Since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo on January 7, the saying (wrongly attributed to Voltaire), “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” has become the motto against radicalism. Unfortunately, this virtuous defense of freedom of speech is not only inefficient but is backfiring.
Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Bob’s perspective.
One of the benefits of contemporary atheism is that it has brought to the forefront of modern consciousness the demand that believers offer some reason for the belief that they have. Of course, this demand is nothing new, and it even has scriptural support behind it, with St. Peter insisting that Christians ought always be prepared to give a reason for their hope (1 Peter 3:15).
Do we have free will? Free will is one of the central topics in philosophy, both historically and in the present. The basic puzzles of this topic are easily felt. For instance, it’s easy to wonder whether factors beyond our control — our genetic constitution, the environment in which we were brought up, and so on — might be among the causes of our behavior. In the light of this, we might wonder whether it’s really possible for us to act freely or, instead, whether everything we do is ultimately shaped by these factors in such a way that undermines our free will.
Christian and pagan symbols, obelisks, urns, broken columns and overgrown mortuary chapels in classical, Gothic and Byzantine styles record the determination that those who are buried there—the great and the good of 19th century Glasgow—will not be forgotten.
I call myself a moral philosopher. However, I sometimes worry that I might actually be an immoral philosopher. I worry that there might be something morally wrong with making the arguments I make. Let me explain. When it comes to preventing poverty related deaths, it is almost universally agreed that Peter Singer is one of the good guys. His landmark 1971 article, “Famine, Affluence and Morality”, not only launched a rich new area of philosophical discussion, but also led to millions in donations to famine relief.
A few really disastrous mistakes have dominated Western philosophy for the past several centuries. The worst mistake of all is the idea that the universe divides into two kinds of entities, the mental and the physical (mind and body, soul and matter). A related mistake, almost as bad, is in our philosophy of perception. All of the great philosophers of the present era, beginning with Descartes, made the same mistake, and it colored their account of knowledge and indeed their account of pretty much everything.
Head hits cause brain damage, but not always. Should we ban sport to protect athletes? Exposure to electromagnetic fields is strongly associated with cancer development. Should we ban mobile phones and encourage old-fashioned wired communication? The sciences are getting more and more specialized and it is difficult to judge whether, say, we should trust homeopathy, fund a mission to Mars, or install solar panels on our roofs.
One of the central tasks when reading a mystery novel (or sitting on a jury, etc.) is figuring out which of the characters are trustworthy. Someone guilty will of course say they aren’t guilty, just like the innocent – the real question in these situations is whether we believe them. The guilty party – let’s call her Annette – can try to convince us of her trustworthiness by only saying things that are true, insofar as such truthfulness doesn’t incriminate her.
Al Pacino is John Milton. Not John Milton the writer of Paradise Lost, although that is the obvious in-joke of the movie The Devil’s Advocate (1997). No, this John Milton is an attorney and — in what thus might be another obvious in-joke — he is also Satan, the Prince of Darkness. In the movie, he hires a fine young defense attorney, Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves), and offers him an escalating set of heinous — and high-profile — cases to try, a set of ever-growing temptations if you will. What will happen to Kevin in the trials to come?
The New Atheists – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens – are not particularly comfortable people. The fallacies in their arguments beg to be used in classes on informal reasoning. The narrowness of their perspectives are remarkable even by the standards of modern academia. The prejudices against those of other cultures would be breathtaking even in the era when Britannia ruled the waves. But there is a moral fervor unknown outside the pages of the Old Testament. And for this, we can forgive much.
Despite what some may believe, philosophy is prevalent and holds a great level of importance in today’s society. It allows us to examine the most fundamental issues that we face as self-aware beings and apply them to a variety of different topics, from free-will to politics to interpretation.
“Butler Library smells like Adderall and desperation.”
That note from a blogger at Columbia University isn’t exactly scientific. But it speaks to the atmosphere that settles in around exam time here, and at other competitive universities.
Groups are often said to believe things. For instance, we talk about PETA believing that factory farms should be abolished, the Catholic Church believing that the Pope is infallible, and the U.S. government believing that people have the right to free speech. But how can we make sense of a group believing something?
Look out Philadelphia!Oxford University Press has been attending the American Philosophical Association-East conferences for decades. The conference has been held in various cities including Baltimore, MD, Newark, DE, New York, NY, and Boston, MA. This year, we’re gearing up to travel to Philadelphia, we’ve asked our staff across various divisions to see what they are looking forward to.
Paradise, a 1982 knock-off of the movie Blue Lagoon, stars Phoebe Cates and Willie Aames as teenagers who find themselves alone in a place of natural beauty and experiencing the ultimate joy together. Ann Wilson of Heart and Mike Reno of Loverboy can see forever in each other’s eyes in “Almost Paradise,” their Top Ten hit from the Footloose soundtrack (“Almost paradise / We’re knocking on Heaven’s door”). Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) references the Elysian Fields, a paradise beyond this one where the blessed go when they die.