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, October 18, 2013

Massimo's Picks!

* One more in-depth criticism of E.O. Wilson's hopelessly contradictory views on human nature.

* The ravings of an overpaid Harvard professor.

* The work habits of the most productive philosophers.

* The smart way of having less government, and the idiotic one...

* Taking Malcolm Gladwell down a notch. Or two. Or three.

* Yet another neuro-book that doesn't tell us something we didn't already know.

* Why you should be wary of anyone talking of "the marketplace of ideas."

* Tutto Dante.

* Why Pope Francis is, so far, much more about appearances than substance.

* Why we need to teach philosophy in the pre-college classroom.


  1. Massimo, that Slate article doesn't tell the half of what's wrong with Gladwell. He was, for years, a paid shill and hack for Big Tobacco: http://shameproject.com/profile/malcolm-gladwell-2/

    1. Wow, shameproject.com is a thing that exists. And my morning was going so well until now.

    2. Ian, it's actually a very good website. I disagree with shaming John or Jane Doe online, but, it's a good site for collecting the shameful idea of the well-known. And, on Gladwell and Big Tobacco, that link's just a "thumbnail." There's even more about him if you browse the site.

    3. I am not a fan of Gladwell. However, that site is up to no good.

      The good St. Rev on twitter tracked down its parent site here. They are basically Stalinists. See here for where they publish Eduard Limonov, the leader of the Nazbols.

      But I mean, you don't *really* need all that background to see that the site is propaganda, do you?

    4. Ian,

      indulging in a bit of genetic fallacying, are we? ;-) Did you also take the time to track down the articles criticizing Gladwell in the NYT and other major news outlet?

    5. Again, I agree with the criticism of Gladwell in the NYT! I am not arguing for Gladwell, just that that *site* is bad news.

      We should really have a discussion of the genetic fallacy sometime, about how it's not actually a fallacy most of the time it's invoked.

      The gist of my position is that the only time you should ignore the source of information is when you have time to investigate 100% of the claims for yourself. Otherwise, trust (or mistrust) for sources of information is something like half of the work of epistemology. (E.g., consider the last history book you read. Did you check all the primary sources?)

      I do not trust that site to reliably say true things about the people it critiques. Still less do I trust it to say all relevant true things about them, or frame them sensibly. Still less than that do I trust it to critique all people who deserve critique.

    6. Ian,

      agreed about the genetic fallacy. Indeed, I have written about this sort of thing (in the context of my recent technical article on burden of proof). I just wanted to know what you think about Gladwell...

    7. Well, that headline may be inflamatory, but ... the Koch Bros' daddy DID work in the Stalinist USSR, did he not? And got rich there, did he not? (I'm not justifying the Russian version giving Limonov so much airspace.) And, the Russian version of Exile's done nothing in general since 2008.

    8. I can agree on the "caveat lector" that Ian notes. To me, it sounds like a more informal logic version of Bayesian probability: If I note Article A is from Source B, I discount the probability of its truth value by Z percent.

    9. Yeah, something like that. Trust is a huge issue in epistemology, one that tends not to get much play among skeptics. The set of questions for which you can check the answer *personally* is actually pretty small. Typically, you have to let the trust buck stop somewhere. This is perfectly reasonable, but it means the reliability of information sources is hugely important.

      For example, in looking up the Koch brothers' father, I checked wikipedia, but didn't check wikipedia's sources.

      (FWIW according to the wik he worked in the USSR, but I have no idea whether he "got rich". Also it appears that his Soviet experience was what *made* him more right wing in the first place, so it seems odd to present it as a betrayal of principles or something.)

      Anyway, there are also good reasons not to consume knowably deceptive media, even *with* a critical eye. (See here for example.)

      Obvious caveat: "knowably deceptive" should not be stretched to mean "disagrees with what I think is true".

    10. I generally agree back with you, Ian. That said, in the world of cyberlinking, if a place like Exiled links to generally legitimate other sites. (Beyond that, back to the issue at hand ... you can find Gladwell's links to Big Tobacco documented elsewhere; Exiled just happens to go a good job of collating some of that documentation. And, squaring that circle then, if you add this to the other critiques of Gladwell, you [at least i do] have more reason to trust him less. All we need out of him next is a bit of plagiarism for the Jonah Lehrer full house.)

