With new slight re-design, I’m going to be taking the Weekly Link Roundup into a slightly different direction as well. Now that you can scroll through all the essays at once, now that there is a list of recent essays in the sidebar, and now that essays will no longer have convenient excerpts written for them, I’m going to do away with a summary of this week’s essays in the Roundup. I’m also going to do away with the recently added “Misc” category (short lived!).
So Weekly Link Roundups will now be two things — the links and the comments. Hopefully this will make everything more simple for everyone, including me. I also will reverse the order, giving you the links first. Then I will proceed to give you the discussions — here and elsewhere — so you can stay involved.
I’m also going to shrink the link disclaimer a bit. I think the only information you really need to know is that 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. I also do invite you to be aware of the now massive link roundup category, if you’re in the need of a couple hundred diversions.
- How to Get Your Dream Job: “My assignment was very straightforward. I had forty minutes to talk about what I did, how I came to do it, and what kids could do if they wanted a similar career. That wasn’t enough for me, though. I wanted to have a message bigger than just that—this is the life of a game designer. After much thought, I decided my theme was going to be ‘How To Get Your Dream Job.’ I didn’t just want to talk to the kids about my job, but rather about what my job represented to me. I wanted to explain the holy grail of the job search. I hoped to instill in the kids that, when planning your future, you should aim high.”
- Indirect Utilitarianism: “Utilitarianism is a much maligned moral theory, in part because it’s so easily abused. It’s easy for people to misunderstand the theory, and use it to ‘justify’ all sorts of atrocities. But of course utilitarianism properly understood does not lead to this. In fact, it tends to support our common-sense moral intuitions. Strange as it may seem, utilitarianism recommends that we do not base our everyday moral decision-making on calculations of utility.”
- Pushing moral buttons: The interaction between personal force and intention in moral judgment [PDF]: “In some cases people judge it morally acceptable to sacriﬁce one person’s life in order to save several other lives, while in other similar cases they make the opposite judgment. Researchers have identiﬁed two general factors that may explain this phenomenon at the stimulus level: (1) the agent’s intention (i.e. whether the harmful event is intended as a means or merely foreseen as a side-effect) and (2) whether the agent harms the victim in a manner that is relatively “direct” or “personal”. Here we integrate these two classes of
- What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?: “Power, prosperity, and poverty vary greatly around the world. Norway, the world’s richest country, is 496 times richer than Burundi, the world’s poorest country (average per capita incomes $84,290 and $170 respectively, according to the World Bank). Why? That’s a central question of economics.”
- The Death-Penalty Debate Represents a Market Failure: “The debate over the death penalty offers a vivid illustration of a tragic flaw in the market of ideas: Strong beliefs attract a lot more attention, and can have a lot more influence, than the truth. [...] The reality, unsatisfying and inconvenient as it may be, is that we simply don’t know how capital punishment affects the homicide rate.”
- Arguing by Definition: “When people argue definitions, they usually start with some visible, known, or at least widely believed set of characteristics; then pull out a dictionary, and point out that these characteristics fit the dictionary definition; and so conclude, ‘Therefore, by definition, atheism is a religion!’ But visible, known, widely believed characteristics are rarely the real point of a dispute.”
- So-Called “Litmus Tests”: Skepticism and Social Justice: “There’s this argument that keeps cropping up. Some skeptics argue that skepticism — skeptical organizations, conferences, publications, meetups, etc. — should branch out from the traditional topics we’re usually associated with, such as astrology and UFOs and Bigfoot, and spend more time applying skepticism to social justice issues. The drug war; abstinence-only sex education; laws about birth control; laws about homosexuality and same-sex marriage; police policy… that sort of thing.”
- The Purpose of Purpose [YouTube]: “During Richard Dawkins’ American tour in March 2009, he gave a talk titled “The Purpose of Purpose”. I travelled with Richard to these cities and filmed the talks, which I’ve edited together here. The content of the talk remains intact, while the editing moves between the different locations and Richard’s Keynote presentation.”
- The Importance of Forgetting – Why a Bad Memory is a Good Memory: “Memory is much more efficient in this light. Because 99 percent of our experiences are fairly uneventful and meaningless, the mind does a good job of only holding onto the important stuff while discarding the rest. Sure there are obvious downsides to this, but there are upsides also. [...] If there is a bottom line it is this. The purpose of human memory is not to store information but to organize information so we can understand and predict the world. The downsides of this abound, but I say evolution did a pretty good job. Car keys, cell phones, licenses and passports weren’t very important over the last few million years when our ancestors were evolving, after all.”
