This Debate Has No Title: Solving the self-referential paradox

New from the The Institute of Art and Ideas. Paradoxes of self-reference are found in mathematics, literature and philosophy from the Greeks to Derrida. Can we ever solve them? And do we need to? Literary critic Patricia Waugh, mathematician Peter Cameron and philosopher Hilary Lawson and  tackle the problem here:


The Facebook Scandal that Wasn’t – By Udo Schuklenk



Udo Schuklenk

PNAS, the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published on June 24, 2014 the results of a study involving Facebook (FB) users. The authors wanted to ‘test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed.’ The researchers investigated this question by manipulating the newsfeeds of a few hundred thousand randomly selected FB users. Some received more positive messages, and some received more negative messages. The identities of these users were not known to the researchers in question. FB permitted social scientists to mess with some of their users’ brains for the purposes of a research project. It’s something that FB does frequently. The contents of its news-feeds are manipulated all the time, its algorithms changed often. FB users have agreed to this since 2012 when they signed up to a user agreement for the free service stating:

… we may use the information we receive about you … for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.’

For reasons I still fail to understand fully, some high-profile US bioethicists came out in the typical fashion bioethicists have become notorious for – expressing outrage in various forms and shapes about the supposedly unethical nature of the study. My esteemed colleague Robert Klitzman, for instance, described the study as ‘scandalous’.

My own view of the study is that it isn’t scandalously unethical, even though it would have been better had the research participants been informed about being targeted for research purposes. It seems absurd to me that there are no complaints from these ethicists if FB does exactly the same thing (manipulating its news-feed algorithms to change its users – mine for crying out loud! – state of mind while we use their service). However, grandiose hand waving is triggered if researchers do the same in order to address important research questions. From a consequentialist perspective, this doesn’t make a great deal of sense. More than that, we FB users are informed that ‘information we receive about you’ may be used for ‘testing’ and ‘research.’ Bioethicist Art Caplan, meanwhile, thinks that telling us that we might be subjected to research projects is insufficient for us to truly comprehend that we might be subjected to research projects. Really!

Well, to cut a long story short, Michelle Meyer and other bioethicists – myself included – came together to pen a response to our outraged colleagues, defending the research in question. Nature, of all publications, took our commentary. Check it out some time, be it just to reassure yourself that bioethicists aren’t all about seeing scandal and problems in every corner of the universe. Since we wrote our piece, a number of bioethicists, including Dan Brock, Peter Singer, Dan Wikler and others have signed on to our statement.

Let the debate begin.

Jeff McMahan Accepts White’s Chair of Moral Philosophy

mcmahan[1]Jeff McMahan recently accepted the White’s Chair of Moral Philosophy at Oxford.

Previously held by John Broome, James Griffin, Bernard Williams, and R.M. Hare, this is arguably the most prestigious position in moral philosophy. McMahan was offered the chair earlier in the year and recently decided to accept.



Analytic Philosophy a “fruitless, self-deluding endeavor” says Peter Unger

In a recent interview with 3QuarksDaily, Peter Unger basically denounces the majority of mainstream analytic philosophy as empty of any meaningful content – nothing more than a specialist form of literature, really – enjoyable for certain people in the same way that chess, or logic puzzles, or bridge are enjoyable:

Philosophers easily get the idea that somehow or other, just by considering things about the world that they already know, they can write up deep stories which are true, or pretty nearly true, about how it is with the world…They think they can tell a deep story about how it is that all of this stuff really hangs together, that’s much deeper, more enlightening and more comprehensive than anything that any scientist can do.

Unger makes his case more fully in his new book, Empty Ideas: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy which is out in August.

Open Access to Wittgenstein Nachlass

Ms-115,3[1]Trinity College Cambridge recently announced that it is planning to make a new Nachlass facsimile of Wittgenstein’s original documents, available to all freely online.   This will be done in co-operation with the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen.

“The University of Bergen has continued to support the Bergen Electronic Edition, but we have always known that a new edition that takes full advantage of new technology would have to be created. That the new facsimile will be free for all who wish to access it is an amazing gift to Wittgenstein scholarship.”

