A carnival

Dan Fincke hosts Philosophers’ Blog Carnival # 133. All you know-nothing peeps who think philosophy is just wankery, read and learn.

Just a few selected teasers –

  • Thinking about the “vagueness” charge leveled against Occupy Wall Street, Benjamin S. Nelson, at Talking Philosophy explores virtues that listeners need to have before they can go blame communicators for failing to express themselves adequately.
  • Andrew Taggart has an extensively detailed discussion of his Philosophical Counseling business (replete with FAQ), in which he explains both how it works and how he charges for it, makes for a fascinating read. It seems pitched towards potential clients so it also offers a glimpse not only at how one might do and charge for philosophical counseling but how one might advertise it.
  • Being A Woman In Philosophy continues to chronicles the seemingly pervasive stomach-churning sexism in philosophy departments. This month there was the story of a male philosophy graduate student who walked into a room full of male graduate students and one female student, and loudly asked “Who’s read for the gang bang?” Read how the department handled it.
  • Rust Belt Philosophy examines the extent of parents’ rights to decide what their children can learn in school in response to claims that because parents have great responsibilities for their children they have great rights to determine how they are educated in all matters. The occasion of the discussion is the question of sex ed.

Bon appetit.

Secular morality in a nutshell

Someone who commented on a very flimsy piece by Keith Ward at Comment is Free said a good thing.

There is a constant error made in many of these articles regarding the definition and scope of religion. Religion is not the study of ethics, natural science, philosophy or astronomy and cannot generate informed hypotheses on these topics.

The domain of religion is the interpretation of the desires of supernatural beings. It exists to answer the question “what do supernatural creatures want from us?”.

I guess a key point to ask would be “is that a question that really warrants such attention?”

Quite so. Maybe they do want something – tribute, worship, deference, adoration, sacrifice, an ox roasted whole, new clothes. But what if they do? We’re busy. We have natural creatures nearby who want more immediate things from us. The supernatural creatures will just have to take care of themselves.

The demonic power

Halloween wasn’t unalloyed fun for Libby Anne when she was growing up.

[Digression. Actually I don’t find it unalloyed fun myself these days. I don’t find all the corpses and graves all that funny, and they certainly are presented as jokey. It gets on my nerves, frankly. Just for one thing, isn’t it kind of mean to people who’ve had people die on them recently? And I don’t like all the cobweb stuff draped all over trees and shrubs and everything else within reach; they make whole blocks look junky. And I don’t like the ridiculous amount of outdoor decoration there is – it seems to be more every year. Used to was, a carved pumpkin or two were all that was thought necessary; now suddenly houses are as wildly festooned as they are for Christmas. It’s annoying because October is beautiful all by itself, it doesn’t need a lot of stupid dreck to brighten it up.]

It wasn’t fun for Libby Anne because it was too frightening. [Read more…]

All of empirical inference

There’s another entry for the What to call it problem. It comes from a comment by Richard Wein on Dan’s post replying to Dr Coyne.

Much of the confusion over “science” and “scientism” arises from the tendency of some New Atheists (including Coyne) to stretch the word “science” to mean all of empirical inference. I think this stretching is based on a correct realisation that all of empirical inference lies on a continuum, with no clear lines of demarcation between formal science, philosophy, history, everyday inference, etc.

That’s exactly what I was talking about.

We need a better word for “good, secular thinking” that includes science but is not limited to it. We need a word that encompasses law, history, forensics and detective work, critical thinking, using what one knows and understands to navigate relationships and work and the world.

It’s all of empirical inference, that’s what.

How can we get pigs to fly?

The philosophical primate has some thoughts on being asked to do six impossible things before breakfast. The Faculty Senate asked for his input on a new initiative from the state legislature and board of regents. He responded to the following question:

2. Given increased enrollment and smaller budgets, how can we maintain and improve student success and retention?

That’s a good one, isn’t it. Uh…we can’t. Der. More students and less money: not the way to maintain and improve student success and retention. That’s like asking: given fewer workers and supplies, how can we get this building project finished faster and better? [Read more…]

Be firm but not too firm, dogmatic but not too dogmatic

To continue

What I call dogmatophobia is the liberal fear of being judgmental of the beliefs of others. Because everyone has a right to her opinion and no one has a monopoly on the truth, there is a tendency to think that any kind of assertion of a truth, other than of the blandest factual kind (“Paris is the capital of France”), is intolerant and morally imperialistic. Hence, people who assiduously avoid factory-farmed meat will go out of their way not to condemn ritual animal slaughter that causes needless suffering. People who would not tolerate even the sniff of sexism in their workplace bend over backwards to allow religious traditions their “right” to systemically discriminate against women. [Read more…]

Being truthful must sometimes trump being nice

Reading Julian’s latest. I can’t wait until I’ve read the whole thing to comment on this:

[Mark] Vernon’s advocacy of passionate agnosticism offers soothing camomile tea to those jittery after the triple espressos of the new atheists and religious fundamentalists. Since he is as genial in person as he is on the page, attacking him does feel rather like kicking a labrador puppy. But if we are serious about religion, being truthful must sometimes trump being nice, and intellectually, if not personally, Vernon needs a good kicking. [Read more…]

QED next March

There’s a fun thing going on in Manchester next March: QED 2012.


Question.Explore.Discover. Back for an encore. Only £89

I’ll be there – as will Steve Jones and David Aaaronovitch and Edzard Ernst among others – and Maryam Namazie! Maryam and I finally get to meet; we’re excited.

You do the math

Jerry Coyne has posted (with permission) an email exchange with Dan Barker. JC asked DB – evangelical turned atheist and co-president of the FFRF – “what he thought about the accommodationist claim that promoting compatibility between religion and science could turn the faithful towards science.” Barker’s answer is interesting.

I think you are right. I don’t know of anyone whose views on creationism changed as a result of hearing other religionists champion evolution. (Though I don’t doubt that could have happened. Well, I think it must have happened, given that some people do go through transitional processes, within religion and out of religion.) [Read more…]

In which the rights of God are assured

The “soft-spoken Islamic scholar” Rachid Ghannouchi has nice plans for Tunisia, he tells us.

“We will continue this revolution to realize its aims of a Tunisia that is free, independent, developing and prosperous in which the rights of God, the Prophet, women, men, the religious and the non-religious are assured because Tunisia is for everyone,” Ghannouchi told a crowd of cheering supporters.

He might as well say “We will continue this revolution to realize its aims of a Tunisia that will square the circle.” If the rights of God and the Prophet as understood by clerics and “Islamic scholars” are assured then the rights of women and the non-religious can’t be assured; it’s an impossibility. [Read more…]