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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lena's Picks

by Lena Groeger
* All about Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (my favorite philosopher-atheist-novelist) and the way religion has shaped her life and her fiction.
* How would you measure the better life? This interactive graphic lets you rank countries based on which topics (education, health, life satisfaction, etc.) you decide are the most important. 
* In this “ecosystem of interruption technologies,” how do we tell stories of slow violence? The difficulty of communicating about environmental disasters.
* In his controversial new book on the nature of human cruelty, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen defines evil as an absence of empathy. (For your own “empathy quotient,” you can take his online test here.) 
* Why the 17th century philosopher Spinoza is a hot stock. Descartes, not so much.
* “The ‘truth’ produced by think-tank denizens lies somewhere between that of journalism and academia.” Eric Alterman on how notion of truth shifts depending on whether your concern is tenure, deadlines, or grants.   
* Apparently a new brain implant can restore memory (in rats). 
* Whether you take it as disturbing rhetorical art project or political statement, the Death Coaster — or “hypothetic euthanasia machine” — is bound to spark some heated debate.
* “Some people claim never to have been bored. They lie.” Everything you never really wanted to read about boredom. 
* The Guardian published a series of takes on A.C. Grayling’s star-studded “New College for the Humanities.” Here, here, and here.


  1. Perhaps the review oversimplifies Sasha Baron-Cohen's work, but I can't really buy into this account of empathy.

    In particular, it appears to me that Asperger's is characterized primarily by a deficiency in perception and/or in simulation of the minds of others, where it is difficult for an individual to actually know what others feel and why.

    In contrast, psychopaths often appear quite capable of intuitively understanding and predicting the behavior of others (at least enough to pass as normal in a wide variety of situations), but they don't have the standard sort of emotional response to those observations as most people do.

    There are people with Asperger's who strike me as quite empathic, if that barrier can be circumvented (i.e. if they are in a situation where it is particularly easy to understand the emotions of others and their causes). I'm not sure what's gained by conflating the two conditions as cases of "Zero Empathy", since the similarities appear to be relatively superficial.

  2. Speaking of philosophy news, I was wondering if someone could take a look at this post examining Al Gore's use of a Theodor Adorno quote and provide a little more expertise than I am able to muster.

  3. Nice picks. I am a fan of R. Goldstein too. Thanks.

  4. The excellent legal blog "Jack of Kent" also has some pertinent remarks about the "College of the Humanities" for those interested.


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