A good novel can do all sorts of things—it can entertain us, move us, confound us, and even outrage us. Fiction certainly unleashes the imagination. But how is it supposed to shape us?
A good novel can do all sorts of things—it can entertain us, move us, confound us, and even outrage us. Fiction certainly unleashes the imagination. But how is it supposed to shape us?
I say, “Aristotle had a mole on his back.” I manage to refer to Aristotle, whom I never met, to put it mildly -- he lived very long ago and very far away. And I manage to get everyone else to think about Aristotle. Damn amazing.
Parents may profess to love their children unconditionally. But how often do children test the limits of parental love? Couples in the first blush of new love may make dewy-eyed promises to love each other for better or for worse. But how often do such promises give way to betrayal and recrimination?
Schopenhauer said the doctrine of reincarnation was the belief of the vast majority of mankind. Certainly, most Buddhists believe in reincarnation. And I’m told one out of four Americans today believe in it too. It deserves to be taken seriously.
Philosophical discussions about torture tend to focus on two things: whether torture is ever morally justified, and, if so, whether this should be reflected in the law.
Non-violence can achieve a degree of moral clarity that violence never can. Think of those civil rights protestors, on that bridge in Selma, being beaten by racist cops, with the whole world watching. If those protestors had turned violent, the morality clarity of the moment would have been completely lost.
The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness as an area where “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,” which “retains its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement or human habitation.” That's poetic and inspiring -- just like the wilderness itself -- but not entirely accurate.
There may or may not be a God; but there definitely is morality. So what’s the problem exactly? It's what Dostoyevsky said: if God is dead, then everything is permitted. That means no distinction between right and wrong and thus no morality.
Do you get sadder than most people? Depressed. Do you make choices more spontaneously? Impulsive. Do you like your place exceptionally clean? OCD. Is the DSM just an instruction manual for how to be “normal,” backed by the bewildering authority of “science” and the intimidating stare of men in white coats?
If we're talking about American Democracy, then our title is pretty optimistic, since it presupposes there is an American democracy to be in crisis. If you told me the passenger pigeon was in crisis, that would also be optimistic, since the passenger pigeon went extinct a century or so ago.
When we say "forbidden," we don’t mean legally forbidden. We’re talking about morally forbidden words – words that hurt, insult, and demean.
There’s something odd about how psychiatry defines mental disorders—namely, by their symptoms. It’s to be expected, on some level. After all, how else could doctors diagnose psychiatric disorders, if not, in part, by their symptoms?
Many people believe that the most fundamental philosophical problem is this: what is the meaning of existence? That’s a question that Albert Camus dug into in his novels, plays, and essays.
Is the distinctively human practice of telling stories an evolutionary adaptation? How is storytelling changing and evolving as human culture and technology advances?
The internet has changed practically everything – from the way we work to the way we play. It stands to reason that it would change the way we engage in social and political action too.
What exactly is going on inside the heads of climate change deniers? Should we consider their beliefs rational, given the fragment of evidence they've actually examined? But if that's the case, why don't their views tend to change when more data is presented to them?
Nobody has the right to tell me what to do with my own body -- not even the government! It’s my body. I can do with it as I please. But then I realize that there are things like mandatory seat belt laws, prohibitions against prostitution, and laws against the buying and selling of bodily organs.
An astounding one in eight people on the planet are undernourished, over three million children die every year from hunger or malnutrition, and two billion people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies. So how do we solve global food insecurity? And whose responsibility is it to do so?
Most people think that it’s just plain obvious that race is something that’s rooted in people’s biological make-up. But can genetics settle the question of whether race is real? Or is there something fundamentally confused about attempts to use genetics to prove the reality of race?
Does government equal tyranny? Must we give up some autonomy to get certain goods that only the state can provide? Or is anarchy a viable alternative to the coercive power of the state?
Is dehumanization a sort of psychological “technology” that helps us overcome our default tendency to treat others decently? Or is the basic tendency to categorize others in terms of "us" and "them" enough to explain why we sometimes treat others viciously?
Is there life after death? Could we ever have evidence of an afterlife? Or is believing just a matter of faith?
Morality is a good thing. Immorality is a bad thing. A person should always do good things and never do bad things. Doesn't everybody agree? Well, judging by people's behavior, not necessarily.
The sex trade includes pornography, erotic dance, phone sex, and probably some things I’ve never heard of. But our focus today is prostitution in many but not all of its varieties.
Given that humans are in fact a single species, why do some people think of groups of other people -- whether literally or figuratively -- as not quite fully human?
Call it a hunch, an intuition, or an instinct—what these all have in common is that we don’t know why we feel the way we do, yet the feeling is so compelling, it moves us to act.
I thought Philosophy Talk listeners might enjoy Hume’s last thoughts on immortality, as recorded by James Boswell, who visited Hume hoping for a deathbed conversion
There’s certainly a lot of hypocrisy around, especially in politics. But how bad is it? Is it a simply necessary evil for an effective politician? Or is it really one of the worst kinds of vices?
Despite the fact we've known what the consequences of our actions are for some time now, instead of slowing down, we’ve actually increased the rate at which we burn fossil fuels.
Some events in a person’s life are so powerful, so life-altering, that there’s a sense in which he or she may not be the same person before and after the event.
There was a time when identities were much more tied to geography than they are now. Most people in the world spent their entire lives living in or close to the place in which they were born.
A skeleton walks into a bar. It says, “Give me a beer and a mop.”
A debate rages in philosophy about whether intuitions can help us know the truth. But do intuitions really tell us the truth? Do they teach us about our own concepts? Or are they just conditions for the possibility of acquiring new knowledge?
If every kid deserves a good education, just in virtue of being a kid, and every person deserves a minimally decent life, just in virtue of being a person, then doesn’t it follow that every kid deserves a medal, just for running the race? Or is this the absurd conclusion our fixation on fairness inevitably leads to?
If philosophy can undermine irrational beliefs, and thereby remove the anxiety, fear, and depression, we have philosophy as therapy. This doesn’t mean every philosopher is suited to be a therapist. But the activity getting rid of irrational beliefs can be therapeutic.
We blame and resent people for the things for which they are responsible. And we think people are responsible for what they freely do. So by looking at when blame and resentment are called for and when they are not, maybe we can learn something about freedom.
There are lots of ways that corporations threaten democracy. But they’re all rooted in one basic concept -- the idea of limited liability, the concept that the individuals behind a corporation can shield themselves from full financial responsibility for risks they take.
Like many people, I think the practice of racial profiling—the police or security practice of targeting individuals for investigation because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin—is obviously wrong. What’s less obvious, to me at least, is exactly why it’s wrong.
Religious people sometimes think, remember, and reason about God in ways that go contrary to their professed religious “beliefs.” Which raises a puzzle: what then shall we say about those “beliefs”? Do people really believe them? Or is there another way to account for what's going on?
Some people avoid second-guessing themselves on principle. It’s like Ser Alliser says in Game of Thrones: “Leadership is all about getting second-guessed by every clever little twat with a mouth. But if a leader starts second-guessing [himself], that's it. That's the end."
Revered by some as an astute thinker and a pragmatic visionary, Niccolò Machiavelli is reviled by others for writing a manual for unscrupulous leaders everywhere, teaching them to do whatever it takes to defeat their enemies and stay in power, no matter how cruel or ruthless their actions might be.
You might be skeptical that newborns, of all people, have something to teach us about the nature of morality. It’s not like newborns face a lot of deep moral dilemmas -- “Should I laugh at the big guy making the silly faces at me or should I cry?”
Neuroscience is revolutionizing our understanding of how the brain works. In the process it is challenging ago-old ways of thinking about crime and punishment. Some neuroscientists even say that it’s time to completely rethink our judicial system in light of their discoveries.
Scientists might start with an intuition, but they never treat their intuitions as evidence. Instead, they go out and test them. Philosophers, on the other hand, like to sit in their armchairs and come to all sorts of conclusions based on intuition. But why should anybody treat their intuitions as evidence of anything?
Does language affect the way you think about the world? Can the grammar or vocabulary of the language you speak play a role in shaping your experiences? Or is language merely how you give voice to what you experience?
Many things that did not happen, might have happened. For example, if John hadn’t been such a procrastinator, he might have written more in his career. Of course, since John has really had a highly distinguished and productive career, that’s sort of a frightening thought.
Remix is all the rage, these days. Some people claim that absolutely everything is a remix. Of course if that were literally true, it would imply that nothing new is being created anymore.
Race is important. It has huge ramifications for the ways that we live our lives. But what exactly is race? And is it even real?
Putting a person in a prison deprives him of freedom and autonomy. Putting an animal in a cage does the same thing. Of course, people and animals are different, but should these differences change how we view the morality of holding either one captive?
When church-goers declare, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth,” they refer to the psychological state of “belief.” But what is the psychological nature of religious “belief”—or credence? And do believers really believe their so-called "beliefs"?
What we think about Edward Snowden exposing the NSA’s program of spying on our emails, phone calls, and the like, probably turns on what we think about privacy. So what is privacy? An inalienable right? Or a privilege we need to give up on behalf of national security?
According to the Bible, when Adam and Eve ate that darned apple, they tainted all of humankind with Original Sin. But why should anybody be held responsible for what someone else did? What kind of justice is that?
There's an old saying -- “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” That suggests the words “terrorism” and “terrorist” are contested terms. Are these words so entangled in rhetoric and polemics that they're useless for objective philosophical discussion?
Philosophers' Corner Contributor David Livingstone Smith in conversation with primatologist Annette Lanjouw at the Arcus Forum "Less Than Human" in September 2013.
Ken: If I stuck a turd on a plate and called it “Dinner,” would you think that was art?
John: Well, I’d rather call it art than dinner...
What makes people believe in God? The relatively new research field cognitive science of religion has come up with some powerful answers to this question. Importantly, its answers are psychological.
I know that I have a mind, that is, feelings, sensations, thoughts and the like, in a very direct way. I am directly aware of what goes on in my own mind. But how do I know that something like this goes on in other people?
If being human is a category that doesn’t map clearly and cleanly onto scientific categories like Homo sapiens, do our folk-conceptions of the human offer anything that’s more useful?
Nothing seems more basic or real than time, yet many philosophers find it deeply puzzling. Some even claim time is unreal. And it's not just philosophers. It's physicists too.
Is color in the eye of the beholder? Or is color objectively real? Would colors still exist in the world, even if no one was around to see them?
The world is a risky place where all sorts of nasty things could happen. So, how do we decide what to do when there are risks at every turn?
You are human, and so am I. We can both agree on that. But what does it mean to say of someone that they are human?
Every year, we do a special program called the Summer Reading List. As we're preparing for this year's show, we want to know what YOU, our fans and listeners, are planning to read this year.
Do you think of conspiracy theories as the kind of theories that paranoid nutjobs relentlessly like to spout? Before you judge all conspiracy theories in a single stroke, you should consider that there are conspiracy theories that you probably believe. And with good reason.
What do nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons all have in common? It can’t just be that they’re all horrible. Is it because they're more destructive or efficient than any others that we call them Weapons of Mass Destruction?
Thomas Hobbes famously said that in the state of nature, life is solitary, brutish and short -- as if nature designed people to act alone, rather than together. But acting together is one of the most natural things in the world. So, what exactly is it to act together?
Simone de Beauvoir was probably best known as a novelist, and a feminist thinker and writer, but she was also an existentialist philosopher in her own right and, like her lover Sartre, thought a lot about the human struggle to be free.
Science used to be seen as a thing for boys only. Back in the 1980s, when students were asked to draw what a scientist looks like, 48% drew a scientist with facial hair; 25% gave their scientist a pencil protector. Only 8% drew a woman.
David Livingstone Smith presents on the philosophical topic of dehumanization and sheds light as to why humans are capable of horrific atrocities that have occurred throughout history.
It would be hard to deny that Freud was one of the towering intellectual figures of the 20th Century. Arguably, he single handedly changed the way we think about ourselves with his detailed theory of the unconscious mind.
