intellectual adventure Joseph Jacotot (born in 1770) was a French teacher who discovered something remarkable in the education process. His intellectual adventure begun … [Read more...]

You Can’t Talk About Zen: A Discussion of Zen

[A post from Jason Durso] The popular understanding of Zen philosophy is that it is painfully frustrating, contrived and lies outside the realm of rational discourse. Rather than offering some sort of platform for discussion or some set of assertions which can be systematically analyzed and negotiated into a personal system of meaning the proponents of this view will often … [Read more...]

The Jung and the Restless

...I cannot outline the spiritual problems of modern man without giving emphasis to the yearning for rest that arises in a period of unrest... It is from need and distress that new forms of life take their rise, and not from mere wishes or from the requirements of our ideals." When Carl Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul was first published in 1933 he had already treated … [Read more...]

The Digitization of the Real

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.” ― Napoleon Bonaparte   [From Sotiris Triantis]   In a previous article here on the PEL blog 'Don’t Act. Just Think’: A Short Comment on Slavoj Zizek’s Critique of Activism, I argued that thinking is not enough in order to effect radical change in collective problems such … [Read more...]

Bergmann as Philosopher (Before All that “New Work” Stuff)

We're barely more than a day away right now from our interview with Frithjof, which he says he's "thrilled" about, and I'm certainly looking forward to as well, though I can picture any number of things going less than ideally as I introduce these two known elements (Frithjof on the one hand and Seth/Wes/Dylan on the other) to each other. For me, this period of preparation has … [Read more...]

‘Don’t Act. Just Think’: A short comment on Slavoj Zizek’s critique of Activism

[From Sotiris Triantis]   Slavoj Zizek - in a video titled ‘Don’t Act. Just Think’ - suggests that in the social and political realm we should not act but think. It's an odd, somewhat counter-revolutionary thesis.  Historical change has always been brought about by collective action. A more useful model might be: ‘First Think, Then Act’.  When Noam Chomsky was asked by … [Read more...]

Bertrand Russell’s “In Praise of Idleness” and Gary Gutting’s Modern Response

One of the resources raised in our Not School Bergmann discussion was Bertrand Russell's 1932 article "In Praise of Idleness," which you can read here. Here's his snarky definition of work: Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is … [Read more...]

How Examined is the “Examined” Life? Truly.

Editor's Note: Thanks for this submission from listener and long-time supporter Laura Davis, covering a story that we likely wouldn't have gotten around to writing about here ourselves. I expect most have you have seen this article or some other about the renown philosopher Colin McGinn and his recent resignation from the University of Miami. The story has been covered and … [Read more...]

Sean Carroll Interview @ 3:AM Magazine

3:AM magazine has a nice interview of the physicist Sean Carroll by Richard Marshall that's part of an ongoing series interviews, generally of philosophers, being done by the magazine. Carroll is an theoretical astrophysicist who has managed to avoid the pratfalls of physicists like Stephen Hawking who recently declared the death of philosophy. Carroll considers himself … [Read more...]

Chomsky vs. Zizek

Editor's Note: We feel the need to provide some coverage of one of the few big news stories in philosophy, which is the ongoing hostile exchange between two giants of the philosophical left, Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek. Since none of us podcasters has read much by either fellow or has much patience for following this story, I've asked PEL Citizen Michael Burgess to fill in … [Read more...]

Interviewing Eva Brann


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 … [Read more...]

Impersonating Ayn Rand

Editor's Note: Thanks to Rachael Wolanski, who has for the last year helped us with editing episodes, for finding this and writing it up. Seth confirmed that it's hilarious. Mark's comments in his previous post on the unhelpfulness of caricaturizing Ayn Rand bring to mind the most recent episode of another of my favorite podcasts, the Dead Authors Podcast.  Comedian Paul F. … [Read more...]

Is Experimental Philosophy Bad Science?

http://youtu.be/tt5Kxv8eCTA 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 … [Read more...]

Virtual Insanity: Social Media with Jacques Lacan


[A post from Peter Hardy, longtime fan and contributor] For a couple of years I have been lurking on PEL's Facebook group, biding my time for the perfect moment to pounce on this blog.  Recently I got to thinking about the philosophical ramifications of social media. Especially as we've just been looking at Jacques Lacan, for whom a central concern was to highlight negative … [Read more...]

On Daniel Coffeen, Rhetoric, Deleuze and Such


[editors note:  Daniel was our guest on the Deleuze episode recently and will be posting a bit in our blog over the next couple of weeks] Since I discovered Deleuze in grad school, he has pervaded in various ways my teaching, writing and thinking. My dissertation proffered a model of rhetoric and specifically the trope; its final chapter focused on Deleuze. And so when I … [Read more...]

More on Terrorism from Jonathan R. White (Huffington Post)

Jon was the guest on our terrorism episode, which has unfortunately become timely again. In light of the events in Boston he was asked to write about the nature of modern terrorism in the Huffington post; read the article here. As he did in our episode, he stresses in the article the need to rationally understand the nature of modern terrorism in order to respond to it … [Read more...]

Another Reason to Philosophize


Has science destroyed the dream of philosophy? Was Stephen Hawking correct in claiming,“Philosophy is Dead?” These and a few more questions were raised, or more so alluded to in a recent debate by Paul Horwich and Michael P. Lynch in the Stone in March. The two philosophy professors debated the current state of philosophy using Wittgenstein as a platform. Horwich went first, … [Read more...]

Cognitive and Affective Empathy in Moral Sentiment


[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 … [Read more...]

Paul Fry on Lacan


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 … [Read more...]

Education Philosophy Becomes Practice


Over the past hundred years Constructivists and Traditionalists have enjoyed an uneasy truce in the world of education practitioners.  Constructivism "says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences." [thirteen.org]  Traditionalists were more influenced by the "scientific management" … [Read more...]

Sally Haslanger on Social Construction

There are movements in philosophy to focus on the social domain vs. the personal one:  groups rather than individuals. This is very well developed in the fields of Feminist and Gender Theory which look at the female/male social constructions and much broader issues including race and justice theory. Taking from philosophers such as Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, and Luce … [Read more...]

