Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Chelsea are due to play Arsenal in a soccer match. Mr A prays for Chelsea to win

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Read another response about ReligionShare Religion Read another response by Allen Stairs, Yuval Avnur Chelsea are due to play Arsenal in a soccer match. Mr A prays for Chelsea to win, while Mr B prays for Arsenal to win. Chelsea won the match. Why were Mr A's prayers answered but not Mr B's?

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News source: AskPhilosophers Questions


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[Revised entry by Michael Nelson on May 5, 2020. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Existence raises deep and important problems in metaphysics, philosophy of language, and philosophical logic. Many of the issues can be organized around the following two questions: Is existence a property of individuals? and Assuming that existence is a property of individuals, are there individuals that lack it? What does it mean to ask if existence is a property? A full answer to...

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News source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Critical Thinking & COVID-19 XII: Comparisons

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During the pandemic various public figures and private social media users have attempted to downplay the danger presented by COVID-19 by comparing the number of deaths caused by the virus to other causes of deaths.  For example, a common example notes that 21,297 people died from 1/2o202 to 3/25/200 from COVID-19 and that 113,000 people died from the flu during the same period. Downplaying is a rhetorical technique used to make something seem less important or serious. These comparisons seem aimed at dismissing the claims made by experts that the virus is a grave threat. The comparisons are also often used to persuade people that the response has been excessive and hence was and is unnecessary. While comparing causes of death is an important part of making judgments about how to use resources and accurately assessing threats, the comparisons must be done with a critical eye. Before even considering the comparison between COVID-19 deaths and other causes of death, it is important to determine the accuracy of the numbers claimed when such comparisons are made. If the numbers of deaths are exaggerated, downplayed or otherwise inaccurate, then this obviously affects the comparison. Even if the numbers are accurate, the comparison must be critically assessed. The methods I will discuss are those I use in my Critical Inquiry class and are drawn from Moore and Parker’s Critical Thinking text. When a comparison worth considering is made, they recommend asking four questions. These questions are as follows:   Is important information missing? Is the same standard of comparison being used? Are the same reporting and recording practices being used? Are the items comparable? Is the comparison expressed as an average?   While question 4 does not apply, the other three do. One important piece of missing information in such comparisons is that while the other causes of death tend to be stable over time, the deaths caused by COVID-19 have been growing exponentially. On. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

International Distributive Justice

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[Revised entry by Michael Blake and Patrick Taylor Smith on May 4, 2020. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] International distributive justice has, in the past several decades, become a prominent topic within political philosophy. Philosophers have, of course, long been concerned with wealth and poverty, and with how economic inequalities between persons might be justified. They have, however, tended to focus only upon inequalities between inhabitants of the same state. In recent years, though, a sustained philosophical dialogue has emerged on how these ideas might be applied to the relationships and institutions holding at the global level....

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News source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Second Thoughts and the Epistemological Enterprise

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2020.05.01 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Hilary Kornblith, Second Thoughts and the Epistemological Enterprise, Cambridge University Press, 2019, 266pp., $99.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781108498517. Reviewed by Jennifer Nagel, University of Toronto "Don't overthink this." That common bit of advice is often sound, but not so often championed by philosophers, fond of rumination as we are. Among philosophers -- and here I hope I am not generalizing too swiftly from my own experience -- epistemologists are surely the worst in getting trapped by the spell of reflection, even when it takes us to awkwardly self-referential and paralyzing extremes. If, like me, you've ever had a moment of wanting a well-trained professional to throw some cold water on that attraction, you will find much to enjoy in Hilary Kornblith's new collection of essays. The book brings together ten chapters and articles spanning the years 1989-2017, with two newly written pieces. Many issues are engaged -- peer... Read More

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News source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // News

Topology: A Conceptual History

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‘In the history of mathematics the twentieth century will remain as the century of topology.’ (Jean Dieudonné). That remark may be something of an exaggeration; but perhaps not by very much. And, by any reckoning, philosophers of mathematics ought to be especially interested in the development of topology over the century. It provides such a rich set of case studies in the way new mathematical concepts emerge and are developed, and in the way that new problems and new methods become adopted as canonical. The trouble, of course, is that it isn’t easy to get a handle on the conceptual development of topology. I.M. James has edited a History of Topology, which weighs in at over a thousand pages, comprising forty essays of decidedly mixed quality and interest. Dieudonné has written A History of Algebraic and Differential Topology, 1900 – 1960, another six hundred pages or more, much of it pretty impenetrable to anyone other than a serious topologist. Then there is a three volume Handbook of the History of General Topology — another daunting twelve hundred pages, and pretty difficult to extract out any nuggets of philosophical interest. As far as I know, however, there is nothing earlier which does the job of Topology: A Conceptual History. This book doesn’t at all pretend to be a comprehensive and fine-detailed history, recording all the false starts and mis-steps and minor alley ways; it is more in the spirit of a Lakatosian rational reconstruction, done with verve and insight. And, by contrast, this approach does bring out the main contours of some key conceptual developments in a way that e.g. the lumbering Handbook essays mostly don’t. Moreover we get to see this done at a level of some mathematical detail — it’s not just arm-waving — while still remaining relatively accessible (a modest amount of undergraduate mathematics should mostly suffice). So philosophers of mathematics will come away, for example, with at least some feel for. . .

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News source: Logic Matters

Giving Game 2020 results

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This semester, I got my 'Effective Altruism' class to decide how to allocate $5000 in donations between the four EA funds. (Half the funds were provided by UM Ethics Programs, as the result of an internal grant request I submitted for this purpose. The other half were matching funds from my personal charitable budget.)  Our resulting breakdown was as follows:* Global Health & Development: $2500* Animal Welfare: $700* Long-Term Future: $1450* Effective Altruism Meta: $350Judging from the class discussion, several students were influenced towards the long-term future fund as a result of the pandemic (I'm actually surprised there wasn't more of an effect here, though I think many were put off by the fund's apparent degree of focus on AI risk; an option more focused on biological and environmental risks might have won broader support).  Other long-termist advocates drew upon more general theoretical considerations (especially regarding scale and neglectedness) to support their choice.I invited students to write a brief reflection piece on their experience (to be shared with UM Ethics Programs and their funders, with the student's express consent), as an extra credit option.  Probably my favourite answer was from a student who admitted that the experience hadn't changed his ethical beliefs at all, but it had helped him to better understand the reasoning behind them.  That was certainly nice to hear!Perhaps the most surprising result was that roughly half the class expressed an intention to donate 10% of their incomes to effective charities once they are "financially comfortable".  UM students in general seem likely to end up towards the upper end of the income distribution, so any who follow through on that plan could end up doing an immense amount of good.  Hard to know how much is temporary good intentions and/or social signalling, how much is selection effects (a class on 'Effective Altruism' presumably gets disproportionately. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

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