In this paper, I explore a conception of self-transformation that attempts to provide a holistic account covering a range of body, mind, and spirit. I draw upon Kym Maclaren’s exploration of the role of the body inspired by the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (body); the hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer (mind [language]); and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendentalism (spirit). I present the case that each of these approaches develops important aspects of self-transformation and can be seen as complementary. I explore this in relation to philosophy as a practical activity, drawing upon Pierre Hadot’s perspective of philosophy as a way of life.
« Not the critic who counts
The problem with Uber
I just spent a wonderful and exhausting five days in the Bay Area: meeting friends, holding the first-ever combined SlateStarCodex/Shtetl-Optimized meetup, touring quantum computing startups PsiCorp and Rigetti Computing, meeting with Silicon Valley folks about quantum computing, and giving a public lecture for the Simons Institute in Berkeley. …
John Rawls recommends a method for evaluating which principles institutions should abide by, known as reflective equilibrium. In this paper, I identify and challenge three assumptions that he makes.
A well-known problem, noticed by Meirav, is that it is difficult to distinguish hope from despair. Both the hoper and the despairer are unsure about an outcome and they both have a positive attitude towards it. …
Loyalty is usually seen as a virtue, albeit a problematic one. It is
constituted centrally by perseverance in an association to which a
person has become intrinsically committed as a matter of his or her
identity. Its paradigmatic expression is found in close friendship, to
which loyalty is integral, but many other relationships and
associations seek to encourage it as an aspect of affiliation or
membership: families expect it, organizations often demand it, and
countries do what they can to foster it. May one also have loyalty to
principles or other abstractions? Derivatively. Two key issues in the
discussion of loyalty concern its status as a virtue and, if that
status is granted, the limits to which loyalty ought to be
There is currently a lot of attention on the UK’s “housing crisis”. One issue here is the quantity of available housing. There are commitments to address the shortage of housing in the 2017 manifestos of both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. …
Intentions have been a central subject of research since contemporary philosophy of action emerged in the middle of the twentieth century. For almost that entire period, the approach has been to treat the study of intentions as separate from the study of morality. This essay offers a brief overview of that history and then suggests some ways forward, as exemplified by the essays collected in this volume.
Not long ago, psychologists commonly regarded emotions as disruptions of organized and rational thought and action (Leeper 1948). A functionalist approach, fostered by an adaptationist conception of evolution by natural selection, has in the past few decades led to a very different consensus. Other things being equal, our more enduring capacities must be good for something— though not necessarily for someone: some genes, perhaps, of which organisms are but vehicles (Dawkins 1976); or perhaps for a population or a species as a whole (Gould 2002). That consensus is not, however, committed to the uniformity or universality of our emotional repertoire. The extent to which our emotional potential is malleable remains an open question.
Blame is a central part of our moral practice. As such, it has rightly captured the attention of moral philosophers. There is a large and growing literature on when someone is to blame for a moral transgression and what it is to blame them for it. Its aim has been to secure a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for blameworthiness and blame, respectively.
BOOK LAUNCH - BUY NOW! I am pleased to announce that Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications (MIT Press, 2017), edited by myself and Neil McArthur, is now available for purchase. You can buy the hardcopy/ebook via Amazon in the US. …
Many of us are tempted by the thought that the future is open, whereas the past is not. The future might unfold one way, or it might unfold another; but the past, having occurred, is now settled. In previous work we presented an account of what openness consists in: roughly, that the openness of the future is a matter of it being metaphysically indeterminate how things will turn out to be. We were previously concerned merely with presenting the view and exploring its consequences; we did not attempt to argue for it over rival accounts. That is what we will aim to do in this paper.
Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau all look to empirical accounts of human behavior from their own time, from history, and from travelers’ accounts of foreign lands – as opposed to natural law theory – to ground their theories of human nature. Thus, they are all naturalists of a sort; for them political philosophy must be constrained by the type of beings we are; for them there’s no use in creating a system of justice that could not be instantiated here on this earth with its inhabitants.
Excuses are commonplace. They are part and parcel of our ordinary practice of holding each other morally responsible. But excuses are also curious. They have normative force. Whether someone has an excuse for something they have done matters for how it is rational to respond to their action. For example, an excuses can make it rational to forgo blame, to revise judgments of blameworthiness, and to feel compassion and pity instead of anger and resentment.
Empirical studies of the social lives of non-human primates, cetaceans, and other social animals have prompted scientists and philosophers to debate the question of whether morality and moral cognition exists in non-human animals. Some researchers have argued that morality does exist in several animal species, others that these species may possess various evolutionary building blocks or precursors to morality, but not quite the genuine article, while some have argued that nothing remotely resembling morality can be found in any non-human species. However, these different positions on animal morality generally appear to be motivated more by different conceptions of how the term “morality” is to be defined than on empirical disagreements about animal social behaviour and psychology. After delving deeper into the goals and methodologies of various of the protagonists, I argue that, despite appearances, there are actually two importantly distinct debates over animal morality going on, corresponding to two quite different ways of thinking about what it is to define “morality”, “moral cognition”, and associated notions. Several apparent skirmishes in the literature are thus cases of researchers simply talking past each other. I then focus on what I take to be the core debate over animal morality, which is concerned with understanding the nature and phylogenetic distribution of morality conceived as a psychological natural kind. I argue that this debate is in fact largely terminological and non-substantive. Finally, I reflect on how this core debate might best be re-framed.
Pure Land Buddhist
teachings have played a major role in Japanese intellectual and social
life from the sixth century CE, when emissaries from the Korean
peninsula first officially introduced Buddhist images and texts to the
Japanese court, down to the present. While the influence of the Zen
tradition on Japanese thought and culture is widely acknowledged, the
role of Pure Land Buddhist concepts and sensibilities have tended to
receive only marginal recognition in the West; nevertheless, it is
impossible to ignore their perhaps even more pervasive force. Moreover,
as D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) has noted,
The Japanese may not have
offered very many original ideas to world thought or world culture, but
in Shin we find a major contribution the Japanese can make to the
outside world and to all other Buddhist
On 7 July 1688 the Irish scientist and politician William Molyneux
(1656–1698) sent a letter to John Locke in which he put forward
a problem which was to awaken great interest among philosophers and
other scientists throughout the Enlightenment and up until the present
day. In brief, the question Molyneux asked was whether a man who has
been born blind and who has learnt to distinguish and name a globe and
a cube by touch, would be able to distinguish and name these objects
simply by sight, once he had been enabled to see.
Anarchism is a political theory, which is skeptical of the
justification of authority and power, especially political power. Anarchism is usually grounded in moral claims about the importance of
individual liberty. Anarchists also offer a positive theory of human
flourishing, based upon an ideal of non-coercive consensus building. Anarchism has inspired practical efforts at establishing utopian
communities, radical and revolutionary political agendas, and various
forms of direct action. This entry primarily describes
“philosophical anarchism”: it focuses on anarchism as a
theoretical idea and not as a form of political activism.
Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer have argued that our intuitions about Nozick’s experience machine are untrustworthy because they are distorted by biases and irrelevant factors. De Brigard and Weijers recently conducted empirical studies regarding people’s intuitions about versions of the experience machine to test which of our intuitions are not distorted by such biases and irrelevant factors. They claim their results show that our intuitions about the experience machine do not undermine hedonism (section I). I argue, on the basis of further empirical studies, that De Brigard and Weijers fail to establish that our intuitions about the experience machine do not undermine hedonism (section II).
Nicholas Wolterstorff is concerned to find an appropriate grounding of human rights understood as inherent natural rights. Unfortunately, he thinks no adequate secular account of the grounding of such rights is available. Fortunately, however, he thinks that an adequate theistic account of the grounds of human rights is available. According to his proposed account, human rights are grounded in our standing in the relation of being loved by God.1 After saying a word about how Wolterstorff understands rights in general and human rights in particular, I explain his proposed theistic account of the grounding of human rights and argue that it fails.
Many philosophers hold that there is an important explanatory and justificatory connection between interests and wrongs.1 But interest-based accounts of wronging face a significant challenge: we believe many acts constitute wrongs whether or not they set back an individual’s interests. Consider a case described by Arthur Ripstein: Suppose that, as you are reading this in your office or in the library, I let myself into your home, using burglary keys that do no damage to your locks, and take a nap in your bed. I make sure everything is clean. I bring hypoallergenic and lint-free pajamas and a hairnet. . . . I do not weigh very much, so the wear and tear to your mattress is non-existent. By any ordinary understanding of harm, I do you no harm.2
This essay argues that normative reasons for action are premises in good practical reasoning. In particular, reasons are considerations that nonnormatively well-informed good deliberation takes into account, and if the reasons are decisive, it is part of good deliberation to be moved to act on them in the way that they support. Something like this claim is often quietly observed as a constraint on theorizing about reasons for action, and sometimes explicitly articulated. Mark Schroeder proposes the “Deliberative Constraint” that “one’s reasons are the kinds of thing that one ought to pay attention to in deliberating,” and suggests that the relative weights of two sets of reasons, R and S, for A to φ depend on which of R or S it is “correct to place more weight on . . . in deliberation about whether to [φ].”1 Kieran Setiya says that reasons for A to φ are premises for “sound reasoning to a desire or motivation to φ,” and sees this as a “harmlessly illuminating” thesis connecting “two things which surely must be connected”: reasons for action and practical thinking or deliberation.2 Jonathan Way says that it is “near platitudinous” that “a reason for you to φ must be an appropriate premise for reasoning towards φ-ing.”3 Borrowing Schroeder’s term, call the general idea that reasons for action are considerations that good deliberation takes into account and, if the reasons are decisive, issues in action on, the Deliberative Constraint. This constraint is not yet a theory of reasons—at least, not in the version I will defend—but a necessary condition compatible with many further views. While the Deliberative Constraint is relatively orthodox, it has not gone unchallenged, and we currently lack a good sense of why we should subscribe to it, if at all. My aim is to articulate what is right about the orthodoxy, and to explain why recent challenges to it misfire. I argue that if we abandon the Deliberative Constraint, we are left operating with a notion of reasons for action that cannot make sense of reasons’ peculiar normativity, and relatedly, cannot play the usual theoretical roles that give questions about the nature and extent of our reasons for action much of their import.
It is a common intuition, especially among Christians, that attempts at immoral actions—say, attempted murder or attempted adultery—are just as bad as the completion of the actions. But in practice the situation is rather more complicated. …
As Marx tells us in the first volume of Capital, every beginning is difficult. And I've been having a devil of a time trying to figure out how to start us out with Kōjin Karatani's Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy (Duke 2017, originally Iwanami Shoten 2012). …
I’m hereby instituting a game: the breathing game. My score in the game ranges from 0 to 10. I get 0 points if I hold my breath for a minute. Otherwise, my score equals the number of breaths I took during the minute, up to ten (if I took more than eight breaths, my score is still ten). …
Consider the following:Credit: xkcd (https://xkcd.com/882/) Obviously this is bad science and even worse scientific reporting, but what can be done to combat it? More generally, what should be the scholarly response to the growing sense, among scientific researchers and the lay public alike, that scientific publications are not trustworthy — that is, that the report of a statistically significant finding in a reputable scientific journal does not in general warrant drawing any meaningful conclusions?A new paper in the journal Nature Human Behavior proposes a simple but radical solution: the default P-value threshold for statistical significance should be changed from 0.05 to 0.005 for claims of new discoveries.The paper has dozens of co-authors, many of them quite distinguished. …
« Michael Cohen (1992-2017)
Also against individual IQ worries
Scott Alexander recently blogged “Against Individual IQ Worries.” Apparently, he gets many readers writing to him terrified that they scored too low on an IQ test, and therefore they’ll never be able to pursue their chosen career, or be a full-fledged intellectual or member of the rationalist community or whatever. …
Slurring is a kind of hate speech that has various effects. Notable among these is variable offence. Slurs vary in offence across words, uses, and the reactions of audience members. Patterns of offence aren’t adequately explained by current theories. We propose an explanation based on the unjust power imbalance that a slur seeks to achieve. Our starting observation is that in discourse participants take on discourse roles. These are typically inherited from social roles, but only exist during a discourse. A slurring act is a speech-act that alters the discourse roles of the target and speaker. By assigning discourse roles the speaker unjustly changes the power balance in the dialogue. This has a variety of effects on the target and audience. We show how these notions explain all three types of offence variation. We also briefly sketch how a role and power theory can help explain silencing and appropriation. Explanatory power lies in the fact that offence is correlated with the perceived unjustness of the power imbalance created.
A natural disaster is a disaster because it involves a lot of human suffering, not because the event itself is especially big or spectacular. The destruction of an uninhabited island by a volcano is not a natural disaster, because it doesn't really matter to humans. …
We endorse Stanford’s project, which calls attention to features of human psychology that exhibit a “puzzling combination of objective and subjective elements,” and that are central to cooperation. However, we disagree with his delineation of the explanatory target. What he calls “externalization or objectification” conflates two separate properties, neither of which can serve as the mark of the moral.
This paper seeks to clarify the educational role and effects of hermeneutic practice. The argument is that far from becoming irrelevant to the ever changing needs of the social economy, the humanities and especially the hermeneutic practices on which they depend, are vital to intensifying those processes of social and cultural renewal upon which the well-being of a community depends.