by Kieran Healy on March 29, 2006

Here’s “an apposite comment”: from P.Z. Myers about someone who has had some cells from his late pet dog, Tito, cultured and frozen:

This is a personal decision, and I wouldn’t argue one way or the other about what Hank should do; it sounds like he’s wrestled over the issues already. All I can say is what I would do if I were in his sorrowful position.

I wouldn’t even try cloning.

… the essence of Tito isn’t reducible to a few million cells or a few billion nucleotides. While the genome is an influence and a constraint — a kind of broadly defined bottle to hold the essence of a dog — the stuff we care about, that makes an animal unique and special, is a product of its history. It’s the accumulation of events and experience and memory that generates the essentials of a personality and makes each of us unique.

Even if cloning were reliable and cheap, I wouldn’t go for it. It would produce an animal that looks like Tito, and would be good and worthy as an individual in its own right, but it wouldn’t _be_ Tito.

I’ve half-joked before that, purely because of this basic point, sociologists should welcome _human_ cloning with open arms. Technically achieving the sort of things many people imagine they could do with cloning — recreate a lost child or relative, produce a new version of themselves — would in fact have just the opposite effect. It would show just how important social structure, local environment and historical contingencies are to forming people. And that’s without even getting in to the metaphysical questions of what’s essential about people’s identity. Some people are going to be really upset when they realize that the genome is not some kind of magic essence of self. I hope public understanding catches up with the reality before actual cloned people are subject to the resentment of their creators.

Political Entertainment

by Kieran Healy on March 29, 2006

Shorter Volokh Conspiracy today: “The people have spoken — the bastards.”

Kiddy Operetta

by Kieran Healy on March 29, 2006

The NYT has a piece about a new Nickelodeon show called Wonder Pets, which follows the adventures of guinea pig, a turtle and a duckling, three schoolroom pets. The show’s main innovation is its music. The program is “a series of operettas.”

“We wanted to find a way to have the music drive the show,” Mr. Selig said … “we found that kids responded well to having music at the center of everything,” with characters singing rather than simply speaking their parts.

Brown Johnson, Nickelodeon’s executive creative director for preschool television, said she believes operetta is an art form particularly suited to children. … The “Wonder Pets” music does not feature the tinny, saccharine melodies that often infect children’s television shows. Rather, each episode uses an original score recorded by a live orchestra overseen by Jeffrey Lesser, the Grammy-winning record producer … Which is not to say that the music is not repetitive. Like many operettas, “The Wonder Pets” is full of hummable recitatives that linger in the minds of both children and adults long after the performance ends.

In light of this, let me just come out and admit that my two-year-old is a slave to Gilbert and Sullivan. She seemed to like choral music whenever it was on the radio, and I remembered that a friend had told me a few years ago that his kids liked it a lot, too. So, like an idiot, I went and bought a CD of Gilbert and Sullivan favorites on the off chance one day. Now it’s all she listens to in the car. The other day in the supermarket she solemnly came out with “Stay close to your desks never go to sea … ha ha ha … and you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navy.” It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, my daughter is perfectly happy. On the other hand, I now know all the words to “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General.” Next stop, Götterdämmerung.

Monty Python and Philosophy

by Harry on March 29, 2006

Monty Python and Philosophy is now available (US;UK). Other CTers have expressed skepticism about the value of the Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and I must admit that this is the first one I’ve had a really good read of, but I think it provides a pretty accessible and fun introduction to a range of topics in philosophy, especially those less well represented by the CT team. There’s a great little essay by my much-missed erstwhile colleague Noel Carroll (splitter!) about why we laugh at Mr. Creosote, and nice essays about ordinary language philosophy, existentialism, and philosophy of religion, all set within a Python framework, and accessible to a broad audience. I’d have loved to have read it (or something like it) when I was in high school, and have acquired a bunch of copies to distribute to my Python-loving friends who are curious about philosophy. (Full disclosure: I contributed a chapter ostensibly about the Argument Clinic, but really about method in political philosophy, which, I’m embarrassed to say, works least well of the 11 essays I’ve so far read).