Tolerance, Repression and Terrorism


In 1965 Herbert Marcuse published an article entitled "Repressive Tolerance" in the collection A Critique of Pure Tolerance. The critique of modern society he presents in this paper will not be new to anyone familiar with his work or with the work of others from the first generation of the so-called Frankfurt School: the administered society, the systematic moronization of … [Read more...]

Philosophy as Conceptual Border Patrol


Peter Hacker does not abide nonsense. In his January article "Why Philosophy" Hacker puts in his cross-hairs ideas taken seriously by politicians, scientists, and the intelligentsia in general. Let’s get to the specifics in a minute – the general outline is relevant to anyone hoping to grok the never-ending attempt to define philosophy. Perhaps this attempt never ends because … [Read more...]

What Would an I-Thou Encounter Look Like?

http://youtu.be/SxLIlLzIh2Q A dialogical relation will show itself also in genuine conversation, but it is not composed of this. ...On the other hand, all conversation derives its genuineness only from the consciousness of the element of inclusion—even if this appears only abstractly as an "acknowledgement" of the actual being of the partner in the conversation; but this … [Read more...]

I and Thou: The Spreadsheet!


Regardless of how or whether you relate to Buber's vision, I and Thou makes for a frustrating read. Seemingly simple words are used in new and alien contexts. Solutions are announced rather than derived. Worse, while nominally divided into three parts, I and Thou is really more of a loose collection of 61 aphorisms. Following Buber's reasoning by comparing his different uses of … [Read more...]

Engaging with Buber

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 … [Read more...]

The New Breed of Philosophy


Tired of the overwhelming focus on mind/body problems in philosophy? There also is a debate between scientists and philosophers about who is more important and if philosophy really has any use in today's science research. Thankfully, a recent interview in The Atlantic with Tim Maudlin , philosophical cosmologist, brings the two fields back to the basics of philosophy … [Read more...]

Martin Buber and Stephen Darwall

There was some discussion in the recent podcast about how an ethics can be derived from Martin Buber 's I and Thou. Recently one philosopher has pointed to Buber's work as at least an historical antecedent to his theory. The third chapter of Stephen Darwall's 2006 book, The Second-Person Standpoint, opens with the following quote from Buber: When one says You, the I of the... … [Read more...]

The Reincarnation of William James: Eugene Taylor, R.I.P.

Eugene Taylor was only 66 years of age when he passed away on January 30th, 2013. Taylor was a graduate of Southern Methodist University, Harvard Divinity School, and earned his Ph.D. at Boston University. Saybrook University was his academic base but he was also a research historian of psychology at Harvard Medical School, founder of the Cambridge Institute of Psychology and … [Read more...]

Robert Stern on Moral Obligation


One question, but by no means the only question, that we can ask ourselves when reading the great philosophers of the past is what can they tells us about contemporary debates? A recent attempt to show the fruitfulness of bringing history to bear on a contemporary debate is Robert Stern's Understanding Moral Obligation: Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard (hereafter UMO). In UMO Stern … [Read more...]

Zizek and Pop Culture in Philosophy Today


PEL's last episode focused on Karl Marx via The German Ideology. Possibly one of the most famous/infamous Marxists of our time is Slavoj Zizek. Some have called him too extreme to be taken seriously, while others have praised him for his brilliance.  A recent article in U.K. based paper The Guardian sheds some light on this interesting character and also discusses an upcoming … [Read more...]

Santa Fe Institute MOOC on Complexity


The Santa Fe Institute has jumped into the massive open online course game, launching "Introduction to Complexity" run by Melanie Mitchell, a professor of computer science at Portland State University and author of Complexity: A Guided Tour. The Santa Fe Institute has done lots of interesting work over the years in complexity, chaos, and emergent systems. One thing I've always … [Read more...]

The Great Divide: Concerning the Battle Between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

[Editor's Note: We're happy here to present a first blog post for us by Rian Mitch (submitted in response to our recent call for more bloggers). Rian was one of the voices on our Deleuze Not School discussion, whom we met when he took us to task via email for our slipshod treatment of Derrida on ep. 51. He consequently has been leading a Derrida Not School group.] A … [Read more...]

Ian Hacking on Probability & Inference

The most recent brough-ha-ha from one of Mark's posts seems to center on rationality and philosophy, but underlying all the stuff in the "new rationality" is understanding the process of updating our current knowledge with new information through Bayes Theorem (LW calls the process belief updating or bayesian updating). Bayes Theorem is both very useful and very interesting … [Read more...]

Is Quine “Literature” Because He Reads All Smooth and Silky?

After our posts about philosophical literature it seemed appropriate to refer to this post from the NY Times on philosophy itself as literature by Jim Holt. An excerpt: Now let me narrow my query: Does anybody read analytic philosophy for pleasure? Is this kind of philosophy literature? Here you might say, “Certainly not!” Or you might say, “What the heck is analytic … [Read more...]

Daniel Little (UnderstandingSociety) on “Marketing Wittgenstein”

A good new-to-me web find today is The UnderstandingSociety blog from U. of Michigan-Dearborn's Daniel Little, who writes about philsoophy from a sociological perspective. This is very relevant to our recent discussion of fame among philosophers on our Lucy Lawless episode, and in this article, Little reflects on why it might be that Wittgenstein is so famous, given, as I've … [Read more...]

Some Sour Fruits of Popular Science

A friend of the podcast pointed me to today's column in the NYTimes Gray Matter by Alisa Quart about a backlash against neuroscience, particularly popular accounts of it throughout mainstream media from Malcom Gladwell on tipping points to Chris Mooney on the "republican brain" to Eben Alexander on the neuroscience of heaven. These all follow the general theme of … [Read more...]

Assessing Irony

I saw this Opinionator article from Christy Wampole in the New York Times: "How to Live Without Irony." It condemns the ironic lifestyle of Generation Y as terminally inauthentic, avoiding real commitments, making us (them) incapable of dealing with the world at hand and with each other. Central to Wampole's critique is a standard "I don't understand the younger generation" … [Read more...]

