Friday, May 8, 2015

(WR) Grading

Thank you all for a stimulating semester. Over the next few days, I will be calculating final scores. After I post them, feel free to email me, politely, if you think there may be an error, or wish better to understand the evaluation process. Doing so within 30 days preserves your right to appeal the grade, in case my reply is unsatisfactory.

Monday, May 4, 2015

(PD) Critique of Singer

The current New York Review of Books has a fairly pointed critique by John Gray of Peter Singer's recent work on effective altruism. Gray comes close to affirming a form of multicriterial incrementalism as an answer to Singer's preference utilitarianism, though he doesn't develop it. I'd post the link, but this article is behind a paywall. You might try going to the library and reading it in hard copy (I think they still subscribe), or ask the Reference people if you can access it through the library site.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

(PD) Exam

Our scheduled exam is 8 am Friday.

Monday, April 27, 2015

(WR) Netiquette Reminder

Passionate discussion is great, but everyone please remember that all posts and comments must be polite, respectful, and attentively charitable toward those with whom we are speaking. If you are angry or annoyed in any way, refrain from posting until you calm down and can frame your coments with generosity. We are here primarily to understand, and while judgements are inevitable (and sometimes correct), we often must set them aside in the interest of a larger historical picture.

Monday, April 6, 2015

(WR) Confucius' Way

One or two of you balk in your blogs about the Confucian idea that there is only one path (rather than, as in Radhakrishnan, myriad paths that all eventually converge on one goal). But agreeing or disagreeing with Confucius about this is extremely premature. Until we fully understand the path he is recommending, we're in no position even to gauge whether we agree or not about its being the only legitimate one.

Of course, it is natural to leap to conclusions about what does and does not appeal to you about some new idea, but let's try to suspend that impulse for awhile, and for now try to understand what he is saying, and why a reasonable and intelligent person might say it.

(PD) Cormac McCarthy

We have not yet discussed various novelists (e.g.: Dostoyevsky, Melville) whose characters sometimes engage in philosophical musings or dispute. These are not really philosophical dialogues in their method or purpose, but they can sometimes be rather sharp. Here's a short exchange in Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece Blood Meridian between the young protagonist and a hermit he encounters in Texas in the 1840s:
     Lost ye way in the dark, said the old man. He stirred the fire, standing slender tusks of bone up out of the ashes.
     The kid didnt answer.
     The old man swung his head back and forth. The way of the transgressor is hard. God made this world, but he didnt make it to suit everybody, did he?
     I dont believe he much had me in mind.
     Aye, said the old man. But where does a man come by his notions. What world's he seen that he liked better?
     I can think of better places and better ways.
     Can ye make it be?
     No. It's a mystery. A man's at odds to know his mind cause  his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It aint the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of all creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it. You believe that?
     I dont know.
     Believe that.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

(WR) Crossan's Opinions

A response to Anthony's observation that "... much of this is simply Crossan's personal interpretation of Jesus."

It is true that Crossan wrote the book, so technically every proposition in it represents his opinion, but it is not really his "personal" interpretation. It’s a bit like saying of your chemistry professor “It’s Dr. Harris’s opinion that table salt contains the chemical compound sodium chloride.” The opinion, in these cases is an expert one, emerging from a lifetime of study and scholarly engagement with hundreds of other people, subject to continuous discussion and re-evaluation in light of new research. Moreover, scholars like Crossan are not dictating, but summarizing their reasoning for the reader, who is completely free to make a case for an alternative interpretation. This is why I insisted at the beginning that I am not asking you to agree with the reading, but to get inside it — understand it as thoroughly as possible. Where you go with that understanding once we are finished is entirely up to you.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

