About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Friday, February 28, 2014
* Very good reasons why atheists should not call religious people "mentally ill."
* A philosophical-quantitative approach to decide what to do with your life.
* Whole Foods: America's temple of pseudoscience? (Full disclosure: I shop there...)
* The inanity of "stand your ground" laws, and why you can't invoke John Locke to defend them!
* At least some invertebrates feel pain (though others very likely don't).
* Why is academic writing so, ahem, academic?
* Philosophy should hit the road, just like in ancient Greek times.
* Texting while walking bad for your health, and not (only) for the obvious reasons.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
 When I say that the addict can “choose differently,” I don’t mean to say that he can choose to do other than he did in the exact same circumstances. That’s why I added the “next time.”
Monday, February 24, 2014
Zach clarifies his position in the ongoing "philosophy vs. science" fights, poses a question to Julia and Massimo about the ethics of offensive jokes, and discusses BAHFest, his "Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses" conference lampooning evolutionary psychology, not to mention his movie, "Starpocalype."
Somehow along the way, the three take a detour into discussing an unusual sexual act.
Zach's pick: "Solaris" by Stanislaw Lem.
Friday, February 21, 2014
* Regret is the perfect emotion for our self-absorbed times, writes Judith Shulevitz in the New Republic.
* Newspapers are still the most important medium for understanding the world, says Peter Wilby in New Statesman.
* Perhaps we shouldn't insist on complete consistency for our moral beliefs, suggests Emrys Westacott at 3QuarksDaily.
* We should cultivate the ability to disregard things we can't do anything about, according to Christy Wampole in the New York Times.
* Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus, a book review by Rachana Kamtekar in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
* Joseph Stromberg (in the Smithsonian) arrives at a list of just five vitamins and supplements that are actually worth taking.
* String Theory and the Scientific Method, another review in the NDPR, by Nick Huggett.
* Forget about quantifying your self, says Josh Cohen in Prospect Magazine, and live your life instead.
* Scientific Pride and Prejudice, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe in the New York Times.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
It should not come as a surprise, then, that the highly sensible David Hume, whose project was precisely to turn “moral” philosophy into something more akin to natural philosophy (i.e., science) would adopt the pragmatic approach that is so effective in the latter practice. If only more contemporary philosophers were more Humean in spirit I think the whole discipline would greatly benefit. As Hume himself put it, when he happened to be temporarily overwhelmed by a hopelessly complex philosophical problem, “I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I wou’d re turn to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.” Cheers!
Thursday, February 13, 2014
So, to recap, Plantinga’s best “arguments” are: we don’t have a scientific explanation for the apparent fine tuning of the universe (true, so?); we don’t have a philosophical account and/or a scientific explanation of the problem of “aboutness” in philosophy of mind (again, true, so?); some people claim to have a mysterious sensus divinitatis (oh boy). Therefore, not only god, but the Christian god in particular, exists. Equipped with that sort of reasoning, I’m afraid Plantinga would fail my introductory critical thinking class. But he is a great theologian.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Max, Massimo and Julia explore the arguments for such a theory, how it could be tested, and what it even means.
Max's pick: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Adventures of a Curious Character."
Friday, February 07, 2014
* Are we close to an awful Gattaca-type scenario for the future of humanity?
* How to pick among experts who disagree.
* CBT beats the crap out of psychoanalysis, at least in the case of bulimia.
* In defense of... me! By a theist!! (Oh boy, the New Atheists are really gonna be pissed off now.)
* Julian Baggini on the philosophy of food.
* The age of infopolitics and our digital selfs.
* The Pope should rethink the Catholic Church's stand on abortion, says Catholic philosopher.
* Kiss me, I'm an atheist. The type of PR the atheist movement really needs.
* Happiness and its discontents, a critique of our obsession with it.
* Fifty States of Fear: why Americans are being encouraged to being afraid of the wrong things.
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
On science and/vs philosophy: I consider both science and philosophy to be intellectually serious disciplines, with much to tell to each other. Just in the way I have little patience for scientists who are ignorant and/or dismissive of philosophy, I have little patience for philosophers who are ignorant of and/or dismiss science.
On what counts as knowledge: I distinguish between disciplines / approaches that contribute to our knowledge (in the intellectual sense of the term) and those that contribute to our understanding (both of that knowledge and of life in general). The first group includes science, philosophy, logic and math, and I use the above mentioned umbrella term scientia for it, from the Latin word meaning “knowledge” in the broad sense. The second group includes literature, the arts and other humanities. The relationship between the two groups is helped / mediated by bridge areas, such as history and social science. I don’t pretend this to be the ultimate model of human knowledge / understanding, it is simply my constructive way to push for what I see as a healthy disciplinary pluralism.
On ethics and morality: I think ethics is a branch of philosophy that has to be informed by factual evidence (“science”) as much as possible, but I do think there is a pretty serious distinction between “is” and “ought” (despite some permeability of that famous boundary). I do think science can and does illuminate the origins (evolution) and the material basis (neurobio) of ethical thinking. Just like it can illuminate the origins and neural basis of mathematical thinking, without this resulting in the treatment of mathematics as a branch of evolutionary or neuro-biology.
On the nature of science: I think science is a particular type of historically situated epistemic-social enterprise, and that to attempt to enlarge its domain to encompass “reason” as a whole is historically, sociologically and intellectually misguided, and it does a disservice to science itself.
On religion and the New Atheism: I am an atheist, and I am not shy about criticizing religion. But I like to do that in what I perceive as an intellectually honest and rigorous way. I am clearly not above harshly criticizing other people’s positions, but I try to do it constructively. My problem with the New Atheism is that there is little new in it, that it tends to be more loud than constructive, and that it has a tendency toward science-worshiping. Oh, and I think I have a right (perhaps even an intellectual duty) to criticize big boys who I think need to be criticized.
On atheism and social issues: I do not believe that atheism entails much else other than a (eminently reasonable!) negative metaphysical position (i.e., the denial of the idea that we have good reasons to believe in supernatural entities). As such, I am skeptical of “Atheism+” sort of efforts when they go beyond the obviously germane issue of separation of Church and State and the like. Of course, I do agree with many of the progressive social goals that are pushed by PZ, Coyne and others. I just think we have already been doing that for a long time under the banner of (the philosophy of) secular humanism — so it's another example of people appearing to think they’ve come up with something new while they are in fact simply placing their label onto something that others have been doing (quite well) for a long time.
This has been far too long. ‘Till the next one, folks.