- Charity – the video game that’s real: “What sucked about this experience was that it was all fake, and in the back of my head I knew that. In the end I felt pretty empty and lame. Enter altruism – where the bad guys are ACTUALLY BAD GUYS. Sure, I don’t get the same satisfying explosion when they die… I don’t even know to what extent, or whether, they die. So you can think of this video game as being more in the camp of something lame, like an RPG or something. But it’s infinitely better because it’s real. I don’t care whether the kids are cute, or whether the organizations are nice to me, or whether my friends like my decisions. As with video games, I probably spend 99% of my time frustrated rather than happy. But… Malaria Man just pisses me off. It’s that simple.”
- Why I Should Pay Higher Taxes: “It doesn’t do me any good to be personally wealthier if my country or the world as a whole is becoming more unequal, more unstable, more gripped by poverty, more resentful, more insecure. I want to be successful, of course, but not at the expense of millions of people who didn’t have the same advantages or the same good fortune I’ve enjoyed. As I’ve written in the past, what I want is a society that offers equality of opportunity, and I think we’ve wandered far from this ideal. Anti-tax dogma is causing a dangerous deterioration of the social contract, and we can’t reverse that trend unless we accept that sometimes, yes, our taxes do need to be increased.”
- Tradeoffs: “Before I parted with any money, I’d ask myself what it could do for a woman in Africa. (It doesn’t have to be her, but that’s who I always imagined.) Did I value my new jeans more than her month’s groceries? More than her children’s vaccinations or school fees? Could I make that tradeoff? [...] I also think there’s only so much grief we can carry. I cannot go the next 70 years counting dead children on every receipt. I would break. So my advice is to spend a while really noticing that tradeoff. Notice whether you really do value the milkshake more than a child’s vaccination. And then, after a time, make yourself a budget that reflects those values. Set aside money for unnecessary things that make you happy. Do what you think will nurture you to age 100 as a generous and strategic giver. Because that, in the end, is what will help the most people.”
- Peter Singer and Tyler Cowen transcript: “In March 2009, Tyler Cowen (blog) interviewed Peter Singer about morality, giving, and how we can most improve the world. They are both thinkers I respect a lot, and I was excited to read their debate. Unfortunately the interview was available only as a video. I wanted a transcript, so I made one”
- Secularism and Religion in the Public Square: “It is interesting that it is not the symbols of the Christian religion, but the ancient Roman and Greek religions, that survive today in our concept of justice. In addition to trials where evidence was presented and a verdict rendered, they also gave us democracy. In fact, we can find much closer representations of our current form of government in ancient Greek and Roman forms than we can in any Christian government formed before 1700. The omnipresence of the religious symbolism of Justitis (and even the very name Justice) tells us the true origin of these concepts. We are not so much a Christian nation as we are an ancient pagan Greek nation. We show this by continuing to include ancient pagan Greek and Roman religious symbolism in our government documents.”
This week was a slower one, with only 12 comments being added to the blog. However, conversation is still going strong:
On “Continuing Comments on Randomness and Naturalism”, I wrote a comment with some links to more materials that help understand Quantum Mechanics and the Many-Worlds Interpretation.
On “Free Will That Makes Sense”, we talk a bit more about whether Free Will exists (in the form of compatibilism), and the Argument from Free Will against God’s existence.
On “Weekly Link Roundup #33″, we discuss Eric Dietrich’s article “There Is No Progress in Philosophy” (PDF), talking about potential progress in philosophy, and — in typical philosophical fashion — what it means for philosophy to progress anyway.
Over on the Denison VPC Blog, there’s a discussion about my essay “Just How Do We Know if A Non-Profit is Effective, Anyway?” about the merits of donating to an up-and-coming initiative versus an already proven program.
Over at TheWarfareIsMental, I continue the discussion on Cl’s “Why I Said Skeptical Theism is For the Birds”, discussing the Problem of Evil again — more specifically, (1) the failure of Skeptical Theism, (2) Cl’s theodicy that we need suffering to prove to ourselves the consequences of disobeying God, and (3) troublesome verses in the Bible that demonstrate some malevolence on behalf of God.
Also on TheWarfareisMental’s “Oh Yeah, Big Difference”, I discuss a bit of an atheistic account of “moral progress” (the world getting gradually closer to the moral standard Cl has in mind), grounded in evolutionary psychology and moral psychology.
For what it’s worth, I also updated “The Morality Series Companion Reader”.
I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.