In Interview with Randy Credico, Investigative Journalist Stefania Maurizi Talks Assange, Source Protection and the Rise of Fascism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/02/2020 - 12:48am in

In the fourth installment of “Live on the Fly – Julian Assange: Countdown to Freedom” in collaboration with CovertAction Magazine, political satirist and civil rights activist, Randy Credico, spoke with internationally acclaimed investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi, in an exclusive, in-depth interview about source protection, Julian Assange, fascism, and the fight against power. Maurizi currently works for La Repubblica after spending ten years with the Italian news outlet l’Espresso. She’s also worked with WikiLeaks extensively for over a decade after receiving an unexpected phone call during the summer of 2009, well before most people had even heard of WikiLeaks.


Source Protection and Cryptography

Prior to working with WikiLeaks, Maurizi was grappling with the same issue that plagues any responsible investigative journalist: Was she protecting her sources adequately? Source protection is as important now as it was ten, twenty or thirty years ago. When Maurizi’s source stopped talking to her out of fear of being exposed, a natural reaction in a world seemingly hellbent on destroying whistleblowers, she knew she needed to be able to ensure the safety of her journalistic sources.

Although WikiLeaks was still in its early stages, Maurizi was advised to look into them because they were publishing documents using cryptography as a tool for source protection. Maurizi holds a degree in mathematics, so for her, it was a natural segue into cryptography, something she believes is critical in her work. She started looking into who Julian Assange was and the work that he was doing.

WikiLeaks was officially launched in 2007 by Australian journalist, publisher and activist Julian Assange, with the purpose of providing a platform for whistleblowers, journalists and activists to safely leak material:

Historically, the most resilient forms of open government are those where publication and revelation are protected. Where that protection does not exist, it is our mission to provide it.” – WikiLeaks

According to the WikiLeaks website, sources are in safe hands, “We have a range of anonymization and encryption techniques, in order to provide protection against companies, minor states and finally, major state intelligence agencies” and “WikiLeaks combines the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies…” In 2013, Assange wrote:

Cryptography was then the exclusive property of states, for use in their various wars. By writing our own software and disseminating it far and wide we liberated cryptography, democratised it and spread it through the frontiers of the new internet.”

“Cryptography can protect not just the civil liberties and rights of individuals, but the sovereignty and independence of whole countries, solidarity between groups with common cause, and the project of global emancipation. It can be used to fight not just the tyranny of the state over the individual but the tyranny of the empire over smaller states.”

Cryptography, the enciphering and deciphering of messages in secret code or cipher, is a “vital tool in fighting state oppression” and it has allowed WikiLeaks to publish some of the most explosive secrets in recent history. Maurizi:

Thanks to WikiLeaks, it has been possible to reveal the true face of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq (Afghan War Logs, Iraq War Logs Files and Collateral Murder), the identities of Guantanamo detainees (Gitmo Files), the scandals and embarrassing diplomatic deals contained in 251,287 U.S. diplomacy cables, such as pressure from the U.S. to neutralize Italian prosecutors investigating the extraordinary rendition of the Milan cleric, Abu Omar (Cablegate).” 

In 2010, the Council on Foreign Affairs wrote, “WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents, and its collaboration with traditional news media like The New York Times for their publication have raised questions about the future of journalism.” Ten years later, WikiLeaks didn’t just raise questions about the future of journalism, it changed it entirely.


Revolutionary Journalism

In addition to the use of cryptography in journalism, leaks today have become commonplace, as have media partnerships, all of which can be attributed back to WikiLeaks. On December 3, 2010, the Nieman Lab examined how the internet has changed the “very nature of the debate” over publishing secrets. Nikko Usher, the article’s author, noted that WikiLeaks “shows the power of one person to change the conversation,” how their database provides far-reaching access to information where “anyone can make their own interpretations,” and the “power of collaboration” between corporate media and “non-legacy forms of news content, production, distribution.” Exactly nine years later to the day, WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson stood in front of the Australian National Press Club and spoke about how WikiLeaks had been “out in front in understanding the implication of the internet for journalism…realizing new ways a ‘networked fourth estate’ could provide information to the public.”

There is no question that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks revolutionized journalism and how secret information is disseminated. We now know the real number of civilian deaths in Iraq, abuse committed by private contractors, how the U.S. routinely violated the Geneva Conventions and abused almost 800 prisoners “as young as 14 and as old as 89 at Guantanamo Bay.” After WikiLeaks published files such as Vault 7, Maurizi said it was the “first time factual information about something which is completely shrouded in secrecy” became accessible. 

As early as 2008, the media reported that the U.S. military “decried WikiLeaks as ‘irresponsible’ for publishing classified information” and that they were a “threat to the fabric of our society.” A year earlier, WikiLeaks had published U.S. operating manuals for Guantanamo Bay and “lists of U.S. munitions in Iraq, including stores of banned chemical weapons.”

You have to realize that we are in a situation which—The New York Times, for example…they didn’t want to publish James Risen’s revelations about the NSA spying on U.S. citizens. This is the reason why Edward Snowden didn’t provide his documents to The New York Times because he knew that The New York Times didn’t want to publish. So this is our media landscape…[WikiLeaks] takes the heat and that’s why the U.S. government wants absolutely to crush this organization.”  – Stefania Maurizi

Although WikiLeaks’ unorthodox brand of journalism and source protection has allowed them to expose extraordinary secrets such as war crimes, gross human rights violations, spying, corruption, tax evasion, censorship and even corporate malfeasance if not deliberate criminal behavior, it has put their co-founder in grave danger. “They want to act in secrecy. Their power is shrouded in secrecy. So they absolutely want to crush WikiLeaks and they absolutely want to crush Julian Assange,” said Maurizi.


The Demonization of Julian Assange

Since 2006, WikiLeaks has published over ten million pristine documents and material including the infamous 2010 Collateral Murder video that exposed U.S. troops gunning down innocent civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists. Assange was already on the U.S. government’s radar at the time of publication, trailed around the world by secret agents and then accused of sexual misconduct and rape in Sweden in the fall of that same year—allegations that even the GCHQ called a “fit up.” He was jailed briefly in the U.K., bailed out, and arbitrarily detained under house arrest for the next year and a half without charge while fighting extradition to Sweden.

After losing his appeal, and under the well-founded belief that Sweden would turn him over to the United States, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, seeking political asylum from the small Latin American country. He remained in the embassy until his arrest in April 2019, and Maurizi recounted how detrimental the confinement in the embassy was on his health:

It was really sad to witness how his health has been collapsing since 2010. I have seen this progressing, I’ve seen his health collapsing for the last ten years and so I realize how this confinement was devastating for his health. I realize how he was under enormous stress…how he was under tremendous pressure.”

