Memories, Emotions, and Brains

Brian

One of the things I noticed when taking my Philosophy undergrad was how 17th century Philosophers (and Philosophers of other periods too) often made grandiose claims about how people thought about the world. Often their 100% certain proclamations were refuted by other Philosophers who were also 100% certain about how the world worked. A particular example of this would be the general commitment to the Platonic notion of how we are born with a complete set of concepts (believed and accepted by most philosophers prior to Locke), and then the commitment to the complete opposite, the ‘blank slate’ (Locke’s tabula rasa), the idea that we are born with zero ideas. Turns out that biology is more complex than that. Philosophy of Mind makes slow progress.

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Islamophobia, a discussion

Brian

Depending on who you read or listen to, either Islamophobia simply isn’t real, or it’s not as pervasive as people think it is, or sometimes it’s a legitimate criticism, but it’s often used incorrectly to shut down someone legitimately criticising Islam, or else it’s just some word (without any legitimate meaning) that people use to shut down conversations. To which I say: bullshit. I have to grant, of course, that there is possibly some people out there do these things, but I have to admit that I haven’t actually seen any of them. Even in articles where these claims are made, no evidence is provided.

Most often, people who haven’t ‘picked sides’ in this particular debate are left wondering what this term means, exactly. So I’m going to sketch out what I think it means, and how I see it used (which are, oddly enough, the same thing). Note that ‘what the term means’ isn’t the same as ‘what the word is defined as’. [Read more...]

Philosophers: Please Take a Stand

Brian

This is an open letter to the Philosophers out there who consider themselves to be involved in Skepticism (even if only in a tertiary fashion). The ones that I specifically have in mind as I write this are Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, Dr. Daniel Fincke, and Dr. Daniel Dennett*.

Let’s begin with my credentials: I am nobody of import. I am just a guy, whose friend has invited him to occasionally contribute a blog post. I have a Bachelor’s in Philosophy, which means that I have little more than a cursory grasp of the issues within Philosophy. I am not attached or affiliated in any way with any organisation. I’m just a guy with an opinion, who does his best to flesh that opinion out.

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Impersonations

Brian

A short headsup: it’s been brought to my attention that a person out there is pretending to be me. They’re pointing at this site and claiming that they are Brian Lynchehaun, and including the above photo in their email correspondence.

Putting aside the (clearly insane) notion that being this particular Brian Lynchehaun improves your odds with the women (I have not yet been informed that they are hitting on men), should you receive an email from someone purporting to be me, I’d encourage you to click on the twitter link that follows all of my posts in order to verify that The Real Brian Lynchehauntm.

Alternatively, I can easily be found on Facebook and G+.

And now back to your regularly scheduled posts…

A link to Brian on Twitter!

Taxes ARE Theft (but so what?)

Brian

One of the oft-made claims by self-styled Libertarians is that ‘taxes are theft’ (and are therefore ‘bad’). This kind of assertion underpins most of the Libertarian position, and also the bulk of any anti-tax/pro-small-government arguments by folks of any political stripe. Unfortunately, it’s rare to hear this position defended as the self-styled Libertarians don’t seem all that well-read with regards to their own literature.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Ayn Rand was gaining prominence, but there were no Philosophers backing her corner, partially because she spouted utter drivel and partially because to side with Rand was engage in self-loathing (Rand was notoriously anti-Philosophy/ers).

Enter Robert Nozick, with his tome “Anarchy, State and Utopia”. Nozick is well-regarded in Philosophy for articulating what was inarticulate, and defending the generally indefensible. Nozick sketched out the Libertarian claims, largely as a response to John Rawls’s defense of Social Justice, and, well… His arguments are not obviously terrible (as much as we may disagree with them). His arguments are certainly compelling, if you have a tendency to ignore all counter-arguments to your position. But hey, that’s the human condition, right?

So let’s dive in. And hold your nose (and your breath), because Nozick doesn’t make the argument that ‘taxes are theft’. Nope: “Taxation of earnings from labor is on par with forced labor.” Yeah, he went there.

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Shame is not a lever lightly pulled

Brian

 

Occasionally, I see people invoking ‘shame’* as a strategy to some end. That people ‘should be ashamed for doing shameful things’ and that ‘shaming people for doing shameful things is good’. I have to admit that I find this mindset somewhat baffling, for a number of reasons.

