Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

How Much Would It Cost To Study Character?

Well $3.67 million would be a good start. Three professors—two psychologists and one philosopher—at Wake Forest University were awarded that sum by the Templeton Foundation to explore the nature of character. The project will be directed by philosopher Christian Miller. The multi-faceted approach to understanding character will include competitions for scholars around the country seeking funding for research on character, research projects by Wake Forest psychology and philosophy professors, two research conferences, a summer seminar, an essay competition with nine prizes of $3,000 each, and other elements. All three scholars either have published or are in the process of getting published in areas related to moral theory and will be expanding their work to look at what character is, what types of character people develop and what ought we strive to achieve. Read more here.

7/20/2010–NDPR Reviews of Philosophy Books

Lukas H. Meyer (ed.) Legitimacy, Justice and Public International Law Reviewed by Laura Valentini, The Queen's College, Oxford Jonathan R. Cohen Science, Culture, and Free Spirits: A study of Nietzsche's Human, All-too-Human Reviewed by Julian Young, Wake Forest University David Hyder The Determinate World: Kant and Helmholtz on the Physical Meaning of Geometry Reviewed by Lydia Patton, Virginia Tech David L. Hildebrand Dewey: A Beginner's Guide Reviewed by Michael Eldridge, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Berys Gaut A Philosophy of Cinematic Art Reviewed by Carl Plantinga, Calvin College Pablo Muchnik Kant's Theory of Evil: An Essay on the Dangers of Self-love and the Aprioricity of History Reviewed by David Sussman, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Georg W.F. Hegel, Robert F. Brown (ed., tr.) Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6: Volume I: Introduction and Oriental Philosophy Reviewed by Robert R. Williams, University of Illinois at Chicago Theodore L. Brown Imperfect Oracle: The Epistemic and Moral Authority of Science Reviewed by Steve Fuller, University of Warwick Joshua P. Hochschild The Semantics of Analogy: Rereading Cajetan's De Nominum Analogia Reviewed by E. Jennifer Ashworth, University of Waterloo Sharon Anderson-Gold, Pablo Muchnik (eds.) Kant's Anatomy of Evil Reviewed by Robert Gressis, California State University, Northridge

What Do Simone de Beauvoir, Patricia Churchland, and Philippa Foot Have in Common?

The obvious answer is that they’re all women philosophers. But another commonality is that, as professional philosophers, they’re also rare. A recent Sydney Morning Herald headline asks, “why aren’t more women philosophers?” According to the article, women tend not to like the combativeness of academic philosophy nor can they reconcile the apparently misogynistic views of the many dead white guys in philosophy. Sociology not natural interest is the culprit. Oddly, the article appears to be saying not that men have kept women out of the discipline but that women somehow keep themselves out because they don’t like (can’t deal with) what men are doing in the discipline. I’m fairly sure that’s not only inaccurate but itself mildly disrespectful. Regardless, the University of NSW is doing something about it. The Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference at the University of NSW this month unveiled a database and website to increase students' awareness of women's contributions to philosophy, and enhance the diversity of philosophy curricula.

Where Have All the Philosophy Programs Gone?

Professor Andrew Baker bemoans the continued commercialization of universities evident in the ongoing closure of programs in the humanities (particularly philosophy and history). He worries that without strong history and philosophy programs, universities will lose their intellectual diversity and students will not be challenged to think rigorously in areas of great concern, namely, morality. He cites Harvard professor Michael Sandel who also addressed the issue at some length in his recent book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (Justice, by the way, is a fine, albeit popularly written and somewhat narrowly focused primer on various theories of justice and criticisms of those theories.) Paul Bloom’s classic, The Closing of the American Mind addressed similar issues and Louis Menand explores some of these topics at some length in his short but intriguing The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. Baker focuses on particular moral issues that he believes pose serious problems for society. The removal of history and philosophy from the university will only cause these issues to fester as students will not get the moral instruction necessary to deal with them. In the principal arenas of intellectual exploration, universities, we have closed down entire programs within the arts (philosophy, history) and rationalised the length and breadth of undergraduate and postgraduate study programs across the board….Higher degree courses are shortened and narrowed; where is the time or place for philosophical thought in a PhD program? But even more insidious in the removal or reduction of particularly philosophy programs is the impact the absence will have on the “optimized” university’s ability to train students how to think. In my opinion, no other discipline can do more to train the mind than philosophy.

Freedom of Speech or Hate Speech?

Hardly a week goes by without news that some professor or other is being disciplined, fired, marginalized, or otherwise shut up for making some politically incorrect statement in his or her classroom. This time, University of Illinois lecturer Kenneth Howell apparently was fired for describing and then siding with the Catholic church’s stance against homosexuality. Professor Howell was teaching a course titled, “Introduction to Catholicism” when he made the controversial statement and then followed up his in-class comments with an email that further elaborated the thought. Based on what has been published, the email does not appear to be hateful or even judgmental though it is not ambiguous about the topic Howell discusses. Regardless of the subject matter, the issue that makes this story news is whether professor Howell was wrongly dismissed from his teaching position for articulating a position that runs counter to the stated inclusive policy and actually engaged in “hate speech” as the university claims he has. I’m also continuously struck when a professor is fired for making statements that a university deems intolerant. I’m not always certain about the logic that could justify such an action. See more details at the Huffington Post here. This piece links to other analyses (many critical of Howell). Also see this spirited defense of Professor Howell.

