Philosophy

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.

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.

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 To judge his actions by unpublished or retrospective laws, or to order him to do an act that is impossible, is to convey to him your indifference to his powers of self-determination.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.

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.

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.

Quotes from Bishop, Hayden, Olson, and Melville

From The Man-Moth He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky, proving the sky quite useless for protection. –Elizabeth Bishop From Mourning Poem for the Queen of Sunday Oh who and oh who will sing Jesus down to help with struggling and doing without and being colored all through blue Monday? Till way next Sunday? –Robert Hayden From Questions of Travel Should we have stayed at home,

Mark C. Taylor on 'reforming higher education'

Mark C. Taylor, contrarian philosopher and chair of Columbia University’s Department of Religion, caused a firestorm in the academic community with his op-ed, “End the University as We Know It,” in yesterday’s New York Times. The op-ed remains at the top of the NYT’s most-emailed list. There are few better places to have a debate about the philosophy of education than the University of Chicago, where the Core Curriculum and the school’s historical emphasis on liberal education and distaste for vocational education permeates everything.

Quotes from Kohak's 'The Embers and the Stars'

I recently discovered the work of Erazim Kohak, a Czech philosopher and Professor Emeritus at Boston University who has written extensively on environmental ethics. I am 30 pages into Kohak’s The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature, and it is incredible so far. A few excerpts below, with more to come. Reflection and speculation remain no more than cunningly devised fables if they are not grounded in what, paraphrasing Calvin Schrag, we could call the prephilosophical and prescientific matrix of self-understanding and world-comprehension.

2008 Reading Recommendations

Happy New Year! At the end of each of the past three years, I’ve written a post listing the best books I’ve read over the course of the year in order to bring these books to the attention of others. My lists from 2007 and 2006 are available here and here. As usual, I’ve put the titles of the five books most important to me this year in bold, and I’ve linked each book to its Amazon.

Quotes from Harrison's 'Returning to Earth'

It was good to finally know that the spirit was everywhere rather than a separate thing. … Clare fed our leftover sandwiches to a stray mutt, who didn’t chew the proper thirty-two times. … All of my jobs had kept me grounded in actual life whereas simply sitting in my room with my studies tended to make me unstable. … In New York City the endless blocks of huge buildings say to us, I’m serious and within me serious people are doing serious things even though five thousand people in a building might only be playing with the market edge.