Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Julian Baggini at The Guardian reviews “Hands: What We Do With Them — and Why,” by Darian Leader, a book that asks “What if, rather than focusing on the new promises or discontents of contemporary civilisation, we see today’s changes as first and foremost changes in what human beings do with their hands?”

Lots of people think that philosophical thought experiments, like the infamous trolley dilemma, are irrelevant mental masturbation. Turns out, your actual life might depend on them…

Wendy Werris penned an article for Publishers Weekly where she described her very rough two weeks working for Barnes & Noble. Though it’s hard to imagine why on earth she was expecting something different.

The European soccer championship is entering its final phase, but this summary of famous philosophers’ take on sports events and what they teach us about life applies equally well to the Olympics, the SuperBowl, and the (so-called) World Series.

Heard about Brexit, right? Here is Sir Patrick Stewart’s take on it, in turn inspired by the famous Monty Python sketch, “What have the Romans ever done for us?

Finally, indulge me if I publish one of my own Plato Comics (TM), but let me clarify just in case that it obviously reflects my own idiosyncratic opinion, and that it is meant just for fun. So, no need to “reply” to it, it ain’t an argument…


249 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. synred

    I’m a ‘liberal’ in the 1950s sense of the word. There’s a reason that ‘libertarian’ and ‘liberal’ share the pre-fix ‘lib’ (historical mostly), but the common agreement is that the government ‘ought’ not interfere with indivuals rights accept where they conflict with the rights of others.

    E.g., liberals and libertarians agree that eminent domain is abused when it’s used to the benefit of private interest with political influence whether it’s the
    Donalds parking lot or the Keystone pipeline.

    The ACLU is considered a ‘liberal’ organization though I don’t think they advocate for more social programs as I would.

    Places like Sweden are not tyrannies. Providing health care for every one has not destroyed ‘liberal’ democracy in Europe and all the other ‘industrial’ democracies accept us.

    Liberty for people is not the same as liberty for corporations. Corporations are not people, my friend (until Texas executes one).

    Corporations should not be charged criminally either. When they commit crimes (like the Ford ‘rolling napalm’ Pinto) the people who did it should be charged and, if convicted, put in jail. Punishing the ‘corporation’ just punishes the stock holders who are at most marginally responsible — many not even knowing the own some Ford.

    A balance needs to be struck with regulations. You can’t let people sell contaminated food or dangerous toys or dump crap in our air and water, but on the other hand sometimes they go overboard (e.g., flame retardant standards for children’s excluded untreated cotton, while it did solve a real problem of some hyper flammable synthetics).

    Guns should not be a ‘right’ and weren’t till 2008. Bring back Al Capone and the Black Panthers (who’s ‘theater’ scared white people shitless and got gun controls passed in Calif.).

    Liberty is not the same as unfettered Capitalism and, indeed, I would claim you can’t have meaningful socialism w/o democracy. The people in the Soviet Union certainly did not control the ‘means of production.’

    Big corporations can be tyrannical as can government. We have to play them off against each other.

    The main reason for anti-trust laws is to keep corporations from becoming too big and capturing government (which in many ways they have). Even if big is more efficient (not so clear it always is), it needs to limited to avoid tyranny.

    It’s a tightrope walk. It’ll never be settled and falling is a possibility.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. synred

    “One of the ways that they do it is by introducing law enforcement into their lives at very young ages, so that they get used to their presence and don’t invoke their rights.”

    They don’t usually do that to white kids!

    Anyway it’s another place where liberals and libertarians agree by enlarge.

    Officer ‘friendly’ been around for a long time. I do think kids need not to be afraid of the police. It’s one of the problems with the rampant racism is that black kids have nowhere to turn if they need help. They are afraid of the police and all-to-often with good reason.


  3. dbholmes

    On social opprobrium v civil law…

    “So “God hates fags” belongs to “civil society” where-as laws protecting gay rights belong to the state.”

