Imagine a world where English Literature students were placed in charge of political revolution. Marshalling the full resources of their limited literary perspectives, what might we expect?
The standard story has it that philosophy developed in contrast to, and reaction against, the supernaturalist-religious view of the world. The early Greeks believed in the Olympian gods, sacrificed and prayed to them, and held regular festivals in their honor. Greek philosophy, it is often claimed, appeared as a light of understanding in the midst of this dark ignorance.
“The study of the past with one eye, so to speak, upon the present is the source of all sins and sophistries in history.” –Herbert Butterfield
An extended excerpt from Mark Anderson’s book—a study of Plato, Melville, and Nietzsche, framed as a philosophical commentary on Moby-Dick.
Why doesn’t public policy reflect more the preferences of ordinary citizens? The answer is institutional.
“One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be—though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain—because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone.” –Oswald Spengler
The Stoics regarded each person as a microcosmos in whom the macrocosmos of the universal Logos is reflected.
Some early Stoics argued for disrespecting private property, fornicating in temples, and eating one’s parents when they died.
With the parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus commends the practice of memento mori as a release from anxiety about one’s life.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever. –George Orwell
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. –Elie Wiesel
Two diametrically opposed factions in the Republican Id: Sleepy McSleepums (a.k.a. Ben Carson), who is like a shot of morphine straight into the cerebellum. And Donald Trump, who needs no alias because he is the most stimulating form of political snuff available without a prescription.
In this part we continue from where we left off with Jesus’s statements on justice, analyzing his approach to anxiety.
Some background on historicism, an idea first advanced by Giambattista Vico and later taken up by German historians and philosophers.
According to the stoic Seneca, the need for absolute quiet as a prerequisite to serious reflection signals that one’s thoughts and emotions, not environmental conditions, are in turmoil. However, whether you are Seneca, The Who’s sound guy, or merely a modern apartment dweller, noise, as opposed to sound, is defined subjectively.
Michael Sandel is one of America’s best-known political philosophers, and helped establish his reputation with a widely respected and widely taught book, “Liberalism and the Limits of Justice.” That’s surprising, given that its central argument is based on some very obvious errors in reasoning.
Our fundamental responsibility responses are emotional appraisals. How we express our anger, shame, regret, guilt, gratitude, etc., are ethical matters, though, about the ways we ought to treat our fellows. And the question of desert—as in “What does he deserve for what he did?”— is fundamentally an ethical question, i.e., “How should we treat those who do angersome things?” But the form of this question applies equally to all sorts of “non-responsibility” arenas as well, i.e., “How should we treat those who are economically worst off in our society?” or “How should we treat people with Huntington’s disease?” We can answer these questions in a variety of ways, but those answers aren’t necessarily dependent on our responsibility responses.
With this post, PEL introduces a new feature: Extended excerpts from recent and forthcoming books on philosophy and related topics.
Imagine a hypothetical argument between two philosophers—a self-described empiricist and a faithful Augustinian. Let’s grant that they have the same basic conception of how to reason. They start with premises that they deem to be true and important, and they attempt, when drawing implications, to rely as firmly as possible on the truth of the foundational premises. Having them begin with different premises, we can expect that they will end in different places. The empiricist tells you that to be an empiricist you must begin with the premise that all knowledge is based on the senses. The Augustinian tells you that nothing else, like, say, the sensed world, is all that real when compared to God. How will you choose between these paths?
“History, in so far as it serves life, serves an unhistorical power.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
People who support antidiscrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity need to do a better job of arguing for them. Specifically, we need to do more than simply say that businesses “must serve all comers,” because that’s false, and we need to do more than point to the history of race discrimination, because that history, while instructive, is different from the current situation in salient ways.
Can too much historical awareness be something that hinders rather than helps us? Nietzsche argued as much. Does his case hold up as our historical memory recedes?
If Mike Tyson is my neighbor and continually wakes me up in the middle of the night by playing smooth jazz loudly through his open window, I’d best not show my anger to him. I may judge that I shouldn’t feel angry, but I feel it nonetheless when I hear Kenny G start up at 2 a.m. In this instance, my anger is perfectly fitting and rational: Mike Tyson is slighting me, that is, not taking me and my ends seriously. But is this reflective of Mike’s deep self, his strong evaluations about what’s important in life? And does any of this make any difference about whether I hold him responsible? Philosopher Dave Shoemaker discusses this and related questions.
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” –Karl Marx
A misconception holds sway over the way that many people think of the principle that it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of personal characteristics like race and sex. The misconception is that the principle applies only to the lucky winners of a reverse popularity contest: only the unpopular get equal protection.
