Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

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New Book from OUP: Causation

Press release: New from Oxford University Press

CAUSATION: A Very Short Introduction

by: Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum

Causation is the most fundamental connection in the universe. Without it, there would be no science or technology. There would be no moral responsibility either, as none of our thoughts would be connected with our actions and none of our actions with any consequences. Nor would we have a law system because blame resides only in someone having caused damage.

Any intervention we make in the world around us is premised on there being causal connections that are, to a degree, predictable. It is causation that is at the basis of prediction and also explanation. This Very Short Introduction introduces the key theories of causation and also the surrounding debates and controversies.

About the Authors:
Stephen Mumford is Professor of Metaphysics at the Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts. He has written several books on this topic.

Rani Lill Anjum is Research Fellow at the Norwegian University of Life Science where she leads the Causation in Science research project (CauSci). CauSci is a global network for those interested in a scientifically informed philosophy of causation. She has written many popular articles in magazines and newspapers and delivered numerous talks for non-specialist audiences.

Click the image to purchase the book on Amazon.

Is a College Degree Worth the Money?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on a new study which looks at the monetary cost/benefit of a college education. The results are not good. The journal writes, "A study I conducted with my colleague Jonathan Robe, the 2013 Center for College Affordability and Productivity report, found explosive growth in the number of college graduates taking relatively unskilled jobs. We now have more college graduates working in retail than soldiers in the U.S. Army, and more janitors with bachelor's degrees than chemists." Of course there is significant value one could derive from a college education (particularly from a philosophy degree) that should not be thought of in terms of monetization. But the “jobs question” is still significant and an important consideration considering what one might pay to get educated.

This relates directly to the results of our popular Placement Reports which seem to indicate that landing a good job after getting a degree in philosophy is difficult. What is your experience?

Thanks to Stan Dokupil for the pointer.

The WSJ article is here: “How the College Bubble Will Pop”.

Philosophy is Authenticity Wrapped in Awe

no-exit-lgMy cat-like ears heightened and my stance was still. My eyes fixated on the old professor with his relaxed, collared shirt and limp tie. He peered into the inattentive classroom with his sheep-like eyes looking for any signs of life. He didn’t realize I, too, was doing the same but in his direction. How did this joker get a degree? Did he find a university running a special on tuition perhaps? He didn’t know this but I was ready for his longwinded Socratic arguments that beat students into intellectual submission. I knew there was no convincing men like Aristotle that the Forms were superior to nature, nor would I have any luck convincing the professor that Sartre was a prime example of an emo teenager lost in his own nothingness and stubborn will power. I knew all about this class from previous students. I had this in the bag.

It was his misleading appearance that pulled me into a false sense of certainty. It was my arrogant belief that I knew who I was and I could not be convinced otherwise. Before I knew it, he disarmed my intellect, rattled my reason, and arrested my soul! Why do I love being a Philosophy student? Why spend countless hours under the direction of a professor hell-bent on assigning me paper after paper? Why bother with quotes and lectures from the past? It was not long ago I would have grabbed a degree in anything, just to get through university. Then I signed up for a class that would seal my fate: Existentialism.

During the course of the class, my professor asked us to read, “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre. I found myself reading it straight through without stopping. Three people end up in Hell. A Hell I've never imagined before that moment. Each character comforts their death through interactions with each other. Only after long contemplations did I feel a connection to each one in the story. Garcin portrays a weak coward only out for himself. He doesn’t care about his scorned wife and I enjoyed the fact he suffered in Hell. To her Inès openly admits his cruelty of others for pure pleasure. Because of her honesty, she quickly became both an object of scorn and of passionate admiration. Finally, there was Estelle, poor, poor Estelle. Her sin was selfishness that resulted in adultery, murder, and suicide. I felt no compassion for her nor understood her motives. In the end, they spend all of eternity vying for validation from one another. Seeking validation-- it seems like something none of us overtly seek but if we think hard enough, we look for it every day.

Throughout the course, I kept returning to this story each time seeing something new. I began to understand the many layers of consciousness involved with this mysterious term Existentialism. I began to understand the simple meaning that we live in a hostile world where only our choices matter and nothing else. We live our lives projecting our choices on others unconsciously. Garcin, Inès, and Estelle lived their life the only way they knew how. And in the end, they couldn’t blame anyone but themselves. The story conveyed a truth about one’s self. The story reflects the choices we make that result in the unthinkable. In other words, our past choices reflect our present state of being, while our present choices ultimately play out in our future.

