Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Philosophers on 2016 Presidential Election

Slavoj Žižek, one of the most famous living philosophers, endorsed Donald Trump for president. As someone who cares greatly about philosophy’s role in the world, I was disappointed by this news, and not simply because I disagree with him. Žižek is an unusual philosopher. While he’s highly controversial, he’s both publicly and academically renowned and he uses his own philosophy and ideas from great historical thinkers to engage with contemporary events. As a result, he’s one of the few philosophers whose political views are widely reported and listened to.

Unfortunately, this means that when Žižek speaks about Trump, he does so in a public-philosophy vacuum, as there are few other philosophers who can or will publicly debate his ideas. Ironically, by wading into discussion over the US election, Žižek has effectively highlighted philosophy’s failure to engage in contemporary public discourse.

Read it all here.

Here is what Zizek has said in an interview with Sergio Cantone.

Sergio Cantone: “Donald Trump. The phenomenon of Donald Trump.So the US is facing a kind of revolutionary period?”

Slayoj Zizek: “Of course, Trump is personally disgusting, bad racist jokes, vulgarities and so on. But at the same time did you notice how he said some very correct things about Palestine and Israel? He said we should also see Palestinian interests and approach the situation in a more neutral way. He said we should not just antagonise Russia, find a dialogue there. He was even for higher minimal wages. He hinted that he would not like simply to cancel Obama’s universal health care, Obama care …”

Sergio Cantone: “He is a liberal centrist …”

Slayoj Zizek: “Yes! That’s my provocative thesis! That if you scrap this ridiculous and, I admit it, dangerous surface, he is a much more opportunist candidate and his actual politics perhaps will not be so bad.”

Read it all here.

PEA Soup asks "Should We Let Trump Off the Hook?" and leads with this:

Donald Trump loves himself. And while professional psychologists and psychiatrists cannot ethically diagnose him, many have made it quite clear that they think Trump has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). George Simon, a clinical psychologist specializing in manipulation, is archiving video clips of Trump “to use in workshops because there’s no better example” of a narcissist in action.

Then there was this nearly hysterical piece from Leiter Reports:

The latest bizarre twist in the 2016 election

Most readers have probably heard by now about an interview in which Trump jokes about various acts of sexual assault and how he can get away with them, which now is leading to speculation that he'll withdraw (he won't) or, perhaps a bit more likely, that the Republican Party will instruct the electors to choose someone else when they vote in December, probably Mike Pence, the extremely conservative Indiana Governor who is Trump's usually invisible VP candidate.  That would be a risky gambit for the Republicans, since it's not clear whether the message would get out in time to affect the election, and it's also not clear what the effect would actually be, given the cult-like loyalty Trump enjoys among an alarmingly large segment of the electorate.   I'll add links if I see any intelligent analyses of these possible scenarios (please e-mail me, readers, if you see any).  As things stand now, we are looking at a huge win for the Democrats, and Trump still has another month of gaffes and outbursts to come (plus two more debates, starting tomorrow)!
ADDENDUM:  This is informative on the options, such as they are.
ANOTHER:  Senator McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, officially withdraws support for Trump.  The Republican implosion begins.  Amazing it took this long!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Beware of Letters Bearing Poop

We've heard the adage "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" and now we should beware of letters bearing poo. At least some philosophers have become wary of opening their mail, according to this Washington Post report.

Presidential candidates are not the only ones who are behaving badly this year. Over the summer, at least four philosophers have received feces in the mail, BuzzFeed reports. What the four philosophers have in common is that they have all been critical of the University of Chicago’s Brian Leiter, the proprietor of the prominent Leiter Reports philosophy blog (and Leiter Law School Reports).

Read it all here.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Physicist Looks at Beauty

By George Stanciu

Last week, my wife, a painter-friend of ours, who wishes to be anonymous, and I did the Friday night walk down Canyon Road, the site of numerous galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a small town that is the third-largest art market in the United States. Halfway down Canyon Road, we stopped in at a contemporary gallery that had a new show featuring conceptual art that our painter friend was dying to see. Inside, I gazed at one wall of the gallery painted red with white block letters pronouncing “Belief + Doubt = Sanity”; on another wall I encountered a photograph of a human brain with the caption “A Thinking Machine”; next to the photograph was a large white canvas with the black letters “Pure Beauty.” Puzzled by what I saw, I mumbled, “What pointlessness. What happened to beauty?”