A look at some of Pope Francis’s ideas about care for the environment, which have been obscured by sensationalist criticism from conservatives.
“I know too much of history to expect anything from the despotism of the masses but a future tyranny, which will be the end of history.” –Jacob Burckhardt
“The nations of our day cannot prevent conditions of equality from spreading in their midst. But it depends upon themselves whether equality is to lead to servitude or freedom, knowledge or barbarism, prosperity or wretchedness.” –Alexis de Tocqueville
“And I, who have sprung from them, I, who have lived, toiled, and suffered with them—who, more than any other have purchased the right to say that I know them—I come to establish against all mankind the personality of the people.” –Jules Michelet
“Only say how it essentially was.” (wie es eigentlich gewesen) –Leopold von Ranke
Advances in technology, such as virtual reality systems and video games, have served to breathe new life into some of the oldest attacks on realism.
“Pure Reason, incapable of any limitation, is the Deity itself.” –Hegel
The philosopher Don Cupitt highlights that in the parables, “Jesus sharply criticizes and even ridicules ordinary people’s ideas of justice and equity.” Part of this radicalism, the Catholic Church teaches, is that “Jesus identifies with the poor of every kind and makes active love towards them the condition for entering the kingdom.” Another part is the irreverence which he displayed toward the claims over morality made by religious authorities, which has been characterized in the joke on the Good Samaritan parable: “You know why the priest didn’t cross the road to the wounded traveler? He could see that he had already been robbed.”
“Reason obeys itself, and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.” –Thomas Paine
“Kings will be tyrants from policy, when subjects are rebels from principle.” –Edmund Burke
“What is the Third Estate? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something.” –Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès
Examining Descartes’s Cogito, one can find that rather than philosophy and reason being a shield from horror and madness, the truth might be the opposite.
In his final novel, Island, Aldous Huxley created a vision of utopia where the Pacific island of Pala is an “oasis of happiness and freedom,” free from the trappings of capitalism, consumerism, and technology. Some say that the Island is an example of humanity at its sanest and most admirable. Yet it ends, predictably, in sorrow, “the work of a hundred years destroyed in a single night.” So, what was Huxley’s point in creating then destroying a vision of paradise?
“The time will come when the sun will shine only upon free men who know no other master but their reason; when tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical instruments will exist only in works of history and on the stage; and when we shall think of them only to pity their victims and their dupes.” –Condorcet
Michel Foucault’s response to Jacques Derrida’s assertion that Foucault misinterpreted Descartes’s Cogito.
Hannah Arendt’s essay “The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition,” in which she locates exiled Jewish culture in pre-WWII works of film and literature, takes on new dimensions in light of current global conflicts.
“I have recorded the triumph of barbarism and religion.” -Edward Gibbon
“History should be written as philosophy.” –Voltaire
The outright dismissal of religion as barbaric, as primitive credulity, or as childish superstition—even if at times it exhibits all of those symptoms—blinds us to important insights into its varied nature and uses. In the absence of direct evidence of the gods, the pious among the ancient Epicureans argued for their existence based on human nature.
What, exactly, is a Nietzsche book? His works defy easy placement. Whatever they are, they’re filled to the brim with dancing—dancing Dionysian revelers, dancing satyrs, dancing ladies and men and children of all stripe and color.
“The true and the made are convertible.” (Verum Factum)
Lucian of Samosata (c. 125–180 CE) was a Greek-speaking Assyrian satirist, who falls within the tradition of the laughing philosophers. He was the George Carlin or perhaps the Bill Maher of his day, eloquently mocking both the credulous masses and the charlatans who made a living off of them.
In “What is Enlightenment?” Kant addressed the question of what restrictions on a person’s freedom to act on his own reason are acceptable. What would he make of government employees’ claims of conscience against facilitating same-sex marriages?
” ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding,’ is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.” -Immanuel Kant
The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector illuminates several of the virtues promoted by Jesus, and can be used as a focal point for understanding the interior aspect of his ethics proposed in the Sermon on the Mount.
Comments from Warren Fischer (Fischerspooner) re. the stylistic conservatism expressed on our songwriting episode and Mark’s response: Can we maintain the critical eye needed to create without being dismissive of other styles’ internal logic/aesthetic standards? This is harder than it sounds.
Listeners to the PEL Antigone episodes who want to dig deeper into the meaning of the play can benefit from Mark W. Roche’s overview of Hegel’s remarks on tragedy, put forth in his essay “Introduction to Hegel’s Theory of Tragedy.” Roche specifies four Hegelian questions audiences might ask of any tragedy in an attempt to understand its characters and their interactions, and the ultimate outcomes.
A thesis advanced in our songwriting episode was that we appreciate music by “identifying” with it. There are a few possible meanings of this that I wanted to explore, especially in light of the charge that the ethic outlined in our discussion was too specific to rock ‘n’ roll.
In his 2010 book Ill Fares the Land, the late historian Tony Judt laments the fate of the “millennial” generation, and compares them to the “lost generation” of the 1920s. While there are striking similarities between the two groups, their differences are significant.
Philodemus of Gadara’s masterpiece On Death, preserved in the ruins of Herculaneum, catalogues in detail the ethical repercussions of the Epicurean doctrine that death is nothing to us and produces a beautiful, life-affirming, world-loving, secular philosophy of life that does not deny, mask, or run away from the reality of death. On Death helps us to develop a fully consistent, naturalist account of death that rejects superstitious and primitive fear.
The parallels between Taoism and Epicurean philosophy which become evident when we study Taoism and read the Tao Te Ching. Sometimes the insights we get from both traditions mirror, complete and complement each other.
Art and beauty have a peculiar kind of relationship and have been uneasily coupled since perhaps the beginning of human history. But the two have always been separable, as the 20th century demonstrated. Art always occupies a particular time and space, but beauty resides somewhere in the excitement of our brains, and we as a species still crave art that excites in this way.
Entry into the end zone is admission to a place that can only be reached against opposition, passage through a door that cannot open without people trying hard to keep it closed. The poetry in a touchdown is success against the odds. A beautiful game is one where both teams play their best, each pushing the other to a higher standard—competition as collaboration.
Jacques Derrida is known as the founder of deconstruction, a mode of critical analysis or hermeneutics that problematizes and complicates the act of reading and demonstrates how books cannot be reduced into comprehensible meanings. But in his book Writing and Difference, he delivers a rather cogent interpretation of Descartes’s Meditations, an interpretation that remains faithful to something as suspect as Descartes’s “intentions.” He does this in response to his mentor Michel Foucault
What does the film Ex Machina have to do the deus ex machina as plot device?
Many public intellectuals espouse a view of Nature as tending toward truth and goodness, without much justification.
In Plato’s view, we perceive God not in the fulfillment of the promises of our ordinary knowledge, but in its absence.
Is the dreamlike aesthetic of celebrated Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami serving a hidden psychological function?
How could a contrast between Real and Unreal ever even be formulated? The question ‘could everything be a mirage?’ can be immediately answered: no. A mirage is something which is set in contrast to something that isn’t a mirage. Thus there is something deeply suspect when we’re asked to transpose these conditions into metaphysical divisions or dualism.
There are two traditions within phenomenology: realist phenomenology and idealist phenomenology. The distinguishing feature is how they treat their ‘pre-bracketed’ and ‘post-bracketed’ states. In the realist case when we interpret (describe) the world we can bracket the truth of the claims epistemologically; in the idealist case we can metaphysically bracket claims.
Should the social sciences be like the natural sciences? Wilhelm Dilthey didn’t think so; he contended that the concept of Verstehen is crucial in our interpretation of human thought and behavior. Whereas we look for explanations of phenomena in the natural sciences, Verstehen as applied to the social sciences means interpreting human behavior.
A majority of comics profess to solely be interested in getting a laugh. Something about that just doesn’t sit well with me.
William James said of philosophy, “It sees the familiar as if it were strange, and the strange as if it were familiar.” The comedian evokes laughter by making the familiar seem strange, but the philosopher’s way of unsettling us can please in a similar way.
According to the Vienna Circle, the proper domain of philosophy is logic and language as applied to observation and scientific theory. Philosophers should accept the reduction of their field to an auxiliary discipline of science.
“We begin by making any supposition, even a false one, to see what consequences will follow from it; and by observing how these differ from the real phenomena, we learn what corrections to make in our assumption.”
The philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend (1924 – 1994) argued that the standard account of science as an orderly, rational, methodical process is a “fairy tale.” In practice, science is a messy business, and this messiness is essential to creativity.
Two years after 9/11, several New Yorkers packed into a courtroom in order to hear a court case on the semantics of the word occurrence. The question was this: Was the attack on One and Two World Trade Center one event or two?
What is it to say that a rapist should be treated with compassion?
Why might someone be a libertarian, if not for the reasons Nozick puts forward? If you believe that we have a duty to make the world better, why pull government action off the table?
Last weekend’s conference featured a broad range of people and groups trying to put this stuff into practice.
In trying to solve the problem of too much meaningless work, it’s irrational to reject any potential technological solutions based on Thoreau’s biases.
If we are not mindful, we become disconnected from the real struggles that humanity faces when confronted by technology.
The Redskins should think seriously about looking to Florida State University, whose mascot has the blessing of an actual tribe.
Why the typical model of public argumentation, where two adversaries square off, is not the best model for philosophy and not good for our podcast.
Sandel’s attempt to understand America’s modern malaises relies on telling the wrong story of America’s competing visions and the way these visions evolved.
Sandel recommends a society that takes sides about the good and doesn’t pretend to be neutral. So what does that mean for legislation? How can we practically make society less commercial?
In the ordinary business of science it is reasonable to claim that the moon causes the tides, and to refer to empirical data as evidence. In the ordinary business of literary criticism it is reasonable to claim that Gordon Geko was greedy or that house elves are moral stand-ins for the peoples of our world […]
Listener C. M. “Fredbo” Frederick lays down the gauntlet against optimism that there’s any mass solution available to the problem of work.
In Philosophical Investigations, section 174, Wittgenstein is discussing the temptation to describe the experience of acting with deliberation (in drawing a line parallel to another, say) as a “quite particular inner” experience. At this point in the text, he has been discussing reading in order to shed light on the concept of understanding, which he […]
The licence to speculate on the fringes of human progress is immediately issued when that which we hadn’t even imagined transitions to that which we merely know we do not fully understand. This transition point is the playground of the so-called “popular imagination”, the stage on which esteemed careers are built without the effort and determination of […]
“If I had not read Bergson,” William James wrote in A Pluralistic Universe, “I should probably still be blackening endless pages of paper privately.” James had been engaged in a very long philosophical debate with the leading Idealists of his day, F.H. Bradley and Josiah Royce, when Bergson came to the rescue. James thought that […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
“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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
“Start looking around you and you’ll see things that help you to get started.” Shortly following this quote in the Episode 83 Follow-Up with Frithjof Bergmann, Bergmann launches into a passionate plea for an education revolution, reminiscent of the inspirational Ken Robinson TED talks. What I’d like to offer in support of Bergmann’s hope is an image […]
Update: Coates responds. I rebut. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Andrew Sullivan have both responded to my criticisms of their claim that Alec Baldwin is a “bigot” for, among other offenses, calling a photographer a “cocksucking fag.” In doing so, they resort to two tried-and-true tactics available to someone on the losing side of an argument: the first […]
If from continental philosophy you throw out transcendental phenomenology and older idealist trappings–transcendental subjects and so on–you are left with a system which still has two components: the world and the self. It was the relationship between these two that took hold as the major problem for 20th C. continental philosophy. The upshot of the first phase […]
In the Nietzsche episode, I made a point relating Nietzsche’s “bright side” of slave morality with Hegel’s account of the master-slave encounter. To refresh: Nietzsche’s story in the Genealogy of Morals involves the oppressed turning in on themselves for satisfaction, because they can’t get satisfaction in the usual brutish, masterful way. Nietzsche is often taken […]
Update: Coates responds here, and Sullivan here. My follow-up here. Alec Baldwin is a talented actor who also happens to be extremely intelligent, verbally dexterous, and politically active on the left. And he has a history of getting in trouble for very public (or publicized) displays of anger, once leaving a rant on his 11-year-old daughter’s […]
[Editor’s Note: Thanks to new blogger Jacob Wick for this meditation on work. Now go, everyone! Quit your jobs today! -ML] In Episode 83, Frithjof mentioned the large number of successful individuals that are unhappy with their work in the current job system. The feeling this work is creating was described as a “mild disease.” […]
As I prepared for our recent podcast on New Work and we interviewed Bergman himself, I found that I have many sympathies with the project. Even without an analysis of the calamitous effect of the current job system on our economy, I can buy the fact that our job system is a structure with rules, […]
I just spent 3 days at Universal Studios, Orlando and feel the need for philosophical reflection. Rather, I pretty much ALWAYS feel the need for philosophical reflection, but in this case have to spin some of this aloud to make sense of what, if any, insights I gained out of this experience. First, I don’t […]
Everyone once in a while I run across the opinion that non-Euclidean presents a serious problem for Kantian epistemology. While I’ve rebutted this notion before, it’s common enough that I thought I’d have another go at explaining why it’s a misconception. For Kant we can’t know the universe to be spatial “in itself” (as in “things-in-themselves”), […]
I want to briefly call attention to the transition between virtue ethics as conceived by Aristotle and the jump to Nietzsche in the context of our New Work discussion. I’m not looking up quotes for this post; I’m less interested in their particular views then in a divergence of ways of thinking about virtue. For […]
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 […]
[Editor’s Note: Fredbo here was inspired by my topic announcement to share his story. Welcome, Fredbo!] I am 39 years old and have had three “legitimate” jobs in my life: – For about a year or so I had the position of first shift “Party Mix Assembler” at a snack food manufacturer. – For about […]
