9/11 + 20

This Saturday marks the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. To that end, I thought I’d haul out some of the more edifying things I’ve written over the years about, or of relevance to, 9/11. In doing this, I’m to some extent plagiarizing at least the form of Chris Sciabarra’s most recent blog post at his blog, summarizing the twenty annual posts he’s written about 9/11. But plagiarism in this case is intended more as a tribute than as mere theft. If you read one thing about 9/11, you should read Chris’s Post of Posts.

The old World Trade Center site, April 2017.
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“The Reason That Makes You Afraid of It”

The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”

To those who ask it, my answer is: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

–Ayn Rand, “Introduction,” The Virtue of Selfishness

Apropos of selfishness, a snippet from my Phil 100 class today, devoted to discussing J.W. Davis et al, “Aggressive Traffic Enforcement: A Simple and Effective Injury Prevention Program,” Journal of Trauma 60:5 (May 2006). Continue reading

Droning On

I’m teaching the issue of drone warfare and targeted killing in one of my ethics classes, the fifth or sixth semester in a row I’ve taught this material, via Kenneth Himes’s 2016 book, Drones and the Ethics of Targeted Killing. It’s been a frustrating, even despair-inducing experience: Of the 90 or so students enrolled, only half attend. Of the 45 of who attend, 40 are utterly indifferent to the material, unmoved even by the most shocking finding, revelation, or video I can throw at them.

My students–whether rich or poor, urban or suburban, black or white–simply do not care whether drones increase or decrease the incidence of terrorist attacks, much less whether their use is in any sense morally justified. Whether drones kill innocents or kill “bad guys,” whether the targets are justified in resisting U.S. policy or obliged to lie down and take it: none of this is nearly as important as whatever they’re doing on their phones. Continue reading

Teaching Machiavelli in Palestine

First version posted April 3, 2019. Revised June 12-15, 2022 for presentation at the 15th Annual Summer Conference of the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry, June 16, 2022, at Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Mugla, Turkey. Minor revisions added, June 16, 2022. 

Anyone who teaches Machiavelli’s Prince in a college setting faces a daunting set of pedagogical problems, among them the apparent anachronism of the examples that Machiavelli adduces in support of the advice he gives the prince. Few political philosophers are trained to discuss the political histories of Greco-Roman antiquity, the Ottoman Empire, or Renaissance Europe, and fewer students can endure reading or hearing about them. Yet such examples clot the text of The Prince, jeopardizing its accessibility and relevance to twenty-first century students. Continue reading

It Sometimes Begins with Emerson

I just did this survey, “put together by the Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) and the APA Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy.” (You have to be an APA member to take it.)


It was fun. It gave me a chance to reflect on my first encounter with philosophy, which, contrary to the old saw, didn’t begin with Ayn Rand. It began in a high school English class on American literature, where we read Emerson and Thoreau. I’m not sure contemporary analytic philosophers would regard either of the two as real philosophers, but whatever you call them, they were my first contact with anything describable as philosophy.* I found them pretty enthralling, and still do. As it happens, I’m re-reading Walden for the first time in a couple of decades, and enjoying it immensely. One of my undergraduate teachers, George Kateb, predicted to me back then that I would one day forsake Ayn Rand and return home to the American Transcendentalists. I was offended at the time, but by George, he was right. Continue reading

St. Luke, Suicide Bomber: Political Philosophy Paper #2 in Translation

A couple of weeks ago, I assigned paper topic #1 in my political philosophy class here at Al Quds University. Here is paper topic #2 in (Facebook) translation. There were two options, and the students were to pick one and write a short paper on it. Oddly, the directions for the assignment don’t seem to have come through in the Facebook translation. Here is what did:

This is what respect in research or the topic II..
1. A plan no uprising for the liberation of Palestine. They should include special paper:
• A description of the goal your year.
• A description of how it will be an attempt to reach the goal.
• is the use of violence? If it does, why and how? What are the boundaries that were placed on the use of violence?
• was machiavelli or Luke useful in planning your uprising? Explain.
The goal as described in a paper that can be long-term one, but he doesn’t have to be realistic: it must be achieved by means of mankind in a specific period of time. I have to assume that the Palestinian side has a weakness, and that the Israelis will use all its advantages to resist any uprising.
2. Write an essay about the theory of John Luke property.
• First, summarized the theory.
• Then explain whether you agree with the general principles of ownership, Luke.
• and then discuss the implementation of the principles of Luke a specific example. What example teach you about the theory of Luke?

Here’s the original: Continue reading

When Translation Apps Attack

After covering Plato and Aristotle in my political philosophy seminar here, I assigned my students their first paper. I wrote the assignment in English. My (human) translator Amer translated it into Arabic and posted it on the class’s website–a closed group site on Facebook. Facebook then automatically had the assignment re-translated back into English via Google Translate. And that’s when all hell broke loose.

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Paging Miss Anscombe

Here’s my writing assignment for week 3 of Phil 250 EL, “Making Moral Decisions” (fully online section). All of the material covered in class was about the advisability or not of drug use; none of it focused on questions of legality or politics.

Directions: Write a 750 word essay outlining the basics of your views on the use of mind- or mood-altering chemical substances for recreational purposes. At one extreme, someone might argue that you ought never to take drugs for recreational purposes. At the other extreme, you might argue, with Sullum, that there’s nothing wrong with doing so. Where do you end up? In particular, how does autonomy figure into your answer?

Representative answers, Type 1 (all emphases added): Continue reading