There is a long tradition in philosophy of thinking that memory and the self are intimately connected. Locke claims, for example, that what makes me today the very same person as I was yesterday, is the fact that I can now remember what I did or experienced yesterday.
In a fair moral system, it seems that how one is treated, whether by the state, other people, or oneself, should depend on what one deserves. And what one deserves should depend on one’s own intentions, desires, motivations and things like that; it shouldn’t be a matter of luck.
Trust is a pattern of reliance that is no doubt essential to social life. But is it rational? Does trust really amount to being stupid or helpless or both?
If Philosopy Talk is to keep bringing you quality, thought-provoking and entertaining programming, we need the help of you, our listeners. That is just one reason why have introduced our online Community of Thinkers. Through the Community of Thinkers we hope to turn ownership of our program over to you.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects our right to say and publish whatever we think, but doesn’t in general guarantee the right to do any more than that. I can believe that people shouldn’t wear fedoras, and I can publish my view.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year, Sarah Palin sipped from a 40 oz. super big gulp in the middle of her speech, poking fun at NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on large sugary drinks.
What does Berkeley philosopher Alva Noë mean when he says that dance is a form of knowing? It depends on his theory of consciousness. According to the outmoded view that he rejects, consciousness is something that happens inside the head.
Questions about the value of the humanities and the relationship between the sciences and humanities have been very much in the news recently. Notable intellectuals, like Stanley Fish, Steven Pinker, Philip Kitcher, Daniel Dennett, and Martha Nussbaum, have all weighed in on the discussion.
Things happen. And things happening make other things happen. Drop an egg off the Empire State Building and it’s bound to break when it meets the pavement. Stick your naked finger in a live electric socket and you’re going to get a very nasty shock.
This week we're stepping over to the Dark Side of Science. Of course a skeptic might ask, what dark side? Without modern science, we’d still be bleeding the sick, travelling by horseback, and using carrier pigeons for long distance communication.
There is nothing morally special about trolleys, except the historical accident that around thirty years ago the great philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson used trolleys in a series of examples, originally to help us think about moral aspects of abortion.
We’ve all experienced the desire for revenge, whether it be when some jerk cuts you off in traffic or you discover that your partner has been cheating on you. Wanting revenge when you’ve been wronged is a natural human response. The question we’re asking this week is whether this desire for payback is something we ought to act on.
There’s a long tradition in philosophy of thinking that we actually know ourselves quite well. Descartes, who has a reasonable claim to be the founder of this tradition, apparently thought that we had infallible and complete knowledge of everything going on in our minds.
It's National Hispanic Heritage Month, and this week on the program we'll be tackling Latin-American Philosophy. By Latin America we mean all the Spanish and Portuguese speaking parts of the Americas, including Mexico.
Sunday's program is about Diogenes the Cynic. Diogenes was born about 413 BCE and died in 323 BCE, the same year, and, at least according to legend, the same day as Alexander the Great, who had an unrequited admiration for Diogenes.
Can animals possess moral virtues, like altruism or empathy, or act according to moral principles, like fairness or justice? Or is any ascription of morality to animals is just a case of anthropomorphizing?
I bet that when most people hear the word ‘meme’ they think of the Internet and the viral spread of things like planking. Or maybe new expressions like LOL, or Gangnam style or the Harlem shake. This week's program may touch on that stuff, but that’s mostly not what we want to discuss.
Some philosophers, including the guest on Sunday's program, Lanier Anderson, his teacher Alexander Nehamas, and their hero Nietzsche, are of the opinion think that we should think of our lives as works of art.
This week our topic is freedom and free markets. We want to explore the extent to which these two things are or perhaps are not mutually dependent on each other. You might think that the answer is obvious, that freedom and free markets necessarily go together hand in glove. Clearly, free markets would not be possible without a great deal individual freedom – particularly the freedom to make contracts.
Most Ancient Greeks thought the earth was flat, that slavery was OK, and that women were second-class people. Plato thought democracy sucked, that poetry and drama were bad things, and that freedom of speech is a sort of joke. He even thought that Philosophers, of all people, should be Kings.
What gives nations the right to control who can cross their borders? That’s the question we’re addressing in this week’s show. After all, in some sense we’re all citizens of this planet with an equal right to its bounty, so shouldn’t we all be able to live and work wherever we want?
The “Culture Wars”. Not just Liberal versus Conservative and Democrat versus Republican; but Secular versus Religious; Evolutionist versus Creationist; Feminist versus Traditionalist; MSNBC versus Fox. John Stewart versus Bill O’Reilly.
Before the Scientific Revolution, the lines between science, philosophy, and theology were blurry. But as scientists started to gather further evidence for the Copernican model of the cosmos, the divide between science and religion grew.
Religion offers us a comforting and inspiring vision of human existence. In the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christiantiy, a just but loving and merciful God created the universe. He’s in charge. And he’s got a plan -- not just for the universe as a whole, but for each of us.
If God knows all, is all-powerful, and is benevolent, why did He create a world with suffering, evil and injustice in it? That’s what philosophers call “The Problem of Evil”.
Does living morally add or detract from the goodness of a life? The answer may seem obvious to some people. When you do the moral thing, you're doing the right thing. Violating morality is doing the wrong thing.
The title of this week’s show might sound a little mysterious. How can dance, of all things, be a way of knowing? Most things we know, we know either through perception or through thinking and reasoning. But on the surface of things, it doesn’t look like dance is either a form of perception or a form of thinking.
We've titled this week's show "Truth – and Other Fictions." Now that’s a provocative title, since truth is usually opposed to fiction. So why don’t we break it down and start with truth.
Probably the most persuasive argument for the existence of God goes something like this: All of this -- that is, a world with life, intelligence, beauty, humans, morality, etc., -- couldn’t have come about by accident. It must be due to some intelligent, powerful Being.
Some Americans view gun ownership as a non-negotiable, an almost sacred right, and view homosexuality as an unholy abomination. Other Americans see guns as one of our greatest social ills and see differences in sexual orientation as no more significant than differences in eye color.
What is a self? Here’s is a really simple answer. I’m a self, namely, myself. You are a self, namely, yourself. A self is just a person, a living, breathing, thinking human being. We use the particle ‘self’ to form reflexive pronouns, like “myself” and “yourself”, and these pronouns, refer to persons. So there’s the simple theory of selves: selves are persons.
Developments in genetics – in particular the mapping of the human genome – are tremendously exciting. For example, if we can correctly identify the disease carrying genes, we may be able to eradicate cancer. But new knowledge gives us new abilities. And new abilities give us new ethical dilemmas. This is so true in the field of biology that a whole new discipline has emerged – bioethics.
Our topic this week is the linguistics of name-calling. This episode is sort of the linguistic companion of our episode on Forbidden Words. On that one, we talked to a philosopher about the semantics of slurs that are so offensive that
With all the rapid advances in computer technology, are we humans moving toward a day when we will be able to “turbo-charge” the mind? Will we soon develop machine-enhanced super-human intelligence?
While both science and philosophy aim at the truth, they clearly have different methods and tackle different problems. Yet in the last few years, a number of scientists, like Stephen Hawking, have been very vocal in pronouncing the death of philosophy.
You might wonder what kind of a question that is. On the one hand, there’s no controversy—some people are smarter than others, some are more creative, some are stronger or faster, and some are kinder or more virtuous. So, if that’s all we’re asking, the answer is obvious.
What, if anything, do works of verbal art—poems, plays, novels, films—do for us? These days, most people will tell you one of two things: some will claim that works of verbal art make us better human beings, and others will insist they have no effect on us whatsoever.
You’ve got the Chicago School of economics, supply-side economics, Keynsian economics, and on and on. Beyond the basic law of supply and demand, is there really much that they agree on?
Many of us have been in love, and there have been countless great poems and popular songs written about it. So you’d think we’d all know what it is. Yet a lot of what has been written points to a deep mystery. So—as Cole Porter famously asked—what is this thing called love?
Whether you’re talking Girl Scout troops or Army troops -- an effective leader has to have the ability to communicate and motivate. But motivating a troop of pre-teen girls to work hard and earn their badges is a lot different from motivating a troop of soldiers in the face of battle.
Before people think we’ve gone off the deep end, we should explain that by Mind Reading, we don’t mean anything having to do with the paranormal or the occult. We’re talking about the way human beings can be good at understanding each other, the way we figure out what other people believe, desire, or intend.
If the title of this week’s show sounds strange, it may be because we don’t normally think of poetry as being in the business of producing knowledge. Poetry, we might think, is about capturing impressions and expressing feelings. The goal of poetry is not to describe the world. That’s what we have science for.
In common parlance an epicurean is one who is “fond of or adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures; having luxurious tastes or habits, especially in eating and drinking.” But the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was decidedly not an epicurean in that sense of the word.
Pantheism is the view that the world is either identical to God, or an expression of God’s nature. It comes from ‘pan’ meaning all, and ‘theism,’ which means belief in God. So according to pantheism, “God is everything and everything is God.”
This we’re going to discuss what it is to be “normal”. It seems simple enough. What’s normal is what most people do. Or perhaps what most people do, or what typical people do, or what most typical people do. It’s definitely what normal people do --- but that’s circular.
This week it's our annual Dionysus Awards show. The Dionysus Awards are presented to the most philosophically interesting movies of the year. And sometimes, when we feel like it, we also honor philosophically notable movies from the past. Unlike your average awards show, we accept nominations from the floor. So we’ll be talking to some of our listeners who wrote in with their suggestions, and to some special guests as well.
February is Black History Month. So we thought it might be a good time to do an episode on Black Solidarity. Now I admit that this topic may seem to be a bit, shall we say, 20th century. When this country still suffered from rampant racism, it made perfect sense for black people to band together on the basis of their shared history and experience to fight it. But now, in the 21st century? in the age of Obama? Why should we bother with matters racial anymore?
This week we’ll be asking about the Right to Privacy. This is one of those times when we need to start by disentangling concepts. We use ‘private’ and ‘privacy’ in several different ways. Both words derive from ‘privus’ in Latin which means `single’ or `individual’. Being private is usually opposed to being public; privacy means withdrawn in one way or another from the public.
Some famous and not-so-famous pieces of philosophy are, strictly speaking, fiction: the Dialogues of Plato, Hume and Berkeley and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, for example. And Rousseau’s Emile has some novel-like elements. Among the less famous are my own Dialogues. (In case you are interested, the are Dialogues on Personal Identity and Immortality, and Dialogue on Good, Evil and the Existence of God. Both published by Hackett publishing. Small and inexpensive, they make great gifts.)
“Democracy.” A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. The dictionary definition leaves a lot of room for variation. In a direct democracy, for example, the people collectively decide political matters. In a representative democracy, the people elect representatives to make the political decisions. And exactly who is an "eligible member"? Only those over 18? Or 21? Only men? Only property-owners?
This week, we do something special. We take a look back at the past year, though the lens of Philosophy. We call the episode -- The Examined Year: 2011. But this is not your typical year in review show -- not by a long shot. We take our inspiration, from Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. For us, that implies that that the unexamined year is not worth living through. Fortunately for us all, though, 2011 was a year well worth living through and well worth examining. It was best of times and the worst of times -- a year in equal parts inspiring and troubling.
'Nihilism’ is based on the Latin word for `nothing’: nihil. Nihilism is used for a lot of positions in philosophy… that there is nothing at all; that we know nothing at all; that there are no moral principles at all, and virtually any other position that could be framed with the word `nothing’. But the most common use, and what we'll explore today, is nihilism as the view that nothing we do, nothing we create, nothing we love, has any meaning or value whatsoever.
Millions of people believe that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God, sent to earth to teach us how to live. Many others, including some of the founding fathers like Jefferson, modern Unitarians, and a lot of people who don’t consider themselves Christians at all, aren’t convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, but think he was a great moral teacher. When they confront an ethical decision, or a morally loaded issue of public policy, they may ask, ``What would Jesus Do?”
