Christopher Shea In The Chronicle Of Higher Ed On Experimental Philosophy

Full article here.

Of Joshua Knobe:

From the beginning,” he says, “Nietzsche was inspirational to me. I was interested in working on the kinds of questions he was interested in: how people make moral judgments, how moral judgments affect the way we understand our world.” But while most Nietzsche scholars wrote essays on the philosopher’s work, Knobe continues, “I was interested in doing experiments to answer the questions that he asked.”

And what is one potential consequence of this approach?:

While much of the proposal authors’ work was “perfectly philosophically respectable,” the reviewer said, “a great deal of their interest lies in what I can only describe as the desire to eliminate morality (or at least the study of morality) from the discipline of philosophy itself.”

Much like Nietzsche, if you don’t find the problems of other philosophers to be important (or perhaps understand the depths of the problems they’re trying to address), make due with what you have.   However, you leave a lot of problems unaddressed:

How do you reconcile the possibility of mathematical truth, or truth in the reasoning of great scientific thinkers?  How do you explain the debt of both psychology and neuroscience to the hard sciences, yet ignore such a debt while using psychology and neuroscience to provide empirical evidence for your philosophical claims?

This is not to mention the radical consequences of applying Nietzsche to the intellectual and cultural traditions that we rely upon that sustain the law, for example…

“This is one of the best parts of experimental philosophy,” says John Mikhail, who teaches at the Georgetown University Law Center, and whose work translates people’s complex responses to moral thought experiments into algorithms. “Younger people are not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”

I’m concerned about what they leave out.

More on Experimental Philosophy here.  Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…

Related On This Site:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism” More On Jesse Prinz. A Review Of “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” At Notre DameJesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads.A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche Connection

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Scott McLemee At Inside Higher Ed On Bernhard Henri-Levi: Darkness Becomes Him

Full piece here.

Henri-Levi (wikipedia), in the footsteps of De Tocqueville, toured the United States in 2006 to write his book American Vertigo.  As McLemee puts it, he penned a piece in ‘The Nation’ diagnosing the American left:

…as suffering from a sublime desolation. We were trapped in “a desert of sorts, a deafening silence, a cosmic ideological void.”

If only the American left were more like the European left, then Henri-Levy might have been more accurate!  There are many differing philosophical, social, and cultural traditions between (and within) the Anglo, American and French traditions that Levy simply overlooked or hasn’t bothered to understand.

Not quite De Tocqueville.

Yet, to his credit, he has the potential to point out problems and confront issues with moral courage:

“…for one of the two very worst forces in the world, by Lévy’s account, is anti-Americanism. The other is anti-Semitism.”

They could be quite serious.  And:

“…the future menaced by the prospect of barbarism. He is right to worry. But amid his soliloquies, he makes gestures of warning in the wrong direction.”

Barbarism seems like a threat to civilized society pretty much all the time, from within and without.  So where does McLemee suggest Henri-Levy is headed?

“…the legacy of antitotalitarian radicalism. He treats it almost like a family heirloom. But he avoids embracing that tradition’s hostility to capitalism.”


Just a thoughtChristopher Hitchens used to be a rabid Marxist, becoming pretty pro-capitalist, and is still pretty rabidly anti-religious.

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Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?

Full post here which is a response to this NY Times interview.

This analysis suggests that yes, it does:

“…educational degrees, whether they confer skills or credentials, are more important to income than IQ when minimum thresholds are met.”


“People with average and below average IQs are getting just as much of a financial return out of their 4-year degree as those above the 85th percentile. This suggests many more people of marginal ability should be seeking a Bachelor’s degree, not less.”

So, Murray’s argment for more vocational and apprenticeship education having greater value than a college degree may not be valid. 

However, I still like Murray’s idea that there is a kind of top-heavy credentialization going on; more people are placing more value on a degree (with more externalized incentives?).   Moral relativism and excessive equality-seeking have had real consequences.

Yet, many of Murray’s arguments are based on the idea that we’ve gotten away from core principles that could serve us well…and this analysis is partially motivated by libertarian politics and a certain political philosophy.

Are Murray’s ideas deep enough to encompass some of the longer-lasting problems of education?

Related On This Site:  In looking at his articles, some of his claims seem rhetorical, designed to focus attention on a potential problem:  Charles Murray In The WSJ: For Most People, College Is A Waste Of TimeCharles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational RomanticismCharles Murray On The SAT Test: Abolish It

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Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of Books

Full essay here.

