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Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Where Has the Moral Instinct Gone?

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

“How does it come about that we tend to judge the actions of others in terms of good and evil, just and unjust, when, very often, they do not directly concern us? How are we to explain the fact that our altruistic, benevolent, or generous actions are in no wise exceptional when our species is supposed to be composed of fundamentally selfish individuals, preoccupied above all with their own material well-being? Among the traditional answers to these questions, some refer to the impact of a social apprenticeship proceeding by means of rewards and punishments, and others to the existence of an ‘innate moral sense’ or of a ‘moral instinct.’” — Ruwen Ogien

This week our featured book is Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics, by Ruwen Ogien, translated by Martin Thom. Today, for the final day of the feature, we have excerpted a chapter in which Ogien discusses how advances in psychology have affected the idea of a human “moral instinct.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Frankenstein, Minister of Health

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

“We are still very far from understanding all the implications of the applications of biomedical technologies. We can envisage the possibility of their rendering certain preconceived ideas concerning human nature obsolete and modifying our conceptions of the good. But why should they affect our conceptions of justice and their exigencies, such as the equal access of all to desirable technical innovations?” — Ruwen Ogien

This week our featured book is Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics, by Ruwen Ogien, translated by Martin Thom. Today, we are featuring an excerpt from the book in which Ogien lays out some of the ethical difficulties created by the continuing advance of biomedical science.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

An Intellectual Toolbox

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

“The majority of philosophers will tell you that, if you are concerned with moral thought, you must begin by reading and rereading the great texts in the history of ideas, in order to have “firm foundations.” But it is not obvious that the best means of inviting readers to undertake ethical reflection is to give them the feeling that they can calmly rest upon the doctrines elaborated by the giants of thought.” — Ruwen Ogien

This week our featured book is Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics, by Ruwen Ogien, translated by Martin Thom. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Ruwen Ogien in which he explains what he hopes his book will provide to entrants into the study of ethics.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants!

An Intellectual Toolbox
By Ruwen Ogien

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants is a general introduction to ethics. But it has neither the pretension to instruct anyone how to live, nor the mission to teach the history of moral ideas from their origins to our own time, in chronological order. Its ambition is far more modest: to put at the disposal of those who might be interested a sort of intellectual toolbox enabling them to brave the moral debate without allowing themselves to be intimidated by the big words (“Dignity”, “Virtue”, “Duty”, etc.) and the grand declarations of principle (“You must never treat anyone simply as a means”, etc.). If these titles had not already become registered trademarks, I might have called it Anti-Manual of Ethics or Little Course of Intellectual Self-Defense Against Moralism.

The majority of philosophers will tell you that, if you are concerned with moral thought, you must begin by reading and rereading the great texts in the history of ideas, in order to have “firm foundations.” But it is not obvious that the best means of inviting readers to undertake ethical reflection is to give them the feeling that they can calmly rest upon the doctrines elaborated by the giants of thought. This is why it seems to me that it would be more logical for readers to be directly confronted with the difficulties of moral thought, by submitting to their perspicacity a certain number of problems, dilemmas and paradoxes, and by exposing them to the results of scientific studies that run counter to certain received ideas within the philosophical tradition. (more…)

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

What is the use of thought experiments?

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

“But thought experiments in ethics have nothing to do with thought experiments in physics! Their ultimate aim is not to help us to attain a better knowledge of reality, but to know if there are reasons to keep it as it is or to change it.” — Ruwen Ogien

This week our featured book is Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics, by Ruwen Ogien, translated by Martin Thom. To get the feature started, we have excerpted Ogien’s Introduction, in which he discusses the value of thought experiments to the study of what is moral and what is not, looks back at what is perhaps the most famous moral thought experiment, and gives a quick overview of three ways of conceiving of morality.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants!

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants, by Ruwen Ogien

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants is perhaps Ogien at his very best.The richness of this book is that Ogien endeavors to do philosophy from the reality of lived experiences rather than the kind of imaginary reflection that is so characteristic of much of philosophy.” — Laurence Thomas

This week our featured book is Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics, by Ruwen Ogien, translated by Martin Thom. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its subject, and its editors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 15th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 1st, 2015

David Foster Wallace on Hedonism

Freedom and the Self

“Although Wallace would laud value hedonists for sticking out their necks and saying that life should be about something, he nevertheless expresses deep worries about the role of pleasure in a good life.” — Nathan Ballantyne and Justin Tosi

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. In today’s post, the final post of the week’s feature, we’ve excerpted another section from Nathan Ballantyne and Justin Tosi’s essay, “David Foster Wallace on the Good Life.” In this section, Ballantyne and Tosi discuss DFW’s

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Freedom and the Self!

