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.
Wandering through an Athens bookstore, biologist Armand Leroi stumbled upon a set of translations of Aristotle. He shared the prejudice of many scientists that Aristotle was hopelessly obscurantist who set back the dawn of science for centuries, but, letting curiosity get the better of him, he opened a biological text at random. He recognized in Aristotle a fellow scientist, and took on the study of Aristotle in order to more fully appreciate the scope and magnitude of Aristotle’s scientific achievement.
Does doing the most good you can do just mean giving the most money to the world’s poor?
It’s the new golden age of television, and Amazon Studios has signed Woody Allen to create a full season’s worth of it. What can Allen, returning to television for the first time in fifty years, bring to the TV Revolution?
by Chris Sunami
Lev Grossman, author of the bestselling Magicians trilogy, imports entire set pieces from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. But he has a higher aim behind his thievery: he interrogates the elements of the Narnia myth one-by-one, sussing out their weaknesses and inconsistencies, and tirelessly searching, along with his characters, for the secret of exactly where the magic lies.
What does the film Ex Machina have to do the deus ex machina as plot device?
We’ve managed to bring the planet to the brink of catastrophe. Can we manage to pull it back?
Is the dreamlike aesthetic of celebrated Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami serving a hidden psychological function?
Science shows that though a person accused of discrimination may sincerely deny harboring any kind of prejudice, their choices and actions may have been modulated by implicit biases operating below the level of conscious intention. Are people morally responsible for such acts and attitudes?
Consciousness, Nicholas Humphrey claims, does not add or enhance some survival ability (as, say, wings allow birds to fly). Consciousness improves the chance of survival because it makes life worth living. Being phenomenally conscious grants import, meaning, and ego, essentially fooling us into striving towards fulfillment.
Human children are quite different from the progeny of closely related animals like chimps. They are much more inclined to cooperate and seem driven to understand what goes on in others’ minds way. What makes humans unique in this way? To address this problem, evolutionary psychologists have borrowed an idea from philosphers: collective intentionality.
To construct a superintelligence, we would have to understand human intelligence at a deep level. It’s doubtful we’ll ever be able to do this.
It was not until I read Carroll’s book that I realized I was operating under a tacit assumption: Art ought to express something of the author’s emotions.
The dinner guests assume that their alternate selves are somehow very different from their “actual” selves. But why?
Jay Jeffers just can’t shake his first impression of “Her,” a story set against the backdrop of artificial intelligence.
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.
What are your thoughts on machines that can predict what you’re going to do in the next five minutes? Do you think that everything that happens now in the universe was causally determined by some event(s) that happened before it? When professional philosophers check people’s intuitions it looks as though sometimes people generally agree that we […]
[From Seth Crownover, Friend of the Podcast] If we got anything from the last episode it’s that Thomas Kuhn is sort of a big deal and for good reason. His picture of scientific progress as a human rather than divine endeavor is, it seems to me, plainly true in a general sense if not in all […]
[From PEL Citizen and friend of the podcast Roy Spence] The publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in the early 1970s led welfare economists to derive various interpretations of the Rawls’ second principle of justice, generally known as the “difference principle. By way of background, a primary objective of “welfare economics” is to provide […]
[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Randall Miron for this post. Randall’s a long-time audio editor of ours and has been helping edit blog posts here recently as well.] In his short book Nietzsche, subtitled “Nietzsche’s Voices,” Ronald Hayman argues that, “Like Kierkegaard, who made copious use of pseudonyms and personae, Nietzsche was exploring his ambivalence.” This […]
[A post from Jason Durso] The popular understanding of Zen philosophy is that it is painfully frustrating, contrived and lies outside the realm of rational discourse. Rather than offering some sort of platform for discussion or some set of assertions which can be systematically analyzed and negotiated into a personal system of meaning the proponents […]
[A post from Michael Burgess. This reiterates some of the first half of our Popper episode.] The Cartesian subject, the “I” of the “I think”, sits apart from the world, receiving it. Descartes’ 17th Century inheritors, the British Empiricists took “the world” to be little more than a series of sense perceptions, perhaps perceptions of something […]
…I cannot outline the spiritual problems of modern man without giving emphasis to the yearning for rest that arises in a period of unrest… It is from need and distress that new forms of life take their rise, and not from mere wishes or from the requirements of our ideals.” When Carl Jung’s Modern Man […]
Robert Skidelsky in How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (2012) uses a 1930 essay from John Maynard Keynes (which you can read here) as a jumping-off point to argue, like Bergmann, that productivity gains enabled by past technological advances make it totally reasonable that we now should be working fewer hours than […]
