Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

The Practical Origins of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering

2021.09.06 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Matthieu Queloz, The Practical Origins of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering, Oxford University Press, 2021, 304pp., $85.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198868705. Reviewed by P J E Kail, University of Oxford If one heard the word ‘genealogy’ in an Anglo-American philosophical context some 25 years ago, one’s thoughts would have tended to turn to Nietzsche, Foucault, and, perhaps, Alasdair Macintyre, together with notions like ‘subversion’ or ‘debunking’, and all would be coloured in a slightly ‘continental’, and thus marginal, tint. These days, however, genealogy—or rather particular interpretations of the term—has come to the fore in the Anglo-American mainstream. This is due, in no small measure, to Bernard Williams’s 2002 Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy. Matthieu Queloz’s book is heavily influenced by Williams. It comprises the following. First, there are three chapters articulating the conception of genealogy with which Queloz operates. Second, there are two exegetical chapters, one on Hume, one... Read [More]

The Metaphysics of the Material World: Suárez, Descartes, Spinoza

2021.09.05 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Tad M. Schmaltz, The Metaphysics of the Material World: Suárez, Descartes, Spinoza, Oxford University Press, 2020, 291pp., $90.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780190070229. Reviewed by Alison Peterman, University of Rochester Tad M. Schmaltz’s incredibly rich new book is about “the most monstrous hypothesis that could be imagined, the most absurd, the most diametrically opposed to the most evident notions of our mind”—at least, according to Pierre Bayle. The source of Bayle’s scandalization is Spinoza’s claim that God is the only substance and creatures are modifications of it, which Bayle attempts to refute in “Spinoza”, the longest entry in his widely read Dictionnaire Historique et Critique. But Schmaltz’s interest is not with some isolated philosophical beef, or even just with Spinozism’s monstrous absurdities, for Bayle diagnoses Spinoza’s chief absurdity as his (alleged) claim that finite bodies are both modes and parts of the physical world, and interprets Spinoza’s modal and mereological metaphysics in light... Read [More]

Agency as a Force for Good

One fundamental reason for favouring consequentialism is the basic teleological intuition that the primary purpose of agency is to realize preferable outcomes.  If you have a choice between a better state of affairs and a worse one, it's very natural to think that the better state of affairs would be the better option to choose.A slightly different way to put it is that if it would be good for something to happen, then it would be good to choose for it to happen.  Our agency is itself part of the natural world, after all, and while it is distinctive in being subject to moral evaluation -- misdirected exercises of agency may be wicked in a way that unfortunately directed lightning strikes are not -- it's far from clear why this should transform an otherwise desirable outcome into an undesirable one.  There's nothing obviously misdirected (let alone "wicked") about straightforwardly aiming at the good, after all.Consequentialism thus fits with an appealing conception of agency as a force for good in the world. Left to its own devices, the world might just as easily drift into bad outcomes as good ones, but through our choices, we moral agents may deliberately steer it along better paths.This suggests to me a (possibly new?) argument for consequentialism.  For it seems a real cost to non-consequentialist views that they must give up this view of agency as a force for good.  Instead, on non-consequentialist views, it could well [More]

Automated Assessment Instruments

Another behind the scenes look at assessment. I will be presenting this on November 12. Introduction I am involved in assessment in three roles. The first is as the professor who completes the assessment plan and report for Philosophy & Religion. The second is as the chair of the General Education Assessment Committee (GEAC). The [More]

Helen interviewed on Idealism

In a rare online appearance, Helen is interviewed on Mind Chat by Philip Goff and Keith Frankish about her book-in-progress, The View From Everywhere: Realist Idealism Without God.For highlights, see especially:36:00 - Helen explains the basics of her novel form of idealism (and how it differs from Berkeley's).53:45 - Why idealism is more plausible than you might have thought.58:20 - How idealism enables a direct realist account of perception like no other.1:56:42 - Why philosophy monographs should be followed up with a "for kids" version.There's also a bunch of interesting meta-philosophical discussion throughout, reacting to Helen's explanation that she only has about 30% credence in idealism, and correspondingly aims not to convince others that it's true, but just that they should take it more seriously than they had previously.Check out the full interview on [More]

Companies, Cities, and Carbon

This is terrible journalism:While [donating $1 billion to protect forests] is certainly notable, Bezos’s commitment to protecting the environment serves as a stark reminder that much of his legacy and largely untaxed fortune was built by companies that have staggering carbon footprints. Amazon’s carbon emissions have grown every year since 2018, and last year alone, when global carbon emissions fell roughly 7 percent, Amazon’s carbon emissions grew 19 percent.Economic activity is (for the time being) carbon-intensive. Amazon constitutes a huge and (especially during the pandemic) growing portion of the US economy. There's nothing said here to suggest that Amazon is unusually inefficient (from an environmental perspective); the author is really just complaining that Amazon is a large and growing part of the economy. (Horrors! They even had the gall to keep the economy going during the pandemic, when other companies did the green thing and shut down, bless their empty coffers...)Obviously there are all kinds of climate policies that should've been passed long ago that would help to reduce the carbon intensity of the economy (carbon taxes, more investment in green energy & research, etc.). Our lack of those needed policies is the fault of politicians, voters, and the companies that lobbied against them. Blaming other companies that are simply involved in ordinary economic activity, by contrast, makes little sense.I think we all realize it'd be silly to blame, say, New York [More]

Race/Gender Swapping: Why Not Just Create New Characters (or focus on old ones)?

In fiction, race/gender swapping occurs when an established character’s race or gender is changed. For example, the original Nick Fury character in Marvel is a white man, but this character was changed to a black man in the Ulimates and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As another example, the original Dr. Smith in Lost in [More]