Saturday, December 31, 2011

Inception and Philosophy

Kyle Johnson talks about the movie Inception and philosophy. The book (Inception and Philosophy) explores questions about dreaming and reality, knowledge, the unconscious mind, free will, and much more.

The book explores the movie's key questions and themes, including how we can tell if we're dreaming or awake, how to make sense of a paradox, and whether or not inception is possible. It also gives new insights into the nature of free will, time, dreams, and the unconscious mind. In addition, it discusses different interpretations of the film, and whether or not philosophy can help shed light on which is the "right one,' and deepens your understanding of the movie's multi-layered plot and dream-infiltrating characters, including Dom Cobb, Arthur, Mal, Ariadne, Eames, Saito, and Yusuf.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sir Michael Dummett

The philosopher Michael Dummett has passed away.

Dummett was a staunch advocate of "analytic" philosophy, the fundamental tenet of which he took to be that "the philosophy of language is the foundation of all other philosophy". He also once characterised it as "post-Fregean philosophy", the 19th-century German philosopher Gottlob Frege having done as much as anyone to treat the philosophy of language in this way. Much of Dummett's own work was accordingly devoted to the interpretation and exposition of Frege's ideas, and he will be as well remembered for his exegesis of Frege as he will for his own seminal contributions to analytic philosophy.

The Future of Moral Machines

Will machines one day have intelligence and autonomy comparable to human intelligence and autonomy? How will we integrate them into our lives--into our society-- and importantly, will they have rights and responsibilities in the moral sense? Colin Allen writes about the future of moral machines.

...the topic of machine morality is here to stay. Even modest amounts of engineered autonomy make it necessary to outline some modest goals for the design of artificial moral agents. Modest because we are not talking about guidance systems for the Terminator or other technology that does not yet exist. Necessary, because as machines with limited autonomy operate more often than before in open environments, it becomes increasingly important to design a kind of functional morality that is sensitive to ethically relevant features of those situations. Modest, again, because this functional morality is not about self-reflective moral agency — what one might call “full” moral agency — but simply about trying to make autonomous agents better at adjusting their actions to human norms. This can be done with technology that is already available or can be anticipated within the next 5 to 10 years.
The Future of Moral Machines

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Philosophy Major Start-ups

How many internet start-ups were launched by philosophy majors?

The answer is 103. <>
English majors? 65. <>
Religion majors? 7. <>

All these results are from TNW Index. <>

Thanks to Peter Suber for the initial post.

Are animals persons?

Are animals persons? Bioethicist Jessica Pierce argues they are not.
The concept "personhood" should only be introduced when we are trying to solve purely human questions (e.g., when is it appropriate to discontinue medical treatment?), not human-animal questions (e.g., what separates humans from animals? what makes a person a not-animal?). We need a more nuanced moral vocabulary-that much is certain. Should there be a concept of "animalhood" that allows us to affirm the qualities in animals that accord them moral value, that transform them from objects into subjects? This might be better than "personhood," since we really aren't arguing that chimps and whales are exactly like humans in the relevant respects, or, for that matter, that whales are like chimps. So maybe we need the terms "whalehood" and "chimphood" and possibly "doghood" (remembering, of course, that even these terms encourage us to overlook uniqueness).
What do you think? Read the entire article here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Alvin Plantinga’s New Book on God and Science

Alvin Plantinga has a new on God and science, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism.
For too long, Mr. Plantinga contends in a new book, theists have been on the defensive, merely rebutting the charge that their beliefs are irrational. It’s time for believers in the old-fashioned creator God of the Bible to go on the offensive, he argues, and he has some sports metaphors at the ready. (Not for nothing did he spend two decades at Notre Dame.) 
In “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism,” published last week by Oxford University Press, he unleashes a blitz of densely reasoned argument against “the touchdown twins of current academic atheism,” the zoologist Richard Dawkins and the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, spiced up with some trash talk of his own.
Watch Plantinga discuss God and evolution. He argues that theris a conflict between naturalism and science, not between theistic religion and science.