The partially examined podcasters raised a series of very difficult questions in their recent discussion of Heidegger, particularly during a ten-minute stretch beginning about one hour and ten minutes into the 80th episode. These questions all seemed to pivot around one central problem: what does it mean to get right with Being? Should we take […]
I’m in the midst of reading Karl Popper in preparation for our next recording and have been thinking about the distinction between the fruits of scientific exploration, the theories and accounts of the world, and the underlying disposition of scientific argument, especially as it applies to the way we, as a community, discuss and expect […]
In our discussion on Jung, I brought up the issue of free will with respect to the existence of the unconscious, and I wanted to explore this a bit further: Compatibilism is the doctrine that free will and determinism are in some way compatible, but since these terms were designed to contradict each other, any […]
Editor’s Note: Thanks for this submission from listener and PEL Citizen Michael Burgess. The principal critics of philosophy appear to come from one ideological view point, though it has been expressed in different guises throughout the ages. I’m going to call it, “I don’t understand this so it doesn’t make sense”ism. At its most sophisticated, this […]
I’ve long held that virtually all the different types of art are open to anyone, that you can, for instance, come to embrace music you used to hate if you just give it a little effort. I’ve taken most people’s denial of this as evidence of their own self-ignorance or bullheadedness or lack of ability […]
My concern here, as is often the case, is with our methodology at PEL. As we go through these various readings and figure out what we want to say about them, I periodically figure out some articulable point about how I’m reading and why I feel the need to express what I do as opposed […]
As mentioned on the episode, covering Rand had a purpose for me not only in investigating a realm of the philosophical universe but in dispelling conceptual personae that have haunted me since college. There’s always in philosophy the issue of motivation: why bother to make some particular point at all? If philosophy were all about […]
The terms “reason” and “rationality” are generally used interchangeably, where the latter is perhaps more technical, or sometimes “reason” is used to describe the human faculty while “rationality” the normative standard to which the faculty aspires. “Reasonable” has acquired a more general usage in social discourse as anyone willing to listen to reason, i.e. anyone […]
I sometimes feel like our default position on the various figures we cover on the podcast is “well, there are some interesting ideas there, but the project as a whole is weird and misguided.” Now, I’m sure that we all don’t feel that way about every figure we cover, but per my statement of default […]
[Editor’s Note: Thanks to philosophy grad student and musician Al Baker for this guest post.] The first time I heard the term “experimental philosophy,” part way through my master’s degree, it sounded like such an obvious oxymoron that I couldn’t help but think it was a terrible idea. I shared, and continue to share, many […]
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 […]
I’m continuing to try to get some Rand thoughts related to The Fountainhead out of my system so that I won’t feel the need to bring them up while on the episode devoted to her more straightforwardly philosophical works. I also feel the periodic need for synthesis, to try to recap some ongoing themes in […]
Following up on my recent post skeptical of a strong formulation of the difference between philosophy and science, I’ve been thinking about the character of many philosophical claims, particularly in light of my current reading of Rand. In addition to the readings for the podcast proper (which I’ll post about within the next week, but […]
Andrew Sullivan has accused Glenn Greenwald of “justifying” terrorism for a post that is largely about the inconsistent use of the word “terrorism.” Greenwald’s response is a thorough and decisive debunking of Sullivan’s accusations, but I wanted add something as a follow-up to my discussion of Sullivan’s incoherence on these issues. In this latest piece, […]
When I start responding to a comment on a previous post and find that my answer is getting longer than a paragraph, that means it’s time to either stop or to make a proper blog post out of it. This morning a newish (I guess) listener named Lewis posted a comment on a post I […]
There’s a claim I laid out from Deleuze in the episode that I wanted to bring up for explicit discussion. I think it’s provocative and deserves some thought but is almost certainly wrong. It’s about the picture of science as producing concepts and not propositions. I gave the example of Descartes’s Cogito, and laid out […]
I’ve often thought of education – my chosen field – as applied epistemology. This was a conceit. Education does not explore or enact the subtle, rich, body of epistemological thought. Education has an epistemology, a vulgar blunt-object affair that is, essentially, the product of the limitations of the structures of traditional schooling. The problem can be […]
Since it became known that the Boston Marathon bombing suspects are Muslims, there has been a predictable celebration by a chorus of right-wing commentators for whom the evil of Islam and the collective guilt of Muslims in such cases are tenets of faith. More subtle but equally pernicious are the reactions of blogger Andrew Sullivan […]
1. Choose liberty over security. 2. See events like the Boston Marathon bombing — by virtue of their rarity — as evidence of our relative security, not as one more reason to feel afraid. 3. Understand that our relative security is guaranteed on the whole not by guards and guns, but by basic human psychology, […]