“A bad work of art is an oxymoron,” Patrick Doorly says, “like bad skill.” He thinks there’s no such thing as bad art because the term does not refer to a class of objects or a category of activity. Art simply refers to excellence or to any “high-quality endeavor,” a phrase he borrows from Robert […]
I’ve continued to get jazzed about this “work” topic such that it looks like we’ll be covering some selection of readings in this area for episode #83. My question about this on the Facebook group has gotten a lot of responses, and I’m starting to get clearer on the spectrum of questions and positions here. […]
Let’s pause for a moment to do proper homage to the remarkable fact that during the 1980s, there was a blockbuster family film in which large parts of the plot revolved around the subject of incest. That film was Back to the Future, which I recently discussed with Dan Calvisi and William Robert Rich on […]
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Noah Dunn for this submission. Readers with some writing chops who have resources and/or thoughts to share relevant to the current PEL episode (or past ones) are always invited to contribute to this blog. We also welcome submissions covering current events in philosophy (e.g. reviews of recently released books or philosophical […]
[A blog post from friend of PEL Phillip C. It’s a bit longer than our normal posts and is heavy with the name drops but I’m going to let it go because it’s on art, is related to a discussion group and I make the editing decisions around here – Seth] “What strikes me is […]
[A post from Peter Hardy, longtime fan and contributor] For a couple of years I have been lurking on PEL’s Facebook group, biding my time for the perfect moment to pounce on this blog. Recently I got to thinking about the philosophical ramifications of social media. Especially as we’ve just been looking at Jacques Lacan, […]
When we interpret a text, are we uncovering a hidden meaning? Or are we imposing a meaning from the outside? Film scholar David Bordwell’s book Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema confronts this question head on in a rigorous and analytical way. His chief question is: how are interpretations made? Although […]
Zizek! is one of those documentaries centered around one really, really interesting person. For that reason it’s more like Crumb or Bukowski – Born Into This than more famously philosophical movies like Waking Life. Zizek!’s structure is simple: The director and a small crew simply follow Slavoj Zizek as he goes about his daily business, which pretty […]
In the first week of the “Not School” group devoted to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, it’s clear that a tension runs through the book that – with only a little bit of investigation – can be seen running through Postman’s entire career. It’s a function of what he called the “thermostatic view.” “In […]
In episode 73 the question was of ‘why do philosophy’ was posed. There are many ways to come at this question and in the episode the PEL guys kept coming back to two things: Curiosity and Wonder. How are these two words linked, if they are, and what is their relation to philosophy? The essay […]
From our Lacan episode and my comparison of Lacan with Sartre, you might think that this “no self” deal was just a Continental idea. If you remember back to our Owen Flanagan interview, however, you’ll know that (besides this being a doctrine in Buddhsim) this is also one of the main positions within the analytic […]
Regardless of how or whether you relate to Buber’s vision, I and Thou makes for a frustrating read. Seemingly simple words are used in new and alien contexts. Solutions are announced rather than derived. Worse, while nominally divided into three parts, I and Thou is really more of a loose collection of 61 aphorisms. Following […]
Walter Mignolo, semiotician and literary theorist, weighs in on the relative strengths of Eurocentric and non-Eurocentric (colonial, not occidental) philosophy in this article on Aljeezera. In literary theory, most new studies are centered around Eurocentrism and its effect on natives via Postcolonial theory. Heavy minds in Postcolonial Theory include Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, and Edward Said. These […]
The idea of Progress has a rich philosophical history, but few in recent decades have addressed it as focally as English philosopher John Gray. Careful to clarify that he grants scientific and technological progress, Gray emphasizes that it’s political and ethical progress that are not assured. Gains in these domains occur cyclically, existing under 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 […]
Thomas Nagel, a famous philosopher if there is such a thing in America, has written a book a bold title: Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. The main title invites you to settle into your armchair for an evening of speculative meditation; the subtitle orders you to […]
Roger Nygard’s documentary The Nature of Existence (2010; Netflix link) was the second film selected for our October “Netflix Philosophy Movies” Not School study group, and it was the decisive element in my not proposing that the group continue into November. Here’s the trailer, which very much gives the flavor of the film, in that […]
As my first Not School group, I led some folks in discussing two Netflix philosophy documentaries, i.e. things that have been on my instant queue forever, and which I feel culturally, given my position here, I should watch, but always seemed too boring. Examined Life (2008) (Netflix link) was the best of the two that […]
[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 […]
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a great American novel. Ellison’s ability to make the reader feel the racism of the time is unsettling. The painful experience of living in a country that views you with disdain—that sees you as a problem—permeates the text. It is also a deeply philosophical novel. Consider the following outline of the novel written by […]
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 […]
