Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Born This Day: Corliss Lamont

1902 – 1995

Corliss Lamont is known as a vocal humanist, socialist, and defender of civil liberties. Frequently the target of the United States government, Lamont took many issues before the courts some reaching the Supreme Court. His phones were tapped by the FBI and his tax returns and cancelled checks were under observation. He wrote The Philosophy of Humanism and Freedom is as Freedom Does among other works.

  • Lived to 93.
  • Earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University.
  • Was a Marxist for a short period.
  • His father was Partner and Chairman at J.P. Morgan & Company and his grandnephew, Ned Lamont ran for governor of Connecticut and has a net worth of tens of million of dollars.
  • Director of the ACLU from 1932-1954.
  • Wrote poetry.
  • Wrote works on Bertrand Russell and John Dewey and worked to preserve the work of Santayana and Spinoza.

In the Age of Science Can You Still Be Responsible?

2596-Jenn-1x1-125pxTax season is upon us in the United States and many Americans are facing a dilemma that has plagued taxpayers since the first tax was imposed on mankind: do I cheat or play by the rules? What if you knew that it was not under your power not to cheat? Would you feel better about spending that extra c-note you scored on less than legal terms? Of course, the IRS probably wouldn’t care how much better you felt and, responsible or not, becoming better friends with Benjamin Franklin may land you in a cell you’ll share with Bubba Franklin. But how seriously can we really take free will in a world that largely has been explained in terms of natural law and ironclad argument?

In an emerging field called experimental philosophy (or x-phi), philosophers are attempting to use experimental data to draw philosophical conclusions about ethics, epistemology, and other disciplines. Jon Lackman for the New York Times surveys recent work being done to apply experimental philosophical methods to the seemingly intractable free will question. He mainly surveys the field and doesn’t draw any conclusions other than that the data doesn’t really allow us to draw any conclusions. There does seem to be a strong relationship to what test subjects believe about free will and how they act. He also underscores the dissonance between theories about free will both in science and philosophy and the average person’s beliefs about it.

This emphasizes a theme I’ve been exploring where the first-person experience of a particular phenomenon like the existence of God or free will often varies widely with a third-person analysis of that phenomenon. It’s a tough sell for a person to believe she’s not responsible for her actions (or – probably more likely – that others are not responsible for their actions, particularly when those actions harm her) even if there are strong arguments to the contrary. The experimental data seems to prove this out. Lackman writes,

This behavior in the lab, the researchers noted, squares with studies in recent decades showing an increase in the number of college students who admit to cheating. During this same period, other studies have shown a weakening in the popular belief in free will (although it’s still widely held).

So what are theorists to do? Does “proving” one does not have free will matter if common sense telling us that we’re responsible is so strong?

See the NYT article here.

Born This Day: Antonio Rosmini


Antonio Rosmini-Serbati was a part of the Italian Idealist movement and focused his work on repairing the damage done by the Enlightenment to religious belief -- an emphasis that was very popular in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Rosmini can be seen as a part of the tradition of Kant (Hunnex) and a father of modern idealism. Rosmini held that philosophy is essential to sound thinking and to sound theology. The Enlightenment focused on "rationalizing" rather than on reason and thus bastardized philosophy which led to corruption.

  • He held that the idea of being as a singularity along with whatever can be understood from that idea is necessary to ground the intellect.
  • Rosmini thought the Greeks and Kant were excessive in their explanation of thought and Locke and Reid were deficient.
  • He believed that certainty in knowledge was possible through a rigorous pursuit of sounds argument (this forms a basis for his view of the dignity of humans and their "transcendence."
  • He spent a good deal of his energy pursuing a study of the dignity of the human person. The human is a hybrid of subject and object. The former is "that which feels" (soul) while the latter is "that which is felt" (body). This along with will is the essence of the human.
  • Wrote The Philosophy of Politics which expounds his views of the nature and purpose of society. Society is "simply the union of two or more people undertaken with the intention of obtaining a common advantage." (SEP)
  • He defended the belief in the existence of God but preferred a priori proofs over a posteriori ones.
  • Rosmini was an Italian priest, philosopher, and theologian.

Source: SEP

Today's Quote: "The human being is a knowing and feeling subject whose will, as supreme principle of activity, provides the basis of the incommunicable individuality that constitutes each real human nature as a person."

Born This Day: Edward Caird


Caird, a part of the idealist movement in Great Britain, was Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, professor of moral philosophy in the University of Glasgow and Master of Balliol College, Oxford.