Alvin Plantinga’s New Book on God and Science

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Joshua Knobe: Indie Rock Virtues

3ammagazine has an interesting interview with Joshua Knobe. Knobe wrote the Experimental Philosophy Manifesto with Saun Nichols. As an "indie philosopher who breaks with academic style" Knobe has very interesting ideas about how one does philosophy.
Josh Knobe has already got a philosophical idea named after him, ‘The Knobe Effect’. This is the idea that corrodes the idea that we add moral judgments to preconceived non-moral facts about the world. The Knobe Effect suggests that that picture gets the flow of judgments the wrong way round. So Josh Knobe is now a very famous philosopher. Josh Knobe thinks about stuff like, do babies have morals? Are we born believing in God? Do we have free will? Do we think what we think we think? What do drunk people calculate? Where does greed come from? Why do we think God is to blame for bad weather? Why do conspiracy theories have sinister plots? Do we justify our own oppression? Why don’t political activists fit their stereotypes? Why can Google plan but not feel? Why the chair of the board will be held responsible for the bad he does but not the good? Can a lobster feel sad? How being yourself makes a punk band singer and a corporate businessman disagree? Why college students turn into Raskolnikov without regressing? Why Nietzsche is better than Aristotle and Kant at describing moral agency? Is being happy the opposite of being unhappy ? What is the role of disgust? Are infants little scientists?
3:AM Magazine » Indie Rock Virtues: "

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


From BBC Radio 4: Online discussion of pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus
Writing in the 5th century BC, Heraclitus believed that everything is constantly changing or, as he put it, in flux. He expressed this thought in a famous epigram: "No man ever steps into the same river twice." Heraclitus is often considered an enigmatic thinker, and much of his work is complex and puzzling. He was critical of the poets Homer and Hesiod, whom he considered to be ignorant, and accused the mathematician Pythagoras (who may have been his contemporary) of making things up. Heraclitus despaired of men's folly, and in his work constantly strove to encourage people to consider matters from alternative perspectives. Donkeys prefer rubbish to gold, he observed, pointing out that the same thing can have different meanings to different people. 
Unlike most of his contemporaries he was not associated with a particular school or disciplinary approach, although he did have his followers. At times a rationalist, at others a mystic, Heraclitus is an intriguing figure who influenced major later philosophers and movements such as Plato and the Stoics. 
With:Angie Hobbs,Associate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Warwick; Peter Adamson, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College London; James Warren, Senior Lecturer in Classics and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge
Listen Now

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind

The Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind, Chris Eliasmith (editor), is a very useful web site that provides brief but sound background on many key concepts found in the philosophy of mind. The entries are peer reviewed.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Is Free Will an Illusion?

Shaun Nichols argues that we should not trust our instincts about free will or consciousness.
The debate over free will is one example in which our intuitions conflict with scientific and philosophical arguments. Something similar holds for intuitions about consciousness, morality, and a host of other existential concerns. Typically philosophers deal with these issues through careful thought and discourse with other theorists. In the past decade, however, a small group of philosophers have adopted more data-driven methods to illuminate some of these confounding questions. These so-called experimental philosophers administer surveys, measure reaction times and image brains to understand the sources of our instincts. If we can figure out why we feel we have free will, for example, or why we think that consciousness consists of something more than patterns of neural activity in our brain, we might know whether to give credence to those feelings. That is, if we can show that our intuitions about free will emerge from an untrustworthy process, we may decide not to trust those beliefs.
Is Free Will an Illusion?: Scientific American

Monday, December 05, 2011

Peter Carruthers Interview

Here's an interesting interview with philosopher Peter Carruthers. He talks about introspection, self-knowledge and our mind-reading ability.

...what I argue is that there is a single ‘mindreading’ faculty that enables us the perceive our own thoughts as well as the thoughts of other people. This faculty evolved initially for social purposes, enabling us to anticipate (and sometimes to manipulate) the behavior of other people, as well as to better coordinate cooperative activities. But it can likewise be turned on the self, relying on the same channels of information that are used when interpreting the behavior of others. Sometimes we attribute thoughts to ourselves by literally perceiving our overt behavior. But often we rely on sensory cues that utilize the same perceptual channels, such as our own visual imagery, or our own inner speech.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Philosophy Program Survey

Philosophy majors and minors should have received our survey about the Philosophy Program in an email recently. If you haven't yet done so, please take a minute to complete and submit it. We're anxious to find out what we can do to make it a better program for you.