Civics via Schoolhouse Rock

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 … [Read more...]

Red State, Blue State, One State, Two States

Lief Parsons graphic from NYT 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 … [Read more...]

Dyson on Philosophy

The Death of Socrates by Jaques-Louis David (detail)

Freeman Dyson has a review of Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist? in the early November issue of The New York Review of Books. Dyson is an esteemed physicist who, as a young man, cinched the link between accounts of quantum electrodynamics given separately by Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonanga in the late 1940s. He probably should've been included in … [Read more...]

The Upside of Fandom

A recent blog post at New York Magazine's Vulture blog queries whether fandom is inherently pathological. This seems a fair question to ask after some of the more amusing anecdotes revealed on the Lucy Lawless episode: [Fandom is], by definition, a bit different from hobbies like cooking or learning an instrument in that fandom is in the service of someone else’s creativity … [Read more...]

Presidential Pragmatism

In a recent column in The Stone, Harvey Cormier considers the political oomph of pragmatists through a nice presentation of some central thinking of William James. The occasion for the piece is a recent spate of writings characterizing Obama as "a pragmatist politician." What I like best about Cormier's article is his refutation, through James, of the lame but pervasive … [Read more...]

Idle and Motorized Speculations


Two friends of mine have recently started blogs, though of different stripes. One is by Gary Borjesson called Idle Speculations. Gary and I met on the faculty at St. John's, and, like me, is on leave right now. Gary's book on dogs, friendship, and philosophy, Willing Dogs & Reluctant Masters: On Friendship and Dogs, has just been published. His blog, just a few entries long, … [Read more...]

Pseudo-Philosophy on Same-Sex Marriage

In last Monday's Austin Daily Herald (that's Austin, MN), Mr. Wallace Alcorn, Ph.D., historian of religion and Bible expositor, wrote this a priori argument against same-sex marriage, where he argues that it is "ontologically impossible." Here's the argument: Nothing has meaning, much less existence, if it does not have properties that belong to the universe of the thing. With … [Read more...]

Literature and Philosophy: Antagonists or Partners?

Can literature be philosophical? Can philosophy be considered literature? What are the roles of literature and philosophy in relation to "truth?" Why should philosophers be interested in literature? While trying to come up with something to post in relation to the recent PEL discussion on Cormac McCarthy’s "No Country for Old Men" I came across an interesting discussion over … [Read more...]

The Value of Writing (Non-Fiction)

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 … [Read more...]

Universal Salvation: One Hell of a Question

In the recent Candide episode we saw how Voltaire satirized Leibniz’s solution to the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil is still a popular topic in contemporary philosophy of religion. One twist on the traditional problem of evil comes from philosopher and theologian, Marilyn McCord Adams, who suggests that for Christians the principal problem of evil is the compatibility of … [Read more...]

Seth’s Interview with Dan Mullin

Worst jobs - Philosopher

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 … [Read more...]

The Problem with Academia Today: Corporatism, Not Identity Politics

Andrew Delbanco, author of his own book on what ails today's university, gives the thumbs down to another critique that tilts at feminists and queer theorists: The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. Delbanco is sympathetic to the notion that identity politics has taken its toll on academic life (as am I). But apparently … [Read more...]

Contemporary Neuroscience and Free Will

Contemporary neuroscience is not a challenge to free will, according to Eddy Nahmias: Most scientists who discuss free will say the story has an unhappy ending—that neuroscience shows free will to be an illusion. I call these scientists “willusionists.” ... Willusionists say that neuroscience demonstrates that we are not the authors of our own stories but more like puppets … [Read more...]

Scientism and Scientific Sensationalism

Not long after I wrote this post linking to Isaac Chotiner's negative review of Johah Lehrer's Imagine and its "fetishization of brain science," Lehrer was forced to resign from The New Yorker for fabricating Bob Dylan quotes. A lot has been written about the meaning of Lehrer's transgression; but I was bothered less by the distortion of relatively trivial facts than the use to … [Read more...]

The Veil of Opulence

Benjamin Hale sum up why it is Americans end up voting for policies that actually thwart their interests: they make decisions about justice according to a "veil of opulence," the opposite of the "veil of ignorance" advocated by Rawls: Those who don the veil of opulence may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business … [Read more...]

Sailing Philosophy

Every August for the past ten years my family and I have spent a couple of weeks on a smallish lake in northwest Michigan. I say small, but it's about 1800 acres, plenty big for most purposes, if tiny compared to the big water of Lake Michigan just five miles away. Most every afternoon the breeze picks up and I take a good sail on our Laser. Sometimes it's peaceful and the … [Read more...]

Our Negative Incapability: Optimism, Knowingness, and American Exceptionalism

In light of our recent recording on Voltaire's Candide (to be published in a few weeks), I've been thinking lately about the role of optimism in contemporary American culture (Candide critiques a kind of optimism in vogue at Voltaire's time that he associated with Leibniz' "best of all possible worlds" theory). A recent piece by Oliver Burkeman defends negative … [Read more...]

Bertrand Russell on Aristotle’s Politics

http://youtu.be/tsNmIid70HU Listen on YouTube. Like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate. Even so, Bertrand Russell's prose is entertaining enough to make this audio chapter on Aristotle's Politics a worthwhile supplement to … [Read more...]

The Science of Storytelling

Adam Gopnik reviews yet another attempt to apply evolutionary psychology to the humanities -- Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal -- and finds it wanting: It is one thing to think that psychology may solve problems that baffle philosophy or criticism; it well may. But to think that the invocation of empirical studies on a subject frees one from the job of finding out … [Read more...]

Eco Locating Meaning

 Every now and then you find something that is, on the one hand, unexpected. The thought of it hadn't occurred to you, neither as a fact found through the memes of popular culture nor as an extrapolation from your current knowledge. On the other hand, the discovery isn't so much a surprise as simply new information that really just fits in with all the rest. My most recent such … [Read more...]

