THE BLOG @ PHILOSOPHERS' CORNER

The Puzzle of the Unconscious

Most of Freud’s contemporaries believed that the human mind was all conscious. Historians of ideas who write about the development of psychology often get Freud's original contribution wrong because they don’t attend carefully enough to what was meant by terms like “subconscious mind” and “unconscious states.”

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Is Envy Always a Vice?

At first glance, it seems hard to find anything positive in the phenomenon of envy. But upon deeper reflection, we can recognize that while envy is often demoralizing, antisocial, and even planet-destroying, there’s also a good kind of envy—one that motivates us to raise our game.

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#FrancisOnFilm: Brexit

Do makers of films that fictionalize real events have obligations not to misrepresent in the interests of telling a good story, particularly when they aim to make a political point? Is it permissible to fill gaps in a story with fictionalized accounts of events?

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Getting Clear on the Replication Crisis

Ever since the replication crisis broke in 2011, a number of causes have been identified for why a psychological experiment might not replicate. I want to suggest a possible reason why a study might fail to replicate, one that seems to have been mostly overlooked, namely: lack of conceptual clarity about the phenomenon being measured.

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How (Not) to Fall Asleep

Why can falling asleep be so difficult? I’m not looking for a third-personal story of the causal factors that adversely affect sleep. I’m asking a slightly different question: what explains that truly infuriating first-personal experience of trying desperately and yet failing miserably to fall asleep?

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Freud's Philosophical Challenges

Last month, I started a new series of essays on Freud as a philosopher. This month, I want to lay out some of the perplexing philosophical issues that Freud and his intellectual community were confronted with towards the end of the nineteenth century, and how they grappled with them.

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The Examined Year: 2018 – Uncut

Happy new year from your senior producer, here to offer a look behind the scenes at how this year's end-of-year special really happened.

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On Morally Condemning the Past

The American Pediatric Association is clear that spanking harms children. In light of this information, it’s fair to say spanking children is immoral and those who spank in this day and age are doing wrong. But here’s a tricky question. How should our moral judgments of the present impact our judgments of what people did in the past?

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Why Should We Give Foreign Aid?

Do we have a duty to help developing nations escape poverty? Or does foreign aid do more harm than good? What is the best way to end global poverty? These are some of the questions we’ll be in asking in this week’s show on foreign aid.

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Subway Spreading and Personal Space (Part II)

Last month, I provided a story of (man)spreading on the subway. It's is a simple story about two people on a crowded train with different ‘preferences’ for personal space. But it leads us to a new understanding of the ways that even everyday gestures can trigger structural and systematic inequities.

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Philosophical Freud

Most people think of Freud as a psychologist rather than as a philosopher. And worse, they often think of his work as achingly passé and of the man as a pseudo-scientist at best, and a charlatan at worst. But I think that Freud was a great philosopher who still has a lot to teach us about ourselves.

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Foucault on Power

Michel Foucault had some truly brilliant and important insights about power, insights that have had an important influence on some of today’s most prominent activist movements, and that arguably should be having more of an influence on others. It’s true that there’s a lot to take issue with in his work, but there’s also a lot to be inspired by.

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The Creative Life

Is creativity something you’re born with, or can it be cultivated? Living a live of creativity sounds fantastic – but is it (possible) for everyone? If you think it would be wonderful to be more creative, you could try to do something about it, like take a creative writing class or something. But it’s probably not that easy.

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Does Reputation Matter?

How much should we care about our reputation? One can easily imagine a Stoic telling us not to care at all: it’s not something that is under our control, and so our job is simply to learn not to worry about it. But it’s not clear that reputation is something that is entirely out of our control.

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Subway Spreading and Personal Space (Part I)

The phenomenon of taking up too much room on the subway has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years under the label “manspreading.” But why does this spreading happen? And what does it have to do with men in particular? The answer starts with preferences for personal space.

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Anti-Semitism 101

Many Americans seem have a hard time grasping the idea of Jews as a race because they think of race mainly in terms of the color of a person’s skin. So they tend to frame anti-Semitic violence as attacks on the Jewish faith, rather than racist terror.

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The Wrong Abortion Question

Is abortion the murder of an innocent child? Or the exercise of a woman’s right to control her own body? Or maybe we’re focusing on the wrong question.

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How #MeToo Helps Men

A backlash to the #MeToo movement suggests if society’s default is to believe women who claim they were sexually assaulted, that will open men up to rampant false accusations, which women will exploit for malicious purposes. But the reality is that #MeToo promotes social habits that make men less likely to be susceptible to false accusations.

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Can Reason Save Us?

Is reason our only guide to the true and the good? Or can reasonable people disagree on what is true and good? Is it simply a mistake to fetishize reason? These are some of the questions we tackle as we take on the broader question of whether reason can save us.

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They’re Only Lobsters

The Great Chain of Being—the notion that the biosphere is partitioned into ranks, with humans at the top, and every other organism at some inferior position—is a way of thinking that’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to dislodge. Most of us have a strong conviction that it’s true, but we don’t have a clue why we think that.

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The Philosophy of Westworld

At first glance, Westworld is just another show about robots run amok. If you look a little closer, though, you find all kinds of other philosophical questions in play, and you find them being explored with impressive seriousness and subtlety. At the level of philosophical reflection, this is golden-age television at its very best.

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Do They Believe in God?

A question has plagued me since the latest cluster of scandals emerged from the Catholic church. The scandals are both about clergy who sexually abused young people and about the church hierarchy’s cover-ups. The question is this: do the priests who commit such abuses believe in God?

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The Psychology of Cruelty

Are people cruel because they lack empathy? Is cruelty always a matter of seeing others as less than human? Or are there some who simply enjoy seeing people suffer? These are some of the questions we’ll be tackling in this week’s show.

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Puzzle About Conspiracy Theorists (Part II)

Conspiracy theorists think quasi-rationally, but their thinking only goes in one direction. Because conspiracy theorists are less analytic, their thinking tends not to override their starting intuitions. So how can we alleviate people's tendencies to adopt irrational conspiracy theories?

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Lessons from Lobsters

At a gut level, most of us consider humans’ lives far more significant than lobsters’ lives. But does this intuition just reveal a cognitive bias most of us have? Are there any good arguments to support the idea that lobster lives matter less?

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