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Why Vote?

Alain Badiou, one of France's premiere philosophers and public intellectuals, recently wrote a column in Le Monde commenting on the current French election. After he runs through characteristics and relative merits of the top four contenders, he comes to an ironic conclusion: there is no reason to vote.  Badiou believes that voting within the capitalist system simply re-enforces that system's conservative and oppressive hegemony. Instead, Badiou argues for a "re-invention" of politics. For Badiou, this means resurrecting communism as a viable alternative to modern Western...

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Tricks for Political Persuasion

In our age of political polarization, it seems hard to convince anyone of anything that they didn't already believe in. This consistent inability to reach any real mutual understanding can lead some to "agree to disagree," but when it comes to serious matters, like the question of healthcare or whether Syrian refugees should be allowed to enter a nation-state, lives are at stake. Olga Khazan of The Atlantic explores a possible "trick" to bypass this problem of persuasion. Khazan looks at how certain "moral frames" are more convincing to some people than others. In the case of...

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Phenomenology

Husserl founded phenomenology a century ago. Many important philosophers are phenomenologists, like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre.  But What in the world is phenomenology? Let’s start with the word. In the relevant sense, “phenomenon” means something observed, for which one wants to know the unobserved cause or explanation. For example, glaciers are an interesting phenomenon. But where did they come from? The phenomenological move is to say, “Let’s study the phenomenon itself first, and leave the explanation aside, at least for the time being. But of course Husserl wasn’t interested in...

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[AUDIO] Can a Riot be Justifiable?

Political riots: are they a legitimate method for the people to express their discontent, or too chaotic and uncontrollable to be deemed effective? On one hand, they can draw attention to the important political issues that might otherwise not receive appropriate media coverage or public attention. On the other hand, they often result in the destruction of property and serious injuries to the police and public alike. When a demonstration turns violent, can the violence ever be justified?  David Edmonds of Philosophy 24/7 speaks with Avia Pasternak about whether "The Just Riot" is possible in...

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Are Taxes Fair?

It's Tax Day in America! American attitudes towards taxation are quite fascinating. Two strong cultural strands of thought come together to form our thoughts on taxes. First, we don't trust in government—political scientists have been clamoring over growing resentment towards government for decades. Second, we have deeply seated libertarian sentiments: we don't want government to invade our sovereignty or our bank accounts, and we think that people should pull themselves up from their bootstraps, so we shouldn't have to pay money to support them. In addition to the sheer fact that many...

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Is This Still the End of History?

In 1992, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama became famous for his provocative claim that history had ended. Though events would still happen, Fukuyama argued that History—with a big H—had ceased: by this, he meant that human societies had reached their highest level of development. Like Hegel, who envisioned a world-spirit (a Geist) guiding History rationally forward, or Marx, who viewed the development of societies as a direct result of material relations, Fukuyama posited that there are forces in the world that have guaranteed the progress of History. He argued that...

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A Virtual Walden's Pond

You might not have thought it was possible, but there is now a computer game version of Walden by Henry David Thoreau designed to help foster a philosophical experience and learn to "live deliberately." It was released just in time for the 200th anniversary of Thoreau's birth, and it was designed by Tracy Fullerton, the founding director of USC's Game Innovation Lab. In order to ensure the accuracy of the experience of Walden's pond, Fullerton collaborated with Thoreau experts at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles and at the Walden Woods Project in Massachusetts. The goal of the...

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[VIDEO] What Is Metaethics?

  Most of us probably have some ideas about what constitutes our personal brand of ethics: questions about what is morally right and wrong pervade philosophy and everyday life. But what about metaethics? What is the difference between a moral realist and anti-realist? Between a moral absolutist and cultural relativist? Which one are you? Examining these broader categorizations of ethical thought could help you gain a better grasp of some of your underlying metaethical beliefs, your beliefs about what morality is.  In this episode of Crash Course Philosophy, we are given a brief overview of...

