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Favorites in Continental Philosophy

Philosopher Simon Critchley offers his take on continental philosophy and some of its biggest hits. He discusses how the continental approach to philosophy is more practically relevant to lived experience and, interestingly, more aware of its history. Surprisingly, Plato is characterized as a continental philosopher. Check out the Five Books article: https://fivebooks.com/interview/continental-philosophy-simon-critchley/

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The World’s Greatest Country?

American politicians love to say that America is the greatest country in the world. Of course, it’s never clear exactly how they are measuring greatness. They often seem to be talking about our founding principles.  Now those do sound great on paper, even if we have seldom fully lived up to them.  But I don't think actual greatness -- as opposed to potential greatness -- can be a matter of aspirational principles, especialy if those principles are seldom lived up to.  So they must have something else in mind if they mean actual greatness, rather than just potential greatness. Sometimes people...

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The Curious Lives of Octopuses

Octopuses live in a world of paradox. Though colorblind, they change their pigment to match their surrounding area. Though brilliant, they average a lifespan of only 2 to 4 years. Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness, by philosopher of science Peter Godfrey-Smith, attempts to resolve these paradoxes in the complex lives of octopuses. In a review of the book by Alva Noë, Noë remarks at Godfrey-Smith's findings from his descent into the deep. Read the review here: http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/01/13/509456836/philosophy-in-the-...  

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When Democracy Runs Wild

Do we have too much democratic politics in this country? This isn't one of those debates about whether the will of the masses needs to be constrained by elite or technocratic pressures. Rather, what are the consequences of living in a society in which your every action has a political connotation? A new article by philosopher Robert Talisse in Aeon Magazine argues that, in the above sense, there is such a thing as too much democracy. In fact, Talisse comes up with a clever case for the position that democracy is a value that shouldn't be pursued too directly or aggressively. Take a...

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Basketball: Myths and Puzzles

Coaches, managers, players, and fans all have good reasons to care about statistics.  Gathering the right kind of information about when and how often something happens—a team winning, a player achieving a record, or a group players adopting a new technique—promises insight about why it happens, and what its downstream effects might be. For a fan, this kind of understanding is valuable in itself; for someone with skin in the game, it can provide the control necessary for building a winning team. But moving from correlation to causation is famously fraught. In a type of statistical puzzle...

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Achieving a Measure of Insanity

Before moving to philosophy, I was a psychoanalytic psychotherapist who worked in the Freudian tradition, broadly construed. I know from my immersion in that field that (despite getting a lot of bad press these days) psychoanalysis is both clinically powerful and philosophically rich. I’ve written quite a bit about the philosophy of psychoanalysis over the years, so I thought I’d offer some blog postings on the philosophical significance of psychoanalysis for Philosophy Talk. I’ll begin with an arresting remark by the British psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Woods Winnicott. ...

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Philosophy of Trash

How much of today’s treasure is destined to be tomorrow’s trash? Are growing piles of trash the price we pay for progress? Or do our trashy habits amount to ecological terrorism?   Here’s an astounding fact: the average American produces about four and a half pounds of trash a day. That’s an astounding eight tons of trash a year! Why so much? Is this simply the price we pay for progress? What was of use or value yesterday becomes trash tomorrow. We replace the old and useless with the new and shiny. Isn’t this just civilization works? Perhaps it not so much how civilization works, but it is...

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Compromise and Slavery

I happen to be in the middle of teaching W.E.B. Dubois' amazing work The Souls of Black Folk to Stanford freshmen. It talks a lot about the failures of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow from an on-the-ground perspective. In addition, we’ve just done an episode entitled Race Matters, which got me reading Chris Lebron’s fine book, The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea. If you haven’t read either book, it is worth reading both, but definitely don't miss Dubois since it is essential reading for every American or anyone who wants to understand America...

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Philosophy and Shelley's Frankenstein

With its 200th anniversary fast approaching in 2018, it might be time to revisit Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In this audio clip from ABC, academics in the "Philosopher's Zone" discuss major themes and the predominant philosophies of the novel's day. Drawing from Shelley's Calvinist upbringing and prevalent ideas of the Romantic period, the hosts expand upon one-dimensional analyses of the novel, including analyses of the novel as a story about birth envy or as a cautionary tale against bold, scientific endeavors. Instead, as one participant of the discussion argues, the novel...

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Race Matters

Do black lives really matter in America? Indeed, have they ever mattered, in our sordid racial history? And what, if anything, can we do to make sure that black lives matter today? These are just some of the questions we address on this week’s episode that we are calling “Race Matters.”   Now as a black man, I have to say I find it depressing that here we are, pretty deep into the 21st century, and there’s still a question about whether black lives really matter. I admit that it’s not all bad news. We've eliminated formal discrimination in housing. We’ve removed many of the old barriers to...

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To Retract or Not to Retract

Suppose you edit a respected journal. And suppose that journal focuses on politically fraught issues: development, tensions between countries, legacies of colonial atrocities, racial injustice, poverty . . . You try to publish cutting edge, well researched, and morally decent scholarship. But despite your best efforts, some weaker papers slip through the cracks. Most of those weak papers are bad in banal ways. The numbers aren’t up to date. The argument has gaps. The writing is clunky. Etc. Worth trying to improve upon—but not worth losing sleep over. But now suppose a paper somehow makes it...

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Chomsky vs Foucault [VIDEO]

Watch this classic, must-see debate between two of the most prominent intellectuals of the 20th century: Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault. The hour-long debate traverses a broad intellectual course—from human nature and objective truth to Marxism and the value of justice. I promise it'll invigorate your day (intellectually). For the link to the video, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wfNl2L0Gf8

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A Moral Case for Meat

From Peter Singer's Animal Liberation to arguments offered by the ancient Greeks and Hindus, many philosophers and environmentalists have made convincing cases against the practice of eating meat. But could there be a moral case in favor of it? One animal welfare advocate offers that eating meat gives animals a life worth living. By eating meat, in essence, humans create lives of worth and purpose, since most farm animals wouldn't be alive if there weren't a demand for their meat in the first place. But as the author points out, note that this position, that "a life worth...

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#FrancisOnFilm: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is a feel-good movie that’s slickly-made and well-acted. It’s a happy ending movie on just about every level, including some that weren’t so happy in real life. King wins the tennis match against Bobby Riggs. Larry, King’s then-husband, supports King’s tennis career, tolerates her developing understanding of her sexuality, and ends up with a happy second marriage with King the godmother to his children. Riggs reconciles with his wealthy wife. The women’s tennis tour makes a lot of money for its participants, promoters, and not incidentally Virginia Slims. Jack...

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Decolonizing Philosophy

It's clear that many of the prevailing intellectual traditions throughout the world are disproportionately influenced by Western (European, Christian, white) ideas. For example, the philosophy done throughout America clearly takes much more after European thought than anything that could characterized as African or Asian thought. We might even say that philosophy has been colonized by Europe and the West. A recent article by Ryan Nefdt on Africa is a Country makes the case for decolonizing philosophy. How can we even take up this project of developing a genuinely African philosophy?...

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The Internet of Things

This week, our topic is the Internet of Things. What will life be like when every road you travel, every device you own, every building you enter is connected to the internet? Will these developments transform our world in ways that enrich our lives? Or will they just create more opportunities for hackers, corporations, and governments to pry into every aspect of our lives? Now in one way the internet of things can seem like it can’t be all that big of a deal. The internet has been around for several decades. And while the internet has already affected our lives in many ways, it’s not...

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Harmful Jobs, Net Impact

Consider this: You have just graduated law school and the Environmental Protection Agency, run under Scott Pruit, has offered you a position there. Pruit's goals at the EPA are to roll back regulations that help protect the environment—an agenda that you believe will do much more harm to the Earth than good—but on the bright side, you think, maybe you could try to change the EPA from the inside. So what should you do? Take the job and try to soften Pruit's efforts? Or would it be more productive to work for an environmental agency whose efforts you support? To put the question more broadly,...

