Between Yes and No, Heaven and Earth with Albert Camus on a Spring Morning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/04/2019 - 9:00pm in

Edward Curtin To give up beauty and the sensual happiness that comes with it and devote one’s self exclusively to unhappiness requires a nobility I lack. However, after all, nothing is true that compels us to make it exclusive. Isolated beauty ends in grimaces, solitary justice in oppression. Anyone who seeks to serve the one to the exclusion of the other serves no one, not even himself, and in the end is doubly the servant of injustice. A day comes when, because we have been inflexible, nothing amazes us anymore, everything is known, and our life is spent in starting again. It is a time of exile, dry lives, dead souls. To come back to life, we need grace, a homeland, or to forget ourselves. On certain mornings, as we turn a corner, an exquisite dew falls on our heart and then vanishes. But the freshness lingers, and this, always, is what the heart needs. I had to come back once again.” Albert Camus, “Return to Tipasa” For a writer to fight injustice to the …

Online Philosophy Resources Weekly Update

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/04/2019 - 5:21pm in

Here’s the weekly report on new entries in online philosophical resources and new reviews of philosophy books.

Below is a list of recent updates, if there have been any, to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP), Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (NDPR), 1000-Word Philosophy, and Wireless Philosophy (Wi-Phi). There’s also a section listing recent reviews of philosophy books appearing in popular media.



  1. Al-Farabi’s Philosophy of Logic and Language, by Wilfrid Hodges (King’s College, London) and Thérèse-Anne Druart (Catholic University of America).
  2. Qing Philosophy, by On-cho Ng (Pennsylvania State).


  1. Non-monotonic Logic, by Christian Strasser (Ruhr University-Bochum) and G. Aldo Antonelli.
  2. Moral Luck, by Dana K. Nelkin (California-San Diego).
  3. David Hume, by William Edward Morris (Illinois Wesleyan) and Charlotte R. Brown (Illinois Wesleyan).
  4. Literary Forms of Medieval Philosophy, by Eileen Sweeney (Boston College).
  5. Moral Character, by Marcia Homiak (Occidental College).
  6. Spinoza’s Political Philosophy, by Justin Steinberg (City University of New York).



  1. James Dodd (The New School for Social Research) reviews Philosophers at the Front: Phenomenology and the First World War (Leuven), by Nicholas de Warren and Thomas Vongehr (eds.).
  2. John Grey (Michigan State) reviews Spinoza on Reason (Oxford), by Michael LeBuffe.
  3. Wayne Froman (George Mason) reviews Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics, by Michael Marder.
  4. Richard Capobianco (Stonehill College) reviews Heraclitus: The Inception of Occidental Thinking; and, Logic: Heraclitus’s Doctrine of the Logos (Bloomsbury), by Martin Heidegger.
  5. Paul Schofield (Bates College) reviews Kant and Parfit: The Groundwork of Morals (Routledge), by Husain Sarkar.
  6. Paolo Monti (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) reviews Practical Shape: A Theory of Practical Reasoning (Oxford), by Jonathan Dancy.
  7. Alejandra Mancilla (Oslo) reviews Justice (Oxford), by Mark LeBar (ed.).

1000-Word Philosophy

Wireless Philosophy

Recent Philosophy Book Reviews in Non-Academic Media

  1. Kwame Anthony Appiah reviews Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (Princeton), by Justin E. H. Smith at The New York Review of Books.
  2. Geoffrey Wildanger reviews The Modern Challenge to Tradition: Fragmente eines Buchs (Wallstein Verlag), by Hannah Arendt, (ed. Barbara Hahn, James MacFarland, Ingo Kieslich, and Ingeborg Nordmann) at The Boston Review.
  3. Gili Kliger reviews Lévi-Strauss: A Biography (Polity), by Emmanuelle Loyer, trans. Ninon Vinsonneau and Jonathan Magidoff at The Boston Review.

Compiled by Michael Glawson 

The post Online Philosophy Resources Weekly Update appeared first on Daily Nous.

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.

Idea Bomb

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/04/2019 - 9:05am in

< h6>Eddison Flame</h6> I want to set off an idea bomb. I’ve been trying to set one off for some time now, but so far I haven’t had any success. Don’t worry though, I haven’t given up yet, and I don’t intend to give up any time soon. Thinking about my idea bomb problem, I wondered if maybe just talking about what an idea bomb is, and how one might work, could itself be an idea bomb. Anyway, maybe just talking about it would inspire someone else to set one off, which would be just as good an outcome to me. So an idea bomb is an idea that precipitates sudden and major social change. It is an idea that explodes into the public consciousness and immediately gets people to start doing something new. An idea bomb, to my mind, is not just a mind expanding idea, but it also includes an activity. An idea bomb is like an algorithm, a set of instructions, that people can start doing to instantly improve, adapt to, or …

Philosophers Among New National Humanities Center Fellows

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/04/2019 - 9:46pm in



The National Humanities Center has announced the names of 37 scholars who will be its 2019-2020 residential fellows, and there are two philosophers among them.

They are

  • Mary Katrina Krizan (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse), who will be working on Aristotle’s Material Elements (Philip L. Quinn Fellowship)


  • Yolonda Y. Wilson (Howard University), who will be working on Black Death: Racial Justice, Priority-Setting, and Care at the End of Life (Mellon-HBCU Fellowship)

Mary Krizan and Yolanda Wilson

Located in North Carolina, the National Humanities Center is a private, nonprofit organization “dedicated exclusively to advanced study in all areas of the humanities.” You can read about the fellowship’s perks here, and see the complete list of new fellows here.

The post Philosophers Among New National Humanities Center Fellows appeared first on Daily Nous.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/04/2019 - 3:07pm in


Links, philosophy

Time for a new Mini-Heap.

  1. Brexit and the problem that “the majoritarian definition of the popular will, uncritically adopted by the Prime Minister and many others, is not generally coherent” — remarks from Christian List (LSE)
  2. “Argument and inquiry are the engines of Tim Blake Nelson’s ‘Socrates,’… a play that hums with intelligence” — the New York Times reviews the new off Broadway production
  3. “While we should want students to be free to speak their minds, we also want them to develop the skills necessary to navigate complex and diverse environments” — Jeffrey Sachs (Acadia) on student self-censorship (Washington Post)
  4. Contemplating “the possibility of a future in which human beings really do not need to do anything at all” — Jeff Noonan (Windsor) on being needed
  5. “What could be better than a good old-fashioned philosophy battle?” — Agnes Callard (Chicago) likes a good fight, even (especially?) if she loses
  6. “The process began with Emerson’s words as much as with the bombast of Public Enemy” — sneakers, hip-hop, poverty, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the 80’s
  7. The “Philosophy as a Way of Life” project has a new website — it includes course-building resources, grant opportunities, and a blog

Mini-Heap posts appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, the ever-growing collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers.

The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thanks!


The post Mini-Heap appeared first on Daily Nous.

Crash Course: Epistemology of Disagreement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/04/2019 - 12:32am in

Around four years ago, I had a short-lived “Crash Course” series of posts here at Daily Nous. 

The idea came from Natalie Cecire, a professor of English at Sussex. At the time, she was interested in creating “one-week self-education programs” in a variety of areas in her field, intended for “students who suddenly need to get up to speed in a field, and don’t have time to take a course or immerse themselves in it for a year… [but] can’t just coast on glib summaries anymore.”

We had three installments of the series: one on metaethics, one on environmental philosophy, and one on causation. They were moderately successful (I can’t quite remember what, at the time, put me off continuing it) and I think it is worth trying again—particularly in light of a recent email from a graduate student asking for just this sort of thing.

Zola Weinberg, “Points” (detail)

The “syllabi” for crash courses should be made mainly of primary-source readings. Of course, some online resources (such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy), and various commentaries and textbooks are useful, too, but let’s keep the suggestions here to substantive primary works on the subject—books and articles—keeping in mind that it’s supposed to be a crash course and not a semester’s worth of readings. It should be reasonable to expect someone to complete the set of readings in one to three weeks.

One challenge is figuring out how narrow the topics for the crash courses should be. I’ve picked a relatively narrow topic for this installment. Let’s see how it goes.

Today’s crash course topic is the epistemology of disagreement. Please share your suggestions in the comments. Thank you!

The post Crash Course: Epistemology of Disagreement appeared first on Daily Nous.

Jorati from Ohio State to UMass Amherst

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/04/2019 - 10:51pm in

Julia Jorati, currently associate professor of philosophy at The Ohio State University, will be moving to the Department of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Julia Jorati

Professor Jorati works in Early Modern philosophy, particularly Leibniz. Her book, Leibniz on Causation and Agency, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.

She takes up her position as tenured associate professor of philosophy at UMass in the Fall of 2019. You can learn more about her work here.

The post Jorati from Ohio State to UMass Amherst appeared first on Daily Nous.

Pickard and Phillips from Birmingham to Johns Hopkins

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/04/2019 - 1:22am in

Ian Phillips and Hanna Pickard, both professors of philosophy at the University of Birmingham, will be moving to Johns Hopkins University (JHU), where they will each hold the title of Distinguished Professor.

Ian Phillips and Hanna Pickard

Professor Phillips will have a joint appointment in JHU’s Department of Philosophy and its Psychological and Brain Sciences Department. He works in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, with emphases on perceptual consciousness and temporal experience. You can learn more about his work here.

Professor Pickard will have a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy and the Berman Institute of Bioethics. She works primarily in philosophy of psychology, with a focus on addiction, responsibility, and criminal justice. You can learn more about her work here.

They take up their new appointments at JHU in the Fall of 2019. A number of post-doctoral positions will be created in association with them.

(via Steven Gross)

Related: “Johns Hopkins Philosophy to Receive $75 million Gift

The post Pickard and Phillips from Birmingham to Johns Hopkins appeared first on Daily Nous.

Santorio from UCSD to Maryland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/04/2019 - 12:48am in

Paolo Santorio, currently associate professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, will be moving to the University of Maryland.

Paolo Santorio

Dr. Santorio will take up the position of associate professor of philosophy at Maryland in Fall of 2019. He works mainly in philosophy of language, particularly conditionals, modality, causal reasoning, expressivism, intentionality, variables, and future-oriented talk. You can learn more about his work and read some of his papers here.

(via Samuel Kerstein)

The post Santorio from UCSD to Maryland appeared first on Daily Nous.