After having a Weekly Link Roundup to summarize the months that were, cataloging the gap between blog break, it’s time to summarize the relatively mere week that was. Welcome to the twenty-ninth Weekly Link Roundup, here to offer you even more slices of essay summaries, essay commentary here and elsewhere, and links to other fun places!
I’m going to be doing this a touch differently from now on — instead of providing a new summary specific to this roundup, I’m just going to write the summary that is included on the essay itself. This will save me time, while making you lose out on very little, if anything at all.
This week I wrote five essays, but since I don’t recount essays counted in previous roundups, I’ll only list the two here:
- Wednesday, May 16 >> TheraminTrees’s Atheism, 4 – Skeptical Theism: “I’ve recently been looking at TheraminTrees’s videos about atheism and examining the arguments he puts forth for not believing in Gods. This essay furthers my specific look at the Problem of Evil, and continues looking at skeptical theism after finding the Problem of Evil lacking. I end by finding some unfortunate implications of Skeptical Theism, and conclude with the Almost Problem of Evil: while we cannot say that God is not omnibenevolent, we can say God is not knowably omnibenevolent, and thus knowably omnibenevolent gods cannot exist, because they are incompatible with the suffering we observe.”
- Thursday, May 17 >> Of Oughts and Is, Part III: “Oughtness is a persistent part of our moral language — that we ought to do this, and not that. In an earlier post I summarized the Is-Ought Problem and showed how Moore and Kant were unable to get out of it. Then I attacked Searle and Aristotelian Natural Law. Now I finish by turning the tables on Gewirth, Ayn Rand, and God to show that there is nowhere we can actually ground our normativity. This sets up a deep and robust problem for us to solve in the next series.”
Not many comments have happened since I my previous roundup just three days ago. I’m still working to find time to dive back into what’s been left for me during and before my absence. However, on “TheraminTrees’s Atheism, 3: Evil”, a discussion has been restarted on the Free Will Defense to the Problem of Evil, and on Cl’s “Science: It Works!”, we discuss the dangers and benefits of science and the balance between the two, plus how to have discussions about policy in a moral anti-realist framework.
Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite links to other cool places, for more ideas to share! As always,
(1) The links are also ordered so that the ones I like most are at the top, for those who don’t have time for all the links… but for those who do have time, I think all of them are worthwhile.
(2) The Link Roundup category has, I’d estimate, over 500 more links if you need the extra distraction. At a link an hour, that’s 20+ days of constant reading. If you budgeted 8 hours a day to constantly read these links, at a link per hour, that would take over two months. Fun facts!
(3) I don’t necessarily agree with everything said by these links; I just post what I find to be interesting and well-written. If you want to know whether I support a particular opinion you see, feel free to ask.
- The Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul [PDF]: “In this chapter, I draw on Haidt’s and Baron’s respective insights in the service of a bit of philosophical psychoanalysis. I will argue that deontological judgments tend to be driven by emotional responses, and that deontological philosophy, rather than being grounded in moral reasoning, is to a large extent an exercise in moral rationalization. This is in contrast to consequentialism, which, I will argue, arises from rather different psychological processes, ones that are more “cognitive,” and more likely to involve genuine moral reasoning. These claims are strictly empirical, and I will defend them on the basis of the available evidence. Needless to say, my argument will be speculative and will not be conclusive. Beyond this, I will argue that if these empirical claims are true, they may have normative implications, casting doubt on deontology as a school of normative moral thought.”
- Is Humanism a Religion-Substitute?: “For many years before the Wright Brothers, people dreamed of flying with magic potions. There was nothing irrational about the raw desire to fly. There was nothing tainted about the wish to look down on a cloud from above. Only the “magic potions” part was irrational. [...] If a rocket launch is what it takes to give me a feeling of aesthetic transcendence, I do not see this as a substitute for religion. That is theomorphism—the viewpoint from gloating religionists who assume that everyone who isn’t religious has a hole in their mind that wants filling.”
- Between ‘New Atheism’ and ‘Accomodationism’: “I have often wondered whether I am in the camp of the ‘new atheists’, or if I am an ‘appeaser’. Or, what I think is probably more accurate, I am a mixture of the two. On the ‘new atheist’ side, I can write a post defending the conclusion that faith, when it concerns beliefs that affect the life, well-being, or aspirations of others, is a vice. [...] At the same time, I do not blame religion. Intellectual recklessness is at fault, and atheists are just as prone to intellectual recklessness as theists. [...] Being an opponent of intellectual recklessness, rather than being an opponent of religion, I am morally critical of intellectually reckless atheist and pass no judgment against the intellectually responsible theist.”