Without getting into the ins and outs of what shame ‘is’, exactly, I think we can agree that shame is a negative feeling we have in certain situations, related to/overlapping with guilt, or to just generally ‘feeling bad’*. I think that ‘feeling bad’ captures a wide range of situations, but the word ‘shame’ applies when the ‘feeling bad’ is in response to a social response (or a projected potential social response) to an action we just did. An illustration: a child breaks a window and feels shame, even though no-one is around, because that child projects how people will react to her breaking that window. (This article is an extremely simplified overview. For a far more in-depth and technical article, see end note. For those of you with a background in Psychology: I am intentionally conflating guilt/shame/embarrassment as these terms are often conflated in the vernacular. This article is not intended to be an explanation of the difference between those things, but an argument against trying to evoke that group of emotional responses)

There are two important criteria to be evaluated when trying to determine whether or not a particular tactic is ‘good’.

  1. Is it effective? Given the goal that I want to achieve, does using this tactic actually move me towards that goal? Is effective in the long-term, or only in the short-term?
  2. Is it ethical? If the tactic is, itself, harmful, and there is no other less-harmful effective option, then yes this tactic may well be the least unethical choice. Conversely, if there are other less-harmful effective options, then the use of this tactic is unethical.

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Because Abortion needs to be explained, apparently.

I am irate. Look, I realise that I am in a position of privilege, and I realise that I’m not angry about this all the time because I’m male and that this is something that I have the privilege of simply not-concerning-myself-about for the vast bulk of my life.

I rationalise this as that I pay attention only insofar as harm is brought to my attention. And Ireland has ever-so-slowly been moving towards legalising abortion since 1992. Oh, that’s right, you didn’t know that abortion was illegal in Ireland. My bad. Did you know that it was actually illegal for doctors to tell patients about their abortion options in other countries? And that it was illegal for people to travel to another country for an abortion? No? Well, anyway, we were focused on my privilege, so let’s keep on topic.

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Ayn Rand, and Obscurantism

People often wonder at the success of Ayn Rand’s writings, at how otherwise intelligent people get sucked in to the Randian circle-jerk. I want to take some time to deconstruct one of her essays, on “Man’s Rights”, with two purposes in mind: 1) to demonstrate that her writing is not 100% vacuous crap, and 2) to help people combat these ideas when presented ‘in the wild’, as it were.

Have a read of her essay. Come back when you’re done. Hopefully you can get through the whole thing (yes, yes, choking down that first sentence is pretty rough, and it doesn’t get any better later).

So where to begin? First, I think it’s important to remember that pure lies don’t often take hold in the way that Rand’s writing has. A lie alloyed with truth can get a lot farther than either the lie or just the truth by themselves. So… For time constraints, I’m going to gloss over the pure bullshit (defining a ‘free society’ as capitalism, for example), and focus more on the truths that are used to sweeten the lie.

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A Framework for Social Justice

[This is, as the title says, a framework for social justice, not the only one. There is more than one way to go about framing social justice. This is just one of more effective ones, in my opinion.

Also, I'm talking about 'touching' and 'conventions' here, so consider this a trigger warning, if relevant]

Talking about social justice is all well and good, but when it comes to the particulars, how do we decide how to move forward? Or (possibly more importantly) how do we recognise the wrong thing to do? In order to fix problems, we must first correctly identify the problem, then identify a solution. False negatives and false positives are always a concern. So how should we proceed?

We could, of course, bring in some basic heuristics. “Women and children first”. “Protect the underprivileged”. “Favour people of colour”. These policies all have their own issues, of course, and can easily come into conflict. They are all also highly contextually dependent.

Enter John Rawls. John Rawls brought forward two principles that allow us to move away from simple (and overly-simplistic) axioms to better conceive of the just choice to make. Of course, this is not a ‘perfect’ solution, but it’s certainly far better than many others that have been advanced in our history. The first is The Original Position. The second is known as The Difference Principle. I’ll explain these below, but I’m using them in a slightly different context to Rawls, so any Rawls purists out there will have to have some patience.

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Atheism Plus? Sounds awesome!

 

I’d like to begin by stating that I’m in full agreement with Jen McCreight’s general sentiment in her recent essay: “We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.” 100% agreement, no reservations.

While the so-called New Atheists (or Gnu Atheists, or whatever) have brought great public attention to religious issues in the the bastion of Christianity that is the US, they have been, in my opinion, largely a step back when it comes to… Well, things that matter.

Now before you leap down to the comment section, bear with me a second. Let me elaborate.

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