Misc. Philosophical Musings

Apr 032014
 
Technology and Individuality

There is a classic anxiety about technology: that it can lead to a lack of individuality and spiritual emptiness. Why might this be? The place to start is with the lack of control technology can bring about in our lives. This may seem counter-intuitive since it is normally thought that technology is what helps us attain more control in our Read more…

Mar 282014
 
Conversation vs. Crossfire (Philosophy, Arrogance, and the David Brin Episode)

Some of the initial listener reaction to our David Brin episode harkens back to similar comments we got about our Pat Churchland episode, our first attempt at including a celebrity author in the discussion. As Seth commented right after the recording with David, there was little purchase on his edifice in which to plant a Read more…

Mar 272014
 
Why Identity Politics is Illiberal (Belly Dancing, Ctd)

In my post on the identity politics of belly dancing, in which I argued that Randa Jarrar’s recent tirade against white belly dancers must imply the moral inferiority of white women, I bypassed – because I thought it particularly weak – the notion that white belly dancing unwittingly perpetuates racist stereotypes about Arabs, even if Read more…

Mar 242014
 

It turns out you’re a self-righteous hypocrite. Poor you. If only you followed my morality, then you’d be on the right path. But I suppose we can’t all be right. Don’t get me wrong though. Your pitiable beliefs’ leading you astray in no way brings me great pleasure. How could confirming something I knew all Read more…

Mar 112014
 
On the Identity Politics of Belly Dancing

Novelist Randa Jarrar has been mocked – and accused of racism – for telling the world that she “can’t stand” white belly dancers. As Eugene Volokh notes, if we were to universalize Jarrar’s objections to “cultural appropriation,” then we might object to East Asian cellists or Japanese productions of Shakespeare, rather than treating the arts Read more…

Mar 052014
 
Ought We to Compare Language and Games?

In the Anscombe episode, Mark refers (about 20 minutes in) to language games to explain what’s behind Anscombe’s claim that “ought” has been abstracted from the contexts in which it has clear uses and imagined to have a sense independent of those contexts. Mark notes that although Anscombe doesn’t use the term “language game,” she studied Read more…

Feb 202014
 
Is Jesus Asking Too Much?

  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”  Matthew 5:43-44 Boy, if there was ever Read more…

Feb 142014
 
The Bill Nye and Ken Ham Debate: Predictions, Starting Points and Degrees of Justification

Estimates suggest that over five million people have now watched the debate that was streamed live last week between CEO of the Planetary Society, Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” and president of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham. The debate benefited from a fairly concrete question—“Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific Read more…

Feb 102014
 
Freedom and Taste

In the Sartre episode, I made the point that Sartre thinks we have the freedom to adjust our point of view to understand other people, and that this amounts to a moral imperative for him: we deny our similarity to others on pain of bad faith. This goes well with my aesthetic mantra: if you Read more…

Feb 052014
 
Bad Faith and Death OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the "They"

But what are we then if we have the constant obligation to make ourselves what we are, if our mode of being is having the obligation to be what we are? (386) Sartre builds an obnoxiously robust case against humanity for its pervasive “bad faith,” a delicious doublethink meal that our minds keep feasting on (one which Read more…

Feb 032014
 
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 Read more…

Feb 022014
 
Sincerity. Sincerely.

The philosophy I love is that of articulated wonder. (Not incidentally, I also find this the character of my favorite science.) Not wonder simply. No. There’s a reason that Dante’s Paradiso is so flipping hard to read. Page after page extolling wonder without the challenge of trying to understand is uninviting, uninspiring, even just plain Read more…

Jan 252014
 
Existential Phenomenology: Introducing the World

Kant’s idea that one can never see what the world is really like “underneath” the phenomenological world we are in, whilst a great departure, is still minimally in the tradition of the Empiricists before him: it still had a veil of perception model. His world was still a bit like the world of Hume, were Read more…

Jan 062014
 
Defending Andy Warhol: A Very Very Brief History of 20th Century Art

If you’re not already a part of the Partially Examined Life Facebook group, you should go check it out. There’s a bunch of really smart people from all different backgrounds and perspectives having very stimulating discussions on there every single day. One of the things that’s great about it is that the community tends to Read more…

Dec 232013
 
Public Reason

John Rawls certainly has his fair share of critics, but he’s also widely considered to be the most influential political philosopher of the 20th century. As we heard in the Rawls episode, Rawls’s theory of justice is a kind of contract theory wherein he lays out the basic principles of a democratic society. In the Read more…

Dec 192013
 
Rawls's Second Principle: Compromise or Clusterf*#$?

Rawls’s principle 2a, to remind you, is (quoting from wikipedia here): Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that (Rawls, 1971, p.302; revised edition, p. 47): (a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle (the difference principle). This has appeal Read more…

Dec 172013
 
Cooperative Society and Natural Rights

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 Read more…

Dec 152013
 
Is Morality Ethical?

“Morality is neither rational nor absolute nor natural.” (Nietzsche) Nietzsche and Spinoza both challenged the validity of morality based on transcendent or universal values. They both argued that moral restrictions are based on weakness:  Nietzsche via enslavement by harboring vengeance or “resentment” against life ( Genealogy of Morals), Spinoza via enslavement to passive affections. In both, the Read more…

Dec 102013
 
Why the Divide? A Note on Continental Philosophy

The term Continental philosophy has no singularly accepted formal definition, nor does it even signify a “you know it when you see it” kind of activity, because it is not really a distinguishable activity at all. Indeed, most people who study philosophy on the continent have no idea that it is “continental philosophy” they are studying, but Read more…

Dec 062013
 

In his latest response to my criticisms, Ta-Nehisi Coates oddly compares Alec Baldwin to Strom Thurmond in a way that inadvertently makes my case for me. Thurmond adamantly and openly opposed desegregation and civil rights, even as the political winds were shifting the other way, while Baldwin adamantly and openly supported gay rights, long before Read more…