While trying to get my C.V. in order for some university committee that wanted it, I stumbled across an article I had written for a journal called "Topoi" on the topic What’s to be done?. I think they asked a couple of hundred philosophers to write short essays. This was in 2006, but since I mostly deal with timeless topics, my views haven't changed. So I thought I would recycle it as a Christmas blog, since it's sort of cheerful and with respect to the Eastern APA, seasonal.
This week's topic is, ``Is it wrong to wreck the earth?” I suppose the obvious answer is “yes”. The answer may be more obvious than the meaning of the question. We’re not asking if it’s wrong for me or you to wreck the earth for everyone else, but something more like whether the people that are currently alive and busy polluting the streams and rivers and oceans, warming the globe, killing off species, and the like, and thus making the earth a less agreeable place for future generations, are doing something wrong.
This week’s episode is about “Forgetting and Forgiving.” Frankly, though, the ‘forgetting’ part is sort of throw-away. You should never forget the wrongs done to you. Why would you want to? Forgiving, though, is another thing entirely. When somebody wrongs us, negative emotions can eat away at us. If we let go of our anger and resentment, we experience healing and reconciliation.
Our topic this week is the military. And we’re asking “What is it good for?” Let me start out by granting the obvious. Though a few of my most left-leaning friends think we could do entirely without any sort of military, there has never been and will never be a vast and populous nation like ours without armed services. But even if we take it as a given that any nation, especially a nation that wants to be a significant player on the world stage, is going to have a military of some sort, that still leaves lots of questions open.
Kierkegaard was a very important Danish philosopher of the early 19th century. He criticized Hegel severely. But apart from not liking Hegel, he just seems to exemplify most things I dislike in a philosopher. I like philosophers who tell you what they think in a clear and straightforward manner. Kierkegaard wrote under a bunch of pseudonyms, poetically I guess, but turgidly. I think reason is the method of philosophy. Kierkegaard thinks we should accept contradictions and make leaps of faith.
Today we're asking the question: Is Nothing Sacred Anymore? Holding something sacred is often associated with religion and God. Some things are held to be sacred because of their relation to God’s wishes and commands. I think our question is in part about contemporary mores. It's also about what sort of convincing rationale there might be for something being sacred, in our more or less secular age.
Should a sane, rational person ever believe in miracles? We all believe that the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010. That was surely a miracle. The Giants victory was unlikely, against the odds, and surprising. And it answered the prayers of long-suffering Giants fans everywhere. But it wasn’t a real miracle, of the sort that religious people believe in, but many philosophers and more or less scientific types are skeptical about. Real miracles require a break in the laws of nature through divine intervention or some other supernatural force.
This week, we are “Thinking Inside the Box!” The box we have in mind? Television -- of all things. We’re looking at TV through the lens of philosophy.
Cooperation is found in many species of animals. Take dolphins, wolves, and chimpanzees. They’re all amazingly successful hunters. Why? Because they’re highly cooperative hunters. And there’s no doubt that human beings have taken the art of cooperation to levels that our animal friends can’t begin to match. Take money. Money makes possible the kind of co-operation and coordination required to make a sprawling economic system work. But it’s not just in the domain of the economy that humans cooperate.
Imagine what it’s like to be a newborn baby. For months, you’ve been all alone in this warm and cozy womb -- your every need catered to. Then suddenly, out of the blue, you’re thrust into a chaotic world, filled with strange new sights and sounds -- and people … lots of people … big people. They’re doing all sorts of things that you have no idea about. And all you can do is lie there, looking helpless, cute, and dumb.
Our topic this week is Morality and the Self. Now most people think of themselves as pretty decent types, maybe not saints, but they tell themselves they're willing to do the right thing most of the time. But if you examine how people actually behave in various situations, situations that put their moral characters to the test, we don’t actually measure up to our own-self assessments.
Our topic this week is wisdom. We hope to figure out both what it is and how we can cultivate it in ourselves and in others. And we’re also eager to think about where all the wise men and women have gone. After all, ours is an age of unparalleled scientific knowledge and technological expertise. But for all of our knowledge and expertise we don’t seem to have an excess of wisdom. Quite the contrary, in fact.
In honor of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and in lasting solidarity with all the victims of both the original tragedy and its costly and controversial aftermath, we thought we’d rebroadcast our episode on War, Sacrifice, and the Media this week. We don’t seem to have blogged for the original episode – somehow that got sacrificed. But here is a fresh one for your consideration.
Getting into the college or university of your choice – especially if it's highly selective one -- has become more daunting and more stress-inducing than ever before. The odds are stacked against students from the start.
Schizophrenia affects about one out of two hundred people. It’s a serious mental disorder that typically involves distortions in perception, especially vivid auditory hallucinations, and bizarre and usually paranoid delusion. Imagine trying to carry on a conversation with while at the same time you're surrounded by four other people, talking loudly to you, often about thoughts you might have considered to be private. That’s an exercise support groups often use to suggest to family what it's like to be a schizophrenic.
I think when people say healthcare is a right, or ought to be a right, they don’t always have the same thing in mind. I think everyone would agree that you shouldn’t be denied healthcare on account of race or religion or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Well, maybe everyone wouldn’t agree, but it’s not what people usually dispute about. The question is whether you can get healthcare if you don’t have money to pay for it.
Quantum mechanics developed in the last century to deal with the tiniest parts of nature. It seemed that classical physics, which applied to everything from stars to grains of sand, should have sufficed. But it didn’t. A whole new theory was needed. To it we owe modern bombs and modern computers. It’s been called the most empirically powerful and accurate theory ever developed. But quantum theory has been a pain, or at any rate a challenge, for philosophers since its beginning.
Philosophy Talk is devoted to public philosophy. But we mean two different things by that. OUR first aim is to encourage the public - our listeners and participants in our blog - to do philosophy, to engage in the ongoing activity. That’s because we think it's something a lot of people enjoy, and that it leads to better discussions and decisions.
Sunday’s guest is Robert Rowland Smith, author if Breakfast with Socrates and Driving with Plato. These books explore how the sorts of events that happen to everyone can give rise to philosophical thoughts, provide examples of philosophical insights, and be enriched by considering those insights. From his picture, Smith looks to me like a young guy. I don’t know how he has lived long enough to read all the philosophers he discusses. He has really mastered a fascinating kind of essay.
I don’t know about you, but I do most of my thinking in words. If I don’t have the words, how can I have the thoughts? And if you can’t have the thoughts, you can’t make plans. Tonight I’m going to do some schoogling. Until I learned the word, I couldn’t have had that plan. While 'schoogling' sounds like something we can’t talk about on Public Radio, it’s just googling the names of old schoolmates. It’s increasingly the cause of cylences.
An atheist is someone who not only doesn't believe in God, but believes, with some confidence, that there isn’t a God. But ambiguity remains. Does that simply mean rejecting the classical Judeo-Christian all-perfect God? Or does it mean rejecting Hume’s much weaker criterion: that the world was created by some thing or things bearing some remote analogy to human intelligence?
An atheist is someone who not only doesn't believe in God, but believes, with some confidence, that there isn’t a God. But ambiguity remains. Does that simply mean rejecting the classical Judeo-Christian all-perfect God? Or does it mean rejecting Hume’s much weaker criterion: that the world was created by some thing or things bearing some remote analogy to human intelligence?
The Second Inaugural Address --- the one that’s carved on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial --- is really quite chilling. Especially if you think it really represents the philosophy of someone who has just pursued a path that led to the death of half a million people.
By the language of responsibility, we mean the way we report events for which someone might be held responsible --- events for which someone might be blamed, or praised. For example, in reporting a famous event witnessed by millions of people on TV, I might say "Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson’s blouse, revealing her naked – uh --- chest." Well, actually, her right breast, not to be overly euphemistic.
Since gay rights is clearly a hot-button political issue, it’s fair to wonder what are a couple of philosophers like us doing discussing Gay Pride and Prejudice. The answer is that it is one our jobs, as publically minded philosophers, to ferret out hidden assumptions, to make them explicit and open and to subject them to intense critical scrutiny. Of course, here the hidden assumptions aren’t really so hidden.
Each year Ken and I together with our listeners, previous guests, and special guests, come up with a number of suggestions for summer reading. The books don't have to be philosophy books, but they should have a philosophical angle. So the categories come down to philosophically interesting fiction, philosophically relevant non-fiction, and straight philosophy.
America imprisons more of her citizens, for more crimes, and for longer periods than any other nation in the world. At the beginning of 2008, nearly two and a half million people were in prison in the US. That’s one in every one hundred adults. China, with a population about four times ours, had a prison population of about one and a half million during that same period. Does this mass incarceration really serve the interest of justice? Or is it an inefficient, dysfunctional way of addressing social ills that would be better handled in other ways?
The human mind is a wondrous thing. It has uncovered the innermost secrets of the natural world; it’s created art and democracy; and even explored the depths of its own operations. But human minds can be filled to the brim with superstition, prejudice, and all kinds of falsehoods. Which brings us to today’s topic: Beliefs Gone Wild! Where do all these false beliefs come from? Why are so many of our beliefs out of sync with reason, evidence, and argument?
On the one hand, there’s certainly something to be said in favor of gentrification. It helps make cities vibrant again. It means increased property values, greater economic diversity, safer neighborhoods, better schools. Who couldn’t want that? But the problem is that gentrification too often happens on the backs of the less well off, especially when free reign is given to developers to do things like turn affordable rental properties into unaffordable condos. That doesn’t increase economic diversity, it just displaces the less well off in favor of the more will off.
Our topics this week: Should Marriage Be Abolished? That’s a pretty punchy and provocative way to ask the question, we’re trying to get at, but we need to be careful. Asking whether marriage should be “abolished” isn’t like asking whether slavery should be abolished. We don’t want to suggest that people should be forbidden from marrying. Of course, some people are forbidden from marrying.
If you haven’t followed certain literature, you might be puzzled by today’s topic – especially if you just go on the meanings of the individual words involved. Most people are pretty clear what the mind is. It’s the seat of thought, consciousness, emotion… Stuff like that. And we know what it means to say something is extended – it’s stretched out through space or maybe over time. But I don’ think it is obvious what it means when we combine these two things, and say the mind is extended.
Suppose I say an adult is someone who's 18 years or older, unless the issue is drinking legally, in which case an adult is someone 21 years or older. That’s a start. But we’re not so much interested in legal definitions, as changing conceptions, of what an adult is. You could argue that unless we know what an adult is, we don’t really know what a person is or what a human being is.
I actually got a Facebook page at Ken’s urging so that I could be part of the Philosophy Talk Facebook Community. And while I’m glad that so many people like to follow the comings and goings of Philosophy Talk over facebook, for me personally, it’s a big pain.
It seems pretty clear that some things are not relative. It’s hard to feel much intuitive pull in the idea that truth is relative. Clearly, believing something to be true, doesn’t make it true. Certainly there's a sense in which if I believe something to be true, then it is "true for me." But to say that something is true for me really is just to say that I believe it. It is not to say that it is flat-out true. Just because we take there to be a distinction between believing true and actually being true, relativism about truth seems pretty hard to make out.
There's a long history of philosophers worrying about whether we’re really free. One of the first worries was whether we can be free, given God’s alleged omniscience, which seems to mean He knows what we are going to do before we do it.
In America, the 17th century British philosopher, John Locke is probably best known as one of the inspirations for the Founding Fathers. His Two Treatises of Government argues against the divine right of kings, and in favor of government by the consent of the governed. His views were admired greatly by Jefferson and the other Founders. Locke was a political activist as well as a philosopher.
A Black Guy (BG) and a White Guy (WG) are in a bar, having drinks. You may be tempted to think that they are John Perry and Ken Taylor -- but since I'm putting words in both people's mouths, don't hold John responsible for any of this.
This week, it’s the third annual Dionysus Awards Show. The Dionysus Awards are presented to the most philosophically interesting movies of the year. And sometimes, when we feel like it, we also honor philosophically notable movies from the past. Now unlike your average awards show, we accept spontaneous nominations from the floor. So we’ll be talking to some of our listeners who wrote in with nominations and to some of our past guests as well.
