I said to a student that the British were deciding whether to leave Europe and she said, with shocked puzzlement on her face, “But where will they go?” She’s quite funny.

Discuss away. Please be civil and polite to those you disagree with (and those you agree with, for that matter)— unless you are a Tory addressing another Tory, in which case I guess that bird has flown and you should just enjoy yourself.

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On Beyond Zarathustra – Z Speaks!

by John Holbo on June 23, 2016

In our last episode, I omitted a page, so we’ll start with that before getting to the new stuff …


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Why we should sign the Thomas Pogge Open Letter

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 22, 2016

In some circles, there have been rumours going around for a while that Thomas Pogge, the hugely influential global justice philosopher, has been having sexual affairs with several students, and has been engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour towards other female students. Earlier this week, the academic community seems to have lost its faith in the formal institutions being able to adequately deal with the complaints by the accusers, and more than 160 (mainly philosophy) professors have signed an Open Letter “to express [their] opposition to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education” and condemning Pogge’s “harmful actions against women”. (Anyone not knowing enough about the Pogge case can find the relevant background information via the links in the Open Letter). In the meantime several hundreds have added their signature to the Open Letter, and many others have been invited to do so.

There are many academic philosophers who hold the view that as a scholar Pogge has made important contributions to the literatures on theories of justice, and global justice in particular. And for decades Pogge has generously supported scholars, without regard of institutional affiliation or their fame or seniority – often opening opportunities that helped these people pursue their careers. Many of these collaborators or mentees of Pogge (including young women) never had unpleasant encounters with him, and in fact have regarded him as a highly valued colleague. So naturally they feel this is all very painful and tragic – an unfolding of events that is harming not just the victims, but everyone. Pogge’s reputation is deeply damaged, but also the reputation of the fields to which he has been a major contributor has been damaged, and perhaps even the activist causes he has been trying to advance.

The letter has been circulating widely, and many individuals have been invited to sign. It will increasingly be difficult for people to not have heard about the Open Letter at all. This has led many to ask themselves: should we sign this letter?
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Forgetting Oneself

by John Holbo on June 22, 2016

Per this post, I’m preparing to teach Kierkegaard. My main frustration with The Concept of Anxiety is that I really, really have a hard time telling what Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety is. Journal entries like this don’t exactly narrow it down: “All existence [Tilværelsen], from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation, makes me anxious.” So I’ll dodge that for now. Here’s another Notebooks quote. [click to continue…]

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Philosophy and Smarts

by John Holbo on June 22, 2016

Interesting interview with Joshua Knobe (via Daily Nous).

At present, you are appointed in both the cognitive science program and philosophy department at Yale. Your office is located in the Yale psychology department and you work with psychology students. How do the values of these different academic cultures differ?

It has been fascinating to experience these two quite different cultures up close. The two disciplines differ in numerous ways; and I think that each of them has a lot to learn from the other. I’ll focus here on just one difference that strikes me as especially important.

Within philosophy, there is an almost absurd value placed on intelligence. Just imagine what might happen if a philosophy department were faced with a choice between (a) a job candidate who has consistently made valuable contributions in research and teaching and (b) a candidate who has not made any valuable contributions in either of these domains but who is universally believed to be extraordinarily smart. In such a case, I fear that many philosophy departments would actually choose the latter candidate.

In psychology, it is exactly the opposite. When people are trying to decide whether to hire a given candidate, the question is never, “How smart is she?” Instead, the question is always, “What has she actually discovered?” If you haven’t contributed anything of value, there is basically no chance at all that you will be hired just for having a high I.Q.

This cultural difference results in a quite radical difference in the atmosphere that one finds in graduate education. Philosophy students experience constant anxiety about whether they are smart enough. Psychology students also experience a lot of anxiety, but it is about a completely different topic. They have this ever-present sense that they absolutely must find some way to make a concrete contribution to the field.

