Kant confusion

Michael Rosen’s review of Onora O’Neill’s new book on Kantian ethics is a very nice introduction to Kant’s ethics, including some of the difficulties in interpreting and applying Kantian ethics. “In the extended chess tournament of the secondary literature [about Kant’s ethics], almost every conceivable analysis of the Groundwork has been tried out over the past two centuries, yet all have been found wanting in some way or other.”


What is wisdom?

… and what does it have to do with philosophy, which is supposed to be “the love of wisdom”? The Sage and the Shrink (Julian Baggini and Antonia Macaro) say: “Being wise is about knowing what’s important; having sufficient insight into how we and others tick; having a handle on negative moods and emotions instead of being controlled by them; having an attitude of curiosity and a love of learning; understanding we’re all in the same boat and therefore being compassionate towards ourselves and others.”

Trapped in time

William Boyd on how mortality shapes our existence. “I am convinced that what makes our species unique among the fauna of this small planet circling its insignificant star is that we know we are trapped in time, caught briefly between these two eternities of darkness, the prenatal darkness and the posthumous one.” And yet, the philosopher might reply, do we have any good idea whether time is real or an illusion? Either way, however, Boyd’s answer to what we should do in view of our mortality is not bad advice: love and be loved.

An Oxford philosopher thinks he can distill all morality into a formula

He is not the first philosopher to think so, but he “is thought by many to be the most original moral philosopher in the English-speaking world.” Larissa Macfarquhar’s profile of Derek Parfit. 

(Until July 21, only subscribers had access to this article on The New Yorker‘s website. It may go back behind the paywall when the magazine sets up a “metered paywall” in Fall 2014.)

Is one of the most popular philosophy thought experiments worthless?

Is trolleyology a joke? No, seriously, is it a joke? That people chuckle when asked if they would push the fat man on the trolley tracks could mean the entire thought experiment isn’t of much use. “A trolley is careening toward an unsuspecting group of workers. You have the power to derail the trolley onto a track with just one worker. Do you do it? It might not matter.”

A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem

Two heads … a very interesting profile of Paul and Patricia Churchland, the mind-body problem generally, and the revolutionary neuroscience they dream of …

Paul and Pat, realizing that the revolutionary neuroscience they dream of is still in its infancy, are nonetheless already preparing themselves for this future, making the appropriate adjustments in their everyday conversation. One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. “She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.’ ”

(Until July 21, only subscribers had access to this article on The New Yorker‘s website. It may go back behind the paywall when the magazine sets up a “metered paywall” in Fall 2014.)