Our topic this week is information – specifically, too much Information. Now I can hear someone wondering, “Too much information for what?” To answer that question, we need to go back in time. Some of you will be too young to remember, but once upon a time, if you wanted to find a book, for example, you went to this place called a library. And you searched in this ancient artifact -- a thing called a card catalog. The card catalog gave you a number that was assigned to the book. And the books were all shelved in order in dusty old library stack.
Since the time of the Greeks, philosophers --- at least some of them --- have been puzzled by how we decide that something is best to do, and then not do it. And procrastination is an example of that. I decide the best thing to do, all things considered, is to get up from the couch, go to my desk, and grade some term papers. But instead of doing so, I lie on the couch and watch a rerun of Cheeers for the fourth time.
Cultural Psychologists claim that people in different cultures have different selves. They have a lot of data showing that Asian selves and American selves are quite different. But what does this even mean?
Derrida was one of the most widely revered and widely reviled thinkers of the mid-to-late twentieth Century. Many people in a variety of disciplines – especially in the literary humanities -- regard him as an absolutely seminal figure. Mark Taylor recently called him one of the three most important philosophers of the 20th century -- right up there with Heidegger and Wittgenstein. On the other hand, many philosophers would strongly disagree with that assessment (including that assessment of Heidegger and, to a lesser extent, Wittgenstein) -- especially philosophers, like John and I, who belong to the Anglo-American tradition.
We need to distinguish two questions in considering abortion: Why is abortion morally objectionable, if it is? Is it because we violate the rights of the fetus? Or is it some other reason, like that it expresses a cavalier attitude towards human life? if we interfere with a woman’s choice to have an abortion, have we wronged the woman? Do we, or does government, have the right to interfere with the exercise of that choice?
To launch a new season and a new year, we take up the topic of free markets, in particular the moral costs of free markets. Free markets are, on balance, wonderful things, I think. When they're truly open and free and not monopolized by a few big players, or overly regulated by excessively intrusive governments, markets are amazingly efficient ways of providing people with the things they want and need. They're the chief engines of economic progress, and are singularly conducive to human happiness.
There are different ways the word ‘history’ might be defined, so we had better start out by defining our terms. For example, you could define history as the sum total of past events. But that’s not how historians or even philosophers of history would define it. The problem with that definition is that it encompasses every single event that has so far happened in the Universe – from the big bang to the emergence of humankind and everything in between.
We're gearing up to record our third annual Dionysus Awards Show. This will be the third year in a row that we have given out Dionysus Awards for the most philosophically interesting movies of the year. We're seeking nominations from you, our listeners. Submit a nomination to email@example.com, along with information on how to reach you, in case we want to include you and your nomination on our final broadcast.
This week’s program was recorded at the Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children. We talk with the founder and director, Jana Mohr Lone, about the work of the Center. But for most of the program, we talk to fourth-graders about identity, personal identity, the mind and the body and the nature of happiness.
Our topic his week is the power of thought. Human thought is an amazing thing. It has given us science, literature, morality, and last -- but certainly not least -- philosophy. Thought even has the power to create new realities. And I’m not primarily thinking of literature and the arts or even of technology. I’m thinking of the entire social world. Every size social reality from clubs to nations and every thing in between is a creation of the human mind, of human thought in particular. They all exist because we simply think them into existence.
Isn’t it a bit odd that philosophers disagree? Consider Ken and I. We’re both a reasonably well-educated, fairly intelligent, pretty perceptive, not overly neurotic philosophers. Why shouldn’t we agree about everything?
This week’s topic is Reading, Narrative, and the Self. I suppose everybody has a pretty good idea of what each of those things, taken individually, means. Reading is something that most people do. A good narrative -- or story, to use a less fancy term -- is something most people enjoy. And a self is something everybody has. But I think I need to explain what reading, narrative, and the self have to do with each other. I’ll take them in reverse order, starting with the self.
Civil disobedience is a great tradition. Particularly in America, where we have Thoreau, who refused to pay a poll tax, because the money supported the Mexican War and the Fugitive Slave Law. Then, there’s Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. And the Viet-Nam War protester. But then, as philosophers, we must ask, what exactly is civil disobedience?
If you think about it, reality comes in many levels, each level involving different kinds of things, having different kinds of properties. Perhaps most people would think of things like dirt at the bottom level, then us at the next level, and the sky at the highest level. But philosophers have a different, more abstract concept of levels of reality. Here are some examples.
I’m really happy universities exist, and that they support philosophy departments, and seem to think I do something useful. But the longer I have spent in universities, the more I've become familiar with the vast differences in schools and departments, the complexity of funding, how different things are done in other universities, particularly those in other lands… and, frankly, the less I have a feel for what universities are really supposed to be. Here are four issues around which my doubts and confusions cluster.
Like every blog, we wage a constant war against spammers. But spammers always seem to be ahead of the game. They are able to leave hundreds of comments at once, even with the safeguards that Typepad has built into its software. The only sure way to block the spammers is to moderate comments --- something we haven't really wanted to do. But it looks like its time to finally give moderation a try.
These days, we tend to think of those who believe in the occult as soft-minded, superstitious, new-age hippie-types who would rather commune with imaginary mystical forces than face cold, hard scientific facts. But it wasn’t always so. During the Renaissance, for example, things like Alchemy, Astrology, White Magic, Hermeticism, Cabala, Numerology were intensely studied by some of the best minds in Europe.
The title of our show, “Bargaining with the devil,” is supposed to bring to mind the issues of bargaining and compromise. These are good things, involved in virtually all cooperative and productive behavior. Everyone has to bargain. Even dictators need to bargain with other dictators and heads of state.
This Sunday we kick off another series of live recordings at the Marsh theater with two new shows in San Francisco.
A digital self isn’t really a person made out of numbers or fingers. It’s a computerized representation of a person. It can be a “VRS”---a virtual representation of yourself. Or a VRO --- a virtual representation of another person. So, important distinction: we've got me, the real person. And then there are representations of me: My name in the paper, my image in a mirror, the picture of me on our website, even my idea of myself in my own head, and your idea of me.
Is death really terror-inducing? True, most people don’t want to die. But most people don’t walk around seized by the terror of death. Perhaps, people faced with the imminent and vivid prospect of death – soldiers at war, people who have fallen gravely ill, people whose aged bodies fail them more and more each day – may often be gripped by a Kierkegaardian fear and trembling and sickness unto death. But not everybody in those situations is filled with dread.
Our topic this week is Gandhi as philosopher. That would be Mahatma Gandhi, the great spiritual and political leader, father of the Indian Independence movement. The man who preached and practiced non-violence, and inspired millions around the world -- including America's own apostle of non-violence, Martin Luther King. Though one may not typically think of Gandhi as a philosopher, he was, in fact, a profound philosophical thinker.
Our topic this week: Philosophy for the young – corrupting… or empowering? We asked that question in front of an audience of high school at Palo Alto High School, in Palo Alto, California. We record this program there last May, at the invitation of a teacher, Lucy Filppu, an English teacher by training, who teaches a special humanities course. We had a blast and we’d very much like to thank the students and teachers at Paly, as it is affectionately called, for having us.
In both philosophy and psychology there has been a tendency to talk about self-deception as if it were one thing. If it’s one thing, we can just figure out what that is. Right?
Self-deception is rampant in human affairs. And although too much self-deception is probably a bad thing, a little self-deception may be just what a person needs to get through the day. One should never underestimate the power of positive illusions.
Our topic this week is Humanism. The program was recorded live at at meeting of the American Humanism Assocation, in San Jose. Well, one might wonder, what controversy can we find in Humanism?
The buying and selling of vital organs is illegal in most developed countries. But there is a thriving, global black market in body parts. Should the buying and selling of organs be legalized and brought into the above ground economy? Or is something inherently wrong about treating the human body and its parts as mere commodities?
William James, the topic of this morning’s program, is one of America’s greatest philosophers. His career spanned the turn of the Twentieth century; he actually was teaching at Stanford at the time of the 1906 earthquake, and wrote an interesting essay about his experiences and feelings during the quake.
I wanted to comment on that squirrel going around the tree story with which James opens the second chapter of Pragmatism. It's a great story, but it seems, from my experience, to itself provoke as much disagreement and puzzlement as the squirrel and the man themselves do. At first blush, it seems like a good verificationist story- a dispute about two terms or hypotheses that have the same empirical consequences.
I must admit that when I first brought the nature of social reality up as a topic for an episode of Philosophy Talk, the non-philosophers on our team all went “huh?” That phrase obviously doesn’t mean much to the person on the street. But social realities are all around us. Think of cocktail parties, football games, bar mitzvahs, political rallies, and even nations. These are all social realities.
As philosophers, I’m sure that John and I would like to believe that we make decisions in a perfectly rational way. Indeed, I’m sure that most people think of themselves as pretty rational decision makers. How would thoroughly rational decision making go? It seems pretty simple, really.
Loyalty binds people together. Friendships, marriages, even nations are built on loyalty. Try imagining a person who has no loyalty whatsoever to anything or anyone. Such a person would be friendless, loveless, nationless. She would feel no devotion to any higher cause or principle – like truth or justice. She would not even be a fan of any sports team. A life like that would be empty, devoid of many of the things that make us fully human.
One of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th century, John Rawls articulated a vision of a liberal state, focused on justice. His significant book was his Theory of Justice. Continuing the ideas of Locke and others, Rawls maintains the best way to think of the state is as the result of a social contract. Think of the beginning of the Declaration of Independence:
Freedom of the Press was important to the Founding Fathers; it’s right there in the first amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Our question this week is “What are human rights?” The American declaration of independence offers a compelling answer to that question so its the first place one might think to look of for a characterization of human rights. It says in what I personally find stirring language that “All men are created equal … they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights … among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
According to American law, and the law in a lot of the rest of the world, corporations are persons–fictional persons, or corporate persons, or something like that. There must be two sides to this issue. But I can only see one. This is a really stupid idea. Corporations are not persons. Groups of persons in general are not persons. It's almost always a bad idea to call something by a name that doesn't deserve.
There are at least two kinds of altruism. Psychological altruism means acting out of concern for the well-being of others, without regard to your own self-interest. Biological altruism refers to behavior that helps the survival of a species without benefiting the particular individual who’s being altruistic. It may not be obvious what exactly these two forms of altruism have to do with each other and why they should be discussed in the same breath.
Today’s topic is Hannah Arendt. All the philosophers we talk about have interesting thoughts. But many of them have relatively dull lives. Hannah Arendt is not one of them. She led a very interesting life, and the events in her life had a lot to do with her philosophy.
This week, we broadcast our fifth annual summer reading list show. Over the five years that we've done this, we've been really impressed at how widely and deeply read our listening audience is. It really heartens us to know that there are still avid readers out there, in this age when reading has been declared all but dead.
Our topic for this week is Culture and Mental Illness. Our aim is to consider the ways in which culture influences and shapes the very idea of mental illness and the also the way culture conditions the way particular mental illnesses express themselves.
When one hears the word “apology” in a philosophical context, one naturally thinks of Plato’s famous Socratic dialogue, ``The Apology”. And then it strikes one that Socrates doesn’t sound all that apologetic. Historically, ``apology” often meant “reasoned argument or writing in justification of something”. Nowadays it mostly means “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure”. It’s in this latter sense we are interested in apologies, including apologies in the political sphere, whether sincere or self-serving statements pretending to be expressions of regret.
Our topic today: Faces, Feelings, and Lies. And, in particular, how can we know what a person is feeling by looking at their face, and in particular can we know if they are lying? There is clearly both a psychological side to this and an epistemological side. Our guest is famous for his work on the psychological side, with a positive result: we can know what a person is feeling, and whether they are lying; at least the information is often there in the face. But it’s not always so easy.
Is water-boarding torture? If it is, does that make it wrong? Always? Usually? What is torture, and why is it always, usually, or sometimes wrong? Almost every dictionary gives two definitions of torture: a narrow one… inflicting great pain. And a broad one… severe mental anxiety and suffering. Water-boarding clearly counts as torture by the second definition, perhaps the issue isn't clear given the first definition. But sure if our topic is the ethics, or morality, of torture, we need the more inclusive definition – severe mental anxiety and suffering.
