Can evolution explain ethics?

ethicsThe latest conversation with my friend and colleague Dan Kaufman (he of The Electric Agora) was on what, exactly, science can tell us about morality, meaning not the trivially misguided notion that somehow ethics can be reduced to neuroscience, or evolutionary biology, or whatever, but rather the more nuanced question of whether and how science can inform philosophizing about ethics.

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Ancient vs modern philosophy

Ancient vs Modern

Did the ancients get it right? Indeed, better than the moderns? No, this conversation between Dan Kaufman and I is not about mystical insights or the secret scientific knowledge of the people who built the pyramids. Rather, it’s about what, if anything, ancient philosophers understood about the human condition that was then lost by the philosophy that developed during and after the Scientific Revolution.

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Philosophers who influenced us: David Hume & Arthur Danto

Recently Dan Kaufman and I have had another of our recurrent conversations, this time a second installment of an occasional series that we might call “philosophers who influenced us” (the previous one featured Bertrand Russell, on my part, and Gilbert Ryle for Dan).

This time I picked David Hume, the empiricist and skeptic who famously awoke Kant from his “dogmatic slumber,” and who — I think — is still not appreciated as much as he should be for his impact not just on subsequent philosophy (including epistemology, ethics and aesthetics), but on science as well. Dan’s pick was the philosopher of aesthetic and highly impactful critic of art Arthur Danto, who developed one of the most recent and compelling theories of art to date.

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The Nature of Philosophy video series

As readers may remember, this past Spring we went through a long series of posts (27, to be exact) that presented in serialized form my book, The Nature of Philosophy: How Philosophy Makes Progress and Why It Matters. (You can download the whole shebang in one setting, here.)

Over the past few months, Dan Kaufman and yours truly have taped a series of video conversations that present the main ideas of the book to a broader public, and the series is now completed and available for viewing or downloading at my YouTube channel (as well as on the Sofia channel at

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Conversations with Dan: the ethics of eating

Food ethicsDan Kaufman and I have been at it again: we have taped a video conversation on the ethics (or lack thereof) of eating.

As usual, the two of us differ enough — and yet listen sufficiently carefully to each other — that the ensuing conversation provides, I think, plenty of food for thought (so to speak) for anyone interested in the topic. Which, really, should be anyone who eats anything at all…

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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 value (or lack thereof) of a liberal arts education

liberal artsDan Kaufman (see his webzine, the Electric Agora) and I had another of our conversations over at, this time centering on Dan’s recently articulated skepticism about ongoing defenses of the concept of a liberal arts education in college. Here is his original article, provocatively entitled “On Some Common Rationales for Liberal Education (and why they aren’t very good).”

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