41 Search Results for: Spencer Case

The Philosophical Case Against Scientism

Scientism is the claim that science is the only source of knowledge. This claim has been the subject of intense controversy for years, and it has recently re-emerged in public debate following the publication of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Admittedly, Pinker does not make this claim himself, but those who do are (mis)using his work in support of their claims, and the renewed controversy over the term provides us with an opportunity to revisit its validity. Representatives of the humanities, in particular, have had their feathers ruffled by the notion that empirical observation and hypothesis testing have a monopoly on rational inquiry as tight as that enjoyed by Andrew Carnegie on the steel industry in the 19th century; liberal arts need not apply. Much of the criticism of scientism has focused on the aesthetic poverty of abandoning the contemplation of Shakespeare for the study of synapses in humanity’s quest for knowledge of the world and of ourselves. These criticisms have some merit, but a stronger case against …

The Case for Electric Vehicles

Elon Musk is trying to lead the world to a better place with his commitment to electric vehicles. Specifically, he is leading American middle-class families of the future towards cheaper, more efficient cars and energy usage. Musk’s desire to make America competitive in the budding electric car market is not only good for American consumers, but it is also good for the United States: it will help make the country more energy independent, thereby liberating America from having to depend on dubious oil-producing states. Musk should not only be commended for his pioneering work, but the United States government should continue subsidizing his work to remain competitive in the 21st century economy. Since its inception in 2006, Tesla Motors has contributed significantly to research into and development of the electric car in the United States. The electric car is not a new idea. Yet, it never fully captured the imagination of Americans the way the traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicle did. However, the Great Recession of 2008 (and the anemic recovery that followed), placed many Americans …

How the Trans-Rights Movement Is Turning Philosophers Into Activists

On July 3, I received an innocuous-seeming email from the Digital Content Editor of a London-based arts organization called the Institute for Art and Ideas. She asked if I might set out my views on the question, “How can philosophy change the way we understand the transgender experience and identity?” As the expected response was supposed to be only 200 words in length, the task didn’t seem particularly demanding. So I agreed, and sent along a brief answer in which I focused on the now common assumption that everyone has a “gender identity.” I provided some (necessarily) brief objections to the concept as it is currently being advanced by some trans rights activists, and ended by commenting that philosophers can help people to “understand what a gender identity might be, and whether it’s a fitting characteristic to replace sex in law.” The gender wars in philosophy had been heated since May, igniting with University of Sussex philosopher Kathleen Stock’s Medium post asking why academic philosophers—feminist philosophers, in particular—weren’t contributing to the discussion about Britain’s Gender …

Beyond the Hypatia Affair: Philosophers Blocking the Way of Inquiry

Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry. ~American Philosopher Charles S. Peirce Philosophers are notorious for their willingness to consider questions that ordinary people find silly, such as whether or not we have knowledge of the material world. Recently, however, some philosophers having been trying to take hard questions about gender identity off the table. This camp remains a minority, but an energized and noisy minority that seems to be enjoying cultural ascendance and a sense of empowerment. We caught a glimpse of this in 2017 with the “Hypatia Affair.” To recap, an untenured philosopher named Rebecca Tuvel wrote a paper arguing that if it’s possible to transition from one gender to another, then interracial transition is possible, too. Its appearance …

The Role of Politics in Academic Philosophy

Recently Quillette published an exchange about the low proportion of conservatives in academic philosophy departments, consisting of an article by Tristan Rogers and a response by Shelby Hanna. This interesting exchange largely concerns the status of conservative political philosophy within the discipline and the interpretation of the PhilPapers survey results regarding philosophers’ stances on political philosophy. But this is a very limited way to understand the role of politics in academic philosophy. In fact, political philosophy is perhaps one of the least political places in philosophy at the moment, precisely because it is in political philosophy that conservative ideas must be, as a matter of intellectual integrity, taken seriously. Activist philosophers, and philosophical activists, increasingly find themselves publishing work on topics in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, and so on. The problem here is precisely the opposite of what Hanna seems to be thinking about: It’s not that there is little conservatism within political philosophy but that there is little political philosophy within the politicized work of philosophers in other subfields. Activist …

Bearing Witness: My Journey Out of Mormonism

My parents named me after Spencer W. Kimball, who was the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at the time I was born. The church derives its informal name, Mormonism, from the Book of Mormon, which is purportedly the work of Hebrew prophets in the ancient Americas (though it’s not clear where, exactly). Mormons believe that Joseph Smith, the church’s founder, translated the Book of Mormon from golden tablets that the angel Moroni helped him discover. Near the end of the Book of Mormon is a passage known as “Moroni’s promise”: And when you should receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:4). Many people say that God has fulfilled this promise to them. What it’s like to receive …

Cambridge Capitulates to the Mob and Fires a Young Scholar

We live at a time where academic freedom is under threat from ideologues and activists of all persuasions. The latest threat comes from St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where administrators appear to have capitulated to a mob of activists (students and academics) who mounted a campaign to have a young scholar fired for “problematic” research. The back-story was covered by Quillette last December. The norms of academia—which have been built up and preserved by institutions such as Cambridge for centuries—demand that academics engage with each other in a scholarly manner. That is, if one academic has a problem with the methods or conclusions of another’s research, he or she should address those concerns within journals, according to established procedures, which other scholars can then read and respond to, including the academic whose research is being challenged. Today, due to the hyper-specialisation of academic fields, most academics will not be able to judge the quality of scholarship that is published in journals outside their field. That’s why when research is peer-reviewed it is done by experts in the …

Moral Zealotry and the Seductive Nature of Evil

A tempting fallacy about morality is to think that wickedness must arise from transparently abhorrent motives, and goodness from nice ones. Few explicitly endorse this crude dualism, but many breezily equate hatred with evil, love with goodness, or both. This way of thinking makes it difficult for us to see the dangers of moral zealotry, one of the most insidious motives for wicked behavior. The notion of moral zealotry as a vice is somewhat puzzling. Shouldn’t we want people to be as moral as possible? Republican Presidential hopeful Barry Goldwater is often quoted as saying, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” That’s true of idealized people who have perfect knowledge of justice and how best to pursue it, and whose commitment to goodness is untainted by less saintly motives. The rest of us are at risk of having our minds hijacked by intense, but not necessarily reflective, moral passions. People so hijacked are moral zealots. A paradigmatic example is early twentieth century anti-alcohol …

The Boy Who Inflated the Concept of ‘Wolf’

One of Aesop’s fables is about a shepherd boy who, out of boredom, repeatedly cries “Wolf!” when no wolf is present. As a result, the villagers lose faith in his testimony, and no one listens to his warnings when a real wolf shows up to devour his flock. The story shows why it’s bad to lie and why it’s in our interest to be honest. But lying is not the only manipulation of language that degrades trust. Consider a slightly different story. Suppose that instead of one shepherd boy, there are a few dozen. They are tired of the villagers dismissing their complaints about less threatening creatures like stray dogs and coyotes. One of them proposes a plan: they will start using the word “wolf” to refer to all menacing animals. They agree and the new usage catches on. For a while, the villagers are indeed more responsive to their complaints. The plan backfires, however, when a real wolf arrives and cries of “Wolf!” fail to trigger the alarm they once did. What the boys …

A World Without Animal Farming

A Review of The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists Are Building an Animal-Free Food System, by Jacy Reese (Beacon Press, November 6 2018, 240 pages).  In a world distressingly full of evil, we can discern moral progress by looking at the benighted past. Only two lifetimes ago educated people endorsed chattel slavery. The raises the sobering question: how might present arrangements appear to inhabitants of a more enlightened future civilization? Supposing that moral progress continues, there’s good reason to expect that our descendants will wince when they reflect upon our treatment of animals. Every year, tens of billions of land animals, and more sea creatures, are killed in so-called “factory farms,” having lived lives of unrelieved mental and physical anguish, because humans enjoy eating their flesh. A chilling line in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars comes to mind. The Greek historian reports a dialogue between a group of Athenian emissaries and the representatives of Melos, a city-state that wanted to remain neutral in the war between Athens and Sparta. The emissaries bluntly assert that …