    Someone doesn’t remember when “Gods hates fags” was the law. I am personally quite happy that the laws were removed allowing for LGBTs to exist, serve in the military, and indeed serve openly in whatever job while the “God hates fags” crowd are left having to make their point on their own.

    BTW… LGBT rights are not “the law” they are boundaries set to protect LGBTs from “the law”. So when laws are made (or exist) that transgress that boundary they are prevented from being implemented (or removed).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Coel

    Just to add:

    I fully accept that social opprobrium can act as a force for the bad as well as the good. I just don’t think that society could function without it, in that I don’t think one could have a legal system that was entirely divorced from public opinion (at least, not without having a totalitarian police state).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. synred

    “You also have post-translational modifications which alter protein products even more. I’m not a big proteomics guy so I can’t say how many more “kinds of” proteins you can get from that”

    Well I don’t know how many proteins there are. I’ve seen estimates of 250K to 1M. I haven’t seen anyone claiming a solid count. I don’t know how they get these estimates. Maybe like counting ‘fish’ — pluck one out at ‘random’ and see how often you get the same one.

    It seems that both the ‘combinatorial’ and ‘translational’ modifications would lead to a lot of proteins that share many amino acid sequences. Is that the case? They could with folding and all have quite different functions and still be close relatives.

    And what controls ‘translational” modifications? Genes, epigenes, the chemistry ‘inherited’ from the mothers egg?


  6. Robin Herbert

    I don’t like racism or sexism either, but that is not social opprobrium because I am not a society.

    And totalitarian societies depend upon social opprobrium just as much as any other society, possibly more so. The state can’t be everywhere.

    In any case, I guess you were right garth, you read the room.

    As I said before I have never had the sort of social standing which would allow me to be the instrument of social opprobrium, nor am a I ever likely to.

    And I have often been the object of social opprobrium so I know how pathetic it seems from that viewpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Philosopher Eric

    Eric: Don’t get too excited. What you are describing is psychology, and it already exists. If you want to produce “theories” in it that anyone will care about, you’ll need to acquire the requisite credentials and expertise, do the relevant research, and publish in the relevant peer-reviewed organs. Barring that, you’re just going to be a guy talking on the internet, which no one who matters cares about.

    But the thing about this Daniel, is that I believe that you happen to be someone who matters, as well as Massimo, as well as Coel, as well as… well a great many very intelligent people who gather around these parts. Lately I’ve been having deep discussions with an insightful psychologist who’s paid attention to Massimo’s blogs for years. But I couldn’t agree with you more that the ivory tower remains quite an insulated club that rigorously defends itself from outside perspectives. In fact lately the tone on this very blog might almost be considered militant about preserving the status quo. Of course I don’t blame anyone for this, since that’s exactly how I’d react to outsiders butting into my own business with non sanctioned ideas. We’re all human!

    Also don’t forget that my primary goal here is not to say things which actually change academia itself, but rather it’s to educate myself about the existing paradigm. Not only should these discussions help me learn to better communicate with associated professionals, but help me further refine my own ideas. And if (for argument’s sake) my ideas do happen to be quite valid, isn’t it possible that certain credentialed professionals might come to understand this, and so decide that their own interests could be advanced through collaborations with me? Yes I think so (that is given the validity of my ideas). Regardless you must know that I’m always grateful to have discussions with you.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Coel

    Hi Eric,

    But I couldn’t agree with you more that the ivory tower remains quite an insulated club that rigorously defends itself from outside perspectives. In fact lately the tone on this very blog might almost be considered militant about preserving the status quo.

    I really don’t think that’s fair, either on Dan’s part or on anyone else’s. Certainly in science one only gets published or recognition by saying something new. The academy is open to new ideas, from whatever source, if they have merit.

    Let’s take one of your examples:

    Furthermore I suspect that academia is in even greater need of my first such principal, or that there are no “true” definitions, but rather only more and less “useful” ones …

    It is a mainstream stance in the philosophy of science that: there is an external world that has real patterns and regularities; that scientific concepts are human constructs that attempt to model that world; that such are indeed developed and adopted for their utility in modelling empirical reality, and thus that they are fallible best-attempts to do so (and that we do not have any direct conduit to absolute truth, such that scientific claims could be regarded as absolutely true).

