What is matter good for?

The obstaclean theory of matter is that idealism (any theory that denies the existence of the material world) won’t work because it can’t explain obstacles that get in our way. And that is matter. But what is matter good for? “Matter, in the end, is the atheist’s solution to the problem of evil.”

Who should get to study philosophy?

In “Why teach Plato to plumbers?,” Scott Samuelson writes: “Once, when I told a guy on a plane that I taught philosophy at a community college, he responded, ‘So you teach Plato to plumbers?’ Yes, indeed. But I also teach Plato to nurses’ aides, soldiers, ex-cons, preschool music teachers, janitors, Sudanese refugees, prospective wind-turbine technicians, and any number of other students who feel like they need a diploma as an entry ticket to our economic carnival.” So why teach them Plato? “My answer is that we should strive to be a society of free people, not simply one of well-compensated managers and employees.”

Embracing the unexplained …

… by putting the immaterial on the table? Is there any kind of thing in the universe in addition to the stuff physicists study?

In “Visions of the Impossible,” Jeffrey Kripal says: “After all, consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell, this presence is sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we might know later we will know only through this same consciousness. Many want to claim the exact opposite, that consciousness is not its own thing, is reducible to warm, wet tissue and brainhood. But no one has come close to showing how that might work. Probably because it doesn’t.” Under the circumstances, Kripal says, we need an account of consciousness that synthesizes the “Aristotelian” materialist understanding of consciousness with the “Platonic” nonmaterialist understanding.

In “Science Is Being Bashed by Academics Who Should Know Better,” Jerry Coyne replies: “When science manages to find reliable evidence for … clairvoyance, I’ll begin to pay attention. Until then, the idea of our brain as a supernatural radio seems like a kind of twentieth-century alchemy—the resort of those whose will to believe outstrips their respect for the facts.”

And in turn Kripal replies to Coyne in “Embracing the Unexplained, Part 2,” that Coyne’s piece is “name-calling and an attempt to control and manipulate the data so that the ‘proper’ conclusions are reached. My point is a simple one: If you put the ‘impossible’ data on the table, you will arrive at different conclusions.” And to make his case he calls on Barbara Ehrenreich’s “A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment” for support.

What does it mean to be happy?

Happiness and its discontents.  Is happiness being satisfied with your life? Is it pleasure and the absence of pain? According to Daniel Haybron, it’s an emotional state. Happiness fulfills our needs as persons. “What sorts of needs are we talking about? Among the most important sources of happiness are: a sense of security; a good outlook; autonomy or control over our lives; good relationships; and skilled and meaningful activity. If you are unhappy, there’s a good chance that it’s for want of something on this list.”

Is philosophy obsolete?

How philosophy makes progress.   Philosophy isn’t literature, and it is isn’t failed or primitive science. Instead, according to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, its task is to make our points of view increasingly coherent. “It’s in terms of our increased coherence that the measure of progress has to be taken, not in terms suitable for evaluating science or literature. We lead conceptually compartmentalized lives, our points of view balkanized so that we can live happily with our internal tensions and contradictions, many of the borders fortified by unexamined presumptions. It’s the job of philosophy to undermine that happiness, and it’s been at it ever since the Athenians showed their gratitude to Socrates for services rendered by offering him a cupful of hemlock.”

What is math about?

The mathematical world.  Some philosophers — the Platonists — think math is about a mysterious other realm of eternal and unchanging entities. Others — the nominalists — think math is simply the manipulation of symbols according to rules we have made up. According to James Franklin, they’re wrong. His theory is Aristotelian realism: look around, and you can see math.

More about Plato, Google, neuroscience, etc.

Colin McGinn’s review of Rebecca Goldstein’s “Plato at the Googleplex.” Here “Ms. Goldstein employs her novelistic skills to sparkling effect by weaving abstract concepts into concrete modern narratives. At a cable news station, he is grilled by one Roy McCoy, who is not a bit intimidated by his distinguished Greek guest: ‘Okay, so they tell me you’re a big deal in philosophy, Plato. I’m going to tell you up front—because that’s the kind of guy I am, up-front—that I don’t think much of philosophers.’ Plato coolly responds: ‘Many don’t. The term attracts a wide range of reaction, from admiration to amusement to animadversion. Some people think philosophers are worthless, and others that they are worth everything in the world. Sometimes they take on the appearance of statesmen, and sometimes of sophists. Sometimes, too, they might give the impression that they are completely insane.'”