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Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s new book, American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper does four things. First, it makes the case for the mixed economy – the effort to make the market and state work together. Second, it makes the case that mixed government existed. The US used not to be as divided as it is now, and business, rather than being committed to a virulently anti-state agenda was often relatively pragmatic. Third, it tries to explain how this went South – how mixed government, and indeed government, became a dirty word. Finally, it asks how mixed government can be resuscitated again. [click to continue…]

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The Age of Em Won’t Happen

by Henry on June 19, 2016

Tyler Cowen says that the predicted future of Robin Hanson’s Age of Em – a world in which most cognitive and much physical labor will be done by emulations of brain-scanned human beings – won’t happen. I agree. I enjoyed the book, and feel a bit guilty about criticizing it, since Hanson asked me for comments on an early draft, which I never got around to giving him (the last eighteen months have been unusually busy for a variety of reasons). So the below are the criticisms which I should have given him, and which might or might not have led him to change the book to respond to them (he might have been convinced by them; he might have thought they were completely wrong; he might have found them plausible but not wanted to respond to them – every good book consists not only of the good counter-arguments it answers, but the good counter-arguments that it brackets off). [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: better together

by Chris Bertram on June 19, 2016

Droits de l'homme

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Exploring your surroundings through GPS-based games

by Eszter Hargittai on June 18, 2016

Would you like to learn more about your home town? How about a new angle to exploring your travel destinations? GPS-based games – or treasure hunts – are great for this! It is an increasingly popular genre with several options. I myself have experiences with geocaching, Munzee, and Ingress. They are all games that depend on technology while also requiring that you get up and move around. Each is somewhat different (I’ll explain some of the differences below), but on the whole focuses on physical movement and exploration. Even if you are not that keen on getting on board, I recommend reading the details below so that you know what the cool kids are up to these days. Or the geeks.

Wearing my researcher hat, I find these games fascinating, because they are a great example of how decisions that the creators of the games make – often technical elements that certainly have alternatives to their current state – influence game play and community interaction. I’ll leave those reflections for another time, for now I will provide an introduction to each with the hopes that you get inspired to try at least one of them.

I started geocaching seven years ago (it has been around for 16), have been playing Munzee for about four (that started five years ago), and Ingress for a bit less than two (that’s been around since 2013). Each of these games, in their various ways, has inspired me to learn more about where I live as well as places I visit. They can be played occasionally or on a daily basis. They can be a completely solitary endeavor or can inspire lots of social interaction. I have seen them each appeal to people of varying ages across the globe. They each offer a wonderful adventure. I hope you’ll consider giving at least one of them a try! (If you are ready to jump in and are wondering which one has the lowest barriers to entry, my vote goes to Munzee.)

Munzee is a treasure hunt where the goal is to find QR codes, those little squares of black-and-white code (or lighter-color and darker-color code) that have popped up in countless places. There are millions of QR codes out there that have nothing to do with Munzee, of course. To know where you can find QR codes that concern the game, use the free app (or look on the site’s map) and use the app to capture the code once you have found it. These codes were placed by fellow players. Munzee leaves it up to the community to populate an area with game pieces.

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The Sandworm Solution

by Henry on June 17, 2016

Brad DeLong:

Time to fly my Neoliberal Freak Flag again! I see this very differently than … Dani Rodrik … The problem is not that Europe has too little democracy. The problem is that it has the wrong kind. Issues of fiscal stance are technocratic issues of economic governance. … Harry Dexter White and John Maynard Keynes were good democrats. Neither would say that Europe’s economic problems now are the result of a deficiency of democracy. They would say that it is the fault of their IMF—that their IMF should have blown the whistle, declared a fundamental disequilibrium, and required one of:

  1. the shrinkage of the eurozone and the depreciation of the peso and the drachma back in 2010

  2. a wipeout of Greek and Spanish external debts, and a fiscal transfer program from the German government to Greece and Spain and to German banks if German authorities wished to avoid such a shrinking of the eurozone.

We did not have such an IMF back in 2010. But that we did not have such an IMF is not the result of a deficiency of democracy in Europe. Or so I think: I could be wrong here.

