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.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Michael’s Picks

by Michael De Dora

* Oxford University philosopher Will Crouch is advising ethically concerned young people to consider careers in banking. Here's why.

* Will Obama cave to religious lobbying over new birth control rules? I doubt it, but here’s one way to make sure he doesn’t.

* In a ruling that has far-reaching implications, a federal judge this week rejected a $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

* Jim Holt pens an in-depth review of Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

* Is willpower an illusion? Greg Walton and Carol Dweck, writing in the New York Times, explain why they don’t think so.

* Raymond Tallis has an intriguing review of two new books on cognition: Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter, by Terrence Deacon, and Who’s in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga.

* Foreign Policy releases its list of the top 100 global thinkers.

* Marcelo Gleiser writes that TV’s Dr. House is “the perfect model of the ultimate empiricist, an illustration of how scientific methods are applied in most labs and departments around the world.”


  1. While I laud Crouch's efforts to reform the finance sector from within itself, I have to take issue with his statement that "We are calling on people to be like Robin Hood, but by earning the money rather than stealing it."

    Firstly, it seems naive to believe that such people would not adapt to the current norms, which decades of required courses in business ethics have done little (if anything) to improve.

    Secondly, does he really mean to suggest that bankers (or corporate execs, in general) "earn" their full share of the pie? such that it's nothing more than "stealing" to rely on political mechanisms (e.g. progressive income taxes and social insurance benefits) to fix the division, so that it better conforms to our common ideal of social justice?

    Thirdly, his allusion to the Robin Hood narrative is an ironic stretch in itself, insofar as it suggests that its hero would have stood a better chance of achieving his goals had he instead switched sides and joined Prince John and the Norman overlords.

  2. So it appears (à la Greg Walton and Carol Dweck) that while willpower is not an illusion, it's still debatable as to whether one is free to use or not use it. Just sayin.'

  3. Baron is right, if he's getting at the idea that "willpower," or "mental power," necessarily implies the existence of some type of free will worth having and/or discussing.

  4. The WSJ book reviews are iffy too. I agree with Deacon's ideas, but not for the reason the "anti-neuro" author espouses, who seems to be reading himself into Deacon.

  5. Regarding the S.E.C. ruling, it is becoming increasingly plausible to me, both when I look at cases like this and when I look at intellectual property settlements (both between companies and between companies and individuals), that settlements are eroding the (civil?) justice system. If some entities (such as certain corporations with a large legal budget) are frequently able to force favorable settlements because their opponents are too poor to follow through on a case, that strikes me as a fairly clear example of economic injustice, comparable to bribery (at least in a naive utilitarian sense). That doesn't mean that I have any easy solution in mind. However, if large financial institutions can commit serious offenses with a wrist slap, tech companies can profit from patents they shouldn't really have been granted, and media copyrights can be enforced for absurd levels of damage, or in cases that should be covered by fair use, then I think we have some problems here.

  6. Gadfly,
    Yes, that's what I'm getting at.

  7. Gadfly
    >"Baron is right, if he's getting at the idea that "willpower," or "mental power," necessarily implies the existence of some type of free will worth having and/or discussing."
    Why keep using the term "free will" if we are no longer talking about the same concept as people have for decades? Why not just discard the term and clear up the conversation? It's very confusing when one person says "I mean something different than you when I say "free will". Do people really think the debate will be settled merely by changing what is meant by "free will"?


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