Our painter friend wheeled around to face me, and I was surprised to see black anger in his eyes. He shouted at me and apparently at everyone else in the gallery, “Beauty is an old-fashioned, idiotic concept. Representational art is dead, killed by the camera, by technologists, and by scientists. We contemporary artists are painting ideas.” Then, he pointed at me and yelled, “What do you theoretical physicists know about beauty! Nothing!”

I shrugged my shoulders, and if I hadn’t placed friendship above the truth, I would have said, “More than you artists, apparently.” I surmised that theoretical physicists talk more about beauty than present-day visual artists. I recalled that even as an undergraduate hardly a class in physics or mathematics went by without the word “beautiful” spoken.

Read it all here.

George Stanciu has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He is the Academic Dean Emeritus at Northeast Catholic College in Warner, New Hampshire, and he is the co-author of The New Biology and The New Story of Science and the author of many essays.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reality Making

Review of Mark Jago's Reality Making
Reviewed by Ricki Bliss, Lehigh University

Mark Jago (ed.), Reality Making, Oxford University Press, 2016, ISBN 9780198755722.

It would be hard for anyone interested in metaphysics not to have noticed the recent explosion of interest in notions of ground, ontological dependence, metaphysical structure, fundamentality and their like. Although doubtless the mushrooming of the literature devoted to these themes, and the cottage industry associated with them, has sprung from soils made fertile by time, sometimes one wonders what metaphysicians even did before Kit Fine told us we ought to be worried about grounding.

Mark Jago's edited collection offers eight new papers that contribute to the rapidly expanding literature on reality and its structure. Where this volume is, perhaps, unique and somewhat refreshing is that its focus is less on meta-issues pertaining to the over-arching structure of reality, and the kinds of concepts we use to understand it, and more on how certain first-order issues, particularly those associated with essentialism, can be brought to the conversation.

The volume opens with Martin Glazier's 'Laws and the Completeness of the Fundamental', in which he develops an account of the explanatory relationship between the derivative and the fundamental that makes appeal to the notion of the laws of metaphysics. In particular, what Glazier is concerned with is how, supposing there is something fundamental, whatever it is that is fundamental explains everything else. This paper offers an interesting discussion of some tricky issues pertaining to the connection between the fundamental and the derivative. And it makes a valuable contribution to what is, I hope, a growing body of literature devoted to filling in the details of a broader picture of reality -- one according to which there is something fundamental that gives rise to everything else - that we are so often told is intuitive and natural.

Naomi Thompson introduces and defends a view she calls 'metaphysical interdependence'. The current orthodoxy in the grounding literature is a species of metaphysical foundationalism: reality is hierarchically structured with chains of entities ordered by relations of ground terminating in something fundamental. Thompson argues that we have compelling reasons to take an alternative to this view seriously.

What does metaphysical interdependence commit us to? Unlike foundationalism, interdependence denies the well-foundedness of the grounding relation. And unlike both foundationalism and infinitism, interdependence denies that the grounding relation is asymmetric. Thus, (strong) metaphysical interdependence says that reality is ordered by relations of ground that are symmetric and non-wellfounded.

Read it all here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Francis Bacon on Atheism

Francis Bacon 1561-1627
'Prudent questioning is one half of knowledge' – Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon was a genius whose activities extended to service in the court of Elizabeth I, philosophy, writing essays and science experiments. He predicted televisions, airplanes, submarines, and lasers in the 17th Century.  Many of these are anticipated in Bacon’s work “New Atlantis" which describes a society governed by scientists and the scientific method that he espoused.

Bacon was a Christian. He had a great deal to say about the Faith. He wrote that, "Knowledge is the rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estate." Here is a pithy quotation on philosophy and atheism:
It is true that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.
(From The Works of Francis Bacon: The Wisdom of the Ancients and Other Essays, Black's Readers Service Company, 1932, p.53)
Bacon died on Easter Sunday in 1627. In his will, he included this final prayer: "When I thought most of peace and honor, thy hand [was] heavy on me, and hath humbled me, according to thy former loving kindness. … Just are thy judgments upon my sins. … Be merciful unto me for my Savior's sake, and receive me into thy bosom."