“You Didn’t Build That.” Political Ethics Summary in the Wash Post

In this Washington Post editorial on Ezra Klein's Wonkblog by Dylan Matthews, we get an attempt to connect philosophy to current political discourse, with the conclusion "...which is perhaps why, in general, politicians don’t spend a lot of time listening to philosophers." The issue is desert, as in "do rich people deserve to keep their money?" Matthews characterizes the … [Read more...]

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 long as this is outweighed by the benefits … [Read more...]

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 been cropping up around the … [Read more...]

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 … [Read more...]

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 1980s it became apparent that a mysterious force was slowing them down a … [Read more...]

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, including the truth about … [Read more...]

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 pubs, cafés, galleries, parks and restaurants. … [Read more...]

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 once belonged to roundish … [Read more...]

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 revenge on those who stand in its way. Many of the various cruel stepmothers and … [Read more...]

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 answers to the question of what … [Read more...]

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 for the rights of the citizenry in the teeth of private … [Read more...]

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 something … [Read more...]

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 said, to rescue it from … [Read more...]

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 altogether. Watch … [Read more...]

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 read the … [Read more...]

Living Ironically: The Upshot

With a few comments on my last post to spur me on, here are some hopefully final thoughts on the ironic life for the moment. Irony is one of the characteristic social modes for Americans of at least the Generation X (that would be mine, i.e. 40ish) and younger. I can't speak for how pervasive it is demographically in terms of race, class, or education: I certainly read R. … [Read more...]

Deeply Funny?

(Image: Tom Motley when he's all spiffed up.) It is a little known fact, even among our philosophically sophisticated readers, that Heidegger argued for the supremacy of German humor. Because German jokes have the most precise underlying structure, he argued, German humor would rule the earth for a thousand years. (Sorry if you've already heard some version of that old … [Read more...]

Borat on Display

In the episode we spent some time discussing Sacha Baron Cohen's humor of duping people (I don't know whether he does this in his current movie, which sounds like it has more scripted elements), which I generally think is great, while Dylan and Seth found it hard to sit through given the duping of the innocent. This scene from his TV show is pretty typical: Watch on … [Read more...]

Alain de Botton Wants to Make Ethical Porn

In a press release (cited here in the New Statesman) from his School of Life, Alain de Botton claims he's going to take on our cultural obsession with unethical porn and create some that accords with our moral sensibilities and the good life. This is, of course, hilarious and there have been some requisitely wicked reactions like here (HuffPo has nothing on the Guardian's … [Read more...]

Sean Wilson’s Wittgenstein Forum

At some point after our Tractatus episodes came out, Sean Wilson, a political science professor at Wright State University, contacted me to find out when we'd be doing the Investigations so as to coordinate something between us and his discussion group. Some years later now, I've checked out his forum: "Wittgenstein's Aftermath: Life in the Post-Analytic World, Given by the … [Read more...]

Racism Among Historic Philosophers

As mentioned on the race episode, I thumbed through a book edited by Andrew Valls called Race and Racism in Modern Philosophy,which includes essays on Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Marx, and Nietzsche. To give Valls's words on the last of these, since I mentioned it in the discussion: ...James Winchester examines … [Read more...]

Flanagan on Buddhist Eudaimonia

So just what is the good life, according to Buddhism, according to Flanagan, according to this post I'm writing right now? (...According to the inner, private language that my attempts to write are meant to reflect, according to the reality as perceived which my inner words are attempting to express, according to the reality itself to which my reality as perceived is meant to … [Read more...]

Is It Really Philosophy? (Are You an Ass for Asking?)

In this post brought to my attention by our commenter DMF in light of our race episode, Kristie Dotson of Michigan State University attacks the question that one might ask when reading DuBois, for instance: Is this really philosophy? The question, how is this paper philosophy, is a poorly formulated question. At best, when asked in good faith, the question could in fact be one … [Read more...]

Spirituality Without Religion? (James and Flanagan)

In the same way that Owen Flanagan wants to naturalize Buddhism by stripping its hocus-pocus, William James focused his attention on personal religious experience rather than the "smells and bells" of traditional institutions. As biographer Robert Richardson puts it, "much of what one usually thinks of as religion James rejects at the start". James says he has no interest in … [Read more...]

PEL Mentions in the Onion and Elsewhere

Yes, we have a Google alert on ourselves. Go write about us and we will try to give you a linkback or even go read/listen to you, etc. (When Colin Marshall did this, I hooked him up with a gig writing for openculture, where one of his posts just got picked up by The New Yorker, Slate, and Andrew Sullivan's blog. Go, Colin!) Here are some recent PEL mentions on the wide scary … [Read more...]

Beauty and Science (Or Fighting Over the Love)

I subscribe to a number of thick writing journals filled with short stories, essays, and poetry. I am generally behind in reading them, though once I sit down and do so I never regret it. Tin House's recent 50th anniversary issue devoted to "Beauty" falls in this category and is apropos of Wes' recent comments on philosophers and science envy. Two of the essays reflect on … [Read more...]

Dear Philosophers, Please Get Over your Science Envy Now

Colin McGinn (a philosopher whose work on the philosophy of mind I have admired) has published an embarrassing piece in the Philosopher's Stone that is at the same time a plea for others to take philosophy seriously and a case in point as to why many don't. He proposes to rename the field of philosophy "ontics" and reclassify it as a science rather than part of the humanities. … [Read more...]

All the Pirsig You Can Eat

There's enough material floating around on Robert Pirsig to keep you busy for a while no matter what your level of interest might be. If you're in a seriously philosophical mood, there are two at least two Doctoral dissertations, a gidebook,a textbook and a Master's thesis. There are also options if you want to discuss Pirsig's work or even if you're interested in exploring all … [Read more...]

Pure Experience and Dynamic Quality

William James' pure experience, the central idea in his radical empiricism,has been subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation for 100 years. As I take Pirsig's pre-intellectual experience (a.k.a. Quality or Dynamic Quality) to be more or less equivalent to James's pure experience, any confusion would extend to Pirsig's work. Objections that cut against James will make … [Read more...]

