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Is Philosophy Just Harder Than Science?

Check out this article by philosopher David Papineau in the Times Literary Supplement: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/philosophy-simply-harder-science/ The article challenges the criticism of philosophy that it doesn't seem to make progress, especially when compared to scientific enterprises. Philosophy hasn't produced conclusive answers to questions posed thousands of years ago. Science has accumulated an enormous wealth of knowledge about the world. A philosopher's advocate may defend philosophy's status by pointing to how the methods of philosophy are less...

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How is the Internet Changing Friendships?

How, if at all, is the internet changing the nature of friendships? Does social media strengthen friendships or make them more shallow?  According to this video from The Atlantic, social media helps to preserve friendships that would have otherwise died out. By ensuring us constant access to our friends—"commemorative" ones that we have fond memories of but have not talked to in years, old friends that we marginally keep in touch with, and current friends we often contact—social media serves an important tool for the kind of "maintenance" all friendships require.  Of course, while "liking"...

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Transhumanism

One part philosophy, two parts futurist—this is the essence of Transhumanism.    A far-out movement that began in the 1990s and has steadily grown thanks to social media, Transhumanism is centered on the ethos that “the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.”    Transhumanists are made up of technologists, futurists, and life-extensionists who seek to use science and technology to improve the human condition. Zoltan Istvan, a leader in the Transhumanist movement, wrote that their main objective is to conquer...

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Cognitive Bias

Aristotle defined humans as the rational animal. But he was wrong! The human mind is riddled with cognitive biases. At last count, there are something like 150 named cognitive biases—confirmation bias, in group bias, loss aversion, the Ikea effect, the halo effect, endowment effects. And every time you turn around, some clever psychologist is naming a new one. But whatever you name them, cognitive biases are a problem. They distort gender relations, racial relations, employment, education, politics, even science. And we’re mostly not even aware of them! That makes them very hard to correct....

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D'oh! Philosophy in The Simpsons

Running now for 28 years, The Simpsons may not seem like a legitimate source for philosophical discourse and ideas. But this year the University of Glasgow launched a successful one-day course entitled "D'oh! The Simpsons Introduce Philosophy" as an introduction to the world's most eminent philosophical thinkers. Teaching The Simpsons alongside Kant, Marx, and Camus, the course's creator, John Donaldson, asked students to consider several philosophical quandaries, like morality and free will in an episode where Bart is "sent to a school for gifted children after cheating in...

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To Game or Not to Game

Many of us spend or have spent a lot of time playing video games. But is it worthwhile to spend so much time on an activity that seems to have little practical value for you or anyone else? A recent Reason article by Peter Suderman argues that playing video games is okay. Suderman starts by claiming that video game use among young, lower skilled men has increased markedly in the past few decades. In general, the underemployment of this demographic has struck many as deeply worrying, foreshadowing changes in the future of work and creating a need for a universal basic income. But...

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Philosophy Majors: Unexpectedly Employable

Contrary to popular belief, a philosophy degree may be useful in the job market. Granted, engineering, pre-med and pre-law students have a clear-cut path after graduation. However, a philosophy education equips students with “critical thinking, precise analysis and cogent writing” says Christopher Morris, chair of the University of Maryland philosophy department, in an article in the Washington Post. The article argues that despite societal skepticism, philosophy majors perform better on exams for law, medicine and other graduate schools. They rank in the...

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Should Sex-Identity Be on Birth Certificates?

Why do we think it's so important to assign a sex and gender to a baby at birth? Does it really serve an important public policy or public health purpose, or does this practice more reflect our irrational need to classify people along these axes as quickly as possible? There are lots of characteristics about babies that you can immediately tell about them. Why does sex make the cut? Moreover, why do we think it's then okay to impose a vast set of norms on that child that differ based on the gender culturally associated with that sex? The following Aeon article by Heath Fogg Davis...

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[AUDIO] Is Taste Really Subjective?

You have your favorite band, and I have mine. Is one of us right? It is said that taste is simply subjective, and there is nothing factual or objective to aesthetic judgments. But are aesthetic judgments completely groundless? When we say something is in bad taste, does that statement have anything behind it at all, besides expressing our personal disapproval? Is taste truly nothing more than personal preference? Join Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds on this episode of Aesthetics Bites, as they speak with Elisabeth Schellekens Damman on aesthetic disagreement.  [AUDIO LINK] What are your...

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Reality TV: Ethics or Entertainment?

To say that reality TV shows can be "morally fraught" in their practices is an understatement. Publicizing and, in essence, commodifying people's lives, reality shows raise ethical issues by intruding upon their particpants' privacy and by manipulating their participants' behavior—all for the purposes of inciting gossip, tears, and drama. But are reality shows so morally vexed that they should be abolished? Or, if they are to stay, under what practices and ethical limitations may reality shows justifiably operate?   This paper from the University of Brussels analyzes the treatment of reality...

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Your Question: Habermas and Factions

We know the vast majority of our listeners don't get to hear the live broadcast of our show, which is usually Sunday mornings from the studios of KALW in San Francisco. Even listeners in the Bay Area often hear the KALW rebroadcast, Tuesdays at noon. But we know you often have questions about what you're hearing, so we decided to start a series called "Your Question" here on the blog. If you have a question after the live broadcast, you can still participate in the conversation.    This week's show was on the German philosopher and critical theorist Habermas and his vision of democracy. A...

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Habermas, Rationality, and Democracy

This week we examine the philosophy of the great 20th century German philosopher, social theorist, cultural critic and public intellectual, Jürgen Habermas. We focus on his stirring and hopeful vision of democracy. Habermas believes that genuine democracy is rooted in the principles of communicative rationality. Though I think it is very much an open question whether rational argument can ever take place in a democracy—especially one like ours that seems very far from what Habermas envisions—I do hold out some hope that we may eventually be able to design a public sphere in which reason...

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#FrancisOnFilm: Is Wonder Woman a Feminist Movie?

Wonder Woman is a wonderfully engrossing movie, but is it a feminist one? The answer depends on what you think it means to be a feminist and what you make of the beauty of Gal Gadot. Here are three reasons why you might think it’s feminist—or maybe not. 1. Wonder Woman is very strong. Very, very strong. She’s taught to be self-confident and tough. She comes up on top in some of the best movie fight scenes ever. Her super powers are truly impressive and she looks gorgeous using them. Indeed, one of her super powers just may be her beauty. It captivates a lot of people in the movie,...

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The Unnatural is the Political

The belief that some things are natural while others are unnatural is part of the common currency of human thought, but we rarely pause to consider exactly what it means to say that something is unnatural. It’s important to do so, because—strange as it might sound—this concept is politically very potent. As I’ll shortly explain, the concept of the natural gets used to justify the social order, and the concept of the unnatural fuels efforts to punish or destroy those who deviate from it. Unnaturalness is the flip side of naturalness. So one way to get at the concept of the unnatural...

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[AUDIO] Time Biases

Recently, philosophers, economists and psychologists have been invested in the question of time biases. This psychological phenomenon manifests around our preference of when good or bad experiences happen. Walter Mischel, author of The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, explores whether a child offered one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later would choose the former and the consequences for her behavior later in life. Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, authors of Nudge, examine the various biases that cause us to choose poorly from personal investments to...

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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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