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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Michael’s Picks

by Michael De Dora
* Rumor has it President Obama will issue an executive order that would require companies bidding for federal contracts to disclose political contributions now secret under the Citizen’s United ruling.
* The U.S. Court of Appeals has lifted the ban on federal funding for stem cell research. 
* How surprising: research shows atheists are decent people — perhaps even more ethical than the religious. 
* Patricia Churchland talks with the Boston Globe about her new book, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. This one is on my to-read list.
* An interview with primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal on the biological basis of morality.
* A New Jersey Transit worker who had been fired for burning a Quran has been given his job back, plus damages, and back-pay.
* Benjamin Nelson, on the blog Talking Philosophy, gives three reasons why John Stuart Mills’ utilitarianism should be taken more seriously.


  1. Churchland's book is also on my reading list.

    I agree with the way she answered the questions, but I think the idea that morality is rooted "in the brain" is too strong- though that may just be how the questioner was stating her responses. In the end, it seems like the structures of the environment and perhaps anomalies of the history the people (for instance the Inuit example) are going to have greater explanatory power about why a group or a person considers a certain behavior to be moral. That's not to say that in order to understand why a particular people have certain moral beliefs does not necessitate that we also understand the brain structures of humans in particular and the structures of mammalian or animal brains in general, only that insistence that it is "rooted in the brain" is overwrought. She, rightly, is trying to convince people of the importance of how new knowledge of brain structures can help guide our moral principles, and can encourage us to steer clear of axiomatic structures of morality. Anyways, I think the insistence that morality is in the brain, though overstated, is just her way to sell a certain conception of morality, but maybe that is stated more explicitly in the book.

    I particulary liked the way she put this at the end:

    "The problem with thinking it’s all rule-bound is that philosophers have not been able to come up with acceptable, unexceptionless rules. Anything you can come up with is obviously flawed. [That said,] many social, moral problems are problems to which there is no intuitive answer. We just have to come together and negotiate and figure it out. And these are problems, often, that arise in very complex situations…"

  2. It HAS TO BE better than The IMmoral Landscape, I know that for sure.


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