David Ray Griffin on Whitehead on Concsiousness


By crankular demand, I'm putting aside by irritation at hearing the name "Whitehead" to read this article on Whitehead's theory of consciousness--Consciousness as a Subjective Form: Whitehead’s Nonreductionist Naturalism by David Ray Griffin--and see if it helps fill in the gaps in Pirsig's account of experience. Griffin's CV describes him as a "Professor of Philosophy of … [Read more...]

Žižek on Foucault, Descartes and Madness

OK, so this isn't the easiest thing to read (after seeing numerous Žižek videos, it looks to me that he writes like he talks like he thinks, which is pretty fluid, making connections between things and not necessarily driving through focused theses...) but a little time spent on it yields some interesting points.  For some context, Katie noted in the episode that Discipline … [Read more...]

What to Do About Behaving Badly


This is an obvious cross-reference for this group—indeed, many of you likely already read it. Peter Singer and Agata Sagan have an column in NYTimes' "The Stone" today called "Are We Ready for a Morality Pill?" They present the conundrum of the how to factor in our growing understanding of the effect of brain chemistry not just on our mood and temperment, but also our … [Read more...]

Cooking Philosophically

It is my firm understanding that while The Partially Examined Life tilts decisively toward philosophy generally understood -- contemplations of being and nature and self and ethics and thought and morality and consciousness --  the disposition we have of engaging texts for ourselves and talking about them thoughtfully and seriously (if occasionally irreverently) extrapolates … [Read more...]

Rick Roderick on Foucault

Rick Roderick

Long time listeners and readers know that I'm a fan of Rick Roderick.  For those who don't know, he was from Texas, got his degree in philosophy from UT and taught at various places including Duke.  He was a down home type who became famous to philosophiles through a couple of lecture series he published through The Teaching Company.  (Home also to Mark's crush Robert Solomon)  … [Read more...]

History of the Prison

Check out this video.  It is a brief history of prisons, but also focuses on the use of technology in and the architecture of prisons.  It makes the indirect but clear point that surveiller goes hand in hand with technology.  There's a nice spot right at the beginning where the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Corrections talks about how military technology is being employed in … [Read more...]

Foucault on Discipline and Punish


Here's a video of Foucault talking about Discipline & Punish.(Well, an audio track with images)  He explains his motivation for writing the book and the central question he sees posed by the development of the penal system in France.  In short, there was a rapid growth of prisons in France.  The prisons still functioned as institutions of punishment and an extension of the … [Read more...]

Steven Fuller on Liberal Humanism vs. neo-Darwinism

I'm interested in this debate as a strictly philosophical observer, not as a theologian, humanist, scientist, or neo-Darwinist. And I entertain the possibility that the outcome of this dilemma may be that we have to abandon an unjustifiable confidence in the human intellect for neo-Darwinism. The secular philosopher-sociologist Steven Fuller performs here the role of … [Read more...]

Anesthesia and Consciousness

Neuroscientists are using anesthesia to study consciousness in a way that seems related to higher order theories of consciousness. The conclusion so far: "consciousness emerges from the integration of information across large networks in the brain": Over the past few years, other EEG studies have supported the idea that anesthesia doesn't simply shut the brain down but, rather, … [Read more...]

PEL Gets Reviewed by Podthoughts (Colin Marshall)

One of the better-written reviews of our podcast can be found here. I quote: At least three hosts at a time trying to interpret, in their own natural and thus imprecise language, a philosophical text itself composed in its own natural and thus imprecise language, opens up infinite opportunity for purely semantic argument. The show’s discussions, as with so many philosophical … [Read more...]

Open Culture Goodness

If you don't subscribe to this blog, this roundup should convince you to do so: The Best of OpenCulture, 2011. Heaps of online lectures, video, and other stuff, with the occasional post from me if I actually make time to submit one. (Neil Gaiman apparently retweeted the post I wrote on him.) -Mark Linsenmayer … [Read more...]

Corey Anton on the Phenomenology of the Senses

There's a guy on youtube named Corey Anton, who is a Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University.  He's posted a ton of videos on a broad range of subjects, many philosophical.  He's one of those that comes up when you search on the usual suspect terms and I've had occasion to watch him from time to time.  I find the videos hit or miss based on my mood … [Read more...]

Brian Leiter’s New Philosophical Categories

A really good interview with Nietzsche scholar and opinionator Brian Leiter appears in 3:AM Magazine, where he drops pithy quotes on Obama, Nietzsche, Marx, and Foucault. But he also appears to have a new argument to sell. Leiter advocates a new way to divide the philosophical canon, not into "contintentals" or "analytics," but rather into "naturalists" and … [Read more...]

Dreyfus on Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Artificial Intelligence

[Brad is a frequent contributor to our Facebook page, so we invited him to post on the blog - welcome him!] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99iTDUcBuRQ&feature=relmfu I found this to be an interesting video which relates to both the Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty episodes. In the video, Hubert Dreyfus discusses Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and the philosophical implications for … [Read more...]

In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens

http://youtu.be/p4rF5mspaVk Watch on YouTube. Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday after a punishing bout with cancer, and I'd like to take the liberty of inserting a brief memoriam. I do this in a philosophy blog partially because PEL recently discussed one of his books. But mostly I do it because I would hate to think anyone remembers Hitchens as nothing more than a "New … [Read more...]

Memory, Body, and Truth

Memory Pillow

Both the Sartre and the Merleau-Ponty episodes have me thinking about memory, body, and truth lately. Our memories are indispensable for forming our identities and are the causal path for experience itself and its effect on our identities. So, there's a piece to this that we can get to by thinking about memory (and the act of remembering) itself and a piece that we can get to … [Read more...]

Bob Solomon on Existentialism and Being and Nothingness


We've often name-dropped our former U. of Texas professor Bob Solomon, perhaps best known for his great original work The Passions or his appearance in the Richard Linklater film, Waking Life. For our Hegel episode, I was clutching tightly to his work explaining it: In the Spirit of Hegel. One of his central philosophical concerns was Sartre's view of freedom and … [Read more...]