How strange it is see the banal paired with the almost Talmudic elements of Derrida’s thought. This pairing, this humanizing of Derrida in Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman’s documentary that shares his name is, in an subtle way, the mystification of abstract thoughts. The idea that one must humanize the philosopher still implies a certain […]
You may not know that Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin wrote short stories back into the early 70s, and one of them, “A Song for Lya,” won the Hugo award for Best Novella in 1975. I see it online here or get a Kindle version for a couple of bucks. The story has […]
I’ve mentioned Oxford’s Very Short Introductions before on the blog, but I can’t help pointing out another written by A.C. Grayling on Wittgenstein. It’s a great example of distilling something complicated down into digestible hunks in an honest presentation and analysis. Very well done. In addition, he’s a fine essayist with a number of collections […]
Political philosophy through the prism of Black-American thinkers: Tommie Shelby is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Harvard university. In this text, he examines the political thought of black thinkers to arrive at a philosophical articulation of black solidarity. This is a great text to examine if one is interested in understanding black philosophical thinking […]
In this text, Charles W. Mills argues that social contract theory has racist underpinnings. While his argument is not completely persuasive, this is an intriguing take on the theory. -Law
In this text, James Cone (the father of Black Liberation Theology) examines the life and the ideas of Malcolm X and MLK. In doing so, he also explicates the difference between the Black Nationalist and Black Integrationist movements. Well worth reading. -Law
[Editor’s Note: Lawrence Ware is the guest on our episode on philosophy and race, and we’re happy to have him come blog for us.] Derek Parfit is one of the most important ethicists of our time. I’m sure that his Reasons and Personswill soon challenge Kripke’s Naming and Necessityin the number of philosophy dissertations it […]
Philosophology is to philosophy as art history is to painting, Pirsig says. He uses that ridiculous-sounding word to draw a distinction between comparative analysis and original thought, between critical examination and creative production. In the tradition of Emerson’s famous 1837 speech, “The American Scholar”, Pirsig is calling for creativity and originality. This is not to […]
In his new book The Origins of Political Order,Francis Fukuyama tackles the history of the idea and its reality “from prehuman times to the French Revolution.” Fukuyama works under the contemporary name of political science, but he is really one of the few people we have today intellectually able to go beyond the narrow confines […]
To the extent that we talked about Richard Dawkins at all in the new-athiesm podcast this summer, we never got around to properly discussing science as wonder. Dawkins makes this argument in a really beautiful new book “The Magic of Reality”. Illustrated by Dave McKean, it’s ostensibly a children’s book, structured around a series of […]
Given our recent exploration of moral theory, the excitement around our announcement of a Euthyphro episode and my own current interest in Buddhist thought, I guess it was inevitable that I would stumble across and then buy this book. Or perhaps it was that Mark mentioned it in an email which I had overlooked. In […]
Watch on YouTube I can write nothing on Heideggerian scholar*/(anti)Hollywood director Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life that hasn’t been better written elsewhere. Even so, the film has just come available on DVD and digital download, so I thought I’d recommend it to anyone who has been interested in PEL’s recent religion episodes. (Suggestion: try […]
Entirely relevant to our feminism episode is this film directed/adapted by John K. from “The Office” from the novel by David Foster Wallace, which I’ve not read. Is it amusing to see numerous comic actors give monologues that display keenly that self-consciousness–philosophical reflection–does not guarantee virtue? Yes. Does it (in its cinematic form) amount to […]
The disciplinary identity of philosophy is in question. So says John McCumber in “Reshaping Reason”, where he makes a serious argument with evidence of trends pointing toward a sort of Hegelian synthesis in American philosophy to overcome the “Fantasy Island” of analytic thought and the “Subversive Struggle” of continental thought. “Fantasy Island” and “Subversive Struggle” […]
When we started this blog, I opined that pretty much anything we watched, listened to, or read could be the subject of an off-the-cuff philosophical rant, and while I did this a few times without much exertion, I’ve since let movie after book after album after TV show fly by without so much as a […]
I’m reading A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. It’s a view of the role that 6 beverages – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola – have played in world history. I’m currently in the ‘spirits’ section, but I thought it worthwhile to comment on the role of wine (per […]
Oughts and Thoughts: Scepticism and the Normativity of Meaningis a 2007 book by Oxford philosophy professor Anandi Hattiangadi that develops a response to Saul Kripke’s skepticism about whether there is a fact of meaning in a person’s use of language. In Kripke’s 1984 book Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language,he argued, via a controversial interpretation […]
Having read many commentaries on and interpretations of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I’ve found Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spiritto be the best written and most helpful. The language is terse, direct, powerful, fresh, and compelling. It’s always struck me as an example of how philosophy ought to be […]
