Philosophy

Speaking the truth and exposing the bunk

February 2, 2010
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Speaking the truth and exposing the bunk

Here’s a link to one of the more interesting blogs we’ve stumbled across lately. Rationally Speaking, a blog managed by Massimo Pigliucci, CUNY philosopher and author of Making Sense of Evolution: The Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Biology, as well as the forthcoming Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, is a spin off Pigliucci’s work on the philosophy of science with a focus on debunking virtually everything from Google, to the idea of American democracy itself. Recently, they’ve started up a new podcast, with the inaugural episode titled “Can history be a science?” and a special Valentines’ day episode on the science and philosophy of love right around the corner. Listen and read at http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/. . . .

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Quote if the Week: Reinhold Niebuhr

December 18, 2009
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Quote if the Week: Reinhold Niebuhr

Meanwhile we are drawn into an historic situation in which the paradise of our domestic security is suspended in a hell of global insecurity; and the conviction of the perfect compatibility of virtue and prosperity which we have inherited from both our Calvinist and our Jeffersonian ancestors is challenged by the cruel facts of history. For our sense of responsibility to a world community beyond our own borders is a virtue, even though it is partly derived from the prudent understanding of our own interests. But this virtue does not guarantee our ease, comfort, or prosperity. We are the poorer for the global responsibilities which we bear. And the fulfillments of our desires are mixed with frustrations and vexations. —Reinhold Niebuhr, from The Irony of American History Reinhold Niebuhr (1892—1971) was one of the most influential American theologians of the twentieth century, best known for relating the Christian faith to the realities of modern politics and diplomacy. The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, he is the author of many books, including The Nature and Destiny of Man. Ever since Barack Obama called him “one of my favorite philosophers” Niebuhr’s work has enjoyed renewed attention, most recently . . .

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Stephen Edelston Toulmin, 1922-2009

December 9, 2009
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Stephen Edelston Toulmin, 1922-2009

Stephen Edelston Toulmin—philosopher, educator, and author—passed away last Friday, the fourth of December, 2009 at the age of 87. A highly influential figure in his field, Toulmin held distinguished professorships at numerous universities including including Columbia, Dartmouth, Michigan State, Northwestern, Stanford, USC and Chicago, where he was a professor in the Committee on Social Thought from 1973 to 1986. Throughout his distinguished career Toulmin also produced a number of important works on ethics, international relations, the history and philosophy of the physical and social sciences, and the history of ideas. Some of these include The Uses of Argument, Wittgenstein’s Vienna (with Alan Janik), The Architecture of Matter, and Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, the latter two of which which the press is proud to have published in 1982 and 1990 respectively. Other books by Toulmin published by the press include: The Discovery of Time and The Fabric of the Heavens: The Development of Astronomy and Dynamics. Read the obituary notice on the University of Southern California’s website. . . .

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Press Release: Klotz and Sylvester, Breeding Bio Insecurity

November 2, 2009
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Press Release: Klotz and Sylvester, Breeding Bio Insecurity

In the tense months that followed the 9/11 attacks, the public’s fears of further terrorism were fanned by the deadly anthrax letters, which seemed to symbolize the ease with which terrorists could kill using biological weapons. But in the subsequent years the United States government has spent billions of dollars on combating bioweapons—so citizens can rest easy, knowing we’re much safer. Or are we? Far from it, say Lynn Klotz and Edward Sylvester, and with Breeding Bio Insecurity they make a forceful case that not only has all of that money and research not made us safer, it’s made us far more vulnerable. Laying out their case clearly and carefully, they show how the veil of secrecy in which biosecurity researchers have been forced to work—in hundreds of locations across the country, unable to properly share research or compare findings—has caused no end of delays and waste, while vastly multiplying the odds of theft, sabotage, or lethal accident. Meanwhile, our refusal to make this work public causes our allies and enemies alike to regard U.S. biodefense with suspicion. True biosecurity, Klotz and Sylvester explain, will require that the federal government replace fearmongering with a true analysis of risk, while openly . . .

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Scott McLemee on the passing of Jim Carroll and Ricoeur’s Living Up to Death

September 17, 2009
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Scott McLemee on the passing of Jim Carroll and Ricoeur’s Living Up to Death

With the flurry of celebrity deaths appearing in the newspapers lately you might think the grim reaper had taken up residence in Hollywood for the season, but in an article for the September 16th Inside Higher Ed Scott McLemee takes note of the passing of a pop cultural icon from the opposite coast in a piece that uses the recent death of author, poet, autobiographer, and punk musician Jim Carroll as a segue into an insightful review of Paul Ricoeur’s Living Up to Death—the philosopher’s posthumously published meditation on the subject of mortality. Consisting of one complete essay likely inspired by his wife’s approaching death in 1996, and a series of fragments written during the author’s own final days, as McLemee notes, the material in Living up to Death is less focused upon an individual’s personal experience of dying as it is about “how an individual’s death echoes in the memory of others”—a topic particularly relevant to the passing of so many, Jim Carroll included, whose work will likely live on well past their deaths. So for a slightly more insightful perspective on death and dying than most articles on “The Summer of Celebrity Deaths” are likely to offer, read . . .

