Parables as a Guide to Jesus the Philosopher, Part 2: Prudence


Part 1 of this series ended with my arguments that because Jesus was not a systematic philosopher, it would be helpful to elaborate his moral teachings in the framework of an ethical system, and that virtue ethics is the system best suited to this purpose, as many Christians have traditionally thought. Taking up this approach, […]

Citizen Interview with Nicholas Humphrey, a Leading Figure in Mind and Consciousness


Having the opportunity to speak with Nicholas Humphrey was a phenomenal experience (pun intended). His accounts of discussing dreams with Francis Crick, debating the best materialist arguments with Dan Dennett, working on blindsight, describing how personhood and ethics arise out of consciousness, and positing that our minds act as artists to make us fall in love with ourselves, make for a wonderful and enlightening listen.

Epicurus’ Four Cures


The resolution to follow Epicurus is a resolution to protect one’s mind. We live in a dysfunctional consumerist society filled with anxiety and neuroses, where few people analyse their lives, most have a short attention span and are uninterested in disciplining their minds and curbing mindless desires. If philosophy is understood as the Epicureans understand it, then it becomes evident that people desperately need philosophy today.

Science, Technology and Society X: Weimar Culture and Quantum Mechanics


Because German science held such a prominent place in culture before WWI, it could not escape the fallout when the war ended in disaster. German physicists needed a way to reestablish their prestige, and this meant repudiating their prewar past in order to make room for an up-to-date theory that would not be tarnished by earlier failures.A new mania for a romantic “life philosophy,” which rejected the mechanical and mechanistic attitudes of the British in favor of an experience-based, intuitive holism became fashionable. In physics, the new model incorporated the values of “life philosophy” by rejecting causality as the principle explanatory mechanism.

Science, Technology and Society IX: Malthus, Darwin, and “Social Darwinism”


In a series of essays written, Robert M. Young argued that scientific theories, like all other products of the human mind, arise out of a specific social context. Theories necessarily incorporate the values and concerns of the people who create them, which are themselves expressions of their specific historical context. Therefore, if we want to understand evolution, we need to understand the history of Victorian England.

Science, Technology and Society VIII: Leviathan and the Air Pump


According to Boyle, the best method in natural philosophy (and politics) was experiment and observation. Hobbes disagreed. He believed that observation could never displace deduction as a form of reasoning because observation always admitted of multiple explanations, and without rigorous definitions there was no way to decide between them. No number of experiments with air pumps could establish whether a vacuum was present or not unless Boyle could define what vacuum, air, etc., were.

Science, Technology and Society VII: On Gender and Science


Evelyn Fox Keller is a leader among a generation of feminist scholars interested in questions of gender and science. Although feminist philosophy of science is a complex and controversial field, and these scholars frequently disagree among themselves as to what changes are desirable or realistically attainable, they share a commitment to broadening the scope of science so that it does not devalue feminine perspectives as a kind of structural principle.

Science, Technology and Society VI: David Bloor and the Strong Programme in the Sociology of Knowledge


Whereas Kuhn had suggested that science might not be an entirely rational activity, and Feyerabend had drawn certain philosophical and political conclusions from a rather more strident belief, David Bloor argued for an approach that ignores the truth status of scientific theories and instead concentrates on their social context of production. Needless to say, the idea that truth claims arising out of science can be ignored at all, let alone as a systematic methodological principle, was and is controversial.

Why Substance Matters

kick rocks

What matters about matter is that it’s a certain kind of substance, which is to say that matter is refutable and problematic because it is taken as something underlying or standing below (sub-stance) the outward appearances, such as the hardness and heaviness of Johnson’s rock. In other words, “substance” is a metaphysical reality, not an empirical or phenomenal reality. Pragmatists like William James and Robert Pirsig both reject what the latter called “the metaphysics of substance.”

Science, Technology & Society I: Francis Bacon


What is science? In general, answers to this question fall between two poles. The first is the traditional view of science–that it is a process of discovery which, performed correctly, faithfully reveals the mysteries of the universe. The second holds that science is a social process which invents, rather than discovers, models of the universe.

Emersonian America

Emerson, philosophical mysticism, and Jamesian pragmatism all make the same basic assertion about the relation between concepts and the immediacy of lived experience.

