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Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Be Good and Enjoy

Happiness and Goodness

“Whether one decides, in essence, to be a beaver like Pat or a bear like Lee is a personal choice. After all, a life devoted to simple pursuits may yield as much satisfaction as one given to complex undertakings. That insight doesn’t imply that arduous tasks are to be avoided, only that those who engage in them may not live better than those who don’t.” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In this final post of the week’s feature, we have an excerpt from the concluding chapter of the book, “Concluding Questions.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

Be Good and Enjoy

Let us now return to the two fictional cases with which our discussion began: Pat and Lee. Pat, you may recall, is a successful philosopher who is happily married and enjoys playing bridge and the cello. Lee did not attend college, is single and financially independent, makes philanthropic gifts, and enjoys sunbathing, swimming, and surfing, along with freely spending money on a variety of luxurious items, including homes, cars, and golfing holidays. Both treat others with respect and are satisfied with their lives.

Here are the questions we asked about Pat and Lee: Are both living well? Are both pursuing equally successful lives? Is either life wasted? We can answer now that both are living well, both are finding equal success in living, and the life of neither is wasted. We might admire one more than the other, but such a judgment would reflect our own preferences or purposes and not serve as an appropriate basis for determining whose life is well-lived.

We recognize, however, that others may not agree with us. Hence we shall raise and respond to their most likely questions.

First, do we claim that Pat and Lee are contributing equally to the welfare of society? No. Pat’s teaching, research, and service are unmatched by any activity of Lee, although Lee’s contributing money for worthy causes should be applauded. Thus if the question to be answered is which of the two is a more valuable member of society, the probable answer is Pat. The question, however, is not whose life is more useful to others but whose life is going better, viewing happiness from the perspective of the person being assessed. Because both individuals are acting morally and finding satisfaction, both lives are going well. (more…)

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Religion and Morality

Happiness and Goodness

“The lesson here is that might does not make right, even if the might is the infinite might of God. To act morally is not to act out of fear of punishment, nor to act as one is commanded. Rather, it is to act as one ought to act, and how one ought to act is not dependent on anyone’s power, even if the power be divine.” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have excerpted two chapters from Happiness and Goodness: “God and Morality” and “Heaven and Hell.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Robert Talisse’s Foreword to “Happiness and Goodness”

Happiness and Goodness

“[Cahn and Vitrano's] critical maneuvers often cut deeply, and their positive view is a formidable one. Their central thesis can be put succinctly: Morality is not necessary for happiness. The immoral person might be a completely happy person, and the moral saint might nonetheless be absolutely miserable.” — Robert Talisse

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have excerpted Talisse’s foreword, in which he discusses the value of Cahn and Vitrano’s project, and engages with the literature of happiness and morality.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Wasted Lives?

Happiness and Goodness

“[Most philosophers] maintain that certain activities are more worthy than others, so lives spent engaged in those more worthy activities are more worthy lives. But which activities have more worth and which less? And on what bases should we decide such matters?” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have an excerpt from the second chapter of the book, “Wasted Lives.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

Wasted Lives

In [Ronald] Dworkin’s posthumously published Religion Without God, he argues that an atheist can be religious. While this claim would come as no surprise to adherents of Jainism, Theravada Buddhism, or Mimamsa Hinduism, he has in mind not these Asian religious traditions but a viewpoint common to many Western thinkers who deny theism yet recognize “nature’s intrinsic beauty” and the “inescapable responsibility” of people to “live their lives well.” Dworkin considers such an outlook religious.

Leaving aside his curious line of thought that finds support for religious belief in such disparate phenomena as the Grand Canyon, prowling jaguars, and the discovery by physicists of the Higgs boson, let us concentrate on his view that we should all seek to live well so as to achieve “successful” lives and avoid “wasted” ones.

Does one model fit all? On this important point Dworkin wavers. He maintains that “there is, independently and objectively, a right way to live.” Yet he also recognizes “a responsibility of each person to decide for himself ethical questions about which kinds of lives are appropriate and which would be degrading for him.”

What sort of life did Dworkin himself find degrading? We are not told but suspect that for such a successful academic, a “degrading life” might have been one without intellectual striving, just as a famed athlete might find degrading life as a couch potato.

But of all possible lives, which are well-lived? To help answer this question, consider the following two fictional, though realistic, cases. (more…)

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Book Giveaway! Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well

Happiness and Goodness

“I can’t remember the last time I read a book about ethics that was so fascinating.” — Ed Lake, Deputy Editor, Aeon

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. 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 Excellent Beauty. 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, June 26th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, June 12th, 2015

The Personal Mystery and the Impersonal God

Excellent Beauty

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. In the final post of the week’s feature, we have excerpted the twelfth chapter of Excellent Beauty: “The Personal Mystery and the Impersonal God.”

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of the book in our book giveaway!

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

The Beauty of Seeing More Than We Can Understand

Excellent Beauty

“Religions are completely natural illusions. All their alleged depth and mystery are chimerical. We can finally set them aside as sources of mysteries not worth taking seriously. We are now free to embrace the real mysteries, the ones worth taking seriously, the ones science reveals, the ones that have excellent beauty.” — Eric Dietrich

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the eleventh chapter of Excellent Beauty, in which Dietrich explains why “[t]he most exciting phrase to hear in science … is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny….”

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of the book in our book giveaway!

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

On the Mystery of Consciousness

Excellent Beauty

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. In today’s excerpt, Dietrich introduces and discusses the hard problem of consciousness.

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of the book in our book giveaway!

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Everyone Loves a Good — Temporary — Mystery, Pt. 2

Excellent Beauty

“Over the years, I’ve talk to many psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers about consciousness, and almost none of them think that consciousness is beyond explaining, none regard it as an enduring mystery. Pressed for why they should think such a thing in the face of our abject ignorance, they shrug and fall back on what is clearly faith—faith that our science will be one day explain everything.” — Eric Dietrich

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. In today’s post, Dietrich discusses the continuing existence of “excellent beauties” (currently unsolved and possibly unsolvable mysteries).

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of the book in our book giveaway!

Everyone Loves a Good — Temporary — Mystery, Pt. 2
By Eric Dietrich

In yesterday’s post, we saw what happens when science confronts religion, now we will what happens when science confronts the cosmos.

The grandest example of an excellent beauty is consciousness. I don’t mean anything unusual or strange by the word “consciousness”. Consciousness—or being conscious—is the most ordinary thing in your life . . . so ordinary, you rarely note it or think of it. Consciousness is the way the world seems to you, the way you experience it, feel it. Taste an apple, see a sunset, smell a rose or an angry skunk, stub your toe on the foot of the bed frame at 4:00 am, hear your dog breathe or a baby gurgle and coo. Introspect and consider your belief that there are an infinite number of numbers. These are all conscious experiences. We have experiences because we are conscious. Or, rather, our having them constitutes our being conscious. Being conscious is what makes it fun or horrible or merely boring to be a human (or anything else that is conscious). Using a phrase that the philosopher Thomas Nagel made famous (apparently only among philosophers), we can say that a being is conscious when there is something it is like to be that being. (See Nagel’s oft-cited paper, “What is it like to be a bat?”).

Consciousness has so thoroughly eluded scientific explanation that we have no idea what an explanatory theory of consciousness would even look like. This runs deep. Given an explanatory theory of conscious by, say, friendly, advanced, visiting space aliens, we couldn’t even begin to tell if it was correct or not. Consciousness somehow exists only inside our minds (not, note, inside our brains), while science can only tackle what is on the outside, what is public and measurable. But why should this be the case? Why should there be anything it is like to be a dog or an octopus or a lobster? Why should there be “insides” to our minds, beyond the reach of public, measuring science? A famous quote (apparently only among consciousness researchers) by Stuart Sutherland is apropos here: “Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon; it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it,” (from the International Dictionary of Psychology).

The denialism here is thick. Over the years, I’ve talk to many psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers about consciousness, and almost none of them think that consciousness is beyond explaining, none regard it as an enduring mystery. Pressed for why they should think such a thing in the face of our abject ignorance, they shrug and fall back on what is clearly faith—faith that our science will be one day explain everything.

