Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsOur regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Psychology’s reproducibility problem is exaggerated – say (some) psychologists.

Reading from Behind: a Cultural Analysis of the Anus. “The anus, you see, is democratic.”

Was Wittgenstein right that philosophy is too scientistic? Or was his mentor, Bertrand Russell, on target when he said that his pupil seemed to have “grown tired of serious thinking and invented a doctrine which would make such an activity unnecessary”?

Speaking of the devil, here is a Wittgensteinian defense of literature against postmodernist deconstruction.

Did we say psychology may have a reproducibility problem? There’s more…

What has philosophy done for us?

A philosopher is arguing that vegetarianism is impossible. I think he’s just confused about biology.

188 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. ejwinner

    Just dropped in at the last moment to say that, I’m glad I had so little to say about vegetarianism this week.

    What’s really interesting about this comment thread has been its back-stories – and I don’t mean the personal back-stories (although it is interesting that some commentators have taken the matter so personally). I mean the philosophical-ethical, ontological-biological assumptions informing many posts here. However, they seem to me very confused (and I’m not talking about their justifications, but their lack of clarity). This has left many of the conversations a matter of talking at cross purposes.

    I think the matter worth re-opening at a later date, in a way that would clarify the terms used, and the supporting arguments, so that everybody (or at least interlocutors) could be on the same page.


  2. Daniel Kaufman

    EJ: I’d actually like to do a Sophia episode with Massimo on this. Part of what I like about it is that it gets at deeper questions, like whether moral considerations are always overriding — which in my view is at the heart of the dispute over ethical veganism — which, I think, is when Applied Ethics is at its best.

    Massimo, you game? Have you worked out a reliable internet point out there? If not, can I help? Perhaps set something up for you in a rent-an-office kind of thing, for an hour and a half? I’m happy to pay for it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Massimo Post author


    I’m definitely game, I think this would be interesting both as a conversation about eating habits and more broadly as a meta-conversation on the role of ethics in everyday life.

    But my internet in Rome is limited (because I couldn’t get a home-based system, since I’m renting for only four months). I may be able to do it from my brother’s apartment, let’s talk via email soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Philosopher Eric

    Hi EJ,

    (A bit tardy.) I don’t know if I truly began from scratch, since the overwhelming majority of what I’ve understood has always been derived by others. Nevertheless I did have the premise for my current position before the time that I entered university study, and so sought to cultivate this through the normal path of delving into the works of established thinkers. Once exposed however, I became nearly as critical of these fields as you know of me today. So instead of formal exploration I decided to become more generally educated (which came through the study of physics and economics formally, and through magazines such as “The Economist” informally) to then see if I could derive a way to found these still quite primitive fields from the safety of an outside perspective. I’m extremely proud of what I’ve developed, but no, over the past two years I’ve spent very little time going back through it. You might have noticed the horrible state of the site found under my name? Each of my models are understood quite intimately by me, and thus I’ve had little reason to check up on them. Furthermore given my belated education over the past two years, time has been quite dear to me. That my education has lately come through people such as yourself (gratis no less!), is something that I’ve found amazingly fortunate. If my ideas do ever work out to much, I will most certainly have some debts to repay!

    If you will, imagine being back in the days before Newton, as an extremely well trained and distinguished person in the “art” of physics. Furthermore let’s say that you were to meet a lowly man who then proceedes to show you what would eventually become known as “classical physics.” I suspect that your natural reaction while sifting through his ideas, would be to tell him how hopeless the stuff was. After all, without the distinguished sort of training which you’d have been provided, what could such a person possibly comprehend about physical dynamics?

    If we now return to the subject of conscious animals, I believe that I have a reasonable understanding of Massimo’s position, which is that he actively attempts to diminish the suffering that they experience on his behalf. He also seems clever enough to not present a fixed line from which to judge others and hold himself accountable in this regard, but instead permits the rough concept of “virtue” to sort through such matters case by case. Furthermore I believe that I also understand Daniel’s position, or that a tremendous amount of what we do does naturally put our prudential interests over the interests of various animals. Surely we shouldn’t now be living our lives in order to serve them? He doesn’t raise the bar nearly as high as Massimo does regarding their treatment, and can give anyone who judges him harshly in this regard a very sound rebuttal. I see no way around these disputes through standard ethics, but I’m also able to offer a solution from the non moral position which I hold.

    Notice that by getting amoral, the whims of society aren’t permitted to affect our perceptions of something which must ultimately exist beyond social considerations. Thus others can discuss normativitity all they like, though I reference a sort of good which exists on a more fundamentally plain. Secondly I offer a mandate for perfect subjectivity. This isn’t simply to say that each conscious individual exists as such, but that every moment must technically concern a unique subject in its own right. So the “me” ten hours from now will be different from the current one (though I do have hopes and worries about that future subject given my natural connection, and thus attempt to look after him somewhat). Then there is what the economist refers to as “utility,” or what I call “sensations.” Theoretically this is the fundamental unit of value throughout existence, and seems to be produced as an engineering mechanism of the conscious mind. The more positive this dynamic happens to be for a given subject, the better existence will be for it, with the negative being the opposite. Finally there is the “total” condition, or a summation of positive and negative sensations over a given period of time. Observe that this shall subjectively reference the state of one conscious being specifically, or any number of them, over a specified duration. Together this works out as: Amoral Subjective Total Utilitarianism (ASTU), and from here the question of animal treatment does become quite simple. If we decide to to factor some of their sensations into the policies of a given society (or not), then good for that society shall be the summation of its sensations compiled over a specified period of time.