Friday, September 2, 2016

Analytic vs. Continental Philosophy

Bridging the Analytic-Continental Divide


Many philosophers at leading American departments are specialists in metaphysics: the study of the most general aspects of reality such as being and time. The major work of one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, is “Being and Time,” a profound study of these two topics. Nonetheless, hardly any of these American metaphysicians have paid serious attention to Heidegger’s book.

The standard explanation for this oddity is that the metaphysicians are analytic philosophers, whereas Heidegger is a continentalphilosopher. Although the two sorts of philosophers seldom read one another’s work, when they do, the results can be ugly. A famous debate between Jacques Derrida (continental) and John Searle (analytic) ended with Searle denouncing Derrida’s “obscurantism” and Derrida mocking Searle’s “superficiality.”

The distinction between analytic and continental philosophers seems odd, first of all, because it contrasts a geographical characterization (philosophy done on the European continent, particularly Germany and France) with a methodological one (philosophy done by analyzing concepts). It’s like, as Bernard Williams pointed out, dividing cars into four-wheel-drive and made-in-Japan. It becomes even odder when we realize that some of the founders of analytic philosophy (like Frege and Carnap) were Europeans, that many of the leading centers of “continental” philosophy are at American universities, and that many “analytic” philosophers have no interest in analyzing concepts.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Women and Academic Philosophy

Does Philosophy have a woman problem? Is academic philosophy a "safe space" for women?

Philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers's YouTube video address issues of diversity in the academy and presents arguments and data relevant to many academic fields.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bring Back Philosophy for American High School Students!

Philosophy should be taught in American High Schools. It is a required subject in many European countries for this age group, and rightly so. It develops critical thinking skills, helps students develop a moral operating system, and allows for the integration of knowledge that only metaphysical conversation can do. Of course, all metaphysical conversation became verboten when John Dewey's adulterated pragmatism was ushered onto the American educational scene.

A recent article posted at reminds us that Philosophy was once an important part of the Amercan curriculum. Here is an excerpt:

In the U.S., it’s commonly believed that philosophy is too complex for high school students.

But in the history of the West, that’s actually a fairly recent notion, and not one universally held.

In ancient Greece, the specialized study of philosophy at a school like the famed Platonic Academy would not begin until about the age of 18. However, students in secondary school would learn logic and undertake a detailed study of poets like Homer and Hesiod with heavy philosophical tendencies in their works.

In the Middle Ages, students at Oxford would enter at the age of 14 or 15 and would begin a course of studies in the trivium – grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic – the latter of which included philosophy and, according to Robert Rait, “was the real interest of the medieval student.”

Read it all here.

Related reading: Schools Discovering the Value of PhilosophyPhilosophy for Primary Students?; Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary School by Giacomo Esposito; Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools; The Benefits of Philosophical Studies; Philosophy: The Most Impractical Practical Tool; Philosophy Education in France; Popularity of Philosophy in Germany

Monday, May 30, 2016

Yahya ibn Adi

Abū Zakarīyā’ Yaḥyá ibn ʿAdī (John, father of Zachary, son of Adi) known as Yahya ibn Adi (893–974) was a Syriac Jacobite Christian philosopher, theologian and translator working in Arabic.

Peter Adamson, professor of philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munichhas contributed a fascinating blog post at the APA Website. Here are some excerpts:
Who was Yahya ibn Adi? He’s not a household name now, but in his own day he had great renown as the foremost Aristotelian philosopher in the capital of the Islamic empire, Baghdad. This is a sign of the ecumenical nature of intellectual life in the period. Ibn Adi was a Christian, who studied with and taught other Christian philosophers, associated with the famous Muslim thinker al-Farabi, and engaged in an epistolary exchange on philosophical topics with a Jewish scholar.
Thanks to Ibn Adi and his colleagues, tenth century Baghdad rivalled fifth century Alexandria, thirteenth century Paris, and twentieth century Oxford when it comes to Aristotelian scholarship.

