Plato’s weekend suggestions


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

A brief history of television through the life of Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone.

The philosophy of behavioral genetics, a book review by my friend and former collaborator Jonathan Kaplan.

The rise of dataism: computers will soon know you much better than you do. Or will they?

I’ve read the new U of Chicago statement on trigger warnings and safe spaces, and I can’t find anything to object to…

Philip Kitcher as a model modern philosopher who escapes narrow interests.

Modern constitutionalism as an attempt to avoid repeating the mistakes of the late Roman Republic.

Will liberal democracy be threatened by the rise of artificial intelligence?

Dan Dennett doesn’t think much of contemporary analytic (or continental) philosophy.

The American national anthem is racist and colonialist. Perhaps it’s time to change it?

Why did Michael Crichton confuse Deinonychus and Velociraptor? On the philosophy of paleontology.

Western philosophy has seen two great periods: Ancient Greece and the European Enlightenment.

More philosophy of paleontology: are ammonites (scientifically) more important than dinosaurs? I go for foraminifera…

Watch psychologists rationalize increasing evidence of widespread failure in their field.

The myth of the moral brain and the limits of moral enhancement.

Unfortunately, Tom Wolfe seems to have gone down the deep end. Too bad.

A postmodern sounding essay on what may (or may not) come after postmodernism.

Speaking of the national anthem, why do Americans play it before every domestic sports event?

On the complex nature of friendship.

We need to bring back an appreciation of the cyclical into our lives.

Life either survived or evolved quickly after the Late Heavy Bombardment of the Archaean stage.

GMO labeling and the pathological lack of transparency of the food industry.

The multifaceted and controversial virtue of patience.

Another “we don’t have consciousness” article. It’s becoming a cottage industry. I’m quite conscious of it.

Mother Teresa was no saint, study finds (again).

A badly flawed libertarian argument against democracy (as bad as the latter truly is).

160 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. synred

    only an hour from Shreveport.

    Dallas does like to think of themselves as Western.

    And the Morning News endorsed Hillary. What is the world coming to?


  2. Massimo Post author


    Once again, calm down and take a deep breath, no reason to ratchet up the sniping…


    “To do away with nation states, OK. A nation state may be an “imagined community”, but what’s the alternative?”

    A world government. Yeah yeah, I know the ominous thoughts that such a phrase brings, especially to Americans. But the trend seems clear to me: we first had local tribes, then small cities, then regional powers, then nation states. Then…


    I admire Hume very much, but I’m also willing to bet he would be far more cosmopolitan than you. Concerning pride, I doubt what I’m saying displays “too much” rationality. You wouldn’t take pride in something that was not your doing in any other aspect of your life, so why do it for family and especially country, which are very clearly and undeniably accidents? Just feel lucky and appreciate your luck, but give due where it lies, in this case, not in you.

    And boy do we have a different view of the UN! Yes, they are bureaucratic, imperfect, and all that. But what, you think the US Government has actually done any better in, like, ever?

    Also, I agree with Robin on the “undeniability” issue. It is most definitely not nonsense, regardless of how much it may appear to you that way.

    Garth, Socratic,

    As I said, all wars are complicated. I don’t believe either the US or UK were good guys. But there certainly was aggression, on both parts.


    The backlash against the EU demonstrates how easy it is for demagogues to exploit people’s irrational fears. Trump, anyone? I’m sure there is nothing new there.

    As for the inevitability of collective identities, there are two separate issues here: first, is it really inevitable? Maybe, that’s an empirical question. Second, is it a good idea? Most definitely not.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Robin Herbert

    I think I am calm. What Dan was calling nonsense was my claim that, historically, the generic “man” has been sexist, and specifically in relation to the 18th century where phrases like “The Rights of Man” have seemed not to apply to women and that a couple of prominent women – Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympia de Gouges drew attention to this by talking specifically about the rights of women. Now I suppose that Tallyrand’s comment, to which Wollstonecraft’s “Vindication” was addresses, was sexist. I suppose that is just a matter of definition. The kind of entrenched discrimination against women that Tallyrand was suggesting is pretty much what I mean by “sexism”. I am not aware of other meanings.

    I suppose it is just a little irritating for someone to simply leave out the substantial part of my comment with ellipses and give a trivial reply. If anyone does not wish to address the substance of what I say then they always have the option not to reply at all.

    But I don’t think that objecting to this could be considered “sniping”.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. michaelfugate

    I know a PhD in psychology who has taught for over 20 years – cognitive, learning, psychology of women, etc. Both this individual and all psychology of women textbooks point out that so called gender neutral words referring to he or man for all humans are not gender neutral – no matter what some random PhD in philosophy might claim. If anyone needs evidence in the form of citations, I will be happy to provide.


  5. Coel

    Hi Massimo,

    … it makes no sense to be proud of accidents of history, be it one’s family (except one’s spouse, if one chose her) or nation …

    However, as per the article that Robin didn’t like, humans are not dispassionate reasoning machines. It might not be “rational” to be proud of one’s children, but there are obvious evolutionary reasons why human nature would be to have such feelings. Every child surely deserves a parent who will take pride in their achievements, even if that is coming 20th of a class of 30 on sports day, or whatever. So a rational reason for being proud of one’s children might be that everyone (including the parents) will have more enjoyable lives if parents do feel that way.

    There’s no way we can supplant human nature with pure reason, because, while reason can inform our attitudes, they do have to be rooted in values (which, pace Hume, are a-rational). Similarly, humans nature is to have feelings about home and one’s local region and nation. Surely it is better to recognise that, and to work with human nature, rather than seeing it as a problem to be overcome?

    People do want a significant degree of local democratic autonomy. The problem with the EU is that it fails to recognise that, and sees the “founding principles” as ideals that ought to be imposed on people regardless of whether they like it. Thus the Eurocrats are running around scared of democracy, trying hard to not let the people’s of Europe have an actual say in the future direction of Europe. I think that a web of peacefully cooperating nation states is a better vision for the future than a non-democratic technocratic super-nation (along the lines of the UN or EU), that tells people what is good for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. brodix

    Garth, Eric,

    As I see it, to define is to limit and to limit is to define. Structure, form, information, etc are most clear when they are least ambiguous. So yes, existence is about being one thing and not other things. That said, I do think we could make less of a hash of things than we currently do.
    Various of the points why, I’ve raised here. Such as how we treat our medium of exchange as a commodity, rather than the contract it functions as and so think creating as much as possible will solve problems, rather than metastasize into larger ones.
    That our spiritual belief system is top down, when it would be more effective bottom up, that the essence of being would be the source from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell.
    That we evolved in a thermodynamic environment and it permeates every aspect of our reality, while the simplistic 4d Euclidian frame is only foundational to our learning and modeling of space and time.
    Though looking at the way the world is going, its more likely the survivors will be living in a temperate arctic zone, while the radiated middle latitudes cool off.
    Nature operates on longer timescales than we do.


  7. Robin Herbert

    One of the things that I appreciated about my own parents was their undisguised disappointment at just about everything I did and said. Seemed to be a very enjoyable childhood all the same.


  8. Massimo Post author


    “humans are not dispassionate reasoning machines. It might not be “rational” to be proud of one’s children, but there are obvious evolutionary reasons why human nature would be to have such feelings.”

    Sorry, but no. Setting aside that “pride” as we think of it today is likely far more a cultural construct than an evolutionary outcome, the whole point of moving civilization forward is to recognize that some instincts aren’t good and to work to overcome them.

    Beside, it was a nice rhetorical move for Dan to shift attention to family, but remember that our initial discussion was about nationalism. Sure, tribalism is likely an evolutionary instinct, but nation-states are an entirely artificial construct, and a very much historically recent one too.

    “There’s no way we can supplant human nature with pure reason”

    That’s an obvious strawman, as nobody suggested anything of the sort (not even the Stoics, pace the distorted figure of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock). But surely we can use reason to improve on the way we deal with things, yes?

    “Thus the Eurocrats are running around scared of democracy”

    That’s a very different and very complex problem. I very much disagree that that’s the problem. The major issue with the EU is that it was supposed to go for political integration immediately after achieving economic one (via the euro), but the project failed because several nations refused to ratify the new Constitution — the UK among them, which is one reason I’m very happy about Brexit.

    (Details here:, 18 countries ratified the Constitution, and in my opinion they should have kicked the rest out and be done with it. The outsiders would have eventually seen the light.)

    Liked by 2 people

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