    I believe that Massimo and Socratic have things about right in the sense that the harm which they avert for various subjects, should concern something which is quite real for those affected. Nevertheless I suspect that the hypocrisy and ignorance that I find so apparent in “San Francisco attitudes,” repulses me no less than Daniel. Sometimes I ask myself, “Why can’t you just call a spade a spade you damn hippie, and so tell us that you’re looking to make yourself feel better by having others respect your wonderful displays of altruism?” So yes, in practice I remain more on the “midwest” side of this debate. My wife makes tremendous marinades, and because chickens take the stuff so well, we eat lots of them. But I don’t yet suspect that their lack of mobility causes them to suffer, since perhaps they get reasonably used to such existence? Right or wrong, this thought does serve me well enough. But as for pain itself, I doubt that anything conscious gets used to that.

    EJ, my position is that our mental and behavioral sciences will require founding principals from which to function, just as physics did before the rise of Newton. I’d like for others to also acknowledge this deficit so that my own potential solution can objectively be considered against any competitors. I’m quite pleased to have gained your interest lately, and hope that this continues. Furthermore I would love to have private discussions with you as well:


  5. labnut

    What’s really interesting about this comment thread has been its back-stories

    Indeed, it is fascinating. I was hugely impressed by the work Dan-K does in his community. He is a mensch. Food is so much more than just food. It is ritual, it is entertainment, it is an expression of culture, it is bound up with religious expression, it is aesthetics, it is a form of bonding, it is hospitality, and so much more. Related to this is fasting and as I have mentioned before, my Lenten fast has, aside from the spiritual dimension, given me an intense appreciation of food.

    Regrettably it has also become a tool of moral vigilantism and moral posing, but also inevitably, given the central role of food in our culture. It is a fruitful[!] area for moral vigilantism because it affects people so directly.

    I really only touched on the arguments I wished to make, but, well… There is so much more that could be said and I reject the simplistic we good/you bad narrative.

    The subject offers an important window into our own nature but people would rather not look into that window for fear it would upset the modern narrative of good creatures corrupted by ancient institutions.

    Suffering is an important subject that should be analysed. I wanted to move on to the role of suffering, its formative role, its transient nature and its lasting nature but well… There is the subject of transitive wrongs that should be addressed. What are they, how liable should we be, etc.

    We impose huge suffering on our own kind whose cognitive capacities have made them vulnerable to the most intense suffering. Our first and most urgent goal must be to address the huge suffering of our own kind. Quite frankly I am deeply saddened(and sometimes even revolted) by the gross insensitivity of people who ascribe so much ethical significance to food choices but make only token gestures towards the suffering of our own kind.

    Then there is the subject of the selective application of ethics and the distorted nature of today’s ethical thinking.

    As I have outlined above, this could have been a deep, nuanced and valuable discussion. There is so much more that could be said. Perhaps I expect too much.

    Now I must make a serious attempt to get to grips with the Cora Diamond article recommended by Dan-K.


  6. synred

    Quite frankly I am deeply saddened(and sometimes even revolted) by the gross insensitivity of people who ascribe so much ethical significance to food choices but make only token gestures towards the suffering of our own kind.

    I don’t think this is true of most vegetarian/vegans. Certainly, not the ones I know. Most are squishy Oxfam supporting liberals.

    I find disgusting people, like me, that spend more on their old cats than they give to charity! Ugh!

    PS. I love your cat pix; it looks just like ‘Sally the dog chaser’ who we kept alive much too long, sub-q and all that.



  7. labnut

    Most are squishy Oxfam supporting liberals.

    That is exactly the wrong kind of charity.

    spend more on their old cats than they give to charity! Ugh!

    Nooo. It is terribly important that we nourish our capacity for empathy in this way. Chequebook charity is not empathetic. It feeds the corrupt, deludes the giver and maintains the illusion of compassion.

    I love your cat pix; it looks just like ‘Sally the dog chaser’ who we kept alive much too long

    Thanks. That was George and for a while he was top-dog[!] in the neighbourhood. Repeated infections from his fighting injuries eventually did for him.

    Our love for our pets and our grieving for them says something important. We are capable of love and compassion when
    1. the relationship is free from risk;
    2. It is unconditional;
    3. It is reliable.
    4. It is reciprocal.

    The great challenge we have is to
    1. to maintain love and compassion towards those close to us even when some of those four conditions fail.
    2. to extend love and compassion to others when those four conditions cannot hold.

    For that to happen we must become givers more than we are receivers, to give more love than we receive. This represents true growth in maturity.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Massimo Post author


    the charity offered by “Oxfam supporting liberals” despicable because…? Because you find liberal causes or points of view despicable? Yes, yes, those people are “just” writing checks. Which is more than the overwhelming majority of people do.

    And, frankly, the only person here I’ve seen engaging in moral vigilantism and posing is you, and it isn’t a pretty picture.

    Liked by 1 person

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