From a philosophical point of view, it looks like the word `wife’ is a predicate and so should stand for a condition, presumably one that humans meet or don't meet at times. And so the first question is, which condition? And then the next questions would be about the importance of the property, its relation to issues of equality, social structure and the like.
Our topic this week is "What is a wife?" Now we know that that may sound like a sexist question, at least at first. Why focus just on wives? What about husbands? And what about homosexual marriages? Why not be gender-neutral and politically correct? Why not ask: what is a spouse?
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Satisfy your hunger for food and philosophy on April 25th at the new Marsh Theater location in Berkeley. Join Philosophy Talk for two live recording sessions and a lunch break in between where you can break bread with Philosophy Talk co-hosts John Perry and Ken Taylor.
One can imagine a kind of sceptic being put off by this way of setting up the episode. For one might think that the question of separating science from pseudo-science is really a political question in disguise. And by that we don't mean to buy into the stereotype that, for example, Democrats like science, because they're in favor of evolution, and Republicans like pseudo-science, because they're in favor of creation science. That's not what we mean at all.
According to the OED, the usual sense of `normal’ is: 2. a. Constituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional. But do these uses constitute a single sense?
Joe: I’m not sure I agree with you Blow in denying that nature contains the infinite. But to settle this, why don’t we start out by defining infinity. Blow: That’s a piece of cake. The infinite is that which is not finite. Joe: But wait a second – you've only told me what infinity is not. That doesn’t tell me anything positive and definite about it.
The Dionysus Awards may not have achieved quite the cache of the Oscars just yet, but,they may be having some effect. Just look at the crop of philosophically interesting movies Hollywood produced this year -- a year after Philosophy Talk gave the first Dionysus Awards.
What we're going to do is for every show, post something more or less based on the opening segment of the show -- which we think through hard in advance -- in order to just get the discussion started. It should be up and running each week before the show actually airs on Sunday -- either Friday or Saturday or perhaps at the latest Sunday morning itself.
To mark the occasion of our 200th episode, we invited three former guests, Brian Leiter, Jenann Ismael, and Martha Nussbaum, and also our listeners to help us come up with a list of the 10 most pressing philosophical issues of the 21st Century.
Today our topic is Darwin's Philosophical Legacy and our guest is the one man in best suited to help think this through. That would be Dan Dennett, author of many books inspired by Darwinian ideas. Dennett thinks that Darwin's idea of evolution through natural selection is both the single best idea that anyone has every had about life and how it works and also a deeply unsettling even "dangerous" idea. You can join the conversation by posting to this open blog entry.
Help Us Celebrate 200 Episodes of Philosophy Talk! Our 200th episode is coming up, and to mark the occassion we're compiling a Philosophical Top 10 List.
Toward the end of last Sunday’s broadcast of Philosophy Talk, a caller asked whether the “moral relativism” supposedly rampant in our time was part of postmodernism. While I would certainly agree that the current hysteria over moral relativism is a postmodern phenomenon, I don’t agree that postmodern thought takes an “anything goes” view of politics or ethics, or that it prevents us from saying that the terrorists of 9/11 committed mass murder.
The term ``postmodern’’ came into use as a description of certain trends in architecture, art, and literature in the 1970’s, although the trends it describes reach back earlier in the twentieth century, to Joyce and Finnegan’s Wake in the case of literature, and to the 1950’s at least in the case of architecture. But what counts as postmodern philosophy?
A couple of weeks ago, I started an open blog entry on pornography, so I thought I'd do the same for the Post-Modern Family. Our guest today will be sociologist, Michael Rosenfeld, author of a The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same-Sex Unions and the Changing American Family.
I count myself very lucky in my own work. I mostly love being a professor of philosophy. I love doing philosophy for its own sake. I love teaching philosophy. And I love this public intellectual radio thing that I've stumbled into in the last few years. I enjoy almost everything about working at a top-flight university like Stanford, where I am surrounded by world class colleagues in just about every department and where I get to teach extremely well-prepared, disciplined and often highly creative students.
John says, first, it's only fantasy, and second, outlawing is always 'a losing strategy'. Well yes, it might be fantasy or pretend: someone is being paid to pretend to be bound, and paid to pretend to enjoy it. The viewer is joining in with the pretence.
I was thinking about the nature of pornography and I got stuck on the problem of definition. The late Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, is famous for having said that pornography he couldn’t define pornography, but that he knew it when he saw it. Seems like he's right. Or do you think you can do better?
Does Facebook Change the Way People Relate to Each Other? When researchers like me think about the social impact of communication technologies like Facebook, we try to look beyond simple things like saving time or money. Instead we ask four questions about SNS like Facebook and MySpace:
Although we have not had, and don’t have scheduled in the near future, a program on torture, that’s the topic of this blog. There are two reasons for this. The first is a thoughtful email from one of our listeners, Gregory Slater, who is pretty disgusted with us for not having a program on torture already. The second is that as we were discussing Lincoln today with Al Gini, we came to the question of whether Lincoln and George W. Bush should be thought to be equally culpable for their violations of the constitution in time of war.
I've never seen the reality TV show Wife Swap. And I have to admit that I find the title alone quite a bit off putting. Just the title alone makes me think that the show must be somewhat sexist and retrograde. So I was quite surprised and more than a little skeptical when we at Philosophy Talk got an e-mail from a casting producer for the show requesting our help in finding parents who, as she put it, "take on philosophical ways of thinking and reasoning when it comes to living their lives, raising their children and navigating the world around them."
On Saturday, September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike slammed into Texas. Since I live in Ohio, my interest in this event can best be described as passing--those who live near the coast, I reflected, have to expect this sort of thing. But then events took a surprising turn.
I have gotten several e-mails from folks already asking me about my opinions of the stimulus package and also three separate messages asking me to clarify my remarks about how banks can simply create money. I wrote a long response to each, and also suggested an interesting video that was sent to me early this afternoon about the same subject. I will reproduce my own explanation and also provide the link as well.
I don't usually rant. I fancy myself a calm deliberate guy. Not only do I play a dispassionate voice of reason on the radio, I really do try to be a dispassionate voice of reason in my every day life. I don't always succeed mind you. But at least my heart's in the right place. But I've got to get something off my chest. And what better place to do that than on a blog. I wish I could do it anonymously, like so many do. But I don't think that would work here. So what's my beef?
I’ve been claiming that there are some really powerful skeptical arguments (on the show and in response to Ken's previous post). I have also been claiming that one aspect of their force is that they do not depend on setting the standards for knowledge very high. Here are two such arguments.
I should start with a confession about my philosophical tastes. I tend not to find epistemology the most gripping of philosophical subjects. Roughly, epistemology has to do with the nature of knowledge. And a big part of epistemology historically has been devoted to answering the sceptic who challenges us to say whether and how we can know anything at all.
Thanks to everybody who made our First Annual Dionysus Awards Show such a success. It was a lot of fun. We got lots of great input from our listeners. If you haven't heard the show, be sure to check it out. We're trying to get it picked up as pre-Oscar special by stations throughout the public radio system. Wish us luck with that.
This is an open live blog entry. Tell us what movies from 2008 or from the past if you like you find most philosophically compelling and why. We're about to go on air in one minute. Join the fun!!
So we're approaching 1,000 fans on our Philosophy Talk Facebook Page and we say to ourselves, "We ought to have a contest. Maybe we could give the 1,000th fan and the person, if any, who invited the 1000th fan to become a fan some really cool philosophy related prizes."
Philosophy Talk is initiating a new movie award. I know; I know. Do we really need yet another movie award? We've got the Oscars; the Golden Globe; the National Society of Film Critics, the People's Choice Awards .... So what's the point of another, you ask?
It seems likely that an important part of the evolution of language (and thought and consciousness, for that matter) had to do with sharing information. Intelligence means using information to guide action. With much of what we do, the link between information and action is hardwired; we perceive that we are falling, we balance ourselves; we see a projectile coming at us; we duck; we feel hunger, gaining the information that we need food, and we eat.
When I was in graduate school at Cornell from 1964 until 1968, and for some time after that, American philosophy was dominated by two Harvard philosophers, W.V.O. Quine and John Rawls. Quine's books were required reading not only in the philosophy of language, but also in courses in metaphysics and ontology and epistemology, where his radical extensionalism seemed to be the starting point for rethinking everything.
We at Philosophy Talk are really pleased to begin airing on Valley Public Radio, covering Fresno, Bakersfield, and California's Central Valley, beginning Thursday December 11th at 7pm. We're really excited about the opportunity to engage with you all about life, love, culture, science, religion and the whole range of topics we cover on our show.
Commerce in certain bodily parts is allowed, at least if we define `bodily part' rather broadly: blood, eggs, sperm. But one cannot sell a kidney, even though we have two of them, and it is possible to have one removed for the needs of another without great harm to the donor. More accurately, one probably can sell a kidney, but it is illegal in most if not all countries, and widely thought to be immoral. But it is OK to donate a kidney, and indeed thought to be a noble act.
My father, grandfather and uncle were lawyers, in the small firm then called "Perry & Perry" in Lincoln, Nebraska, and my cousin and his son continue in that firm, now known as "Perry, Guthery, Haase & Gessford". If the Danforth Foundation hadn't kindly offered me a fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell, I would have followed the family tradition. It never occurred to me, as I was growing up, the law was anything but the most honorable of professions.
Share your thoughts about today's show. Don't have time to add any thoughts myself but I want to get this blog going again. If you have a comment, post it here, if you are willing to share it with the world.
The founding fathers in their considerable wisdom took the separation of powers to be a "bulwark of liberty." Indeed, they took the concentration of power into a single agency to be the very definition of tyranny. Conversely, they apparently believed that not just the formal separation of powers among the branches of the federal government and between the federal and state governments, but also what might be called the subsantive seperation of political interests to which the formally separated branches are asnwerable, was the key to a government that was unlikely to ever devolve into tyranny.
One of the controlling questions for today's show is whether a reasonably well-informed, scientifically minded person can still believe in dualism in the 21st Century? Or is dualism really just a relic of the philosophical past?
I'm cautiously optimistic about the idea of bringing a little ancient Athens into the modern world by selecting officials by lot. I do think it would require a lot of further changes--i.e., we couldn't just select Congress by lot, and keep everything else the same. We would have to do a lot more to ensure that, for example, the officials selected have access to all the information they need. But that's the sort of practical problem that any serious change to the status quo must confront.
I read a sort of tongue and cheek article that suggested we might be better off choosing senators and representatives by lot. Though the article was written in a somewhat kidding tone, the point it made was worth taking seriously. If office holders were chosen by lottery, that would certainly go a long way toward taking the money out of politics. There would be no need for interminable and expensive campaigns.
I'm sitting in my study at home listening and thought I would get this blog back on track. Right now, a repeat episode of Philosophy Talk s about to air, even as I type. The episode is Philosophy and Film, with noted critic, David Thomson, author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. I thought that maybe a good way to get the show started would be to do a little bit of live blogging.
Elliot Spitzer’s recent statements accompanying his resignation as governor of New York provide an occasion to reflect on the meanings of apologies. I find apologies dizzyingly complex social rituals and in my book identified more than a dozen kinds of meaning that we seek from gestures of contrition. Instead of worrying whether an example “is or is not” an apology, I wonder how well it serves certain purposes and to what extent it conveys certain kinds of subtle social meanings.
It seems to me if I accidentally step on your toe, I do owe you some sort of apology, even though I didn't exactly "wrong" you. It would be odd if I were simply indifferent to your pain, certainly. At the bare minimum, I need to acknowledge your pain, acknowledge my role, however unintended, in causing you pain, and express regret at it having happened the way it did.