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Transcending Intersectionality

These days, at least in certain feminist circles, something called intersectional analysis is all the rage. I was reminded of this fact recently by an intense dinner conversation with a group of friends and acquaintances. In response to something somebody said, I tried to make the point that while for some men the world may be their oyster, there are plenty of men who are relentlessly grinded down by the world. What about all the men of color in prison, I asked? What about all the Appalachian white men, cast aside by relentless globalism? The impatient response came back. “But let’s bracket...

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Foucault's Concept of Power

Few concepts are more crucial to understanding our world today than power. This Aeon article by Colin Koopman explains the influential and insightful account of power offered by French philosopher Michel Foucault. What are the mechanisms by which power operates? How much can the workings of power shed light on the concepts and labels applicable to everyday life? Foucault uses the provocative examples of prisons and sexuality as case studies in the machinations of power.  Full link: https://aeon.co/essays/why-foucaults-work-on-power-is-more-important-than-ever

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Aesthetics for Dogs?

Dogs love art! At least, when that art is designed with them in mind. The Huffington Post reported the first ever canine-centric art show, created by London artist Dominic Wilcox. To help him design the exhibit, Wilcox did a lot research about the canine visual system, and added various scents to the artwork. Judging from the photos, the dogs looked engaged by the art.“The dogs seemed to love their visit,” Wilcox told The Huffington Post. “Tails were wagging like crazy at the giant dog food bowl filled with brown balls. They were jumping in and out of that one.”So, the dogs...

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Muscles and Marxism

The folks over at Jacobin, an up-and-coming socialist magazine, enjoy taking the bizarre ephemera that shows up on your Facebook feed and turning it into Marxist treatises. Recently, Adam Sztela took a look at the “Arnold Classis”—a bodybuilding competition named for the action movie star and former California governor—and tried a deep dive into the class politics of bodybuilding. For Szetela, bodybuilding provides us a unique perspective on work: when you pump iron, the fruits of your labor belong to you and you alone, in the form of bulging biceps and six-pack abs. Szetela contends...

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Captivity

 This week, our topic is the ethics of captivity. Our plan is to discuss both human captivity and animal captivity. Now you may ask what is to be gained by lumping humans and animals together in this way. They are, after all, significant differences between them and us. But there are also similarities. For example, putting a person in a prison deprives him of freedom and autonomy. Putting an animal in a cage does the same thing. That’s a similarity. On the other hand, we typically put people in prison to punish them. We aren’t punishing animals when we put them in zoos or keep them as pets....

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[VIDEO] Is it OK to Kill Animals for Food?

  According to a poll conducted in 2016, approximately eight million US adults are vegetarian. The reasons that many vegetarians pose for their meatless diet vary, often including environmental or health benefits. However, what about the simple reason that killing animals for food is not morally justifiable? If the entire planet could survive eating only a vegetarian diet, are we justified in killing millions of animals a year?  In this episode of Wireless Philosophy, Tyler Doggett of the University of Vermont tackles this question. If we do not approve of killing other humans for food (...

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Some Thoughts on Problematic Arguments

Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer—the latter a famous philosopher and public intellectual, the former famous enough among philosophers, but not so much among the broader public—wrote an article in The New York Times philosophy forum, "The Stone," that has gotten lots people I know and respect pretty upset. Some have reacted to the article with very reasoned and persuasive counter-arguments. Some have thrown in a good measure of anger and disgust at them in addition.     You can check out the original article here: Who Is the Victim in the Anna Stubblefield Case? For what seems to me a...

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Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton on Politics and White Poverty

The Atlantic interviews Nobel-prize winning economist Angus Deaton. Far-ranging questions about politics and economics are broached. Deaton coauthored a study about how mortality rates for middle-aged white Americans is actually increasing. White rural drug use seems to be a big part of the story. But are poor white Americans really voting in their best interests when they vote for someone like Trump? Why are they so anti-government when they receive government benefits? How do you compare living in these parts of America versus being in an extremely poor country abroad? Full link:...

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#FrancisOnFilm: Get Out

Get Out is a horror film, or so critics say. They also say it’s a film about race, especially how white people react awkwardly and embarrassingly to black people in upscale social contexts. Emphasizing these themes has the advantage for reviewers of not giving away anything very much about the plot of the film while explaining why viewers should see it. But there are other good reasons to see the film, which don’t have much to do primarily with either race or horror. I’ll try not to be a spoiler in this review—although you really shouldn’t read further until after you’ve seen the...

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Getting from Space and Time to Space-time

Are space and time two separate entities? Or are they just different dimensions of one thing—the space-time continuum? And what difference does it make if they are? Those are just some of the questions we discuss this week, as we dig into the nature of the space-time continuum.   At one level, the basic structures of space and time seem straight-forward. Space has three dimensions—east/west, north/south, and lower/higher. Time has just one dimension, and a fixed direction.  In space, you can move in many different directions.  But time has a single direction.  It flows from the past, through...

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Space, Time, and Space-time

Common sense sees a clear division of labor between space and time. I am about 11 years older than Ken. I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, while he was born in Sandusky, Ohio.  Lincoln is roughly 800 miles west of Sandusky, and about 500 feet higher. So the events of my birth and his are distant in time and in space. These facts are not causally independent; some event might have led to our being closer in both space and time. But they seem logically independent. This spatial relation between two events is one thing, their temporal relation is another. For one thing, we can travel in space,...

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Should White Artists Paint the Body of Emmett Till?

The image above is a painting by Dana Schutz currently on display at the Whitney Biennial exhibition. Since the painting depicts Emmett Till in an open casket, the painting naturally is attracting some controversy. But does it matter that Dana Shutz is white? Should your race restrict what you're allowed to paint? It's easy to hear this sort of criticism of Schutz—that white people shouldn't produce art about poignant Civil Rights icons, and dismiss the criticism as needless and overdone political correctness. I had this impulse too. But after reading and reflecting on this letter by artist/...

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[COMIC] Philosophical Conflicts at the Poker Table

Fichte, Nietzsche, Hegel, and Kant sit down for some No-Limits Texas Hold 'em. What could go wrong? Each of these philosophers bring their philosophical ideas to the table, in an overstated manner—for humor's sake, of course! It turns out that combining Kant's strict ethics and the unrestrained nature of the Ubermensch does not mesh well with the game of poker. Find out how things turn out in this comic courtesy of Existential Comics.   Amused by the comic above? Or should philosophers stick to less comical matters? Share your thoughts in the comments. Didn't get the joke? Interested in...

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Cruelty in American Politics

In response to recently newfound liberal sympathy for the white working class upon Trump's ascension to the presidency, The New York Magazine columnist Frank Rich recently published an article with the title "No Sympathy for the Hillbilly." Rich's basic point is that we should gladly accept the fact that the recent policy proposals from the Trump Administration look like they will deeply harm the very constituency that voted for these possibilities in the first place. All this with the understanding that only by letting them suffer, say, with the loss of healthcare, will they learn...

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Descartes, Elisabeth, and My Left Foot

In my last blog posting, I discussed the view of the relation between mind and body that’s known as substance dualism—the theory that a person’s mind and body are two different things. The body (including, of course, the brain) is a physical thing, a configuration of matter, a flesh and blood machine, but the mind is a spooky non-physical thing that is not subject to the laws and forces that govern the physical world.   If you’re attracted to substance dualism, and think that you and everyone else really are a compound of physical body and non-physical mind, then the next step is to try and...

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All We Need to Solve Inequality is a Plague

Since the 1970s, the United States and much of the developed world has seen massive wealth inequality. While many agree inequality is a problem, few agree on the best way to solve it.  Historically, inequality has risen and fallen dramatically over time, and, trying to find a cause for the ebb and flow, Stanford historian Walter Scheidel surveyed each important point in history when inequality diminished. What he concluded is hardly heartening.  In a recent article in The Atlantic, Scheidel argues that the only events in history that have sufficiently addressed inequality have been...

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Take the Mirror Test

Dear Philosophy Talkers, Chick D'Arpino is an old friend of the Bay Area Philosophy community, who has been supporting essay contests, lectures and other activities at least since I came here in the 70's. His style is to ask simple questions that require a surprising amount of thought once you start to think about them.  I've asked his permission to make his latest survey available to philosophy talk fans.  In this case, answer the question, and then read the wikipedia article on the mirror test, and see the implications of your answer. JP

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