Category ArchivePhilosophy



Language &Miscellaneous &Philosophy &Science 29 Jan 2007 12:08 am

Links to free educational resources

free educational resources online.

(Via jennawrites.)

History &Miscellaneous &Philosophy &Politics 13 Jan 2007 12:10 am

“Live or Dead”, as Bush says

Today — this morning — something happened that I didn’t understand until tonight. I was doing my commute from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Mountain View. I was already over the hill and on 85. It was about 9:10 and I was listening to Democracy Now on KPFA. The news, delivered in Amy Goodman’s even voice, was of the 15 Republican congressmen standing with the new Democratic majority against Bush’s plan for escalation in Iraq– the “surge” as he spins it. I had, without much deep consideration, signed a petition the day before to congress expressing my feelings against the escalation. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, as I listened to the report, I started feeling happy, like it was going to be a good day. Normally, Democracy Now kills my mood, but this morning I felt some spirit. As I drove down 85 towards Moffett Field, I felt good, maybe even like I should have a funny joke to tell, or a prank to play at work. I wasn’t really sure why. I was glad that the Congress was finally standing up to the president, but I didn’t think too much about why I felt good.

When I got home tonight, it was kind of exciting. One, because it was Friday, and two, because the weather was getting really cold. So cold that the night sky becomes crystal clear and you can see twice the number of stars as usual. I watched the outside temperature reading on the Prius’ screen drop as I headed over the hill. 45 in Mountain View. 41 in Los gatos. 39 climbing the Summit. 37 coming down the hill. 41 in Scotts Valley. 39 in Felton. The second time it dropped to 37, the screen actually popped up a special message saying, “Outside temperature: 37 degrees.” It seemed to notice that something was unusual. Finally, it was 36 degrees on our street as I pulled up the driveway. It almost never gets that cold here.

When it does get that cold here, it’s an event. You build a big fire, drink warm drinks, and hang out close to the fire. It’s too cold and too rare an event to waste the evening watching TV. So, we made a good dinner, and then listened to the Simon and Garfunkel box set we got for Christmas. I realize now how little I knew Simon and Garfunkel’s work. The box set has 5 albums spanning the 60’s. The early stuff is pure folk, but with really rich harmonies and inventive songs. It seems also inspired by Bluegrass and gospel music. As they progressed into the 60’s the songs got more political and more edgy, sometimes even angry. The late 60’s songs were sometimes downright strange, but still beautiful.

While listening, I got the same feeling I had back in music appreciation class hearing chants from the middle ages. Though the music sounds really foreign, it speaks to something universal in you in a quiet, hallowed way. The composer is removed by centuries of history, yet, it comes through that at some level they had to deal with some of the same problems you have, and they might have even felt the same way about some of them.

Tonight, I realized that, for the first time in a couple of years, I have some renewed hope for the future. I hadn’t really realized it had departed; I knew something was wrong for the last several months, but I didn’t know what. I thought it was just the rigors of stretching myself trying to write good research papers, or getting ready for the holidays, but that wasn’t it. I realize I had come to feel that the government was beyond redress and that the powers that be were hell bent on destroying the world and that nothing could stop them.

Tonight, I realized that it might be possible, once again, to be heard. That, once again, getting involved might actually help things get better. I don’t know what the answers to Iraq are, but I think it might be possible to find something better. I don’t know what to do about our national debt, but surely with the riches we have we can find a way to become solvent again. For all the people without health insurance, this time we need to make it happen. For the masters of war, I hope your time will end soon.

The hope makes me want to get involved again. Tonight I wanted to call my friends and family and talk about the cold spell that we are sharing all over the western United States. Even the ones who aren’t out west, I wanted to call up and tell them about what was happening here. It felt important to share and talk, even about small events. It feels important to get involved in a way that it hasn’t felt in a long time. It’s a pretty good feeling that I didn’t even realize I was missing until tonight.

(Oh, I think there’s going to be an anti-war rally in San Francisco two weeks from tomorrow, to mirror the one scheduled for D.C. I can’t wait.)

Philosophy 29 Oct 2006 11:31 pm

Effective Reasoning – Teaching Company

I love to converse in argument. Done well, it is instructive and all parties involved may learn something, even if it is only the strengthening of their own opinion. Hopefully though, it leads to greater insight about the world and others in it, and in the best cases there is eventually a meeting of the minds.

