In Defense of America’s Best Idea
Marilynne Robinson writes in defense of the idea of the university: “Since Plato at least, the arts have been under attack on the grounds that they have no useful role in society. They are under attack at present. We have convinced ourselves that the role of the middle ranks of our population is to be useful to the economy—more precisely, to the future economy, of which we know nothing for certain but can imagine to be as unlike the present situation as the present is unlike the order that prevailed a few decades ago. If today is any guide, we can anticipate further profound disruption. Whatever coherence the economy has created in the culture to this point cannot be assumed. The reverence paid to economic forces, as well as the accelerating accumulation of wealth in very few hands, increasingly amounts to little more than faceless people with no certain qualifications playing with money, and enforces the belief that our hopes must be surrendered to these forces. The coherence that society might take from politics—that is, from the consciousness that it is a polity, a human community with a history and an aspiration toward democracy, the latter of which requires a capacity for meaningful decisions about its life and direction—exists apart from these forces and is at odds with them. So far as those forces are determining, and so long as they succeed in defining utility, value, and legitimacy for the rest of us, we will have surrendered even the thought of creating a society that can sustain any engagement or purpose beyond that endless openness and submissiveness to other people’s calculations and objectives that we call competition.
“What are you going to do with that?” “Think,” I replied
In this commentary, David Silbersweig, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the Institute for the Neurosciences at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Stanley Cobb Professor of psychiatry and Academic Dean (Partners HealthCare) at Harvard Medical School, makes the case for the value of a liberal arts education — and a philosophy education in particular — in today’s multidisciplinary world.
Is the Self Its Own Fictional Character?
Some find it comforting to think of life as a story. Others find that absurd. On the Narrative view, one is “naturally disposed to experience or conceive of one’s life, one’s existence in time, oneself, in a narrative way, as having the form of a story, or perhaps a collection of stories, and—in some manner—to live in and through this conception.” However, according to Galen Strawson, even if this is true of some lives, it is not a universal truth about human lives: “... many of us aren’t Narrative in this sense. We’re naturally—deeply—non-Narrative. We’re anti-Narrative by fundamental constitution. It’s not just that the deliverances of memory are, for us, hopelessly piecemeal and disordered, even when we’re trying to remember a temporally extended sequence of events. The point is more general. It concerns all parts of life, life’s ‘great shambles’, in the American novelist Henry James’s expression. This seems a much better characterisation of the large-scale structure of human existence as we find it. Life simply never assumes a story-like shape for us. And neither, from a moral point of view, should it."
The Philosophers’ Magazine (TPM) is devoted to publishing philosophy that’s clear, enlightening, thought-provoking and entertaining. The contributors are professional philosophers, many of international standing, who take care to make themselves understood.
You can study things that make you a better slave and you can study things that make you a better free human being. So Aristotle saw when he distinguished the illiberal or servile from the liberal arts. The servile arts make you good at carrying out the wills of others. The liberal arts make you good at being a free human being – hence the "liberty" in their name.
“There was just no model for this, a reference work that was revisable where all the scholarly standards were maintained,” said Stanford’s Edward Zalta, the executive editor of the site and a senior research scholar at Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information. The encyclopedia is one of the leading resources for scholarly research, Zalta said. ... Entries are regularly cited in law briefs and court cases both in the United States and in Europe. The site was also read and referenced in military contexts more than 15,000 times between September 2013 and September 2014.
Philosophy Majors Top All Humanities in Earnings Power
There is one humanities major whose graduates are doing quite well in the job market—and it’s philosophy majors. In a recent study of 1.4 million college graduates, a philosophy bachelor’s degree ranked higher than all other majors in the humanities in earnings power — from early career all the way to later career.
Are You a Secret Agent?
—Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a new entry on the concept of agency. In very general terms, an agent is a being with the capacity to act, and ‘agency' denotes the exercise or manifestation of this capacity…. Debates about the nature of agency have flourished over the past few decades in philosophy and in other areas of research (including psychology, cognitive neuroscience, social science, and anthropology). In philosophy, the nature of agency is an important issue in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of psychology, the debates on free will and moral responsibility, in ethics, meta-ethics, and in the debates on the nature of reasons and practical rationality.