- From neural ‘is’ to moral ‘ought’ – what are the moral implications of neuroscientific moral psychology? [PDF]: “Many moral philosophers regard scientific research as irrelevant to their work because science deals with what is the case, whereas ethics deals with what ought to be. Some ethicists question this is/ought distinction, arguing that science and normative ethics are continuous and that ethics might someday be regarded as a natural social science. I agree with traditional ethicists that there is a sharp and crucial distinction between the ‘is’ of science and the ‘ought’ of ethics, but maintain nonetheless that science, and neuroscience in particular, can have profound ethical implications by providing us with information that will prompt us to re-evaluate our moral values and our
conceptions of morality”
- Conversations From a Pale Blue Dot – Toby Ord: “Today I interview philosopher Toby Ord. We discuss the problem of moral uncertainty: What do you do if you aren’t sure which moral theory is correct?”
- Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately: “To purchase warm fuzzies, find some hard-working but poverty-stricken woman who’s about to drop out of state college after her husband’s hours were cut back, and personally, but anonymously, give her a cashier’s check for $10,000. Repeat as desired. To purchase status among your friends, donate $100,000 to the current sexiest X-Prize, or whatever other charity seems to offer the most stylishness for the least price. Make a big deal out of it, show up for their press events, and brag about it for the next five years. Then—with absolute cold-blooded calculation—without scope insensitivity or ambiguity aversion—without concern for status or warm fuzzies—figuring out some common scheme for converting outcomes to utilons, and trying to express uncertainty in percentage probabilitiess—find the charity that offers the greatest expected utilons per dollar. Donate up to however much money you wanted to give to charity, until their marginal efficiency drops below that of the next charity on the list.”
- What Is An Effective Altruist?: “80,000 Hours is built around the idea of effective altruism. What does that mean? At its most basic, effective altruism is based on two simpler concepts: effectiveness and altruism. So far so good. Altruism means wanting to help other people. It means thinking that other people’s welfare matters. Effectiveness is a more fiddly idea. It’s about doing something well. Say I’m in the business of making match-sticks. It’s all well and good to take a whole tree and whittle away at it until all that remains is a match-stick. You’ve done what you set out to do, but you could have done much more with your time.”
- Gospel Disproof #38 – The guards at the tomb: “At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, there’s an interesting story that appears nowhere else in the Bible. According to Matthew, the chief priests were worried that the disciples might steal Jesus’ body to fake a resurrection, so they went to Pilate and got permission to post a guard on the tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead, the guards reported it to the priests, and the priests bribed them to claim that disciples stole the body while they were asleep. And thus, says Matthew, the Jews were reporting ‘to this day’ that the body was stolen by the disciples. Cool story, bro, but if you look at it a bit more closely, there’s something kinda fishy about it…”
- On “Where the Conflict Really Lies”: “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism is Alvin Plantinga’s popular-level challenge to the idea that science and religion are in conflict. At least, that’s the defensive portion of the book. He goes on to argue that the real conflict is between science and an irreligious worldview. I’m concerned that people eager for this conclusion will cite Plantinga as an intellectual authority without understanding which parts of his overall argument are strong vs. which parts are weak, overly specialized, or overly generalized. My plan is to cover select portions of his book, supporting or criticizing Plantinga as appropriate.”
- Does Free Will Matter?: “But once you have shown that individual responsibility not only can be, but in practice already is, based on compatibilist free will, the result is nearly zero net change in human behavior–unless the supernaturalists have yet other irrational beliefs that in actual fact weren’t based on their views of free will, regardless of what they claim.”
- Universal Fire: “We can take the lesson further. Phosphorus derives its behavior from even deeper laws, electrodynamics and chromodynamics. “Phosphorus” is merely our word for electrons and quarks arranged a certain way. You cannot change the chemical properties of phosphorus without changing the laws governing electrons and quarks. If you stepped into a world where matches failed to strike, you would cease to exist as organized matter. Reality is laced together a lot more tightly than humans might like to believe.”