Once you look at the essence of who you are, you begin to see your true self. You begin a dialogue with your true self, you rediscover things about yourself that were dormant and asleep. And once you see your true self for what it is, from there who you become is limitless. I love that aspect of Existentialism. I no longer viewed writing papers as a chore but a chance to explore philosophy and more importantly, myself. That understanding spread throughout me like an antidote. It saturated my mind, changed how I worked and studied. I wanted everyone to hear about Sartre’s theories. I wanted to talk about our unconscious minds. I wanted people to see everyone has a common root with the people around them.

Philosophy is not just about arguments and debates, and the caricature of cranky professors with pipes and unkempt mustaches is an unfortunate cultural by product fostered by cranky, mustached, smoking, professors. Philosophy is the key to unlocking the shackles that smother your curiosity, your wonderment, and your sense of self. Philosophy is not just a subject you learn. Rather it’s a lifestyle of wonderful, insatiable curiosity that will, if you let it, alter your way of being in the world.

[Editor’s note: With this article, Philosophy News welcomes Kelly Perez as a contributor to our site. We hope you enjoy her articles and news postings.]

A New Look!

Happy 2014 to all our readers! I’m writing to let you know that with the new year, Philosophy News has gotten a facelift. We’ve been working hard to make the site more modern looking and provide better readability across form factors. It is a major upgrade and we hope you like it. As with any major change, there are bound to be issues so if you encounter any functionality problems, broken links, or usability issues, please let us know. You can write to the publisher directly at paulp@philosophynews.com.

We are honored to be your source for news about philosophy, religion, and academia. We’re working on some wonderful things in 2014 so stay tuned. As always, we value your feedback and input, so please write us or comment on any of our postings and let us know what you think. Also be sure to “like” us on Facebook and re-tweet articles you find helpful or interesting. Your involvement in this way helps Philosophy News to continue to provide you with great content.

Thanks!

Paul

Willfully Free from Free Will

[Editor’s note: With this article, Philosophy News welcomes Aidan Cade Goldsmith as a contributor to our site. We hope you enjoy his articles and news postings.]

Debates over the definition, validity and intelligibility of free will have always been an important feature of philosophical discourse. Modern scientific advancements have breathed new life into these discussions with overwhelming evidence suggesting an undeniably close relationship between the mind and the brain. Using the common, intuitive definition I will argue that we can conclusively say that there is no such thing as free will, and therefore there is no such thing as moral responsibility ontologically. I will first discuss the problem of the “ghost in the machine” and it’s various implications, then I will express an even deeper problem with the notion of free will as a subjective experience. Finally I will examine the Compatibilist approach, explain why it fails to provide both an intellectually and morally satisfactory depiction of free will and express the consequences of my conclusions.

Before we proceed, I think it is important to define my terms so as to avoid confusion or contradiction. A belief in free will consists in the belief that we, as human agents, are the conscious authors of our thoughts and actions. This notion depends entirely on the causal efficacy of our thoughts – I had a desire to buy a bottle of water, so I bought a bottle of water. This primacy of agency is prevalent throughout most popular definitions of free will, though there are some people (like Compatibilists) that would disagree. I will present my arguments from this perspective because I think that there are some very important consequences that arise from the exhaustive exploration of this train of thought. There are other definitions that assert the auxiliary idea that free will is essentially the ability to do other than what one has chosen to do, and while I personally subscribe to this theory it is not a necessary premise of my argument.

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Carrier on the Value of Philosophy

Photo of me behind the podium, hands raised in gesture, speaking. Red-silver tie on white shirt under a dark grey suit jacket. Hair shaggy. Glasses hipster.Historian and philosopher Richard Carrier, famous for his work on the historical Jesus recently published a lecture with the title “Is Philosophy Stupid?” In it, he surveys common and modern views of philosophy, gives an historical analysis of what philosophy was meant to be, and provides some ideas on how philosophy could improve in the future. As expected, he over-indexes on naturalism and scientism as examples of “progress” in philosophy but overall his polemic against critics and guidance for how philosophy should work are pretty decent.

His lecture notes are here

You can view the lecture itself here

Carrier’s blog posting

Thanks to Bob Seidensticker for the link (and check out Bob’s latest book, A Modern Christmas Carol here)

A Conversation with Dr. Sandy Goldberg on Getting a Job in Philosophy

 goldbergPhilosophy News recently published a series of reports that provide insight into how philosophy students get placed after they graduate. Northwestern University is one of the schools that surfaced in these reports as being particularly successful at helping students find jobs in academic philosophy. The chairman of the philosophy department at Northwestern, Dr. Sandy Goldberg, agreed to spend some time with us to talk about philosophy as an academic discipline, about the career prospect for students studying philosophy, and about how the program at Northwestern is designed to help students to be as successful as possible after they graduate.