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Edith Wyschogrod, 1930–2009

August 25, 2009
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Edith Wyschogrod, 1930–2009

Edith Wyschogrod, an influential philosopher of religion and Press author, died on July 16 at the age of 79. Over the years, the Press published two of her books, as well as an essay on value in Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Her Saints and Postmodernism was a key book in our Religion and Postmodernism series. Mark C. Taylor, a long-time Press author, was close friends with Wyschogrod for more than three decades. We asked him for his remembrance of this extraordinary woman, and he offered this thoughtful memorial. To speak from the burial place is to inhabit a terrain that is not a terrain, an exteriority that is the non-place of ethics, the “space” of authorization of historical narrative.—Edith Wyschogrod, An Ethics of Remembering Edith Wyschogrod now speaks to us from the burial place—speaks to us from the non-place of ethics she probed so thoughtfully, speaks to us of spirit and ashes, saints and terrorists, calculation and the incalculable, memory and forgetfulness. Memory and forgetting she taught us are never innocent but are ethical acts for which each individual must take responsibility. How to remember? How to forget? I first met Edith over thirty years ago and for the . . .

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What the Lincoln-Douglas debates mean

July 17, 2009
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What the Lincoln-Douglas debates mean

Harry V. Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, first published in 1959, has long been regarded as the standard historiography of the pivotal 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln during his candidacy for the U.S. Senate and Democratic incumbent Stephen A. Douglas on the issue of slavery. And in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication, the University of Chicago Press has just reissued a new edition of Jaffa’s classic work, acknowledged today by Forbes magazine columnist Peter Robinson in an article that quotes Jaffa himself to demonstrate how the debates “turned on issues that were present at the very founding of western civilization—and that we must face again today.” In the article Jaffa argues that “the issue between Lincoln and Douglas was identical to the issue between Socrates and Thrasymachus in the first book of Plato’s Republic.” Just as Thrasymachus argues that justice “possesses no independent or objective standing” and is at the mercy of those in power, so too did Douglas argue that “the citizens of Kansas or Nebraska could make slavery acceptable in their states simply by voting in favor of it.” The article continues: Lincoln considered . . .

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Animals can tell right from wrong

May 29, 2009
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Animals can tell right from wrong

The research reported in Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce’s provocative book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals is getting coverage around the world. Bekoff and Pierce argue that animals can act with compassion, altruism, and empathy. Rats, for instance, will not take food if their actions will cause visible pain to another rat. In a chimpanzee group in a Florida zoo, a chimp handicapped by cerebral palsy is rarely subjected to displays of aggression by other males. Elephants help injured or ill members of their herd, and have even show such compassion for members of other species. Feature articles about the claims made in the book have appeared recently in Australia in The Age (“Puppies may share our moral conscience“), in the UK (from whence we took our title) in the Daily Telegraph and in the Daily Mail, and closer to home in the less-whimsical Denver Post (“Canine emotions raise theological questions.”) Read an excerpt from the book and treat the animals you meet with new respect. . . .

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Press Release: Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism

May 21, 2009
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Press Release: Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism

Throughout human history, people have looked to the ancient world for lost knowledge and timeless wisdom—perhaps never more so than in the aftermath of World War I, whose swathe of devastation left millions dead and the Enlightenment dream in ruins. So when British archaeologist Arthur Evans began publishing breathless accounts of the ancient Minoan civilization he was uncovering on Crete—pagan, pacifistic, and matriarchal—it fired the imaginations of a whole generation of artists and intellectuals. With Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, Cathy Gere tells the story of Evans’s excavations and their wide-ranging influence on the world of Western ideas. Over the first three decades of the twentieth century, Evans’s fanciful depiction of Minoan society drew the fervent attention of writers, artists, and thinkers who were at the forefront of the burgeoning modernist movement, including Robert Graves, H.D., Girgio de Chirico, Sigmund Freud, and James Joyce. As Gere traces the unexpected paths of Evans’s ideas through the lives and works of these figures, what emerges is an unforgettable portrait of an age of wrenching change—and of those who responded to it with intellectual vigor and fervid innovation. Read the press release. . . .

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Do animals have moral intelligence?

May 12, 2009
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Do animals have moral intelligence?

Last week the Boulder newspaper The Daily Camera published an interesting article about Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce’s provocative new book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. The review begins: waste no time in getting to the point: “(W)e argue that animals feel empathy for each other, treat one another fairly, cooperate toward common goals, and help each other out of trouble,” they write in the first sentence. “We argue, in short, that animals have morality.” Advancing bioethicist’s arguments about the moral treatment of animals to posit animals themselves as moral agents, the author’s place moral behavior firmly within an evolutionary context demonstrating how a variety of species are in fact incredibly adept social beings, relying on rules of conduct to navigate intricate social networks that are essential to their survival. The Daily Camera‘s Clay Evans continues: Most of the species examined by the authors are notably “intelligent” and social. Hyenas, wolves, elephants and primates predominate, though other, “lesser” species like rats have their moments on stage. Bekoff is always a pleasant read, but the book’s tales of animal cooperation will bring a smile to many readers’ faces (or a tear to their eyes).… For readers hardened . . .

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