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 […]
In the recent Frege episode, Mark related the famous anecdote of how Bertrand Russell, the man who “discovered” Frege, later confounded him by pointing out a paradox apparent within his logical system. As Wes recounted, Russell’s own attempt to ground mathematics in logic was also later frustrated by a young Kurt Gödel, whose early incompleteness theorems crippled […]
More ethics on TV! (Hear our discussion of “Walking Dead.”) “Being Human” is a Sci-Fi network show based on a British TV show (by the power of induction, I can pronounce the original better than this despite having never seen even a second of the British version) that follows in the footsteps of “Smallville” and […]
If you wanted some more detail on the story of Abraham as discussed by Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling, here’s a version by comedian Louis CK (yes, with swearing): Watch on youtube. This presentation shows the challenge Kierkegaard or any other Judeo-Christian apologist faces in defending a belief system that would make this story a […]
One book we’d mentioned on the episode as a counter to Goodman’s epistemology was Paul Boghossian’s Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. Boghossian’s target is any theory of knowledge that says that facts are constructed, reflecting the contingent needs and interest of some society, and that consequently some different society with different needs could […]
Following up on my post on Weezer and the follow-up discussion of irony, I submit for your consideration Jonathan Coulton: Despite this being a cover (well, lyrically), it’s pretty typical of what I’ve heard of him: he sings pretty folk songs much like the many many individuals regularly highlighted by Performing Songwriter magazine, but with […]
Somewhere in between and overlapping with Nelson Goodman and Kierkegaard, I subjected myself to one of Stephen King’s recent books, Duma Key. Serendipitously, it’s about artistic creation, and while he of course throws in supernatural/horror elements, the way he does this actually plays off some of our preconceptions about art creation and viewing that I […]
Following up on yesterday’s post about nothingness, here are two books, one by a scientist and another by a mathematician, about the origination and subsequent history of the mathematical notion of zero: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea,by Charles Seife, and The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero,by Robert Kaplan. I’ve not […]
I recently sat through the Rifftrax of Troll 2 (see my previous post re. Rifftrax) and felt the need to relate my fascination with flavors of irony to the so-bad-it’s-good movie experience. Just to clarify, the Rifftrax guys claim that they don’t actually like bad movies. These movies are simply bad, so the humor in […]
Reflections on the poptastic Rivers Cuomo. Watch on youtube. Weezer is one of my favorite bands, and as in the case of most of my favorite bands, I like all of its eras and permutations, whereas most critics and fans latch on to one (the first) era and are frustrated or disappointed by the rest. […]
In the realm of superhero comics (and movies), there’s been (since Watchmen at least) a realization that what superheros allegedly do, i.e. beat people up, requires a certain psychosis, and comics like The Punisher make that explicit. With the “Dexter” books by Jeff Lindsay and the TV show based on them, this is approached from […]
Much has been remarked about Tolkien’s Catholicism and how this plays out in Lord of the Rings. Much less known, or more precisely much less tolerated are his earlier efforts to create the myths of Middle Earth, later packed by his son into The Silmarillion. These stories are for the most part told at a […]
As I read books to my kids (and listen to them in the car to keep them from beating on each other), I look for the message of the stories. Are they learning the Tao of Pooh? The heavy handed Christianity of Narnia? The LSD lessons of Lewis Carroll? Of late, we’ve made our way […]
(Watch on YouTube). I first became familiar with Raymond Tallis a few months ago, when I was exploring my fury at post-Saussurean thinkers such as Lacan and Derrida. I saw a reference somewhere to a book called Not Saussure: A Critique of Post-Saussurean Literary Theory. After finding a copy – hard to find at a […]
My involvement with non-Western philosophy has been pretty limited overall, and one fellow I’d not run into was 13th century Persian mystical love poet and philosopher Rumi, though I see now I have a book with a couple pages of Rumi aphorisms in it in the “Contemporary Sufism” chapter such as “To the ignorant, a […]
I had been looking forward to Jerry Fodor’s What Darwin Got Wrong (co-authored with Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini), not because I have anything against Darwin but because Fodor is a superb writer, the well-respected cognitive scientist who “laid the groundwork for the modularity of mind and language of thought hypotheses,” and a worthy opponent of the idiocy […]
Seth reviews Steve Martin’s short autobiography, Born Standing Up – a comic’s life, about his development into and subsequent retirement as a stand-up comedian.
This is the 12th in the “Discworld” series, a British humor/fantasy bunch of books comparable in style to “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy,” but it’s only the setting (a flat world resting on the back of four elephants resting on the back of a turtle) that’s consistent, not so much the characters, so it’s not […]
Seth writes about the movie ‘District 9’, which was not at all what he expected.
We are exuberant fellows and have long discussed using this blog as a BLOG and not just as a podcast accompaniment, so I’m going to initiate an idea I’ve been wanting to try out, sort of… You see, I’ve wanted to go beyond the bounds of the podcast and tell folks about the philosophy books […]