Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 131

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

The rhetorical structure behind just about any kind of writing.

The role of luck in determining pretty much everything.

Don’t blame phones for narcissism. A new book argues that 2,500 years of culture have caused an outbreak of self-obsession.

When authors are forced to become more or less shameless self-promoters.

Some good news: people who understand evolution are more likely to accept it, even if they are politically conservative or more religious.

She called his elevator joke offensive. He called her complaint ‘frivolous.’ Neither of them is helping.

The Greeks didn’t have modern ideas of race. Did they see themselves as white, black – or as something else altogether?


Please notice that the duration of the comments window is three days (including publication day), and that comments are moderated for relevance (to the post one is allegedly commenting on), redundancy (not good), and tone (constructive is what we aim for). This applies to both the suggested readings and the regular posts. Also, keep ‘em short, this is a comments section, not your own blog. Thanks!

52 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 131

  1. brodix

    Our decision making process isn’t random. We follow the positive course of action, not the negative. As such our decisions can seem determined, but it is more complicated than that. Which is why we should appreciate feedback, over linear projection. More is not always better.
    It is the idea that a positive course of action should be followed to its conclusion which leads to various forms of absolutism, from financializing every possible form of value, to religious fundamentalism.
    We evolved complex brains for the very reason that life is not that simple.
    Reality is not deterministic because there is no objective state. Everything is relational to everything else.


  2. SocraticGadfly

    WTC, right. That’s why i didn’t call Shakespeare totally false, either. I know he was primarily refuting astrology within the context of the play. That part’s right. But … the fault doesn’t totally lie in ourselves, either.


  3. wtc48

    Robin: “I have no objection to those who say that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism as long as they will accept the corollary that people can be held morally responsible for things that they couldn’t possibly have prevented. I haven’t found anyone yet who will say that explicitly.”

    I don’t think anyone can be “held” morally responsible for anything, except in theory (but whose theory?). You can be held legally responsible for a lot of things that were beyond your control. As for determinism, I don’t see how an absolute theory of that can be falsifiable, and as far as practical applications of the theory, it would need to be subject to the same tests of appropriateness as one would apply to any other moral theory, unless one chose to make some kind of experiment a la Raskolnikov (be sure and have a good lawyer).


  4. wtc48

    I’ve always liked the human potential movement, or rather the idea that humans are capable of actions and thoughts beyond their dismal expectations on waking up on Monday morning. Most people carry a weight of negativity: guilt, shame, fear, etc. (mostly a hangover from adolescence), that they would be better off without, as William James famously pointed out long ago. It doesn’t require vast doses of self-esteem; a moderate diet of self-acceptance can be very beneficial.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. brodix


    “As for determinism, I don’t see how an absolute theory of that can be falsifiable,”

    If I may try, I’d first refer back to Markk’s earlier comment. Wouldn’t absolute determinism mean every action is preordained from the dawn of the universe? An absolute determinism wouldn’t seem to leave any wiggle room.

    Consider for a moment, how events do occur. Lots of input arrives from all directions and interacts. Essentially computing the results of this input.

    Determinism would presume the computations are pre-ordained. For one thing, much of this input is information carried as light. Since nothing can travel faster than light, how can the result be preordained, if the input cannot be known at the point of occurrence, prior to its arrival?

    The assumption of determinism is that only one result will occur from this input, therefore it is only that result and there could have been no other. That probability is an illusion of simply not knowing all the factors. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any way to know all the factors, prior to their arrival. Unless we assume an all-knowing entity, outside of space and time, but then how would it relate to our subjective reality?

    This is why I keep pointing out that we project this narrative of a sequence of events, onto the actual process creating them. We structure time as the sequence, from past to future, but what physically occurs, is this constant intermingling of energy/mass, that we perceive as present events. Thus it is future potential coalescing into/computing events and then dissolving, as the effects, energy and momentum become cause to further events. Events are first in the present, then in the past. They do have to occur, in order to be determined. The computing is what happens in the present.

    So yes, only one course of events does emerge, but it is ordained by this activity, in which our conscious state participates, not pre-ordained by supposition.

    I think beyond the debate over free will versus determinism, is a much more interesting one, about the factors that do steer our decision making. As Socratic pointed out earlier, we do tend to settle into groves that become ruts and find it easier to follow them, than climb out into the unknown, even as we get uneasy about where they are heading.

    Which is a good reason to not only understand the natural feedback and circularity of nature, but to make this knowledge as public and organic as possible, because when untold numbers of people get pulled into these ruts and think they are actually supposed to go somewhere, from wealth to heaven, but really just build up that much more blowback, those of us who do understand the process get swept up in it as well and have no way to ring the bell.

    Nature may not be deterministic about the details, but the processes underlaying them are fairly primal.

    Rises and falls and rises again…..


  6. ejwinner


    ” people can be held morally responsible for things that they couldn’t possibly have prevented. I haven’t found anyone yet who will say that explicitly.”
    I do. One is morally responsible without ever knowing for what or why. Perhaps it’s just a matter of luck.
    “The court doesn’t want anything from you. It accepts you when you come and it lets you go when you leave.” – Kafka, The Trial


  7. Robin Herbert


    If one can’t be held morally responsible even by oneself and, by implication we cannot hold others morally responsible then that would make moral responsibility incompatible with everything.


  8. Paul Braterman

    Robin: “I have no objection to those who say that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism as long as they will accept the corollary that people can be held morally responsible for things that they couldn’t possibly have prevented”

    This certainly sounds ike a challenge to the determinist who wants to pass moral judgments, but only because it confounds two senses of “couldn’t possibly”; couldn’t because it was beyond my power, and couldn’t because I was who I was and no better. There is also a third, intermediate, category, along the lines of “not guilty because of insanity” or (in the UK) “guilty but insane”, merging into “acting under an uncontrollable impulse.” The boundaries between these are interesting but I think we all agree that the distinctions are meaningful.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. brodix


    “We are always judged (and one need not evoke any divinity for that.)”

    It would seem one of the primary functions of our cognitive process is to make distinctions and decisions, often presumptively and/or subconsciously. From religion to gossip, we are constantly trying to divide the world into good and bad. Even this discussion is trying to make distinctions and pass judgements on the process itself. Fortunately or unfortunately there don’t seem to be any absolutes, so the process never quite reaches any final conclusions. It just feeds back on itself, as this discussion exemplifies.


  10. Robin Herbert


    It doesn’t confound the meaning at all.

    If determinism.was the case then everything except the thing we do is literally beyond our power.

    If I am trying to decide whether to dismiss a dialog with OK or Cancel and determinism is the case then at least one of these actions is already impossible.

    The thing that I will do would have been inevitable from before I was born, before I was anybody.

    So you would have to say that someone could be held morally responsible for something that was literally and absolutely beyond their power to prevent.


  11. Robin Herbert


    And, to clarify, I am not saying those distinctions are not meaningful, just that I am consistently using the first one, preventing the action is literally and absolutely beyond the person’s power.

    If something that is about to happen was already inevitable in 1957 then it cannot be any characteristic of mine that made it inevitable.


  12. SocraticGadfly

    Per Marc, I think some of the complaints about millennials are of the “you kids, get off my lawn” type. That said, i think “devices” tend to intensify narcissism on average, and millennials use them the most, and most frequently, and the longest, on average.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Mark Shulgasser

    Once again Professor Sharoni finds herself subjected to a ‘public smear campaign.’ Last year she parted from her fully-tenured position at SUNY Plattsburgh after a similar institutional scandal over her promotion of BDS, which led to what she described as a ‘violent smear campaign.’

    Ironically, Sharoni has a doctorate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, while Professor Lebow (btw a stubborn Taurus) has just published “Avoiding war, making peace” (Palgrave Macmillan 2018).


  14. brodix

    “Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.”

    “If we accept that dangerous people might be motivated by genuine moral beliefs, we confront a troublingly subjective dimension to morality as such. At the very least, we must face the possibility that one can be sincerely wrong about it. And once you go that far, it’s a short leap to thinking maybe we’re the ones who are wrong, or that there’s nothing to be right about in the first place.

    Perhaps this sounds like cheap relativism. But there’s a psychological tendency here we should take seriously. What, empirically speaking, happens when we stop thinking of moral values as objective facts that are true everywhere at all times, seeing them instead as subjective opinions that differ across cultures and history? Well, in the lab at least, it seems we lose our bearings.”


  15. brodix


    The article does make the point that morality really is about group cohesion and any further assumptions are secondary.

    Why that is would make a more interesting philosophical discussion than free will versus determinism, or the trolley problem, but it seems too problematic to really get into.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. brodix

    I should have said interview. I was referring to the link Socratic posted, but it does provide an example of what the article I posted was examining.
    Given the degree to which various powerful conservative movements are becoming increasingly, simplistically absolutist in their actions and assertions, the mechanics of this dynamic might be worth exploring.


  17. brodix

    Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer would be a good reading on the subject of coalescing a core movement out of the broader society and how it creates a vortex that can then be used to steer the larger society.


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