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Interviews » The End Times » On The Nature Of Normativity (published 26/08/2016)

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I just got gripped by the central question of ethics, which Socrates poses so insistently: How should we live? While this is the central question of ethics, in my view answering this question also involves epistemology – since to know how we should live, we need to understand what we should believe, and how we should form and revise our beliefs in response to experience and reflection; and the question as I see it also involves the theory of rational choice or decision—since to know how we should live, we need to understand how we should make choices or decisions, and how we should revise our plans or intentions as we acquire new information over time.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Ralph Wedgwood.

Interviews » The End Times » Having Cake and Eating it With Hume and Spinoza (published 19/08/2016)

Hume makes both a metaphysical claim and a psychological claim. The metaphysical claim is that the mind is in fact a complex bundle of different perceptions standing in causal relations to one another. A consequence of this is that, while the bundle may be made possible by a continuing but changing human brain, a person is not an immaterial soul or self underlying and in addition to the bundle itself. The psychological claim is that we ascribe unity (simplicity at a time and identity through time) to this complex bundle only because of the power of mental association operating on perceived relations of causation and resemblance.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Don J Garrett.

Painting by Mark Manning aka Z.

Interviews » The End Times » On Pope’s Philosophical Poem: ‘An Essay on Man’ (published 18/08/2016)

I knew that Pope, like many others, put sexual desire at the heart of human sociability: people are attracted to one another sexually, reproduce, discover the intergenerational contract that gives us an interest in loving children and loving parents. But I was surprised to see him present sexual desire as one of the appetites that is thwarted by scarcity of resources – but that need not be if things were only slightly different. Pope imagines an earlier stage in social life where nature’s resources are sufficient to satisfy all the wants of a community, including sexual wants. He says that ‘half the cause of Contest was remov’d, / When Beauty could be kind to all who lov’d.’

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Tom Jones.

Painting by Mark Manning aka Z

Reviews » Louis Armand’s The Combinations (published 16/08/2016)

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Roland Barthes dreamed of Armand’s book when he writes: ‘only allude to writing before going off somewhere else’ where writing becomes a quasi-linguistic function existing already in excess of itself, ‘rehearsing the contemporary tropes of the semioticians’. For Barthes the photographic image can’t be made into an analogue for something else because it is the analogue of the impossible, ‘an image whose detonation is … finally reducible only to the reflexive movement of its own enframing, between two shots, two anachronistic moments. ‘ It represents ‘the perfection and plenitude of its analogy.’ And that analogy risks being mythological and artefactual. ‘an issueless predicament of nothing.’ Armand’s novel is a sequence plenum of this Barthean process.

Richard Marshall reviews Louis Armand‘s The Combinations.

Interviews » The End Times » Thought in Action, Panpsychism (and Not Using the F-word) (published 12/08/2016)

I think that the type of high level of expertise demonstrated by professional athletes, performing artists, grandmaster chess players and other individuals is (generally) infused with conscious concepts. This is not to say, of course, that every aspect of expert action is conscious—it’s not permeated with consciousness. When athletes consciously focus on one aspect of their movement, other aspects run offline. But I do think that the conscious mind in expert action is typically directed at some aspect or aspects of skill. This might be a high-level aspect, such as speed, or low-level, such as hip rotation.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Barbara Gail Montero.

Painting: Mark Manning aka Z

Essays » The Elephant in the Boat: What Ernest Gellner Can Tell Us About Brexit and Trump (published 06/08/2016)

After reading Gellner it’s clearer what the Brexiteers in the UK and Trump in the USA get right, as well as where they go wrong. They get right that some if not all of the important cogs in the advanced industrial machine have become damaged, some seriously and certainly more seriously than those holding the levers of power have let on. And they are right to identify inequality in its many guises as the defining issue. Where they’re in error is in the options they think they have. What they’ve opted for is a confused mix of neoliberal economics plus the exploitation of nativist, ethnic fissures expressed as belligerent and nasty Nationalism. Neither are sensible choices. Both neoliberalism and virulent nationalism are the subject of Gellner’s work. He helps explain why they seem attractive whilst being exactly the wrong sort of medicine.

Gellner gives us a suggestive picture of our current dilemma. ‘The modern industrial machine is like an elephant in a very small boat. Either the boat is built around it so as to accommodate it, or it becomes an absurdity.’

Richard Marshall reads Ernest Gellner on Brexit and Trump.

Interviews » The End Times » What We Owe Each Other (published 05/08/2016)

I agree that science is the best way of understanding the natural world, and therefore that we have reason to believe what the best science tells us about the objects in that world and the relations between them. But this does mean that the natural world is the only thing we can have true beliefs about. The status of material objects such as the desk I am writing on as things that are “real” is a matter of their having physical properties, such as weight, solidity, and spatio-temporal location. In order to be real, such things need not have, in addition to these properties, some further kind of metaphysical existence.

Continuing the End Times series Richard Marshall interviews T.M. Scanlon.

Painting: Mark Manning aka Z

Interviews » The End Times » The Tyranny of the Ideal (published 29/07/2016)

Morality is, in my view, the crowning achievement of humanity: in our evolutionary development we made it, as it made us into the cooperative, fair-minded, deeply social species that we are. As a species we are up to morality and justice because we made it up. Many, I suspect, think this demeans morality, just as some Christians think that evolution demeans human dignity. I draw a very different conclusion: what an incredible species we are to invent this way of living together!

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Jerry Gaus.

Painting: Billy Childish.

The End Times » The Philosopher’s Library (Part 3) (published )

But let me mention two ways in which things outside philosophy, especially in the arts (novels, films, plays, dance, visual art), are important to my work in philosophy. First, novels, movies, etc., stimulate the imagination, which is very important for doing philosophy: for drawing new connections, for contemplating new concepts, for seeing things from new perspectives, and so on. Second, they give us a sense of a very deep kind of truth, different from the kinds of truth I have investigated so far, but one that I hope to incorporate into my study of truth in the future.

Philosophers recommend books for your bookshelves taken from the End Times series.

Interviews » The End Times » In Praise of Desire and Some (published 22/07/2016)

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People of relatively low intelligence can be morally wonderful if they desire the right and the good (not necessarily under the description “right” or “good”). Their low intelligence sometimes results in their accidentally doing something wrong, but doing something wrong out of low intelligence alone is like stepping on a person’s foot because you are (literally) blind or missing a cry for help because you are (literally) deaf. We do not judge the blind or deaf person as morally bad. This is a lot of what motivates my view that virtue is about wanting right and good things, not about being particularly good at thinking.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Nomy Arpaly.

Image: Billy Childish.