Video: What’s Wrong with Being Pragmatic?

Feb 022012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed being pragmatic. The question was:

What’s wrong with being pragmatic? My dictionary defines being pragmatic as “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.” What’s wrong with that, if anything? Is that the same as “pragmatism”?

My answer, in brief:

Pragmatism is a philosophic view that rejects thinking long-range and on-principle in favor of short-term expediency. However, many people just use the term to mean “practical,” and others are honestly confused by all the bad theories and principles rampant in the culture.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Monty Python: Argument Clinic

Jan 232012

Ah, this seems a tad too familiar:

Two Tidbits on Life from Steve Jobs

Nov 292011

In this brief clip from a 1995 interview, Steve Jobs speaks about the importance of living a life that’s fully your own, rather than accepting limits imposed by others. Implicitly, he’s drawing on the distinction between the metaphysically given and the man-made:

Here’s another short clip from the same interview on the importance of being willing to act in pursuit of what you want. I love the benevolence in the initial discussion of asking for and giving help!

The Oddity of the Falling Slinky

Oct 032011

This floating slinky effect is pretty awesome, but the discussion of it in terms of “information” and “knowledge” makes me cringe! There’s no knowledge involved whatsoever! Instead, the removal of the upward force of tension does not happen instantaneously, but rather requires some time to propagate, due to the structure of the slinky.

Via Gizmodo

Videos: Friendships Despite Philosophic Disagreements

Aug 262011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed two questions on maintaining friendships despite philosophic disagreements.

The first question was:

How can I maintain my integrity in friendships with people of opposite philosophic views? I struggle to keep good relations with family and friends who support our current political system in which some people are helped at the expense of others, which I regard as slavery. They support ObamaCare, EPA restrictions, and welfare programs. Through years of caring discussions, I realize that they do not hold the individual as sacred but instead focus on what’s best for “the group.” At this point, I often feel more pain than pleasure being with them, even though we have many other values in common, yet I hate to cut them off. How can I maintain good relationships with them — or should I stop trying?

Here’s the 9-minute video, now posted to YouTube:

The second question was:

Should I terminate friendships with people who steal music and other intellectual property from the internet? I don’t know a single person who doesn’t steal something off the internet. I used to do this myself, but stopped when I realized it was wrong and why. Normally, I would cut off contact with anyone who violates rights, because that’s worse than just holding wrong ideas, but the activity is so prevalent now that doing so would end my social life. Even now, my clear moral position strains my friendships. So what should I do?

Here’s the 7-minute video, now posted to YouTube:

Video: What’s Wrong with the Ideal of Moderation

Jul 192011

In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed what’s wrong with the standard calls for “moderation,” including in diet. Here’s the 17-minute video, now posted to YouTube:

Brad Thompson on Neoconservatism

Mar 212011

Brad Thomson’s critique of neoconservativism has been featured in an online roundtable on Cato Unbound. I’ve not yet had time to read the essays myself. However, I was very much impressed with Dr. Thompson’s OCON lecture on neoconservatism some years ago. Based on the abstracts, I expect the responses to be of varying quality.

Below are Dr. Thompson’s article and the responses, with abstracts. More — particularly Dr. Thompson’s responses — will be posted soon. You’ll be able to find that at Cato Unbound.

  • Neoconservatism Unmasked by C. Bradley Thompson.
    Neoconservative intellectuals often describe themselves as having a particular mode of thinking — maybe even just a “mood.” C. Bradley Thompson argues that neoconservatism is much more than that. Its key philosophical inspiration of comes from Irving Kristol, and particularly from Kristol’s engagement with the philosopher Leo Strauss. Thompson argues that, under Straussean influence, neoconservatives champion the rule of a philosophically cunning elite over a population that will never be able to understand their intellectual masters. Instead, the populace is steered toward self-sacrifice, war, and nationalism — as well as a set of religious and moral beliefs that the elites in no way share. Such a doctrine, Thompson charges, points disturbingly toward fascism.

  • Neoconservatism, Leo Strauss, and the Foundations for Liberty by Douglas Rasmussen.
    Douglas Rasmussen argues that post-Lockean natural rights theory does not entail nihilism, as Strauss seems to have feared. A further error of Straussean neoconservatism, Rasmussen argues, is that it often conflates society with the state. Although the members of a civil society may rightly desire that society’s continuance, it does not follow that the state must coerce people into being good. Statecraft is not soulcraft; governing consists of setting ground rules that leave individuals free to seek the good.

  • The American Roots of Neoconservatism by Patrick J. Deneen
    Patrick Deneen disagrees that neoconservatism is alien to the American political tradition. In particular, founders such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton envisioned politics as a realm where men of extraordinary wisdom and talent would shape the course of the new nation. The idea that commerce may corrode the morals is certainly present at the founding, as are civic virtue, self-sacrifice, and concern for the public good, the latter to be divined by wise statesmen. The neoconservative claim to Americanism is as strong, if not stronger, than Thompson’s preferred libertarian ideology

  • Strauss and National Greatness by Damon Linker
    Damon Linker argues that, although Thompson’s treatment of neoconservatism has considerable value, he errs in his characterization of Leo Strauss and his followers’ political theory. Strauss was an Aristotelian, Linker argues, and Aristotelian political thought is comparatively benign. Linker also argues that national greatness conservatism—a staple of today’s neoconservatives—is a 1990s addendum to the philosophy with little relation to Strauss, Irving Kristol, or the other early lights of neoconservatism.


