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Pawns of ISIS

My title, “Pawns of ISIS,” most likely conjures up a stereotypical image of an Arabic young man, whose mind has been infected—as if by a parasite—by ISIS propaganda on the internet, where publications such as “The Management of Savagery” and Dabiq spread ISIS’s core strategic ideas so widely that anyone can become a soldier. But in fact, the type of pawn I’m writing about is not that one. The pawn I have in mind does not even claim to be Muslim. More surprisingly: Islamophobes, who take themselves to be fighting against any form of Islam (extremist or not), are,...

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Habermas and the Fate of Democracy

This Boston Review article by William Scheuerman makes it clear there is a lot one can learn about democracy from Habermas. The famous intellectual's life has spanned from pre-Hitler Germany to Brexit and Trump. Habermas has thought about the rise of a sort of authoritarian populism and the value of an inclusive and equal public sphere. On top of his intellectual pursuits, he has made a concerted effort to not to restrict his thoughts on democracy to the philosophy seminar room. But what is philosophy's role in these questions of democracy? Why does Habermas—or any of us, for that...

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Racial Profiling and Implicit Bias

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.It’s not that profiling by itself is problematic. But here I’m thinking of the kind of complex profile investigators may come up with by gathering evidence from the scene of a crime, e.g. a murder. Some of that evidence will be purely physical in nature, but there might also be psychological evidence that can...

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[AUDIO] How Important is Privacy?

The idea of a nosy hacker or government official peering into our bedrooms through our computer's webcam is likely to give anyone at least some feeling of discomfort. We have a tendency to desire at least some degree of privacy, allowing us to live part of our lives outside of the public eye. But is privacy foundational to our lives? How much does privacy deserve to be protected when greater safety often comes with its sacrifice? On this episode of Philosophy 24/7, Annabelle Lever shares her thoughts on the value of privacy and in what ways it should be protected. [AUDIO LINK] Have strong...

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Why Do We Work 40 Hours a Week?

How did it become so ubiquitous for the standard work schedule to be 40 hours a week? How old is this standard, and how exactly did it arise? Perhaps most importantly, should we keep this standard of working 40 hours a week? Would we be more productive if we worked less? Morgan Housel answers this last question in the affirmative. This piece on the Collaborative Fund blog walks us through the history of the 40 hour work week and argues that we should abandon it. Crucially, Housel thinks this applies to the new type of creative work that more and more workers engage...

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#FrancisOnFilm: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Like many other people—over $820 million worth of people in the US alone, according to the latest box office results I read while writing this post—I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It’s lots of fun—psychedelic colors, battles in space, and great ’70s music played on a Walkman. It also features an unhappy and ever-expanding brain masquerading as a planet and seeking world domination. And that’s a problem, a very big problem, for the guardians to solve. Without giving away too much of the plot about how the guardians encounter the evil brain (it’s a pretty thin plot anyway;...

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Psychopathy and Evil

There is a certain diagnosis considered rare and nearly untreatable in the mental health community: psychopathy. Of course, a small amount of psychopathy may be socially advantageous. Consider the cool and collected CEO or saw-toothed lawyer. However, extreme cases illustrated by the fictional Patrick Bateman of American Psycho or the not-so-fictional child, Samantha from the June 2017 issue of The Atlantic, reveal that psychopathy is not only chilling but highly dangerous.   Psychopaths exhibit physiological abnormalities in addition to behavioral ones. As a result,...

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Conceptual Penises and Failed Hoaxes

Recently, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University named Peter Boghossian and a PhD in math named James Lindsay attempted to reinvent the Sokal Hoax in an effort to discredit an entire field of academic study. Like those who were involved in the Sokal Hoax, Boghossian and Lindsay deliberately wrote a meaningless and obscure article cloaked in the moral and conceptual language of a given field to see whether they could trick a journal into publishing it. The piece they co-authored was titled "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct," designed to debunk the...

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Should Philosophers Get Political?