Read it all here

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Sun and the Sacred

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves." Malachi 4:2

Alice C. Linsley

This is the third in a series on time measurement through the ages. The first essay examines the development and use of the clepsydra, a water clock. This was widely used during the Holocene Wet Period and into late Antiquity. As the climate of the ancient world began to dry out, the clepsammia (sand-glass) came into wider use.

The oldest known device used to measure time involved the Sun. Early humans in Africa tracked the hours of the day by watching the shadow cast by boulders, stacked stones, and sticks. The populations living along the Great Rift Valley and in the Blombos Mountains of Southern Africa used this method millions of years ago. This also was a practice of the Australian Aborigines as early at 10,000 year ago. The sundial is based on this same method of observation.

Sun pictograph in Vinča culture (6th-5th millennia BC)

As the Sun was in the heavens, its movement was of special interest to archaic Man. The Sun was the subject of theological consideration and became the emblem of the Creator. This is why solar imagery pervades many cultures long before the Axial Age.

The sky was very important to archaic peoples and anything that came from the sky was regarded as sacred. This included rays of sunlight and meteroritic iron beads. These were perceived as the Creator's semen/seeds giving life to "mother" Earth.

Obviously, the Creator was perceived as male/father and the source of fertility. It was believed that the divinely appointed ruler would be conceived in his mother's womb by the overshadowing of the Sun. This belief was widely held among the archaic rulers in the Nile Valley, in India, in Mesopotamia, and in Southern Europe. Sargon claimed such a miraculous conception, and according to Luke's Gospel, the Virgin Mary conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

Hathor conceived Horus by divine overshadowing of the Sun, the emblem of Re.

The horns are a pictograph used to designate an appointed ruler among the Biblical Habiru who were devotees of Re, Horus and Hathor. This is why the Y appears in  many Hebrew names: Yaqtan (Joktan); Yishmael (Ishmael); Yishbak; Yitzak (Isaac); Yacob (Jacob); Yosef (Joseph); Yetro (Jethro); Yeshai (Jesse) and Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus). Many horned altars and horned sacred vessels have been found by archaeologists.

It is little wonder that the Sun's movement was used to measure time. The word dial is derived from the Latin word for day, which is dies. Sundials calculate the hour of the day based on the length of the shadow. Just as the Sun does not change its course, so the Good God does not change. This is expressed in James 1:17 - "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

Among archaic peoples the sacred temporal center was high noon, when there is no shadow. The sacred spatial center was the high place or mountain top, between heaven and earth. The most auspicious time and place to commune with God would be high noon on the mountain top. No wonder there are countless stories of divine encounters of this type: Abraham, Moses, Elijah also Zarathustra on the mountain top addressing the Sun.

The sundial was likely developed by early Nilotic priest-astronomers.
Egyptian obelisk
The Egyptian t-shaped sundial was comprised of a crossbar and a vertical stick. Five sections were marked on the stick to measure the passage of five hours. In the morning, the stick was placed facing east, and in the afternoon, the stick was placed facing west.

Solar eclipses, such as the one that happen on February 5, 3109 BC, were noted by the priest-astronomers at Nekhen. This was an eclipse of long duration (as Nekhen is closer to the equator) and it appears that it began around mid-day. It would have remained dark for several hours. Consider the quandary of the priest-astronomers: when should the stick be moved? Consider the implications for their theology: the sun was the emblem of the Creator Ra and his son Horus. Why were they witholding the light?

Consider the testimonies of Mark and Matthew who report that darkness came over the whole land from noon until 3:00 pm at the time of Christ's crucifixion.

Later the Egyptians and the Babylonians erected large stone obelisks to form the gnomon of a sundial. The obelisks were used also to calculate the longest and shortest day of the year. These ancient obelisks were inscribed with the ruler's various titles and words of praise for both the ruler and the deity he served. Horus was the guardian of the ancient Kushite and Egyptian rulers from as early as 4000 BC. The kings were regarded as the earthly representatives of the Ruler of the universe, the “sons” of God. The earliest known moral code is associated with the law giver Menes who united the peoples of the Upper and Lower Nile shortly after the total solar eclipse of 3109 BC.

A six-sided obelisk has been found in Judah at a 10,000 year shrine settlement in the Judean Shfela. The obelisk is oriented to the rising sun. The architects of the shrine tracked the solar arc. The majority of ancient and prehistoric sacred sites align to meridian cardinal directions and the solar arc.

Isaiah 38:8 speaks of the sundial of King Ahaz in Jerusalem. This is a remarkable account of the going back of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz at the time of Hezekiah's recovery from his illness as foretold by Isaiah. "Behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is gone down on the dial of Ahaz with the sun, to return backward ten steps. So the sun returned ten steps on the dial whereon it was gone down."
The Good God, Etruscan image, c. 520 BC
The Etruscan deity Ixion was crucified on a solar wheel.

Aspects of the ancient solar symbolism are found in the Bible, throughout the territories of the R1b rulers such as the Hittites, the Luwian, and the Etruscans. The religious significance of the sun is evident also in historical texts. The Bible designates Abraham as Habiru or Hebrew. The Habiru were a caste of priests who served in the ancient sun temples and shrines, called O-piru. Here the O is a solar pictograph. Psalm 92:2 describes the Lord as “a sun and a shield.”

The Victory Tablet of Amenhotep III describes Horus as “The Good God, Golden [Horus], Shining in the chariot, like the rising of the sun; great in strength, strong in might…” (J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, p. 854).

 Related reading: Better a Philosopher Than an Orator; The Sun and Celestial HorsesMonuments of the Ancient Kushites; Solar Symbolism of the Proto-Gospel; Ancient African Astronomers; Ancient Wisdom, Science, and Technology; The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y; The Ra-Horus-Hathor Narrative; A Tent for the Sun; The Sun and Moon in Genesis; Gain a Heart of Wisdom

Friday, May 13, 2016

Gain a Heart of Wisdom

Joan Violet Robinson said, "Time is a device to prevent everything from happening at once." To this, someone later quipped, "Space is a device to prevent everything from happening in Cambridge."

Alice C. Linsley

The clepsammia or sand-glass is an interval timer that depends on the particle flow of sand. Its older counterpart was the clepsydra (Time Thief) which depended on water flow. According to the American Institute of New York, the clepsammia was invented at Alexandria about 150 BC. However, the Greeks were using the sand clock as early as 300 BC. 

The sand-glass appears to have come into wide use after much of the ancient world became drier. Earlier, the clepsydra or water-clock was much more common, but there were difficulties with the water flow in the colder climates. Caesar was much aggrieved when he invaded Gaul and found that the water in his clepsydra had frozen.

There are difficulties with the sand-glass also. If moisture penetrated the seal on the glass, the sand clumps. To prevent this, powdered eggshell or lead dust were sometimes added. The problem of moisture was largely overcome by the nineteenth century when glassblowers fused the two bulbs together at the joint, making them airtight.

Sand-glasses generally were used to measure an hour. They were called horologes, from the Greek words hōra, "hour" and legein, "to gather." 

In ancient philosophy the term horos referred to the boundaries of an area, or a landmark, or a term. It is likely a reference to the deity Horus who was said to be the fixer of time, current, tides, winds and boundaries. The English words hour, horizon and horoscope share this root. Today the word horoscope connotes astrology, but the original meaning was "observer" [skopos] of the hour. The Indo-European root for year is yeHr-, another reference to Horus. The association of Horus with the horizon is seen in the word Har-ma-khet, meaning "Horus of the Horizon." 

The sand-filled hourglass became popular as a personal time device for European nobility in the thirteenth century. Charlemagne (742-814) possessed a 12-hour sand-glass. These timers were used in the kitchens of wealthy households to judge cooking times. Thomas de Stetsham, a ship clerk in the service of King Edward III (1312-1377) ordered 16 sand-filled hourglasses. The sand-glass was used to time the length of the watches on ships. 
The hourglass served to time the length of sermons in churches. The device installed in the Royal Chapel in London measured a period of eighteen minutes, the time ordered by Queen Victoria, who apparently did not appreciate long-winded clerics.

Doubtless the hourglass resting near the pulpit served as a congregational reminder of the passage of time and our mortality. Wisdom begins with this humbling truth, as Psalm 90:12 reminds us: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Better a Philosopher than an Orator

The outer container of an ancient Egyptian clepsydra

Alice C. Linsley

Philosophy is not to be rushed. The love of wisdom requires time to ponder, discuss, reconsider, etc. It is not for those who want to go home to their supper. It is constrained by clock watchers in every age.

In one of Plato's Dialogues he notes that it is better to be a philosopher than an orator since the latter are "slaves of a miserable water-clock, whereas the others are at liberty to make their discourse as long as they please."

The water-clock or clepsydra  had been used for thousands of years by the Nilotic priest astronomers to measure the passage of time. The word clepsydra is a compound of the Greek words kleptein, "to steal" and hydor, "water."

An ancient Egyptian water-clock dates to the reign of Amenhotep III (BC 1417-1379). It was used in the Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak. The bowl-shaped outflow is the simplest form of a water-clock and is known to have existed in Babylon and in Egypt as early as 1600 BC.

The clepsydra was used by the Chinese, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Early clepsydras were brass bowls with a small hole at the bottom. The bowl was placed inside a larger bowl of water which flowed through the opening at a rate dependent upon the size of the hole. When the bowl sank, that marked the end of the time to be measured.

Water-clocks often had marks of the sun's motion on the first container. As water dripped from it into another basin, the drop in water level showed the passage of up to eight hours. The second container was not always used. Some water-clocks allowed the water to drip on the ground.

In ancient Greece, the clepsydra was used to limit the time a lawyer or judge could speak in court. In Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana we read: "And how long will your pleading last by the water-clock's reckoning?" (Part IV)

According to Aeschines, the political opponent of Demosthenes, "The first [clepsydra] water was given to the accuser, the second to the accused, and the third to the judges." The guardian of the clepsydra stopped the flow of water during the reading of documents in evidence so that the reading time was not charged to the speaker.

The ancient clepsydra remained the most accurate clock ever constructed until the Dutch physicist Christian Huygens built a working prototype of a pendulum clock in 1656.

Picasso once quipped that Man is tyrannized by time and the proof is that Man invented the clock. Historically, this is not accurate. The earliest time devices were used to mark times of prayer. This was true for the ancient Egyptian priests with their clepsydra, and for the Medieval monks who invented the mechanical clock which tolled a bell to call the monks to prayers.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Angry Birds and Aristotle

From Aristotle's Rhetoric, Book II, Chapter 2
It will be plain by now, from what has been said, (1) in what frame of mind, (2) with what persons, and (3) on what grounds people grow angry. (1) The frame of mind is that of one in which any pain is being felt. In that condition, a man is always aiming at something. Whether, then, another man opposes him either directly in any way, as by preventing him from drinking when he is thirsty, or indirectly, the act appears to him just the same; whether some one works against him, or fails to work with him, or otherwise vexes him while he is in this mood, he is equally angry in all these cases.

Hence people who are afflicted by sickness or poverty or love or thirst or any other unsatisfied desires are prone to anger and easily roused: especially against those who slight their present distress. Thus a sick man is angered by disregard of his illness, a poor man by disregard of his poverty, a man aging war by disregard of the war he is waging, a lover by disregard of his love, and so throughout, any other sort of slight being enough if special slights are wanting. Each man is predisposed, by the emotion now controlling him, to his own particular anger. Further, we are angered if we happen to be expecting a contrary result: for a quite unexpected evil is specially painful, just as the quite unexpected fulfilment of our wishes is specially pleasant. Hence it is plain what seasons, times, conditions, and periods of life tend to stir men easily to anger, and where and when this will happen; and it is plain that the more we are under these conditions the more easily we are stirred.

Does this explain the Angry Birds video game plot; if there is a plot? Christopher Hooton is hooting about this in his Independent column.
When a Quora user asked ‘What are the Angry Birds angry about and why are they so angry?’ this week, they probably weren’t expecting such a thorough answer.
The Angry Birds Movie directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly provided an answer, first giving a little detail on the plot of the video game adaptation that I for one still can’t believe is actually happening.
“The Birds as a community actually aren’t angry in the beginning,” they write. “They are comically naive, having lived their whole lives on Bird Island in peace, protected by the legendary Mighty Eagle, a hero no one has seen for decades. When the Pigs show up and steal the Birds’ eggs, there’s plenty to be angry about.”
The directors then tried to add a little more nuance to the Birds’ anger, linking them, surely for the first time ever, to the thought of Greek philosopher Aristotle.