Bob Pasnau on Studying the History of Philosophy

Mar 182011

Bob Pasnau — noted medieval scholar in my own CU Boulder Philosophy Department and generally awesome guy — makes a compelling case for young philosophers specializing in the history of philosophy. Here are a few choice quotes:

The discipline of philosophy benefits from a serious, sustained engagement with its history. Most of the interesting, important work in philosophy is not being done right now, at this precise instant in time, but lies more or less hidden in the past, waiting to be uncovered. Philosophers who limit themselves to the present restrict their horizons to whatever happens to be the latest fashion, and deprive themselves of a vast sea of conceptual resources.

Despite the above list of names, many philosophers today are presentists – they think that the only philosophy worth reading has been written in the last 100 years, if not the last 30 years. This attitude is hard to justify. The historical record shows that philosophy – unlike science and math – does not develop in steady, linear fashion. Perhaps the very best historical era ever came at the very start, in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. If that was not it, then one has to wait some 1600 years, for the century from Aquinas to Oresme, (Who’s Oresme?, you may ask. Exactly.) or wait 2000 years, for Descartes through Kant. I’m leaving out important figures, of course, but also many quite fallow periods, even in modern times. Maybe subsequent generations will judge 2011 and environs as the highpoint up until now of the whole history of philosophy, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Every generation of philosophers has been equally prepossessed by its own ideas.

Of course, I am no more capable than others of judging my own times, but certainly I am not alone in feeling some amount of dissatisfaction with the way philosophy looks today. Tyler Burge nicely expresses my own worries when he remarks, in the preface to his recent book, that “if philosophy is not to slide toward irrelevance and become a puzzle-game-playing discipline, good mainly for teaching the young to think clearly, some central parts of philosophy must broaden their horizons.” Burge mainly has in mind science as a broadening influence; I think the history of philosophy can play a similar role. Although a background in the history of the subject is obviously not a prerequisite for doing deep and original work, it helps, and I fear the discipline’s present collective neglect of its past contributes to its often insular character.

Personally, I was always far more interested in the history of ethics than in contemporary ethics — for many of the reasons that Pasnau discusses here. While the history of ethics is taught (somewhat), philosophy departments don’t recognize a research specialty in the history of ethics, except for ancient ethics. The history of philosophy, with the exception of ancient philosophy, is focused on metaphysics and epistemology. So if you write a dissertation on the history of ethics, the standard result is that ethicists will regard you as a historian and historians will regard you as an ethicist, such that you’ll have a devil of a time getting a job. (That happened to one of our sharpest and most talented professors at Boulder.)

In academia, my two favorite areas of philosophy for study and teaching were philosophy of religion and the history of ethics. I just loved to dive into the ethical texts of the great figures in the history of philosophy — Kant, Hume, Mill, Aquinas, the early Christians, the Stoics, the Epicureans, and of course, Aristotle — so as to develop a clear view of their ethics. That’s something that I hope to return to doing soon, in some form.

Open Thread on Induction

Oct 212010

In the comment thread on The Resignation of John McCaskey: The Facts, some people expressed an interest in discussing the questions about induction raised by David Harriman’s book, The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics. Yesterday, I said that people were welcome to discuss that in that comment thread. However, given that that post has over 200 comments, I realized that it would be better to simply create an open thread for that topic.

Hence, this post. As with the post on the facts of Dr. McCaskey’s resignation, I expect any commenters to adhere to high standards of civility, even when in violent disagreement.

Amit Ghate at PJM: Values and the Defense of Freedom

Oct 152010

On October 9, PajamasMedia published Amit Ghate’s OpEd, “Values and the Defense of Freedom“.

In it, he responds to the question, “Is faith necessary for defending natural rights, or is reason sufficient?” Here is the opening:

In the wake of the recent Values Voter Summit, a worrisome question arises: will the Tea Parties or a reformed GOP be able to champion limited government and fiscal responsibility, without also importing the religious right’s so-called “social values”?

HotAir’s Allahpundit raises this issue, noting that speakers at the summit repeatedly asserted the idea that limited government must ultimately be based on religious beliefs — on the existence of a “Big God.” Uncomfortable with these assertions and searching for a better, secular defense of freedom, Allahpundit asks how Objectivists (adherents of Ayn Rand’s philosophy) would respond.

It’s a perceptive question. Though many recognize Rand as a stalwart defender of freedom, few appreciate how radically her defense differs from that of traditional religionists. Key to her innovative approach is an original conception of values and morality — one which ultimately puts her at odds with much of the religious program…

(Read the full text of “Values and the Defense of Freedom“.)

Congratulations, Amit!

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