When I was a graduate student at Cornell, Saint Augustine (354-430) wasn't required reading. Years later I became responsible for teaching the Winter quarter of a freshman class at Stanford, where the books were selected from a "Core Reading List". I somewhat reluctantly put Saint Augustine's Confessions on the list. The structure of the Core List was such that I couldn't get by with Descartes, Hume and Locke. I set about getting up to speed on Saint Augustine.
I'm in the airport at Tucson. I'm listening online to our episode on "Why Music Matters" which we recorded in front of live audience at a locale in San Francisco. David Harrington, of the world famous Kronos Quartet is our guest. Since my flight is about to board, I won't have time to listen at length. And I've been too wrapped up in the conference to blog about the topic. But I thought it might be fun just to open up an entry to comments from listeners about the show and the topic.
Believe it or not, program directors, the gate-keepers of public radio, almost universally hate the name 'Philosophy Talk' -- whatever they think of the program Philosophy Talk. Even PD's who seem otherwise to like the program quite a lot, sometimes say they hate both the 'talk' part of our name and the 'Philosophy' part of our name. But folks seem particularly to hate the combination of 'Philosophy' and 'Talk'.
Today's show is about the political correctness. Our guest is Leonard Steinhorn, author of a rousing defense of the baby boom generation, to which I proudly belong, called The Greater Generation. According to Steinhorn, we baby boomers were the leading edge of a great sea change for the better in America.
Obviously, this blog hasn't been buzzing with activity recently. That's mainly because life and work have been incredibly, incredibly busy for both John and me. And it seems harder and harder to get our on-air guests to take us up on our invitations to guest blog. So much to do, so little time to do it! I'm sure you understand. But I hope we can do better in the coming months.
Just in time for the holidays, we at Philosophy Talk will offer our listeners some holiday treats.
One of the relations between poetry and philosophy that we didn’t really get to discuss on the show, as I recall it at least, has to do with their respective conceptions of truth. I’m really generalizing here, but I’m going to make the claim that analytic philosophy, at least as traditionally practiced, is dominated by a conception of truth that has (at least) two significant features.
A lot of our listeners are unhappy that our new download service is not a free service, but is instead a subscription based service. Some have written that's it's anti-democratic of us to charge, that's it's contrary to the the mission of Stanford University, that we're just being capitalist pigs. One apparently former listener even wrote that he was so offended by us charging for our download service that he would no longer listen even to our free stream, despite the fact that Philosophy Talk is one of his favorite radio programs and despite the fact that we are not broadcast in his listening area. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!
We are very pleased to announce that Philosophy Talk has launched a subsciption-based download service. For more details and to sign up now go to our webpage There you can subscribe to Philosophy Talk downloads for automatic, weekly delivery. By subscribing to our download service, every future epsiode of Philosophy Talk will be delivered to you shortly after it has completed its broadcast run.
The hypno-flirt is a mad scientist who playfully and knowingly inserts electrodes into your brain with the intention of stimulating those parts of the brain which will cause you to think about having sex with her. There's some reason to doubt she's flirting, but if all she needs is the playfulness, the knowingness, and the intentions I talk about in my paper (plus the belief that the subject can respond, e.g. with the appropriate beliefs and perhaps emotions), then she ought to count as flirting.
I can't honestly say that today's show is about an age-old philosophical question. In fact, as a philosophical topic, flrting is, like, so last second. As far as I can tell, it was put on the map by today's guest, Carrie Jenkins, and her mate Daniel Nolan in a pair of dualing articles. You can download Carrie's by clicking here and Daniel's by clicking here. Also, be sure to check out Carrie's blog Long Words Bother Me, where she mostly doesn't flirt, but does serious philosophy.
During the program on Sunday July 1st I drew a distinction between two ways in which this question might be taken. First, we could take it as a question about the *causal origin* of morality: how does it originate? (Compare: where did Stonehenge come from? This would be answered by telling a story about how those prehistoric people managed to get those huge stones from the west of Wales to Salisbury Plain). This is an interesting question, but I suspect that it is not quite the question that philosophers have in mind when they discuss the issue.
Be sure to check out the Philosophy Talk team this week in Portland. We'll be doing two events. On Wednesday, June 20th, we'll do a live taping a Powell's City of Books on Burnside. The show starts at 7:30. Our guest will be poet and philosopher Troy Jollimore, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for his collection of poems Tom Thomson in Purgatory.
On today's show, we'll be talking about books. The sun is out, the surf is up, and it's time to take to the beach, with a few good philosophical books in hand. We did a similar episode last year and it was fun. So we thought as the summer of 2007 approaches, we'd try it again.
Smallpox, once a main scourge of mankind, was eradicated through the efforts of the World Health Organization and others. Stocks of the virus were retained by the U.S. The U.S. and the Soviet Union retained stocks of the virus in Atlanta and Siberia. Now, however, the smallpox genome has been sequenced and is on the web.
It has come to my attention that certain listeners to this program have been attending my commentaries with a stopwatch, and certain among them are dissatisfied with my being called "60 second philosopher," since few of these commentaries – well, none of them, actually – clock in at 60 seconds.
The preamble to the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists states that "public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues."
I'm opening this blog entry for you to shout questions and comments for our SHOUT OUT show that will air later today. We'll monitor our e-mail as usual, but we'll also monitor this blog. You can shout to us, to each other, to the world. Tell us what's on your mind? What philosophical problems keep you awake at night? Where would you like to see Philosophy Talk go in the coming year?
For pledge week at KALW we've decided to do something different: we're having a Philosophical Shout-Out, and we want you to join in too. Here's you chance to tell us what's on your mind. Tell us about your favorite philsophical ideas and puzzles. Stump the philosophers with a conundrum to solve, match wits with Ian Shoales, and wander down the philosophical highways and byways with our Roving Philosophical Reporters.
Nobody wants to die. Well, that's not exactly true. Some people do commit suicide in moments of deep despair. And many would rather die than live on in interminable and unbearable pain. I bet hardly anyone, if you asked them in advance, would say "Even if I sink into a persistent vegetative state, keep me alive. Better to live on as a vegetable than to die."
David Hume died in August, 1776, at the age of 65 --- rather young, by my standards (I'm 64) but not unusually so for that age, I guess. The death is well-documented in literature. Realizing that he was dying, Hume wrote his short, charming Autobiography. His student and friend Adam Smith wrote a moving account of Hume's last days. And, most interesting for our purposes, his fellow Scot James Boswell, most famous for his biography of Dr. Johnson, at Johnson's urging, visited Hume to see if the old infidel's skepticism about an afterlife was shaken as death approached.
Many regard Wittgenstein as perhaps the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. I don't share that view. But there's no denying that, for a man who published only one book during his lifetime -- a book that he later basically repudiated -- he really did have a tremendous impact on 20th century analytic philosophy. Indeed, Wittgenstein has to be regarded as one of the great founding fathers of 20th century analytic philosophy, especially of the so-called linguistic turn in philosophy.
In one way, it seems obvious that the court system -- especially judicial review of the acts of the legislative and executive branches of government -- is, in one way, a bulwark of our constitutional democracy. That was a point made clearly and forcefully by a past Dean of the Stanford Law School, Kathleen Sullivan, who was our guest on Capitol Hill when we did a show on Separation of Powers. The court protects certain minority rights from being trampled by the majority, protects the basic liberty and participatory rights of all, and checks the excesses of the other branches of government. That's all well and good and crucial for democratic self-grovernance.
Philosophy literally means "love of wisdom," or so I am told. Modern analytic philosophers might find "wisdom" a little pompous, and prefer "love of truth" as an articulation of the central aim of philosophers. Of course, love of, or devotion to, truth, is not peculiar to philosophy. But still, it is a central aim. But philosophy is also, as we like to say on Philosophy Talk, devoted to questioning everything (except your intelligence), then we are committed to questioning the central aims of philosophy, including truth, and the value of questioning everything.
Like any philosophical "ism," pragmatism lends itself to easily-refuted straw-man characterizations; and in any case, no doubt, there are inferior (short-sighted, self-serving, hard-nosed, unprincipled) forms of pragmatism. But the various views of Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead, and others are more sophisticated than one might think after reviewing such shallow characterizations.
Tomorrow (Sunday November 19, 2006) Ken and I will discuss children with Tamar Schapiro. Children certainly pose a lot of problems ---- but are they philosophical? Coincidentally I gave a few lectures on John Stuart Mill's great little book On Liberty recently to Stanford frosh. In thinking about that book one philosophical problem about children comes up, for Mill thinks the central principle of liberty he argues for in the book does not apply to children.
Many smart, reflective scientifically literate people obviously still do believe in god. Thankfully (or unthankfully, depending on your perspective) religious belief is not merely the province of anti-scientific, anti-modern fundamentalists who take every word, comma and period in some sacred text -- like the Bible or the Koran -- to be the sole and authoritative truth about just about everything. So we thought it would make for interesting philosophical radio to find an intelligent, thoughtful, scientifically-minded true believer and probe in depth the basis of his belief.
What distinguishes music from non-music? The world is replete with sound -- both man made sounds and the sounds of nature. Many of these sounds are quite beautiful -- the cries of various animals, the sound of the ocean, the whistling wind, the human voice, the majestic boom of the space shuttle as it rockets into space. But only a few of the sounds with which the world is replete count as music. Is there anything deep to say about what distinguishes music from non-music?
Today marks our 100th episode of Philosophy Talk. We're going to throw something of an on-air party to celebrate. We'll have five of our all time favorite guests drop by to wish us well and to tell us what they're currently up to. The five are Anthony Appiah, Anne Ashbaugh, Alison Gopnik, Jenann Ismael and Martha Nussbaum. Plus will try to take lots of calls from listeners about what they'd like to see -- or hear -- us do in the next 100 episodes. It should be lots of fun.
People argue whether beauty is objective or subjective. But what would it mean for it to be one or the other? A good example of something subjective would be: tasting good to Bob. If something tastes good to Bob, it’s because of Bob’s subjective experience of it. It depends on the subject. An objective property would be: being 5 kg. Anything 5 kg has that mass independently of any subjective experience of it. It’s in the object.
Here are what I take to be some deep truths about philosophy. First philosophy currently is, has always been, and probably will always be a fragmented discipline. There is really no one thing that philosophers do and not much that unifies the mulipliticity of different things that philosophers do. Philosophy is what people who call themselves philosophers do. And people who call themselves philosophers do all sorts of things.
I don't profess to fully understand stoicism. I never read much stoic philosophy before now. I did read the Enchiridion by Epictetus as an undergraduate, but frankly, it left me pretty cold at the time. I couldn't relate to it at all. Maybe that's because as a young man, I was pretty non-stoical. I was prone to bouts of what I took to be deep existential angst, prone to fall deeply, utterly in love with mostly unavailable members of the opposite sex, prone to be swept up with joy and anticipation when I finally did get a date with some much desired dreamgirl.
Starting on October 1st, Philosophy Talk will become a Sunday Morning talk show. We'll air at 10am on the West Coast. Now for a leisurely Sunday morning, think a nice brunch, the Sunday New York Times, and a live episode of Philosophy Talk. We think it will be a very good move for us.
Our limited forray into podcasting via the Stanford Itunes experiment has been a great success. Lots and lots of folks, though, have expressed the wish that we would podcast all of our episodes. Well, we're about to make those wishes come true. We're currently in negotiations with two podcasting services. We will probably sign a contract with one or the other in the next week or two. Once we do, we will immediately start converting all of our files to the relevant format.
The imagination is a pretty cool thing, but also in some ways puzzling. On the one hand, it seems sometimes to give us cognitive acquaintance with real possibilities. A kid from Hope Arkansas imagines growing up to be president of the United States. And lo and behold that kid does grow up to be president. So some of the things that we merely imagine are really possible. And it's arguable that the imagination teaches us that they are possible.
I don't really have anything to recommend, per se, but the weird assortment of matter through which I am wading may be of interest to those of you who have an interest in that sort of thing. I don't have the disposable income I once did, so most of my reading comes from second hand stores, garage sales, the Internet, and the library - once I replace the paperback the library claims I lost (GREAT PLAINS, by Ian Frazier).
