Category: Uncategorized

Straw Dogs

This work by John Gray is exceptionally tantalizing in its approach to the “problem” of free will vs. determinism. The author makes a good case for the idea that we are largely determined by genetic and environmental factors about which we are completely unconscious. His treatement of morality reminds me of David Hume’s concept of empathy and clearly implies the continuity between animal and human-animal nature.

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Devaluing History

A central question in history (to me) is:  “Why science and technology and modern civilization developed in Europe rather than ancient Greece, Rome, China, etc.” One idea that has struck me recently is the Christian idea of forgiveness, which in a non-religious sense means that you don’t have to be tied to the past based on guilt or family association (or
caste)… Hence the idea of progress (which some in the middle east and elsewhere would deny.)

Since people always are asking philosophers to be more specific I think we can actually find
ways to measure/quantify how fast different societies devalue the past (e.g 5% per year).  Perhaps the beginnings of a real version of Isaac Asimov’s psycho-history as he wrote about in the Foundation series.


Please read this, first– from the Chronicle of Higher Ed

Ing—taking the teach out of teaching 

The question now becomes, “What subject are you ing?”  
Having read about the recent trends in community college education, it appears
that the forecast for the future is now exactly what I began to predict, based
upon my own experiences, several years ago.  Educational institutions will be
designed along the lines of a business model, stressing efficiency in product
delivery, maximization of expected utility, while also employing tried and true
methods for enhancing customer satisfaction.  The president becomes the CEO, the
school board becomes the board of directors, the shareholders are now…… 

But, wait, who are the shareholders?  Who stands to gain
and in what ways with this, now, not so new, configuration? Presumably education
is about teaching and learning and the generic mission of a higher education
institution will read something like: Our mission is to provide our students
with opportunities for academic advancement, personal enrichment, and the
furtherance of individual goals
.  I have never personally encountered a
mission statement that even hints that there is, lurking in the background, a
cadre of shareholders expecting to make some sort of monetary—or other-profit.

Somehow it seems we have almost collectively decided that
in education efficiency is an inherent value and, one might guess, measured in
ways not alien to the corporate world.  Product delivery, zero defect
production, customer/client satisfaction, and any other quantifiables that apply
can be incorporated into the equation. Perhaps even the proverbial Six Sigma
guru can find a niche supervising adjunct faculty members in an efficient online
program where, at the top of the pyramid, are the select few who govern the
masses of part-timers whose likelihood of tenureship is tenuous, if not an
outright non-option.  The latter’s perceived value would appear to be no better
than that of a factotum, laboring under the privileged oligarchy, diligently
disseminating the “product’ to an eager public ready to consume math and
humanities in packages functionally resembling the timely parcels distributed by
the book-of-the-month club. 

This is to take the “teach” out of “teaching.”  


In his social ecological response to the spiritually inspired platform of Deep Ecology, Murray Bookchin writes: “…it is absolutely inconceivable that present-day heirarchical and particularly capitalist society could establish a non-domineering and ethically symbiotic relationship bewteen itself and the natural world.”  Sometimes the patriarchal view that is intertwined with capitalistic environmental exploitation is traced to traditional Middle Eastern Religions  (i.e.the Trio). This is yet another unquestioned world view paradigm that has held so much sway over us that we fail to see that it is our fundamental attitude towards Nature that needs to be adjusted.

Harris’ approach is clearly refreshingly philosophical: he not only takes to task the epistemological issues surrounding faith-based assertions and propositions, but also challenges the metaphysical presuppositions of the Abrahamic Trio–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  With respect to the latter, he briefly compares what he presumably believes to be the more “rational” metaphysics and science of the modern West with that of the Trio.  On balance, his somewhat common sense, scientifically enlightened commentary should challenge all of us to reconsider the grounds of our religious convictions.  What is the warrant for making a certain kind of religious claim?  What might a philosophical approach offer in the way of clarification and understanding?  It might be advisable to take a look at some of the more recent, but, now classical, works that discuss religious phenomena, such as William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience. Here is a most relevant excerpt:

One promising avenue to a study of religious pheneomena is suggested by this quotation: I do not see why a critical Science of Religions of this sort might not eventually command as general a public adhesion as is commanded by a physical science. Even the personally non-religious might accept its conclusions on trust, much as blind persons now accept the facts of optics- it might appear as foolish to refuse them. Yet as the science of optics has to be fed in the first instance, and continually verified later, by facts experienced by seeing persons; so the science of religions would depend for its original material on facts of personal experience, and would have to square itself with personal experience through all its critical reconstructions.James, LECTURE XVIII

A “science of religion” subjected to empirical standards and pragmatic criteria!  Indeed, if we could mix reason and faith and structure our understanding of seemingly irrefutable personal claims regarding religious experience, we might well see some advance in interfaith dialog. Or, is that wishful thinking?

Human Nature

You cannot help but wonder why it is that we continue to engage in violence.  This is a question of what it means to be human, in part. I would like to begin to discuss the book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris and ask that you read Chapter 1, posting your thoughts, views, and analyses here.