I agree with Hooton that the creators of the Angry Birds video game deserve kudos for "for making the best use of their scant source material." That said, it isn't a stretch to link the birds' anger at the pigs for stealing their eggs with Aristotle's discourse on anger as a feeling of pain.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Gaarder on Changes He'd Make to Sophie's World

Jostein Gaarder is a Norwegian intellectual and author of several novels, short stories and children's books. Gaarder often writes from the perspective of children, exploring their sense of wonder about the world. He often utilizes metafiction in his works and constructs stories within stories. His best known work is the novel Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. It has been translated into 60 languages; there are over 40 million copies in print.

Sophie’s World in danger: Living as though everything centres on our time is just as naive as thinking the Earth is flat

Two decades ago, a history of philosophy by an unknown Norwegian teacher became a most unlikely phenomenon. But how has time changed the writer? And how might he change his book now, if he could? Jostein Gaarder takes up his own story.
He says:
From time to time I am asked a question. If I had written Sophie’s World today, is there something important I would have added? Is there something I would have placed more emphasis on? The answer is a resounding yes. If I were to write a philosophical novel today, I would have focused a lot more on how we treat our planet."

It is strange to look back after only 20 years and realise that Sophie’s World doesn’t really address this question. The reason may be that over the course of these 20 years we have gained an entirely new awareness of climate change and the importance of biological diversity.

An all-important principle in the study of ethics has been the golden rule, otherwise known as the reciprocity principle: do to others what you would like them to do to you. Over time, we have learnt to apply this rule more widely. In the Sixties and Seventies, people came to realise that the reciprocity principle must apply across national borders, both to the north and to the south.

But the golden rule can no longer just apply across space. We have begun to realise that the reciprocity principle applies across time, too: do to the next generation what you would like them to have done to you, had they lived on the planet before us.
Read it all here: Sophie's World in Danger

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ancient Philosophers Portrayed on Byzantine Frescoes

Fresco of Hippocrates dates to 1342
National Library of France

John Sanidopoulos has posted images of ancient Byzantine frescoes that pay homage to Thales, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, among other wise ones.  This is well worth a look.  Go here.

Related reading: Ancient Seats of Wisdom; Who Laid the Foundations of Science?; Wisdom Seeks to Understand; Paul's Application of Greek Philosophy; Plato's Debt to Ancient Egypt

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English

Image result for image of a child reading a book

Jenny Anderson

Schools face relentless pressure to up their offerings in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math. Few are making the case for philosophy.

Maybe they should.

Nine- and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week over the course of a year significantly boosted their math and literacy skills, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant gains, according to a large and well-designed study (pdf).

More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another’s thoughts and ideas.

Read it all here.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Schools Discovering Value of Philosophy

Image result for Image of children learning

“The life of the mind grows upon ideas”--Charlotte Mason

America’s early grammar schools. These schools consisted of six classes (a.k.a. “grades”) geared toward boys between the ages of 8 and 16 which taught everything from English grammar to classic literature.

One of Franklin’s more surprising recommendations was the suggestion to begin studying moral philosophy in the fourth class. A year later, students were to build on this foundation by studying logic and reasoning.

While teaching philosophy to young students seems a little overboard to modern minds, it turns out that Franklin – and other schools in America’s past – may have been on to something. As Quartz reports, modern schools are noting a number of side benefits which come from teaching philosophy to young children:

“Nine- and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week over the course of a year significantly boosted their math and literacy skills, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant gains, according to a large and well-designed study (pdf).
More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another’s thoughts and ideas.
Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported a beneficial impact on students’ confidence and ability to listen to others.”

British educator Charlotte Mason once noted that “the life of the mind grows upon ideas.” Would we see more academic growth in today’s students if we gave them challenging food for thought by reintroducing philosophy into the curriculum?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

John Haldane to Teach at Baylor University

As one of the world’s leading Roman Catholic philosophers, John Haldane might seem an unlikely addition to the faculty of Baylor University, a Baptist-affiliated institution in Waco, Tex.

