Author Archives: Massimo

About Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

The proximate–ultimate distinction and evolutionary developmental biology

frog developmentWhat is the relationship between developmental and evolutionary biology? This apparently simple question (aren’t developmental systems the result of evolution?) has been controversial for more than half a century, which strongly hints at the possibility that the question isn’t just a scientific one (though it is that too), but also has inescapable philosophical dimensions.

My colleague Raphael Scholl and I published a paper on this very topic a couple of years ago in the journal Biology and Philosophy, and I think it is worth revisiting some of our arguments and conclusions.

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Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsOur regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

How to be an optimal human, at the least according to some conceptions of “optimality” and “human.”

Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright embarrass themselves while telling women to vote for Clinton because she is a woman, they shouldn’t be as shallow as going after the boys who allegedly flock to Sanders’ rallies…

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Conversations with Dan: social vs natural science

nature of scienceHere is another of my occasional conversations with my friend and colleague Dan Kaufman, this time on the nature of explanation in social vs natural science (i.e., psychology, sociology and economics on one side; biology, chemistry, physics and the like on the other).

We begin by discussing what constitutes an explanation in the natural sciences, and the role causality plays in it. We then look for (and, in my mind, do not find) categorical differences between social and natural sciences — which of course does not mean that there are no interesting differences at all.

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The philosophy of irony and sarcasm

characters in ancient Greek comedy

characters in ancient Greek comedy

In Ancient Greek comedy, Eiron was a clever underdog who somehow always managed to get the better of his rival, Alazon, by sheer use of wit. The Socratic dialogues by Plato essentially represent Socrates as the philosophical equivalent of Eiron. And, of course, it is from him that we derive the term “irony,” the Greek root of which means dissimulation, feigned ignorance.

Contrast that with sarcasm. That word also has a Greek root, naturally, which meant “to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer.”

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The problem with cognitive and moral psychology


Willard Quine

Willard Quine, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, famously thought that there was no discontinuity between philosophy and the natural sciences. Indeed, he went so far as to suggest that epistemology, for instance, will eventually become a branch of psychology.

I think he was seriously mistaken. While it is certainly true that there are continuities and reciprocal positive interactions between the sciences and philosophy, the two are fairly clearly distinct enterprises. Proof can easily be found in Quine’s own papers: I am a scientist as well as a philosopher, and every single one of his paper that I came across looks nothing at all like a science paper, but instead is very much written in an unmistakably philosophical style.

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