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: David Foster Wallace on Ironism

Freedom and the Self

“Wallace’s insight on irony is this: when worn as a mask, irony helps one cast a striking figure, but it is privately, personally destructive.” — Nathan Ballantyne and Justin Tosi

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. In the concluding essay in the collection, Nathan Ballantyne and Justin Tosi argue that David Foster Wallace’s “writings suggest a view about what philosophers would call the good life.” In today’s post (an intersection of this week’s feature and our weekly Thursday Fiction Corner), we’ve excerpted the section of Ballantyne and Tosi’s essay in which they discuss DFW’s conception of irony as a source of unhappiness in contemporary culture.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Freedom and the Self!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Read Steven Cahn and Maureen Eckert’s Introduction to Freedom and the Self

Freedom and the Self

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. Today, we are happy to present Cahn and Eckert’s Introduction, in which they explain their hopes for Freedom and the Self, and discuss the essays contained in the volume.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Freedom and the Self!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

David Foster Wallace as a Philosophy Student and a Philosopher

Freedom and the Self

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. Freedom and the Self follows up on Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will, our recent publication of David Foster Wallace’s critique of Richard Taylor’s philosophical work, with essays examining DFW’s philosophical views in more depth.

To set the stage for the week’s feature, today we are featuring the afterword from Fate, Time, and Language, written by Jay Garfield, a professor who worked with Wallace at Hampshire College, as well as a set of “Brief Interviews with Philosophy Students” in video form, explaining and delving into different aspects of Wallace’s work. Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Freedom and the Self!

David Foster Wallace as a Philosophy Student

Brief Interviews with Philosophy Students

On DFW the Philosopher:
(more…)

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace

Freedom and the Self

“In the last decade, Wallace scholarship has often confined itself to very narrow corridors, covering and re-covering excursions that have become increasingly familiar. This collection opens up a new wing of the critical mansion, building up not only our understanding of Wallace’s important early engagement with Taylor, but also pressing his investigations toward lively new dialogues with John McFarlane, David Lewis, Archilochus, Richard Rorty, and many others.” — Stephen J. Burn, University of Glasgow

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its subject, and its editors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Freedom and the Self. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 1st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Kimerer LaMothe on Why We Dance

Why We Dance

The following is an interview with Kimerer LaMothe, author of Why We Dance: A Philosophy of Bodily Becoming:

Why did you write this book?

Kimerer LaMothe: I love to dance, every day. It is vital for my wellbeing. And when I scan the landscape of human life, I see dance everywhere—in the earliest human art, the oldest forms of culture, and in every culture around the world into the present. Yet in the maps of and for human life that comprise the philosophy, theology, and religious studies of the modern west, dance occupies a surprisingly small space. Rarely do authors consider dancing as vital to human life, especially to a human’s religious life. I wanted to change that.

How did you decide to approach this problem?

KLL: Before beginning this book, I spent years delving into written works of the western canon, trying to identify the intellectual moves that make it nearly impossible for a given philosopher or theologian to affirm dance as a medium of religious experience and expression. I looked for exceptions. I looked for thinkers who were willing to consider dance as more than just a metaphor, or more than just a crude alternative to the “finer” arts or “higher,” more cerebral forms of religion.

The problem went deeper than I thought. The bias against dance in the western tradition is not simply evidence of a mind/body problem, a fear of sexuality, or a patriarchal devaluing of the feminine per se. Rather, the challenge for dance is rooted in the fact that that the tradition’s dominant structures and patterns of thinking express and reinforce the lived experience of people who have spent years training themselves to read and write. Much of western thought is an apology for the life of a book-bound mind.

While this trajectory of cultural development has enabled tremendous advances in numerous realms, it is less helpful when it comes to making sense of why humans always have and continue to dance.

In order to show how dance is vital to our humanity, I realized that I would have to retell the story of what it means to be a human being from the lived experience of dancing. I would have to tell a story in which bodily movement appears as the source and telos of human life.