(PD) Philosophical Theater

I'm intrigued by the hypothesis we floated Tuesday that much of the action in philosophical dialogue in the 20th century might be in theater. Aside from Sartre and Beauvoir, several names come immediately to mind: Tom Stoppard, Lee Blessing, Michael Frayn, Vern Thiessen. The latter two are particularly interesting because they, like Plato, imagine conversations involving historical persons (Heisenberg and Bohr in the first case, Haber and Einstein in the second).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

(WR) Toleration

Radhakrishnan talks about the process by which the Brahmanic tradition spread in ancient times, motivated not by dogmatic conquest but by inclusion and tolerance of difference. But just what kind of toleration is operative in this attitude requires some teasing out.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

(WR) Blogging this week

Those blogging actively are doing fine. One test of your blogging effectiveness is whether your classmates are moved to comment and start a thoughtful discussion, so if they seem not to be commenting much, you might try a different approach -- distilling your thoughts into a single brief paragraph, for example, or highlighting an issue that you think might interest others. As I said at the beginning, anyone not doing the minimum blogging every week should seriously consider cutting their losses and withdrawing from the course.

Monday, February 9, 2015

(WR) Hallucinogenic drugs and enlightenment

Following up on our conversation the other day about soma, here is a link to an article by Michael Pollan in the New Yorker magazine about recent research on LSD and psyllocybin. Among other experiments, these substances are being tried to alleviate depression and fear of death in terminal cancer patients. I don't know whether you can access it through this link without a subscription, but you might try going through the library site, or even (gasp!) going to the actual library and reading the magazine.

(PD) Literary tension in dialogue

One feature of any compelling literary endeavor is an element of conflict or tension. This can take many forms: unexpected turns of plot, threatening scenarios, ideological conflict, curiosity and discovery, impending doom, etc. A dialogue with two or more characters who are only in partial agreement, well enough crafted that they remain distinct personalities in the reader’s mind, carries a tiny element of tension, of evolving present or potential disagreement, in every exchange. It also routinely resolves some of the disagreement, providing nodes of calm or satisfaction. The particular issues the characters discuss ride the crest of this interpersonal conflict (kept reasonably low-level, so that they continue to be willing to talk to each other), and thereby commend themselves to the reader’s interest, even if she did not initially think she was curious about them.

A subtle tension of this sort that is internal to the form has advantages not only for engaging the reader, but for the writer’s own process. Forced to shift points of view as one character or another speaks, the writer finds the pressure points in the issues, or in the frameworks of rhetoric and ideology that render the issues hard to resolve. Imaginatively inhabiting each character in turn, the writer demonstrates respect for that person’s views and deep commitments, even while trying to show, alternately, the incompleteness or altogether mistakenness of each in turn. A reader inclined to sympathize with such a view feels the respect and consideration that the author gives to it, both by inhabiting the character and overtly through the consideration of the other character(s), and thus is in a psychological position to reconsider.

There are risks, of course. A less-careful reader, or one heavily fortified against self-examination, might latch onto a well and respectfully drawn character and perceive nothing but uncritical reinforcement for her (the reader’s) pre-critical views. The writer might thereby unintentionally amplify and encourage dangerous ideas merely by articulating them sypathetically, though the purpose is to show their limitations. I don’t know any way of mitigating this risk; perhaps it is simply one that intellectual honesty forces us to take.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

(WR) Analyzing Pope Francis

Those of you interested in developments in contemporary Catholicism might enjoy this review essay.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

(PD) Another Dialoguist

I made the following addition to the list of philosophical dialoguists on the syllabus (which is now on canvas, incidentally):

Vyasa – Indian sage (circa 4th – 2nd century b.c.e.) credited with composing the epic poem Mahabharata, and hence the Bhagavad-Gita which it contains. The Gita is a dialogue between Sri Krishna and the warrior-prince Arjuna, embedded in an outer dialogue recounting the conversation. There is unconfirmed speculation that this choice of form may have been influenced by knowledge of some of Plato’s work

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Welcome to Skeptiblog

This will be your hub for course blogging. I will also post things of relevance to the courses from time to time.