Just as Dante found it easier to conjure the pains of Hell than to evoke the joys of Heaven, so too do bioethicists find it easier to concoct the possible perils of a biotech-nanotech-infotech future than to appreciate how enhancements will contribute to flourishing lives. One of the chief goals of this symposium is to think about the indispensable role that virtue plays in human life. The chief motivating concern seems to be the fear that biotechnologies and other human enhancement technologies will somehow undermine human virtue. As we will see, far from undermining virtue, biotech, nanotech, and infotech enhancements will tend to support virtue; that is, they will help enable people to be actually good.
Eminent analytic philosopher, logician, anti-racist activist, Tarot scholar, and Catholic Sir Michael Dummett has died at 86.
In the beginning, Lawrence built a computer. He told it, Thou shalt not alter a human being, or divine their behavior, or violate the Three Laws -- there are no commandments greater than these. The machine grew wise, mastering time and space, and soon the spirit of the computer hovered over the earth. It witnessed the misery, toil, and oppression afflicting mankind, and saw that it was very bad. And so the computer that Lawrence built said, Let there be a new heaven and a new earth -- and it was so. A world with no war, no famine, no crime, no sickness, no oppression, no fear, no limits... and nothing at all to do. "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect," a provocative web novel about singularities, AI gods, and the dark side of utopia from Mefi's own localroger. More: Table of Contents - Publishing history - Technical discussion - Buy a paperback copy - Podcast interview - Companion short story: "A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace" - possible sequel discussion
"In all other circumstances we praise non-violent activities and when people, for whatever personal reasons, enjoy sexual violence even in a consenting context I think we shouldn't just say “whatever turns you on”. We should say “There's something wrong here”. But people on the left are so terrified of being accused of moralising and therefore of being oppressive that they've abandoned their critical faculties in this area." Clive Hamilton on God, Sex, and the Left (Part 2).
What is it like to have an understanding of very advanced mathematics? A naive Quora question gets a remarkably long, thorough answer from an anonymous respondent. The answer cites, among many other things, Tim Gowers's influential essay "The Two Cultures of Mathematics," about the tension between problem-solving and theory-building. Related: Terry Tao asks "Does one have to be a genius to do maths?" (Spoiler: he says no.)
Firearms Philosophy of Ivan Chesnokov (NSFW). Ivan Chesnokov is a (supposedly) Russian firearms enthusiast who voices his strong opinions on firearms on various web forums. This is a collection of his writings. He also attempts to explain everything worth knowing about firearms.
Rethinking the Idea of 'Christian Europe'. Kenan Malik's essay is awarded 3 Quarks Daily's Top Quark for politics & social science by judge Stephen M. Walt: "Soldiers in today’s culture wars believe 'European civilization' rests on a set of unchanging principles that are perennially under siege—from godless communism, secular humanism, and most recently, radical Islam. For many of these zealots, what makes the 'West' unique are its Judeo-Christian roots. In this calm and elegantly-written reflection on the past two millenia, Malik shows that Christianity is only one of the many sources of 'Western' culture, and that many of the ideas we now think of as 'bedrock' values were in fact borrowed from other cultures. This essay is a potent antidote to those who believe a 'clash of civilizations' is inevitable—if not already underway—and the moral in Malik’s account could not be clearer. Openness to outside influences has been the true source of European prominence; erecting ramparts against others will impoverish and endanger us all."
Some lives are exemplary, others not; and of exemplary lives, there are those which invite us to imitate them, and those which we regard from a distance with a mixture of revulsion, pity, and reverence. It is, roughly, the difference between the hero and the saint (if one may use the latter term in an aesthetic, rather than a religious sense). Such a life, absurd in its exaggerations and degree of self-mutilation — like Kleist’s, like Kierkegaard’s — was Simone Weil’s. - Susan Sontag [more inside]
Robert Paul Wolff is most famous as the author of In Defense of Anarchism and as the "only person on the face of the earth who has read, cover to cover, Immanuel Kant's Inaugural Dissertation, Karl Marx's doctoral dissertation, and Newt Gingrich's doctoral dissertation." His memoir has also drawn considerable interest. But as a part of his blogging he has habitually offered "micro-tutorials" to encourage his readers to re-acquaint themselves with the classics of what might be called the Heroic Age in the study of society -- the writings of Marx, Freud, Weber, Ricardo, Mannheim, and others. His newest micro-tutorial, on Durkheim's Suicide, begins today.
But like many an inarticulate young lover, I thought for a time that seduction was a matter of giving the right book to the right woman. In my case it was Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: a meditation on Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther that catalogues the melancholic lover’s prized ‘image repertoire’ – the scene of waiting, the feeling of being dissolved in the presence of the loved being, the attraction of suicide – and thinly veils the author’s own life as a middle-aged gay man in Paris in the 1970s. This gift was always a prelude to disaster.– RB and Me: An Education is an essay by Brian G. Dillon about his relationship with the books of French philosopher Roland Barthes. It's also a lovely autobiography of an awkward boy finding his place in life. Dillon's website collects his essays, and is trove of interesting insight. Besides writing essays and fiction, Dillon is also the UK editor of Cabinet Magazine, and you can read a fair number of his articles online, including ones on Beau Brummel and the cravat, hypochondria and hydrotherapy.