When It’s Nobody’s Business
—New York Times
To Merge with the Divine
Prohibited from the academy in the medieval period, some women turned to mystical traditions in their search for knowledge of and union with God. Philosopher Christina Van Dyke holds that this specifically mystical element — to not only understand the divine, but to merge with it — in turn lent such women a singular authority for their day. [audio]
A New Way to Look at Emotions
—National Public Radio
In her research, scientist Lisa Feldman Barrett concludes that emotions are not distinct entities inside us. Philosopher Alva Noë weighs in.
Against the Charge of Speciesism
Peter Singer famously argued that many of us are guilty of speciesism in our dealings with animals—we give unreasonable priority to humans over other the interests of other animals. Speciesism is like racism and other prejudices in many respects. Philosopher Shelly Kagan outlines and criticises Singer’s arguments for this position, and in the process makes some interesting points about prejudice in general.
Life after Faith
An interview with philosopher Philip Kitcher.
Animals in Medieval Philosophy
—History of Philosophy without any gaps
Medieval ideas about what animals do and do not have in common with humans, and how we should treat them.
The Myth of the Intuitive
—New Books in Philosophy
According to some experimental philosophers, analytic philosophers rely too heavily on an unsound method which involves arguing for philosophical conclusions from premises whose force rests solely in what philosophers find "intuitive" or "obvious."...In The Myth of the Intuitive: Experimental Philosophy and Philosophical Method, philosopher Max Deutsch defends analytic philosophy against the x-phi critique by showing that, in fact, analytic philosophers do not, in fact, treat intuitions as evidence. [audio]
Philosophy Changing How Kids Think
—Business Insider (AU)
In some ambitious K-12 schools across the country, philosophy courses have made tangible improvements to the way students learn. In these classrooms, teachers tackle big concepts like ethics and epistemology. They ask: How can we know what we know? – a classic epistemological quandary — but they use Dr. Seuss to get there.
Kant is My Co-Driver
—Times Higher Ed
Should autonomous vehicles have ethics programmed in? And when bad things happen, who bears the moral responsibility?
Externalism with Burge, Kripke and Putnam
—University College Dublin
This 2007 recording of philosophers Tyler Burge, Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam discussing externalism has just been posted by University College Dublin. The session is chaired by Michael Devitt. [video]
Stop thinking of Silicon Valley as an engineer’s paradise. There’s far more work for liberal arts majors—who know how to sell and humanize. Take the example of Slack Technologies which has become a recent wonder child of tech startups at the hands of philosophy graduate, Stewart Butterfield.
Save Lives by Making a Bunch of Money
If you want to save lives, become an investment banker or something like that. Pursuing a highly lucrative career may be your most ethical choice.
In the White Frame
Racial discrimination is so embedded in our system that it has become nearly invisible. And there is data to prove it. Philosopher George Yancy interviews sociologist Joe Feagin.
Putting Plato Over the Plate
—National Public Radio
What makes hitting in baseball possible is our participation together in an ongoing game or play or, better, a relationship.
The Ontology of Björk
Performer Björk recently enlisted the help of English professor Timothy Morton to discover what 'ism' she is. Morton is a proponent of object-oriented ontology—a view which rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects. A selection from the resulting correspondence is available online.
White Privilege and Black Rights
—Inside Higher Ed
A reviewer of philosopher Naomi Zack’s recent book, White Privilege and Black Rights described it as “…part of her continuing effort to think, as a philosopher, about questions of race and justice that are long-standing, but also prone to rise up, on occasion, with great urgency.”
Why Study Philosophy?
Trick question! You should know the answer to this one. But here are some further reasons you might not have thought or known about.
Truth after the End of Truth
A generation raised on Foucault and Derrida has learned to distrust claims to objective truth. Yet the mantra that ‘there is no truth’ is a paradox. Do we need a new conception of fantasy and reality to free us from the tyranny of truthmakers and the paradoxes of postmodernists alike? American philosopher John Searle, post-postmodernist Hilary Lawson and Historian of Ideas at NCH Hannah Dawson untangle the truth.
A.I. vs A.U. (Actual Unintelligence)
—National Public Radio
Seriously, if robots pose a danger, it isn’t because they are so smart and threaten Terminator-style to take over the world. It’s because, like cars, cranes and jackhammers, they’re heavy and dumb and operate outside the performance specifications of flesh and blood human beings.
The Pope as Philosopher
The papal encyclical Laudato si' uses moral arguments for environmental protection, yet as a philosophical statement, it’s a terrific example of “public reason.”
