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 10, 2011

Massimo’s Picks

by Massimo Pigliucci
* Philosopher Simon Blackburn on morality without gods.
* The different brains of conservatives and liberals.
* Prejudice evolved in pre-human primates.
* Republicans don't want to fund NPR, but it's okay to give half a billion federal money to Evangelical Liberty University.
* Morality pills, anyone?
* FermiLab makes huge new discovery before shutting down... Maybe.
* The Plutocracy's next target: medical care for the elderly and poor. Way to go America.
* Here is how the Republican appointed Supreme Court keeps screwing the rest of us. Best plutocracy money can keep in power.
* America: of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%. Plutocracy rules.
* Francis Fukuyama's first volume on the origins of political order and "the bad emperor problem."
* The role of philosophy in shaping the ruling classes. 2.5 millennia after Plato.
* Students should check their sense of entitlement at the door...
* Just for fun: Ayn Rand is really Dr. Doom.


  1. One might surmise from this selection that Massimo is at least a progressive and perhaps further left than that.

    Would that surmise be right?

  2. One would have to establish what left and right mean in the political sense, Gaius. I think Massimo has an fairly objective approach. I also think most people would consider themselves progressive. After all, who wants society to regress or standstill?(besides anarchists and ardent traditionalists)

  3. I found the arguments against human enhancement rather interesting in the ironic light of advertising which is almost entirely geared to sell us enhancements of one sort or another (well my spam is anyway). I also found it interesting that he would say if you do this then you will no longer be human. As if 'humanity' were some magical line you could cross.

    The truth is actually very simple - what we are now is not what we were nor what we shall be. As the dinosaurs became birds so too shall we become something else (or several something else's). Change is inevitable, but it need not be unchosen. If the price for enhancement is that a few Luddites are going to say I am not fully human then that is one I'd be willing to pay.

  4. Massimo's political views should be clear to anyone with even a casual acquaintance with this blog. But let's not confuse having a point of view with blind partisanship. I am always willing to consider issues on the merits, and occasionally to reconsider some of my foundational assumptions.

  5. Universities should be 100% responsible on who they admit, 100% responsible on determining rules of conduct,100% responsible on enforcing them and most importantly 100% responsible on educating the students on what their rights and obligations are. The rest is BS.

  6. Thanks for the article by Simon Blackburn. I've become a big fan of his since the panel with him, Peter Singer, Sam Harris, and others.

  7. MP, you wrote "Massimo's political views should be clear to anyone with even a casual acquaintance with this blog."

    No doubt.

    But I have not even such an acquaintance.

    On the other hand, perhaps the question is not worth asking twice.

  8. Is there any evidence at all that standards of writing and reasoning are actually in decline at American universities? I didn't need the Chronicle to remind me of the obvious fact that professors often express disdain for their students.

  9. Gaius, sorry, didn't mean to be cryptic or flippant. Yes, I hold to liberal progressive positions of a European style, which would be considered slightly to the left of Jon Stewart in the United States...

    Joseph, yes, I'm afraid several studies have shown that American students have been falling behind on a variety of measures, writing skills being one.

  10. Massimo--

    I know of a widely discussed study by Connors and Lunsford showing that students aren't making more writing errors than they used to. So what evidence are you talking about?

  11. I think the troll has a soft belly. Poor thing.

    I have to wonder, Massimo, how you manage to keep as positive an outlook as you obviously have, after reading some of the stories above, the type of which are never in short supply. It just makes Stoicism shading into fatalism quite appealing to my mind.

  12. Joseph,

    well, this article, for instance: http://goo.gl/D0Gw5 says that there has been some slight improvement in teh past few years, but notice how low the percentages of proficiency actually are. And here is another study that makes reference to poor performance overall (though the study is on how to improve it): http://goo.gl/VsIEU

    Could you post a link to the Connors and Lunsford study?

  13. http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/lunsford/PDF/Lunsford_article_Mistakes.pdf

    This op-ed by Lunsford has links to papers (including the one linked above) at the bottom:


  14. Forgive me, but isn't "proficiency" just some particular level the education system has decided it wished it could attain? I could define "proficiency" such that you're not proficient unless you write as well as Saul Bellow, and then oh lord! oh no! nobody in our schools is proficient!

  15. Joseph,

    Yes, of course proficiency is a human, culture-specific concept. However, I assure you that none of my students is even remotely close to Saul Bellow levels, nor that that is what I aim for...

  16. My point is still valid, since you are comparing your students' writing not to the writings of similar students in previous generations, but simply to your own standards. We should simply ask whether or not students are actually getting better or worse at writing.

  17. Joseph, I read the op-ed you linked to, and found it only partly convincing. The first study was done at Stanford, 'nough said. The second was national, but there was little or no detail about sample sizes, methods, what exactly they measured, etc.

    Nevertheless, it is at least as important to determine whether students are writing at an acceptable level, and they aren't. One can make progress from horrible to less horrible, but there isn't much to rejoice as a result...

  18. I agree with Thameron in that, while I haven't read the book advocating against radical enhancement, that the reviewer (or author) would be so cavalier about the use of the word 'human' as if there were an agreed upon definition. Especially when we're tinkering with the bounds of humanity, we really ought to stop using such an emotionally laden identifier and replace it with the characteristics we're actually interested in (consciousness rather than the capacity for aging, for example).



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.