It was originally given as part of the Phi Beta Kappa oration at Harvard.

“It has often been noted that the greatest horrors of the twentieth century were perpetrated by regimes—Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China—that while rejecting some or all of the teachings of religion, copied characteristics of religion at its worst: “

How many of these ideas have roots in the mystical metaphysics of Hegel is tough to say.  It’s ironic to think that a committed socialist who claims (and indirectly advocates the enforcement of) Godlessness might be carrying more Christian metaphysical baggage than a scientist who might believe in God:

“No one did more than Newton to make it possible to work out thoroughly nontheistic explanations of what we see in the sky, but Newton himself was not in this sense a Newtonian.”

And Weinberg comments:

“So far in my life…I think I have achieved a perfect record of never having changed anyone’s mind.”

Well said.  That’s often a good place to be.

Also MentionedEmerson, Al-Ghazali and the Islamic world, Einstein, Darwin, Shakespeare…

Possibly Related On This Site:   Peter Singer Discusses Hegel And MarxA Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems the comments section.

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Sean Carroll And Jennifer Oullette At Bloggingheads: LHC And Higgs Boson

Full diavlog here.

What is the Higgs-Boson field/particle and how does it give other particles mass?  What are fields?

What is the universe?: Carroll states:  “A set of fields obeying the rules of quantum mechanics”

It makes me wonder…

Do we need philosophers, anyways?: 

The lesson to draw from his [Kant’s] careful discussion of this subject might well be not that there must be a form of reality lying beyond space and time but rather that nothing can be real that does not conform to spatial and temporal requirements. Space and time are bound up with particularity, and only what is particular can be real.”

Related On This SiteSean Carroll Is Live-Blogging The LHC Startup and Sean Carroll: What Will The LHC Find?

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How Would Obama Respond To Milton Friedman’s Four Ways To Spend Money?

Because Barack Obama was a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and because the University of Chicago has founded the new Milton Fridman Institute, I wonder how Obama would respond publicly to Friedman and his four ways to spend money:

Graphic here.

(Clearly I’m not an economist, just a thought while watching the Bill O’Reilly interview…)

Addition:  Thanks to a reader for pointing out the fallacious reasoning here (in my above paragraph)…if you can successfully point out which fallacy it is, you stand to win a non-existent prize.

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William Saletan And Rob Stein Discuss Abortion

Full diavlog here.

Both men seem to have followed the debate closely, and focus on some of the political, legal and social implications.

How socially liberal are you, and what ideas do you use to define the fact that nearly everyone has sex, and large numbers of people do so without considering the potential consequences?

Related On This Site: Last week two pastors discussed the same issue: More From Bloggingheads: Are You Pro-Abortion, Or Pro-Choice?

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Charles Murray At The American: Are Too Many People Going To College?

Full post here.

You’ve probably had the thought that not everyone can go to college.   You’ve also likely been thinking that not everyone can be in the middle class (major driver of the mortgage loan crisis?).  Often, you hear people praise equality and diversity as the highest goals…but…clearly not everyone is equal and diversity is not a goal to be pursued unto itself without broader context.  There are limits.

However…it’s pretty clear that everyone getting at least a fair shot at a better life is a central concept to our republic’s survival…and no matter how smart, creative, independent, rich, or well-educated you may be you’re likely dealing with this idea (and its consequences) on a daily basis.

I like many of the ideas Murray raises:

“More people should be getting the basics of a liberal education. But for most students, the places to provide those basics are elementary and middle school.”

…but I still wonder at the end game…philosophy, education, politics, political philosophy?

Related On This SiteCharles Murray In The WSJ: For Most People, College Is A Waste Of TimeCharles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational RomanticismCharles Murray On The SAT Test: Abolish ItFrom The American Conservative: Going Off The Rawls–David Gordon On John Rawls

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Philip Bobbitt Discusses His Book ‘Terror And Consent’ On Bloggingheads

Full diavlog here.

Not a war on terror, but wars on terror.  A deep, interesting discussion of terrorism, nationhood, law, political structures and war.

Bobbit’s professional focus is Constitutional Law.  His faculty page is here, his book here.  A NY Times review here, (a pretty good job), which has the last lines:

There is also a tragic consciousness overshadowing it, evident in the fragments of poetry Mr. Bobbitt cites throughout. He quotes St. Augustine, calling the looming task “mournful work”: “sustaining relative good in the face of greater evil.”