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Making our peace

by Maria on June 17, 2016

On Wednesday, I gave a talk about the Internet of Things in relation to ‘smart cities’, inequality, and high modernism. As a topic, it sounds a bit like the addressing system Mongolia has just decided to implement, where three random nouns – apple.truck.envelope – are used to represent a place instead of, say, a street-name, townland or unmemorable grid reference. (But actually, there is a there, there in my talk. Combining three parts from another naming system is the clue: ‘James’, ‘C’ and ‘Scott’.) In the Q&A, there was a question about how the platforms we design for good are used for evil. How/should we deal with that?

My answer was a hostage to fortune. I said we needed to chill the hell out about bad things happening and understand that the Internet reflects or even amplifies what is still, basically, human nature. That’s the kind of thing you can say between bad things happening, when the horror is ebbing just a little and the next awfulness hasn’t yet occurred. I still think it’s the right answer, but I’d give a lot to erase the hands-upturned shrug I did at the end.

How do we make our peace with the fact that yesterday an MP was savagely assassinated outside her constituency clinic? It would be hard at the best of times, but at a historical moment when violent ill-feeling is being stoked by right-wing politicians and newspapers, we can’t just shrug, as I did, and say this is a regrettable and awful cost of doing democratic business. [click to continue…]

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On Beyond Zarathustra – We’ve Moved!

by John Holbo on June 17, 2016

So I’ve been keeping up with my On Beyond Zarathustra updates. This past week I branched out, stylistically. What if Mary Blair had illustrated Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in a Seussian style? [click to continue…]

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Kierkegaard on Ideality and Anxiety

by John Holbo on June 16, 2016

I’m teaching Kierkegaard next semester, so I’m rereading The Concept of Anxiety – which, to be honest, has never really done it for me. As major Kierkegaard texts go. (But I have been known to quote from it, at need.) Anyway, two quotes today for my uncommon book. File under ‘ought implies can: pro and con’: [click to continue…]

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Now that the NLRB is considering the question of graduate student unionization again, we’re beginning to see people write pieces suggesting that academic life would collapse if graduate students had bargaining rights. If there’s any use to this particular one (by Jonathan Gartner, who is, as best as I can tell from Google, a law student at Harvard), it’s that it conveniently bundles a few of the bad arguments together. [click to continue…]

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Peter Singer demonizes refugees as “queue jumpers”

by Chris Bertram on June 13, 2016

Peter Singer, consequentialist philosopher and patron saint of “effective altruism” has expressed himself on the question of rights to asylum and refugee status:

Singer has urged a rethink of global asylum policy. He wants to stop refugees able to travel to the country of their choice from being able to claim asylum at the expense of those unable to make the journey. He worries that the current system enables people to “somehow jump the queue” – adding that although Britain has a “moral obligation” to accept refugees, this does not include everyone who makes it to the UK.

“I don’t think Britain has a particular obligation to accept those who manage to set foot on British shores,” he tells i. “I think something needs to be rethought about this idea of the right of asylum as it’s now being applied.”

The same goes for his homeland, Australia, he adds, where the government is often criticised for not taking in more Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Burma. “Taking those who manage to get on boats to Australia provides an incentive to make these dangerous journeys during which some get drowned. [The refugees] in the UNHCR camps in Lebanon or wherever are in just as much need of a place to go as the people who are landing in Australia or Greece.”

Here, the perfectly valid point that the those in refugee camps in poor countries are just was worthy of help as those who arrive in rich ones is placed in service of the demonization of those who arrive in boats as “queue jumpers” and the endorsement of the ridiculous argument of right-wing politicians about “incentives” to make dangerous journeys. The reason people make those dangerous journeys is because the governments of wealthy countries, using mechanisms such as carrier sanctions and visa restrictions, have blocked safe and inexpensive routes of escape from dangerous places. They do this not in the service of a fair conception of the distribution of humanitarian burdens but because they don’t want to deal with the numbers and would prefer to maintain the existing unfair distribution where most refugees are in poor countries. Singer is correct that we can distinguish between the right to asylum and the right to settle in a particular place. Perhaps when the governments of wealthy states are willing to have a proper discussion about what a fair pattern of settlement would look like, we can also reassess other elements of the system. Pending that commitment to justice on the part of the wealthy, stigmatizing those who make it across from Libya, Turkey or Haiti as “queue jumpers” is the mark of someone who has lost his moral compass.

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