Week in Review: June 11, 2012




calendar_smI just finished a grueling quarter teaching two classes and taking on a new and very demanding role at the tech company I work for so I’ve had to set these updates aside for a couple of months. I’m happy to pick these up again. These first few items are a few weeks old but still relevant.

Given the current state of the humanities, it seems philosophers are understanding the importance of reminding the general public of the relevance of philosophy. Here’s another article, “What Can I Do with a Philosophy Degree” that adds to the corpus of “apologetic” (the defensive rather than the remorseful kind) articles being written. The author cites data that seeks to show that a philosophy degree has significant practical benefits. As someone who works both as a professor of philosophy and at a large tech firm, I can affirm the author’s claims. Studying philosophy makes one a better thinker and that skill applies to everything. See also my “The Value of Philosophy” for a personal testimony of this benefit.

Back to someone who doesn’t see philosophy as valuable, here’s more on Krauss’ dismissal of philosophy: Thanks to Bob Seidensticker for the pointer.

Alan Litchfield interviews Guy Harrison on his book, 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True.

Spirits walk among us – in lingerie.

Speaking of walking – wow.

A nice hierarchy of disagreements. Thanks to Andrew Smith for the pointer.

imageAnd on the subject of disagreements, I was in a brief email thread with some friends about the nature of “tolerance.” A friend send around a picture of a pickup truck with a sign in the back window denigrating a particular political position. Here’s what I wrote:

I’ll poke the tiger here a bit. I’m sure we’d all generally agree that the sign on the back of this truck qualifies as intolerant on even a broad definition of that term. As good Seattle liberals, we’d probably also agree that intolerance of this or any kind is, on the whole, a bad thing which partly means that it is an attitude we don’t want to foster. So here’s my question: what is a tolerant attitude and how do we adopt a tolerant attitude towards this guy? [Yes, I assumed it was a guy.] As much as you all might have a negative, even visceral response to the photo [friend] posted, if we want to avoid becoming just like the guy, we probably should adopt a tolerant attitude towards his worldview. But what does that mean?

Perhaps it means something like the idea attributed to Voltaire: I disagree with what he has to say, but would defend to the death his right to say it. This would mean we’re tolerant of his right to say what he says but not of the content of his speech act. The odd thing is that on such a definition, the guy that owns the truck could be just as tolerant (and given where he probably lives [near an Air Force base], might actually be in the line of work where he may be called to put his life on the line to defend rights like the ones prized by Voltaire). So while that’s a good definition of tolerance, it brings us back to the issue [friend] alluded to: we may not be able to actually have a civil conversation about the ideas themselves (try being critical of Obama for any reason among a group of hardened Seattleites and you’ll know what I mean). Tolerance of rights doesn’t really help us with civil discourse and that’s seems to be just as big of a problem.

And I’m not going to accept the response that you’re tolerant of everything but intolerance. While that has surface appeal, I haven’t found a way to defend because when you dig down, it ends up not meaning a whole lot.

Rick Pimentel talks about the influence of Socrates’ dialectical model in a recent court case before the Supreme Court in the United States.

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