The New Atheism and the Ever-shrinking Circle of Explanatory Power

Reza Aslan concludes a recent article for The Washington Post with is critique: What the new atheists do not do, and what makes them so much like the religious fundamentalists they abhor, is admit that all metaphysical claims--be they about the possibility of a transcendent presence in the universe or the birth of the incarnate God on earth--are ultimately unknowable and, perhaps, beyond the purview of science. Aslan’s brief article, titled “Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett: Evangelical atheists?”, focuses on what he sees as a fundamental (pun not intended) weakness in the new atheism: it’s proponents don’t understand religion as an idea “occupied with transcendence.” Aslan views modern atheists as ill-informed and well outside their area of expertise. Their inordinate focus on scientific explanation has made them ill-equipped to treat matters of religion. For Aslan, religion is not about the manifest world but about how a “universal recognition of human contingency, finitude, and material existence has become formalized through ecclesiastical institutions and dogmatic formulae.” And religion is about “modalities,” pardigmatic gestures,” “spiritual dimensions,” and “archetypes.” The New Atheists, he says, don’t understand this (neither, I’m fairly certain, do too many religious people but that’s another matter). He also criticizes the new atheism, as a movement, of being too close minded, too absolutist, too  proselytical  -- in a word, too fundamentalist. Yet in reading his polemic, particularly when he accuses the movement of being under-informed and populist, I found Aslan himself to be too narrow in how he is defining the new atheism. If scoped merely to the four authors in the article’s title, then certainly the criticism holds. But anyone aware of the movement knows that Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris (and we might throw in Dan Brown for good measure), widely known in the movement as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”—a name they wear proudly—is just the marketing arm of a much larger phenomenon. The new atheism (no caps) is a broad shift in the way many are thinking about religion. The New Atheists (limiting that term to The Four Horsemen) are a small, but vocal and largely populist exemplification of that shift. Restricting the movement to those four men would be similar to saying Dinesh D’Souza, Tim LaHaye, Rick Warren, and Glen Beck constitute the whole of modern Christian thought. This failure to recognize the scope of and breadth of the shift away from traditional theistic belief is in no small part contributing to the breakdowns we’re seeing in certain pockets of Western Christianity (I wrote briefly about this breakdown here). There have been some powerful and important treatments and analysis of religious belief that take the material written at the popular level to great depths. Books like J.L. Schellenberg’s Cornell trilogy (see information on the books Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion, The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism, The Will to Imagine: A Justification of Skeptical Religion ), Robert McKim’s excellent and necessary Religious Ambiguity and Religious Diversity, Robert Wright’s, The Evolution of God, and Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained. I’m not making any claims about whether these books do or do not make their respective cases. I’m simply observing that anyone engaging what should broadly be called the new atheism, should content with the ideas presented in these and a substantive number of other books and articles. It’s unclear whether Aslan is aware of this growing body of fine literature and the impact this literature is having.  On the other side, Aslan doesn’t seem to account for many of the excellent books being written by analytical philosophers and theologians which attempt to defend the rationality of belief in God without buying fully into Aslan’s “non-overlapping magisteria” sentiment. The quote with which I began this article seemed to me on a first read to be an admission of defeat: the God hypothesis can’t hold explanatory water to a scientific analysis so it’s best to separate theism from science and relegate God and his actions to an unknowable metaphysical realm. I’ll plainly acknowledge that I haven’t read any of Aslan’s book-length treatments of the topics he sketches in the short Washington Post piece. But if his books essentially are an extrapolation of this article in which he seems to espouse what I see as a growing acknowledgement that theism has little explanatory power left, I’m confident this sentiment will continue to marginalize religion and further aid in the removal of it’s seat from the cultural adult table.

Religion and Polite Conversation

Should topics of religion be avoided in casual conversation? No, says Rick Pimentel in the latest article for Table Talk. Religion is a topic of “ultimate concern” as Paul Tillich argued and such topics should be discussed and debated. Many of us may avoid topics of religion is polite conversation because the topic consists of ideas we may know little about or believe can never be settled. But the focus of religion concerns ideas that many of us care deeply about. What does it all mean? Is there an afterlife? Are we alone in the universe? These concerns are profound and, while we may seek to avoid them, we cannot escape them. Rick writes, Religion’s importance lies in the fact that it deals with ultimate issues; matters that are fundamental to human life such as the existence of God, death, morality, meaning of life and human behavior. These issues are a fundamental concern and understanding them appear to be necessary for flourishing in this life. . . . Religion can be hotly disputed and sometimes this can be discouraging or even repulsive to some but the fact that it is hotly disputed should not excuse us from pursuing an understanding of religion and how it fundamentally affects our lives. Read the full article here.

Helen Brown Talks to Slavoj Žižek for the Telegraph

“Spluttering, lisping and pawing frantically at his face, he can spin you from Heidegger to Hershey bars (by way of Hitchcock and Hizbollah) in synapse-shortcircuiting seconds. He is, by turns, a brilliant and buffoonish critic of global capitalism. Once he winds himself into an intellectual whirlwind you just have to sit back and wait while he sucks up and spits out 21st century culture.” Here

Latest News

Here are some of the things going on in philosophy
and the humanities.

See all News Items

Philosopher Spotlight

Conversations with philosophers, professional and non-professional alike.
Visit our podcast section for more interviews and conversations.

Interview with

Dr. Robert McKim
  • on Religious Diversity
  • Professor of Religion and Professor of Philosophy
  • Focuses on Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Alvin Plantinga
  • on Where the Conflict Really Lies
  • Emeritus Professor of Philosophy (UND)
  • Focuses on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Peter Boghossian
  • on faith as a cognitive sickness
  • Teaches Philosophy at Portland State University (Oregon)
  • Focuses on atheism and critical thinking
  • Has a passion for teaching in prisons
See all interviews


Twitter followers


News items posted


Page views per month

21 years

in publication

Latest Articles

See all Articles