Unnatural laws

In “Unnatural Laws,” Nancy Cartwright challenges the idea that everything could ultimately be accounted for with universal laws of nature that are immutable and without exceptions. “We live our everyday lives in a dappled world unlike the world of fundamental particles regimented into kinds, each just like the one beside it, mindlessly marching exactly as has forever been destined. In the everyday world the future is open, little is certain, the unexpected intrudes into the best-laid plans, everything is different from everything else, things change and develop, and different systems built in different ways give rise to different patterns. For centuries this everyday world was at odds with the scientific world governed through-and-through by immutable law. But many of the ways we do science today bring the scientific image into greater harmony with what we see every day: much of modern science understands and manipulates the world without resort to universal laws.’

Altruism’s blind spot

Lisa Herzog’s “(One of) Effective Altruism’s blind spot(s)” won the 2015 third place prize awarded by 3 Quarks Daily for a philosophy blog post.

John Collins, the final judge for the contest, wrote of this post: “Moral theories that prescribe extreme versions of utilitarianism are sometimes criticized for being too demanding. Herzog’s focus is on a respect in which effective altruism appears to be not demanding enough. By taking existing social institutions and practices as simply given the effective altruist finds herself choosing from a ‘restaurant menu’ of given options, ignoring the possibility of deeper structural change. When the problem is construed as one of individual choice rather than collective action, such approaches will remain invisible.”

The winning blog posts were selected from these nine finalists.

How we talk about passing

Daniel Silvermint’s “On How We Talk About Passing” won the 2015 second place prize awarded by 3 Quarks Daily for a philosophy blog post.

John Collins, the final judge for the contest, wrote of this post: “Silvermint’s piece, occasioned by last summer’s Rachel Dolezal incident, avoids the thorny issue of why, exactly, self-identification might be taken to be authoritative in the case of gender though not race, and asks us instead to hesitate and reconsider what we are doing when we rush to police the trespass of socially constructed categories that are tracked by highly unreliable markers. There is a valuable discussion here of the varieties of passing, though I found myself unsure as to whether to accept Silvermint’s suggestion that we apply the concept even to cases where there is neither misidentification nor intent. Can, for example, a white cisgender man, who, through privilege has had the luxury of never giving these matters a moment’s thought, really be said to be ‘passing’ as white and male? Silvermint comments that ‘a trans woman that passes isn’t a man pretending to be a woman – she is a woman’. I agree wholeheartedly with the main point there, but I’d be inclined to add that her being a woman means that she isn’t simply passing as a woman either. (Whether a trans person might be said to—or want to?—pass as cisgender is another matter.)”

The winning blog posts were selected from these nine finalists.

Slow corruption

Vidar Halgunset’s “Slow Corruption” won the 2015 first place prize awarded by 3 Quarks Daily for a philosophy blog post.

John Collins, the final judge for the contest, wrote of this post: “I liked the simple humanity of this essay very much. Halgunset’s immediate topic is the recent public debate in Norway over the selective abortion of fetuses diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. His central suggestion is that we focus not on the question ‘what would be so terrible about a society without Down’s syndrome?’ but ask instead, why might it be undesirable to create a society that lacked people with Down’s syndrome? And he asks us to stop and consider the reception of this debate by those of us who have Down’s syndrome.”

The winning blog posts were selected from these nine finalists.

Test your problem-solving logic

David Leonhardt’s “A Quick Puzzle to Test Your Problem Solving” is quick, interesting, and useful. If I say anything more, I might give away the puzzle’s solution before you have a chance to try to solve it yourself, and you don’t want that. In fact, philosophy, thinking for yourself, and learning in general is like that: try to solve the puzzle on your own before you ask for the solution.

App addiction

Is it your fault you’re addicted to Facebook, Candy Crush Saga, or whatever? Or are the web and all those apps scientifically designed to break your will? If so, shouldn’t they be regulated? These are questions Michael Schulson addresses in “User Behaviour”: “‘Much as a user might need to exercise willpower, responsibility and self-control, and that’s great, we also have to acknowledge the other side of the street,’ said Tristan Harris, an ethical design proponent who works at Google. (He spoke outside his role at the search giant.) Major tech companies, Harris told me, ‘have 100 of the smartest statisticians and computer scientists, who went to top schools, whose job it is to break your willpower.’”

Choose gratitude

Arthur Brooks explains in “Choose To Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.” that it’s up to you whether to be thankful and that you’ll be better off if you choose to do so. “… we are more than slaves to our feelings, circumstances and genes. Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and that doing so raises our happiness.”

Living a lie

In “How To Live a Lie,” William Irwin considers whether you can live as if there are moral truths, as if God exists, and as if you have free will even if you believe none of these things is true.  His conclusion? Morality and God, no … but free will, yes. “Well, I cannot believe in free will, but I can accept it. In fact, if free will fictionalism is involuntary, I have no choice but to accept free will. That makes accepting free will easy and undeniably sincere. Accepting the reality of God or morality, on the other hand, are tougher tasks, and potentially disingenuous.”