“People don’t really know him… he’s a very talented, smart guy, he has a lot of courage… you need to be really bold to publish documents about the Afghan War,” she told Credico. Maurizi also believes that Assange’s character has been “demonized” over the years, something the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has repeatedly reported on:

[T]here has been a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador.” According to the expert, this included an endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press and on social media, but also by senior political figures, and even by judicial magistrates involved in proceedings against Assange.”

“In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”

On February 5, 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Assange had been arbitrarily detained by both Sweden and the U.K. since 2010 and called for both countries to end his “deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation.” The U.K. appealed the decision, lost, and on December 21, 2016, the UN once again called on them to release him. And yet, as Credico pointed out, Melzer’s words have “fallen on deaf ears” and “They just ignore the UN decision, like it never happened,” says Maurizi.


Focused on Fighting Power

Maurizi’s fight for justice speaks through her exhaustive work. She spent ten years working for l’Espresso before moving to la Repubblica, where you can find a large collection of her work on Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and Chelsea Manning. Her search for adequate source protection eventually brought her into WikiLeaks’ sphere and in July 2009 she got a late night phone call from the publishing outlet regarding documents they had received about her home country of Italy. She’s also co-authored two books entitled, “Dossier WikiLeaks. Segreti Italiani” and “Una Bomba, Dieci Storie.”

So what drives her work? According to Maurizi, during Benito Mussolini’s reign of terror, her family resisted the fascist movement, including her grandfather, who refused to join Mussolini’s Fascist Party. The right-wing political party advocated Italian nationalism while organized armed squads called “Black Shirts,” terrorized their political opponents. In 1925, Mussolini declared himself dictator and under his power, the country allied with Nazi Germany during the Second World War. 

Although Mussolini’s army of fascist thugs never killed Maurizi’s grandfather, one night, after his daughter fell gravely ill, he called for a doctor to attend to her but he refused to come. Tragically, she died as a result. Maurizi:

This is fascism. They didn’t tolerate dissent. They hated people who were not with them. So I grew this obsession about dissidence. All my work as a journalist is really focused on dissidence and fighting power.”

What Maurizi would come to find out first hand is that the dismantling of democratic institutions didn’t die with Mussolini nor did the Stasi’s tactics with Nazi Germany.


Surveillance In the Ecuadorian Embassy

During a press conference held last year with Assange’s attorney Jennifer Robinson and WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, it was revealed that a private company hired to provide security within the Ecuadorian embassy, UC Global, had engaged in a large-scale surveillance operation of Assange — an operation later revealed to be conducted on behalf of the CIA while current U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was director of the agency. Maurizi explained that she and others expected some level of surveillance/cameras in the embassy but, in no uncertain terms, did she or anyone else anticipate the degree to which UC Global spied on herself, Assange and his visitors.

Maurizi told Credico that her cellphone had been unscrewed, they opened her USB sticks and other electronic devices and they kept pictures of work reports that had been written up about her. Listening devices were installed to spy on meetings between Assange and his attorneys and even his medical exams were secretly recorded. “They took my passport…they were aware I was a journalist, they were aware that others were lawyers, they were aware that others were doctors. So they knew what they were doing.” Maurizi went on to say:

This is really bad, we can’t tolerate this, Randy. We cannot tolerate that they do these kinds of things in our democracy. We expect this kind of situation, this kind of spying operation in authoritarian governments…you don’t expect this kind of problem if you go in an embassy in a democratic state.”

She doesn’t know if UC Global was able to bypass the encryption on her electronic devices or download material but she says that she wants to find out because as a journalist it’s crucial to her work:

For me, it’s crucial because I want to establish whether after 11 years of this kind of work to try to protect sources using cryptography, using advanced technology and techniques, I was actually able to protect my sources and my information… I want them to pay a price for what they did. This is completely unacceptable.”

“It’s frightening what they’ve done,” added Credico, who believes that Spain’s ongoing investigation into the spying operation which is being led by Judge Jose de la Mata could be used as groundwork to stop Assange’s extradition. According to recent statements made by Assange’s Spanish attorney, Juan Branco, it indeed looks like that will be happening, “We’ll use all this evidence to show that defense rights have been broken, that he should be freed, because of this only argument, it’s sufficient.”


Maurizi’s Groundbreaking Work

By far, some of the most important work undertaken by Maurizi has been the filing of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests in an effort to establish the true facts of the Assange case. In 2015, she realized at no point had any journalist attempted to obtain any documents related to the case, admitting, “This is the state of journalism.” Assange’s troubles began with the Swedish allegations and when he realized that he would be extradited to Sweden who would then likely turn him over to the U.S., he sought political asylum from Ecuador.

Although he was under investigation, for years Swedish prosecutors refused to travel to London to take his statement nor did they charge him with a crime or close the case, leaving him to spend seven years in a tiny, cramped room within the embassy in legal limbo; no charges, no decision, no dismissal. “It was a legal case that then became a legal and diplomatic quagmire,” explained Maurizi.

It’s not uncommon for prosecutors to travel the globe to question individuals under investigation but in Assange’s case there was no interview and the investigation quickly came to a standstill. Maurizi knew that something was wrong so she started filing FOIA requests, alone at first and paying legal fees out of her own pocket until she was able to obtain documents from Sweden. Her hard work paid off. The material given to her revealed that the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service had very much been involved in the Swedish investigation. Not only did they advise Sweden to keep the investigation open despite their desire to close it, they told Swedish prosecutors to stand down from traveling to London, advising them that they should only question Assange after he was extradited.

As Maurizi points out, if this was just an investigation into alleged sex crimes, why did the U.K. have such a special interest in it? When she tried to approach the U.K. about it, they told her that they had destroyed all of their documents. Deeply concerning to Maurizi is the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service is in charge of deciding whether or not Assange is ultimately extradited.

That’s why I’m trying to get all of these documents, it’s absolutely crucial.”

A month ago, Maurizi filed a new FOIA case about Assange and the Crown Prosecution and is waiting on a decision. In the meantime, U.K. authorities recently rejected her appeal for documents pertaining to Kristinn Hrafnsson, activist and WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison, and others. She says she’ll continue to pursue the right of the press to access the documents in London.


The Rise of Fascism as a Free Press Slowly Dies

90 percent of mainstream media is controlled by a handful of corporations who have given free rein to former intelligence agents whether it’s in the television studio or in the newsroom. It’s true that a war is being waged upon a complacent public that has grown increasingly susceptible to information warfare. But as leaks steadily increase, the silencing of whistleblowers along with corporate media’s steady stream of propaganda hasn’t stopped the deluge.

The rise of far-right governments, authoritarianism, and fascism, however, has put those who report on, or publish whistleblower material, directly in the crosshairs of those in power who not only want to crush the Snowdens, Mannings, and Assanges of the world, they want to wholly destroy oppositional, independent media and dissent. After Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno was elected on a liberal platform, he moved significantly to the right and then illegally yanked Assange’s political asylum, throwing him to the dogs in Washington. Assange’s associate, Ola Bini, was also arrested shortly after Assange and is still languishing in an Ecuadorian prison, fighting for his freedom.

Bolivia and India are both ruled by far-right political parties intent on stifling dissent while U.S.-funded fascist battalions in Ukraine are literally training American white supremacists. Meanwhile, embracing Israel’s apartheid state and extraordinarily brutal dark side has become a virtual prerequisite to run for office.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who in the past has worked with both Edward Snowden and Stefania Maurizi, was recently brought up on trumped-up charges by Brazil’s far-right government, and last summer, an Australian journalist’s home was raided over “alleged leaking of classified information.” The search warrant allowed authorities to search the journalist’s computer and mobile phone.

We have the CIA collaborating with a security company to spy on and secretly record every moment of a publisher’s life within a diplomatic building on foreign soil, and now the U.K., which is appallingly still led by Boris Johnson, is holding him captive in a London high-security prison while the U.S. fights to extradite him. At the same time, the Trump administration, including Attorney General William Barr, is putting increased pressure on tech companies such as Apple over encryption, going so far as to say that “increased encryption of data on phone and computers and encrypted messaging apps are putting American security at risk.”

Although we should have learned our lesson after Mussolini and Nazi Germany, authoritarianism, fascism, and tactics used by the Stasi like systematic surveillance, searches, repression, terrorism, crackdowns on the press and Zersetzung are still prevalent. Lest we’ve forgotten the mistakes of the past, Credico reminded us about the brutal oppression Italians faced during the 1800s and 1900s, especially under Mussolini, one of the most horrific mass murderers in history.

Credico opened his show with “Canto Di Matteotti,” a song based on the life of the Italian, anti-fascist journalist Giacomo Matteotti, who was head of the Socialist Party under Mussolini’s reign. After the 1924 election, Matteotti openly declared it a fraud and slammed the fascists for their strong-arm tactics, brutality, voter suppression and “everything you would see in a third world country on election day.”  He was kidnapped and murdered a week later. He was only 39 years old.

That was a journalist that spoke out and gave up his life. Julian Assange is a journalist that has spoken out and his life is in danger at this point. His liberty definitely is in danger and has been for ten years.” 

Despite Stefania Maurizi’s close proximity to Assange and WikiLeaks, she has never been arrested, confined, or questioned by authorities but is it only a matter of time? 

The last time Maurizi saw Assange as a free man was in September 2010, and she says, “I want to live in a society where you can publish, you can reveal secret information about torture, secret information about crimes without ending in prison, without ending in prison for life, without being tortured like Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, or without escaping to Russia like Snowden. For me this is really important…this is what makes democracy different from regime.”

The show closed with “Va, Pensiero,” a chorus from Giuseppe Verdi’s revolutionary opera “Nabucco” that opened in 1841 and immediately became a theme for Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Risorgimento, an Italian political and social movement to unite Italy into one cultural and political entity. According to Credico, the opera itself was an allegory for what was going on in Italy and the song was meant to deliver the people of Italy, the civilians, away from oppression. Credico:

When I think of Julian Assange, that’s what he’s done. When you look at the work that he’s done, it’s about war. It’s about civilians, civilians being killed by this international war machine that starts right here in the U.S. That’s what he’s done, he’s spent his life trying to help children, civilians who are victims of war.” 

Feature photo | Stefania Maurizi, left, and Julian Assange are pictured. Graphic by Claudio Cabrera for MintPress News

Jimmysllama is an independent researcher and writer who provides balanced, critical analysis with a focus on the Boston bombings, Magnitsky Act, and WikiLeaks.  She is currently trying to stay warm in the Midwest.  You can read more of her work at and find her on Twitter at @jimmysllama.

The post In Interview with Randy Credico, Investigative Journalist Stefania Maurizi Talks Assange, Source Protection and the Rise of Fascism appeared first on MintPress News.

Noam Chomsky: People Even Worse Than Jeffrey Epstein Donated to M.I.T.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/02/2020 - 7:01am in

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) is under heavy public scrutiny for associating with and accepting large financial donations from notorious sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, described by ABC anchor Amy Robach as “the most prolific pedophile this country has ever known.” Yet Noam Chomsky, the institution’s most famous academic, claimed that Epstein was not even the most reprehensible character his former employer took money from. In an interview with the “dunc tank” podcast released this weekend, the professor noted,

In my office at M.I.T, when I was there I looked out the window of my office and I saw the David Koch Cancer Center. David Koch is surely a candidate for one of the most extraordinary criminals in human history. He was personally responsible for shifting the Republican Party from being a minimally sane organization on global warming to being the most dangerous organization in human history, which may destroy us all…, does anybody say anything about that?”

Chomsky claimed that after Koch died last year, the university produced a laudatory obituary presenting the petrochemical billionaire as a model M.I.T. graduate, even funding the university basketball team. He noted that in 2008 the Republican Party had taken some steps towards trying to deal with climate change, with John McCain running for president promising to take measures to deal with the impending catastrophe. The Koch brothers, whose businesses would be negatively affected by any legislation, “went into high gear,” launching a “juggernaut,” bribing and intimidating senators, developing astroturf organizations, and succeeded in turning the party into a climate change denialist organization, he said. The latest Pew Research Center poll found that only 26 percent of Republican voters believed in man-made global warming.


“The most dangerous organization in human history”

Chomsky was adamant that, in its insistence to increase the use of fossil fuel, the Republican Party constitutes an existential threat to organized human survival. He claimed that the international negotiations on climate change in Paris were scuppered “for one reason: the Republican Party.” According to Chomsky, the U.S. is:

The only major country in the world that is refusing to take any steps to deal with this urgent crisis. The Republican Party is dedicated, openly and publicly, to trying to maximize the threat…, to have the maximum possible use of fossil fuels, to cut back even on domestic regulations that would benefit the population of the United States.”

He also condemned President Trump for recently issuing an executive order to dismantle major environmental protection legislation put in place by President Nixon to monitor and control poisonous substances in the water supply. A new report published last week found that dozens of major American cities’ water supplies are contaminated with toxic, carcinogenic chemicals.


“The most astonishing document in the entire history of the human species”

“Think what this means for much of the world. There are just no words to capture it.” That was the former M.I.T. professor’s reaction to the Trump Department of Transportation’s 500-page environmental impact study. It concludes that by the end of the century, temperatures will rise by around four degrees centigrade. “Anyone who follows this knows that the scientific community and the World Bank describe such a temperature rise over pre-industrial limits as cataclysmic,” he said. Despite this, the document concludes that there should be no further restrictions placed on automotive emissions. Why? Chomsky describes their reasoning as, “We’re going off the cliff anyway, so why not have a good time while the fun lasts.” The nihilism of the administration shocked even him: “If you can find [another] document like that in history I’d be interested in seeing it.”

It is for this reason primarily that he believes that it is imperative that Trump and the Republicans not maintain office after 2020. “We’re living in a world of raving lunatics with enormous power,” he said, adding that he would take the first person off the street ahead of Trump.

Epstein and Koch’s are far from the only plutocrats to patronize good causes for good publicity. The Sackler family, owners of the company that makes OxyContin, the drug primarily responsible for America’s opioid crisis, have their name plastered onto the wall of many of the world’s finest museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum in London, and the Louvre in Paris. Meanwhile, huge petroleum corporations like BP and Shell sponsor environmental seminars the world over, something Chomsky is also critical of.

Described as “arguably the most important intellectual alive” by the New York Times in 1979, Chomsky revolutionized the field of linguistics with his theory of universal grammar. Although currently at the University of Arizona, he is most associated with M.I.T., where he taught from 1955 to 2017. However, it was his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War that shot him to national prominence. Chomsky is a longtime critic of the U.S. government and its foreign policy, penning over 100 books on the subject.

Feature photo | Noam Chomsky delivers a speech at the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany in May 2014. Uli Deck | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Noam Chomsky: People Even Worse Than Jeffrey Epstein Donated to M.I.T. appeared first on MintPress News.

Intuitions, Common Sense, and “Earning the Right” to Judgments about Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/01/2020 - 12:27am in

“Intuitions and common sense are not, I claim, a good basis on which to reach philosophical conclusions.”

Those are the words of Michael Della Rocca (Yale) in a recent interview at 3:16AM.

Ellsworth Kelly, “Green White”

Professor Della Rocca has done a lot of work on the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), “the principle according to which there are no brute facts that obtain or no things that exist without an explanation. That is, each thing or each fact has an explanation,” and much of the interview concerns what he takes to be its implications, particularly a kind of Parmenidean monism. He says:

This PSR-driven rejection of distinctions and of relations threatens some of what I call the struts of analytical philosophy: the method of intuition, realism, and discreteness. “The method of intuition” is my catch-all term for the method whereby analytical philosophers (especially) consult a magical faculty of intuition or invoke common sense, however that much abused term is understood. (It’s important to note that the appeal to common sense and the appeal to intuition are not the same). Realism is a view according to which the world is in general not dependent on our ways of thinking about it. This is roughly what Ted Sider calls “knee-jerk realism.” Discreteness is the view that reality consists of loose and separate items. And the PSR-driven monism or Parmenideanism with regard to meaning also brings down the distinction between philosophy and the study of its history. The principled rejection of this distinction is one of the most important upshots of my work in this Parmenidean, rationalist vein.

Interviewer Richard Marshall asks, “So can you summarise where we are—or should be—with regard to the use of intuition in philosophy? Are most of the leading contemporary philosophers making an error by using it?” Della Rocca replies:

Intuitions and common sense are not, I claim, a good basis on which to reach philosophical conclusions. What then should we do? My suggestion is to be alive to skepticism, to turn to the history of philosophy, especially philosophy before what I call the iron curtain of intuitions descended on philosophy, and to be guided by the PSR.

Earlier in the interview, Marshall notes some philosophers’ dimissiveness about metaphysical questions, and asks, “can you sketch for us how you defend the ‘why’ questions—why aren’t they irrelevant, nonsensical and their illumination is merely illusory as some people think?” Della Rocca says:

some philosophers don’t regard metaphysical questions as useful. It may seem surprising for some people to hear me saying this, but in a significant sense I completely agree with that statement. I regard many metaphysical questions—questions which often have robust metaphysical presuppositions—as on the wrong track, as less than illuminating, or even as distorting. But I think that before reaching that negative assessment, we must earn the right to make it. 

How is that right earned? One must

play the metaphysical game and… show in detail where metaphysical questions go astray and how the methods that are often deployed to answer them are, in effect, bankrupt… [M]uch of my work can be seen as tending to a rationalist metaphysical critique of not only metaphysics itself, but also of much of philosophy that is conducted according to methods prevalent in so-called analytical philosophy. So, although I am worried about metaphysics itself, I think that there’s a lot of metaphysical work to be done, insights to be gained, before this critique of metaphysics itself reaches its dénouement.

The whole interview, interesting throughout, is here.

Discussion welcome.

The post Intuitions, Common Sense, and “Earning the Right” to Judgments about Philosophy appeared first on Daily Nous.

Philosophy of Science Communication: an Introduction & an Interview (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/11/2019 - 11:29pm in

Philosophy of Science Communication is not just the Philosophy of “Science Communication,” but also the Communication of “Philosophy of Science”. Philosophy of science is not well-known outside of the philosophical discipline.

The following is a guest post by the co-leaders of the Philosophy of Science Communication network: Lynn Chiu (University of St. Andrews/University of Bordeaux), Rebecca Hardesty (University of California San Diego), and Sophie J. Veigl (University of Vienna). It has two parts: an introduction to Philosophy of Science Communication and its aims, and an interview with Henk de Regt (Institute for Science in Society at Radboud University), winner of the 2019 Lakatos Award.

Mary Iverson, “Tipsoo Lake After”

Philosophy of Science Communication: an Introduction & an Interview
by Lynn Chiu, Rebecca Hardesty, and Sophie Veigl

The Philosophy of Science Communication (PhilofScicomm) network is co-led by Lynn Chiu (University of St. Andrews/University of Bordeaux), Sophie J. Veigl (University of Vienna), and Rebecca Hardesty (University of California San Diego). We will soon welcome Melissa Jacquart (University of Cincinnati) to the team.

Our network has four central commitments:

  1. Philosophy of science communication is an emerging field that expands the HPS-STS (History and Philosophy of Science – Science and Technology Studies) loci of concern to address ontological, epistemic, normative, and sociological roles played by stakeholders and activities beyond that of scientists in specific scientific disciplines. Philosophy of science communication is concerned with issues that arise at two types of interfaces: the interfaces between scholarly disciplines and the interfaces between scientists/scholars of science and the general public. Philosophy of Science Communication is thus inherently interdisciplinary and socially embedded.
  2. Philosophy of Science Communication is not just the Philosophy of “Science Communication,” but also the Communication of “Philosophy of Science”. Philosophy of science is not well-known outside of the philosophical discipline. To productively promote awareness of philosophy of science and its usefulness for scientific understanding and practice, philosophers of science should be their own advocates and communicate to other disciplines and the public what we are.
  3. Public engagement and science communication are great career opportunities for philosophers of science. Philosophers of science, trained for reflective proficiency in their target sciences, are adequately positioned to develop their careers in the direction of science communication. This network scaffolds professional development by facilitating networking events with practitioners, by organizing workshops, and by promoting positive awareness of philosophers as communicators of science.
  4. Philosophy of (science in) practice is an excellent way forward for studying, and collaborations concerning, science communication/public engagement. We facilitate collaborations with practitioners of science communication, non-expert audiences as well as philosophers, science communication theorists, and practitioners.

These commitments have given rise to two related goals: first, as experts in philosophy of science—broadly construed to include history and philosophy of science and science and technology studies as well—we aim to bring attention to rich philosophical work on the public engagement and outreach of science, science education and pedagogy, and the interdisciplinary communication of increasingly hyper-specialized sciences. Second, as philosophers involved in a range of engagement and communication practices, we as a community are dedicated to providing support for philosophers to explore and grow “alternative” or “academic-adjacent” career opportunities in the areas of science outreach, communication, and pedagogy.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

One of the ways we are pursuing these goals is by conducting interviews with philosophers who are engaged in science communication research and activities, in the broadest sense of the term, or are interested in doing so. Our interviews are semi-structured and are based on core questions that we tailor to each person we interview. These questions focus on the interviewees’ thoughts on: a) the value of philosophy to science communication; b) successful communication between philosophers and scientists; c) the place of interdisciplinarity in their research; d) how gaps in understanding between scientists and non-expert audiences can be bridged; and e) what role science communication plays in their work. We developed these questions collaboratively and received feedback on our approach by multiple philosophers and academic-adjacent professionals. These interviews take between 45 minutes and one hour, which we record and transcribe after the fact.

For our first interview, Sophie J Veigl took the lead and sat down with Henk de Regt, a philosopher of science now based at Radboud University in Nijmegen where he is professor at the Institute for Science in Society. Henk specializes in the philosophy of scientific understanding, which is particularly relevant to the communication of science. What is it for a public audience to understand science?

For his book, Understanding Scientific Understanding, (Oxford University Press, 2017) Henk won the Lakatos Award of 2019. Philosophy of Science Communication was excited to meet with Henk in Vienna this October, when he was invited by Tarja Knuuttila (University of Vienna) under her European Research Council (ERC) funded project to give a talk on “Models, Intelligibility and Scientific Understanding.” Together with Sophie’s intern—Cosmas Damian Grosser—and Lynn Chiu, we met with Henk at the elegant Cafe Eiles, a traditional Viennese café built at the turn of the 20th Century and have received his approval to publish this condensed version of his interview. We appreciate the time he took speaking with us and look forward to his upcoming work!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Congratulations on the new position at Radboud University in NIjmegen! What brings you to a position that is related to science communication?

It´s something that I just started. The book is really about expert scientific understanding. So, after I published the book I thought “okay what do I want to do next?” and then I realized that I want to look into this direction of public understanding of scientific expertise, or communication between experts from different disciplines and especially the public. I already read some papers in Public Understanding of Science, about different models, specifically the deficit model. But I just started, and I moved, I got a new job. I was a professor in philosophy of science for 18 years at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, where I did all this work on scientific understanding. But this summer I moved to Radboud University in Nijmegen, where I am now at the Institute for Science in Society, which is part of the Faculty of Science.

Congratulations also on winning the Lakatos Award for your book Understanding Scientific Understanding! If we were to recommend this book to science communication researchers and practitioners, which parts do you think would interest them the most?

The first and the second chapters are introductory chapters, so I would recommend these. The first chapter gives an overview and an introduction. In the second chapter, I analyse the notion of skills and the conception of intelligibility. I think that would be best. The second half of the book contains historical case studies, and I develop my theory of scientific understanding in more detail. But in the second chapter I survey ideas that I think are most relevant for science communication.

You studied both physics and philosophy. How does your training influence the ways in which you think about science communication in general, or specific issues in particular?

I did a bachelor in technical physics and when I moved to philosophy many of my physics students thought “wow, this guy has gone mad.” In my master studies I was specializing in philosophy of physics which is mainly about abstract theories like relativity theory, quantum theory and so on. At the time when I was studying physics there was a huge public interest in these theories even though they were very abstract. They were covered in popular science books on physics. And I also read some of these books and I think this is one way of doing science communication that is very useful. I had this idea to study the ways in which the authors managed (or didn’t manage) to communicate these abstract scientific theories or ideas of concepts to the public. This often involves the use of metaphors and analogies. Some people are just very good in doing this.

Speaking about philosophy, it is of course important to appreciate that social scientists have already been working on the issue of science communication, so we need to ask for the unique contribution that philosophy can provide. I think philosophy can add perspectives, help reflect on what is important, and add a normative perspective. It is also an interesting fact that everyone in science communication agrees that the deficit model is a failure but there are still scientists who think that way. So, what exactly can philosophy contribute? My working hypothesis would be “let’s look at understanding as a skill”. Knowledge is not just facts that we have to transfer. And there is this basic idea in philosophy of science, it´s a simple idea that still many people don’t realize, namely that you can have experts with different opinions. That is something that you have to understand nowadays: experts disagree.

Tell us about one of your current projects that involve science communication!

I am currently collaborating with Tarja Knuuttila, Natalia Carrillo-Escalera and Linda Holland, my PhD student. The project involves a collaboration with neuroscientists. We collaborate with Benjamin Drukarch, a neuroscientist in Amsterdam. He was part of a group of philosophers and neuroscientists who implemented philosophy in neuroscience. So Linda joined their group and Benjamin was interested in the neuroscientific debate on the action potential, which involved the Hodgkin-Huxley model and alternative models. And it turned out that Tarja and Natalia are also working on this topic. We decided to collaborate, and to also include scientists. We need to convince them to come to a philosophy of science conference, and here the communication part is important.

The practice turn in philosophy of science emphasises that philosophers should refocus their investigative aims from the “products” of science to “processes”. And, if focused on products to view them as processes and in constant flux. Do you think this perspective should be included in science communication?

Of course, it is unrealistic to claim that the public has to know all the details of debates. But there should be some basic knowledge and ideas how science works. And science is not just a process, it is a process that involves skills. And not just that, public understanding of science is also a skill, a skill you need to acquire. The question is how to acquire these skills and how they can be taught. Which skills are required for public understanding? That is something I want to research. And science communication is not only communication to the public. Interdisciplinary communication is also a form of science communication. One of my tasks in my new institute is to establish connections and relations, maybe also collaborations, with scientists in other institutes. I’ve already got in touch with some of the physicists, some of them are interested in philosophy. That’s something I want to establish, working with the scientists themselves.

How would you communicate your area of expertise, understanding-based epistemology, to a public audience?

I think that this is probably not easy, but I believe that it will be helpful in the end. For example, Kevin McCain and Kostas Kampourakis just published a book Uncertainty (Oxford University Press). The general theme is that science can’t give certainty. They also have a chapter on understanding and they make it very clear that we should see science as producing understanding and not producing truth. If you say, “well, science can’t give you the truth”, then you have to come up with an alternative, right? And that might be understanding. Of course, we have to back this up with a theory of understanding. We also need to criticize the views of some philosophers who think that you can’t have understanding without truth.

Thank you Henk, for sharing with us your insights on science and philosophy communication, respectively. We are looking forward on collaborating through the Philosophy of Science Communication Network!

You can follow Philosophy of Science Communication on Twitter (@Philofscicomm) and Medium.

The post Philosophy of Science Communication: an Introduction & an Interview (guest post) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Common Sense and Philosophical Method

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/10/2019 - 12:42am in

What’s the relationship between common sense and philosophy?

This is one of a number of challenging methodological issues philosophers across a wide range of fields face.

Richard Estes, “D Train”

Guy Longworth, reader in philosophy at the University of Warwick, offers some thoughts on this question. In an interview by Richard Marshall at 3:16 about his work, some of which has been on the connection between ordinary language philosophy and experimental philosophy, Marshall asks him: “JL Austin defended common-sense and thought philosophers didn’t understand it. Are you sympathetic to his approach to philosophising and his view that philosophers refuse to cash the cheques written by common sense, as you vividly put it?”

Here’s Longworth’s reply:

I think that common-sense is important in philosophy, at least insofar as our aims as philosophers are more than merely exploratory—that is, insofar as we hope to get things right. For common-sense is just our general ability to assess claims and courses of action. Furthermore, I think that philosophers typically have a good, off-duty understanding of the demands of common-sense. Insofar as they depart from those demands, I think that their doing so is often due to pressure from the competing demands of clean, general theorising. One of Austin’s central insights, one shared by some other ordinary language philosophers, was that common-sense thinking is indefinitely sensitive to differences amongst cases. By contrast, as philosophers, we often aim to construct theories that are general, and so that efface differences amongst cases. That sort of difference between common-sense and our aims as philosophers can lead into conflicts, at which points it seems that we will have to give up either a piece of common-sense or a piece of philosophical theory. The question is, which?

Naturally enough, I think that there is no general answer to that question. It’s surely possible for philosophical theorising to reveal a piece of common-sense to be dubious. And it’s surely possible for a philosophical claim to be out of step with what is, given appropriately developed common-sense, obviously correct. Furthermore, it can be very far from obvious whether the deliverances of philosophy really do conflict with those of common-sense. However, since common-sense is our ordinary ability to assess claims or courses of action, there can be no question of our giving it up in toto.

The whole interview is here.

Discussion welcome.

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Learning, Without Illusions, From A Nazi Philosopher

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/10/2019 - 4:21am in

I do take seriously Heidegger’s claim that some of his key philosophical ideas provided the basis for his political commitments. I have tried to understand how he might have conceived of those connections and to trace some of his efforts to develop those lines of thought. I don’t think that this renders his philosophy irredeemable but neither do I think that one can afford to ignore just how dangerous his enmity to Modernity is.

That’s Mahon O’Brien, senior lecturer in philosophy at University of Sussex, in an interview with Richard Marshall at 3:16. Dr. O’Brien objects to those who use Heidegger’s Nazism as a reason to not take his ideas seriously, but just as objectionable are those Heideggerians who deny or downplay the Nazism, both in his personality and in his philosophy:

A further challenge for someone like me, who wants to try and face up to Heidegger’s Nazism and deal openly with the fact that he himself insisted that the motivation for his political commitments and activities lay in key elements of his philosophy, is that one has to contend as well with a number of Heideggerians who refuse to acknowledge that there is a genuine problem here.

Again, we can divide these types of Heideggerians up into different categories. There are the ‘flat Earthist’ types (they are not as common anymore, but they do exist); they insist that Heidegger was neither a Nazi nor an antisemite and are quick to try and suppress any discussion of this issue. Then there are Heideggerians who grudgingly acknowledge that the former attitude is unreasonable but that want to pretend that the links between the philosophy and the politics are negligible and that, besides, we’ve heard all of this before, the matter has been dealt with and it’s time to move on. This is a slightly more sophisticated strategy of denial—there is a kind of implicit appeal to authority designed to suggest to someone like me that one cannot be a serious and/or sufficiently sophisticated reader of Heidegger if one thinks that this is something that is even worth a fraction of the time and effort devoted to it.

O’Brien holds Heidegger responsible for his Nazism:

It is, after all, Heidegger who repeatedly tries to find ways to connect his views concerning the Jews, Jewishness and Judaism to his core philosophical ideas. It is Heidegger himself who insists to one of his former Jewish students, Karl Löwith, that Löwith was entirely right in his assessment of Heidegger’s reasons for committing himself to the Nazi party. That is to say, that Heidegger believed that his own vision of National Socialism for Germany was something which was consonant with some of the key elements of his philosophy. What I just cannot understand here is why some Heideggerians become so incensed when anyone tries to examine these issues as though Heidegger is some innocent victim in all of this. It is Heidegger himself who wrote, said and did all of the things that require an explanation at the very least. Where is their anger at Heidegger for agreeing to be the obscenely overzealous Nazi rector of Freiburg University? Why not hold him to account for writing private, incriminating letters against fellow academics – citing their relationship to Jews as something to count against them? Why is it anyone but Heidegger’s fault that he hero-worshipped Hitler in public speeches and addresses, that in private seminars he was willing to say that semitic nomads could not be part of the new German nation? Where is their outrage and disgust at the fact that in notebooks that he hoped to have published posthumously we find him trading in some fairly repugnant antisemitic stereotypes and trying to weave these into the theoretical tapestry of a philosophy that many people count as possibly the most important of the twentieth century?

