“Cities After COVID”

For your interest: a mini-symposium on “Cities After COVID” in TPM: The Philosophers’ Magazine. Yours truly has a bite-sized contribution about two-thirds of the way down, “The Pedestrian Death Crisis at the Intersection”: hyper-applied philosophy offered pro bono publicum. Thanks to Ian Olasov for putting the symposium together, and to everyone who’s had to endure the traffic/pedestrian safety rants that led to my essay. But don’t stop at that particular intersection; drive through and check out the whole thing.

Curious Soul Workshop on Alienation

My friend Monica Vilhauer, founder and owner of Curious Soul Philosophy, an independent philosophy organization, is running a series of workshops this fall on alienation. I’d attend myself, but I’m on a bit of a hiatus from things nowadays, so I can’t. That said, I would if I could, so I highly recommend giving it a shot: I can vouch, personally, for Monica’s acumen and skills as a philosophical interlocutor. Whether you want to re-live your long-lost glory days in grad school, or just figure out why alienation seems to be a ubiquitous fixture of our lives–or both–I think you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Information below, and via this link to Monica’s website.Picture

Even if you happen to miss this particular workshop, take a look around at CSP’s other offerings–there’s a bit of something for everyone. Incidentally, I asked Monica if she’d consider doing a workshop on Gadamer (her AOS, and the subject of her book, Gadamer’s Ethics of Play), and she said she would if I could get a handful of people to sign on with me. In other words, For a fee/She’s happy to be/Our Gadamer Girl. That’s where you guys come in, PoT heads. So get your truth and method on, and let’s take a ride down Continental Lane one of these days (but yeah, you’re going to have to wait until I’m back from my Exile in Hiatusville). Continue reading

The End of History (for Physics)?

In a trio of blog posts from 2010 (see here, here, and here), Sean Carroll defends the striking claim that, as far as concerns the basic physical principles that underlie the phenomena of everyday life, physics has been completed.

[T]here’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.

That’s right: “once and for all.” If asked for the basic, underlying story about why a table is solid or why the sun shines or what happens when a person flexes a muscle, modern science gives its answers in terms of “the particles of the Standard Model, interacting through electromagnetism, gravity, and the nuclear forces, according to the principles of quantum mechanics and general relativity.” One hundred years ago, explanations by this story (i.e., body of theory) could not be given, because this story did not exist. “But—here’s the important part—one thousand years from now, you will hear precisely that same story.”

I think Carroll is right, and I think the philosophy of structural realism can help to illuminate why. The purpose of what follows is to explain these points.

Continue reading

More Tubes for the Rubes

I have three more videos posted on my YouTube channel. The first one focuses on the connection between philosophical thought experiments (from Plato’s Ring of Gyges to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s defense of abortion) and science-fiction (and fantasy) literature.

In the next one, I discuss the distinction between markets and capitalism as drawn in the 1919 textbook THE ABC OF COMMUNISM (written by two Soviet apparatchiks, Nikolai Bukharin and Yevgeny Preobrazhensky), as well as in the Marxist tradition generally, with attention to how Marxism twists itself into a pretzel to avoid endorsing free-market anti-capitalism.

Finally, in my first video interview for my YouTube channel, I chat with philosopher Neera K. Badhwar about backyard buffaloes, wild attack monkeys, Ayn Rand, airline deregulation, eudaimonia and virtue, paternalism and suicide, sociopathic grandmothers, child abuse, Aristotelean business ethics, 19th-century robber barons, charitable Objectivists, friendly Manhattanites, charismatic nationalist leaders, and national health care. In more or less that order.

COVID-19 Narratives (1): Jennifer McKitrick

This is the the first of what I hope to be many installments in my “COVID-19 Narrative Project.” 

Making Fabric Masks
Jennifer McKitrick

I am a philosophy professor and department chair.  I started staying at home March 13th, 2020, when my university cancelled classes in advance of  transitioning to online instruction two weeks later.  I was trying to figure out how to finish my course on early modern philosophy online.  As department chair, I was dealing with nervous staff and colleagues making the transition to working from home, and administrations wanting documented contingency plans, etc., as the crisis deepened. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (6): “Dial a Philosopher”

I just got a frightened text message from a friend who read my last post, and asked me to convince his teenager both to take coronavirus more seriously, and to be more rigorous about social distancing. He’s one of a small handful of people to have expressed horror at that post, either on Facebook or offline.

This is the article that did it for him:

Italy suffered its worst day of the coronavirus outbreak Tuesday, recording 475 deaths. The epicenter of the pandemic in Europe, Italy is further along an infection curve other countries in the west appear to be following, and its healthcare system has buckled under the weight of 35,000 cases.

I agreed to do it. He thanks me for being “Dial-a-Philosopher.” Continue reading

Assuming the Original Position

Say what you want about John Rawls, but he doesn’t deserve to be invoked by Alan Dershowitz in defense of Donald Trump–on the floor of the U.S. Senate, no less. And yet here we are.

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.

Curious what Trump or Dershowitz think of that one, or if they have any idea what it means.

Dershowitz on Rawls at 3:23:30:


“Initial Appropriation and Duty-Creation”

Way back in July, I announced a “forthcoming” discussion here on a bunch of papers that had just been presented at the 36th annual conference of the North American Society for Social Philosophy in San Francisco. Unlike about half of the promises I make at PoT, it looks like I will deliver on this one, so “forthcoming” means “imminent.” Yes, my track record here is about as bad as the Trump Administration’s, but trust me: I have reliable intelligence that all of this is really about to happen.

The first of the two papers will be Jesse Spafford’s “Initial Appropriation and Duty-Creation,” accepted for publication (and yes, imminently about to be published) in the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. It’s a response to Bas Van der Vossen’s “Imposing Duties and Initial Appropriation,” Journal of Political Philosophy 23 (2015): 64-85, so you might want to take a look at that beforehand. Continue reading

Philosophical Vices

Philosophers who are aware of the systematic character of their enterprise may always fall in love with their own system to such an extent that they gloss over what they ought to recognize as intractable difficulties or unanswerable questions. Love of that particular system displaces the love of truth. If the vice of reducing philosophy to a set of piecemeal, apparently unconnected set of enquiries is the characteristic analytical vice, this vice of system-lovers may perhaps be called the idealist vice.

Both these vices have their representatives in present-day academic philosophy. Yet neither they nor the condition of academic philosophy more generally is sufficient to explain the radical marginalization of philosophical concerns in our culture. This marginalization has several aspects. In part it is a matter of the relegation of philosophy in the vast majority of colleges and universities to a subordinate position in the curriculum, an inessential elective for those who happen to like that sort of thing. But this itself is a symptom of a more general malaise. For to a remarkable extent the norms of our secularized culture not only exclude any serious and systematic questioning of oneself and others about the nature of the human good and the order of things, but they also exclude questioning those dominant cultural norms that make it so difficult to pose these philosophical questions outside academic contexts in any serious and systematic way. We have within our social order few, if any milieus within which reflective and critical enquiry concerning the central issues of human life can be sustained and the education to which we subject our young is not well-designed to develop the habits of thought necessary for such questioning. This tends to be a culture of answers, not of questions, and those answers, whether secular or religious, liberal or conservative, are generally delivered as though meant to put an end to questioning. So it is not just that the philosophy of the academic philosopher has been marginalized in the college curriculum. It is also and more importantly that, when plain persons do try to ask those questions about the human good and the nature of things in which the philosophical enterprise is rooted, the culture immediately invites them to think about something else and to forget those questions.

– Alasdair MacIntyre, ‘Philosophy Recalled to Its Tasks’