Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Reichenbach’s Common Cause Principle

[New Entry by Christopher Hitchcock and Miklós Rédei on January 13, 2020.] The Common Cause Principle was introduced by Hans Reichenbach, in The Direction of Time, which was published posthumously in 1956. Suppose that two events A and B are positively correlated: (p(Acap B)gp(A)p(B)). Suppose, moreover, that neither event is a cause of the other. Then, Reichenbach's Common Cause Principle (RCCP) states that A and B will have a common cause that renders them conditionally independent. Reichenbach incorporated his RCCP into a new [More]

Forming Humanity: Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition

2020.01.01 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Jennifer A. Herdt, Forming Humanity: Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition, University of Chicago Press, 2019, 329pp., $40.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780226618487. Reviewed by Timothy Stoll, Franklin and Marshall College The German word Bildung is notoriously difficult to render in English. Its most common meaning is perhaps 'education,' though in a more capacious sense than what happens exclusively in schools and universities. It is related to the German for 'image' (Bild) and the verb meaning 'to form, shape, construct' (bilden), and so suggests, when applied to a human being, a kind of quasi-aesthetic formation of one's character. The complexities and ambiguities of the term provide a considerable obstacle to those interested in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century German ethical thought, in which the ideal of Bildung plays a crucial role. In this splendid book, Jennifer Herdt has thus provided a valuable service in tracing the ways in which the concept of Bildung figures... Read [More]

Roger Scruton (1944-2020)

Roger Scruton, a philosopher who for many years taught at Birkbeck College, London, held various other academic appointments, wrote extensively for the public, and who was knighted in 2016 for “services to philosophy, teaching and public education”, has died. Scruton received his undergraduate and graduate education at Cambridge University. He taught at Birkbeck from 1971 to 1992. He also held appointments at other schools, including Boston University, Buckingham University, and Oxford University, as well as think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute. Scruton was known largely for his work in aesthetics and for his advocacy of traditional conservatism. Much of his writing was aimed at the broader public. He founded the conservative periodical The Salisbury Review, produced a wine column for The New Statesman for nine years, authored non-fiction books as well as novels, and even wrote libretti for opera. In 2018 he was appointed to the British government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, to advise on housing design. He died after a six-month battle with cancer. [This post will be updated with links to obituaries elsewhere.] The post Roger Scruton (1944-2020) appeared first on Daily [More]

Gustav Theodor Fechner

[New Entry by Frederick C. Beiser on January 12, 2020.] Fechner's philosophy is characterized by a clash between his metaphysical interests and his positivist proclivities. His metaphysical interests led him toward panpsychism: the doctrine that the universe is created and governed by mind or the soul; his positivist leanings led him to uphold an early version of verificationism and phenomenalism. Fechner insisted that there was no disparity between these tendencies, that the best scientific evidence supported the view that the universe is psychic. His philosophy [More]

Hilary Putnam on mind and meanings – Philosopher of the Month

Hilary Putnam was an American philosopher who was trained originally in the tradition of logical positivism. He was one of the most influential philosophers of science of the twentieth century and had an impact on philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology and metaphysics. The post Hilary Putnam on mind and meanings – Philosopher of the Month appeared first on OUPblog.         Related StoriesPhilosopher of the Month – A 2019 ReviewThomas Kuhn and the paradigm shift – Philosopher of the MonthWomen on the front lines: Military service, combat and [More]

Moral Revolution, Moral Reform and Moral Drift

Once upon a time, people believed that it was immoral to anatomise dead bodies, for women to pee in public, for a gentleman not to defend his honour through duelling, and for homosexuals to actively express their sexualities. Over time, public attitudes towards each of these practices has changed. Although there are some lingering moral conservatives, the majority of people in Western societies seem willing to at least tolerate these practices. To the outsider, it looks like we have undergone a series of moral revolutions.Each of these examples is taken from Robert Baker’s book The Structure of Moral Revolutions. In the book, Baker presents a fascinating and provocative theory about how moral systems change over time and then applies it to several historical case studies of moral revolution. The historical details of the revolutions is the main focus of the book and for people who are not yet convinced that the past is a foreign country (and that they do things differently there), I highly recommend reading it. But since I’m more of a theoretician than a historian, I want to focus my attention in this post on the main features of Baker’s theory.Baker’s main theoretical innovation is to apply Thomas Kuhn’s famous theory about scientific revolutions to moral revolutions. Others have attempted this in the past, but have reached the conclusion that there are too many differences between scientific theories and moral theories for the analogy to bear fruit. Baker differs in [More]

Is Art Still a Vehicle for Progress?

Jeff Koons started to produce his inflatable objects as a critique of American consumerism in the 1970s. Consumerism continues to flourish in the US today, as it does in all Western capitalist countries, but with one of Koons’ inflatables recently selling for $91million (the most expensive work by a living artist ever to be sold at auction), has the artist’s work become a symptom of the very order he meant to critique?Artists are a sort of ’cultural filter’. They absorb all the inputs provided by socio-political circumstances, literature, philosophy, indeed everything that connotes their particular era. Then they elaborate all these concepts, ideas and values, and express them through their highly individual aesthetic. Ultimately, the final outcome is the production of significant objects which add value to society, contributing to our understanding of culture as it is, and helping to shape whatever comes next.One question we can ask ourselves is this: what do the artworks produced [More]

Does fear drive economic progress?

When stockbroker Peter Hargreaves donated £3.2 million to the campaign, he explained his enthusiasm for Brexit as follows: “It would be the biggest stimulus to get our butts in gear that we have ever had… We will get out there and we will become incredibly successful because we will be insecure again. And insecurity is fantastic.” Intel co-founder Andrew Grove similarly argued in his book, Only the Paranoid Survive, that fear is essential for our political economy to function, spurring the pace of productivity and progress.Claims of this kind are often heard and used to argue against the introduction of a Universal Basic Income—the welfare reform initiative that would replace our current means-tested benefit systems (and their unwieldy administration) with an unconditional, automatic payment to each member of the political community. There is a diverse range of models of a UBI, some more plausible than others, but the general idea is still pretty straightforward, something [More]