A Semi-Practical Approach to Kant

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!

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?

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

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?

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...]

Learning by Perturbation

Last week, I wrote two blog posts about the danger of breaking promises and the downside of comforting yourself for doing necessary evils.  Both posts were written from a pretty Lawful (in the DnD sense) point of view, so I wanted to make sure I mixed in some other perspectives.  After the news broke about the NSA wiretapping, Moxie Marlinspike wrote an essay explaining why "We Should All Have Something to Hide" and thus are all threatened by increased surveillance.His essay ended up arguing … [Read more...]

Modern Stoicism – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A number of my friends have gotten more interested in Stoicism of late and have been reading A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine for a practical introduction.  I give Irvine total credit for writing a philosophy book that's meant to be actionable, not a historical survey.  But, as a recovering Stoic, I'd like to couple any praise with a warning about the philosophy.    The GoodA Stoic avoids becoming attached or indifferent to the things ze ca … [Read more...]