Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Descartes and the Ontology of Everyday Life

2020.06.05 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Deborah J. Brown and Calvin G. Normore, Descartes and the Ontology of Everyday Life, Oxford University Press, 2019, 255pp., $70.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198836810. Reviewed by John Carriero, University of California, Los Angeles The title of Deborah J. Brown and Calvin G. Normore's groundbreaking new book well describes their project. To understand what's at issue, let me start by describing the physical world according to Descartes. We begin with a fluid-like matter called extension. Extension is, of itself, homogenous. In order for diversity to appear, motion is required. With the introduction of motion, through the constant friction in the plenum, three types of matter appear: a first kind of "indeterminately small size," a second kind of "larger globules," and a third kind of "larger chunks" (p. 48). Through the arrangement and movement of these different types of matter arise the things in the world of everyday experience, including plants, animals, artifacts, planets, and stars.


Was the Lockdown Effective in Stopping the Spread of the Coronavirus? The Aztec Dilemma

This post was inspired by a post by Chuck Pezeshki on the Aztec civilization, highly recommended as an introduction. Scene: Inside the temple at the top of the great pyramid of TenochtitlánCharacters: the ArchPriest (Master) and the Young Priest (Prentice)___________________________________________________________________Prentice: Grand Master, where are you? (walks around, looking). Grand Master? Grand Master:  Uh...? Prentice, is that you?Oh... there you are, Master. It's me. Yes. I am sorry to disturb you when you are praying, but...Hmmmm... I was taking a nap. What's happening?Master. I need your advice.Ah...?See, Master. The time of today's sacrifice is coming. Yes, of course, I know... I know. We have to start preparing. I must have my obsidian knife somewhere.... By the fangs of of Xipe Totec, it is already getting dark. We have to prepare. . . Master, you see, I wanted to tell you something. Ah...?  Yes, Prentice. We still have some time. But where the Xochiquetzal is my obsidian knife..... Master, I have a problem....Oh, yes, here it is. Good old knife... So many hearts I took out with it! But what were you saying, Prentice?Master, I was thinking of something.Hmmmm.... Now I need my Mictlantecuhtli mask, should be around. And what have you been thinking?Master, we always say that if we don't sacrifice every day to the sun god Huitzilopochtli, the sun will stop moving in the sky.  Eh... yes.... that's the point of the sacrifice, of [More]

A question you always wanted to ask: Is the "EROI" of energy studies the same as the R factor in epidemiology?

There is a certain logic in the way the universe works and so it is not surprising that the same models can describe phenomena that seem to be completely different. Here, I'll show you how the same equations describe chain reactions that govern such different phenomena as the spread of an epidemic, the cycle of extraction of crude oil, and even the nuclear reaction that creates atomic explosions. All these phenomena depend on the efficiency of energy transfer, the parameter that's known in energy studies as EROI (energy return on energy invested), related to the "transmission factor" (R) of epidemiological models. Above, a classic clip from Walt Disney's 1957 movie, "Our friend, the atom."  You may be surprised to discover that epidemiological models share the same basic core of peak oil models. And it is not just about peak oil, the same models are used to describe chemical reactions, resource depletion, the fishing industry, the diffusion of memes on the Web, and even the nuclear chain reaction that leads to nuclear explosions. It is always the same idea: reinforcing feedbacks lead the system to grow in a frenzy of exploitation of an available resource: oil, fish, atomic nuclei, or people to be infected. In the end, it is perhaps the most typical way the universe uses dissipate potentials. As always, entropy rules everything! Modeling these phenomena has a story that starts with the model developed in the 1920s by Vito Volterra and Alfred Lotka. They go under the [More]

Viewpoint Relativism: A New Approach to Epistemological Relativism based on the Concept of Points of View

2020.06.04 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Antti Hautamäki, Viewpoint Relativism: A New Approach to Epistemological Relativism based on the Concept of Points of View, Michelle Mamane (tr.), Springer, 2020, 210pp., $109.99 (hbk), ISBN 9783030345945. Reviewed by Markus Seidel, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster This book claims to present a new approach to epistemological relativism. Antti Hautamäki calls the position he presents 'viewpoint relativism'. Following the introduction, the book begins with some historical background on relativism. Hautamäki then presents his meta-philosophical background and introduces his conception of a point of view: "A triple P=[S,O,A] is called a point of view if and only if A represents O to S, where S is a subject, O is an object, and A is an aspect of O of P." (p. 43) He then applies this conception to the issues of relativism about truth, knowledge and reality: they are said to be relative to points of view. The final two chapters present his stance in the debates about scientific realism... Read [More]

Climate Justice

[New Entry by Simon Caney on June 4, 2020.] There is overwhelming evidence that human activities are changing the climate system.[1] The emission of greenhouse gases is resulting in increased temperatures, rising sea-levels, and severe weather events (such as storm surges). These climatic changes raise a number of issues of justice. These include (but are not limited to) the [More]

Feminist Moral Psychology

[Revised entry by Anita Superson on June 4, 2020. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Moral psychology, broadly construed, deals with issues relating to motivation of moral action. More specifically, it concerns how we see or fail to see moral issues, why we act or fail to act morally, and whether and to what extent we are responsible for our actions. Fundamentally, it is concerned with our moral agency, the kind of beings we are or ought to be, morally [More]