One of the recurring themes of PEL is the power dynamics in philosophizing. This is not so much the case in what we read but in how we deal with guests, with the authors, with each other. The situation seems pretty simple: We’re each on our own independent, spiritual quest. We can study on our […]
[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, […]
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 […]
[Editor’s Note: Thanks to new contributor Rob Graumans for this one!] Scientific realists are known to have a positive epistemic attitude towards the content of our best scientific theories and models. The exact interpretation of this philosophical tenet can, however, differ dramatically between each of its proponents. Some of these base their idea of the […]
I’m assuming for this post that you’re familiar with the 1993 Bill Murray vehicle (Go rent it right now if you haven’t!), which I watched with my kids this past Feb. 2 for the first time in many years. I was struck in light of our recent episode on Plato’s Gorgias on the evolution of […]
The fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) seemed to herald the victory of capitalism over socialism, what Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History;” the failure and death of both Marxist thought and political movements. Fukuyama, an eloquent Hegelian political philosopher and one-time neoconservative (and continued anti-Marxist) asserts uncompromisingly in his “End of History” essay […]
President Obama’s recent inauguration has incited the mind of one of philosophy’s recent stars, Cornel West. If listeners remember, PEL covered West in the Philosophy and Race episode. Cornel West has been one of the most outspoken of all political philosophers in the category of race and with prior writings on MLK Jr.s legacy, he […]
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 […]
I’ve been stalled for some time now in my attempt to write a review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. My primary stumbling block has been his reliance in one section on Sharon Street’s “A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value”, which attempts to show that natural selection (in its current form) is not […]
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 […]
I’m generally skeptical when someone proclaims that “rationality” itself should get us to throw out 90%+ of philosophy. So I was a bit puzzled when someone on our Facebook group pointed at some articles by Luke Muehlhauser (specifically “Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline” and “Train Philosophers with Pearl and Kahneman, not Plato and Kant”), host of […]
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 […]
[Editor’s Note: Here’s a submission from Derick, guest from our Saussure episode.] “Plurality should not be posited without necessity.” -Duns Scotus “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.” -William of Ockham Here’s a philosophical thesis that should be obvious but apparently isn’t: Ockham’s Razor is not an ontological rule nor even a necessary rule of logic. […]
[This is a post from Kevin Jobe, friend of Law Ware and the podcast. It is part of a longer paper which PEL Citizens can download here.] i] Introduction. “This book is about space, about language, and about death; it is about the act of seeing, the gaze.” (ix) So begins The Birth of the Clinic: […]
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 […]
[Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog from our supporter Michael Rissman. Enjoy!] Philosophy doesn’t make me a better software designer. It does help me reflect on what I do when I am designing. A few podcast episodes are germane here: the ones on Pirsig, Wittgenstien and Goodman. Donald Schön in The Reflective Practitioner: How […]
It’s morning in America, as it is every morning, and despite the glow many of us are feeling due to the outcome of yesterday’s elections, the systemic problems, many of which were recognized by the authors of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, remain. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of focusing solely on trying […]
Per Wes’s election post, not voting because you don’t like the available options fails to grasp the reality of our situation. There are plenty of principled rationales for ruling out both candidates, and you may think that not voting, or voting for a third-party candidate, will send some kind of message that the system is […]
Every once in a while, a listener of The Partially Examined Life complains that that our liberal political proclivities — and occasional outright partisanship — are not consistent with our being philosophical, which should make us more neutral about such matters. I disagree. I do agree – after listening recently to the first few PEL […]
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 […]
[Editor’s Note: Here’s a post by Getty from our Hume/Smith on ethics episode. Incidentally, Getty will be leading a Not School Reading group on Harry Frankfurt’s The Reasons of Love. Go join.] Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at NYU, is notorious for his heterodox philosophical positions (this was discussed a bit on PEL […]
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 […]
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 […]
Following my thread of “if something feels weird, let’s call it some kind of existentialism,” I’ve been listening a lot to Badfinger lately. See who I’m talking about on YouTube. Of course there’s something a little disconcerting about the passage of time itself, and the fact that, if you’re listening to anything from a few […]
“I really would like to have the film rights to this book,” Robert Redford said to the book’s author. “You’ve got them,” Robert Pirsig replied. “I wouldn’t have gotten this involved if I hadn’t intended to give it to you.” As you may have inferred already, Redford is asking for the film rights to Pirsig’s […]
