Brute Facts: A Primer

There are, generally, two ways to explain a phenomenon: you can either describe what or who “brought it about” or you can describe it at a deeper, more fundamental level. These two approaches have sometimes been referred to as the ‘personal cause’ and the ‘non-personal cause,’ respectively. This bifurcation traces its origins back to Aristotle who originally described four distinct types of causes. But we won’t go into that here (instead, check out my post on Aristotle and the Four Causes). For our purposes, we just need to know that there are different ways of explaining a phenomenon and they are not synonymous.

Relevant video:

Continue reading

The Other 3 Loves – [Ludus, Pragma, & Philautia]

First, we have ‘Ludus.’ Ludus is playful, juvenile, or uncommitted love. Ludus is commonly found during the beginning stages of a relationship (a.k.a. the honeymoon stage) and often involves activities such as teasing, flirting, seducing, and toying with someone. The focus is on fun, and also on the conquest, with no unwanted strings attached. Physical intimacy may be commonplace, though it is not necessarily so.

Ludus relationships are casual, undemanding, and uncomplicated, but typically land at extremes: they are either over very quickly or they endure for an extremely long time. Ludus works best when both parties are mature and self-sufficient (not to mention not jealous). But problems typically arise when one party mistakes Ludus for Eros, whereas Ludus is, in fact, much more compatible with Philia.

Continue reading

Philosophers as Meta-Scholars

The philosopher is a meta-scholar.

    • What is a meta-scholar? A meta-scholar is one who understands, at a bare minimum, the fundamentals of a particular field of study or discipline (or historical enterprise or, most broadly, anything capable of being described, articulated, and/or analyzed — (e.g. any event, person, process, or object)).

      • The ‘fundamentals’ of a field of study or discipline refer to the sprawling mosaic of methodological rules, axiomatic and auxiliary operating assumptions, and normative and demarcating practices inherent to that field of study/discipline and its actively practicing members. Think of Lakatos’s ‘hard core’ or Kuhn’s ‘[dominant] paradigm.’

Continue reading

The Principle of Charity (Revisited)

As an adjunct faculty member of Philosophy, one of my soapbox lectures to my students is the importance and application of the Principle of Charity. I mention it in the 1st Day Syllabus, I mention it again about half-way through the semester, and I include it as a short-answer question on the Final Exam.

At its core, the Principle of Charity (PoC) involves thinking well of people; their intentions, their capabilities, and their knowledge level. I take it very seriously because (1) it is the civil, respectful, and necessary thing to do and (2) it actually makes discussions or discourse more efficient by not wasting time on misunderstandings or by committing straw person fallacies. In either case, the PoC has a wide range of important uses and that is why I hammer it into to my students from the get-go. Below, I will explain what it is and give some pertinent examples as well as provide some good resources for further reading.

Continue reading

Concept-Checking: Authority Figures (AFs) vs. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

On the surface, one may think that an ‘authority’ or ‘authority figure’ is the same thing (or nearly the same thing) as an ‘expert.’ Teasing out the key differences to these concepts and their functions is of considerable philosophical significance.

Let’s take an ‘authority figure’ first. Someone who is an authority figure is someone who is seemingly responsible, either preventatively or reactively, for enforcing observance or obedience to a particular norm/rule/principle/ideal. They either encourage us to uphold (or at least not to break) that norm/rule/principle/ideal. Or, if we decide not to do what is asked or expected of us, they may punish us for our seemingly incorrect choice.

We can think of 3 key examples within our daily lives: the religious leader (e.g. priest, rabbi, imam, guru, etc.), the police officer (or military official), and the calculator (or the computer program).