In the fall Mr. Haldane, an adviser to popes and a frequent print and broadcast commentator on social issues in Britain, became the first holder of the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Distinguished Chair in Philosophy at Baylor.

He professes to be undaunted, saying he values Baylor as an exception to a "secularization, or desacralization" of American religious universities, and as an institution that, nonetheless, "is quite open and wants to be part of a larger conversation about the future of higher education."

Mr. Haldane has crossed doctrinal borders before. When he began teaching at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, more than 30 years ago, the Jesuit-educated scholar, whose paternal grandfather was an anti-Catholic Presbyterian, became the country’s first declared Catholic professor of philosophy since the Reformation.

Mr. Haldane became known for pioneering the school of Analytical Thomism, which applies philosophical analysis to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, a pivotal 13th-century thinker.

Read it all here.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Einstein on the Value of Philosophy

Gathering of Genius

Sinclair Lewis, Frank Kellogg, Albert Einstein, and Irving Langmuir at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York in 1933 gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s birth.

"So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering."

Albert Einstein, 1944

Friday, January 22, 2016

George Ellis on testing what existed before the universe

George Ellis

George Francis Rayner Ellis is the Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Complex Systems in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He is known for his work in physical cosmology. Physical cosmology is the study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the Universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its origin, structure, evolution, and ultimate fate.

John Horgan interviewed George Ellis in 2014. He found that Ellis has a great deal to say about fields other than physics. What follows is an excerpt from the interview published in Scientific American:

Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?

Ellis: Certainly not. He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did. And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

Read the whole interview here.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Philosophy for Primary School Students?

Teaching primary school children philosophy improves English and maths skills, says study

Children from deprived backgrounds benefited the most from philosophical debates about topics such as truth, fairness and knowledge.

Sarah Cassidy

Teaching philosophy to primary school children can improve their English and maths skills, according to a pilot study highlighting the value of training pupils to have inquiring minds.

Children from deprived backgrounds benefited the most from philosophical debates about topics such as truth, fairness and knowledge, researchers from Durham University found.

The 3,159 primary school pupils from 48 schools who took part in the trial saw their maths and reading scores improve by an average of two months. But the benefits were even more pronounced for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose reading skills improved by four months, their maths results by three months and their writing ability by two months.

Teachers interviewed as part of the study suggested that the year-long programme also improved children’s wider skills such as confidence, patience and self-esteem.

Read it all here.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Kathinka Evers on Neuroethics

Kathinka Evers is a philosopher working at the cutting edge of neuroethics. She thinks about brain science and about the distinction between fundamental and applied neuroethics, and about the ethical issues arising from disorders in consciousness. Kathinka is also interested in the relation of brain simulation to philosophy. Here is a portion of a recent Q&A. When asked what can be gained from brain simulation, Evers responded:

Although the road to simulation of human brain, or even only part of its cognitive functions, is long and uncertain, on this road much will be learned about the mammalian brain in general and about the feasibility of transformation of some efforts in the brain sciences into big science. New methodologies and techniques are expected as well that will benefit neuroscience at large and probably other scientific disciplines as well.

But given the expected remoteness of the ultimate goal, why should we engage in discussing some of its conceptual and philosophical underpinnings now? Big science brain projects provide an opportunity to assess and preempt problems that may one day become acute. In other words, we can use the current attempt to simulate the mammalian brain as an opportunity to simulate what will happen if the human brain is ever simulated.

It is rather straightforward to imagine the types of problems a simulated human brain will incite, should it ever become reality in future generations. They will range from the personal (e.g. implications concerning alterations of the sense of personhood, human identity, or anxiety and fear in response to the too-similar other); social (e.g. how shall the new things be treated in terms of social status and involvement, the law, or medical care); and ethical (e.g. if we terminate the simulated brain, do we ‘kill’ it, in a potentially morally relevant manner?). These problems also require foresight of safety measures to ensure that in due time, the outcome of ambitious brain projects do not harm individuals and societies. But most of all, by discussing the potential implications of such projects now, we contribute to the sense that scientists as individuals and science as a culture should take responsibility for the potential long-term implications of their daring projects.

Read the full interview here.