A friendly listener, Alicia S., submitted this note to us: I was asked this question and had no idea how to respond to it… This is the question: “Would you rather never be able to answer a question or never be able to ask a question”? The point of the question is to tease out […]
Part of the goal of The Partially Examined Life is to pull ivory-tower philosophical theories out into the light of day and see if they hold water. If an academically lauded idea seems totally absurd when discussed in ordinary language, well, then either those presenting the idea aren’t doing a very good job explaining its […]
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 […]
In one of Woody Allen’s films (Annie Hall?), one of the characters remarks that existentialism is a matter of projecting one’s neuroses onto the world. Instead of me being depressed, I am in an ontological state of despair. Instead of being a person who is considering what to do with my evening, it is the […]
[From friend of the blog Mark Satta] One of the great things about good literature is the ease with which it brings to life the characters in the mind of the reader. This “bringing to life” gives the reader an ability to play around with the facets of the character’s personality in a way that […]
If you believe Plato, then the answer is “yes”. If all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato, then the artists have been subordinated to the philosophers for about 25 centuries. According to Plato’s Republic, especially the last section, the artists present a danger to society and to your soul. Two of my favorite thinkers […]
When writing about literature and philosophy there are three obvious tropes: the existential or absurdist nior, the speculative fiction, and the condemnation of poetry. Not that poetry hasn’t had its defenders, and if Mark’s rant is indication, the sort of “deepity” he seems to accuse McCarthy of can easily be applied to most poets. In […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
One of the comments on Mark Satta’s recent very hot post about universal salvation has been zooming ’round my brain, and demands, I think, a PEL episode at some point. A comment by our listener Bear stated: My questions about Atheists wanting to redefine orthodoxies of particular belief systems, be it Christian, Buddhist, Mormon, Islam […]
There’s a long history of philosophers bashing poets, back to Socrates bashing rhetoriticians (poetry being a species of rhetoric, to him) for pursuing felicity of expression over an actual search for the truth. Though in the McCarthy episode, we were very upbeat about the utility of literature for conveying philosophical ideas, today I’m in a […]
[Another post from Adam Arnold, FotP “Friend of the Podcast”] Recently I read a short story entitled “My Brother’s Foot”. My interpretation of the story, like my interpretation of just about anything these days, was philosophical. I took the story to be a critique of the idea of an existential hero and a radical notion […]
[From friend of the podcast Adam Arnold] In regards to the latest episode on Candide and the continuing discussion of scientism and evolution on the blog, it is interesting to look back on the classic article by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin on the “adaptationist programme” in evolutionary biology. In “The spandrels of San […]
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 […]
(A re-post of an essay I wrote last year on the anniversary of 9/11). I Where was I on 9/11? At the time I worked not far from the World Trade Center – at 11 Broadway, across from the famous Wall Street Bull that’s not really on Wall Street. At 9:02 AM I left for […]
[Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a listener submission by Adam Arnold, graduate student at the University of Warwick. You too can be a guest blogger.] During the Buddhism Naturalized episode, the guest Owen Flanagan (as well as Mark, not unusually for him) may have dropped more names than in any other podcast. I have this […]
For another take on Nietzsche’s theory of truth, here’s a lecture from Prof. Robert Solomon, one of the stars of The Great Courses series. Solomon describes Nietzsche’s concept of truth as perspectivist rather than relativist. (Though, unlike Rick Roderick, Solomon is willing to concede that other Nietzsche interpreters have — rightly or wrongly — gone farther.) […]
I wanted to expand a bit on the critique of reason as mentioned in my previous post on Rand, and readers should keep in mind that this is chiefly a response to a strain I’ve picked up on in popular culture which may or may not accurately capture anything Rand actually said (though it does […]
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 […]
We get this question often enough that I thought a general announcement that I could refer back to in the future might be in order. What’s said here is my take and shouldn’t be taken to speak for Wes, Seth, or Dylan. I recognize the cultural influence of Ayn Rand and that it would be […]
[From David Buchanan, frequent blog and Facebook contributor and participant in our ZAMM episode. See if that doesn’t make sense after reading this.] Richard Rorty opened one of his talks by pointing out that as Europeans see it, Pragmatism is just what the Americans could get out of Nietzsche. This joke suggests that there are […]
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 […]
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 […]
In connection with Episode 61, I submit the following discussion by The Big Ideas podcast concerning Nietsche’s famous but often misunderstood claim that “God is dead.” The several participants in the discussion each address Nietzsche’s pronouncement from different angles. Giles Fraser argues that the “God is dead” revelation is that humanity can only become free […]
[From Chris Mullen, frequent blog and Facebook contributor] A few days ago I was reading an interview in 3 A.M. Magazine with the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson. The second question of the interview turned to the “..the treatment of women in professional philosophy.” 3:AM: Why is academic philosophy seemingly a worse place for women than in […]