Should philosophy be a politically engaged practice? More specifically, should philosophers, when doing philosophy, think, speak, and write in ways that address contemporary political problems? There are (at least) two schools of thought on this. The Politically Engaged School thinks that philosophy—rigorous reflection on ideas and relations among them—should tend toward addressing intellectual problems that arise in politically vexed arenas (race, gender, power structures). David Livingstone Smith, for example, posted recently: We philosophers still primarily talk to one another, and not...

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Truth and Progress in Philosophy

One of the things that students find frustrating about philosophy is that they don’t get definitive answers to the sorts of questions that philosophers ask. These students aren’t frustrated because philosophy doesn’t give them any answers. They’re frustrated because it gives them too many answers. For example, I teach a course on freedom and determinism in which the students learn (a) that the macroscopic universe is deterministic, so free will doesn’t exist, (b) that we can make choices that aren’t determined by prior events, so free will exists, or (c) that the macroscopic universe...

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Ai Weiwei: How Censorship Works

Most of us have probably heard of censorship in China, but how does it really work? And what are its effects? To what extent are ordinary citizens responsible? Who better to hear the inside scoop from other than famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who routinely has to deal with his work being censored. Ai Weiwei takes to The Stone, the philosophy blog on The New York Times, to make his case. Read it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/06/opinion/sunday/ai-weiwei-how-censorship-works.html

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Queerness

Is queerness something that all lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people have in common? Is it a sexual identity, a political identity, both, or something else entirely? No doubt we are all familiar with the term, but coming up with a definition for “queerness” presents quite a challenge. Sometimes “queer” is used as a slur, yet there are many people who proudly self-identify as queer. It’s not so unusual for slur words to get re-appropriated by the group targeted by the slur, but “queer” stands out in a certain way. Not only has the term been reclaimed as an identity, but since the 90s, we’ve also...

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[VIDEO] What Makes for a Good Life?

It's one of philosophy's greatest and oldest questions: what makes for a good life? Regardless of what specific areas of philosophy we might be interested in, this question affects every one of us.  So, how should we live our lives? Seeking pleasure? Knowledge? Self-actualization? Is there meaning to be found in this life? Must we create it ourselves? The stances we take on all of these questions have the potential to shape how we think and act everyday. This episode of Crash Course Philosophy examines a number of takes on this long-pondered question, including the views of Camus, Aristotle,...

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A Deep Dive into Democracy

America’s so-called democracy is under serious strain these days. And not just because of the November election and its aftermath. The cracks and tensions in our democracy have been building for a long time. But some, including me, fear that the system may soon be stressed to the breaking point. Since this summer clearly has the potential to be a long, hot one for our country, we thought we’d start out the season with a deeper look at Democracy in America. We’ve done a host of episodes over the years on the topic of democracy. We've discussed Corporations and the Future of Democracy with...

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Nietzsche, Schmitt, and the Alt-Right

The journalist Graeme Wood, author of the groundbreaking investigation on ISIS titled "What ISIS Really Wants," recently interviewed Richard Spencer, one of the leaders of the alt-right, a noted fascist, and coincidentally on of Wood's high school classmates. The entire profile, titled "His Kampf," is worth reading, but in particular, I'd like to bring out Wood's exploration of Spencer's philosophical background.  Spencer draws inspiration especially from the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Carl Schmitt, the former appropriated by the Nazis and the latter a devoted member. Starting with...

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The Lifespan of a Genre

In this Aeon article, Lary Wallace discusses how a person's music tastes tend to stagnate in their 20s and 30s. But what does this stagnation have to do with the evolution and historicization of music genres? Should we respond to this finding by not taking at face value our historical associations with certain types of music? Also, ought we to encourage ourselves to listen to new music past our 30s? And the link to the article: https://aeon.co/essays/why-do-your-musical-tastes-get-frozen-over-in-your-twenties

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[AUDIO] When Driverless Cars Go Wrong

The introduction of driverless cars to our roads brings with it moral and legal questions that we have never faced before. These new vehicles, controlled by artificial intelligence, are promised to make driving safer. However, with the inevitability of accidents, who is to blame for the harm caused by them? Does this responsibility lie with the car manufacturers, or must we simply accept that sometimes accidents happen?  David Edmonds speaks with John Danaher on this episode of Philosophy 24/7, "Robots and Retribution". In a future with more and more controlled by artificial intelligence, how...