Adolf Hitler, “House at a Lake with Mountains” (detail)

Any confusion over Heidegger’s worth as a thinker, or the connection of his ideas to anti-Semitism and Nazism, is owed to… Heidegger:

The culprit is Heidegger. Heidegger is responsible for all of this confusion. He’s not a saint, or some misunderstood martyr. He wilfully tried to find a way to link some of the most extraordinary philosophical insights of the twentieth century to the rhetoric of National Socialism for a period of time. 

But still:

Heidegger remains, for me, one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century. I think one of the great tragedies of twentieth century philosophy is that things became so politicized and ideology took such a hold in terms of the split between analytic and continental philosophy that some of the most talented thinkers of the last fifty to sixty years never bothered to take the time to engage with Heidegger properly. Indeed, I sometimes think of the history of twentieth century philosophy as a history of missed opportunities…

To simply refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary influence that Heidegger has exercised on some of the most important intellectuals of the last 90 years or so seems perversely and willfully ignorant to my mind…

I became enchanted with Heidegger and his Being and Time, and I still think very highly of it: there are only five or six books like this in the history of philosophy. I think that any philosopher that takes the time and makes the effort to read that work carefully simply has to acknowledge the staggering philosophical profundity and originality of that text.

The whole interview is here.


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Triumphantly Breaking Free from Academic Philosophy, But Still…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/10/2019 - 3:25am in

In 2015 I received the National Humanities Medal at a ceremony at the White House. President Obama himself put the medal around my neck, and the rumor was that he made the final choice. In the speech he gave before awarding all the medals, in addition to citing my work on Gödel and Spinoza and Plato, he spoke of me as the philosopher who sometimes chooses to write novels. Again, the suggestion that I wasn’t any less of a philosopher for writing novels is what made me the happiest.

That’s Rebecca Goldstein, in an interview with Clifford Sosis at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher? The interview is fascinating throughout. One of its themes is the intensity of the pull of academic philosophy for those within its gravity.

Kyouei Design, “Magnetic Field Record”

Goldstein was a philosophy professor at Barnard when her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, was published, to critical acclaim. She says:

I did something completely insane for someone who had her heart set on an academic career in philosophy, especially as a woman, meaning someone who really had to do everything right to have any chance of being taken seriously. I published a novel, called The Mind-Body Problem… Shelly [Goldstein’s husband then] was horrified, warning me that I’d ruin my nascent career in philosophy, and obviously he was right, but I didn’t have the ears to hear what he was saying…

The book received attention out in the world. It was a bestseller. And if being a novelist had been something I’d set my heart on then what happened would have been beyond wonderful. It’s hard to feel sorry for that younger me, having a successful novel on her hands. Poor kid, what a problem. But frankly, I didn’t know what to do with that success. Frankly, it embarrassed me.

Goldstein has gone on to have a successful career as a novelist and writer. Yet she was ambivalent about her early success; it left her unsure of the quality of her philosophical thinking, or what academic philosophers thought of the quality of her philosophical thinking, and this ambivalence seems to have stayed with her throughout her remarkable career.

When she won a MacArthur Fellowship, she says, “the award made me feel as if what I was doing, though it fell outside of academic philosophy, was nevertheless philosophically worthwhile.”

In reflecting upon receiving the National Humanities Medal, the ambivalence again comes through:

It’s blindingly obvious that had I remained where I’d always longed to be, safe and accepted within the circle of academic philosophers, there’s no chance that I would have found myself in such company.

“Where I’d always longed to be.” Why?

What is it about academic philosophy that makes it such that this internationally renowned author—who writes wonderfully rich and intellectually rewarding novels that probably have been read by more people than the works of any living academic philosopher—cites as one of her career highlights being “interviewed… as if I were still a member of the tribe [of academic philosophers], with not a trace of condescension” for a philosophy show?

Goldstein herself offers a possible explanation: the appeal of being recognized as smart. She puts them as two “theorems” and applies it to her own case:

There’s a Ranking Theorem that counts for a lot, not only in philosophy but throughout academia. It’s organized by how much brilliance is seen as necessary for success in a given discipline. Its longer name could be ‘Just-How-Smart-Do-You-Have-To-Be-To-Get-Through-The-Door Ranking Theorem’. Mathematics and physics are ranked higher than philosophers—I think this is agreed upon throughout academia—and, at least according to philosophers, all other disciplines rank below philosophy. Producing novels, even if philosophical, ranks way lower than philosophy proper. It’s also generally assumed within academia that a person will engage in the highest ranked activity for which her intelligence equips her. Call this the Smartness Theorem, though its longer name could be ‘Why-Would-You-Devote-Yourself-To-Anything-Else-Than-What-Would-Most-Show-Off-How-Smart-You-Are Theorem’. Together, the Ranking Theorem and the Smartness Theorem entail that a person who sinks to writing novels doesn’t have what it takes to do philosophy.

Of course that is just one explanation. Perhaps you have another? Note that in asking about the pull of academic philosophy I don’t necessarily intend to suggest there is anything problematic about it. Maybe there is, maybe it’s perfectly ordinary, maybe it’s, on balance, salutary. But it can be remarkably intense, as Goldstein shows us. You can read the whole interview with her here.

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“An Optimistic Bet”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 13/10/2019 - 12:51am in

The relationship between truth and social progress is then an optimistic bet. I hope that knowing the truth is part of what sets us free. But that’s an empirical hunch that could well turn out to be wrong.

That’s Elizabeth Barnes, professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, in a wide-ranging interview by Richard Marshall at 3:16. I draw particular attention to that line because I think it gets at an underexplored element of philosophizing: philosophers’ hopes or “optimistic bets” that certain things turn out to be true. The contents of these hopes aren’t assumed to be true, but they aren’t thought of as mere possibilities, either, as they have a kind of motivating power towards doing philosophy, and towards exploring some lines of inquiry and answers over others. The diversity and distribution of such hopes affect what people philosophize about, and what the overall picture of philosophy looks like at any time.

Claude Monet, “Impression, Sunrise”

Professor Barnes continues on the connection between truth and social progress, and what she takes to be her responsibilities as a philosopher:

It could be that people aren’t motivated by the truth in any way, or that a noble lie would’ve been more politically effective. It’s also, of course, an open question that the truth could turn out to be politically inconvenient for people like me. I hope it’s not, but it might be. And I think any open and honest philosophical inquiry needs to countenance that—otherwise it feels too much like the conclusions are baked in to the arguments, and that’s not what we’re here for. 

People sometimes suggest something stronger—that, e.g., philosophy in these areas should be about advancing the view that is most likely to do the work of justice. And I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that idea. For one thing, I think it should be possible for something to be politically effective but false, and while I’m interested in rhetorical spin when I’m canvassing for political candidates, I don’t think that’s the project I’m undertaking when I’m doing philosophy. 

