Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category


Does science have all the answers?

March 17, 2011

Oxford scientist Prof Peter Atkins and philosopher Mary Midgley discuss whether there is anything more than facts, facts and more facts.


A Dean with the Right Attitude

January 5, 2011

NPR has a heartwarming story of Laguardia Community College and their push to increase enrollment and interest in philosophy:

As state universities cut back on humanities programs in order to deal with budget shortfalls, LaGuardia Community College in Queens, N.Y., is going in the opposite direction. At LaGuardia, philosophy is king: Of the 17,000 matriculated students, 4,500 are taking philosophy. There are seven full-time professors, most of whom have been added in the past two years.

Unbelievable, really… but good news. Hopefully more universities will pick up the pace; and hopefully more philosophers and philosophy departments will see this as a sign that there is plenty of opportunity to build the richness of philosophy throughout the university system.

Oh, guess what? I finished my book. I think I might soon hop right back on the blogging train. (Yay me!)


Does Philosophy Ever Make Progress?

January 4, 2011


October 9, 2010

This is pretty cool, albeit not entirely new, and a pretty kooky overview of the trolley problem. But hey, if more people take an interest in philosophy because of this, the better for everyone. However, what the hell is up with Jeff McMahan and tea?

One of them is Jeff McMahan of Rutgers University. McMahan is a good liberal, open to debate on any topic—except tea. Green tea is sent to him every two months from the Indian estate where it is grown. His cup of tea has to be brewed in a certain way: steeped for precisely six minutes in distilled water.

More seriously, I think the author of this article does a hatchet job on the trolley problem, and seems fundamentally to misunderstand the purpose of raising trolley style questions. The point isn’t straightforwardly to identify what we’d do in trolley-like scenarios, but to try to get at the underlying moral intuitions. Why is it that we feel the tension between fat man and spur, between spur and surgeon? These are difficult questions, and if we work reflectively to iron out how the two scenarios differ, we may gain clarity on the intuitions that very often guide us.


October JFP is Out

October 8, 2010

The October JFP is out. My quick take is that it’s nowhere near as bad as it’s been in the past few years. What is particularly striking is (a) that there are more jobs listed than there were last year and (b) that most of these jobs are for choice or prime schools. Many of these positions are downright plum jobs, not the usual mix of teeth gritters, and anybody landing a TT appointment this year would likely do very well for themselves. Ethics, social and political, applied… these particular fields are in great shape this year. Obviously, there’s a backlog from years past, but it’s pretty amazing for anybody working in this area.


The Force of Reason

October 4, 2010

JM Bernstein nicely dismantles the current financial crisis and the TARP by using Hegel, of all people. He says, quoting Hegel, “regulation is the force of reason needed to undo the concoctions of fantasy.”

…it is not motives but actions that matter, and how those actions hang together to make a practical world.  What makes the propounding of virtue illusory — just so much rhetoric — is that there is no world, no interlocking set of practices into which its actions could fit and have traction: propounding peace and love without practical or institutional engagement is delusion, not virtue.  Conversely, what makes self-interested individuality effective is not its self-interested motives, but that there is an elaborate system of practices that supports, empowers, and gives enduring significance to the banker’s actions.  Actions only succeed as parts of practices that can reproduce themselves over time.  To will an action is to will a practical world in which actions of that kind can be satisfied — no corresponding world, no satisfaction.  Hence the banker must have a world-interest as the counterpart to his self-interest or his actions would become as illusory as those of the knight of virtue.  What bankers do, Hegel is urging, is satisfy a function within a complex system that gives their actions functional significance.

I really like the way he puts this. It could’ve badly derailed. Fortunately, I don’t think it did. At least, I find it clear enough. Wonder what non-readers of Hegel think.


A Grain of SALT

September 15, 2010

I’m probably more of a fan of Immanuel Kant than most folks at Colorado, and I certainly think the Groundwork in the Metaphysics of Morals is one of the great books of ethics (as well as the Critique of Practical Reason), but our dear Tea Party winner-of-the-hour Christie O’Donnell has taken this Kant stuff a wee bit too far.

Turns out, she’s the living incarnation of the great Professor. On one hand, she appears to believe that lying is wrong under all circumstances, even under extreme murderer at the door scenarios. Here she is on Politically Incorrect ten years ago:

Kant, famously, also believed that lying is wrong in all circumstances, and he explicitly addressed a murderer at the door case. Many non- and even anti- Kantians take this example as a core reason to reject Kant out of hand. As a consequence, many notable Kantians have since struggled to offer plausible responses to critics.

But more distressingly, O’Donnell thinks that masturbation is a form of self-aggrandizement akin to adultery. Kant, as well, appears to have believed something similar. Again, some people take this as clear evidence that Kant was a nutter. Here’s O’Donnell again in a PSA she made for an organization called the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT) from 1988:

Needless to say, what makes her crazy is not, strictly speaking, these crazy views. If Professor Awesome himself can defend the views — and I believe he can — then it is likely that they are not, strictly speaking, crazy views. What makes her crazy is that these views can’t readily be defended in any non-ideal way, which is what was primarily of concern to Kant. It’s not clear that O’Donnell is speaking of the ideal. She’s speaking of the non-ideal. Fact is, people get horny and people get bloodthirsty. Better to let the horny ones handle their drives in a productive way and to steer the bloodthirsty types away from the kids.