– Prof Alois Pichler, head of the Wittgenstein Archive

Read the full press release

Call for Papers – Critical Philosophy of Race: Beyond the USA

Call for papers for a proposed special issue of the Journal of Applied Philosophy.

japp-coverSince the publication in 1992 of Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah’s In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, the new discipline of the Critical Philosophy of Race has flourished among anglophone ‘analytic’ philosophers. Yet Critical Philosophers of Race have tended to confine themselves to an analysis of racial problems that arise in the politics, and against the historical background, of the USA. This focus has given the false impression that the Critical Philosophy of Race is irrelevant outside the USA. To challenge this false impression, the Journal of Applied Philosophy proposes to publish a special issue, guest edited by Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (UCL) and Albert Atkin (Macquarie), on the relevance of the Critical Philosophy of Race beyond the US experience.

Deadline for submissions: 31 January 2015.

Please address any initial enquiries about submissions to the guest editors:
Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman
Albert Atkin

Submissions should be sent to

Guidelines for submissions can be found here.

HowTheLightGetsIn – the world’s largest philosophy and music festival

howthelightgetsin22ND MAY- 1ST JUNE

‘Back to Big Thinking’   The Guardian

450 events, 6 stages, 180 speakers, 10 days, 150 bands.


HowTheLightGetsIn, the world’s largest philosophy and music festival, is back with thought-provoking debates, infectiously danceable music, comedy, and parties.

The theme this year is Heresy, Truth and the Future and  leading voices from the worlds of science, politics, philosophy and culture are going to debate everything from multiverse cosmology to the perils of democracy and discover which of today’s heresies will become the truths of tomorrow.


Highlights are set to include:

The Open Society & Its Enemies (Saturday 24th May)

Oligarchs and government spies know where we are, what we want, and even our innermost thoughts. Who can protect us? Are whistleblowers like Snowden the white knights of our digital age? Or is the pursuit of radical openness itself the real threat we face?

Mary Ann Sieghart asks former GCHQ director David Omand, Wikileaks Chief Spokesperson Kristin Hrafnsson, Technology Columnist for The Observer John Naughton and former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to debate the limits of openness.

In association with The Observer


Bang Goes the Big Bang (24th May)

We take it for granted that the Universe began with the Big Bang. But there are problems with the theory. Is it just possible Big Bang will turn out to be a mistake? Since our whole account of the Universe depends on this theory, can we contemplate giving it up and what might replace it?

Theoretical physicists Roger Penrose. multiverse cosmologist Laura Mersini-Houghton, and CERN particle theorist John Ellis go back to the beginining.


Machiavelli’s Rules (Monday 26th May)

By endorsing trickery and deceit, Machiavelli ensured his name would live on in infamy. Yet even Lincoln and Johnson used skulduggery to secure change. Might lies, bribes and other dirty tricks be necessary for creating meaningful advance? Or should ends never justify the means?

Paul “Guido Fawkes” Staines, former Chancellor Norman Lamont, broadcaster Baroness Joan Bakewell, and Total Politics editor Sam Macrory dispute trickery.

In association with Total Politics


Who’s Afraid of the Truth: Bernard-Henri Lévy in conversation with Rana Mitter (24th May)
France’s most public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévyturns his sights on the hypocrisy and blindness of politicians and philosophers alike.

Known for fierce opposition to totalitarianism in all its forms, BHL personally persuaded Sarkozy to intervene in Libya and is a radical force in France’s cultural life.


Science… Fiction? (31st May)

We think science works because it is true. Yet the theories are different from a century ago and will be different a century hence. Perhaps science is powerful rather than true.  Would this lead us to more radical theories or undermine the method that has delivered such success?

Pharmacologist and former Home Office drugs advisor David Nutt, author of The Science Delusion Rupert Sheldrake, and philosopher of physics James Ladyman examine the scientific-industrial complex.



On the music front, we’ll be welcoming Nightmare on Wax and Madonna favourite, Mr Scruff, gypsy dance masters Molotov Jukebox, one of the country’s most influential DJs Andrew Weatherall, Ivor Novello Award winner Sandi Thom, music pioneers Alexis Taylor and Felix Martin of Hot Chip fame, the emotive soundscapes of Ulrich Schnauss, songstress Charlotte Church, Phildel, The Destroyers, Zen Hussies, Starsailor’s James Walsh, The Hoosiers and hundreds more.


%d bloggers like this: