Category Archives: philosophy

what makes conversation go well (a network model)

I’m looking forward to presenting later today at NULab’s first annual conference, on the theme: “Keeping the Public Sphere Open.” I think of the “public sphere” as all the venues where people come together to share experiences, emotions, and reasons in … Continue reading

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on the relationship between ethics and politics

The basic ethical question is “What should I do?” Three prevalent ways of addressing that question are: 1) to universalize, asking what you’d want anyone to do who was similarly situated, 2) to maximize, asking how you can do the … Continue reading

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don’t confuse bias and judgment

“Even good and, at bottom, worthy people have, in our time, the most extraordinary fear about making judgments. The confusion about judgment can go hand in hand with fine and strong intelligence, just as good judgment can be found in … Continue reading

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evolution, game theory, and the morality of modern human beings

It’s valuable to model the development of phenomena like altruism and spite (harming someone else at a cost to oneself) by combining game theory with evolutionary theory. The results should be seen as predictions to be tested against empirical evidence about actual … Continue reading

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John Stuart Mill, Stoic

I sometimes envy my fellow academics in the humanities who regularly renew their acquaintance with fundamental works that have slipped pretty deep into the well of my own memory because my job is to conduct and administer empirical research about current politics. For just that reason, I … Continue reading

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questions about happiness

We discussed the following questions in my first-year philosophy seminar last week, after having read selections from Plato, Nietzsche, Epicurus, Buddha, and Emerson, and before turning to J.S. Mill. They seem valuable prompts for personal reflection, too. Do we have a … Continue reading

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introspect to reenchant the inner life

John Stewart Mill was the son of a great classical utilitarian. He was taught that happiness could be measured on a one-dimensional scale from pain to pleasure. Since he was only one of many millions of human beings, he should focus on helping others to … Continue reading

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the grammar of the four Noble Truths

We’re reading about Buddhist ethics in my Introduction to Philosophy course, and the Four Noble Truths are our focus. Here is how the first Truth is presented in the Sermon at Benares (attributed to the Buddha himself): “Now, this, O bhikkhus [monks], is the noble truth … Continue reading

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first year college students and moral relativism

Justin McBrayer, a philosophy professor, wrote not long ago in The New York Times, “philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshmen in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are … Continue reading

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my Introduction to Philosophy seminar

I will be teaching Intro to Philosophy at Tufts this semester, starting tomorrow. This course can be taught in several different ways: for instance, with a chronological sequence of major works, with a focus on one large issue, or with … Continue reading

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