Here, briefly, and minus explanations, is a short list of other excellent beauties. We begin with the most well-known: Basically all of quantum mechanics. Next, the infinity of numbers comes in sizes—that’s right: some infinities are bigger than others, by rather a lot, it turns out. No one knows why, yet the proof for this fact is relatively easy to follow. Logic contains some of the strangest mysteries. First, classical logic is completely unable to represent its fundamental notion, the inference from one sentence to another, say from “X is a prime number bigger than 2”, to “X is an odd number.” Second, there exist logics that allow some statements to be both true and false at the same time. More shockingly, some philosophers argue that such “true contradictions” are required to correctly describe completely ordinary things like walking into a room or blinking your eyes. Thirdly, any logical system that contains numbers and operations like addition produces truths that are obviously true, but which cannot be proven; here truth extends beyond proof. There are more logic mysteries, but let’s move on.

Here is a mystery involving something more ordinary: Did you know that there is a very old, currently undecipherable text complete with detailed colored drawings sitting in Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library? The author, purpose, and meaning of the text are unknown. Attempts to decode it or translate it defy all modern techniques used by linguists and cryptologists (going clear back to World War I). It’s called the Voynich Manuscript. Most scholars believe it was written sometime in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, but no one is sure (recent carbon-14 dating does put the date of the vellum in the fifteenth century). The language the manuscript is written in, if indeed it is a language, is completely baffling. Detailed statistical analysis of the symbols making up the manuscript, however, leads most scholars to believe that it is in fact written in some language, just not one used by any known culture or people. Here’s a final example. Recently it has been discovered that science itself, in its quest to find and explain all that can be found and explained, produces paradoxes that completely undo all the assumptions science has to make to be science. Science, it turns out, must assume what it wants to prove. (All the references to the above mysteries can be found in Excellent Beauty, except the last one; that one can be found in the paper “Science generates limit paradoxes.”)

What does the existence of enduring mysteries, of excellent beauties, mean? We have seen that in a sense, religion and science are co-conspirators—they conspire to create a world that is flatly natural. The supernatural bits of religions are not real, being only the products of our over-active imaginations fixed by group membership. But the excellent beauties are real, they are waiting there for any one to find and marvel at, and they are not the products of over-active imaginations. What are they the products of? That is itself the final excellent beauty: how is it that we inhabit a world that contains so many foundational paradoxes, so many enduring mysteries? How is it that some of our science and knowledge-seeking provides us with fulfilling and affirming explanations, while other parts of it shock us with strange enigmas that cause us to question the very core of what we think we know? It appears that what our science is telling us, with increasing urgency, is that the universe is not fully open to our comprehension. But it is fully open to our sense of beauty. And in the end, that’s better.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Everyone Loves a Good — Temporary — Mystery, Pt. 1

Excellent Beauty

“Every time a virus is found, a particle is discovered, an element is produced, some DNA is sequenced, or a planet’s unusual orbit is explained, our deeply held enlightenment ideal is affirmed: Yes! We inhabit an understandable world.” — Eric Dietrich

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. In today’s post, Dietrich delves into our innate attraction to mystery, our nature as metaphysical realists, and the war between science and religion.

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of the book in our book giveaway!

Everyone Loves a Good — Temporary — Mystery, Pt. 1
By Eric Dietrich

Everybody loves a good mystery . . . as long as it gets solved. But if a mystery persists in spite of our best efforts to solve it, our love wanes. In fact, very few among us can tolerate an enduring mystery. Why is that? Why are enduring mysteries so upsetting? The answer cuts to the heart of what it means to be a human being and explains the enormous impact dodging enduring mysteries has played in human history. Science and religion owe their existence to such dodging. Excellent Beauty is the story of these three, science, religion, and enduring mysteries. The title of the book comes from a quote by Francis Bacon, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” The book also closely examines several such mysteries, revealing their excellent beauty, why they are enduring, and what this upsetting fact means.

Of course, most of the mysteries we encounter in our daily lives are upsetting not because they are mysteries, but rather because of what they are about. If someone you love has fainting spells, but six months of medical tests have revealed nothing, then you are confronted with an upsetting mystery. It is upsetting because someone you love is suffering, and experts cannot tell you why and so cannot fix the problem.

