The uncertain biological basis of morality. Robert Wright’s review of Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes” Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them and Paul Bloom’s Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. Which would do more to help us get along with them — a moral theory we can all agree on or a better understanding of how we are wired to think and feel about them? “If Greene thinks that getting people to couch their moral arguments in a highly reasonable language will make them highly reasonable, I think he’s underestimating the cleverness and ruthlessness with which our inner animals pursue natural selection’s agenda. We seem designed to twist moral discourse—whatever language it’s framed in—to selfish or tribal ends, and to remain conveniently unaware of the twisting. So maybe the first step toward salvation is to become more self-aware.”
Clang Went the Trolley. Sarah Bakewell’s interesting review of two new books about the trolley problem: David Edmonds’ Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong and Thomas Cathcart’s The Trolley Problem; or, Would You Throw the Fat Guy off the Bridge? A Philosophical Conundrum. Bakewell’s conclusion: moral philosophers need not worry about being out of a job.
“Are we governed by unconscious processes? Neuroscience believes so – but isn’t the human condition more complicated than that?” David Eagleman and Raymond Tallis offer different views.
Nicholas Kristof on “where is the love?” “For those who are well-off, it may be easier to castigate the irresponsibility of the poor than to recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower, but also of random chance and early upbringing.”
The neuroscientist who discovered he was a psychopath.“Why has Fallon been able to temper his behavior, while other people with similar genetics and brain turn violent and end up in prison? … ‘I was loved, and that protected me,’ he says. … Of course, there’s also a third ingredient, in addition to genetics and environment: free will. ‘Since finding all this out and looking into it, I’ve made an effort to try to change my behavior,’ Fallon says.”
Six famous thought experiments, animated in 60 seconds each. “From Ancient Greece to quantum mechanics, or what a Chinese room and a cat have to do with infinity.”
Jonathan Ree’s review of Alain Badiou’s survey of French philosophy since Sartre. “French industry as a whole was in poor shape at the end of the second world war, but one sector was soon reporting an export-led recovery: philosophy. … After the liberation French philosophy went global. Jean-Paul Sartre had been part of the system, working as a provincial prof de philo before reinventing himself as a novelist and playwright. In January 1945, after a dull but productive war, he was flown to New York as a guest of the US State Department, which was keen to show the wonders of America to the top brains of the new France. Sartre annoyed his hosts by comparing American imperialism to Nazi terror, but as far as intellectual trade was concerned, he hit on a winning formula. He was louche, exotic, and relatively young; and even if he hated the word ‘existentialism,’ it provided him with a memorable brand.”
The FBI files on Jean-Paul Sartre. “From 1945 onwards, J Edgar Hoover’s FBI spied on Camus and Sartre. The investigation soon turned into a philosophical inquiry.” And what did Jean-Paul Sartre have to do with the Kennedy assassination? See also the FBI’s files on Camus and Sartre confirm the utter meaninglessness of it all.
The New York Times has a philosophy blog called “The Stone.” A number of posts in the blog have been tagged with “free will.” All of them are well worth your time. To start with, you might find particularly interesting and helpful Galen Strawson’s “Your Move: The Maze of Free Will” and Eddy Nahmias’s “Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?”
Colin McGinn (the mind-body problem and mysterianism) has been controversial in different ways. Consider McGinn’s review of Ted Honderich’s On Consciousness: “This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad. It is painful to read, poorly thought out, and uninformed. It is also radically inconsistent.”
Then take a look at Kerry McKenzie’s review of McGinn’s Basic Structures of Reality: “For all the epistemic faux-modesty that this book purports to defend, the image that persists while grinding through its pages is of an individual ludicrously fancying themselves as uniquely positioned to solve the big questions for us, from scratch and unassisted, as if none of the rest of us working in the field have had anything worth a damn to contribute. It will however be clear by now that I take the reality to be substantially different.”
But a current controversy is different: A Star Philosopher Falls, and a Debate Over Sexism Is Set Off.