Monthly Archives: May 2016

American universities reject ridiculous call to boycott Israeli universities

Why Evolution Is True

The American Studies Association (ASA), a group promoting the university study of American culture, voted on December 4 to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli universities. You can see their statement here, which cites the Israeli “oppression” of Palestine (supported, as the resolution says, by the U.S.), as a reason for academics to boycott Israeli universities:

Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students . . .

It is resolved that the American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to…

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Krauss on Horgan

Why Evolution Is True

Lawrence Krauss, Michael Shermer, and Steve Pinker have written responses to John Horgan’s splenetic Scientific American blog post arguing that skeptics are criticizing the Wrong Things. Lay off Bigfoot, homeopathy, global warming, and GMOs, he says; we should be going after physics, medicine, and—war! (Horgan seems to have overlooked pervasive skepticism of physics and medicine.)
One of Horgan’s targets was Lawrence Krauss. Here, Krauss responds; quoted with permission:

John Horgan was a respected science writer years ago up until he wrote a book entitled The End of Science, which essentially argued that much of physics had departed from its noble traditions and now had ventured off into esoterica which had no relevance to the real world, and would result in no new important discoveries—of course, this was before the discovery of an accelerating universe, the Higgs Boson, and the recent exciting discovery of gravitational waves!.   Since then I and most of…

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Shermer responds to Horgan

Why Evolution Is True

 This is the second of three responses to John Horgan’s piece of hauteur in Scientific American. In his blog post, he explained why he’s become “nuts”:

The biological theory that really drives me nuts is the deep-roots theory of war. According to the theory, lethal group violence is in our genes. Its roots reach back millions of years, all the way to our common ancestor with chimpanzees.

The deep-roots theory is promoted by scientific heavy hitters like Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham and Edward Wilson. Skeptic Michael Shermer tirelessly touts the theory, and the media love it, because it involves lurid stories about bloodthirsty chimps and Stone Age humans.

But the evidence is overwhelming that war was a cultural innovation–like agriculture, religion, or slavery–that emerged less than 12,000 years ago.

I hate the deep-roots theory not only because it’s wrong, but also…

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Progress in Philosophy — IV

Footnotes to Plato

philosophy[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here]

Ethics: the utilitarian-consequentialist landscape

It should be clear at this point that we could multiply the examples in this chapter by orders of magnitude, and cover — I suspect — most areas of philosophical scholarship. Instead, let me simply add one more class of examples, from ethics, focusing in particular on utilitarianism and the broader class of ethical theories to which it belongs, consequentialism. [7] The history of utilitarianism is yet another good example of progress in philosophy, with specific regard to the subfield of moral philosophy — and I say this as someone who is not particularly sympathetic to utilitarianism. The approach is characterized by the idea that what matters in ethics are the consequences of actions (hence its tight connection with the broader framework of consequentialism). The idea can…

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Why do people buy water?

Why Evolution Is True

While waiting in line at the airport this morning to buy coffee, I noticed that many people were buying plastic bottles of water—at $3-4 per pop (my coffee was $2.50). And this wasn’t fizzy water, but regular still water, like Dasani, that has been filtered and may have had a bit of minerals added. Other people were walking around with bottles of water in their hand, which always reminds me of infants carrying their bottles of formula or a bunch of Linuses with their blankies.

Why do people pay, and pay big, for water that is no better, and no better for you, than water you can get from the tap? Bottled water is energy-inefficient, uses fossil fuels to make, and costs more than gasoline! And it swells landfills with petroleum byproducts.

And the airport corridor was lined with water fountains, where you could swill very good Chicago tap water for free—as much as you want! I remember some years ago when

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Why all the water bottles?

Why Evolution Is True

In the past few days, I’ve noticed a fair number of students and other young folk carrying clear plastic water bottles. Some are attached to their backpacks and some are carried around in the hand. This of course is a fairly new phenomenon; I don’t remember it at all from my youth, or even 20 years ago. It must be in response to some medical advice to drink a lot of water and keep hydrated.

The thing is, free water is available everywhere. On campus, every building has water fountains—many of them. Many stores do, too.  On the rare occasions when you desperately need water and no fountains are around, any food store will gladly give you a glass of water. Hell, there are even water fountains scattered along the lakefront where I run and walk.

I doubt that this habit is as pervasive in Europe, though water fountains are…

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Progress in Philosophy — III

Footnotes to Plato

philosophy[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here]

Philosophy of science: forms of realism and antirealism

I’m a philosopher of science, and therefore better acquainted with that subfield than with anything else in philosophy. And it is clear to me that philosophy of science has also made quite a bit of progress from its inception (the approximate time of which may reasonably be pegged onto the famous debate on the nature of induction between John Stuart Mill and William Whewell, but which could be traced further back at the least to Bacon). In this section I will go over a specific example (among many, really) of progress in philosophy of science, the debate between realists and antirealists about scientific theories and unobservable entities (interested readers should also see the many useful references listed in the pertinent SEP entries: Monton…

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Pigliucci decries scientism, argues that science needs philosophy, and that most of us are doing it rong

Why Evolution Is True

While perusing the New Humanist website, trying to find Francis Spufford’s letter that I discussed yesterday, I came across a short piece I hadn’t seen before. It’s by Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher (also trained in biology) working at the City University of New York, and is called “Science needs philosophy” (free at the link).  If you’ve read Massimo’s website Rationally Speaking on a regular basis, you’ll know that three of his themes are the importance of philosophy for working scientists, the fact that most scientists neglect philosophy to their detriment, and that many of us are afflicted with the dread disease called scientism, which Massimo defines as “the idea that science is the ultimate arbiter of any question, or indeed even of what counts as a meaningful question.”

These points are all emphasized in the New Humanist piece, which starts off with Pigliucci’s “j’accuse”:

A…

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An unenlightening disquisition on consciousness

Why Evolution Is True

Several readers sent me Galen Strawson’s new piece in the New York Times‘s philosophy section, “The Stone.” In his op-ed, “Consciousness isn’t a mystery. It’s matter“, respected philosopher of mind Strawson makes three contentions. I find the most important two to be uncontroversial, while the third is puzzling.

The basic premise is that consciousness is a property of matter—our evolved bodies—and one needn’t invoke spooky dualism to explain it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  His argument:

  • Consciousness is not an “illusion”; it’s real because we all experience it.  I find this pretty uncontroversial. When people say (and I’ve said it) that “Consciousness is an illusion,” what they mean—or what I meant, as I no longer make that statement—is that it’s not what it feels like: like a little person in the brain controlling and experiencing things. In that sense it’s an “illusion”, but that doesn’t mean it’s…

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Progress in Philosophy — II

Footnotes to Plato

philosophy[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here]

More, much more, on epistemology

There is, of course, much more to be said about epistemology, and as usual the proper SEP entry (an extremely valuable peer reviewed resource that has accompanied us throughout this book) is an excellent starting point for further exploration (in this case, Steup 2005). Before leaving the field to move on to philosophy of science, I want to briefly sketch a number of other debates in epistemology that lend themselves to the same kind of analysis I just went into some detail in the case of the concept of knowledge. I have not drawn concept maps for the remaining examples in this chapter, but doing so is an excellent exercise for the interested reader, both to make sure one is able to reconstruct how the various…

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