Emerson on the Over-Soul


A walk through Emerson’s essay “The Over-Soul.” We learn a lot about how the Divine is supposed to affect us if we’re in the proper mood, but get no information about what it actually is.

Traumatic Roots of Heidegger’s Fall into Nazism


“We are all exceptional cases. We all want to appeal against something! Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself.”― Albert Camus, The Fall  What accounts for Heidegger’s fall from grace into Nazism? This topic is touched on in the […]

Education and Schopenhauer’s “Thinking for Oneself”


In Arthur Schopenhauer’s essay “On Thinking for Oneself” (1851), he writes that there are few people who possess a natural love of learning and that they will only learn from others if they find something that triggers an innate interest inside themselves. Thinking must be kindled, like a fire by a draught; it must be sustained by […]

Why Don’t We Like Idealism?


The word “idealism,” when understood as the metaphysical position “everything is ideas” rather than some kind of optimism or high goal-setting, carries a lot of baggage with it that I hope we dispelled in the episode. To repeat: it’s not solipsism, i.e. the notion that I (or my mind) is the only thing that’s real, […]

Judgment without Morality


Both Sartre and Anscombe say that they’re teasing out the logical consequences of atheism for ethics, and of course we saw this back in Nietzsche too. If you ask “are these figures moral realists or moral irrealists?”, I think they’re going to say you’re missing the point. No, a sentence like “X is right” no […]

Cooperative Society and Natural Rights

Courtesy of

When reading Rawls for the podcast, I took note of a seemingly innocuous distinction between Rawls and the traditional social contractarians that nonetheless struck me as odd given his appeal to social contract theory.  The traditional social contract theorists assume that rational individuals enter into social contracts to secure natural rights.  “Secure” here means ‘protect […]

Transcription – Nietzsche’s Gay Science Episode


Hey all! Just a quick note to let you know you know that we are making available a transcript from the Gay Science episode.  Special thanks to Jessica T. for her generous donation.  The file was Professionally transcribed by Read the transcript here. Note that while we are releasing this to the hoi polloi we have […]

Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kant

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to new blogger David Crohn for this glimpse into one aspect of Nietzsche’s relationship with his idol.] In ep. 84 PEL touches briefly on Nietzsche’s criticism of Schopenhauer—or rather, the ways Schopenhauer’s readers have, according to Nietzsche, accepted the weakest aspects of his philosophy first (aphorism 99). Nietzsche was a great admirer […]

Jessica Berry Responds: Nietzsche’s “Warlike Man”

A while back we received a question via email from Joe R.: “In times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself.” Can you explain the context of this reference and where it comes from, please? A quick web search reveals that this is an often quoted aphorism, especially in the context of martial arts, where […]

Bergman and the Native Canadians

There was a comment (Thanks, Libby!) on my topic announcement post reacting to the short-hand way that I conveyed Bergmann’s experience with a native Canadian tribe that I thought would be best responded to simply by providing in full Bergmann’s anecdote about this from the book. So this is an account of one experience he […]

Philosophy Doesn’t Make Propositions?

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 […]

Lacan’s “Four Discourses”

We briefly referred on the episode to the fact that, as for Marx, for Lacan, all ostensibly theoretical talk is really tainted in some way. Whereas for Marx, we’re really just repeating, or perhaps reacting to in some more complicated way, the ideology of those in power. Lacan, following Freud, looks for a psychological explanation, […]

Lacan’s Ontology

[Editor’s Note: Wayne here is currently leading one of our Not School groups on Deleuze. Being well-versed in this area and having made some helpful comments on this blog, we asked him to clarify what he took to be Lacan’s ontology. Thanks, Wayne!] Jacques-Alain Miller once asked asked Lacan, “What is your ontology?” Lacan replied […]

Fink on the Split Subject (Lacan vs. Sartre)

I ended our episode bemoaning that I feel like I still don’t understand this talk of “subject” as opposed to “self.” A few of you have made some good comments on this, but I’m still not satisfied. Let me pull a few things out of the Fink book: 1. In chapter 2 about “The Nature […]

Socrates’ Attack on Rhetoric in the “Gorgias”

Aristotle's rhetorical triangle from

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

Carnap vs. Whitehead on Demonstration vs. Description

A feature of Carnap’s system discussed in the episode was his his attempt to objectivize our talk of objects by removing any demonstrative or ostensive elements. Though the “elementary experiences” as I examine them are of course mine, and not analyzable in themselves according to Carnap’s account, the only way they become useful to science […]

MacIntyre on Social “Science” and Fortuna

Towards the end of the episode, I brought up MacIntyre’s thesis for chapter 8, “The Character of Generalizations in Social Science,” that the findings of a science like sociology can’t be scientific in the way that those in physics are. Now, laws in physics may be probabilistic, but they are so in a precise way, […]

MacIntyre: Biology Is Needed for Ethics After All

I think during the episode we were too busy trying to understand After Virtue to just say straight out that the attempt to ground morality solely on cultural narratives just doesn’t work, at least not to any more determinate degree than some of the other moral theories that MacIntyre suggests. In the Kant episode, I […]

Moore on Theodicy

In the episode, I brought up Moore’s use of the non-mathematical character of the good (in that one good plus another good doesn’t necessarily make a whole with the good equal to the sum of the parts) by bringing up theodicy, i.e. the defense of the existence of evil in a perfectly good world by […]

The Good as Simple Idea

At some point during the episode, Dylan and Wes were arguing about Moore and referred to the good as a ‘term’.  I corrected them that Moore actually calls it a ‘concept’ as if something hung on that distinction.  I guess it is incumbent upon me to explain. First off, Moore never uses the word “concept” […]

Lila Notes, Pt. 5: Pirsig, Philosophology, and Crankism

To wrap up my thoughts on this subject: Probably the most interesting part of this Pirsig immersion experience for me has been thinking about his stance as a lone philosopher, rebelling against academia. Like Ayn Rand’s, much of Pirsig’s attitude towards academia seems to be a direct result of some assholes he had to deal […]

Lila Notes, Pt. 3: Pirsig’s Teleological Hierarchy

In Pt. 2, I described Pirsig’s notion of dynamic vs. static quality, which should sound a lot like naturalistic moral intuitionism as discussed in our Hume/Smith episode. All there is is people (or, more widely for Pirsig, any being that is capable of reacting affirmatively or negatively to anything: judging agents, we might want to […]

Lila Notes, Pt. 2: Dynamic vs. Static Quality

The big distinction made in Lila is between dynamic quality and static quality. Dynamic quality is Quality in ZAMM, i.e. the immediate, moment-to-moment recognition of something’s awesomeness level, but also in ZAMM, he wants us to recognize quality in classical (as opposed to romantic) forms, for example, the quality of the structure of a motorcycle. […]

Foucault on Freedom and Domination

We opened the discussion in the Foucault podcast with the question, “are we really free?”  I’d just like to take a minute to clarify this question and to raise some problems for Foucault. First of all, there’s certainly a sense in which Foucault never denied that we’re free.  He even says that “freedom is the ontological condition […]

Foucault and Deleuze on Drugs

I just want to clarify something I said during the course of the Foucault episode: that Foucault and Deleuze did a lot of drugs together. This could be false. This is one of those rumors you pick up gradually when you take a few classes in contemporary continental philosophy.  You hear a lot of anecdotes of […]

Three Types of “Reduction” in Phenomenology

John Townsend (who does video blogs about Merleau-Ponty) reminded me (here) that there’s more than one kind of “reduction” in phenomenology. Since pretty much none of these were covered in our Husserl episode as far as I recall, I thought this was worth my time to do some quick Wikipedia research and report back. The […]

Dreyfus on Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Artificial Intelligence

[Brad is a frequent contributor to our Facebook page, so we invited him to post on the blog – welcome him!] I found this to be an interesting video which relates to both the Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty episodes. In the video, Hubert Dreyfus discusses Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and the philosophical implications for artificial intelligence. Dreyfus has […]

David Hume and Adam Smith in the Context of Eighteenth-Century Moral Philosophy, Part 2

As mentioned in my previous entry, moral philosophy in the eighteenth century was principally concerned with three issues: “the selfish hypothesis,” the nature of moral judgment, and the character of moral virtue. This entry regards the second component: the debate between the rationalists and sentimentalists over the nature and justification of moral judgment. Moral rationalism—exemplified […]

David Hume and Adam Smith in the Context of Eighteenth-Century Moral Philosophy, Part 1

Moral philosophy in the eighteenth century was principally concerned with three issues. First, was “the selfish hypothesis,” which maintained that all declarations of public interest were ultimately expressions of private interest. Second, was the explanation and justification of moral judgment. And third, was the character of moral virtue. The selfish hypothesis, though largely a minority […]

Hume on Miracles Revisited

Chapter 1 of the Mackie book covers Hume’s account of miracles, which we discussed in our Hume epistemology episode. One of our blog commenters here mentioned offhand that he thought that argument had been long discredited, which was a surprise to me. You can review the argument at Wikipedia here. Basically it boils down to […]

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

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

Michael Sandel on Kant’s Morality (Like Plato?)

In response to my Steven B. Smith post, Facebook commenter Robinson K. recommended Michael Sandel of Harvard as another great lecturer in political philosophy. He’s got a whole course on “Justice” available for online viewing. Though there doesn’t appear to be a lecture on Plato in there, I noted that episode 7 was described by […]

On Religion, the PowerPoint!

Given Schleiermacher’s dense prose, I found it a lot easier to prepare for the podcast by “translating” his first two speeches into a more modern voice. As a result, here’s On Religion, the PowerPoint! (Well, the first two speeches, anyway.) If you want to review Schleiermacher’s basic arguments without having to wade through 18th century German […]

Heidegger on Schleiermacher’s Second Address


Let us think for a while of a farmhouse in the Black Forest, which was built some two hundred years ago by the dwelling of peasants. Here the self-sufficiency of the power to let earth and heaven, divinities and mortals enter in simple oneness into things, ordered the house. – Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking” (1951) Schleiermacher’s […]

“Prima Facie Weirdness?”

During the episode I made a comment about the seeming weirdness of Christianity that I feel it would be helpful for my thinking to try to elaborate. I’ve said in several posts here that I think that the new atheist movement is primarily political: it’s not about advancing new arguments to philosophers, but about shifting […]

Schleiermacher on Miracles and Revelation

We talked a bit on the episode towards the end about S’s take on immortality. His take on miracles and on revelation is similar. In short, miracles are all around us, and all creativity is inspiration. It takes a pious person to recognize our ordinary environment as full of magic and wonder. From his second […]

Comparing Kant with Schleiermacher on God and the Soul

Listen on YouTube On the Schleiermacher episode, we spent some time comparing On Religion to Kant’s religious arguments, particularly citing Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. Kant did not try to prove God’s existence or the soul’s immortality. Rather, he postulated those concepts as helpful ways to help realize the summum bonum, the highest good. “Postulate” is […]

Eric Reitan in the Atheism Debates: A Pox on Both Your Houses

On the Schleiermacher episode, we referred tangentially to Is God a Delusion? A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers, by Oklahoma State University’s Eric Reitan (who has his own blog). Thanks to my nicely networked local library system, I now have a copy of this in my possession and thought I’d give you a taste from […]

Russell’s Atomistic Metaphysics

Some information about Russell’s atomism was discussed in in our Wittgenstein’s Tractatus podcast. For a bit more information, here’s his essay “The Ultimate Constituents of Matter,” pointed out to us (dismissively) by frequent blog discussion contributor Burl and mentioned on our recent episode. I leave it to you all to explore this essay as you […]

Russell’s Epistemology: “The Problems of Philosophy”

I wanted to follow up on a reference I made on the episode for folks who want to know more about Russell’s epistemology: His book The Problems of Philosophyis an easy-reader intro to his take on traditional epistemological problems. Some of it will be familiar if you’ve listened to our episodes (from p. 42). For […]

Correction re. Episode 34’s Account of Russell on Denoting

At one point in Episode 34 (around 79:10), I made a mistake.  Oops. Might as well set it right on the blog! We were talking about Bertrand Russell’s classic 1905 article, ‘On Denoting.’  Russell is trying to do many different things in that article.  But for now, we only need to concern ourselves with one in […]

Notes on Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell,” Part 1

For our atheism episode (which has, incidentally been pushed back to be recorded in late May or possibly June… sorry, Russ!), I’m trying to read through the most popular of the “new atheist” books, and I’m sure we’ll only end up discussing some select portions of the books in any detail, so as I’m going […]

Frege’s Notion of the True

When we did the Frege episode, we read “The Thought”, which was a new text to me and I found it quite interesting.  Even though we were supposed to be talking about other things, we got caught up on Frege’s notion of ‘The True’.  Specifically, we were asking ourselves what kind of ontological status ‘The […]