Let me say a few things about the value of truth to get today’s conversation started. First, it seems to me that truth is a very good thing. We think science is grand because it reveals deeper and deeper truths about nature. We typically would much prefer to know and be told the truth than to be told a lie. We hardly ever say to ourselves, “I know that false, but I choose to believe it anyway.” To believe something is to believe it’s true.
While many people in our society are overworked, short on knowledge, and pressed for time, many of us take time out to watch unusually tall individuals get together in groups to hurl a spherical object through a suspended ring. These tall individuals get dressed in outfits with shiny colors and are glorified for the ability to hurl the sphere through the ring. Whole buildings fill up with people who want to watch the hurling of the sphere and pay good money to do so, often sacrificing the valuable time and money they could have used for more sensible things like food and shelter.
We at Philosophy Talk are proud to have offered something uniquely valuable to the radio world over the past two and a half years. It's been an incredible adventure. When we started, many people in radio took our ideas with a very large grain of salt. "Philosophy on the Radio?" they asked incredulously. "Two academics as co-hosts? A stream of professional thinkers, rather than journalists or politicians or entertainers as your guests?" "It will never work!" "No one will ever listen!"
Stand-up comics often bemoan the fact that "everyone's a f**king comedian!", and its true: every one appreciates humor (to some degree) and most are capable of generating some form of spontaneous humor. But this very ubiquity makes humor harder, rather than easier, to understand formally, since humor assumes many guises and operates with subtle differences in myriad contexts.
Why do birds fly? Because they don't like to walk. That was a joke made up by my granddaughter Erin when she was three. She had learned the form of one kind of joke, without quite mastering the part about being funny. She made up jokes non-stop for about three hours, most of them even less funny than the above, regaling those trapped in the car with her, while turning blue from laughing so hard at them herself.
We all carry around two self-conceptions. Imagine having amnesia. The amnesiac knows whose mouth he has to put food in to relieve his hunger; he knows that things detected visually are things that he sees; he knows that the aches he feels belong to his body. So, in one sense, he knows who he is; his most basic self-concept, as the person whose pains he feel, whose hunger he can relieve by eating, whose environment he learn about by the deliverance of sense, remains
I've been invited to participate in a symposium on Capitol Hill on "Legislating Values: Setting Priorities for the 109 Congress." The event is co-sponsored by Stanford University and the Economist Magazine. The small audience of no more than 75 will consists primarily of Capitol Hill staffers, think tank types, some journalists, and some Stanford Alums. It should be fun. In a call with the organizers the other day, I was asked the following question. "Suppose you had the ear of a US Senator for an hour, what would you want to tell him or her about legislating values?" I thought I'd reflect just a little on that in this post.
It seems to me that science is really the big kahuna, as they say in Hawaii, in our culture. It is humanity's most successful cognitive endeavor ever and by a pretty long shot. It has given us deep understanding into almost all constitutents of the material universe from the workings of the smallest micro-particles to the large scale organization of the cosmos at large. It has increased our understanding of life, of the dynamics of the fragile ecosystem of the lovely planet on which we live, of the human psyche, of the evolution of human culture and on and on and on. And it has all happened in the relative blink of an eye.
You now have three ways to listen to past episodes of Philosophy Talk. As always, we will continue to archive each episode in a streamable format. On our archive pages, you will find not just our past shows but a plethora of helpful links that make each archive page a valuable resource. A few months ago, we introduced a searchable data base of our past episodes. Using this data base, you can generate a customized library of inter-related clips, small and large, from many different shows. And now Philosophy Talk joins the podcast revolution!
The question "what is science?" always becomes more pressing when debates about evolution and creationism are going on. Even though the question is actually a bit of a mess, it suddenly becomes tempting to try to offer a short, concise description of science that can be used to guide decisions about what should and should not go onto high school curricula.
The goal of OPC is to give scholars a much wider audience for their working papers, while at the same time saving everyone (both individuals and departments) the cost of travel stipends, etc. Moreover, we humbly believe that hosting an on-line philosophy conference would be an excellent way of fostering philosophy's growing presence on the web.
Traditionally, in philosophy, the question of intelligent design is connected to the "Argument from Design." This is mentioned by many philosophers, including Saint Thomas, but the two discussions that are the most famous are William Paley's and David Hume's. I've been discussing Hume's Dialogues on Natural Relgion, where he discusses the argument from design and the problem of evil, in classes for about forty years, so I guess I am in favor of mentioning and discussing the theory of intelligent design in classrooms --- but not biology classrooms, unless the biology teacher wants to.
A quote: “He who eats the bread and drinks the cup with an unbelieving heart eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” This line is from the communion liturgy of the Church I grew up in—the Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The word “judgment” in the quote is a way of saying "damnation to Hell". The word “unbelieving” refers to disbelief in the core metaphysical doctrines of the Church. The effect of regular repetition of lines like this in the service is to strike fear in the person who may be questioning such doctrines. Fear in turn squelches inquiry and creative thought. I was only eight years old when I first heard that line and understood what it meant.
We had a really great show on Tuesday. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, no one will ever be able to hear it again. Because of a series of miscommunications, the show didn't get recorded. We are terribly, terribly sorry about this. We apologize to our affiliates and to those who listen to the show via the internet.
I gather, from our research team's pre-interview with Walter, that he is a die-hard atheist. He thinks that there is ample reason to doubt God's existence and no good reason to affirm god's existence -- at least if one means the all powerful, all loving, all knowing god, existing outside of space and time. Since it's a season of religious, and quasi-religious holidays, we thought it might be fun to actually reflect on the rationality, or lack thereof, of the religious beliefs that lie behind the celebration of such holidays.
Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in idealism. I consider myself a realist and a physicalist. Not only do I think that the world is (largely) independent of mind. I also think that the mind is ultimately just a part of that mind-independent world. That is, the mind is ultimately built out of and reducible to stuff that is not yet mind. Or so I would argue. So I don't come here to defend idealism. Neither do I come to refute it -- not exactly anyway.
Why did human beings develop traditions of storytelling? Of course, any answer to this question is going to be speculative. But it might be reasonable to assume that the capacity for imagination is adaptive (I need to be able to predict what is going to happen as a result of different courses of action), and that engagement with fictions helps to hone the relevant skills. This is, I believe, more or less Gregory Currie's view, and I think it's an entirely plausible one.
The journal Topoi has asked a number of philosophers to write essays on the current state and future prospects of philosophy, under the title "What's to be Done?". I thought Philosophy Talk bloggers and bloggees might be interested in my essay, so here it is.
The Philosophy Talk team just finished a brief stint "on the road." On October 27th, we taped a show in front of about 200 Stanford Alums up in Sacramento on behalf of the Stanford Alumni Club of Sacramento. The topic was "Progress and the Environment." Our guest was Terry Tamminen, formerly head of California's Environmental Protection Agency and currently Cabinet Secretary (Chief of Staff, roughly) to our beloved Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. A week later, we did another live event -- Backstage Live With Philosophy Talk.
I recall saying during our on-air conversation that we are inclined to go along and imagine whatever the author of a well-constructed fiction invites us to imagine. Without the slightest resistance, we accept invitations to imagine scenarios that contradict the known laws of nature or that rewrite some large or small fragment of the history of the world. We have no resistance to imagining scenarios that, on one way of measuring, might be seen as altogether metaphysically impossible.
Have you ever watched a foreign film without subtitles in a language you don’t speak ? You probably didn’t watch the whole thing, because—no matter how worked up the actors got—you didn’t follow it and they’re just actors anyway. Contrast that feeling of lack of interest with the intense feeling of engagement you get watching your favorite film. For me that would be American Beauty or The Godfather, Part I. Let’s call the first kind of feeling the this-is-lame feeling and the second the this-is-awesome feeling.
I read somewhere that when the boat with the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop arrived in New York, there was a crowd a block deep waiting to find out what happened to Little Nell. Those closest to the boat found out that she had died, and as the message filtered back through the crowd a visible wave of horror and despair followed, with people breaking down in tears.
On Sunday, November 6th, 11:30 - 1:30, we will be produce an episode of Philosophy Talk in front of a live audience on the Stanford Campus. Our guest will be Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. The episode will be taped and broadcast at a later date. Our topic will be Legislating Values.
Whatever theory of the leaders of a nation use to justify, or cast doubt upon, the wisdom and morality of going to war, surely the costs that one reasonably expects to incur must be relevant. The most obvious costs are the deaths and injuries of the soliders who fight in the war on behalf of the nation in question. I doubt that Americans have ever taken this cost fully into account, either in making or in retrospectively evaluating the costs of going to war.
George Lakoff has recently been arguing that the main reason that Democrats lose elections is that Republicans have been masters at framing the issues, while Democrats have not been. We didn't get very deeply into this idea on the air. Too bad, because Nunberg has some pretty interesting things to say both about Lakoff's claims about framing in general and about Lakoff's particular suggestions about how certain issues might best be framed by the democrats.
There are times, of course, when morality demands personal sacrifices, large or small, of us. When morality calls in this way, I hope that I can find it within myself to answer. There is surely something to the idea that the demands of morality (purport to) override any non-moral demands. Someone who would let another perish that he could easily save, just so that he might continue to enjoy even the best imaginable, once in a life time sort of meal, cares too much for his own pleasure and too little for morality.
I’ve gotten some nice responses on my previous blog on Self-Deception and Moral Dilemmas. I argued there that self-deception in the context of a moral dilemma has morally negative consequences, because it undermines our ability to minimize damage on whichever side of the dilemma we break a moral requirement.
I've been gathering some thoughts about whether we've managed to move beyond what I called "The Cartesian Moment" on the air. Ron Rubin, our guest, didn't really want to attribute the moment I have in mind to Descartes in particular, He's probably right. He's the historical scholar, after all. Still, I like that designation and will stick with it at least for the nonce.
It was terrific to have Martha Nussbaum on Philosophy Talk. Martha is one of those philosophers, like Robert Nozick, John Searle, David Lewis and a few others, who seem to produce more interesting philosophy than seems humanly possible, and not just by repeating themselves, but in virtue of a steady stream of original insights.
Tuesday we discuss René Descartes, who lived from 1596 until 1650 ---- not very long, by my standards. Descartes was a French philosopher, scientist and mathematician who is the father of analytic geometry in mathematics and modern rationalism in philosophy. Pretty good for someone who died at 54....
I am still not fully convinced that emotions are nothing but judgments. Certainly emotions are tied up with judgments, sometimes quite closely. But it just seems wrong to say that an emotion is nothing but a judgment. Judgments can be true or false. Any given judgment, even a judgment concerning my own flourishing, can be made with or without an accompanying emotion. Emotions, on the other hand, are sometimes appropriate and sometimes inappropriate, but they don’t seem the sorts of things that can be true or false.
One thing I do for Philosophy Talk as a member of the Crack Research Team is pre-interview each guest. The point is to give the guest an idea of the structure of the upcoming show—the “story arc”—and to make notes on what the guest thinks to pass on to John and Ken. Last week I spoke with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong about moral dilemmas. At the end of our conversation he said something that dovetails with thoughts I’ve had concerning the area I specialize in: philosophy of mind on self-deception.
You may have noticed that neither John nor I nor our on-air guests have been blogging much recently. But we're all about to get back in the saddle. I've been travelling for the past few weeks. I'm in Australia, even as I write. I gave a paper a couple of weeks ago at the University of Sydney at the annual meeting of the Australasian Associaton for Philosophy.
I'm pretty sure that Singer is right that both reasonably well off individuals in the developed and developing world and the governments of the developed world could and should do a lot more to help ameliorate global poverty. I'm not sure that I agree that well off individuals in the developed world directly owe it to individuals in the less developed world to donate money to various charitable organizations.
I want to try to dig a little deeper in this post into a question that kind of simmered beneath the surface of our discussion, but wasn't really addressed head on. The issue has a little bit to do with identities that are regarded by those who adopt them as in some ways "non-negotiable" and as more or less direct sources of directives about how to live one's own life, and a source of directives about how to live one's life in relation to others who don't share one's identity and may even be hostile to it in some ways.
