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A few thoughts about self-publishing

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A very enjoyable walk down to my favourite library, the Moore library, in the winter sun. But not, sadly, to then read and write, and think, and idly look out of the windows, and take a coffee break, and write again. It will be a good while yet before all that is possible. I was just donating, via their dropbox, copies of IFL2 and GWT. Time for an update, perhaps. How have things gone since I got the copyright back from CUP, and have been able to give away IFL2 and IGT2 as freely downloadable PDFs? I’ve just checked: since late August, IFL2 has been downloaded over 3.6K times. And after a quite crazy initial flood (when someone posted a direct link at Hacker News, without saying that the link was to a full book!), IGT2  has been downloaded another 4K times. The two books have sold well over 200 each of the inexpensive print-on-demand versions. (It is very early days for GWT … I’ll report back on that in the New Year.) I didn’t at all know what to expect. Or rather, I was expecting something like that ratio of freely downloaded PDFs to bought copies: but I had little idea how many would be tempted by the books overall. I guess I am pretty pleased. And it certainly seems to have been worth the small effort of making the print-on-demand versions available. I did ask online, and got enough responses to suggest that there is a significant minority of readers who significantly prefer to work from “real” books as opposed to onscreen PDFs (which is one reason that libraries should have hard copies available); and some of that minority said that they are prepared to pay a modest amount to get the hard copy too. And so it has turned out. By the way, as I’ve remarked before, I wasn’t thrilled to bits to be using the Amazon-provided service. But for this kind of enterprise, it does seem the best and easiest option on various counts. And since sales are small, and I’ve only rounded up the price from the minimum possible by. . .

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News source: Logic Matters

86 - Are Video Games Immoral?

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Have you ever played Hitman? Grand Theft Auto? Call of Duty? Did you ever question the moral propriety of what you did in those games? In this episode I talk to Sebastian Ostritsch about the ethics of video games. Sebastian is an Assistant Prof. (well, technically, he is a Wissenschaftlicher mitarbeiter but it's like an Assistant Prof) of Philosophy based at Stuttgart University in Germany. He has the rare distinction of being both an expert in Hegel and the ethics of computer games. He is the author of Hegel: Der Welt-Philosoph (published this year in German) and is currently running a project, funded by the German research body DFG, on the ethics of computer games.You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and other podcasting services (the RSS feed is here).Show NotesTopics discussed include:The nature of video gamesThe problem of seemingly immoral video game contentThe amorality thesis: the view that playing video games is morally neutralDefences of the amorality thesis: it's not real and it's just a game.Problems with the 'it's not real' and 'it's just a game' arguments.The Gamer's Dilemma: Why do people seem to accept virtual murder but not, say, virtual paedophilia?Resolving the gamer's dilemmaThe endorsement view of video game morality: some video games might be immoral if they endorse an immoral worldviewHow these ideas apply to other forms of fictional media, e.g. books and movies.Relevant LinksSebastian's homepage (in German)Sebastian's book Hegel: Der Weltphilosoph'The amoralist's challenge to gaming and the gamer's moral obligation' by Sebastian'The immorality of computer games: Defending the endorsement view against Young’s objections' by Sebastian and Samuel UlbrichtThe Gamer's Dilemma by Morgan LuckHomo Ludens by Johan Huizinga #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; } /* Add your own MailChimp. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