Yet More on Logic: Quantification

Against both my better judgment and the hue and cry of many, I will continue my semi-informed-by-past-years-of-studying “exposition” of predicate logic which I started here.  If I accomplish nothing else, I will give Burl something to complain about for the next week or so. In the previous installment, we talked about how syllogistic statements about […]

Some more on logic

So Matt Teichman was kind enough to post a primer on basic logic, showing with syllogisms how informal logical inference was turned into formal notation by Frege and thus predicate calculus was born.  There is a wealth of stuff to learn about the predicate calculus and many serious logicians (as well as frustrated mathematicians) have […]

Consciousness (Intentionality) as Transcendent

An important point on the Husserl episode that I was trying to get across was his notion that “intentionality” as he uses it doesn’t just mean that all conscious acts have a target, i.e. something you’re conscious of, but that this content is not itself something subjective. When we grasp something in consciousness, we’re not […]

My Wish for the New Year

I hope that this celebration of the rotation of the calendar finds all PEL listeners/readers in good cheer, looking with unbridled optimism and hope at a vast array of positive opportunities in front of them.  As it is customary to reflect upon the past and project into the future on this occasion, I propose to […]

Schopenhauer on Euclid’s Geometry

One point on our Schopenhauer episode that we didn’t take much time to get into was his attitude towards geometric demonstration, which was of course the model for all philosophy for thinkers like Descartes. Here’s a short selection from section 39 of the Fourfold Root, which illustrates his idea that our knowledge of geometry is […]

The Sickness Unto Death, the PowerPoint!

I mentioned on the Kierkegaard episode having prepared a PowerPoint on The Sickness Unto Death, so I submit to you, the morbidly curious, TSUD: The PowerPoint! (Warning, it’s over 700KB, and might take a while to download on slower connections.) I believe Seth made some minor corrections and improvements, but any errors in spelling, interpretation, […]

What is Despair, Anyway?

[Editor’s note: If you’ve listened to the Kierkegaard episode, then you’ve heard plenty of felicitous exposition and argumentation by Mr. Daniel Horne, whom we’ve consequently invited to post some follow-up thoughts and resources over the next weeks: Yes, we know Kierkegaard thought of despair as sin, but is despair “a” sin? Is it “sin” writ large? […]

Yukio Mishima and St. Sebastian

Yukio Mishima

When I was in college, I came across the work of Japanese Author Yukio Mishima.  He was a brilliant, if conflicted, soul who ultimately committed ritual suicide.  There’s no point in me trying to encapsulate him in this post – check him out on the web.   Certainly one of the more interesting characters you are […]

Nelson Goodman on Induction (Grue and Bleen!)

On our Goodman episode, I start out by trying to give a short explanation of Goodman’s “New Riddle of Induction.” When we’re presented with evidence for a general claim, how do we tell which general claim the evidence is in support of? Goodman contrasts the predicate “green,” which we might think we can project to […]

Goodman and Quine’s Nominalism

I referred on the podcast to Goodman’s 1947 article “Steps Toward a Constructive Nominalism.” You can look at it here. The philosophical content is in the first couple of chapters; in fact, I’ll just give you the first half of the first chapter here: We do not believe in abstract entities. No one supposes that […]

Nagarjuna on Ultimate Truth (Yet More Westerhoff)

I will end my Westerhoff/Nagarjuna coverage with one more selection from right at the end of Westerhoff’s book: According to the Madhyamaka view of truth, there can be no such thing as ultimate truth, a theory describing how things really are, independent of our interests and conceptual resources employed in describing it. All one is […]

Nagarjuna on the Thing-in-Itself (More Westerhoff)

Our Nagarjuna episode seemed to conclude that ultimate reality is beyond our ability to speak about it. The objects of our experience are a shared fiction, and the most we can do with language is to show that they’re fictional; even the terms we use to accomplish this (like emptiness) are themselves constructs, serving only […]

Westerhoff on Nagarjuna on Metaphysically Basic Entities

One of the topics we didn’t really get into on the podcast, and which in our Buddhism reading I actually found the most interesting, is the metaphysics of basic elements of the world. Nagarjuna argues that reality has no ultimate foundation, and in the episode we discussed that in terms of the possibility of Cartesian […]