Although we spend most of our lives in a state of consciousness, as soon as we subject it to more careful scrutiny we realize that we know very little about it—how does it actually happen? And how does conscious experience fit into our scientific picture of the world?
Almost fifty years ago there was an influential woman who called pregnancy “barbaric,” described childhood as “hell,” and said giving birth was “like shitting a pumpkin.” Shulamith Firestone was a radical activist and remarkably prescient thinker who helped define feminism as we know it. Yet today she remains largely—and unfairly—unknown.
The abundance of moral concepts at play in the parable of the Vineyard Workers makes it a favorite among moral philosophers.
Dialog of hot-button topics with a family member doesn’t have to be unpleasant, or unfruitful.
What good are philosophy books? Can they make us any the wiser? A look at a humorous essay by Robert Wilson Lynd that demonstrates the difficulty of acquiring wisdom from books alone.
The physicist Paul Dirac believed that “it seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty.” Not only that, he even believed that beauty was more reliable a measure than experimental evidence. He claimed “it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.”
“If you leave decisions to the public, you can be killed.” A 1974 performance art piece by Marina Abramović explores our deepest human instincts.
Not only do Jesus’s moral values make sense when applied to socioeconomic issues, but there is reason to believe they were intended to do so as part of a political call to solidarity with the poor.
Nationalism has a bad reputation. Varieties of nationalist thought have been responsible for many of the horrors of the last century. Nonetheless, important philosophers and political theorists have made the cases that more reasoned forms of nationalism can provide credible theoretical justification for determining the boundaries between those within a political community and those outside of it.
People from opposing ends of the political spectrum claim Jesus as their own. But is Jesus’s moral philosophy broad in scope, such that it includes a political morality, or narrower, consisting only of private virtues?
A look at performance artist Marina Abramović might shed some light on the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas.
A look at how poverty was valued, in connection to virtue and to justice, within Jesus’s philosophy.
What is infinite responsibility? And can we live with it?
Jesus’s continued critique of the imperial economic system identifies what immoral uses of money look like.
Jesus’s critique of the imperial economic system presents an idea of how money can be used morally.
Researchers at MIT are pooling our moral intuitions, and we need to talk about it.
Paulo Freire’s pedagogical philosophy was premised upon a notion of not just what it means to be human, but also what it means for humans to be incomplete beings, subjects in a dialectical relationship with the objective world, or social order, that shapes and yet can also be consciously transformed by us.
It seems that an explanation is one kind of thing, given that all explanations share a name. The popular approach to scientific explanation is to treat all successful explanation as giving information about the relevant cause or causes of the phenomenon to be explained. But if we look to the natural and social sciences, we find explanations that look quite different. What scientists call “explanations” differ with respect to the form and structure of the explanation and with respect to the information given. Given that in many sciences there are explanations that refer explicitly to the function of a phenomenon and not its cause, we should ask: are functional explanations just another way of giving causal information, or are they noncausal?
Is transhumanism just dangerous over-confidence in technology?
What causes feelings of alienation? How do we resolve them? Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century discussions of alienation focused on society’s role in alienating the individual. The story goes: Your society delineates the routes of your world; its possibilities and lifestyles. The routes aren’t well-worn paths made from natural behavior, but instead, drawn lines, burdening and concealing the person’s true self. The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan understands the root of alienation differently. He finds it in normal psychological development.
When it comes to ethics and human choice, there is “a serious candidate for truth” that we haven’t considered properly.
Speak Now is NYU Law Professor Kenji Yoshino’s detailed recounting of Hollingsworth v. Perry—the 2009 California federal district court trial over a ballot initiative banning gay marriage in the state of California. While primarily a scholarly work of legal history, Speak Now is also a literary work of art and rich with important philosophical questions and thoughts regarding constitutional law and legal theory.
How a single Greek word can explain why we don’t like the Sophists, why Socrates was accused of being one of them, and what makes rhetoric successful.
The return to the soil, to nature, is a recurring preoccupation of the civilized. Whenever a society reaches a state of high development it seems a repeating pattern that a segment of the population begins to yearn for the good ol’ days of yore. Ironically, even the ancients knew this temptation. Recall Cicero’s lament: “O Continue Reading …
Were Sophists really the immoral truth-benders that Plato portrayed them to be? Classical scholars don’t seem to think so.
One of the points that creationist Ken Ham made in his debate with Bill Nye, and presumably is still making on his site “Answers in Genesis,” is that we have to distinguish between experimental and historical sciences. According to his argument, physics is an experimental science, evolution and geology are historical. Since the first type Continue Reading …
As new modes of technology-driven learning come to the fore, those who can take advantage of them will be both independent learners and critical thinkers. But below that surface, something that connects much of this work is philosophy, or more specifically, how to make philosophical principles relevant in today’s world.
Given the existentialist emphasis on concrete personal experience, freedom, authenticity, responsibility, awareness of death, and personal determination of values, it is not surprising that existentialist philosophers should also consider the question of romantic love.
This beautiful novella draws heavily from Plato’s conception of love, but to what extent?
“But one thing this doctrine, so clear, so venerable, does not contain: it does not contain the secret of what the Sublime One himself experienced, he alone among the hundreds of thousands.” –Hermann Hesse
How do you balance intellectual humility, which asks that you resist the urge to insist you’re right, even when you might be wrong; and intellectual courage, which asks that you to stick to your guns, even if your argument receives a setback?
In the light of recent EU developments, check out two videos analyzing Brexit from a philosophical perspective.
According to Noson S. Yanofsky, the universe does not contain contradictions, but our thinking about it does and must. If this is true, any representation of the universe must be inaccurate, not simply in details, but also in substance.
This year’s bizarre election might confirm that we are entering a post-factual age, or that some other major cognitive or political transformation is happening to our species or polity. But before jumping to such a conclusion, perhaps it’s worth looking at today’s scorched political landscape based on similar first principles.
With the launch of Oculus Rift and Steam VR, it seems like virtual reality will soon be an ordinary part of our lives. But are there any ethical concerns around the use of virtual reality? And can philosophy help us make sense of this cutting-edge technology?
“The crisis of modernity reveals itself in the fact … that modern western man no longer knows what he wants – that he no longer believes that he can know what is good and bad, right and wrong.” –Leo Strauss
The films of Austrian director Michael Haneke seem to start out “normally” and then slowly descend into an abyss—but what if that abyss is in fact living authentically? Could we see Haneke’s award-winning Caché (2005) as an exemplification of Sartrean existentialism? And what are some other philosophical influences in his work?
“I am certain that nothing has done so much to destroy the juridical safeguards of individual freedom as the striving after this mirage of social justice.” –Friedrich Hayek
What’s the connection between existentialism and feminism in Simone de Beauvoir’s work?
Is it possible to earn a worthwhile degree using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?
A hotly debated topic in the philosophy of science is whether we should consider our scientific and social scientific theories descriptions of reality, or if we should instead just consider them instruments for influencing the world. One of the main difficulties facing proponents of scientific anti-realism is distinguishing themselves from anti-realists more generally.
Adamson provides a magisterial account of Platonism after Plato—among many other things.
Much Internet-ink has been spilled over the last few months on the topic of Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins’s controversial statement that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God.” Is there something of a modern-day inquisition against Professor Hawkins, or is the Wheaton administration merely taking steps to act in accordance with its institutional mission as an evangelical university?
Have the arts lost their way without the guiding hand and vision of the right benefactors?
“Of all the patterns that occur at many different scales, the most fundamental is the existence of pattern itself.” –David Christian
Part two of a two-part discussion of Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream: The Objectivity Question in the American Historical Profession.
Part one of a two-part discussion of Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream: The Objectivity Question and the American Historical Profession.