The Fall of the Citadels of Science: the Pandemic and the End of Universities

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 Far from being an ivory tower, nowadays universities look more and more like battered citadels besieged by armies of Orcs. The Covid-19 pandemic may have given the final blow to a structure that was falling anyway. (image credit "crossbow and catapults") A couple of weeks ago, I saw the end of the University as I knew it. It was when I saw a line of students standing in the main hall of our department. All of them were masked, all of them had to stand on one of the marks drawn on the floor -- at exactly 1 meter of distance from each other. A teaching assistant was watching them carefully, least they would stray away from their assigned position. The only thing that was missing was iron chains and balls and the students singing the cadence gang march. That was not the only humiliation imposed on our students because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, it is all done with the best of intentions, but it is a heavy burden. Students can't get close to each other, they have to reserve in advance a seat if they want to attend a class, when they enter a building they have to show their ID and to stand in front of a camera that records their face and takes their body temperature. The diabolical machine can also check if they are wearing their masks right and will refuse to open the door if they don't. Then, of course, the university personnel is supposed to check that the rules are respected and to report those students who don't respect them. Symmetrically, I suppose the students might well report a teacher who doesn't comply with the rules. Transforming the university into a jail and the teachers into prison guards took just a few months and you may imagine that the students are not happy. Not that they are protesting loudly, they just react with passive forms of resistance. The data show that fewer and fewer of them attend their classes, even when it is possible for them to do that in person. Then, the virtual lessons are turning into an exercise of. . .

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News source: Cassandra's Legacy

Could Trump Pardon Everyone for Everything Forever?

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Since Trump has talked about pardoning himself, his family and others, there has been considerable interest in the scope of the pardon power. LegalEagle has an excellent video that walks through key questions about the pardon based on precedent and legal scholarship. My interest, though, is with a seemingly crazy question: could Trump (or any president) pardon everyone for everything forever? While this question might seem stupid, it is worth considering because it is an invitation to explore the limits of the pardon power of the president. Here is the law as written in the Constitution: “…he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Since this is a mere single sentence, I will also need to rely on legal precedents and informed speculation on the part of Constitutional scholars to answer my question. I will begin with the matter of pardoning everyone. While there is the question of whether the President can pardon himself, the President can clearly pardon anyone else. The President can also issue mass pardons, as Carter did in the case of the draft dodgers. Since the Constitution does not specify a numerical limit, then Trump does have the power to pardon everybody. If he can pardon anyone and issue mass pardons, then there would seem to be no line that can be drawn forbidding him from extending pardons to everyone. As such, Trump can pardon everyone. But can he pardon everyone for everything? There are two limits specified on the pardon power. The first is that the pardon only applies to “offenses against the United States.” This has been established to mean federal crimes and so Trump cannot pardon people for state crimes. There have been some attempts to argue that “offenses against the United States” includes all crimes because the states are parts of the United States; but this argument has never gained any traction. But this could certainly change with a court ruling. The second is. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

Combining Experimental Vaccines + Variolation

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Current estimates suggest that the US will end up with around 500k Covid deaths (itself but a tiny fraction of the total harm done), with eventual herd immunity reached half via vaccination and half via natural infection.  I expect we could've done much better via variolation (low-dose viral inoculation), for reasons I've previously discussed.  But I've recently learned that an even better option was available -- though it's not one that I've seen anyone suggest before.NY Mag reports that "We Had the COVID-19 Vaccine the Whole Time" (well, since February).  Many now wonder: Would it have been prudent to distribute the experimental vaccine, at least to high-exposure or high-risk individuals, even before it was proven safe and effective?  Quite possibly.  After all, the risks from an untested vaccine of this sort are much lower than the risks from COVID-19 for many individuals.  The main potential downside would be the "moral hazard" of vaccinated individuals behaving more recklessly and spreading COVID if the vaccine turned out to be either (i) ineffective, or (ii) effective only at suppressing symptoms but not viral transmission.But this risk could in turn be avoided by a combination policy of vaccination followed by variolation (with quarantine).  If the vaccine fails, variolation acts as a "fail-safe" to provide natural immunity (while minimizing unwitting community transmission, in stark contrast to all our uncontrolled infections).  And if the vaccine worked (as turns out to actually be the case) then the risks from variolation are further minimized.  Given even a moderate chance of vaccine effectiveness, the expected value of variolation is significantly bolstered (due to reduced risk).(As a bonus, such a policy would serve as a kind of large-scale "challenge trial" of the experimental vaccine's effectiveness.  Once proven safe and effective, one could drop the variolation and switch to a vaccine-only. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

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