Yesterday on the show, John came up with a really nice metaphor. He compared a generation to a small strand in a long rope. Each strand is closely intertwined with a number of other nearby strands, but mostly the strands don’t make direct contact with each other. If you think of the rope as growing over time, the metaphor captures a very nice fact about relationships among the generations.
It's amazing how divided opinions are about evolutionary psychology. Some very fine philosophers and cognitive scientists are really big fans of the genre. Other equally fine philosophers and cognitive scientists appear to see little of merit in it. The philosopher of biology John Dupre, who was a guest on our show a few weeks back talking about genetic determinism, says the following about the evolutionary psychology of sex and gender...
Having sat with this topic for the last couple of weeks, I’m still pretty unsettled on my own final take on things. I’m pretty convinced -- I think -- that criminalizing prostitution – either on the supply side or on the demand side – is unworkable. I tend to side with those who think criminalization probably makes what is already a bad situation for many much worse.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines prostitution as “the act or practice of engaging in sex acts for hire.” This definition may be a little obsolete. First, while people of my generation include such things as oral sex under the term “sex acts,” the term now is often restricted to sexual intercourse. Whether this is the effect of President Clinton’s use, or he was in fact simply very up-to-date, I do not know.
The Master said, “At fifteen, I set my mind on learning. At thirty, I took my stand. At forty, I was free of doubts. At fifty, I understand heaven’s command. And at seventy, I could follow my heart’s desire without crossing the line.” (Analects 2.4)
We at Philosophy Talk are pleased to announce that Paul Kjellberg who will be our on-air guest this coming week for a discussion of Confucius and the philosophical heritage of ancient China, has agreed to guest blog on "Philosophy Talk: the Blog." We are grateful to Paul for agreeing both to be our on-air guest and to help us extend the conversation to the blog sphere. Please make Paul feel welcome here by commenting extensively on his posts.
I admit to still being puzzled by the question why, when forgiveness is deserved, one can only request forgiveness and aren't really in a position to demand it. I thought I'd ponder that question just a little bit more in this post. My hunch is that what's wrong with demanding forgiveness, even when it's morally deserved, has to do with what I'll call the dialectical character of the relation between the forgiver and the to be forgiven.
Many thanks to all of you who called during Tuesday's Philosophy Talk (May 3). We very much appreciated your interest! There are a number of fascinating issues we touched upon, and some we did not. Among the latter is the relationship between interpersonal forgiveness and political forgiveness.
In the movie “The Interpretor” Nicole Kidman stars as Silvia Broome. She grew up among the Ku, in the fictional nation of Matobo. When someone commits murder among the Ku, they are allowed to live for a year. Then they are dumped in a lake with their hands tied. The victim's family members must decide whether to plunge into the water and save them, or let them drown.
We at Philosophy Talk are pleased to announce that Charles Griswold, our guest for today's show on the topic of forgiveness, has agreed to guest-blog. It should be a fun show on a topic much discussed in religion and politics, but not much discussed by contemporary philosophers.
Over at the blog Left2Right, the philosopher David Velleman has an interesting post about moral relativism. Prompted by recent news coverage of moral relativism and then Cardinal Ratzinger’s denunciation of modernity’s supposed move toward “the dictatorship of relativism,” Velleman argues that almost everyone who denounces relativism has it confused with some other doctrine.
Some people naively associate propaganda with totalitarian regimes. Certainly, the Nazis, the Soviet and Chinese communists, and brutal dictators like Saddam Hussein have made heavy and sometimes brilliantly effective use of propaganda. But totalitarians may not need to be true masters of propaganda, since they often merely bludgeon people into at least apparent belief and acquiescence.
Do genes make the person? If you listen to popular press reports of new genetic discoveries coming out at fairly rapid pace, you certainly might think so. Lung Cancer Gene! Gay Gene! Genius Gene! Little wonder that many people believe -- or should I say fear? -- that genes somehow directly and invariably determine who we are.
You might want to check out the twelfth edition of the recurring Philosophers' Carnival, a compilation of philosophical blog entries from around the blog sphere. Included in this edition, is Ken Taylor's post on Freedom, Responsibility and Martian Anthropology.
This is a response to Ken’s fascinating blog on naturalism, Schopenhauer and value. I’m amenable to his naturalism. But I’m not sure I see the problem of value as a matter of getting something out of nothing.
There is a website called OnHDTV.tv that claims it “provides show reviews and previews, HDTV-specific viewing recommendations, HDTV news and HDTV shopping tips, among other consumer information.”
It’s what the world needs now, I guess.
I do not want to distract us from the "heavy" (no pun intended) issues to which we have devoted our attention recently, but, what with the opening of baseball season and all, I thought I'd ask you to think about the following. Steroids (of the sorts used by some players and other athletes) apparently have serious health side-effects. For that reason it certainly seems reaonable to ban their use.
I'm thinking about where values and meaning come from and whether a metaphysics anything like Schopenhauer's has the resources to make room for value and meaning. I think that the answer is yes. And I suspect that Schopenhauer fails to see this, if he does, because he buys into a commonly held, but I think deeply mistaken criticism of naturalism. I'll call it the "you can't get something from nothing" criticism.
Here is a way of thinking about our commonsense asymmetric attitudes toward prenatal and posthumous nonexistence. Lucretius' "mirror-image" claim seems plausible if you think of these periods purely negatively, just as experiential nothingness. But if you think of them "relationally", i.e., as experiential blanks that are deprivations of the goods of life, then one can understand the commonsense asymmetry in our attitudes as a special case of the commonsense preference that, other things equal, our pleasures be in the future.
What I want to do briefly in the rest of this post is to lay out an argument that maybe, just maybe, Schopenhauer's pessimism is unwarranted and a trifle overblown. I don't mean so much to suggest that Schopenhauer is wrong to be a pessimist. I'm not about to argue that this is the best of all possible worlds, as Leibniz would have us believe. I'm more concerned to suggest that you could have a metaphysics like Schopenhauer's and could, in particular, accept a lot of what he has to say about the nature of the will, and still not be driven to anything so severe as his pessimism.
I admit it: I've been reading a lot of Schopenhauer, especially his Essays on Pessimism. They are fascinating, and extremely beautifully (and of course provocatively) written. Here's a cheery and lovely passage: "Could we foresee it, there are times when children might seem like innocent prisoners, condemned, not to death, but to life, and as yet all unconscious of what their sentence means. Nevertheless, every man desires to reach old age; in other words, a state of life of which it may be siad; 'It is bad to-day, and it will be worse to0morrow; and so on till the worst of all."
During the call-in component of the show, Mohan asked a question about the relationship between political freedom and metaphysical freedom. Although it was a bit off the central topics, it does raise a question that has troubled me. That is, I believe that genuinely available metaphysical alternatives or possibilities are not required for moral agency--the forward-looking aspect (practical reasoning) or the backward-looking aspect (moral responsibility). But then why would I prefer to live in a nation with political liberties, such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, and so forth?
Poor compatibilism. It is actually not all that bad, and it is defended by very able philosophers, such as my colleague, Gary Watson. But recall that I am a semicompatibilist. I do not think that freedom to do otherwise (regulative control) is compatible with causal determinism. But I do think that causal determinism is compatible with acting freely (guidance control). The Frankfurt-type examples are supposed to motivate this contention--or at least this is one route to the conclusion.
Suppose you are a Martian Anthropologist, on a scientific expedition to planet Earth. Your goal is to understand the alien Earthling practice of holding people morally responsible for their actions. There are no such practices on the planet Mars. Let's grant for the moment that your advanced Martian Science has once and for all established the truth of determinism or its functional equivalent. There are many things you might want to know.
John Locke came up with the original "Frankfurt-type example". (The examples have been called "Frankfurt-type examples after Harry Frankfurt's ingenious development of them in a 1969 Journal of Philosophy paper, "Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility."
The term "free-will" has been used in philosophy and theology to formulate a number of different problems. Here are some of them: 1) If there is an omniscient God --- that is, a God who knows everything --- can we act freely? How can what we do be up to us, if God already knows what we are going to do? 2) If every event, including human actions --- events that consist of a human being doing something --- is caused by the events that lead up to the event, can human actions be free? If the past determines what we do, how can what we do be up to us?
In my pre-show reflections, I tried to isolate what exactly was being claimed by those who worry about tinkering too much with the Wisdom of Nature. What that argument really comes down to, I think, is the claim that we ought to have a certain reverence for what I called the given order of things. I didn't say whether I thought that claim was true or false. We began to talk about it a bit on the air, but we barely scratched the surface.
I have to admit that when John Perry first suggested that we do a show on the emerging field of neurcosmetology, I was a little hesitant. I had never even heard of the subject until John brought it up. As John mentions, if you Google neurocosmetology all that comes up are links to our own web page announcing the topic. And to top it off, google asks if you don't really mean"neurocosmology." Heaven knows what that one means!
Progress in neuroscience may soon make possible an age of neurocosmetology: the use of drugs to let people affect the way their brains work, so as to make them more effective, more attractive, and more like their "cognitive ideal." A world where all the women are beautiful and all the men handsome might be bearable if boring. But would a society full of type-A's work at all? Can it be rational to choose to change in ways that may change who you are? Should there be moral or legal prohibitions against healthy people messing with their own brain chemistry?
When something haunts you, it resides with you; it seizes your consciousness. You turn it over and over again. You revisit it at unexpected hours in unexpected ways, in your first waking moments, at a dinner party, in quiet moments alone, when your thoughts wander, or when your lover's look brings to mind some enduring gulf between you. Being haunted is a way of being engaged, perhaps very deeply engaged, but not necessarily in a happiness making way.
There is such a thing as beauty that is only skin-deep. It is the beauty of appearance, what we call "looking good." It has little to do with personality, character, wit or morality, and that is because anything that applies to how things look is not a reliable guide to many of their other qualities.
What do I mean by an absence of dogmatism? And why do I thinks its a condition of the very possibility of achieving anything like an overlapping consensus. It goes back to what I called in a previous post totalizing nature of various moral outlooks. By that I mean not just that they provide comprehensive moral assessments of a wide variety of things, but also that they generate felt entitlements to hold others to the strictures of the relevant moral outlook, whether or not those others endorse the relevant moral outlook. This last part is the key.
We here at Philosophy Talk: The Blog are please to announce our first guest blogger, the distinguished philosopher of art, Alexander Nehamas of Princeton University. Alexander will be our guest on next week's episode.
Since lots of beautiful things don't have skin, whoever first said that beauty is only skin deep was clearly mistaken. When I was a kid, by the way, we used to continue "...but ugliness is to the bone." Of course, the speaker was probably being metaphorical. Perhaps he or she was trying to say that beauty is the least of the virtues that a thing can have. But is it really an apt metaphor?
Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, and Locke all were impressed with the difference between “primary” and “secondary” qualities. Primary qualities were objective in the sense we now assign to this word. Objects would have shape, size and motion whether or not there were any minds around to perceive them. But, it seemed, at least to these thinkers, that objects would not have secondary qualities, that is, colors, sounds, smells and tastes, if there were not minds to see, hear, smell and taste them.
What were the founding fathers worried about? The sort of Protestant versus Catholic or Anglican versus Puritan battles that made Europe such an unpleasant place? Or the rights Jews and Muslims and Buddhists? Or the rights of atheists and freethinkers?
Assuming that religious beliefs are in some sense less than fully rational, what follows for how they ought or ought not to be respected and acknowledge in private and public life? You might think that the answer is straight-forward on this assumption. But even if we assume the thoroughgoing epistemic unreasonableness of religious belief, it still turns out to be complicated.
I just read in the Los Angeles Times that “[o]fficials decided today to make the Walt Disney Concert Hall a little duller…. [T]he shimmering stainless steel panels that have wowed tourists and architecture lovers but have baked neighbors living in condominiums across the street.” According to an LA County report, “Beams of sunlight reflected from the hall have roasted the sidewalk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to melt plastic and cause serious sunburn to people standing on the street.”