Sadly, it seems to be a bit of a lost art. There is a great course available from the Teaching Company on it, Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning. I enjoyed it immensely this summer on my long commute.

Miscellaneous &Philosophy &Politics 27 Oct 2006 10:15 am

Yay! First Anonymous poster

This is very exciting. Today I got my first anonymous post. Daniel Dennett was so right on the money when he told me, “Bob it’s easy to draw web traffic, just take a strong position that can’t be proven wrong or right.”
“No way Dan, that is crazy.”, I said.
Boy was I wrong — that dude is brilliant.

Philosophy &Politics 27 Oct 2006 12:55 am

Belief in Belief

In Belief in Belief, Kevin laments the closet atheists, and the supposition that it is popularly held in America that Atheists are crackpots.

I think the atheists should feel free to speak their mind, and not be persecuted for it in any form. It also may be true that atheists are widely viewed as crackpots. I think most evangelical groups are viewed as crackpots. It all sounds curiously like the claims of religious evangelicals in America who believe they are always being persecuted.

Personally, I believe that atheists are as likely to be right as anybody who firmly believes in any God. In essence, atheists take it on faith that God cannot exist. They are as incapable of proving their belief as those who believe in more standard religions. I believe it is a question that cannot be answered affirmatively one way or the other because we are trapped in the system we are trying to comment on, and the system is insufficient to discuss things that are outside the system (this is probably a bad plagiarism of Godel’s incompleteness theorem which states that any sufficiently powerful formal system is incomplete because it cannot fully describe itself (further bastardization I am sure.))

I would be sad if people repress atheists in any way. So why would people think they are crackpots or repress them? Probably it is not as much about their beliefs as what they do with them. Most of the atheists I know personally, not all, but a lot, are vehemently against people who hold a faith in religion, to the point of ridiculing them. Maybe that has something to do with it.

I think Dennett comes off as pompous when he tries to convince people not to believe in God. He should spend his time elaborating other things like his theory of mind. That is much more worthwhile for all. There’s no point trying to convince someone who thinks they can fly that they cannot.

Further, if thinking they can fly helps them be happy, and causes no harm to them or anyone else (that is if they don’t try to jump off a cliff and fly – or try to convince others that they also can fly), then let them believe and be happy. It reminds me of an expression that I often heard growing up: “Everyone’s right to swing their fist in the air ends at the tip of anyone else’s nose.” Or, something to that effect.

To quote a podcast I listen to occassionally, “Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares? It’s all about proper logic and reasoning.” Which also answers the problematic things about any firmly held belief that is not provable – government and those who would govern should stay out of legislating it one way or the other, including funding any kind of faith-based initiatives for either side. As well, those who believe one way or the other are free to do so, and shouldn’t try to convince others of their own religion.

That said, I have great respect for Dawkins’ ideas, and I would be tickled if he could prove that God doesn’t exist. I’m looking forward to reading his book. Somehow though I am always reminded of the funny bumper sticker.

God is Dead
–Nietzsche

Nietzsche is Dead
–God

Oh that reminds me, and this is probably not related, but why does cell death need to exist in the universe?

Philosophy 11 Oct 2006 06:07 pm

Up, Up and Away in my … thump.. Oops

In If atheists could fly, Kevin quotes Brad Billy-Bob Mill:

If I concentrate very, very hard I can levitate several hundred feet in the air. I have never actually levitated because I have not yet concentrated hard enough but I am sure I will one day. Even if it’s not true and I will never actually be able to prove it one way or another, the belief that I will makes me happy. It contributes to the happiness of my friends. Therefore I am justified in believing that I can fly.

This comparison to the acceptability of belief from J.S. Mill is not analogous, and thus not a refutation, on a couple of points (Though 3B Mill’s effort to increase the amount of good in the world is laudable, however misguided). Here’s one:

  • J.S. Mill benefits from the Weak Evidentiary standard where 3B Mill does not.

    For all persons S and propositions p and times t, if believing p fits S’s evidence at t, then S ought to believe that p at t.

