Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Adam Smith’s Moral and Political Philosophy

[Revised entry by Samuel Fleischacker on November 11, 2020. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Adam Smith developed a comprehensive and unusual version of moral sentimentalism in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759, TMS). He did not expressly lay out a political philosophy in similar detail, but a distinctive set of views on politics can be extrapolated from elements of both TMS and his Wealth of Nations (1776, WN); student notes from his lectures on jurisprudence (1762 - 1763, LJ) have also helped flesh out his thoughts on governance. A central thread running through his work is an unusually strong commitment [More]

Legality is No Excuse

Suppose you discover that your elected representative is a (literal) Nazi, who enjoys using racist slurs and openly advocates for reinstituting slavery and apartheid.  Horrible, right?  Further suppose that whenever anyone objects to this, his co-partisans excuse it on the grounds that it isn't illegal: he is "100% within his rights" to have, and advocate for, atrocious views.  This would be a ridiculous defense.  It neglects the obvious fact that it's possible to exercise your legal rights in ways that are morally wrong.Unfortunately, people seem extremely prone to conflating ethics and legality in just this way.  This can then be exploited by politicians to deflect criticism without offering any actual justification or defense.  Witness Mitch McConnell: "President Trump is 100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options."It's nuts that a line like this has any rhetorical force.  If only our media, and our citizenry, were more philosophically [More]

The Mind of the Good Ruler: How Empathy Drives Governance

The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II (1797-1870) did something very peculiar for a ruler of a state: he left us a personal diary. It was a collection of handwritten notes that cover all the period of his rule as Grand Duke, up to when he was deposed in 1859. It was published in 1987. It is a fascinating document (unfortunately existing only in Italian, as far as I know) that allows us a rare chance of a glimpse of how the mind of a ruler works -- in this case a good ruler.   Why are our leaders so bad? Maybe it is us who always choose the worst possible persons for the job? But are they bad at the start, or do they go bananas as things go on? It would be nice to be able to understand what goes on inside the head of leaders, but they are people notoriously capable of cheating just about anyone, including themselves. And the main tool of the cheater is to hide what he is thinking.  Maybe we could know more if we could have the personal diary of some of those powerful figures, but they don't usually keep diaries. That's probably part of their habit of keeping hidden what they really think. But sometimes we do have documents that open a view for us inside the head of these people. I already discussed the case of Benito Mussolini on the basis of the diary kept by his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano. Mussolini was an almost paradigmatic bad leader and here I would try to contrast his approach to ruling with another figure of leader who, under many respects, was [More]

Respect & Voter Fraud

While it might strike some as odd, I respect Trump supporters who claim Biden won through fraud. I am taking them seriously, the same way I would take a claim by a professional colleague seriously in a philosophical dispute. I am also assuming that they are being serious. This respect manifests in two ways. First, [More]

Deepfakes and Sexual Fantasies: Are they both impermissible?

Deepfakes are a type of synthetic or artificial media. By training AI on datasets of images, deepfake technology allows people to create photorealistic fake audiovisual materials. Sometimes these videos depict real people; sometimes they depict artificial people. Deepfakes have provoked philosophical interest in recent times, in part because of the challenge they seem to pose to social epistemic practices, and also because of the significant ethical issues they raise. Is it permissible to create a deepfake video of a real person? If not, why not? If so, under what conditions is it permissible? These ethical issues are particularly important given the main use of deepfakes. According to one widely-cited Dutch study, 96% of all deepfakes are pornographic in nature. Deepfake technology is commonly used to create videos depicting famous actresses performing sex scenes. Some of the actresses that have been subjected to this include Gal Gadot, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence among many others. Deepfakes are also widely used to create revenge porn depicting ex-partners in sexually compromising positions. Some types of deepfake porn have even been used in political debates and scandals. For example, there have been famous cases of deepfakes (or suspected deepfakes) being used to undermine political opponents in Malaysia and India. When people hear about these cases, their reaction is often one of intuitive disapproval. They think there is something deeply wrong about the [More]

Continental Feminism

[New Entry by Dilek Huseyinzadegan, Jana McAuliffe, Jameliah Inga Shorter-Bourhanou, B. Tamsin Kimoto, Ege Selin Islekel, Marie Draz, and Erika Brown on November 10, 2020.] [Editor's Note: The following new entry replaces the former entry on this topic by the previous author.] Continental feminism denotes an approach to feminist issues [More]

The Mind of the Good Ruler: Governance and Empathy

 The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II (1797-1870) did something very peculiar for a ruler of a state: he left us a personal diary. It was a collection of handwritten notes that cover all the period of his rule as Grand Duke, up to when he was deposed in 1871. It was published in 1987. It is a fascinating document (unfortunately existing only in Italian, as far as I know) that allows us a rare chance of a glimpse of how the mind of a ruler works -- in this case a good ruler.   Why are our leaders so bad? Maybe it is us who always choose the worst possible persons for the job? But are they bad at the start, or do they go bananas as things go on? It would be nice to be able to understand what goes on inside the head of leaders, but they are people notoriously capable of cheating just about anyone, including themselves. And the main tool of the cheater is to hide what he is thinking.  Maybe we could know more if we could have the personal diary of some of those powerful figures, but they don't usually keep diaries. That's probably part of their habit of keeping hidden what they really think. But sometimes we do have documents that open a view for us inside the head of these people. I already discussed the case of Benito Mussolini on the basis of the diary kept by his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano. Mussolini was an almost paradigmatic bad leader and here I would try to contrast his approach to ruling with another figure of leader who, under many respects, [More]