Daniel Coffeen on Bergson’s Matter and Memory

One of the name-drops on the Sartre episode is Henri Bergson, a philosopher who was in vogue in France at the time Sartre wrote, famous among other things for promoting and anti-atomic epistemology. Kant, for instance, thought that we get our idea of number out of time, meaning that time is essentially something we can count. For Bergson, time is a flow: if we break it up for … [Read more...]

Being Old in a Democracy: Peter Lawler on Plato and Us

Why is oldness found so repulsive in our culture today? Why do old people feel so compelled to make themselves look like worse versions of young people through plastic surgery? The easy answer is 'it's natural', i.e., youth gives a competitive Darwinian advantage, so if we have the bio-technology available to keep ourselves younger we gotta go for it! However, one of the most … [Read more...]

Hannah Arendt on Scientism

The question of the "pernicious influence" of scientism on modern life and philosophy gets raised fairly often here at PEL. I get the sense that Wes and Seth think the influence 'quite pernicious' while Mark thinks 'not so pernicious'. (Correct me if I'm wrong guys). So I thought it would be helpful to clarify what is implied by the term, so that we might open the way for some … [Read more...]

Tom McDonald on Reason and Intelligent Design

You'll likely remember Tom from our Hegel podcasts and his several posts on this blog. His blog has switched names now to Owl of Minerva.org, and one of his interests is how the conception of reason by Hegel and the phenomenologists differs from the one prevalent in our culture, i.e. thinking clearly in the context of scientific naturalism (that's my formulation, not Tom's). … [Read more...]

Kenan Malik (via The Browser) on Morality without God (and the Euthyphro)

In this interview with Kenan Malik (a "scientific author," i.e. a psychology/biology guy who dabbles in philosophical issues) uses the Euthyphro to argue that presenting religion as the guardian of moral values "diminishing the importance of human agency in the creation of a moral framework." His enemy is "false certainty" in ethics, whether because you think that basic moral … [Read more...]

Find a Philosophy Event with PhilEvents

Via The Leiter Report, David Chalmers has provide details about PhilEvents.org, where you can browse and search for conferences. I know the intended audience is for people looking to present their work, but even if you're just a tourist, you can usually get into these things to hear the speakers without a problem, and if you don't live near the event, they might well issue … [Read more...]

Skepoet Responds to PEL on Euthyphro

Here's a response to our recent episode from C Derick Varn, aka Skepoet: Read his "partially informed review." So, yes, other blogs that take the time to talk about us coherently will probably get a link-back, if you've not noticed that before. You may have to send the link directly to me, though, as my narcissistic Googling of our own podcast name has become much less … [Read more...]

The Problem of Determining Free Will

Free will is always a sticky wicket. On the one hand, we make decisions every day that point to our having a say in what we do. Accountability, in general, relies on this notion. On the other hand, whatever our will is, it is clearly constrained: we can't will away gravity. Free will is a hot topic in neuroscience these days, especially with experiments leveraging new fMRI … [Read more...]

Can We Be Philosophical Realists?

The analytic philosophy of logical positivism or logical empiricism, which dominated 20th-century Anglo-American scientific thinking, leaves philosophy with a complex and problematic legacy that must be addressed and overcome if we are to have any hope of a renewed, meaningful, philosophically rational realism. On the one hand, the positivist view of philosophy is … [Read more...]

Kelly Oliver (via The Stone/NY Times) on Pet Lovers

Though we've not had a link to an article in The Stone for a while, I encourage you all to keep a look out there, as it's a steady source of interesting articles. I can't resist throwing up a link to this article by Kelly Oliver: "Pet Lovers, Pathologized," as it hooks into both our moral sense and feminism episodes. Our inconsistent treatment of animals is one of the key … [Read more...]

Victor Stenger on the Fine Tuning Argument

We were left at an impasse on the episode regarding the part of the argument from design referring to the fine-tuning of the universe to support life. Dawkins didn't give enough detail about this for us really to understand, much less critique it, yet it seemed like a lot of what we were concerned about hinged on this argument. You can read about it on Wikipedia. Prominent … [Read more...]

New Atheist Episode Thoughts: Skepoet, Harris on Faith, Politics and Religion

A "University Lecturer living in South Korea" calling himself Skepoet responded here to our episode. He gives a nice quote from Julian Baggini and makes some salient points about our discussion. One of his comments was that we didn't seem to find an argument in Harris to critique. Here's the argument as I remember it that we were focusing on: If you suspend your critical … [Read more...]

Lawrence Krauss on “A Universe from Nothing” (via Openculture)

Passing on this video posted today on openculture.com. In considering the cosmological argument on the God episode, we made no attempt to say how or if modern cosmology affects the challenge we discussed in comparing the mental satisfaction of "the universe was caused by God, who is special and doesn't need a cause in turn" vs. "the origin of the universe is a brute … [Read more...]

Carol Gilligan vs. Christina Hoff Sommers

In an attempt to provide some of the criticism to Carol Gilligan's claims about female moral development, I found this exchange from the Atlantic online between Gilligan and "former philosophy professor" Christina Hoff Sommers, who had written an article called "The War Against Boys" in 2000, which blamed Gilligan for establishing a false picture of "America's teenage girls as … [Read more...]

An Agnostic Ponders Swinburne’s Simplicity Argument

Mark Vernon, former priest and current agnostic, had a piece on his website a while back addressing Swinburne's (pictured, right) argument for the existence of God. Swinburne's argument is a a variation on the traditional God as the "uncaused cause" argument, with a twist in appealing to the "simplest explanation is the best explanation" rule. But whether we argue forward from … [Read more...]

Autonomy and Moral Development: Piaget/Kohlberg/Gilligan

For a little more detail on how Gilligan's account of moral development differs from and responds to those of her predecessors, check out this page from the U. of Illinois Office for Studies in Moral Development and Education. Given that it's aimed at educators, the emphasis is on how schools can affect moral development. I found this bit in Piaget spoke to the consideration … [Read more...]

What is a Philosophical Explanation?

On some comments to a recent post by Mark on Sam Harris and the ought/is distinction, I noted that Harris assumes that "happiness" (or "flourishing") is an un-problematic concept -- a well-established ruler against which one can easily measure the success or failure of behaviors. Hence when he claims that science can tell us what is right and wrong -- by telling us what makes … [Read more...]