Fortunately, across disciplines, researchers and scientists are discovering what many dancers have known and practiced for years: that bodily movement is essential to the biological, emotional, spiritual, and ecological development of human persons. Thus, when I set out to write this book, I had a lot of material on which to draw in making my case.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Newly Elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the Future Europe Deserves

What Does Europe Want?

“The experience of previous years leads to one conclusion: there is one morality in politics and another for economy. In the years since 1989, the morality of the economy has fully prevailed over the ethics of politics and democracy.” — Alexis Tsipras

Alexis Tsipras was just sworn in as Prime Minister of Greece, after his Syriza party and the Independent Greeks party came to an agreement resulting in a coalition government. The focus of Tsipras’s campaign was his pledge to oppose the austerity program imposed on Greece by European creditors. In “The Destruction of Greece as a Model for All of Europe: Is This the Future That Europe Deserves?,” his foreword to Slavoj Žižek and Srecko Horvat’s What Does Europe Want? which we have excerpted below, Tsipras explains his stance against austerity and looks to alternative visions of the future to provide hope for Greek citizens.

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

An interview with Daniel Yacavone, author of “Film Worlds”

Film Worlds

The following is an interview with Daniel Yacavone, author of Film Worlds: A Philosophical Aesthetics of Cinema:

Q: How would you situate Film Worlds within film theory and the expanding field of film and philosophy?

A: Over the past few decades there has been a notable turn towards philosophy in disciplinary film studies. One example is the influence of Gilles Deleuze’s writings on cinema (indebted to Henri Bergson and C.S. Peirce), which film theorists have found productive to engage with; another is the widespread interest in phenomenology – particularly Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s version of it – in relation to perceptual, affective, and ‘embodied’ aspects of films and film viewing. More or less simultaneously, within Anglophone academic philosophy there has been a renewed interest in how some films dramatize philosophical issues and problems, in the question of whether cinema can serve as a medium for philosophical thought and argument, and the relation between films and their experience and issues in the philosophy of perception, cognition, and emotion (as overlapping with cognitive film theory).

In relation to all of the above it is important to distinguish between philosophy in film and the philosophy of film. My interests have been mainly in the latter, and it is here that the long and fascinating tradition of aesthetics and the philosophy of art can be fruitfully brought to bear on certain topics in modern and contemporary film theory. Curiously, in the midst of the aforementioned philosophical turn in film theory and the growing ‘film-philosophy’ movement this is a tradition that many theorists and philosophers alike have tended to bypass, even when discussing cinematic representation, expression, authorship, and other issues that it may illuminate (there are of course notable exceptions). In its exploration of the world-like nature of films and their experience, Film Worlds attempts to show the continued relevance of insights drawn from general aesthetics and the philosophy of art to cinema and to contemporary film theory and the philosophy of film. (more…)

Friday, January 9th, 2015

The Evolution of Signals

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s post, the final post of the book’s feature, we have an excerpt from the third chapter of The Domestication of Language, in which Cloud looks at different accounts of how meaning and language conventions remain stable in human communities over time, and wonders why more animals don’t have similarly complex communication systems.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

But if I try to explain it…

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s post, Daniel Cloud explains how the meanings of words in ordinary language come about, and why it’s worth paying attention to the ordinary, everyday meanings of words.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

But if I try to explain it…
By Daniel Cloud

“What, then, is time?” Saint Augustine asks in the Confessions. “If no one asks me, I know, but if I try to explain it, I don’t know.” It’s a keen observation, because we’ve all had this experience. Still, it’s a rather peculiar state of affairs that’s being described. Did Augustine know what time is, or didn’t he? If he did know, why couldn’t he say what it is? If he didn’t, how could he go around using the word?

But the oddest thing of all is that Augustine then does go on to produce a philosophical analysis of his own concept of time that’s incredibly revealing, one that has been very influential ever since. If he knew all that just by knowing the meaning of the word, why couldn’t he say it in the beginning, why did he have to do so much work to know what he’d meant by the word all along? How can this procedure, the careful analysis of our own culturally acquired notions about the meaning of some word in ordinary language, possibly produce knowledge about the real universe, about a physical thing like time?