Not as silly as she sounds

by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2006

Madeleine Bunting is getting a real kicking from various “decent left” blogs for the “following paragraph”: about the Enlightenment:

bq. [Jonathan] Ree countered by saying the Enlightenment had never happened – or at least certainly not in the shape we think it did. It was a retrospective creation in the nineteenth century designed to make the eighteenth century look silly – the gist was that excessive pride in human rationality was a story which had ended in tears in the brutal terror of the French Revolution. Ree pointed out that all the great thinkers attributed to the Enlightenment such as Hume, Locke, Kant were actually religious believers and none of them believed in progress.

Three initial remarks: (1) Bunting is reporting what she remembers from an exchange involving others; (2) as she notes, she is not a philosopher (or an intellectual historian); and (3), she probably wrong about Hume (though his religious views remain a matter of controversy).

Nevertheless, it would be uncharitable not to notice both that it is certainly correct to say that the Enlightenment and “the Enlightenment project” are movements and events that were discerned in retrospect, that the contours of those events remain in dispute, and that the figures that we today think of as central to the Enlightement didn’t think of themselves as belonging to any current under that description. The idea of reason’s over-reaching ending in tears in the Terror is also, recognizably, the story Hegel tells in the Phenomenology and elsewhere.

There are many ironies in Bunting’s critics waving the flag of Enlightenment as they do. Among them is the fact that as Robert Wokler explains in his “The Enlightenment, the Nation State and the Primal Patricide of Modernity”: (pdf), many of the central ideals of the Enlightenment were lost to the rise of the modern nation state. As Wokler puts it:

bq. Not only individuals but whole peoples which comprise nations without states have found themselves comprehensively shorn of their rights. At the heart of the Enlightenment Project, which its advocates perceived as putting an end to the age of privilege, was their recognition of the common humanity of all persons. For Kant, who in Königsberg came from practically nowhere and went nowhere else at all, to be enlightened meant to be intolerant of injustice everywhere, to pay indiscriminate respect to each individual, to be committed to universal justice, to be morally indifferent to difference. But in the age of the nation-state, it is otherwise. Thanks ultimately to the father of modernity [the abbé Sieyès] , ours is the age of the passport, the permit, the right of entry to each state or right of exit from it which is enjoyed by citizens that bear its nationality alone.

The fact is, of course, that far from being advocates of the kind of cosmopolitan universalism championed by Kant, most of the “decent” left are actually advocates of or apologists for some form of 19th-century ethnic nationalism. Of course, the case for and against such nationalism has to be argued on its merits, but there is something radically inconsistent in simultaneously banging on about the Enlightement and endorsing nationalisms antithetical to the ideals of thinkers like Kant and Voltaire. (The Wokler piece, by the way, appears in The Enlightenment and Modernity edited by Robert Wokler and Norman Geras.)

UPDATE: Stop reading here and go over to The Virtual Stoa for some “sensible reflections”: on the whole business of defining the Enlightenment.

Republican War on Science Seminar: Index

by John Q on March 29, 2006

Various commenters have suggested that the blog format for the seminar is hard to follow. In the hope of improving things, I’m posting an index. I think it should work particularly well with tabbed browsers. Anyway I’d appreciate advice on whether this makes it easier, or just adds to the confusion. My order isn’t the same as the posting order on the blog, but roughly matches Chris Mooney’s arrangement of his repsonse

Republican War on Science : Introduction to a Seminar by John Quiggin (introduction and overview)

War on Science by Ted Barlow

Worldwide War on Science by John Quiggin

The Stars and Stripes Down to Earth by Daniel Davies

Mooney Minus the Polemic? by John Holbo

War with the Newts by Henry Farrell

The war and the quarrels by Tim Lambert

If There’s a War, Please Direct Me to the Battlefield by Steve Fuller

The Revolution will not be Synthesized comment on Steve Fuller by Kieran Healy

War over Science or War on Science by John Quiggin

Man, You Guys Worked Me Hard…. Reply by Chris Mooney