—New Books in Philosophy
Philosopher Margaret Morrison discusses themes from her recent book Reconstructing Reality which examines and questions whether we have solid justification in modern science for epistemically privileging the results of experiments over the results of modeling and simulation—new knowledge we derive from idealizations, abstractions, and fictional models. [audio]
What Economics Can’t Do
—New York Times
It can’t predict the future—in Greece or anywhere else—with any certainty. So what’s the use?
How to Do Things with Pornography
—Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
A review of philosopher Nancy Bauer’s recent book How to Do Things with Pornography in which she develops a novel interpretation of J.L. Austin’s work on speech acts and uses it to ground a metacritique of recent feminist treatments of pornography as largely failing to engage their intended subject.
Does Evil Exist?
Not every evildoer is an evil person, but if you commit enough despicable acts you might just qualify as the real deal. Luke Russell discusses themes from his recent book Evil: A Philosophical Investigation. [audio]
Newton as Philosopher
Philosopher Andrew Janiak’s recent book Newton argues that thinking of Newton as a scientist gets things importantly wrong. Newton was and conceived of himself as a natural philosopher. The distinction here is, Janiak, argues not just exchanging old terminology for new.
Tragedy of the Commons Tweet Goes Viral
One student reacts to this instruction on his final assignment: “Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added onto your final paper grade. But there’s a small catch: if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points.” And then all hell breaks out.
Can Moral Disputes Be Resolved?
Chances are you believe honor killing is wrong. But you probably can’t prove it.
Snowden on Philosophy Talk
You might think we each have a moral duty to expose any serious misconduct, dishonesty, or illegal activity we discover in an organization, especially when such conduct directly threatens the public interest. However, increasingly we are seeing whistleblowers punished more harshly than the alleged wrongdoers, who often seem to get off scot-free. Given the possibility of harsh retaliation, how should we understand our moral duty to tell the truth and reveal wrongdoing? Should we think of whistleblowers as selfless martyrs, as traitors, or as something else? Do we need to change the laws to provide greater protection for whistleblowers? John and Ken welcome our era's most renowned whistleblower, former CIA analyst Edward Snowden.
“More than 3,000 nine and 10-year-olds in 48 UK schools took part in hour-long sessions aimed at raising their ability to question, reason and form arguments. A study for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) found pupils’ ability in reading and maths scores improved by an average of two months over a year. For disadvantaged children, the study found writing skills were also boosted.” [More pointers to coverage here.]
The Philosopher's Stone Discovered in Turkey
An account of the (still ongoing) archaeological finding of the writings of the Epicurean philosopher Diogenes inscribed in the stone walls of a stoa.
All Wrong about Being
Stanford professor Thomas Sheehan says that Martin Heidegger’s work “has been misinterpreted for years, and in his latest book, Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift, Sheehan introduces a radical new framework for understanding Heidegger. According to Sheehan, standard academic readings have long claimed that Heidegger believed Being gave weight and value to our world ... After an exhaustive survey of Heidegger’s works, Sheehan concluded that Heidegger’s philosophy centers not on Being but rather on his early insight that our mortality is the source of all meaning. ‘Humans are characterized by the need to interpret everything they meet, and this need arises from our radical finitude.’”
22nd Century Ethics Faceoff … in Space!
—Charleston City Paper
Philosophy student, Hart Jeffers, is bringing his first love to his new comic book project, Sol, where in the 22nd century two A.I. robots designed on the basis of different ethical systems go toe to toe. Philosophy, comics, science fiction, different ethical systems. What could go wrong? “One of the things I want to do with this series—one of the things I think science fiction should do—is introduce philosophical ideas to an audience in a way that’s accessible, in a way that’s interesting,” Jeffers says. ”And we're not just going to do virtue ethics.” [Hey, are those real astrobears?]
Logic of Effective Altruism
Eleven others debate with philosopher Peter Singer on his well-known thesis that ‘a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of one's spare resources to make the world a better place.”
Israel to Teach Philosophy in Elementary School
The Education Ministry of Israel has proposed a new program to introduce the fundamentals of philosophy to children in elementary school, starting from the third grade. Under the new curriculum, students will be taught the works of the prominent philosophers, develop critical thinking and learn how to ask meaningful questions and answer them in a serious manner.
Why Grow Up?
