THE BLOG @ PHILOSOPHERS' CORNER

Thinking and Mental Action

Sometimes your mind wanders, and sometimes your thoughts focus on a specific topic. When your mind wanders, you're not really doing much, but when you focus, you're engaged in a specific mental action; you control what you're thinking about. So what is this mental control?

Read more

Game Theory and COVIDiocy

It's time for a listener question! Susan L. wrote to us with a very interesting question about game theory and COVID-19. She wanted to know if we could discover a pattern in the president's behavior and use game theory to disrupt that pattern and save lives. I put together some responses to Susan's question.

Read more

Puzzle 1: Are Beliefs Voluntary?

Need a distraction from the incessant stream of information and speculation about the Coronavirus? I certainly do. So for my next few blogs, I’m going to describe philosophical puzzles that are either old or new. I won’t help solve them until the next blog, at which point I’ll post links to various solutions. Enjoy!

Read more

Viral Xenophobia

As I write this, the world is in the path of a mounting pandemic. People are frightened. They should be. The novel coronavirus is dangerous. It can and does kill. But its biologically menacing character is just one part of the threat that it poses. The virus also presents us with a social threat.

Read more

#FrancisOnFilm: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Is it wrong to paint someone’s portrait without their consent? Portrait of a Lady on Fire presents this ethical dilemma for an eighteenth century portrait artist. The film is deep on many levels, but one of the most important is how it asks us to think about portraiture, privacy, and consent.

Read more

Sorry, Critics: Parasite is a Good Movie

For me—as for the good people at the Oscars—Parasite was far and away the best film of 2019. Critics, however, are eagerly denouncing it as a failure, a capitulation, a “conservative” film, indeed a movie full of “contempt” for the working class. What is going on?

Read more

Anti-Sacred Spaces

According to the "Blowing Off Steam" theory, rough humor—humor that deals with culturally sensitive issues in a way that bumps into or violates taboos—helps release people’s anxieties and stresses in a safe environment. Specifically, it is a release of sacred anxiety.

Read more

Is the Self Real?

Is there such a thing as a self, something that makes you who you are? Or is the self just a convenient fiction? Would the world be a better place if we all stopped believing in selves? These are some of the questions we're asking in this week's show.

Read more

Am I in Everything I Imagine?

Imagination is one way we can get outside our own skin and get a sense of other people’s lives. But when we take imaginative travels, must we always imagine ourselves being part of these other worlds—or can we simply imagine these worlds without including ourselves in them?

Read more

What Is Good Philosophy?

Not too long ago, I had a Twitter exchange with Philosophy Talk’s Josh Landy about whether Freud was a good philosopher. It struck me that I’ve never given much thought to the question of what good philosophy is. Is it just a matter of taste? Or are there guidelines for separating the wheat from the chaff?

Read more

#FrancisOnFilm: Dionysus for Docs

A documentary film has never won the Philosophy Talk Dionysus Award for Most Philosophical Film of the Year. But documentaries often raise complex philosophical issues and get us to question our assumptions. This year’s Oscar nominees for Best Documentary are no exception.

Read more

Rough Humor

One current culture war in North American society concerns rough humor—jokes, skits, writings, cartoons, etc. that deal with culturally sensitive issues in a way that bumps into or violates taboos. But is there something harmful about rough humor?

Read more

Is the Sentence Becoming Passé?

In an age of emojis, memes, and reaction gifs, are complete sentences becoming passé? Do outmoded forms of writing deserve to die? Or could there be room for more than one kind of writing? These are the questions we're asking on this week's show.

Read more

What Is a “Vivid” Mental Image?

What is a mental image? You might say it’s like a picture that belongs to the “mind’s eye.” Or you might say it's like a visual experience, only less vivid. But what, exactly, does it mean for mental images to be less vivid than genuine visual experiences of the world?

Read more

Comedy on the Edges

Is there comedy so offensive that it shouldn’t be allowed? Do some jokes encourage bigotry and hatred? Could edgy comedy ever be good for society? These are some of the questions we’re asking in this week’s show, our first new show since Ken died last month.

Read more

What the Future Holds

Hume's problem of induction is that there’s no logical basis for drawing conclusions about what will happen in the future on the basis of what’s happened in the past. Doing so rests on an assumption that’s at best a leap of faith, and at worst an example of intellectual laziness.

Read more

Ken’s Unfinished Project

One Sunday in the spring of 2007, John and I walked into the back room of KALW to find Ken singing. Back then I was both Ken’s PhD student and the director of research for Philosophy Talk, so it was always a treat to catch my advisor and boss being playful. He was coming up with different lyrics for Sinatra’s classic “Love and Marriage.”

Read more

2019: The Examined Year

If you think 2019 went by fast, it's nothing compared to the speed of Ian Shoales' lightning fast recap of the year. From streaming services to superheroes, from Ukraine and Russia to North Korea, from incels to your mom smoking dope. Not even Santa can cover this much ground so quickly!

Read more

How Much Thought Is Inactive?

How much of your mental life is intentional action? And how much of it consists of inaction, not doing anything at all? To answer that, we need to get clear on what we mean by “intentional action” and “inaction.”

Read more

Human, Subhuman, or Both?

Some scholars are skeptical of the claim that people dehumanize others by conceiving of them as less-than-human beings—in a literal rather than a figurative sense. However, there is evidence that those who dehumanize others conceive of them as both human and subhuman at the same time.

Read more

A Tribute to Ken Taylor

I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Ken Taylor, a long time friend, colleague, and co-host. Stunned, actually. A great man with a wonderful family, who have my deepest sympathy. I always thought of Ken as my younger brilliant energetic colleague. It wasn't his turn to die.

Read more

Nonhuman Persons, Nonhuman Rights

Should some nonhuman animals be regarded as persons in the eyes of the law? And should animals so-regarded be allowed to sue in court to protect their legal rights? These are some of the questions we’re asking in this week’s show.

Read more

#Francis-on-Film: Parasite

Parasite, the new critically-acclaimed film by the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, challenges audiences to probe social parasitism amidst growing inequality in a largely affluent country. Who exactly are the parasites? And what makes them parasites?

Read more

Sanctuary Cities

What gives a city the right to offer sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants? Can local or state government ever be justified in defying the laws of the nation? These are some of the questions we’re asking in this week’s show, recorded live in front of an audience at SF State University.

Read more

Why Not Change Your Core Self? Part II

If you could snap your fingers and all your tastes and preferences would change overnight, would you do it? In my last post, I considered two kinds of answer to this question, but neither seemed satisfying, because neither gave us any reason not to make the change.

Read more