About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Monday, March 10, 2014
The impetus is a recent dust-up over Neil's appearance on Big Think, in which he explained that he avoids the label "atheist" because it causes people to make all sorts of unflattering (and often untrue) assumptions.
Julia and Massimo reply with some counterarguments, and along the way delve into the philosophy of language.
Neil's picks: The movie "Gravity," "IFLS," and the TV Shows "The Big Bang Theory," "CSI" and"NCIS."
Friday, March 07, 2014
* The philosophy of "Her" (the movie).
* The mindfulness racket.
* Louise Anthony talks to Gary Gutting about the non-existence of god.
* The Two Cultures, then and now.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Postscript on the role of metaphysics
Interesting discussion so far. I wanted to add a few notes to further refine my thoughts about this issue. To begin with, I am leaning toward the conclusion that there is no such thing as metaphysical necessity. That’s in part because one cannot find metaphysical laws, and in part because I doubt there is such a thing as necessity, period. Nothing is physically or logically necessary - only possible or impossible.
True, once we establish certain constraints - for instance the laws of physics in our universe - then certain things necessarily happen. (Indeed, if you are a determinist, everything necessarily happens.) But there doesn’t seem to be a reason to think that the laws of physics themselves are necessary (multiverse and all that), so…
The same goes with logical necessity: once we pick certain axioms or premises, a number of things necessarily follow. But we could have picked different axioms or premises, so that those very same things wouldn’t follow at all.
Where, then, does that leave metaphysics? I still think it has a role to play, in the same sense that philosophy in general has a role to play. I have come to see philosophy as a type of critical inquiry that bridges logic (broadly construed) and science (and other sources of empirical knowledge), in the sense that it applies rigorous reasoning to whatever the issue at hand may be (e.g., ethics) while taking into account empirical input. This is nothing new: it is a restatement of Kan’t compromise between rationalism (the idea that one can derive a priori truths about the world) and empiricism (the idea that all truths derive from sense experience).
Similarly for metaphysics: I see it as a bridge between the Scylla of logic and the Charybdis of physics: the role of metaphysics is to make reasoned sense of what the natural sciences tell us about the world (in this I’m with people like Ladyman and Ross), as well as to elucidate how that knowledge fits with our understanding of abstract objects, such as mathematical and logical relations. But there are no laws of metaphysics, just like there are no laws of philosophy, so this endeavor is one of critically making sense of things, not of discovering or dictating how things are.
At least (again), this is what I think this week...
 Non-locality does not apply to macroscopic objects of the size of a human being, for reasons that not even quantum physicists are particularly sure of.
Friday, February 28, 2014
* Very good reasons why atheists should not call religious people "mentally ill."
* A philosophical-quantitative approach to decide what to do with your life.
* Whole Foods: America's temple of pseudoscience? (Full disclosure: I shop there...)
* The inanity of "stand your ground" laws, and why you can't invoke John Locke to defend them!
* At least some invertebrates feel pain (though others very likely don't).
* Why is academic writing so, ahem, academic?
* Philosophy should hit the road, just like in ancient Greek times.
* Texting while walking bad for your health, and not (only) for the obvious reasons.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
 When I say that the addict can “choose differently,” I don’t mean to say that he can choose to do other than he did in the exact same circumstances. That’s why I added the “next time.”
Monday, February 24, 2014
Zach clarifies his position in the ongoing "philosophy vs. science" fights, poses a question to Julia and Massimo about the ethics of offensive jokes, and discusses BAHFest, his "Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses" conference lampooning evolutionary psychology, not to mention his movie, "Starpocalype."
Somehow along the way, the three take a detour into discussing an unusual sexual act.
Zach's pick: "Solaris" by Stanislaw Lem.
Friday, February 21, 2014
* Regret is the perfect emotion for our self-absorbed times, writes Judith Shulevitz in the New Republic.
* Newspapers are still the most important medium for understanding the world, says Peter Wilby in New Statesman.
* Perhaps we shouldn't insist on complete consistency for our moral beliefs, suggests Emrys Westacott at 3QuarksDaily.
* We should cultivate the ability to disregard things we can't do anything about, according to Christy Wampole in the New York Times.
* Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus, a book review by Rachana Kamtekar in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
* Joseph Stromberg (in the Smithsonian) arrives at a list of just five vitamins and supplements that are actually worth taking.
* String Theory and the Scientific Method, another review in the NDPR, by Nick Huggett.
* Forget about quantifying your self, says Josh Cohen in Prospect Magazine, and live your life instead.
* Scientific Pride and Prejudice, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe in the New York Times.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
It should not come as a surprise, then, that the highly sensible David Hume, whose project was precisely to turn “moral” philosophy into something more akin to natural philosophy (i.e., science) would adopt the pragmatic approach that is so effective in the latter practice. If only more contemporary philosophers were more Humean in spirit I think the whole discipline would greatly benefit. As Hume himself put it, when he happened to be temporarily overwhelmed by a hopelessly complex philosophical problem, “I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I wou’d re turn to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.” Cheers!
Thursday, February 13, 2014
So, to recap, Plantinga’s best “arguments” are: we don’t have a scientific explanation for the apparent fine tuning of the universe (true, so?); we don’t have a philosophical account and/or a scientific explanation of the problem of “aboutness” in philosophy of mind (again, true, so?); some people claim to have a mysterious sensus divinitatis (oh boy). Therefore, not only god, but the Christian god in particular, exists. Equipped with that sort of reasoning, I’m afraid Plantinga would fail my introductory critical thinking class. But he is a great theologian.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Max, Massimo and Julia explore the arguments for such a theory, how it could be tested, and what it even means.
Max's pick: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Adventures of a Curious Character."