The mysteries we love are not like this. They occur at some remove from us. Murder mystery novels are a billion dollar a year industry for precisely this reason. Sir Charles Baskerville has died, apparently of natural causes, yet the footprints of an unknown and enormous hound were found near where he perished. This fact has a pressing and dark relevance because the Baskerville family has been living under an old curse, apparently involving a hound from Hell. . . . All good fun. And in the end, Sherlock Holmes solves this mystery nicely. Of course, mysteries such as these are at such a remove from us that they aren’t real. Consider a real mystery that is nevertheless something we can love: Why did the dinosaurs go extinct? We now know the answer to this mystery, or at least there is wide agreement on what the answer is: Earth was hit by a massive asteroid or comet, the smoking gun of which is the Chicxulub crater off the Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. (For a recent definitive treatment, see “The Chicxulub Asteroid Impact and Mass Extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary” in Science, 5 March 2010: 1214-1218.) Before this explanation was discovered, the mystery of the missing dinosaurs was compelling and intensely investigated. (It is still being investigated since there is only “wide agreement” among scientists on the asteroid theory.)

There is a great affirmation for humankind in solving any deep, real mystery. This affirmation extends beyond the utility of any solution. The discovery of the virus responsible for AIDS was a tremendous advance in human health care and in the treatment of the disease itself. But the discovery of HIV goes deeper than human health. Two human properties explain this going-beyond aspect of the affirmation. Humans are, quite naturally, realists, in the metaphysical sense: we all think that there is a mind-independent world out there. We don’t know, except roughly, how many dogs there are in the world now, but we all think there is some definite number of them. And we think this number is what it is independently of our minds, independently of what we want it to be or what we wish it was. We are also all children of the Enlightenment at least in the sense that we carry around with us an Enlightenment ideal: we think we live in a rational universe, and we think that problems can be solved, at least in principle, by rational discourse or by some application of rationality. Putting these two together, we all think that there are answers out there and rationality can in principle reveal them. Every time a virus is found, a particle is discovered, an element is produced, some DNA is sequenced, or a planet’s unusual orbit is explained, our deeply held enlightenment ideal is affirmed: Yes! We inhabit an understandable world.

Religion is a great participator in this affirmation. And in this important sense, religion and science are compatible. Religious mysteries run deep. How can Jesus’s death redeem sinners today? How can their faith in him activate that redemption? Why is there evil if God is all-good and all-powerful? Why are there so many religions? (This bears a short digression. Conservative estimates put the number of religions today well into the tens of thousands. This estimate includes sects or denominations of the twenty or so major religions, which can be defined as religions with at least half a million adherents. Often, these sects or sub-religions differ almost as much from each other as the major religions differ from each other. So, for example, some experts estimate that there are over 30,000 versions of Christianity (see, for example the World Christian Encyclopedia or this list). Arguably all these versions worship some version of Jesus Christ, but beyond that, they differ significantly. For example, some see Jesus Christ as a sort of warrior against sin; some see the Christ as a god of love, unconcerned about sin; still others regard Jesus as a male human being who managed to live the perfect life and should therefore be emulated.)

The answers to all religious mysteries are commonly believed to be out there and fixed (realism), the understanding of which awaits our final fate. If our fate is good enough, the answers will be revealed to us, and such revelation will, at that time, finally make perfect sense (the Enlightenment ideal).
From this perspective, there is no war between science and religion, not really, and the world we live in, while troubled and dangerous, is, at least in principle, law-like and understandable.

Excellent Beauty argues that the above view of us and the universe we inhabit is Panglossian. There is a fierce war between science and religion. Science is winning—by a lot (this war is examined in detail in Excellent Beauty). Realism is at best an ineluctable metaphysical position. And most importantly, holding the Enlightenment ideal depends crucially on self-deception. Soberly considered, our universe contains only islands of understandability, islands where rationality is the dominant force, islands where our explanations work. Beyond these islands there is a vast, bizarre world consisting almost exclusively of enduring mysteries at which we can marvel, but can never explain or explain away.