Of course not everyone will share your hopes for what is true, and so the discussion turns to questions of engagement with opposing and possibly offensive views:

The issue of offensive views or arguments in these areas is, of course, equally tricky. I think we need to take seriously the pain and harm that can be caused to individuals by philosophical arguments. What is a purely hypothetical thought experiment for one person is a discussion of someone else’s personal suffering, and I think that discrepancy matters. Nor do I think all arguments are worth taking seriously—sometimes the moral awfulness of an argument’s conclusion can make me think that it’s not worth engaging, no matter how clever or interesting the premises might be. The question then is when to engage, and for me that is just a hard question with no clear answers. 

At least for my own decisions, one thing I think about a lot is whether the argument is taken seriously in wider public discourse. (I know people worry that engaging with offensive arguments will ‘legitimize’ them, but in a lot of cases the arguments already have widespread currency, and whether I pay attention to them won’t change that.) I’m the elite among disabled people—I have great health insurance and a full-time job with great job security. And I also, in an important sense, make my living and my reputation from talking about the experiences and the oppression of people less fortunate than I am. So if I then turn around and say, in response to an argument that has wide public currency, that it’s too offensive for me to engage with, that doesn’t strike me as fair. What am I here for if not to philosophically engage with arguments that are hurting people who are subject to the type of oppression I study (the study of which gets me a nice paycheck and invitations to fancy universities and etc)?… 

Another thing that matters to me a great deal, when thinking through these issues, is what happens to philosophical discourse if we repeatedly say that arguments or positions ought not to be entertained because they are offensive or politically unacceptable. I should caveat by saying that I think that a lot of complaining about free speech and no-platforming is overblown, especially because in many cases we adopt a ‘teach the controversy’ mindset in which arguments are given prominence not because they are particularly interesting or challenging, but simply because their conclusions are controversial. And then the same people are asked, over and over, to engage with these arguments in a way that can feel more like public theater than genuine philosophical engagement. And I can understand getting sick of that. That being said, I am genuinely concerned about issues of political censorship in philosophy. 

And I’m concerned not because I think we have to make sure we protect the rights of obnoxious people to say obnoxious things (although I do think that.) I’m concerned because academia, like most any other social setting, has embedded hierarchies and power structures. If I was confident that the progressive elite of academia would always be on the side of right, then I wouldn’t be too worried about a norm of discourse that says you can shout down views that you find offensive or that you are politically opposed to. But I’m not confident of that. In fact I’m very confident of the opposite. And so I think it’s imperative, if we want to protect the ability of the truly vulnerable to be heard and to question consensus, that we have a norm of allowing views that go against the political grain. This will, of course, involve having a norm that allows for shitty and offensive views. But I think that’s a price worth paying. 

You can read the whole interview, in which Professor Barnes discusses her work in the philosophy of disability and metaphysics, her views on various philosophical questions, and the ontological fundamentality of dogs, here.

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bava Gettin’ Air

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/09/2019 - 8:36pm in



Over the summer I was invited by Terry Greene to join him for an episode of his radio show/podcast highlighting open pedagogy Gettin’ Air. I had been well aware of Terry’s work with Alan Levine around building Ontario Extend for eCampus Ontario. Much of it was built on the principles of ds106, and their podcast (number 8 in the list) is worth a listen. It’s been a while, but I think we talked about Reclaim Hosting, Domains, ds106, and Terry was kind enough to humor me with a long diversion into the continued relevance of automated, robot-driven VHS stores. As part of our discussion we did a 15 minute walk-through of Reclaim Video (see above) that we want to pretend was one and done, but we had to re-record that bad boy 4x over the course of a month or so until we actually got a usable file. I really appreciate Terry thinking it was ultimately worth all the extra work. A direct link to the episode can be found here. My favorite part of the show was explaining to Terry how in awe I am at the sustained work ethic of his guest for the following episode, namely Stephen Downes. Having guests set the table for following episodes is a nice touch, and I think Terry’s soft touch in this podcast really makes it special.

Also, as an additional note, the podcasting network/radio station Gettin’ Air is run through,,  is in many ways a by-product of the ds106 days. Stephen Hurley, who was a frequent contributor on during its heyday, and went on to help build a radio station for educators:

We are a 24/7 Internet-based Radio Station dedicated to both broadening and deepening the conversations we have about education. We are a participant-driven community, offering anyone who has something to contribute to join us as a broadcaster, a podcaster, a blogger or a guest on someone else’s program.

It’s all connected! #4life

The State of Contemporary Metaphysics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/09/2019 - 4:16am in

“I think metaphysics is what it’s always been—and it’s hard to say what that is!”

That’s Ross Cameron, professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, answering a question from interviewer Richard Marshall about the state and content of metaphysics these days.

[Lisa Ericson, “Migration”]

He continues:

I think it’s in a pretty good state: we’ve emerged from the darkness of logical positivism, ordinary language philosophy, and conceptual analysis, and are once again unapologetically trying to say something about reality! I suppose one thing that might surprise someone coming from near pre-Lewis/Kripke times is the variety of phenomena that are taken to be legitimate subjects of metaphysical theorizing. (Although it wouldn’t be at all surprising to someone from farther back in the history of philosophy.) People still do the metaphysics of time, possibility, existence, etc., but also the metaphysics of race, gender, disability, social groups, sexuality, etc. One sociological change is that it’s become absolutely standard to see these topics in metaphysics textbooks, being taught to undergraduates, being presented at mainstream metaphysics conferences, etc. I think that’s a very good thing.

In the interview, Professor Cameron explains his views on a number of topics in contemporary metaphysics, including philosophy of time, grounding, mereology, and vagueness. His remarks are interesting and informative throughout. For example, in his answer to a question about grounding, he brings up the roles of the empirical and the useful in addressing metaphysical questions. He says:

Grounding is real. What it is is another issue. Whether there’s a single notion of grounding, as Jonathan Schaffer thinks, or whether there are a multitude of different grounding relations, as Jessica Wilson thinks, is a difficult issue—but that there is some phenomenon whereby some features of reality give rise to others is hard to deny. Universities do not belong alongside electrons in physicists’catalog of the elements of being!

I think infinite descent—reality having no fundamental layer—is possible. Maybe it’s even actual. I think that’s partly an empirical question. I do think there is something beneficial about metaphysical views on which everything is ultimately grounded in a fundamental layer: there is a kind of explanatory benefit, a unity of explanation, that we sacrifice if we accept a world of infinite descent. I think that gives us a reason to believe in a fundamental layer, but it’s defeasible. Empirical evidence and philosophical argument could yield reasons for infinite descent that outweigh this reason against.

The whole interview is here.

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