    11. Get out the "genetic fallacy" talk again, perhaps from Ian. It's a different website, but it's Yasha Levine doing the writing. He argues that Gladwell's new book is, at bottom line, a tome to Social Darwinism: https://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/david-and-goliath/d8654f90e985a86411a8f06fd2bd8c2bc79ca290/

    12. More on that link above, which, if it expires on you, has an alternative link below. Gladwell's also a historic revisionist in the new book, claiming that cops in Birmingham 1963 weren't all that bad. And, that's not Levine's interpretation. It's direct quotes.

      "The officer in the picture is Dick Middleton. He was a modest and reserved man. . . The dog’s name is Leo. Now look at the faces of the black bystanders in the background. Shouldn’t they be surprised or horrified? They’re not. Next, look at the leash in Middleton’s hand. It’s taut, as if he’s trying to restrain Leo. And look at (black civil rights activist) Gadsden’s left hand. He’s gripping Middleton on the forearm. Look at Gadsden’s left leg. He’s kicking Leo, isn’t he? . . . Gadsden wasn’t the martyr, passively leaning forward as if to say, ‘Take me, here I am.’ He’s steadying himself, with a hand on Middleton, so he can deliver a sharper blow. The word around the movement, afterward, was that he’d broken Leo’s jaw. Hudson’s photograph is not at all what the world thought it was."


  2. Couple of notes on Dante:

    1. The "structure" of the "nine circles of hell" will remain centuries from now, but not the "nine spheres of heaven." I mean, lots of people read the Inferno, but how many read the Paradiso? It's that way for most afterlife literature, starting with Dives and Lazarus in Luke. Look at fundamentalist Christians today. Their "jollies," as was the case with Tertullian, come from dreaming of what damnation their foes will suffer. (This, in turn, refutes C.S. Lewis in "The Great Divorce." Most fundamentalists picture an actively tormenting god causing those eternally diabolical pains.)

    And, except for the most fundamentalist, the only way even a lot of religious believers want to read about heaven is if it's in a send-up of the fundamentalist vision, like Twain's "Captain Stormfield's Visit ... "

    Second, I'm surprised the author never mentions John Ciardi's translation, which is the one I read, and have. It has, from what I know, reasonable fidelity to the original, and preserves the inner and outer lines, at least, of the terza rima.

  3. Thanks, Massimo. Enjoyed these, particularly Emma Worley's piece and Mike LaBossiere's ("Sadly, reason now cries herself to sleep each night: her sister, persuasion, gets all the dates now."). What a finely-turned sentence!

  4. I cringe at how badly philosophy is often taught in high-schools, where it is taught. My own experience from the past confirms it. A friend of mine studies philosophy in 12'th grade, and her teacher is obsessed with God. For example, the teacher presented Plato's cave analogy by comparison with the Gospels.

    1. Well, at least they were introduced to Plato. Not so when I was in high school. I'd settle for courses on deductive and inductive reasoning and the study of informal fallacies for starters.

    2. I think truth should be taught, Truth 101. =

    3. Here is another good read: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/19/david-birnbaum-jeweller-philosopher

    4. " the teacher presented Plato's cave analogy by comparison with the Gospels"

      Sounds like the right way to present it to me! :)

    5. "This is my body. It's my real body, not the shadow you see in front of you. This is my blood. It's my real blood, not the shadow that pulses through my shadow-body veins."

      Calling Elaine Pagels! There's your Gnostic Gospels key!

  5. On Baker's article,
    Sincerely, I fail to see how "clear" it is that Keynesian economics are "the answer" to the current crisis. It is clearly how I wish it were, but that's how far I can go by remaining intellectually honest.

    Such seemingly "left wing" arguments suggested the Euro crisis was caused by Germany generating trade imbalances in the euro zone, but then pieces of evidence [1] pop up disavowing such "as simple as it gets" explanations.
    [1] http://www.flickr.com/photos/66112502@N05/10134346743/


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