Blind Sight as Quality Control?

This article at Salon.com I thought presented an amusing alleged implication of the structure of our brains: We have multiple streams of visual information input, and a proof of this is in the phenomenon of blind sight, whereby whatever the normal pathway is that makes it all the way to the speech center and/or consciousness (however that arises) has been damaged, yet the … [Read more...]

Does Stanley Fish Matter? It Depends.

In a recent Philosopher's Stone essay, Paul Boghossian corrects Stanley Fish on the subject of moral relativism: there is no morally relativistic ground between nihilism and the embrace of moral absolutes -- one must choose. Saying "x is wrong" is a normative statement, while saying "x is wrong relative to moral code y" is a descriptive statement without normative force; … [Read more...]

Adolescent criminality and juvenile brains

Russian Youth Prison Scenes

I couldn't bring myself to weigh in on the analytic vs. continental issue because I lived it while in school and believe that it is ultimately a destructive distinction fueled by political desires.  And in a weird way, I'm living through something analogous at work right now.  So instead I thought I'd continue my journey through issues of criminal justice because it interests … [Read more...]

Riding the Zeitgeist – Moral sentiment and pyschopathy

I never said I wasn

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor of Ethics at Duke, was recently interview on The Philosopher's Zone about the moral judgment of psychopaths.  One of the key questions at issue is whether psychopaths understand what is morally wrong, why it is so and just don't care, or whether they don't know what is morally wrong.  This ties in with some of our recent posts about moral … [Read more...]

Roman Altshuler on Analytic vs. Continental

Roman Altshuler has written two articles on the Ends of Thought blog about the analytic/continental divide that may provoke your interest: Why is so much Continental Philosophy so Bad? Why bother talking to analytic philosophers? I found this via Philosophy Carnival on Noah Greenstein's blog. From the latter article, relevant to our Heidegger … [Read more...]

Secular News Daily Responds to Our Churchland Episode

I see Ken Perrot of the Secular News Daily has cogitated on our Churchland episode and raised some follow-up questions. Read the article here. To respond to one of his points: 1: Is consciousness over-rated? Pat Churchland devoted little of her discussion to the unconscious, or subconscious, aspects of human morality. The conscious aspects are important to understanding … [Read more...]

From Technologist to Humanist: Google’s “In-House” Philosopher

I had been thinking about the PEL debate on the value of higher education, and came across this compelling story by Damon Horowitz. Did you know that Google has an "in-house philosopher"? Horowitz shares his personal story of self-transformation in this article for the Chronicle of Higher Education. With a background in software engineering, he had developed a career in the … [Read more...]

Churchland Ep. Name Drop #2: Chris Eliasmith

Around 55 min into the episode, Pat described one of the possible roles of a philosopher re. the sciences is "the analogue of doing theoretical physics," and she mentioned Chris Eliasmith as a paradigm example of this. He's the Director for the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo. I quote from their web site: Theoretical neuroscience is the … [Read more...]

Churchland Ep. Name Drop #1: W.D. Ross

Our Churchland episode was exceptional in that we suspended some of our regular rules, including, I think, the one on name dropping, so I want to fill in some of the gaps through this blog by giving you readers an idea who some of these people are. I brought up W.D. Ross in the context of trying to fill out Churchland's actual ethical views. Churchland concentrates in her … [Read more...]

A Database of “Philosophy Ideas”

Ever lose track of all those crazy ideas philosophers come up with? Do you like databases? Peter Gibson says yes, and developed philosophyideas.com. I quote the explanation on his site: This database has been compiled by Peter Gibson from many years of philosophy reading. These studies led him to two MA's from London University, and to teaching philosophy to teenagers for … [Read more...]

Atheism and Feminism Political/Personal Collision (via Salon.com)

Given that we've been building to this "new atheism" episode for-stinking-ever (it's scheduled to record at the end of August right now) and the next actual recording we'll be doing is on feminism (scheduled for a week from now, but originally scheduled for back in March, so it's not like we're neglecting atheism to do this one), it struck me as serendipitous to see this … [Read more...]

Applied Ontology?

I stumbled across a presentation from the National Center for Ontological Research (NCOR)'s Ontology Summit 2011 which declares NCOR's goals to "advance ontology as a science" and "foster development of high quality ontologies" and "develop measures of quality for ontologies to establish best practices." Clearly, these people mean something different by "ontology" than, say, … [Read more...]

Roger Scruton on Religion and Politics

The recent interest here in Roger Scruton (who I'd really only known due to his Kant scholarship)led me to this interview with him from 2002 from The London Times in light of his book The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat.His conservative political philosophy is outlined as such: ...He rejects the western assumption that while freedom makes us … [Read more...]

Roger Scruton on Religion and Politics

The recent interest here in Roger Scruton (who I'd really only known due to his Kant scholarship)led me to this interview with him from 2002 from The London Times in light of his book The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat.His conservative political philosophy is outlined as such: ...He rejects the western assumption that while freedom makes us vulnerable … [Read more...]

Ignoring Metcalf’s Central Point

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 … [Read more...]

Be Reasonable, Do It My Way

All 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 … [Read more...]

Stephen Metcalf on Nozick and “The Liberty Scam”

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. … [Read more...]

Partially Examined Music Blog: Lee Abramson’s “Shalom” (plus a Bonus Mashup)

Listen 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 … [Read more...]

Spinoza Stock on the Rise!

"Investors take note: this Dutch rationalist is a hot stock." Thanks for Michael Benedikt for informing me of this article, which says a few words about how Spinoza (a favorite of Schleiermacher, don't you know) fits into today's landscape of ideas. -Mark Linsenmayer … [Read more...]

McGinn vs. Ramachandran on The Tell-Tale Brain

We've talked quite a bit recently about neuroscience, not to mention scientism -- which again, I take to be: the idea that science is applicable to any domain of inquiry that is meaningful, and will inevitably provide a solution to all meaningful questions Mark calls it "the dreaded scientism," I think because he doubts it's so prevalent or powerful; whereas I find it a … [Read more...]