    Such a stance has long been the dominant and accepted view of science (certainly as seen by scientists), so I fail to see why you think you’re saying something novel with important implications.

    To a large extent, if people don’t react to your comments in the way you wish, it is likely not that they are dogmatically defending the status quo (and no, nor is it that they are all worried and scared of your ideas), but more likely to be that they just don’t see anything new and interesting in what you’re saying.

    It would actually be quite hard to come up with something that has at least some merit, and that has not already been proposed multiple times and discussed extensively.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Philosopher Eric


    It’s not that I think my ideas are new, because I know quite well that they aren’t. I’m some version of a total utilitarian for God’s sake! Rather it’s that they haven’t yet become generally accepted — as no ideas in the realm of philosophy have. That’s what disturbs me. What use are practical questions, without accepted answers to them, or exactly what science began providing humanity a few centuries back? Of course I’m very pleased that Dan isn’t one to violate this circumstance, and essentially by defining philosophy as “art,” and so removing these questions from the scope of the answerable. But as I think you know, he also seems to try to defend his field from people who seek associated scientific answers.

    Then there is what I consider to be the situation of most philosophers, or that they do define philosophy to ask practical and answerable questions, but have learned to be satisfied with a wide range of differing views. I consider this to be quite problematic as well.

    Anyway you’ve got me wrong if you believe, that I believe, that my ideas are new. Instead I believe that we must have generally accepted understandings to practical associated questions, just as we have in modern science.

    (Also I don’t believe that my two non-normative principals of “epistemology” have yet become generally accepted, so if you like we could look at that further.)


  10. garthdaisy


    “You managed to place FGM into the category of pleasure, by connecting dots through care for children.”

    No. I don’t think anyone gets any pleasure out of FGM. Nice try. We agree that FGM is not an example of pleasure. So far our mutual definition of pleasure is still in tact. Pleasure is what one would most likely get in caring for a child and helping their tribe if they were not critically misled by erroneous information about the way the world actually is, as in the case of FGM. The behaviour is caused by bad facts, not a different moral intuition.

    “Massimo has also already pointed out eudaimonia would not fall under that title.”

    “Eudaimonia” and “eudaimonic pleasures” do not refer to the same thing. I have made it clear what I mean by “eudaimonic pleasures.” To repeat, I simply mean the kind of pleasure that comes from being kind and giving and loving and honest and fair etc. and receiving love in return for being that person. This in contrast with hedonic pleasures like sex, delicious food, power play victories etc. So unless you believe that the feeling you get from being kind and compassionate and honest and fair and being loved in return for being that person is not pleasure, then we still agree on what pleasure is.

    “Heck you claimed to like Haidt. His body of work is defining categories with specific (and separate) meaning to people.”

    No, I did not claim to “like” Haidt. I refer to his research because it is instructive. His “Moral Intuitions Theory” supports my claim that our most basic moral principles are universal across all cultures. But I actually disagree with Haidt on many of his interpretations and extrapolations from that very valuable, and highly cited research. Obviously I disagree with him whole heartedly on capitalism, for example.

    “Congratulations, you have just described consequentialism. The idea you are not prescribing it is a distinction without a difference.”

    Flat wrong. Consequentialism IS a prescription that is derived from the description I referred to. Ideas other than Consequentialism can be derived from that same description. Like my ideas for example.

    “You posed Capitalism as a force capable of getting people to act “terrible” while other cultural forces can make people act “awesome”. Thus some actions/results based on some sets of pleasure (hedonic) might stand in conflict to actions/results based on other “kinds” of pleasure (like eudaimonic).”

    I told you to present me an example of conflicting pleasures, and yes capitalism does indeed put pleasures into conflict. I also told you I’d tell you what to do about it, and I have. Change the capitalist system to one that incentivizes contributions to society as a whole rather than incentivizing the attainment of personal wealth. Instead of thinking you can change people’s moral sentiments (you can’t), change the way the world actually is, and you will change the actions people’s moral sentiments produce.