One bit of guidance Dr. Goldberg gives students in this engaging conversation focuses on what he sees as a prerequisite for entering a philosophy program in the first place. “One really has to love philosophy, if you’re going to commit even the years in graduate school to it. You have to love it. I think you actually have to love it intrinsically. You have to love what is really beautiful about thinking of these ideas and the clash of opinions. If you don’t love it in that way, so much so that you can’t imagine doing anything else, then my advice would be, don’t do it to begin with.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Listen:


Other Resources

Dr. Goldberg’s faculty page at Northwestern

Article on the value of philosophy by Paul Pardi

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Philosophy News Placement Reports:

pr_phd Graduate Student Philosophy Placement Records 

pr_terminalma

 Terminal MA Placement Report

pr_prestige

 The “Prestige” Report

Books by Dr. Goldberg:

Relying on Others: An Essay in Epistemology

Internalism and Externalism in Semantics and Epistemology

 

Kant by Any Other Name?

This appears to have been around a while but I was just made aware of it and thought it was worth posting.

Robert Lanza and Bob Berman are pitching a cosmology that puts life at the creative center of the universe and they suggest that their idea could provide the foundation of a new “theory of everything.” Called biocentrism, their idea is that cosmology, indeed all of science, needs to undergo a radical shift. Instead of viewing science as a discipline of discover—the world imposes itself on mind and theories are born out of that imposition—mind imposes itself on the world and “creates” it. It’s a not-so-subtle shift from an ontology-focused view of cosmology and science in general to an epistemic one. Knowledge is a product of creative perception rather than a process of discovery and refinement. The idea is at least as old as Kant and may find new life in our postmodernist-friendly epistemic environment.

Could the long-sought Theory of Everything be merely missing a component that was too close for us to have noticed? Some of the thrill that came with the announcement that the human genome had been mapped or the idea that we are close to understanding the “Big Bang” rests in our innate human desire for completeness and totality. But most of these comprehensive theories fail to take into account one crucial factor: We are creating them. It is the biological creature that fashions the stories, that makes the observations, and that gives names to things. And therein lies the great expanse of our oversight, that science has not confronted the one thing that is at once most familiar and most mysterious — consciousness. As Emerson wrote in “Experience,” an essay that confronted the facile positivism of his age: “We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject-lenses have a creative power; perhaps there are no objects.”

Biocentrism – How Life Creates the Universe

See their article at the Huffington Post.

Thanks to Stan Dokupil for the links.

Philosophers Immortalized in . . . Comics?

flat,135x135,075,tIf you’ve ever wanted philosopher trading cards, now you have it (sort of). Dead Philosophers in Heaven creators Matt Russell and Nick Gibb are using their artistry to, ahem, “honor” philosophers (and teach us a little about them) by putting them in dialog and creating posters that summarize some of their important personality traits. For example, you’ll learn that:

  • Nietzsche dislikes socialism, 99.7% of western philosophy, and you
  • Marx’s ambition was to beat Engels at Beeropoly
  • Plato’s secret weapon was his terrible conversational skills
  • Wittgenstein liked boiled cabbage with a side of Saint Augustine

You can also listen to never-before revealed dialogue between dead philosophers about how governments should be structured and a personal interview with Albert Camus. Just a heads up that philosophers tend to be pretty foul-mouthed (something we all knew) but this glimpse into their secret lives will leave you wanting more.

Russell and Gibb have only a handful of posters on individual philosophers but I hope to see more in the future.

Enjoy!

http://www.dead-philosophers.com/

Philosopher Spotlight


Conversations with philosophers, professional and non-professional alike.
Visit our podcast section for more interviews and conversations.

Interview with

Dr. Robert McKim
  • on Religious Diversity
  • Professor of Religion and Professor of Philosophy
  • Focuses on Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Alvin Plantinga
  • on Where the Conflict Really Lies
  • Emeritus Professor of Philosophy (UND)
  • Focuses on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Peter Boghossian
  • on faith as a cognitive sickness
  • Teaches Philosophy at Portland State University (Oregon)
  • Focuses on atheism and critical thinking
  • Has a passion for teaching in prisons
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