Some Questions for Professor Denbeaux

As readers of this blog have probably figured out by now, I’m organizing an event this Tuesday at Felician University regarding racial profiling by the Police Department and Municipal Court in Bloomfield, New Jersey.* The claim alleging racial profiling has been made by Professor Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall University Law School, who’s the featured speaker at the event. (I invited the mayor of Bloomfield, Michael Venezia, to send a representative from municipal government, but he declined the invitation himself and declined to send a representative. I also asked the Police Director through the Community Policing Unit, but never heard back; asked one member of the Town Council, who eventually declined; and asked one member of the Bloomfield Civic and Human Rights Commission, who also declined.)

As I’ve said several times before, I’ve taken no public stand on the findings of the report. Neither has Felician University and neither have any of the sponsors of the event.** In fact, I don’t have a stand to take, publicly or privately. Mostly I have a bunch of questions. As the discussant/moderator of the event, I have the prerogative of setting the agenda for the discussion period following the talk, but there’s no reason to think that the discussion will revolve around my questions in particular. So I thought I’d throw them out there on the blog, as food for thought, and as some rough indication of what we might discuss at the event itself. I may add a few questions if I think of any later. Feel free to come up with some of your own in the combox.  Continue reading

What’s So Great about Joint Intentionality? Haidt, Tomasello, and Henrich

In The Righteous Mind, Haidt invokes Michael Tomasello’s notion of “joint intentionality,” calling it our evolutionary Rubicon; i.e., the critical trait the evolution of which made us irrevocably human and led inevitably to the development of a large number of our most distinctive human characteristics, especially our groupishness. Haidt writes:

When everyone in a group began to share a common understanding of how things were supposed to be done, and then felt a flash of negativity when any individual violated these expectations, the first moral matrix was born… That, I believe, was our Rubicon crossing. (239)

I think Haidt gets a little too carried away over joint intentionality. The purpose of this post is to explain why and to suggest a more sensible alternative proposed by anthropologist Joseph Henrich.

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“Racial Profiling in Bloomfield? A Discussion” (Note Change of Time)

Just a reminder of the kick-off event for the “Race and Criminal Justice in America” series taking place at Felician University. Please note that the event is now scheduled for 6:30 pm rather than 6 pm.

Felician University’s Committee on Leadership and Social Justice Presents



Professor Mark Denbeaux, Professor of Law, Seton Hall University Law School, and Primary Author, “Racial Profiling Report: Bloomfield Police Department and Bloomfield Municipal Court” (April 2016).

Dr. Irfan Khawaja, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Co-Chair, Committee on Leadership and Social Justice, Felician University

Tuesday, September 27, 2016, 6:30 pm (note time change)
103 Education Commons Building
Felician University’s Rutherford Campus
223 Montross Ave., Rutherford, New Jersey 07070

The event is free and open to the public. Continue reading

Is Knowledge metaphysically (or conceptually) prior to belief?

Coming out soon, J. Adam Carter, Emma C. Gordon and Benjamin Jarvis have an anthology on the “knowledge first” approach to epistemology and mind (based on the work of Timothy Williamson in his Knowledge and Its Limits).  (Maybe the volume is already is out, but I could not find it on the interwebs.)  Their introductory essay contains some clear and insightful explanatory summary of various knowledge-first theses (including what they take to be the central one) and discusses a central motivation for the knowledge-first approach (and what they take to be its central thesis).  Here is that essay:

And here are some excerpts/summary and some commentary from me (bold).  

(If there is a theme to my recent philosophical commentary here at PoT, it is the importance, in many cases, of understanding how things function (or what their function is) in order to understand better what they are.)

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9/11 + 15: Ten Lessons (Updated)

I post this every year around 9/11, so here it is again. Highly recommended reading: Steven Brill’s “Is America Any Safer?” The Atlantic (Sept 2016). Though it isn’t up yet, Chris Sciabarra’s annual 9/11 series is always worth reading and should be up soon. Point (3) below connects with Michael Young’s recent post on coercion

We’re just a few days away from the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from the last decade and a half of perpetual warfare. I offer them somewhat dogmatically, as a mere laundry list (mostly) minus examples to illustrate what I’m saying. But I have a feeling that the lessons will ring true enough for many people, and that most readers can supply appropriate examples of their own. Continue reading

Some thoughts on coercion and the moral requirement not to coerce others

[The following is loosely inspired by a compare-and-contrast re-reading of Scanlon’s material on coercion in his Moral Dimensions (p. 74, 78, 108-111) and Michael Huemer’s initial discussion of coercion – in his stipulative sense that simply means exercising or threatening to exercise physical violence or control over another person – in his The Problem of Political Authority (pp. 9-10).]

 1.  One might coerce someone by doing things that impact or interfere with their exercise of their agency in a ways that are never permissible.  One might also coerce someone by doing things that impact or interfere with their exercise of their agency in ways that are permissible if the patient consents – but they have not consented (and in the right circumstances like having full information and with the conditions of consent or non-consent not themselves being coercive).  Both sorts of coercion presuppose antecedent moral requirements, moral requirements not to do specific things that negatively impact the ability of others to exercise their agency.  So the requirement not to coerce would seem to be a generalization over particular ways of interfering with the agency of others that are of these two types (absolutely forbidden, forbidden unless the patient consents).

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Haidt, TRM, chs. 9 & 10

In chs. 9 and 10, Haidt begins his defense of his third principle of empirical moral psychology:

(III) Morality binds and blinds.

The other two (with my interpolations), already defended in the book, are:

(I) Intuitions come first [in moral thinking] strategic reasoning [to moral conclusions] second

(II) There’s more to morality [moral thinking] than harm and fairness.

Continue reading

No, You May Not Have Any More

I spent the afternoon yesterday trawling JSTOR and EBSCO for articles. There is–and you’ll have to trust me on this–nothing more enjoyable than an afternoon spent in the library, skimming through scholarship that was being published when you were in grade school.

I couldn’t help chuckling over the sheer curmudgeonliness of this item, a critique of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class:

Dale Edward Williams, “Were ‘Hunger’ Rioters Really Hungry? Some Demographic Evidence,” Past and Present, vol. 71 (May 1976), 70-75.

Have scare quotes ever been so dismissive? The thesis, apparently, is “not really.” At any rate, they could have been hungrier.