- Innumeracy among political journalists: “John shoots down David Brooks’s claim that ‘If you look at the fundamentals, the president should be getting crushed right now.’ John points out (as does Ezra Klein) that if you look at the fundamentals, you’d expect a close election. OK, there are lots of ways of looking at politics, elections, and the economy, and I’m sure that some forecasts give Obama a bit lead. But that’s hardly a consensus reading of the fundamentals. [...] One aspect of innumeracy is seeing numbers as words, as rhetorical expressions rather than as quantities that can be added and subtracted, multiplied and divided. That’s what’s going on when Brooks talks about the fundamentals without looking”
- Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride? and From The Mailbag – A Reply to “Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride”: “We try to persuade people out of almost every kind of idea there is. Why should religion be the exception?”
- Sam Harris, free will, and blaming believers for the things they say: “Last week, I read Sam Harris’ new book Free Will. Until now I’ve liked everything I’ve read of Harris’, but I can’t recommend this book. The problem is that Harris argues against the notion of free will without ever putting much effort into figuring out what people mean by ‘free will.’ [...] I’ve said that I, like Blackford, am inclined to be cautious about using the phrase “free will.” But if what we mean by free will means the ability to chose, or our actions being up to us, or the ability to do otherwise (in a sense), I have no trouble saying I think free will exists. And research done by Eddy Nahmias seems to indicate most people understand “free will” in something like one of those senses. Or at least, they understand it in a sense compatible with determinism.”
- Ethicists No More Likely Than Non-Ethicists to Pay Their Registration Fees at APA Meetings: “Until recently, the American Philosophical Association had more or less an honor system for paying meeting registration fees. There was no serious enforcement mechanism for ensuring that people who attended the meeting — even people appearing on the program as chairs, speakers, or commentators — actually paid their registration fees. [...] Here, then, are my preliminary findings: Overall, 76% of program participants paid their registration fees: 75% in 2006, 76% in 2007, and 77% in 2008. (The increasing trend is not statistically significant.) 74% of participants presenting ethics-related material (henceforth “ethicists”: see the coding details) paid their registration fees, compared to 76% of non-ethicists, not a statistically significant difference.”
- The Widespread Permission to Do Harm in God’s Name: “We will no doubt hear the protest, ‘But what of all the good the church does? You mention the harm, but you ignore the good?’ By all means, continue to do good. However, go you think that doing good buys you moral credit giving you special permission to do harm? For example, do you think that a person who has saved two lives earns a moral credit, giving him permission to murder one person of his choosing at a later date? After all, he will still have a net moral balance of +1 life saved. That makes him a hero, right?”
- Your Intuitions Are Not Magic: “But like statistical techniques in general, our intuitions are not magic. Hitting a broken window with a hammer will not fix the window, no matter how reliable the hammer. It would certainly be easy and convenient if our intuitions always gave us the right results, just like it would be easy and convenient if our statistical techniques always gave us the right results. Yet carelessness can cost lives. Misapplying a statistical technique when evaluating the safety of a new drug might kill people or cause them to spend money on a useless treatment. Blindly following our intuitions can cause our careers, relationships or lives to crash and burn, because we did not think of the possibility that we might be wrong.”
- Dissolving The Hard Problem of Conciousness [PDF]: “In this paper we attempt to dissolve worries around the hard problem of conscious by showing that there is no good argument for the existence of such a problem. The arguments for the existence of a hard problem, as defined by Chalmers (2002), come from some classic thought experiments. We are asked to imagine a scenario radically different from our experience of the world and draw the conclusion that the intrinsic qualitative nature of a mental state is independent of the structure and function of that state. The conclusion depends on the truth of identifiable key intuitions. We suggest that these intuitions are not theory neutral. [...] These thought experiments thus cannot serve as evidence for a hard problem; that would be question begging.”
- Will Atheism Become Easier?: “In the next generation or so, will it be easier to become an atheist? I don’t mean socially or politically easier. I’m not wondering whether there will eventually be less anti-atheist bigotry, discrimination, stigma, whether state and church will be better separated, etc. (That’s not what I’m thinking about today, anyway.) I’m wondering if it will become emotionally easier, and philosophically.”
- What Do You Say to Grieving Non-Believers?: “If you know someone who’s grieving a death, and they don’t believe in a God or in any sort of afterlife… what do you say? A lot of religious and spiritual believers find themselves stymied, at a loss for words, when the atheists and other non-believers in their lives are grieving. The comforts and consolations they’re used to offering, and that they rely on themselves, don’t do much good with atheists and other non-believers. ‘It’s all part of a plan.’ ‘I’m sure they’re smiling down on you now.’ ‘You’ll see them in the afterlife.’ Etc. At best, these notions are useless for atheists: at worst, they’re actually upsetting.”
I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.