Continue reading

Key Quotes from On Disobedience by Erich Fromm

On Disobedience by Erich Fromm

Introduction and Synopsis

Recently, I read this book on a whim. I was at a local bookstore and stopped to give it a quick glance; the first few pages interested me enough that I bought it. Looking back, I am honestly glad that I did. While some of Fromm’s pleadings have lost their urgency (e.g. the looming threat of nuclear war with the USSR (as it was known at that time)), he ultimately provides an insightful, scaffolded analysis about the concept of disobedience itself. Moreover, Fromm weaves together several other explanatory threads to properly contextualize disobedience and both its value and proper usage in contemporary society, using this as a vehicle to establish his political worldview known as humanistic socialism

Continue reading

#ShamelessSelfPromotion

Biology Textbooks and the “God-Talk” Problem

“Another school year is around the corner. Undergraduate biology students will once again take up their textbooks on a quest to explore the intricacies of life. Of course, these students are rarely exposed to a balanced assessment of evolutionary theory, including its empirical challenges.

But that’s not all: biology students will likely use a textbook that incoherently presents the case for evolution. Surprisingly, this muddle emerges from textbooks’ unprincipled use of theology, of all things. In a recent journal article, “Damned if You Do and Damned if You Don’t: The Problem of God-talk in Biology Textbooks,” Stephen Dilley and Nicholas Tafacory argue that textbooks falls prey to an intractable dilemma. 

Continue reading

Excerpt: (4) Types of Guilt

*Originally published on: https://philosophynow.org/issues/147/What_Is_Guilt

In his work, The Question of German Guilt (1947), the German existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers attempted to resolve the impossible – understanding the conscious and systematic mass murder of Jews, Romani, homosexuals, political opponents, and other groups defined or perceived by the Nazi regime as ‘undesirable’ as well as being a direct threat to its totalitarian ideology of a ‘pure’ Aryan state.

Continue reading

(6) Types of Social Darwinists

The Social Darwinist is someone who believes that the Darwinian theory of evolution — i.e. “survival of the fittest” — should be actively applied to people, societies, or nations. To the Social Darwinist, ALL of life is a struggle for survival in which the strongest naturally prosper at the expense of the weak — and it is right and natural that they should do so because that’s just the way things are, and/or natural law is Above Good and Evil.

Such people rarely concede that their chances for survival may have started higher than others due to reasons such as inherited wealth, social prestige, or even dumb luck. They typically state that we, collectively, have become complacent and stupid; they want to remove any trace of “weakness” and “stupidity” from society. It may seem to some that because humans aren’t currently enduring wars or other catastrophic extinction events, evolution in humans has ceased altogether (or at least paused — either one of which is highly problematic). If Social Darwinists do talk about evolution, they are very likely to talk about evolutionary levels and teleological evolution rather than Darwin’s actual theory (which was more of a pass-fail concept). Regardless, it is worth taking a look at the typology of Social Darwinists.

Continue reading

Excerpt: The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory – PhilosophyNow

Originally published on: https://philosophynow.org/issues/46/The_Alleged_Fallacies_of_Evolutionary_Theory

Though I am, by no means or any stretch of the imagination, a fan of Richard Dawkins, I do think that he is often over-vilified. Certainly, his opinions are inflammatory and his antagonism of theists is controversial. But overall, I am sympathetic to his views (even if I think he misses far too many of the finer nuances of his perspective to ever be a capable philosopher). His intelligence and experience as an evolutionary biologist cannot and should not be dismissed out of hand. That is definitively his area of expertise.

But we must also be quite clear: his expertise is NOT philosophy (not even Philosophy of Science by way of proxy). So, while Peter Williams’ commentary may be useful for learning purposes (via negativa), it is ultimately misguided and one cannot help but wonder if he should have devoted his time and efforts to something more substantial…regardless, below is most of the original article from PhilosophyNow where Massimo Pigliucci and several of his graduate students take Williams to task for overstepping his own subject matter expertise and creating more confusion than clarity about several important philosophical topics related to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The only difference is that I’ve italicized the excerpts that I personally found to be most relevant and poignant. Hope you gain something from it too! 😎

Continue reading