    “I win. Culture trumps genetics.”

    What did you win? We agree that culture (facts about the way the world is) dictates behaviour. Our difference is that you equate that behaviour itself with people’s moral sentiments. Behaviour is what comes from the collision of moral sentiments with facts about the way the world is. The behaviour itself is not a oral sentiment. Identical moral sentiments will produce different behaviour in the face of different situations and facts about the way the world is.

    “Oh well of course if you witnessed their souls then obviously… wait… what?”

    Yes, the secular meaning of soul. You could replace it with the world humanity if you like. I can see how it would be very helpful to you if I believed in actual souls, but I don’t, so…

    “Someone doesn’t remember when “Gods hates fags” was the law.”

    I sure do. Those were the hay days of social opprobrium. Laws were influenced by groupthink more than individual expression. I prefer the latter.

    “while the “God hates fags” crowd are left having to make their point on their own.”

    Yes, they continue to demonstrate the wonderful world of social opprobrium vs laws and rights.


  11. garthdaisy


    “By “social opprobrium” I would mean any form of expressed disapproval, whether in a small social group or a newspaper column or anything in between.”

    I am not against expression of disapproval of actions. Opprobrium seems to be more directed at the person rather than the action. It’s intent seems to involve shaming into compliance.

    “Consider whether it would be socially acceptable in your circle of friends and acquaintances to own up to or even to boast of: tax evasion; insurance fraud; driving while drunk; taking bribes”

    Notice that none of those things are socially acceptable and people still do them. They just hide that they do them, and pretend that those who get caught are less moral. Such is the anti-help nature of social opprobrium.

    “Where a law is not backed up by popular opinion, it is hard to enforce and sustain that law.”

    Agreed. I don’t equate popular opinion with social opprobrium. When I vocally support gay rights, I am not committing social opprobrium. Just giving my opinion.

    “According to polling, support for gay marriage has been steadily climbing for decades”

    Thanks to social opprobrium? No way. Thanks to the lack of it. People got educated and stopped committing social opprobrium on gays because it is ignorant of the facts to do so.

    ” I just don’t think that society could function without it, in that I don’t think one could have a legal system that was entirely divorced from public opinion (at least, not without having a totalitarian police state).”

    You are definitely equating social opprobrium with public opinion. I think opprobrium is much more than just public opinion polls.


  12. garthdaisy


    I’m still looking for valid examples of oughts that you might hold that are caused by opprobrium as opposed to caused by your own personal preference. On one hand you rightly claim that all ought claims are expressions of personal preference and desire, but on the other hand you are implying that some oughts at least are not a representation of personal preference but a representation of the pressures of public opinion on the agent. Name an ought you hold because others think you ought to.

    DB tried to answer this challenge with him wearing clothes in public (where permissible) even though he is a nudist. But the ought he is employing in that case in that case is not the ought to wear clothes but the ought to not make other’s uncomfortable, which is an ought he agrees with. And in the end it is really his own personal desire to not be in uncomfortable situations.

    An example would be someone who thinks they ought to hate or fear gay people but because others think they ought to not hate or fear gay people they don’t hate or fear gay people. You can see how quickly this falls apart. Like telling people they ought not fear snakes and thinking that will work.

    Another example would be thinking that you ought to cheat on your taxes but you don’t because other’s think you ought not. People who think they ought to cheat on their taxes do so, regardless of the ought claims of others, they just try to not get caught. Laws have a better chance of stopping them than Opprobrium. Changing the system to one where people are not incentivized to cheat would work even better.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. garthdaisy

    Here are the most popular definitions from various dictionaries of Opprobrium.

    “Very strong disapproval or criticism of a person or thing especially by a large number of people”

    “Something that brings disgrace”

    “public disgrace or ill fame that follows from conduct considered grossly wrong or vicious”

    “Harsh criticism or censure”

    “The public disgrace arising from someone’s shameful conduct”

    In general it sounds more aimed at shaming and harshly criticizing the agent rather than a public expression of opinion on a given action. Opprobrium seems more akin to the idea of “moralizing” than it does to public opinion. Thumbs down to that.


