Mind Continuing this Argument in a Counterfactual World?

01Crisis on Infinite Earths

Cass Sunstein is mounting a defense of historical counterfactuals in The New Republic.  At their simplest (and, he would argue, most useful), they are baked into the entire historical discipline: Yet the most fundamental problem is that Evans does not grapple sufficiently with the fact that historians do not only offer narratives; they also offer explanations. They say that some event—the rise of Nazism, the Vietnam war, the election of Ronald Reagan, the attacks of 9 / 11—had particular causes. … [Read more...]

Of Morality and Mandelbrot [Pope Francis Bookclub]


In 2014, I’m reading and blogging through Pope Francis/Cardinal Bergoglio’s Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus.  Every Monday, I’ll be writing about the next meditation in the book, so you’re welcome to peruse them all and/or read along.This week, in my Pope Francis reading, I found his description of… for lack of a better word, the discretion of higher truths a little confusing: Truth has great value, but it lacks immediate clout, whereas power coerces.  Paradoxically … [Read more...]

A Semi-Practical Approach to Kant

Click the image for the delightful source

Over at Slate Star Codex, Scott is discussing my first philosophical love: Immanuel Kant.  He likes that, in his words, Kant makes it easy for people to offer positive sum bargains without defection, but then brings up the problem of trying to figure out what maxims people are using, when you try to apply the universalizability test.  For an example, he picks a Brendan Eich-like scenario, where a businessman cans an employee who turns out not to be pro-gay marriage. Candice the Kantian condemns … [Read more...]

Put Up Your Ideological Dukes!

fish shooting

Earlier this week, Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, published a good op-ed on the danger of focusing too hard on the "critical" part of critical thinking. The combination of resistance to influence and deflection of responsibility by confessing to one’s advantages is a sure sign of one’s ability to negotiate the politics of learning on campus. But this ability will not take you very far beyond the university. Taking things apart, or taking people down, can provide the sat … [Read more...]

Who Needs Literature for Problem Solving?

back of classroom

When I was watching the State of the Union last week, one of the lines in the education section rubbed me the wrong way, and I'm blogging on the topic at AmCon today: In his State of the Union last week, President Obama talked a little about how he wants to improve the education system, but his most revealing line might have been where he listed the subjects he thinks our schools should be teaching: Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C., are making big strides in … [Read more...]

Sam Harris Throws Down His Gauntlet

buffy gauntlet

Ok, probably not this gauntlet Sam Harris, one of the 'Four Horsemen' of New Atheism, has issued a challenge to critics of his moral philosophy. It has been nearly three years since The Moral Landscape was first published in English, and in that time it has been attacked by readers and nonreaders alike. Many seem to have judged from the resulting cacophony that the book’s central thesis was easily refuted. However, I have yet to encounter a substantial criticism that I feel was not adequately a … [Read more...]

How much should you trust your empathy?

There are too many people in this crowd to empathize with

Recently, in The New Yorker, psychologist Paul Bloom took a shot at the idea that empathy is a necessary component of moral judgement or behavior.  In fact, the stirrings of our conscience, he says, can often lead us astray.  We tend to be more moved by the small problems near us than big problems far away.  It's hard to fire off mirror neurons if other people's norms and culture are different enough from yours that you can't read their expressions or anticipate their reactions.  And we tend not … [Read more...]