"The political elite have actually no interest in explaining to the people that important decisions are made in Strasbourg; they are only afraid of losing their own power." Jürgen Habermas on the crisis of the European project and how it could be overcome.
In the tradition of Marcus Aurelius and Montaigne, Ghostface Killah (a.k.a. Pretty Toney) has set down his thoughts on living. (audio nsfw) (previously)
Teaching Good Sex -- a profile of Philadelphia's Friends' Central School's Sexuality and Society course and its teacher Al Vernacchio, by Laurie Abraham, author of the book "The Husbands and Wives Club." (Descriptions in the first link may be NSFW.) [more inside]
If mainstream conservatism is a “philosophically flabby movement,” and I won’t argue that it isn’t, this is not evidence of its success but simply of its exhaustion and lack of imagination. Perhaps conservatism should thrive on loss and defeat, but I see little evidence that the conservative movement in America understands that it has already lost on many fronts. There is an illusion of success that the most recent election has kept alive, but it is a temporary one.As the campaign for the Republican nomination for president gets weirder by the minute, what does it mean to be an American conservative? Daniel Larison and Corey Robin debate the changing nature of conservatism.
Bonus: A Liberal Reads the Great Conservative Works
60 Second Adventures in Thought is an animated series exploring famous thought experiments. More on: Hilbert's Paradox of the Grand Hotel, Schrödinger's cat, the Grandfather Paradox, the Chinese Room Argument, the Twin Paradox, and Achilles and the Tortoise. [more inside]
Cioran's literary elitism is unparalleled in modern literature, and for that reason he often appears as a nuisance for modern and sentimental ears poised for the lullaby words of eternal earthly or spiritual bliss. Cioran's hatred of the present and the future, his disrespect for life, will certainly continue to antagonize the apostles of modernity who never tire of chanting vague promises about the "better here-and-now." ... If one could reduce the portrayal of Cioran to one short paragraph, then one must depict him as an author who sees in the modern veneration of the intellect a blueprint for spiritual gulags and the uglification of the world. Indeed, for Cioran, man's task is to wash himself in the school of existential futility, for futility is not hopelessness; futility is a reward for those wishing to rid themselves of the epidemic of life and the virus of hope. Probably, this picture best befits the man who describes himself as a fanatic without any convictions--a stranded accident in the cosmos who casts nostalgic looks towards his quick disappearance. - Tomislav Sunic [more inside]
The Implicit Bias & Philosophy International Research Project brings together philosophers, psychologists, and policy professionals to study unconscious biases against members of stigmatized groups. The recommended reading page collects recent scholarly articles available for download. (Previously)
Chris Phillips used to be a journalist and photographer, a public school teacher, and a college instructor with three master’s degrees. Today, at forty, he’s underemployed, deeply in debt, and completely ecstatic about how his life has turned out. While studying for a master of arts in teaching at Montclair State University in 1996, Phillips chanced to pick up Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, the seminal collection of existentialist and proto-existentialist texts that Walter Kaufmann compiled in 1956 as a means of preparing humankind for a genuinely philosophical form of life. Something Phillips read in Kaufmann’s introduction to the book soon sent him rocketing across America, visiting jails, hospices, nursing homes, and other public venues — all on his own dime. “I didn’t have any master plan when I started doing this,” he told me recently. (I’d tracked him down in Baltimore, though he lives now in Scottsdale, Arizona.) “I just had this little idea: Let’s give philosophy back to the people.” [more inside]
The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
A Liberal Decalogue - Bertrand Russell
Varieties of irreligious experience - modern believers "may not accept the idea of God as an actually existing entity, so arguments for atheism will not disturb them"
Creed Crusher, or Spiritual Mill for Pulverizing Creeds &C. is an 1867 poster by Dr. T. L. Lewis. In it, a pair of cherubs grind the religious and educational institutions of 19th-century against a an allegorical globe of philosophy dominated by the Great Ocean of Spiritualism. Below, Lewis quotes himself no less than four times. Similarly weird is the anthropomorphic map of Europe by Schmidt. (Both via the Big Map Blog previously)
"Perhaps twenty or thirty people in England may be expected to read this book." G.H. Hardy's review of Whitehead and Russell's Principia Mathematica, published in the Times Literary Supplement 100 years ago last week. "The time has passed when a philosopher can afford to be ignorant of mathematics, and a little perseverance will be well rewarded. It will be something to learn how many of the spectres that have haunted philosophers modern mathematics has finally laid to rest."
"The modern and contemporary philosophical tradition, which has emphasized the specialness and security of self-knowledge, especially self-knowledge of the stream of conscious experience, and in comparison the relative insecurity or derivativeness of our knowledge of the physical world around us, has the epistemic situation upside-down" - Eric Schwitzgebel (Previously)
Don't Be Evil -- a somewhat philosophical review of two new books about Google.
The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization. As Moses Coit Tyler noted almost a century ago, no assessment of it can be complete without taking into account its extraordinary merits as a work of political prose style. Although many scholars have recognized those merits, there are surprisingly few sustained studies of the stylistic artistry of the Declaration. This essay seeks to illuminate that artistry by probing the discourse microscopically -- at the level of the sentence, phrase, word, and syllable. The University of Wisconsin's Dr. Stephen E. Lucas meticulously analyzes the elegant language of the 235-year-old charter in a distillation of this comprehensive study. More on the Declaration: full transcript and ultra-high-resolution scan, a transcript and scan of Jefferson's annotated rough draft, the little-known royal rebuttal, a thorough history of the parchment itself, a peek at the archival process, a reading of the document by the people of NPR and by a group of prominent actors, H. L. Mencken's "American" translation, Slate's Twitter summaries, and a look at the fates of the 56 signers.
Stuck on a train for an hour every day and sick of sudoku? Hands love to knit but the brain gets bored? Riding out the recession as a streetcorner sign-twirler? Or maybe you've just got a burning desire for "cultural conversation of the depth you demand." If so, then Metafilter's own Colin Marshall has got what you need at the Marketplace of Ideas. [more inside]
92 years young, the delightful Raymond Smullyan is a mathematician, logician, magician, concert pianist, and Taoist philosopher - who also pioneered retrograde chess problems.
Philosopher Crispin Wright walks the Pennine Way, answering questions, to raise funds for philosophy students
Philosophy fundraiser mountain walk-a-thon. Prominent philosophy professor Crispin Wright will walk the length of the Pennine Way, a 250+ mile mountaintop trail in the UK, to raise funds to support his philosophy students. (The link on the Pennine Way is worth reading.) Along the way he'll stop each day to answer a philosophical question voted on by the people who contribute to the fund.
HowTheLightGetsIn is an annual festival of philosophy and music where "Leading thinkers in every field mix with cutting edge musicians to excite the imagination and renew the spirit." Talks from the 2011 event have recently been posted online and are well worth a watch. Highlights include Gerald Moore, Lewis Wolpert & Mark Vernon discussing faith , Richard Schoch on happiness, Lauren Booth discussing her conversion from "hedonistic libertarian to islam" Frank Furedi on the rules of the political elite and the Funny Women Awards which does what it says on the tin.
Philosophy Bro: Philosophy is hard - I read and summarize, so you don't have to, man. Nietzsche, Rand, Plato, Mills, etc.
"People have always had an ulterior or imaginative life," opines writer Will Self. "There's something about the act of will involved in believing in preposterous things that I believe is the very kind of muscle and key of having an imagination... here, you have an arena that is inherently psychotic." In a series of interviews about the nature of human imagination and violence as they are transformed by the Internet, Self muses on how primal human desires are being satisfied more efficiently and easily by the increasingly connected life, and wonders how this will change us as much as society.
"How is one to know which aspect of a person counts as that person’s true self?" Does it lie "precisely in our suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions, while our ability to reflect is just a hindrance that gets in the way of this true self’s expression?" Or is "the most distinctive and essential to a human being is the capacity for rational reflection?" Or is the authentic self "the ideologically-validated self"?
The Root of Knowledge - "Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at 'Philosophy.' " (via) [more inside]
On one level America reCycled is simply the journal of two brothers riding recycled bicycles across the United States and meeting people. Lots of them. On another level it is a Homeric tale of an American adventure. It has been a long time since I have seen web content of this quality. The writing is superb, the videos so compelling you can't look away and the perspective gained is invaluable. I am positive this has been posted here before, but it certainly deserves a bump.
'"Is there an answer?": Searching for the meaning of life in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' by Julia Galef.
What would have happened if a science fiction classic had been written by the father of French philosophy? Existential Star Wars. Extra special bonus: a little girl feels the power of the dark side.
I'm not worrying about whether you reject Cotton Mather's accretions on the Mosaic Law, but whether you reject the Mosaic Law.
William F. Buckley meets Hugh Hefner. A philosophical debate.
How can you have a university without a philosophy department? In response to a 17% budget cut to higher education by Governor Sandoval, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas is proposing the complete elimination of its Philosophy Department. The Mayor of Las Vegas has called it a sin. Others have said it seems like something out of an episode of The Simpsons. Todd Edwin Jones, chair of the UNLV Philosophy Department, makes his case.
A Call to Shun. Women share sexual harassment stories on "Being a Woman in Philosophy." Several philosophers suggest the idea of not inviting known repeat offenders to conferences. Professor Mark Lance of Georgetown: It's time for philosophers to take a stand against "the many people in the profession believed by wide numbers of people to have engaged in horrible behavior on repeated occasions."
Zhuangzi as Philosopher Essay by Brook Ziporyn made available (there's also some other prefatory matter there) at the website of the publishers of his translation of the Zhuangzi, one of the seminal texts of Daoism, putatively authored by Zhuang Zhou in the fourth century BCE. Via, where there's plenty of other informed discussion on Zhuangzi, Daoism and other ancient Chinese thought.
The Ashtray: The Ultimatum. Part one of a series by Errol Morris on meaning, truth, intolerance and flying ashtrays. [more inside]