  14. Coel

    Hi garth,

    … you are implying that some oughts at least are not a representation of personal preference but a representation of the pressures of public opinion on the agent.

    Yes, in the sense that our personal “oughts” are heavily influenced by our culture. One example is whether the government ought to ban guns. A typical Brit has a very different opinion than a typical American, and that’s because they are each heavily influenced by everyone else in their countries.

    One could say the same about many other issues where different cultures are very different (FGM, honor killings, etc). It is not so much a matter of public opinion over-riding ones personal opinion, it is more about public opinion *forming* one’s individual opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Coel

    Hi Eric,

    It’s not that I think my ideas are new, because I know quite well that they aren’t.

    Well, if you don’t think that, then you’ve had a rather weird way of wording most of your comments over the last couple of years!


  16. Philosopher Eric

    I finally have some time to get in on the “social opprobrium” discussion. I don’t recall hearing this term used before now, but certainly get the gist. What I’m going to do is present some basic human dynamics (as I see them), and then step things up to interpret this humanly fabricated term.

    My position is that sentient/conscious life evolved such that it’s fundamentally selfish, or that its own utility is all that represents good/bad for it. Thus if you could count the units of positive minus negative utility that a given subject experiences over a given period of time, this will define its personal welfare over that period. But wait… What happens when it’s evolutionarily beneficial for such “selfish bastards,” to function together in societies? How might evolution have managed this?

    Perhaps evolution already had “empathy” at its disposal, which probably evolved so that the mother would be harmed and benefited by its perceptions of the state of its young. And while general empathy seems to have become quite strong in the human, “social opprobrium” doesn’t seem quite right for this lever. So let’s instead try what I consider to be the other half of our morality, which is to say, “theory of mind utility.”

    I wouldn’t expect snakes to have much concern about what other snakes think about them. Sure it’s possible that they feel better when they think others consider them “strong,” perhaps for mating reasons and such, but since they aren’t very social, I doubt it’s all that prominent.

    Moving now to the highly social human, we are concerned very much about how we are thought of. If I were caught raping a child, not only would I face legal repercussions, but my perception of the thoughts of others would shame me brutally! So my position is that our theory of mind utility evolved so that a fundamentally selfish creature, could naturally be governed well enough to become as social as the human has. Is “social opprobrium” used in this capacity? Well of course it is!


  17. garthdaisy


    “A typical Brit has a very different opinion than a typical American”

    But they shouldn’t is the point I am making. The above scenario is a problem that is the result of social pressure groupthink opprobrium etc. People should not be influenced by social pressures on subjects like gun control and FGM that’s why those things are problems. People should decide for themselves about such issues based on the facts about the way the world is. And they should not give much weight to the fact that others think the second amendment or FGM is good. Because those others may all be victims of indoctrination and groupthink.

    I noticed you did not give a personal example. I’m guessing you are not a typical American or Brit. Good for you. You probably think for yourself and can not give an example of an ought you hold because others think you ought to. You are probably not heavily influenced by your culture on such decisions but make them with your own individual mind, your own personal sentiments, and facts about the world.

    Or do you have a personal example of an ought you hold because of social pressure?


  18. garthdaisy


    “Is “social opprobrium” used in this capacity? Well of course it is!”

    The question is should it be? Check the definitions I gave above for opprobrium and let me know if you think it is a good method of regulating behaviour.


  19. Coel

    Hi garth,

    People should not be influenced by social pressures on subjects like gun control and FGM that’s why those things are problems. People should decide for themselves about such issues based on the facts about the way the world is.

    First, I’m presuming that your phrases “people should …” mean “I (garth) would like society better if …”?

    Anyhow, whatever the shoulds of the matter, I don’t think that’s at all realistic. People are social animals and are hugely influenced by each other, like it or not. I suspect that society would completely break down if we couldn’t arrive at social conventions by influencing each other.

    Further, does this not being influenced by social pressures extend to elected representatives? If so, how would democracy work? Surely you want a society where people can change things if they (collectively) want to? The reason why we in the UK have very strict gun laws is precisely because of social pressures. After the Dunblane massacre the people collectively decided that they wanted to outlaw the private ownership of guns. The politicians then fell into line (any politicians not supporting a ban kept their heads down for fear of the social opprobrium and loss of votes if they spoke up).

    Or do you have a personal example of an ought you hold because of social pressure?

    I expect that a vast number of the “oughts” that I personally espouse result from the environment that formed me. If I’d been born in Pakistan I’d likely support Sharia law and the imposition of Islam on the country; if I’d be born in the UK 1000 years ago I’d likely support the Divine Right of Kings; if I’d been born in the US there’s a fair chance I’d support laws allowing citizens to own military-grade assault rifles. Et cetera.


  20. Philosopher Eric


    Yes there are varying degrees of “newness.” As you’ve mentioned, it would be quite difficult to propose a fully new idea which also happens to be worthy. Einstein might have done such a thing, but that’s a different subject altogether. The human has surely been thinking about its nature for far too long for me or anyone to be both novel as well as worthy in any whole sense. Back when I began blogging a site called Conscious Entities in January 2014, I didn’t know if others were going to demonstrate that my ideas were essentially what some prominent person happened to be fighting for. But since that time no one has yet shown that such a person exists, and thus I seem to be in the clear. I do have quite a few ideas, and perceive each of them to mesh seamlessly together into one functional machine. Apparently when they are constructed as such, “something new” does exist, and even though many of its parts must have been theorized by others often enough. How else might any such modern sort of machine remain worthy?

    The first time I truly noticed you, was in September 2014 when Massimo put up a sacrificial piece from Mark English. Sacrificial you ask? Well its theme was that philosophers have no associated (oh just wait for this one!)… “expertise.” (It’s found here: Mark seemed to be quite busy at the time, but like a champ you were able to provide reason from which to calmly counter the massive associated outrage. (Since then I’ve become far more educated about, as well as appreciative of, philosophy. I do still enjoy your commentary however.)

    I believe that Daniel Kaufman was entirely correct when he said that I am simply a nobody who says things on the internet. Surely no one who is any one (present company accepted) cares about the ideas of people such as myself! And yes “pragmatism” provides a great description of the manner by which I think, so no I do not seek what’s “right,” or “just,” or “equitable,” but rather I try to keep my eye on “reality itself,” or the stuff by which I consider the world to function. Thus if people outside of the circle are barred from entry, I can only look to demonstrate the validity of my ideas to those who do happen to have such access. And despite how you’re unfortunately characterized here sometimes, you are indeed such a person.


  21. Robin Herbert

    No one appears to have touched my question – in case you missed it: “I guess the operative question for everyone is, do you need social opprobrium to control your own behaviour?”


  22. synred

    guess the operative question for everyone is, do you need social opprobrium to control your own behavior

    So for myself I’m not sure how much effect it has. Some I suppose.

    It’s clear it effects some people a lot. I would say how it effects lots of people is more ‘operative’ than how affects me. Anyway I don’t think people usually have enough insight into their own motives to know. There’s its inverse too – ‘social approval’ – ‘he’s a good guy.’


  23. synred

    H. G. Wells, uses an alternate world for social criticism. In it, a journalist is transported to Utopia, a parallel world that was once much like earth but is now a much advanced version of 1920s England, lacking many of its maladies, including government. (As the novel’s hero Mr. Barnstaple is told, in Utopia

    “Our education is our government.”

    Crease, Robert P.; Goldhaber, Alfred Scharff. The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty (pp. 234-235). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.


  24. Coel

    Hi Robin,

    No one appears to have touched my question – in case you missed it: “I guess the operative question for everyone is, do you need social opprobrium to control your own behaviour?”

    Yes, we all do. Children need parenting and socialisation among a peer group in order to learn to get along with each other.

    Liked by 2 people

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