Monday, September 28, 2015

Harvard talk

This Friday, October 2, I will be giving a talk at Harvard University, sponsored by the Harvard Catholic Student Association and the John Adams Society.  The topic will be “The Immortality of the Soul.”  The event will be in Sever Hall, Room 113, at 8pm. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

All Scientists Should Beg Lawrence Krauss to Shut the Hell Up Already

In The New Yorker, physicist and professional amateur philosopher Lawrence Krauss calls on all scientists to become “militant atheists.”  First club meeting pictured at left.  I respond at Public Discourse.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Poverty no, inequality si

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt is famous for his expertise in detecting bullshit.  In a new book he sniffs out an especially noxious instance of the stuff: the idea that there is something immoral about economic inequality per se.  He summarizes some key points in an excerpt at Bloomberg View  and an op-ed at Forbes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Risible animals

Just for laughs, one more brief post on the philosophy of humor.  (Two recent previous posts on the subject can be found here and here.)  Let’s talk about the relationship between rationality and our capacity to find things amusing.

First, an important technicality.  (And not exactly a funny one, but what are you gonna do?)   Recall the distinction within Scholastic metaphysics between the essence of a thing and its properties or “proper accidents” (where the terms “essence” and “property” are used by Scholastics in a way that is very different from the way contemporary analytic metaphysicians use them).  A property or collection of properties of a thing is not to be confused with the thing’s essence or even any part of its essence.  Rather, properties flow or follow from a thing’s essence.  For example, being four-legged is not the essence of a cat or even part of its essence, but it does follow from that essence and is thus a property of cats; yellowness and malleability are not the essence or even part of the essence of gold, but they flow from that essence and are thus properties of gold; and so forth.  A property is a kind of consequence or byproduct of a thing’s essence, which is why it can easily be confused with a thing’s essence or with part of that essence.  But because it is not in fact the same as the essence, it can sometimes fail to manifest if the manifestation is somehow blocked, as injury or genetic defect might result in some particular cat’s having fewer than four legs.  (See pp. 230-35 of Scholastic Metaphysics for more detailed discussion.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The absolute truth about relativism

I don’t write very often about relativism.  Part of the reason is that few if any of the critics I find myself engaging with -- for example, fellow analytic philosophers of a secular or progressive bent, or scientifically inclined atheists -- take relativism any more seriously than I do.  It just doesn’t come up.  Part of the reason is that many other people have more or less already said what needs to be said about the subject.  It’s been done to death.
It is also possible to overstate the prevalence of relativism outside the ranks of natural scientists, analytic philosophers, theists, and other self-consciously non-relativist thinkers.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Pigliucci logic

In a recent article (to which I linked last week), philosopher Massimo Pigliucci wrote:

[W]hile some people may very well be “Islamophobes” (i.e., they may genuinely harbor an irrational prejudice against Islam), simply pointing out that Islamic ideas play a role in contemporary terrorism and repression does not make one [an] Islamophobe, and using the label blindly is simply an undemocratic, and unreflective, way of cutting off critical discourse.

Furthermore, to insist that “Islamophobia” is the only alternative to regarding Islam as inherently benign is, Pigliucci says, to promote a “false dichotomy [which] is a basic type of informal logical fallacy.”