    While not strong, this works, because there is no evidence against the belief in God.
    3B Mill does not get the same benefit because there is strong evidence against the claim of flying. Namely, people try to fly and fail, presumably with much concentration. As further proof, wasn’t it the claim of levitation that contributed to the downfall of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the 80’s.

Philosophy 11 Oct 2006 02:38 pm

What are the Practical Benefits of a Belief in God?

When confronted with the question of whether or not there is a God, I as a scientifically-minded person, have a hard time with the fact that I believe there is a God. Why would I believe that? There is no rational evidence to believe.

Somehow, I find that my spirit is buffeted by the notion that there is some large force out there that organizes the cosmos. I don’t see it as a person, or as any kind of intelligence that I could comprehend, nor do I see it directly, immediately intervening in human affairs. However, it provides hope.

I like the way John Stuart Mill discusses the belief in God,

any one who feels it conducive either to his satisfaction or to his usefulness to hope for a future state as a possibility, there is no hindrance to his indulging that hope” (Mill 1874: 210).

He further states that it is permissible if:

L1. For all one knows or justifiably believes, the object of one’s hope could obtain; and,
L2. One believes that hoping contributes to one’s own happiness, or to the well-being of others.

So, while I do not look to Mill for permission, I agree with him that there is practical good if it helps you to be happy, or if it helps in the happiness of others.

Personally, I think this improvement in happiness is possible because religion is a programming language to talk to the deepest part of our mental faculties. Put another way, it is a vehicle that somehow produces action in most human organisms. Most likely, science will someday be able to describe this in detail.

Though we do not understand it, it is obvious that it is an effective language for programming people. Used well, it is a tool for happiness. Used poorly it leads to bad thinking, lack of intellectual testing, and wrong decisions.

There are some other discussions of other philosophers’ stance on the pragmatics of believing in religion at the Stanford philosophy server: here. One reason to look at that site is also that it contains a nice section at the end which talks about the arguments around the ethics of constructing beliefs based on pragmatics.

Philosophy &Politics 10 Oct 2006 03:29 pm

Thinking Points by George Lakoff

I just picked up Thinking Points by George Lakoff. I read the first few chapters over lunch, and so far I am impressed. It is an easy read, and it is optimistic; It posits that if progressives authentically and articulately talk about progressive values then they will win the majority of votes.

The problem, the book states, is that progressives don’t know how to talk about their values because the values are so much a part of American life that they are taken for granted. The rest of the book plans to lay out these values in articulate terms that can be used to communicate with bi-conceptuals (formerly called the swing voters.)

Though some of the intro material is a restatement of his previous work, I am looking forward to the presentation of the values; I wonder how they will compare to my own values. It’s also interesting that the book is the kickoff to a website for the creation of a progressive manual.

Philosophy &Politics &Words 31 Aug 2006 10:55 am

Liberty Fund, Inc.: The Online Library of Liberty

Liberty Fund, Inc.: The Online Library of Liberty has 1400 books online on liberty. I am impressed with the Liberty Fund’s mission. From their about page:

Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals. The Foundation develops, supervises, and finances its own educational activities to foster thought and encourage discourse on enduring issues pertaining to liberty.

These programs focus on the place individual liberty has in an intellectual heritage evident from ancient times and continuing through our own times. The programs are intended to enrich understanding and appreciation of the complex nature of a society of free and responsible individuals and to contribute to its preservation.

I discovered it when researching Dr. J Rufus Fears, the teacher of a course on the great books to which I have been listening from the Teaching Company.

The course is focused on the lessons we should take from great literature. Initially it was really annoying me, but I have come to appreciate what the teacher is trying to accomplish and how he has gone about it. I am still not done, so I will save that discussion for later. Suffice it say, I found this library of free books online. It includes such classics as The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Gibbon, and On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill.

Philosophy &Words 28 Aug 2006 01:36 pm

Logical Fallacy Name?

I assume my learned audience will be able to help me out with this question. What is the name of the logical fallacy that takes the form:

“Well, if we didn’t do it someone else would.”

Also, related to this is the logical fallacy,

“We’re just giving the people what they want.”

Anyone know the name of that fallacy? I think the second can be considered the fallacy, ad populum, Appeal to the Majority. In which, it is asserted that a statement is true because a large number of people believe it’s true.

If that is so, then I suspect that the first fallacy is a different kind.

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