I just finished listening to the most recent Very Bad Wizards podcast (“Tumors All the Way Down”). Sam Harris was the guest, and the three talked about free will, determinism, reactive attitudes, and such.
Michelle Alexander has an Op-Ed in the New York Times, asking the questions: “What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?”
Well, of course we could. But here's the thing: In many cases, you couldn't even convince co-defendants to refuse a plea and go trial — and wouldn't want to. (Has Alexander ever heard of the Prisoner's dilemma?)
So good luck with that.
Next week, the Times will feature Peter Singer on "What would happen if we gave everyone a pony?"
The editors begin with a common bugbear: "These days, the question of how to live a meaningful life seems to have been banished from philosophy departments." Colin McGinn (quoted by Leiter) teases out the thought: "The general message [of the piece] was that philosophy used to be about the meaning of life (good) but now it's about the meaning of language (bad)."
There are a lot of good comments in the thread to Leiter's post in response to this supposed problem. David Velleman's methodological and historical points are very apt, for example. But Charlie Huenemann delivers the riposte I wish I'd thought of:
Physics used to be about understanding nature. But now, if you read the journals, it's just about a bunch of math.
Adam Frank offers up some standard-issue NOMAic tripe tropes about how in fact there is no tension between science and religion, in particular because religion actually has nothing to do with knowing. Good to know.
Anyway, he says, "Spirituality, at its best, points us away from easy codifications when it shows us how to immerse ourselves in the simple, inescapable act of being."
Well, if it's simple and inescapable, why would we need to be shown how? Why would we have to immerse ourselves?
I know, I know - these claims aren't about knowledge. They're about, well, they're about...
"Coherence-based reasoning posits that the mind shuns cognitively complex and difficult decision tasks by reconstructing them into easy ones, yielding strong, confident conclusions." Dan Simon, "A Third View of the Black Box: Cognitive Coherence in Legal Decision Making," 71 U. Chi. L. Rev. 511, 513 (2004); see alsoBertrand Russell.
Shorter John Cottingham: Would that all atheists had the humility to realize that the only thing that can save all of humankind from its moral inventions are the religious doctrines I prefer to believe in.
Ron Rosenbaum makes it clear by his third sentence here that he simply does not know anything about his chosen subject matter:
[Agnosticism] is radical skepticism, doubt in the possibility of certainty, opposition to the unwarranted certainties that atheism and theism offer.
I count three incorrect definitional statements and one false presupposition - four errors, in a mere 20 words. And all stated with a self-certitude that, given Rosenbaum's overarching thesis, should count as a fifth. Impressive.
According to this New York Times piece, a meta-analysis by Sara Konrath purports to find that "college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago, with the numbers plunging primarily after 2000." This claim somewhat dovetails with previous studies that supposedly document "an increasing narcissism among college students since the late 1980s."
Conceding the point that kids today are just awful people, I still think we really should try a little harder to see things from their point of view. (We're the ones with all the empathy, after all.)
Anyway, the article ends by noting the practical implications of this "rapid deterioration" (Bruce Perry, quoted in the article) in empathy: "Low empathy is associated with criminal behavior, violence, sexual offenses, aggression when drunk and other antisocial behaviors."
Thing is, after the late 1980s, the rate of violent crime began to decline.
Must be that lacking empathy takes all the fun out of being cruel.
References are from "Galen Strawson: 5 Questions on Mind and Consciousness," in Mind and Consciousness: 5 Questions, Grim, P. (Ed.), Automatic Press/VIP (2009).
Galen Strawson makes the following argument:
Real materialism incorporates real realism about experience. It accepts that all mental goings on, including crucially all experiential goings on, are wholly physical goings on, but doesn't take it to follow, reductively, that there must somehow be less to experience than we thought.... Rather, it concludes that there must be more to matter than we thought.... (194-95)
Strawson makes it clear that when he speaks of there being "more to matter," he means that
any genuinely naturalistic, parsimonious, plausible and indeed 'hard-nosed' materialist position [must] take seriously the possibility that panpsychism or equivalently panexperientialism--the view that everything has mental or experiential being, whatever other being it has--may be true.... (197)
It's pretty obvious, though, that this argument doesn't work for your garden variety "real" phenomenon. Take the weather, which seems "real" enough:
Real materialism incorporates real realism about the weather. It accepts all meteorological phenomena, but it doesn't follow that there must be somehow less to weather than we thought. Rather, it follows that there must be more to matter than we thought. Any genuinely naturalistic materialist position must take seriously the possibility that panmeteorism may be true.
Clearly, that argument is a non sequitur, and a rather spectacular one. So why does the analogous argument for panspychism get a free pass?
A typical response would be to say that weather is clearly a physical phenomenon, whereas phenomenal consciousness isn't, so you can't compare the two. But that response simply denies Strawson's premise that consciousness is a "material" phenomenon. Besides which, even on its own terms, the response is worse than irrelevant: the fact that weather is a stipulatively material phenomenon makes it only that much more suitable than consciousness as a premise in an argument about the nature of the material world.
Of course, most people intuitively just feel like they can understand the multiple levels of physical explanation that bridge the fundamental objects of physics to the macro-level phenomena we call "weather," whereas they feel like there can be no way to build that bridge in the case of consciousness. I don't think that feeling is right. (For one thing, we probably don't even really understand the fundamental objects of physics themselves; and to the extent that we do "understand" them, we probably understand consciousness too.) But even if we assume the explanatory asymmetry is true, the move from this felt explanatory gap to the conclusion that matter must have a mental aspect is an utterly vacuous move of the sort famously lampooned by Molière centuries ago. Worse than illegitimate, it is by now just embarrassing.
Christopher Edley thinks he’s one of your “betters.”  According to Edley, rubes like us should want our “betters” in
important posts, like the post in which Kagan will serve:
The tension between elitism and populism is embedded in our national
DNA because America rejected the model of a monarch ruling by divine
right in favor of an iffy experiment in democratic self-governance. So now you are responsible for choosing your leader. Do you want someone like you or someone better than you?
an astonishing framework! But so it goes when people like Edley spends
decades inside institutions like Harvard, convincing themselves that
they and their peers are “better” than all the rest of us rubes.
Not fair. What Edley meant, of course, was merely to ask whether in choosing your leader you would want someone better than Yoo.