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Does Work Give Our Lives Meaning?

The possibility of a world without work is making plenty of people nervous: what would it look like, will it actually be good for us, will life even be meaningful anymore? In a recent editorial for The Guardian, Yuval Noah Harari has made the case that we don't need to fret, at least not when it comes to having meaningful lives. As Harari sees it there are already enough examples of meaning-making in the world—ranging from religious belief to Pokémon to consumerism—that we'll be able to impose meaning onto the world even if we're rendered obsolete as workers.  What do you think? Is...

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Envisioning Eastern Hegemony

Considering the last couple centuries of history, it is clear that Western countries have reigned dominant over the rest of the world—whether through colonialism, imperialism, economic power, or military might. This book review in The New York Review of Books covers some of the reasons for the balance of global power may be shifting to the East. The author of the article ultimately concludes that the East is currently far from supplanting the West. But what would a world run by Eastern values even look like? Would the world look meaningfully different if the East did run things...

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[COMIC] Postmodernism Attacks!

  There lingers an ominous line a thought in today's minds... it has infected experienced intellectuals and millenials alike, putting a spoke in the wheels of centuries of intellectual progress. Can the metaphysicians of the past join their powers to defeat this dangerous foe? It goes by the name of... Postmodernism! Enjoy this comic courtesy of Existential Comics, in which philosophers of the past must face the postmodernism of the present. Interested in Postmodernism? Check out our episode on it here and share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Can Free Speech Exclude?

On The New York Times's philosophy blog, The Stone, Professor Ulrich Baer defends student protests of speakers with whom they disagree. Baer's core argument is that some voices in the public debate may end up excluding others from the public debate. This happens when someone's discourse dehumanizes certain groups in society. In these cases, Baer sees it as appropriate for students to protest in order to prevent these individuals from speaking. In fact, Baer sees this as maximally protecting our right to free speech, because those individuals who have been dehumanized can no...

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Should Belief Aim at Truth?

Should your beliefs aim at the truth? Or should you just believe whatever makes your life better, whether it’s true or not? These are the questions we’re thinking about in this week’s show. You might think that the answer is obviously that our beliefs should always aim at the truth. But consider this—sometimes it’s actually to your advantage to have some false beliefs.  Psychologists study a phenomenon called “positive Illusion,” happy beliefs that can have powerful effects, despite not being true. For example, imagine you’re competing in a race and...

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Because You Are, I Am

The phrase "I think, therefore I am" or "Cogito ergo sum" might make Descartes the most-quoted philosopher of the last 400 years. The Frenchman's theory—if I am thinking, I must also be existing—is foundational to modern philosophy. For Descartes, the Cogito formed the foundation of all other knowledge: in the depths of Meditations, as he doubts everything, the Cogito is the one truth of which Descartes is sure. However, since Descartes, doubt has expanded. David Hume and Immanuel Kant questioned the “I” in I think, therefore I am. For there to be...

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Watered-down Philosophy for Tech Bros

Being told that philosophy is still useful—for tech executives who like ingesting pop wisdom in order to eliminate bullshit in their business lives—might make one wish philosophy were just dead instead. But this philosophy-as-bullshit-killer approach to the discipline is currently spreading around Silicon Valley in part due to the influence of a man named Andrew Taggart, who holds a PhD in philosophy. In a recent profile in Quartz, Taggart explains the services he provides as a "practical" philosopher who provides counseling: "Philosophers arrive on the scene at the moment when...

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Nozick, Libertarianism, and Philosophy

In this Aeon article, historian Brad Baranowski highlights two of Robert Nozick's most important contributions to philosophy: first, his libertarianism; and then, his vision for what analytic philosophy could be—not as technical and obscurant. Nozick wrote perhaps his most famous book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, in 1974 as a reply to Rawls' 1971 classic, A Theory of Justice. On the one hand, what are the merits of a libertarian, small-government way of looking at things? On the other, why did Nozick himself move away from libertarianism as his views on philosophy...

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