“If you drop a hammer on your foot, is it real or is it just your imagination? You can run that test, you know, a couple of times, and I hope you come to agree that it’s probably real.” –Bill Nye
“This mythical drama reminded men that suffering is never final; that death is always followed by resurrection; that every defeat is annulled and transcended by the final victory.” –Mircea Eliade
“Historiography that aspires to get closer and closer to the documents—all the documents and nothing but the documents—is merely moving closer to incoherence, chaos, and meaninglessness.” –William McNeill
“Knowledge is a product of wrestling not only with the ‘facts’ but with ourselves. Where alternative visions of reality are not entertained as genuine possibilities, the product of thought tends toward blandness and unearned self-confidence.” –Hayden White
“Narrative structures penetrate our consciousness of events in ways parallel to those in which … theories penetrate observations in science.” –Arthur Danto
“If the modern technical age is to remain human, it cannot overlook the truth that our ancestors have left with us.” –Marshall G.S. Hodgson
“The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public; they soon claimed the public sphere regulated from above against the public authorities themselves, to engage them in a debate over the general rules governing relations in the basically privatized but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labor.” –Jurgen Habermas
“In a very real sense it may be said of the eighteenth century that it was an age of faith as well as of reason, and of the thirteenth century that it was an age of reason as well as of faith.” –Carl Becker
An Epicurean examination of the war on drugs.
“The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding.” –Will Durant
“The belief in historical destiny is sheer superstition. There can be no prediction of the course of human history by scientific or any other rational methods.” –Karl Popper
“I remember a night near Bahia when I was enveloped in a firework display or phosphorescent fireflies; their pale lights glowed, went out, shone again, all without piercing the night with any true illumination. So it is with events; beyond their glow, darkness prevails.” –Fernand Braudel
Exploration of the big idea that permeates Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.
“All history is the history of thought.” –R.G. Collingwood
Lights are gone, distant, dark. Crowds of anxious, beautiful, stylish, crazily costumed fans in bright purple, piercing pink, screaming yellow and orange chiffons—capes and crowns of diamonds, darkened eyes of sparkle and thick lashes–they dance, vibrate in unison—praying for that moment. Madison Square Garden. The Stage Blasts Bright. Station to Station roars through the speakers. Continue Reading …
With the fall of Rome, the desire to escape what seemed to be a hopeless and dying world was the impetus for Christianity’s rise. Is our current trend toward escapism a sign that we’re repeating the same pattern?
Adorno thinks that we get the notions of subjective and objective the wrong way around. An inquiry that starts with the experience of discussing a film suggests that he may be right.
While the world’s attention is focused on religious fundamentalism, there is a new tribalism, and a new revolt against reason, taking shape within liberalism. The name of this movement is New Atheism, but it would be more appropriate to call it Atheist Fundamentalism.
“If you cannot predict, you have not explained.” –Carl Gustav Hempel
“It is the historian who has decided for his own reasons that Caesar’s crossing of that petty stream, the Rubicon, is a fact of history, whereas the crossing of the Rubicon by millions of other people before or since interests nobody at all.” –Edward Hallett Carr
Of all the first-generation Frankfurt School writers, Herbert Marcuse offered the kind of Critical Theory most concerned with revolution. It should come as no surprise, then, that Marcuse generated condemnation from across the political spectrum.
“Civilization is a movement and not a condition; a voyage and not a harbor.” –Arnold Toynbee
Philosophical artists and artistic philosophers, however they diverge respecting doctrinal matters, often bond beneath the surface in striving to render an ideal image of the sage. Plato, Melville, and Nietzsche were like this, each of them expressing his conception of wisdom through the mask of creative philosophy. Nietzsche insisted that “Every profound spirit needs a mask.” His own uncanny literary persona was his mask, as Socrates was Plato’s, and Ishmael Melville’s. Not Ahab, but the narrator Ishmael is the authentically Nietzschean Yes-sayer of Moby-Dick. Ahab is vanquished by the God he hates, but Ishmael survives the catastrophe to become the man who narrates Ahab’s dark fate with such sparkling insight and wit.
“To establish the facts is always in order, and is indeed the first duty of the historian; but to suppose that the facts, once established in all their fullness, will ‘speak for themselves’ is an illusion.” –Carl Becker
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.
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
“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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
“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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
“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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
[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.” Continue Reading …
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, Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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”), Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
[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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
[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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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, Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
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, Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
[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, Continue Reading …
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 Continue Reading …
[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 Continue Reading …