[From Douglas Lain – see biographical note below for more details about Doug!] In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit there is a procedure to which Hegel subjects every positive proposition called dissolution. This process or procedure of dissolution doesn’t belong to Hegel alone. In fact, the Phenomenology seems to be Hegel’s attempt to demonstrate how all the […]
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 […]
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 […]
Last year I posted on psychopathy and moral sentiment. This week Cosmos magazine reports that researchers from the Netherlands have determined that psychopaths can ‘turn on’ empathy on demand. In short, a study was structured that measured psychopath’s empathy for others (not explained how) and then the subjects were told that the study was designed to […]
I made the point both on the episode and in a recent post that I thought MacIntyre to be a better model of the outsider philosopher than Pirsig. This is not a point I really want to hammer, as I like Pirsig and I don’t relish dissing someone that many of our listeners have a […]
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 […]
These are the words of the Conference of European Rabbis as reported by Spiegel Online in this article. Exceptionally inflammatory words, particularly coming as they do in response to a German court ruling. The Rabbi who issued the statement for the Conference, Pinchas Goldschmidt, is the Chief Rabbi of Moscow. A Rabbi from Munich took a less […]
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 […]
Gary Gutting reflects this Fourth of July on the morality of patriotism, which is grounded in a kind of in-group loyalty at odds with moral theories that require that we treat all human beings equally, regardless of whether we are part of the same family, tribe, or nation. He notes that Alasdair MacIntyre has given […]
Not only is today “Independence Day” here in the US, celebrating 236 years since a group of American rabble-rousers declared independence from Britain, it is also now the day that the Higgs Boson discovery was announced at the LHC in Switzerland. (Read about it in the Washington Post and the NYTimes as well.) In one […]
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 […]
Following up on my last post, here are some more examples, some cultural and some personal, to make my point. 1. Consider Cake: Listen to Cake singing “I Will Survive.” When this rendition came out in 1996, it was greeted as a “naughty cover.” A parody of some sort. When I hear it now, I […]
Near the end of our humor episode, I threw out the truism that humor tends to deal with something we’re uncomfortable with, like death, sex, or embarrassment itself. The example I gave was of someone like Ed Conard making jokes about being rich. Now, I’ve since seen Conard on the Daily Show, and while he […]
Just because I brought it up on the episode, I call the new readers’ attention to a book I wrote in 1993, Tripe. You can get it for free here. I also blogged in 2010 about the first few chapters. I had a few purposes in writing this, one of which was to explore the […]
[Editor’s note: We’re happy here to get a contribution on humor from Philosophy Bro who was on our recent Wittgenstein episodes. Give him a nice round of applause.] I think that “funny” is one of those words that you’re going to have a real bad time trying to delimit or explain entirely. But, uh… fuck […]
While discussing (through Bergson’s book) how humor works in us, we had a couple of forays into related off-topics. The first was the question of laughter and delight. My contention was that the laughter of delight may be related, but is not the same thing as a reaction to something being funny. The second was […]
So Mark took on the comedy stylings of Louis CK in the first case study, someone who establishes a core insight and then plays it out through both content and performance. I’d like to take a look at two other (multi-generational!) comedians who rely on establishing a premise quickly using audience assumptions and then make […]
One point I had intended to make during the episode was about the role of the imagination in aesthetic appreciation, including appreciation of humor. One distinction that Bergson glossed over and which we weren’t very consistent about making is the difference between “falling within the category of humor” and “actually being funny.” This came through […]
(Painting by Robert McCall) In his book Wittgenstein and William James,Russell Goodman makes a case that James influenced Wittgenstein’s thought and he does so by detailing their shared commitment to concrete experience and actual practice over intellect. (Wittgenstein was also positively influenced by James’s view of religion, especially by The Varieties of Religious Experience, but […]
It’s been a while since we had a post using some of our negative feedback to reflect on our project and methods. On the US iTunes store, one reviewer who had admittedly only listened to our two recent Wittgenstein episodes and nothing else, said that we were “A) woefully ignorant of the material at hand […]
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 […]
Listening to the guys and Philosophy Bro on the last episode, I want to interject that actually I see Wittgenstein as a bridge between analytic and continental philosophy for reasons beyond his being Austrian. What he brackets out and why is crucial to his project, which does become “anti-philosophical” in a broad sense. Anti-philosophy is […]
Would it be reasonable to take Wittgenstein’s case against private language as his case in favor of public language? Or is that too simple? As I was listening to episode 56, a quote from William James from Pragmatismcame to mind: All human thinking gets discursified; we exchange ideas; we lend and borrow verifications, get them […]