June 4th, 2012
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America the Philosophical?

In this essay adapted from the introduction to his book on the subject, Carlin Romano argues (despite popular opinion and evidence to the contrary) that “America in the early 21st century towers as the most philosophical culture in the history of the world.” I can’t say I buy his argument, but the perspective he takes on philosophy in contemporary American culture is certainly unique and thought-provoking. Do you think the United States is in the throes of a philosophical renaissance? For The Chronicle of Higher Education:

How can America the Philosophical make sense?

It does, I submit, if one emulates what philosophers ideally do—subject preconceptions to ongoing analysis, and use their imaginations. The traditional clichés get it wrong. Examples that run counter to the vision of America the Philosophical prop up the clichés because they imply a musty view of philosophy. They depend too much on activities christened ”philosophy” according to antiquated academic criteria, and pay too little mind to what honest intellectuals recognize as philosophy today.

For whether one prefers the view of Habermas, Germany’s foremost philosopher, that truth issues only from deliberation conducted under maximum conditions of openness and freedom, or the view of Rorty, America’s most important recent philosopher, that better conceptual vocabularies rather than firmer truths should be our aim, it’s plain that America’s philosophical landscape—pluralistic, quantitatively huge, all potential criticisms available—provides a more conducive arena, or agora, than any other. If we take the best contemporary thinkers at their word and think of philosophy as an ever-expanding practice of persuasion rather than a cut-and-dried discipline that hunts down eternal verities, then America the Philosophical—a far larger entity than the roughly 11,000 members of the American Philosophical Association—not only looks more likely but also clearly outstrips any rival as the paramount philosophical culture. In the early years of the 21st century, America is to philosophy what Italy is to art or Norway to skiing: a perfectly designed environment for the practice.

Read the full article here.

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April 25th, 2012
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Physics and Philosophy in a World Without Meaning

In this engrossing interview for The Atlantic, Ross Anderson talks with theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss about his new book, A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, how people react to the prospect of a meaningless universe, and the growing discord between philosophy and physics, as the latter progressively encroaches on territory once exclusive to the former.

I recommend priming for the interview with Krauss’ op-ed for the L.A. Times that outlines some of the greater points of his book, as well as David Albert’s scathing review for the New York Times. From the interview:

[Anderson:] I think the problem for me, coming at this as a layperson, is that when you’re talking about the explanatory power of science, for every stage where you have a “something,”—-even if it’s just a wisp of something, or even just a set of laws—-there has to be a further question about the origins of that “something.” And so when I read the title of your book, I read it as “questions about origins are over.”

Krauss: Well, if that hook gets you into the book that’s great. But in all seriousness, I never make that claim. In fact, in the preface I tried to be really clear that you can keep asking “Why?” forever. At some level there might be ultimate questions that we can’t answer, but if we can answer the “How?” questions, we should, because those are the questions that matter. And it may just be an infinite set of questions, but what I point out at the end of the book is that the multiverse may resolve all of those questions. From Aristotle’s prime mover to the Catholic Church’s first cause, we’re always driven to the idea of something eternal. If the multiverse really exists, then you could have an infinite object—-infinite in time and space as opposed to our universe, which is finite. That may beg the question as to where the multiverse came from, but if it’s infinite, it’s infinite. You might not be able to answer that final question, and I try to be honest about that in the book. But if you can show how a set of physical mechanisms can bring about our universe, that itself is an amazing thing and it’s worth celebrating. I don’t ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why; as far as I’m concerned it’s turtles all the way down. The multiverse could explain it by being eternal, in the same way that God explains it by being eternal, but there’s a huge difference: the multiverse is well motivated and God is just an invention of lazy minds. 

Read the full interview here.

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April 13th, 2012
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What’s Become of the Philosophical Novel?
Author Jennie Erdal writes for the Financial Times on the importance of philosophy to fiction as well as the contemporary relationship between the novel and philosophical thought.

[The philosophical novel] is an established genre, and along with its close cousin, the novel of ideas, occupies a unique position in the literary canon. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy describes it as “that subspecies of fiction which endeavours to present a particular philosophical viewpoint, sometimes metaphysical, sometimes ethical, sometimes aesthetic”. In 19th-century Russia the novel was often a kind of thought experiment, showing a character trying to live an abstract idea, which over the course of the narrative proves to be no match for the rigours of real life.
Today things seem less clear cut. What is the modern equivalent of the philosophical novel? How, if we happened upon one, might we recognise it? Assuming it is not enough for there to be a passing reference to Wittgenstein or Kant, or for pages to be sprinkled with words like “epistemological” and “ontological”, what does it look like?

Read the full article here.

What’s Become of the Philosophical Novel?

Author Jennie Erdal writes for the Financial Times on the importance of philosophy to fiction as well as the contemporary relationship between the novel and philosophical thought.

[The philosophical novel] is an established genre, and along with its close cousin, the novel of ideas, occupies a unique position in the literary canon. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy describes it as “that subspecies of fiction which endeavours to present a particular philosophical viewpoint, sometimes metaphysical, sometimes ethical, sometimes aesthetic”. In 19th-century Russia the novel was often a kind of thought experiment, showing a character trying to live an abstract idea, which over the course of the narrative proves to be no match for the rigours of real life.

Today things seem less clear cut. What is the modern equivalent of the philosophical novel? How, if we happened upon one, might we recognise it? Assuming it is not enough for there to be a passing reference to Wittgenstein or Kant, or for pages to be sprinkled with words like “epistemological” and “ontological”, what does it look like?

Read the full article here.

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