Let’s take these points in turn.

Stephen Jay Gould is the avatar of the view that science and religion are not at war. He proposed what he called nonoverlapping magisteria for the proper relationship between science and religion (see his Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life). Gould said that science and religion are in fact so different that they can easily coexist, respecting each other’s dominion (i.e., magisterium; a magisterium is “a domain of authority in teaching” (p. 5)). Gould says:

I do not see how science and religion could be unified, or even synthesized, under any common scheme of explanation or analysis; but I also do not understand why the two enterprises should experience any conflict. Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve. (p. 4)

If anyone other than Gould had written that, I would have thought that person irremediably naïve. But Gould is not naïve. So, I can only assume this suggestion of his results from some level of desperation. He so wanted to halt the war between science and religion that he fabricated this idea of separate but equal domains. A moment’s reflection, however, reveals that religion and science are not separate magisteria at all—they are profoundly overlapping magisteria. All religions make factual claims about the world: Jehovah created it in six days, Changing Woman created it and the Navajo who live on it, ghosts roam the world, magic can heal the sick, prayer is talking to Yahweh (or Jesus or Allah or Zeus, etc.), living beings reincarnate, and on and on. In fact, it is because all religions make factual claims that they are able to supply purpose, meaning, and values. Going the other direction, religion is not the sole provider of purposes, meanings, and values. There are plenty of atheists and agnostics whose lives hum with meaning. They get meaning from the traditional places: their families, their jobs, their hobbies—from doing science, making art and music, climbing mountains, learning to juggle, raising children, working on their marriage, and so forth. Oddly, and disturbingly, in flatly denying the obvious truth that religions make factual claims, and in denying that religion and science are at war, Gould is behaving exquisitely religiously: he is changing the “evidence” to fit his beliefs, rather than letting the evidence change his beliefs. The nonoverlapping magisteria idea is simply false. Science and religion are at war.

Science has arguably already won this war, and in the best way possible: by explaining why we are religious. Evolutionary theory explains both why we humans are religious and why there are tens of thousands of religions. Being religious, or having the propensity to be religious is an evolutionary adaptation. What advantage do religions bestow? They help knit groups together, among other things. The details of such an evolutionary explanation are complex and still being worked out by anthropologists, biologists, philosophers, and psychologists. In broad outline, most of these nascent theories are similar, and contribute to a large emerging explanation. In Excellent Beauty, I combine two of the most well-known and well-received theories, David Wilson’s group selection theory and Daniel Dennett’s hyperactive agent detection device (see, respectively, Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral, and Dennett’s Breaking the Spell). In brief, I argue that religions help bind groups together via shared magical thinking. We like being in a group that shares our beliefs about the weird, disturbing stuff we’ve experienced. And we like belonging to a group that offers and promotes compelling explanations of the stuff we experience. Both Wilson and Dennett’s theories are needed: Only Dennett’s theory can explain the universal existence of belief in the supernatural in the world’s religions, and only Wilson’s theory can explain why there are thousands of religions instead of billions of them.

Tomorrow we turn to the excellent beauties themselves.

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Beyond Atheism: The Religion Illusion

Excellent Beauty

“Atheism doesn’t really get at the heart of the matter. It is not that there are no gods or goddesses, but rather that there are no religions. What we call religion is people engaged in various rituals at various times of the year and at various stages of their lives, wearing various ritualistic clothing, and uttering various words and phrases. But this is all a kind of vast pretending, a pretending so complete that most of us cannot even see the pretense, a pretense fueled solely by our genetic makeup and our group membership.” — Eric Dietrich

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. To kick the feature off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the eighth chapter of Excellent Beauty: “Beyond Atheism: The Religion Illusion.”

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of the book in our book giveaway!

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich

Excellent Beauty

“This is, quite simply, one of the most eloquent books on religion and science I have read in recent years. Dietrich writes clearly and accessibly, with a touch of humor and a great deal of personality. His book moves fluidly between historically supported arguments and pedagogically minded examples, all presented in a limpid style that will be attractive to the general reader.” — William Egginton

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. 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 Excellent Beauty. 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, June 12th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

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!