Category “Philosophy”


Nassim Taleb (2017)

The. Best. Book. Makes me want to have kids.

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What Darwin Got Wrong

Jerry Fodor & Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (2010)

Brace yourself for a more extensive summary than usual.

Boisterous diatribe to the contrary, ‘science’ is far from free of taboos. Nietzsche remains right about that. Examples: questioning the potential merits of astrology, or links between ‘race’ (however ill-defined) and particular traits. First off, kudos to J&M for having the cajones to put this work out, under such a provocative title. It is hard, even for established intellectuals, to criticise the theory of Darwinian evolution and escape ostracism. And as it turned out, J&M did not escape their un/fair (?) share of ostracization.

J&M think that the Theory of Natural Selection (‘TNS’) is flawed. They come at it with a dual-barreled attack, and the two barrels can be quite cleanly divided. » Continue reading “What Darwin Got Wrong”

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A Perfect Moral Storm

Stephen Gardiner (2011)

StephenGardiner_APerfectMoralStorm An opening salvo towards an ‘Ethics of Climate Change’.

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Reason in a Dark Time

Dale Jamieson (2014)

DaleJamieson_ReasonInADarkTime _

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig (1974)

RobertMPirsig_ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenance This is the only book that I can remember reading more than once. (I read it twice). That’s not to say that I thought it was Earth-shattering on either occasion. An interesting attempt at getting out of the object-subject bind.

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On Reading Hegel

In the beginning, one is never quite sure whether one is being conned.

I have thrown Hegel across rooms more often than any other author.

No other author have I had to hide from myself as often.

Stream-of-consciousness philosophy.  Almost impenetrable in an analytical age.  Just when you think you have found something to grasp on to …

A painful, mind-bending slippery slope that folds in on itself.


But then, with time …

… the light.  Perhaps.


How many people truly understand Hegel?

Lecture Course in Hegel’s Science of Logic by Richard Dien Winfield:

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The Construction of Social Reality

John Searle (1995)

JohnSearle_TheConstructionOfSocialRealityGiven the subject matter, John Searle’s The Construction of Social Reality is an accessible book, and well worth reading.

I have some problems with a few of the arguments:

(1) Pre-supposing a realist ontology

Searle explains ‘representation’ as follows (p. 150/151; italics mine): “Human beings have a variety of interconnected ways of having access to and representing features of the world to themselves.  These include perception, thought, language, beliefs, and desires as well as pictures, maps diagrams, etc.  Just to have a general term I will call these collectively representations.”  He then dedicates two entire chapters to the defense of ‘external realism’ in the face of ‘anti-realist’ attacks.  He defines ‘external realism’ (p. 150) as the view that “the world (or alternatively reality or the universe [sic]) exists independently of our representations of it.”

So: (i) a notion of representation that relies on the existence of ‘the world’ is set up and implemented. (ii) notions of ‘realism’ and ‘anti-realism’ are set up and implemented that rely on the world existing independently and dependently of representation, respectively. (iii) the case is then made that much of our normal understanding and discourse already presupposes realism, and are unintelligible in it’s absence. (iv) the onus is then shifted onto the shoulders of anti-realists, who are now called on to replace ‘normal background understanding’ with an alternative that would make anti-realism intelligible.

My issue is this: if you’re going to hang the notions of realism and anti-realism on the independence or dependence of representation on ‘the world’, then obviously you’re already buying into a realist ontology – not because of reliance on ‘normal understanding’, but because the very criteria by which you propose to swing the argument already appeal to such a thing as ‘representation’, which in turn appeals to such a thing as ‘the world’.

(2) Ontological objectivity

“[t]he presence of snow or ice near the summit of Mt. Everest is in no way dependent on the existence of human or other sorts of representations.”

“in no way dependent”!?  Searle’s own example sits uncomfortably with me.  “Snow or ice”, you say?  So is this white stuff that I’m pointing to, right here on the summit of Mt. Everest, snow or ice?  What’s that you say?  “It depends on where we agree to put the referential boundary between snow and ice.”  If the disambiguation between snow and ice, between mountains and ridges, etc. requires social agreement – which it does – then something feels wrong to me about the claim above.

Meanwhile, we’re supposed to accept that a $5 bill buried in the ice on top of Mt. Everest is no longer a $5 bill in the absence of representation.

Whether or not there is a mountain, whether or not it has snow or ice near its summit, and whether or not the piece of green paper buried in there is or is not a $5 bill are all questions whose answer – like the answer to any question – relies on social agreement.  Maybe I want to say that there is something there in the absence of representation, but that it is impossible to say what it is without representation.

What’s happened here, I think, is that Searle (consciously or unconsciously, I’m not sure which) buys into functionalism: to him, for a certain class of entity, function plays an important role in rendering its identity, in determining what it is, and in some contexts apparently even determines whether or not it is even existent.  An ontological distinction is made, with ontologically objective and subjective entities respectively characterised by the absence or presence of function. This is why a $5 bill ceases to be a $5 bill, in his system, if all representation suddenly ceases – it’s simply because for him, $5 bills rely on functional criteria to be called $5 bills, and if those functional criteria are suddenly no longer met (because we wipe out representations, or humans, or both), than voilà – the green piece of paper blowing in the stillness is no longer a $5 bill. Snow, on the other hand, is not called snow by virtue of its role in snowball fights.  There would still be snow if snowball fights never existed, qua Searle.

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Nature: Western attitudes since ancient time

Peter Coates (1998)

An astounding book. Peter Coates does a remarkable job of canvasing into words a complex, nuanced and multi-dimensional concept: ‘nature’. A meta-study, really. Erudite, humble and somehow unopinionated through to the very end.

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Philosophy of Science

(2000) Alex Rosenberg

An unusually lucid book. Very clearly written, with the unfortunate exception of Chapter 4: The structure and metaphysics of scientific theories.

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Peter Singer (1983)







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