THE BLOG @ PHILOSOPHERS' CORNER

How Do Decisions Ever Get Made?

Sometimes you will be faced with choices that are hard because of the great number of options there are, the difficulty of comparing them, or limitations on your information. They’re extra painful when stakes are high. It’s pretty amazing that such difficult decisions get made at all.

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Should We Abandon the Canon?

Should we still be venerating works by Plato, Shakespeare, Woolf, and company as “great books”? Should we still be reading them at all? Or should we simply abandon the "Western canon"? These are the questions we're asking in this week's show.

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Self Knowledge on Trial

Most people seem think that knowing themselves is a good idea, or at least say that that’s what they think. “Know thyself,” is uttered reverently—as though it’s self-evidently a wonderful goal. I’m going to put self-knowledge on trial, and I’ll say up front that the case for the defence looks pretty thin.

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The Doomsday Doctrine

Why worry about a nuclear doomsday how? The Cold War is over. At its height we had thirty thousand warheads pointed at the Soviets, they had forty thousand pointed at us—but we’re each down to a fraction of that. A climate doomsday seems much more likely.

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A Simple Test for Fake News

In 1729, Jonathan Swift published his satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal,” which offered selling babies for food as the simple solution to Irish poverty. But what if Swift had published a piece presented with the appearance of a legitimate news source, instead of clear satire? Would there be an easy way to tell it was fake news?

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#FrancisOnFilm: Last Black Man in SF

The Last Black Man in San Francisco was my favorite film at Sundance this year. It explores critical questions about whether respect for persons requires addressing erosion of the conditions on which identity claims rest—erosion that so clearly has been and is continuing to occur for some communities in San Francisco.

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Postmodernism and the Decline of Truth

Is postmodernism to blame for the rise of the post-truth era? At first glance that seems very hard to believe. When we see Kellyanne Conway talking about “alternative facts” or Rudy Giuliani saying “truth isn’t truth,” we don’t immediately assume they’ve been busy reading Jacques Derrida.

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How to Think Two Thoughts at Once

We tend to think that you can only have one thought at a time. You can switch between different kinds of thoughts quite quickly, or you can think many thoughts one after the other, but you can’t think more than one thought at the same time. That’s a mistake. There’s a way to think two thoughts at once.

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JS Mill and the Good Life

This week, we’re thinking about J.S. Mill and the good life. While Mill valued individual choice and freedom, he was also a utilitarian who believed you should always do what produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Can these strands of Mill's thought be reconciled?

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Does Thinking Help Stop Fake News?

What makes people susceptible to fake news? Does reasoning tend to lead to less bias or more distorted beliefs? In other words, are people who are reflective more or less likely to be suckers for fake news? This question has resulted in a wide-ranging debate with two camps.

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Reader’s Block and Bad Philosophy

“Reader’s block” might refer to anxiety about reading some intimidating book; reluctance to read at all; or that special frustrating phenomenon where you drag your eyes over the lines of a page without taking anything in. Sometimes it's the result of a philosophical mistake about reading.

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Letting Go of Human Nature

The idea of human nature is riven with controversy. Some scholars—often those in the humanities—argue that there’s no such thing, while others—often those in the social and biological sciences—regard its “denial” as anti-scientific. So is there any point hanging onto this controversial idea?

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Tolerance and Radical Disagreement

What should you do in the face of radical disagreement? Do you live and let live, or try to convince the other person they’re wrong? Are some ideas just too terrible to tolerate? These are some of the questions we're tackling on this week's show.

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#FrancisOnFilm: I Am Mother

Sci-fi thriller I Am Mother is due out on Netflix tomorrow. It's a fantastic philosophical movie that raises all kinds of philosophical questions about abortion, reproduction, enhancement, population policy, and especially about what it means to be a good mother.

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A Licentious Lannister?

Actor Nikolaj Koster-Waldau is far better than Jaime Lannister, the character he plays on Game of Thrones. But he is sometimes criticized for portraying a character that normalizes depraved behavior. Which raises the question: is it immoral to produce fiction that represents bad behavior people might emulate?

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Working for Faith

I had a terrific time discussing religious “beliefs”—or religious credences, as I call them—with Josh and Ken recently. One claim I proposed on the show is that religious credence is like make-believe imagining. I want to delve a little deeper into that claim and address something Ken said.

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What Is Reading?

Reading. We all do it, every day, whether it be reading books, text messages, street signs, or cereal boxes. But what is reading? This is an important question, but there is a surprising lack of research in analytic philosophy on this topic. How hard can it be to say what reading is?

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Anti-Semitism is Racism

Many Americans think the recent synagogue shootings were motivated by religious hatred, just as many believe the Nazis persecuted Jews because their Jewish faith. This is seriously and troublingly wrong. To the Nazis of the past, as well as the neo-Nazis of the present, a person is a Jew because of their race.

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#FrancisOnFilm: Shazam!

Shazam!, the latest in the DC comics superhero series, may be viewed as a delightful feel-good movie. But some of what its audience might take away from the movie are bad messages about justice that mirror the problems with John Rawls' idealized theory of justice.

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Philanthropy vs. Democracy

This week we’re asking whether philanthropy is bad for democracy. Philanthropy funds scholarships for needy students. It builds libraries, hospitals, and museums. What's not to like? For starters, we shouldn't let those good things blind us to the corrosive harm that philanthropy does—especially to democracy.

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Authority and Resistance

We live in an age in which many of the old, top-down authority structures are collapsing before our very eyes. In large measure, the collapse of top-down authority is due to “democratizing” effect of technology, which is having an effect on our politics, on the media, on medicine, even on education.

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Wanting to Want for Its Own Sake

Here is one of the most surprising findings from social psychology: rewarding a kind of action does not boost motivation to perform that action because rewards provide only extrinsic motivation. So how do we change extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation, the motivation you have to do something for its own sake?

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Hacking the Brain

Are humans limited to the senses we’re born with? Or is it possible to hack the brain and create new senses? Even if we could, would we want more senses than we already have? This week we’re thinking about hacking the brain: perception beyond the five senses.

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Sexy Beasts

Love it or hate it, Freud’s decades long exploration into the nature and power of human sexuality is something that any philosopher of sex needs to contend with. I turn to this curiously under-explored region of the philosophical landscape in the final installment of my Philosophical Freud series.

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Ken's Big Announcement

In the spirit of Plato, I am pleased to announce that I am throwing my hat in the ring for 2020! Just as Plato envisioned an ideal republic, I envision a new republic built on the ashes of the old. It is time for the philosopher-kings to take up their rightful place in this new republic.

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