All posts filed under: Philosophy

Is Hayek’s Moral Vision Compatible with Democracy?

One of the most extraordinary intellects of recent times, F. A. Hayek’s ideas of individual liberty and free markets are embedded in modern discourse. His economic and social theories helped unite social conservatives, free market proponents, and anti-communists who crafted an alliance on both sides of the Atlantic during the last half of the 20th century. His innovative thought was vital to contemporary idioms like deregulation, globalization, and right sizing government. Today there are well over one hundred “market oriented” institutes that promote Hayek’s theories and social philosophy and even present day governments and political parties still acknowledge his contributions. Yet, ironically, the great economist was uncomfortable with the label ‘conservative’ — always describing himself as a classical liberal. Despite so much public acclaim, little known features of the professor’s social thought are especially relevant to today’s political and cultural controversies. Although Hayek is celebrated by conservative activists and institutes as a bulwark for traditional values, many well informed people would be surprised to learn that his beliefs concerning morality and its role in a free …

Negotiating Standpoints Outside the University Classroom

When a protest on a college campus occurs over an issue, an explosion of articles appear, arguing why one position is right and the other is wrong. Tensions rise when no semblance of agreement is reached, and a second wave of essays appear, which take the form of what Michael Sandel calls a “shouting match.” Each side screams at one another instead of engaging with each other. These recriminations shut down any chance of reasonable conversation. How do you react when someone calls you an idiot? In a small hookah lounge in the East Village in New York, I regularly meet with a close friend to discuss all things political and philosophical. Recently, as we sat blowing smoke rings together we found ourselves digging into some of the political correctness controversies arising on college campuses — things like sexual harassment in academia, trigger warnings, and microaggression policing. The two of us had taken a philosophy course together in undergrad, and so naturally we examined these topics through a philosophical lens. We went back and forth debating …

On Moral Outrage and Humility

The recent #DeleteUber campaign provides a useful example of moral outrage. As Matthew Dessem details at Slate, amid protests to the Trump administration’s refugee ban at JFK International Airport, The New York Taxi Workers Alliance stopped service for an hour in a show of solidarity. When Uber subsequently announced its surge pricing at JFK had been turned off, many interpreted this as a move to break up the strike, and thus, as anti-refugee. The #DeleteUber hashtag then began trending on Twitter, with people encouraging others to delete the app from their phone. Brand protests are nothing new, of course and as Dessem prefaces his piece by noting “a lot of reasons to not use the ride-hailing app Uber,” among them “shoddy labor practices” and “attempts to strong arm local governments.” For those inclined to #DeleteUber, I wonder why these did not provide the imperative to moral outrage? But from a logical point of view, I could also question why they have smartphones at all, given the likelihood that their phone manufacturer uses component parts that …

Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson: Heroes for Moral Realism?

In his recent Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris, by very popular demand, engaged in discussion with the clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. The bulk of their conversation centered on epistemology, and the concept of truth in particular. The hope on Harris’s end was that they could profitably discuss their respective views on big and important topics such as morality, science, religion, and atheism if they could establish a shared frame of reference with regard to how to conceptualize truth. It quickly became apparent, however, that they had fundamentally different ways of approaching the matter, if not simply different terms to refer to the same terrain. And so the discussion amounted to something of a friendly debate. Very roughly speaking, Peterson’s view of truth holds that a given proposition, ultimately speaking, cannot in fact be true if, say, it turned out to have very adverse effects on an individual or society at large. Accordingly — and to use an example — this might imply that our understanding of physics is fundamentally flawed (perhaps utterly false) if our …

In Praise of Ignorance

I recently had a discussion with a very intelligent woman, a Ph.D fresh from an Ivy League university. We met after the third Clinton-Trump debate, so the conversation naturally turned to race in America, a topic about which my interlocutor felt strongly. She explained that the United States’ criminal justice system is an oppressive apparatus of state racism. Mass incarceration, she told me, is in large measure the product of a war on drugs that unfairly targets African Americans. She painted a picture of prisons overfilled with African American men locked away for nonviolent drug offenses. She was convinced that the US criminal justice system requires dramatic reform or complete dismantling. My question for her was simple: approximately what fraction of US prisoners are incarcerated for possession — as opposed to pushing or smuggling? She did not know. It is worth pausing to reflect on this. There is hardly a fact about the war on drugs that could be more basic. But my interlocutor did not know the answer to this simple question, despite her …

Review: Doing Good Better — William MacAskill

A review of  Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work that Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back, by William MacAskill. Avery; Reprint edition (August 2, 2016), 272 pages. Imagine you’re walking down the street when you see an out of control stroller speeding past. A mother screams out in horror as her child rockets towards traffic. You burst into action, sprint onto the road, and divert the baby from an oncoming truck. You’ve saved a life. You’re a hero. Now, imagine doing that several times. You rescue one person drowning at the beach, drag another from a burning building, foil an attempted murder… as the saviour of several lives – you’re rapidly approaching superhero status. But, according to William MacAskill’s book Doing Good Better, we can do more than that. ‘Far more than that’. MacAskill seeks to convince that not only are we in the developed world in a position to do a tremendous amount of good, but that our approach to doing good is itself tremendously …

The Virtues of Inwardness: Reclaiming the Life of the Mind in a Politicized World

Prior to his seminal work on consciousness which would make him one of the eminent philosophers of the late 20th century, John R. Searle had served as an activist, first as a student, then later as a young professor, during the period of social upheaval to which our current era is often compared — the 1960s. Three decades later, Searle, who had the venerable distinction of participating in student efforts against the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy and would later take part in the nascent Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, would make a statement that might ring bizarre to our ears in the year 2016. When asked about his role in the Free Speech Movement, Searle informed his interviewer that, “Given a choice between intellectual life and political life, I’d take intellectual life any time. It’s more fun. In the long run it’s more satisfying.” To many, Searle’s answer no doubt appears to assert a false dichotomy — isn’t the role of the intellectual, particularly the so-called “public intellectual,” to insert herself into the political discourse, applying her …