Ryan McCarl

Reading, writing, learning, languages, law, politics, etc.

Robert Nozick’s ‘Experience Machine’

The following is political philosopher Robert Nozick’s incredible allegory of the “Experience Machine,” from his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The allegory makes a case against hedonism, the idea that sensory pleasure is the highest good: — Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. Read more →

Readings from Charles Taylor and Erich Auerbach

One way to put the question I want to answer here is this: why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable? … Important as science is to our present outlook, we mustn’t exaggerate its causal role here, and make it the main motor of the transformation. Our encasing in secular time is also something we have brought about in the way we live and order our lives. Read more →

Quotes from Hugo Black and Lon L. Fuller

Every departure from the principles of the law’s inner morality is an affront to man’s dignity as a responsible agent. To judge his actions by unpublished or retrospective laws, or to order him to do an act that is impossible, is to convey to him your indifference to his powers of self-determination. … I believe that if we were forced to select the principle that supports and infuses all human aspiration we would find it in the objective of maintaining communication with our fellows. Read more →

A vacation and a reading list: a personal update

It’s hard to believe how quickly things happen. My summer term - roughly six hours a day, five days a week of education classes - is drawing to a close, and as of Friday afternoon I’ll be free for an entire month (the life of a student is good - certainly beats two or three weeks of vacation over the course of a year). I’ll be in Colorado (Boulder, Telluride, Denver) for almost two weeks, in Chicago for one, and in Muskegon for one - as well as a few days of camping in Northern Michigan with friends. Read more →

Quotes from Czeslaw Milosz and Herman Melville

I finished “Moby-Dick” yesterday. It was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read - but also incredibly beautiful and rewarding. — The past is inaccurate, because we cannot determine how it was in fact, no matter how hard we try. We must rely on people’s memory, which is treacherous, because memory is constantly juggling and revising the data of experience. …In telling about an event, we ourselves cannot avoid revising it, because our narrative simplifies and composes a whole out of selected components, while omitting others. Read more →