And yet… the process of lifting ourselves by our own bootstraps had to start somewhere. Historically, it really does look as if the philosophical analysis of ordinary language and ordinary ideas about time and space and causation and chance and knowledge and logic and evidence has played a role. It really looks as if Empedocles and Plato and Aristotle made some sort of contribution to making the existence of Euclid and Ptolemy and Newton and Darwin possible, though it’s very unclear what that contribution was. (more…)

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Two interviews with Daniel Cloud on “The Domestication of Language”

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we are happy to present two podcast interviews with Daniel Cloud, one from the New Books In network and one from the Smart People Podcast.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

First, Cloud spoke with the New Books in Big Ideas podcast about the puzzles raised by looking at prehistoric linguistics through an evolutionary eye, in particular: “why is human language and culture so astoundingly complex?” (more…)

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Humans Aren’t Influenced by Culture–We Create It

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we have excerpted parts of “Humans Aren’t Influenced by Culture–We Create It,” an interview with Daniel Cloud that appeared in Quartz. You can read the interview in its entirety here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

Quartz: The first chapter of your book discusses the origin of words. If we were to ask the average person, “Where do words come from?” what do you think would be the most common answer?

Daniel Cloud: They’ll think about it carefully for a minute or two and they’ll report out some version of behaviorism. They’ll say, “Well, there must have been two monkeys sitting around, one of the monkeys made a noise every time it did some action, other monkeys came to associate that noise with the action, and then we went on from there.” I think that’s the cultural myth about this. That’s the image of the origin of language that’s been dominant since the Greeks.

Quartz: So according to this idea, the development of language is completely out of our control.

Cloud: Well, that’s one thing that’s wrong with it. It’s not faithful to psychological reality or everyday life. I guess I would call it science fiction. It’s a theory about some events that happened in the distant past, which nobody ever observed, but that seem plausible. Things like that are inevitably just some old bit of philosophy that somebody dredged up. (more…)

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud

The Domestication of Language

“A superbly original book and an exciting piece of philosophy. Cloud builds a serious account of the evolution of language that recognizes the long and complex process that links the prior state (nothing like language at all) to the end state (language of the kinds now in existence) and that responds to the points of greatest difficulty in that process.” — Philip Kitcher

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Domestication of Language. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, January 9th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Evan Thompson’s Waking, Dreaming, Being reviewed in the New York Times

Waking, Dreaming, Being

In today’s post, we are happy to present excerpts from astrophysicist Adam Frank’s recent New York Times book review of Evan Thompson’s excellent new comprehensive look at cognitive science, Buddhism, and the self, Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy:

In the endless public wars between science and religion, Buddhism has mostly been given a pass. The genesis of this cultural tolerance began with the idea, popular in the 1970s, that Buddhism was somehow in harmony with the frontiers of quantum physics. While the silliness of “quantum spirituality” is apparent enough these days, the possibility that Eastern traditions might have something to say to science did not disappear. Instead, a more natural locus for that encounter was found in the study of the mind. Spurred by the Dalai Lama’s remarkable engagement with scientists, interest in Buddhist attitudes toward the study of the mind has grown steadily.

But within the Dalai Lama’s cheerful embrace lies a quandary whose resolution could shake either tradition to its core: the true relationship between our material brains and our decidedly nonmaterial minds. More than evolution, more than inexhaustible arguments over God’s existence, the real fault line between science and religion runs through the nature of consciousness. Carefully unpacking that contentious question, and exploring what Buddhism offers its investigation, is the subject of Evan Thompson’s new book, “Waking, Dreaming, Being.” (more…)

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Video: Slavoj Žižek and Srecko Horvat on What Europe Wants

The following is a public debate from earlier this year between Slavoj Žižek and Srecko Horvat that considers the issues raised in their just-published book What Does Europe Want?: The Union and Its Discontents

In the book, Žižek and Srecko Horvat argue that instead of being a peace-project, the European Union is increasingly turning into a warzone: whether it be the expulsion of immigrants or riots in Paris and London, or European interventions to bring “more democracy” to Libya or Syria. But instead of leaving Europe to the enemies, Žižek and Horvat reflect on the fight for a different Idea of Europe.

For more on the book you can also read the chapter “Breaking Our Eggs Without the Omlette, From Cyprus to Greece,” by Slavoj Žižek: