About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Massimo's Picks

* A good short defense of the right to offend people.

* Sam Harris responds to my criticism of his TED talk, not convincingly, I'm afraid.

* Rationally Speaking podcast: Neil deGrasse Tyson on funding of the space program.

* Scientists say free will doesn't exist, but are afraid to tell people.

* Almost a quarter of Republicans and 16% of Democrats think Obama is the Antichrist...

* Speaking of which, 68% of Americans also believe in the devil, oh boy.

* Taking control of death, not an easy thing to do.

* Snopes, the anti-nonsense web site par excellence.

* Can mathematics help philosophy make progress?

* Want to alter people's moral judgment? Just zap 'em with a small electromagnetic field!

* A philosophical analysis of fear.


* Philosopher Russell Blackford on morality and its evolution.

17 comments:

  1. Another good pick on science blogs related the Sam Harris debate. Very worthwhile.

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  2. The modification of moral intuitions via magnetic field is interesting (though my understanding is that the fields involved are quite large).

    The conclusion at the end of the article seemed rather silly to me, though perhaps it was out of context: "Moral judgment is just a brain process." (Joshua Green)

    That 'just' is totally uncalled-for. Moreover the conclusion does not follow at all. If he were to find mathematical reasoning disturbed by a B-field to the occipital wossname, would he then conclude that mathematics is just a brain process? Asinine.

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  3. That free will article is utterly vapid. Say you did go back in time and hand Hitler, and your photo package caused his parents to behave differently, and that caused Hitler to have a more pleasant childhood, and that caused him to reject the tenets of National Socialism, and that caused the third reich to fail prior to World War II. In what sense is that evidence against causal determinism?

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  4. Oops. "...hand Hitler your photo package," that should read.

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  5. hmmm, href tag didn't show up in my comment (#1) so the full url is here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/04/correct_crank_or_crazy.php

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  6. I think Harris' response on your criticism on his TED-talk partially is just. Your claim was that he is committing the naturalistic fallacy by arguing that corporal punishment should be allowed when it leads to better school performance. But he is not arguing to single out a particular aspect (say school performance) of human performance, he is talking about well-being. In general I think it is a good idea that a rationale for behaviour towards fellow human beings is build on informed reasoning and empirical findings. This includes verifiable facts about emotional impact of corporal punishment. This is what should inform any parent or teacher. Not a moral hunch or some mystical moral intuition. Does that mean that an "ought" has been derived from an "is"? It means that an "is" is demonstrated to cause a negative impact on individual human well-being. The only "ought" in there is that it is a good thing to strive for individual human well-being, but I really don't think you and Sam are in disagreement there.

    The weakness in Sam's argument imo is that any moral verdict ultimately rests on a subjective weighing in of positive and negative factors in a particular result. Where you and Sam might agree that the negative impact of corporal punishment on individual well-being outweighs other aspects someone else might conclude otherwise, even if the same informed reasoning is shared among you.

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  7. Massimo,

    Have you thought about a post-podcast analysis to be proffered up to the readers of the blog?

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  8. Harry,

    ah, good idea, but remember, this ain't my day job...

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  9. Your recent comments on Rebecca Watson's Facebook page are disturbing, to say the least. In regards to Richard Dawkins's support for attempts to have that detestable protector of child-molestors (aka public enemy number one, aka The Pope), you posted the following:

    "naturally, always a good thing to keep one’s baloney detector set to orange alert. though the basic problem remains: two of the “horsemen” are behind a sensationalistic stunt that has no chance in hell (pun intended) of actually succeeding in the real world"

    To reiterate Ms. Watson's response, bullshit.

    And shame on you.

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  10. Cronan,

    first of all, shame on you for quoting me out of context (or do you have some problem reading English?). My "baloney detector" comment was not addressed to the Hitchens / Dawkins attempt, but to the distorted report of it published in Rupert Murdoch's Times.

    Second, as I made abundantly clear in that thread, I support any serious attempt to criticize the pope and legally prosecute the Vatican. What they are doing is truly shameful and immoral, and it ought to be illegal.

    But since Hitchens and Dawkins know perfectly well that their approach will not work, I have to conclude that it was a publicity stunt. Nothing wrong with that, except that I happen to think that it's the kind of stunt that doesn't much help the image of atheists.

    Wow, people, I really think you guys need to calm down and temper the ideological rhetoric, you are beginning to sound disturbingly like the folks from the Church of Christ I left back in Knoxville.

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  11. Nothing wrong with that, except that I happen to think that it's the kind of stunt that doesn't much help the image of atheists.

    On the contrary, I think it does help, or, at he very least, it doesn't hurt. Everyone should lambast an organization who is supposed to be trusted in general (simply because they're religious), nevermind with our children. The fact that people like Hitchens and Dawkins are given more of an opportunity to grab attention as atheists, they should help hammer the point home: just because an organization or a person is religious, it does not grant them any privileges.

    I'm not sure what you would suggest or advise as an alternative strategy in these types of situations (if you've ever written one, I must have missed the post), but simply saying what others should not be doing is not enough.

    Perhaps you'll cover this in your talk next week in Chicago for CFI; I plan to be in attendance.

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  12. I disagree with the idea of a taxpayer-funded space program. One cannot discuss the benefits of such a space program without elaborating on the costs as well. If the budget of the government's space program is X, then X is the amount of money that is seized from the taxpayers and therefore removed from the private sector. Whatever is taken from the private sector cannot be employed by the private sector. So there exists an inevitable trade-off in such a situation. X could have been financial capital used to finance the production of new consumer goods or factors of production. With a space program, that's no longer the case.

    However, it doesn't just end there. Governments tend to finance undertakings either because they illegalize the private financing of such undertakings or because private investors voluntarily refuse to. And, of course, a private investor would refuse to finance an undertaking only if such an undertaking was unprofitable, i.e., unable to properly satisfy consumer demand. Ergo, many government spending schemes are wasteful because they involve subsidizing ventures that are not conducive to consumer satisfaction. The history of government is perhaps a history of wasteful spending.

    In addition to this, there has got to be a moral dilemma involved in taking billions from taxpayers without their consent. It amounts to legalized stealing.

    I do however endorse a private sector space program (that's genuinely private). This conforms to the principles of private property and the market economy.

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  13. Michael Labeit,

    I disagree with the idea of a taxpayer-funded space program.

    All the progress we've made - from going to the moon to approaching deep space with Voyager - were from taxpayer funds. I have no problem knowing that that was attributed partly out of my pocket.

    ...because they illegalize the private financing of such undertakings

    Examples?

    And, of course, a private investor would refuse to finance an undertaking only if such an undertaking was unprofitable, i.e., unable to properly satisfy consumer demand. Ergo, many government spending schemes are wasteful because they involve subsidizing ventures that are not conducive to consumer satisfaction. The history of government is perhaps a history of wasteful spending.

    This seems to be the crux of not only your argument here, but of the 'traditional' argument against 'the government'.

    Its not entirely inaccurate, but I would in turn argue its precisely why the private sector is rarely as dynamic and innovative as government programs. That is to say, it is usually after a successful government program that the private sector than makes its contribution - the risk has already all but been taken out and the motivation then is to make whats already been given and compete to turn a profit. Consumer demand doesn't mean much when you are trying to come up with something novel - something consumers aren't even aware of.

    There are indeed ventures which don't work out, but a history of wasteful spending? The internet, highways, railroads, postal service, social security, sanitation and sewage systems, defense, airlines, medical advancements and vaccinations - heck, the Louisiana purchase... the list goes on. I don't think these are wasteful and you can be sure a lot of other people wouldn't think so as well.

    In addition to this, there has got to be a moral dilemma involved in taking billions from taxpayers without their consent. It amounts to legalized stealing.

    How is this at all a convincing argument? 3 seconds thought is all thats needed to flush this down where it belongs.

    This conforms to the principles of private property and the market economy.

    Right, because as we've seen in recent years, these principals are sound, moral and sustainable...

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  14. Well, it (the recent Dawkins Hitchens initiative) may be a publicity stunt when viewed from the armchair contemplating on abstract ideas like the eternal cosmological fight between good and evil, fact is, Dawkins and Hitchens have the guts to make a clear public statement about the moral bankruptcy of the Vatican. While most agree that child abuse cannot go without punishment and that even the Vatican is not above the law, actual steps towards a more realistic view on the fallibility of the Vatican as for now rely on people like Dawkins and Hitchens.

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  15. "Do you have some problem reading English?"

    Wow, condescension from a philosopher. Struck a nerve, did I?

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  16. Cronan,

    nope, no nerve struck, just a reasonable inference from your post.

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