Philosopher Susan Neiman discusses themes from her recent book, Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age.
—Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a new entry on natural theology and natural religion. In contemporary philosophy, both “natural religion” and “natural theology” typically refer to the project of using the cognitive faculties that are “natural” to human beings—reason, sense-perception, introspection—to investigate religious or theological matters ... Philosophers and religious thinkers across almost every epoch and tradition (Near Eastern, African, Asian, and European) have engaged the project of natural theology, either as proponents or critics. The question of whether natural theology is a viable project is at the root of some of the deepest religious divisions.
Better, Better, Best
If A is a better course of action than B, and B is better than C, it seems to follow that A must be a better course of action than C. This is the principle of transitivity [for moral action]. Larry Temkin questions the assumption that transitivity is a feature of our moral judgements - his challenge has come to be known as ‘Temkin's Paradox.’ If he’s right, then many assumptions that philosophers and others make about rationality need revising, with far-reaching consequences for practical ethics. [audio]
I Spy Philosopher Spy
How is a philosopher like a spy? Peter Rickman wants to know and you know why.
—Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a new entry on perceptual experience and perceptual justification. When you see a ripe lemon in a supermarket, it seems eminently reasonable for you to believe that a lemon is there. Here you have a perceptual experience since you consciously see something yellow. And your experience seems to justify your belief since your experience seems to make it reasonable for you to believe that a lemon is there. Our perceptual experiences of the world outside us seem to justify our beliefs about how the world outside us is. If that's right, a question in the epistemology of perception remains open: how do our experiences justify beliefs about the external world? And a question in the philosophy of mind remains open as well: what are our experiences themselves like?
Philosopher Brian Epstein warns that without significant changes, social sciences as we know it will become irrelevant and obsolete. His research on the metaphysics of the social world lead him to ask fundamental questions such as what are languages, what are banks, or artifacts? Why should we care? Because according to Epstein, asking and answering such questions are the only way we can fix the foundations of social sciences. [video]
Graffiti Suit @5Pointz. Legit?
—Aesthetics for Birds
For more than a decade, the owner of the 5Pointz property in Queens allowed artists to create and display their work on the exterior and interior of the derelict building. "Over the years, the spectacular artistic creations blossomed into an international tourist attraction and transformed the neighborhood from a virtual wasteland into an attractive place for residential development." When the building was recently whitewashed prior to being turned into condos, nine graffiti artists filed suit for the willful destruction of their artworks. Four philosophers of art discuss the issue.
Liberal Politics and Public Faith
—New Books in Philosophy
In a liberal democracy, citizens share political power as equals. This means that they must decide laws and policies collectively. Yet they disagree about fundamental questions regarding the value, purpose, and meaning of life. What role should their convictions concerning these matters play in their public activity as citizens? According to familiar answers, citizens must bracket or constrain the role that their religious convictions plays in their public lives. But many religious citizens find this unacceptable. Some of these hold that their religious views should determine law and policy. But that, too, looks unacceptable. Author Kevin Vallier discusses themes from his recent book, Liberal Politics and Public Faith: Beyond Separation in which he develops a position of the role of religious conviction and reasoning in liberal democracy. [audio]
Change Comes from the Margins
—New York Times
Those forced to the margins of society can sometimes make the most profound change to the status quo.
Being Al Mele
An interview with philosopher Al Mele.
The Cognitive Science of Theology
—New Books in Philosophy
Natural theology involves attempts to rationally justify religious belief based on reasoning about experience. The world appears to exhibit order or design, and so, the design argument goes, we are justified in concluding that there must be a divine designer. But what are the cognitive bases of this and other arguments in natural theology? And will revealing the cognitive processes behind these arguments show them to be unjustified or irrational? Authors Helen de Cruz and Johan de Smedt discuss themes from their recent book A Natural History of Natural Theology. [audio]
A moral theory that emphasizes ends over means, Utilitarianism holds that a good act is one that increases pleasure in the world and decreases pain. The tradition flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and has antecedents in ancient philosophy. According to Bentham, happiness is the means for assessing the utility of an act, declaring “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” Mill and others went on to refine and challenge Bentham’s views and to defend them from critics such as Thomas Carlyle, who termed Utilitarianism a “doctrine worthy only of swine.”
Applied Philosophy of Sport
Ten philosophers talk philosophy and the FIFA World Cup.