Josh Pelton’s Amazing Calculations

At the beginning of the Russell episode, we mentioned our guest Josh's strange calculations. (See here for lyrics to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," whose quantitative questions he answered for us.) Here's a forum thread from geekson.com that features Josh answering such questions as "how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" New York State … [Read more...]

David Eagleman on the Neuroscience and the Unconscious

Terry Gross has an interesting interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (Incidentally, if you're in Boston you can catch him at Harvard Bookstore on Friday). Eagleman's book is about, among many other things, the neuroscience of unconscious processes and their importance to our behavior (something of the particular … [Read more...]

“Blue Collar Philosophy” on Socrates’s Elitism

Though I've not yet actually posted the topic announcement yet (we're still dithering about which chapters to focus on), episode 40 will be on Plato's Republic, wherein Socrates states unequivocally that those controlled by reason (i.e. the philosophers like Socrates) are just plain better than the rest of the people, and a just state will put the philosophers in … [Read more...]

Sharing a Mind

This fascinating New York Times Magazine articles tells the story of conjoined twins Krista and Tatiana, who share part of their brains; specifically, there is a bridge of neural tissue joining their thalami. The thalamus is something like a switchboard for routing sensory information. While the twins have two distinct minds and personalities, each can see and feel the … [Read more...]

“The Nation” on Brooks on Cognitive Neuroscience

We've bashed NY Times columnist David Brooks before on this blog for his attempts at philosophy, and I absolutely feel for the guy from a logistical perspective: he's not an academic that can take a sabbatical and hole up to write and revise. He's more or less a blogger who has to fumble around every few days to figure out something that he's read about to spit back in an … [Read more...]

Beer and Philosophy (Matt Lawrence Interview on Huffingtonpost)

For those of you that enjoyed Seth's comments on wine and philosophy, look here for an interview with Matt Lawrence, Philosophy Prof at Long Beach City College. Lawrence's new bookpairs 48 philosophical puzzles with 48 beers, covering historical and modern figures from both the West and East. For more about the book, here's Lawrence's site; the sample chapter there is … [Read more...]

Debating Locke’s View of Slavery as War

Ta-nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, recently opened up a discussion on Locke's Second Treatise, with respect to the discussion of slavery. A fairly intelligent debate thread followed in the comments section. Check it out if you found that section of PEL's Locke episode interesting. Some of the better comments in the thread debated whether or not Locke was … [Read more...]

Russell on Locke’s Political Philosophy

On our not-yet-released Russell episode, Wes dismisses Russell's A History of Western Philosophy as pretty bad overall, but we also comment on that episode that Russell was a great admirer of Locke, so maybe he didn't do as badly in that part of the book. In any case, some nice gentleman has posted a recording of this part of that book being read aloud, which you can listen … [Read more...]

Atheists Against Atheism

Not all atheists are on board with 'the four horsemen' of the New Atheism: Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens. Julian Baggini, podcaster and author of Atheism: A Very Short Introductionpoints out their generally unsophisticated grasp of religion. I met Baggini in New York last December when he came to speak to a small group of us on the subject of politics. He's British, … [Read more...]

Does PEL Support Entrepreneurship vs. Academia?

The University Has No Clothes

A New York Magazine article about the value of higher education, "The University Has No Clothes" is making the rounds on FB and Twitter.  It's a decent length article that explores the issue in some depth but the thesis boils down to this:  a college or university education is a huge investment for a young person and their family.  It creates an enormous debt hole  before they … [Read more...]

Atheism in the Face of Death

Christopher Hitchens, as you've likely heard, has cancer. He's one of the "new atheists," and of course people asked "now that he's going to die, will he find God?" to which he replied in the negative. In this article, he discusses his "fan" reactions (i.e. people praying for him to get better in spite of his atheism, or assuring him that they wouldn't condescend by praying for … [Read more...]

Robert C. Solomon on Husserl’s Phenomenology

I couldn't find any Solomon lectures on Hegel, but here's one introducing Edmund Husserl, which I think is apt now that we've covered Hegel's "phenomenology," so you can reflect on the difference: Listen on youtube. Maybe the only reference to Hegel here is the discussion of Husserl's rejection of historicism, though I think it should be clear that "historicist" is would be … [Read more...]

Robert C. Solomon on Husserl’s Phenomenology

I couldn't find any Solomon lectures on Hegel, but here's one introducing Edmund Husserl, which I think is apt now that we've covered Hegel's "phenomenology," so you can reflect on the difference: Listen on youtube. Maybe the only reference to Hegel here is the discussion of Husserl's rejection of historicism, though I think it should be clear that "historicist" is … [Read more...]

Greeks vs. Germans

And now for something completely different: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur5fGSBsfq8 SPOILER ALERT: The Germans are disputing it! Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-analytic ethics, Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination, and Marx is claiming that it was offside. But … [Read more...]

Lawrence Cahoone on Rorty: Bridging Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Richard Rorty: A friend of Dan Dennett (and his dreaded scientism : ). A neo-pragmatist. An analytic philosopher who began teaching around the mid-20th-century, he eventually turned against its scientism. Rorty felt that 20th-century analytic thought was going down the wrong track by taking up the same sort of epistemological foundationalist project as Descartes. Rorty saw the … [Read more...]

Lawrence Cahoone on Hegel’s Phenomenology

Here's an audio-only lecture by Lawrence Cahoone: Listen on youtube. Cahoone here emphasizes very different themes than we talked about on the episode, specifically the theistic themes (he characterizes "Spirit" as "pantheistic" or "panentheistic," both of which have been used to describe Spinoza; the former means everything is God, while the latter means everything is … [Read more...]

Hegel and the Negativity of the Modern Spirit

[Editor's Note: Tom McDonald, guest podcaster on our Hegel episodes, has eagerly agreed to join us on the blog to share more of what he's picked up about Hegel. You can read more by Tom at zuhanden.com -ML] It's hard to overestimate how important for Hegel is Kant's critical philosophy following the Enlightenment. Kant's elaboration of 'the critical turn' in modern … [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...]

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...]