  • Was known for his work on Kant in A Critical Account of the Philosophy of Kant (later editions published under the title The Critical Philosophy of Kant)
  • Gave the Gifford Lectures on the evolution of religion and the evolution of theology.
  • Held that the very conflict between idealism and materialism demanded a synthesis. He rejected that "common sense" could adjudicate these tensions in light of Humean skepticism.
  • In Caird's opinion, Kant provided a unifying synthesis: "The distinction between subject and object emerges within the unity of consciousness, a unity which is fundamental." (Copleston). This unity is present in science.
  • Caird viewed religion as being formed out of the awareness of this unity in conflict. He saw three stages in the development of religion
    • Stage 1: awareness of object (materialism)
    • Stage 2: awareness of subject (idealism)
    • Stage 3: awareness of the unification of both stages (religion)
  • Caird was the brother of John Caird, Presbyterian theologian and preacher and professor of divinity at the University of Glasgow

Quote of the day: On subject and object, “We are forced to seek the secret of their being in a higher principle, of whose unity they in their action and reaction are the manifestations, which they presuppose as their beginning and to which they point as their end.”

Announcement: Graduate Epistemology Conference

The Philosophy Departments of Northwestern and Notre Dame are proud to announce the program for the second annual Notre Dame-Northwestern Graduate Epistemology Conference, taking place on the campus of Notre Dame on Friday and Saturday April 14-15.  The Keynote speaker is Ernie Sosa, Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University.  There will be a special section of the conference devoted to the epistemology of disagreement, including a roundtable discussion on the topic.

New Plantinga Fellow Announced

Baylor University’s Bob Roberts as named as Notre Dame University’s Plantinga Fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Religion. Roberts received his Ph.D. from Yale and specializes in ethics (especially virtues), Kierkegaard, emotion theory, moral psychology, and epistemology. His books include:

Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology, Cambridge University Press (2003)

Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology (Advances in Cognitive Models & Arch), with Jay Wood (Clarendon Press, 2007)

See here for more information

Lizzy Fricker to Visit Northwestern

The Northwestern Philosophy Department is delighted to announce the events that will take place during the two weeks (April 4-15) that Lizzie Fricker (Oxford) will be visiting Northwestern as Kreeger-Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor.  In addition to giving several general philosophy talks talks Professor Fricker will be leading several discussions on her book manuscript on the epistemology of testimony.  The events are open to visitors; if you find yourself in the Chicagoland area and would like to attend, you are welcome to do so.  For those who would like more information, contact Sandford Goldberg at

Born Today: G.E.M. Anscombe


“The breadth of her work is impressive. She was systematic in her thinking, seeing and developing connections between metaphysics, moral psychology, and ethics that exhibited not simply a grasp of one particular problem, but a world view. Her legacy is one of the broadest and deepest left by a 20th century philosopher.” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

  • Cambridge philosopher who occupied the Chair formerly held by Wittgenstein.
  • Married philosopher Peter Geach.
  • She was known as a fierce debater.
  • In 1956, publicly opposed the decision of Oxford University to award an honorary degree to Harry Truman for his decision to use of atomic weapons against Japan.
  • She opposed contraception.
  • Influenced by Wittgenstein particularly in her views on metaphysics
  • Most influential on her works on causation. She challenged Hume's view and established a trend towards probabilistic views of causality.
  • Her book Intention (on intentionality) is considered a classic of twentieth century philosophy.
  • Famously challenged Oxford don C.S. Lewis' argument in chapter 3 of his book Miracles at a meeting of the Socratic Club. Her challenge was so formidable, that Lewis allegedly became so upset by the argument that he rewrote chapter 3 for the paper version of his book to account for Anscombe's argument.

Today’s quote: “Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.” – General Turgidson (Dr. Strangelove)

Born Today: Maurice Merleau-Ponty


Mind as that for which any world is a world. (Hunnex)

  • Co-editor of Les temps modernes with Sartre.
  • He asserted in a lecture given at Geneva that the 20th century established the marginalization of dualism by viewing mind as always associated with the body but is expressed through being a subject. In this he both agrees and disagrees with Sartre.
  • He rejected a purely physical reduction of the mind and was concerned to establish the body as both physical and spiritual
  • His work bears a similarity to Ryle's position in The Concept of Mind and wanted to establish the body as the locus of subjectivity.
  • The subject is a physical being who is in "dialogue" with the world and therefore cannot be reduced to a machine.
  • Sartre is in the tradition of modern existentialism whereas MP is in the tradition of modern phenomenology.

Today’s quote: “Human life [is] through and through mental and corporeal, always based upon the body and always (even in its most carnal modes) interested in relationships between persons.”

Born Today: Joseph Priestly


Materialist who held to what Copleston calls an “associationist psychology” which emphasized the connection between physical psychical events. Priestly got into a debate with Richard Price over free will and the immateriality of the soul. He became a Unitarian and is most famous for his work in chemistry and physics as well as political philosophy.

Today’s quote: “Will is nothing more than a particular case of the general doctrine of association of ideas, and therefore a perfectly mechanical thing.”

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