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Frege: The Invisible Anti-Semite

Gottlob Frege is considered one of the founders of contemporary analytic philosophy. Revered by Russell and Wittgenstein, he laid substantial groundwork for predicate logic and the analysis of linguistic meaning. Yet, unlike Russell and Wittgenstein, Frege's personality and private life was little publicized and is little known. While his work was widely influential, he himself was not. In the relative obscurity of his private life, it is a little known fact that the German philosopher was a hard-core right-wing, anti-democrat, anti-liberal, racist, nationalist anti-Semite. While he died...

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Your Comment: A World Without Work

We're continuing to get some great responses to our recent show, A World Without Work, including this email from Paul R. Thanks, Paul, for your comments! If you have questions or comments on a show, feel free to send us an email at comments@philosophytalk.org and we might just feature it here on the blog. 1. Before you (or someone) decide how the world will work without work, you (or someone), need to decide how you are going to feed everybody.  I was doing some reading a couple years ago in well-respected science, health, and geographical magazines--from one article I got basically how much...

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How does Consciousness Happen?

Consciousness. It's a phenomenon that makes humans different from robots, but how exactly does it happen? In this Ted Talk neuroscientist Anil Seth argues that consciousness is a controlled hallucination. Having less to do with intelligence than we often think, consciousness depends on how the brain predicts its world to operate. Since the brain cannot directly access the external stimuli it perceives (the brain must perceive stimuli through the senses), the reality it creates is thus a two way street: with it taking in electrical signals produced by physical objects and it projecting out its...

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On Our Cosmic Insignificance

Many people learn about the inconceivably large universe and start to doubt the significance of human life. Some philosophers have argued that this sentiment is actually just confused. An amazing Aeon article by Nick Hughes charts an alternative course for what motivates this thought. After assessing competing views, he ends up coming up with an explanation that seems to neatly account for our intuitions. And then, towards the end of the article, Hughes proposes how we could overcome this strain of nihilistic thinking. Here's the full article: https://aeon.co/essays/just-a-recent-...

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Getting Rid of "Racism"

Most people agree that racism is morally wrong, and therefore that we should all make an effort to get rid of racism. I completely agree. But this essay isn’t about getting rid of racism; it’s about getting rid of “racism.” The quotation marks make all the difference. When philosophers put quotation marks around a word, it’s usually to show that they’re talking about the word rather than the thing that the word names. So, when I say that this essay is about getting rid of “racism,” I mean that it’s about getting rid of the word “racism” rather than getting rid of the thing...

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Your Question: A World Without Work

We had a great response from listeners to our recent show, A World Without Work. Katherine B in Berkeley had a number of fantastic questions, so I asked our guest, Juliana Bidadanure, as well as our hosts, Debra and Ken, to respond to their favorite one. Thanks, Katherine, for the great questions! And if you have a question for a guest or our hosts, send it to comments@philosophytalk.org and we might just feature it here on the blog. Katherine: Culturally, Americans do not respect or care for poor or/and disadvantaged people. Most white people think that poor equals lazy,...

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Should Hate Speech be Protected?

Hate speech: it can exclude, stigmatize, and potentially threaten our progress toward equality. So why is hate speech protected under the First Amendment, and should it actually be protected?  In this interview from the NYTimes, Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the foremost legal scholars on the First Amendment, argues that the First Amendment protects hate speech for good reason. Social progress has always depended on the protection of free speech, and because how hate speech is defined is both malleable and circumstance-dependent, institutions cannot ban free speech without...

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Are Americans All Nationalists?

Do you think America is the greatest country in the world? Even if you said no, do you implicitly believe in American exceptionalism? Do you think other countries have bigger problems and worse institutions than ours?  Do you think that developing countries are trying to "catch up" to the US? Could you never imagine moving to another country? Why? And if so many of us do buy into American exceptionalism, is that just because government propaganda convinced us to? At whose expense does American exceptionalism come at? A recent article in The Guardian by Suzy Hansen discusses these...

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