The PhilPapers survey

It seems like this should get mentioned on this blog: a major survey of the philosophical views of professional philosophers, philosophy PhDs, grad students, and even undergrads.

The PhilPapers survey raises issues about expertise, consensus, and progress in philosophy.  Among target faculty surveyed, most of the questions proved to be controversial.  81.6% of target faculty accept or lean toward non-skeptical realism about the external world.  But none of the other responses to any of the other questions broke past the 80% mark, and in many cases the target faculty appear to be pretty much evenly split between two or three different responses to various questions.

Does this mean that philosophers aren’t making any progress and aren’t solving any problems?  Not necessarily.

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The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Maryan Czajkowski

Ed Yong (via Pharyngulareports on a cool study conducted by psychologist Nicholas Epley:

Epley asked different groups of volunteers to rate their own beliefs about important issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, the death penalty, the Iraq War, and the legalisation of marijuana. The volunteers also had to speculate about God’s take on these issues, as well as the stances of an “average American”, Bill Gates (a celebrity with relatively unknown beliefs) and George Bush (a celebrity whose positions are well-known).

The result: “In every case, [Epley] found that people’s own attitudes and beliefs matched those they suggested for God more precisely than those they suggested for the other humans.”

Ed says that Epley’s study shows that “relying on a deity to guide one’s decisions and judgments is little more than spiritual sockpuppetry.”  (A sockpuppet is a “false identity through which a member of an Internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person, like a ventriloquist manipulating a hand puppet” — Wikipedia.)

I can think of at least one other plausible interpretation of this study.

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A revolt against the tyranny of citation

Chevrolet-Citation-84David Shields will soon come out with a book called Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. The book is a collection of aphorisms loosely united by themes like art, truth, meaning, and death.  As I understand it, Shields’s original intent was for the book not to include any citations. He wanted the aphorisms (some of which are by Shields, but others of which are due to sources from the ancient Greeks to the 20th Century) to stand alone, without provenance, so the reader would have to guess (or Google) in order to know who said what. However, Shields’s publisher wouldn’t allow this. So, I believe, the book is going to be published with citations. (Shields discusses some of this stuff here.)

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The end of the university

Harvard_Museum_of_Natural_History_050227Kevin Carey thinks universities will soon go the way of the newspaper:

Colleges are caught in [a] debt-fueled price spiral… They’re also in the information business in a time when technology is driving down the cost of selling information to record, destabilizing lows.  In combination, these two trends threaten to shake the foundation of the modern university, in much the same way that other seemingly impregnable institutions have been torn apart.  … Students will benefit enormously from radically lower prices… But these huge changes will also seriously threaten the ability of universities to provide all the things beyond teaching on which society depends: science, culture, the transmission of our civilization from one generation to the next. Continue reading “The end of the university”

The war on death

Rudolf_Schiestl_(1878-1931)_-_Tod_von_BaselThe NYT reports on the latest incremental advances in the science of lengthening the human lifespan. Maybe someday soon we’ll conquer senescence; maybe eventually we’ll even be able to live forever. But after you’ve lived long enough, wouldn’t continued existence get a little boring? Continue reading “The war on death”

Neg Ethics

1805-courtship-caricatureConor Friedersdorf is on a campaign against the Neg.  The Neg is a pickup technique deployed by guys like this which involves subtly injecting insults into otherwise friendly conversations with women.  Supposedly this works sometimes.  Conor’s case against the Neg is here.  Mickey Kaus and Bob Wright raise an interesting problem for Conor’s position here.  They point out that playing hard to get (i.e. ignoring a woman you’re interested in) seems unobjectionable.  So what’s the (morally relevant) difference between ignoring a woman and deploying the Neg?  Both techniques can result in hurt feelings.  Both techniques could be attempts to manipulate a woman’s not-quite-conscious attraction to rudeness in men.  And both techniques seem deceptive: whether you’re playing hard to get or simply insulting her, you’re behaving as though you’re not interested in her when really you are.

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Leibniz, freedom, and the problem of evil

Gottfried_Wilhelm_von_LeibnizMisery is all around us.  You don’t even have to look away from The Philosopher’s Eye to learn how hazardous the world is: we’ve discussed on this blog how the deadly swine flu is becoming even more virulent and how 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.

The fact that there’s so much suffering is already bad enough.  But it poses a special problem for theists who believe in an omnipotent and good God.  How could such a God allow so many people to suffer so much?  This is the (or a) Problem of Evil.  Leibniz‘s famous, deeply counterintuitive answer to the Problem of Evil is to argue that, despite appearances, we inhabit the best possible world.  Over the weekend, philosophers Jan Cover and Michael Murray appeared on to discuss this strange idea.

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