Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Human Nature and Human Enhancement: Some Quick Thoughts

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[This is a slightly expanded version of a talk I gave at the SIENNA workshop on the ethics of human enhancement in Uppsala, Sweden on the 13th June 2019. The talk was intended to be a provocation rather than a comprehensively reasoned argument.]I've been asked to say a few words about the challenges that emerging enhancement technologies might pose for how we define human nature (with a nod towards how this might also interact with the 'dual use' nature of technology). I didn't say this to the organisers when they asked me, but this is a difficult topic for me to talk about. That's because I am a sceptic of human nature. I tend to agree with Allen Buchanan (2009; 2011) that discussions of 'human nature' in the enhancement debate tend to obscure more than they clarify. This is because the term 'human nature' usually functions as a proxy for something else that people care about. My feeling is that people should talk about that something else instead, and not about human nature. That said I'm clearly in a minority in taking this sceptical view. People are hungry for discussions of human nature. The library shelves groan under the weight of scholarly volumes dedicated to the topic. Just to illustrate, there was a book I read many years ago as a student by Leslie Stevenson called Seven Theories of Human Nature. It was first published in 1987. In 2017, they published the seventh edition of the book, now titled Thirteen Theories of Human Nature - apparently the number of theories of human nature had doubled in the intervening 30 years. At that rate of growth, the number of theories of human nature will exceed the total number of humans in just over 900 years. Clearly people are obsessed with this topic.What is it that obsesses them? Obviously, I can't do justice to the diversity of thinking on this matter -- I'm just setting up a conversation -- but I can at least help to structure that conversation by considering three senses in which people use the. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

PHQ play Beethoven Op 59/3 and Schubert Trout Quintet

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To Wigmore Hall, to hear the Pavel Haas Quartet again. A matchless evening. In the second half of the concert, they played the Trout Quintet with the pianist Boris Giltburg and Enno Senft on double bass. This is joyous music, and the five of them were obviously enjoying themselves enormously; you kept catching shared half-smiles as they played with such verve, without ever losing their subtle colouring and wonderful ensemble. Giltburg in particular was dazzling but never dominating as he wove in and out of the other four. We loved it, the audience loved it, and the musicians happily beamed back as they took the waves of applause. Great stuff. (Boris Giltburg has posted a short video of them rehearsing earlier, which gives a flavour, but the sound isn’t terrific and the evening performance was much more magical.) But a chance to hear the Trout Quintet wasn’t the main reason I’d been looking forward to this concert for months. Because, before the interval, PHQ played Beethoven’s third Rasumovsky Quartet. I fell in love with this piece, particularly the Andante, when a student — first heard, indeed, in Godard’s film, Une Femme Mariée where snatches of Beethoven keep recurring. As odd chance would have it, I had never before heard it played live, even by a good quartet let alone a great one: the time had come! And, oh heavens, it was a stunning performance — more than bearing comparison with the greatest recordings. Veronica Jarůšková’s phrasing, bar by bar, is a thing of wonder. The Andante was played at the edge of melancholy, with the cello’s plucked notes (which can be too dominant in some performances) in perfect balance. The final Allegro then performed with such speed and drive but also such control, to bring cheers as the four raised their bows at the end. Astonishing indeed. Ten years ago, the BBC Music Magazine had a cover CD of the PHQ playing three of the Beethoven Quartets (when they were BBC New. . .

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News source: Logic Matters

Should Political Candidates Accept Foreign Dirt?

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During an interview, President Trump said that if he were offered damaging information on his political rivals from a foreign government he might accept it and not inform the FBI. Since Trump is Trump, he also asserted that he thought that in such a case a person should maybe accept the information and contact the FBI. Laying aside the problem of trying to determine Trump’s definitive position on this matter, there is the general question of whether political candidates in the United States should accept damaging information provided by foreign governments or foreigners. Image Credit From a legal standpoint, there is some debate about whether accepting such information would run afoul of election law. Foreign nationals are forbidden from providing contributions, donations, other expenditures or exchanging any “thing of value.” The problem arises because “thing of value” is vague. On the one hand, damaging information could obviously be politically valuable to a campaign and would thus seem to fall under the law. On the other hand, one could argue that while such information would be useful, it is not a thing of value in the same sense as money or providing advertisements for a candidate. I think that such information should be considered a thing of value; this is because the law is aimed at preventing foreign interference in our elections and providing such information would be providing something potentially valuable (opposition research is expensive) that is aimed at interfering with an election. One could also make the sophist argument that since political spending has been ruled to be speech, then it would follow that political speech is also money—so providing political information would be the same as providing political money. This argument is, of course, easily countered by distinguishing between the “is” of predication and the “is” of identity. I am certainly willing to listen to someone arguing against me and contending that if China’s. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

The Deed is Everything: Nietzsche on Will and Action

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2019.06.13 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Aaron Ridley, The Deed is Everything: Nietzsche on Will and Action, Oxford University Press, 2018, 207pp., $60.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198825449. Reviewed by Peter Kail, Oxford University Aaron Ridley's book, modest in its aspirations, is both interesting and frustrating. It is modest in that it argues that Nietzsche's philosophy can be read in an illuminating fashion through the lens of an 'expressivist' theory, 'without attributing to him any sort of unwavering investment in [that theory]' (p.192). The frustration lies in the central idea, namely 'expressivism', the content of which, and its application, is difficult to pin down. In outline, the book comprises the following. After an introduction, Chapter One discusses expressivism, contrasting it with an alternative 'empiricist' picture. Chapter Two, simply entitled 'Nietzsche', tries to remove obstacles to very possibility of reading Nietzsche as an expressivist, before offering some general considerations in... Read More

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News source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // News

The Philosophy of Charles Travis: Language, Thought, and Perception

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2019.06.12 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews John Collins and Tamara Dobler (eds.), The Philosophy of Charles Travis: Language, Thought, and Perception, Oxford University Press, 2018, 373pp., $70.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198783916. Reviewed by Reshef Agam-Segal, Virginia Military Institute A famous philosopher once visited my school when I was studying for my MA. We hoped to get clarifications from him about his views. More realistic, our professor, Gilead Bar-Eli, told us: “You think you’ll get answers; you’re only going to get more philosophy.” Apart from its other virtues, this excellent collection manages to get ‘more philosophy’ out of Charles Travis — often illuminating, often thought-provoking. This is not an introductory volume. It requires some familiarity with the issues and with Travis’s positions. It is a good collection primarily because of the quality and variety of the twelve contributions and Travis’s replies. The volume has four parts: “Thought”, “Language”, “Perception”, and Travis’s replies. (It would... Read More

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News source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // News

Is It Irrational To Be Rational?

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Among other things, rationality is the ability to make distinctions, to tell one thing from another, to know that x is not y. But, if rationality is categorical, sometimes it feels as though categories may be a category error. Faced by the perfectly rational idea that one knows the difference between “successful” and “unsuccessful” enterprises, Anton Chekhov once wrote to a friend: “Are you successful or aren’t you? What about me? What about Napoleon? One would need to be a god to distinguish successful from unsuccessful people without making mistakes. I’m going to a dance.” One feels that it wasn’t a mistake to go to that dance—not least because dancing isn’t entirely rational. On Sign o’ the Times, Prince ends that ridiculously danceable track, “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”, with the words “Everybody, groove,” pauses a second, and then closes by elongating one word more: “Confuuuuuuuuuusion.” To groove is to get confused, to know that knowledge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, to...

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