Laura Nader is a towering figure as anthropologist, teacher, and public intellectual. Her letters give a glimpse of academic life mostly unseen by academics and by the general public. The collection includes letters from academic colleagues, but it also contains correspondence from lawyers, politicians, citizens, people on death row, Peace Corps workers, members of the military, scientists, and more.
This interview with John Cottingham explores some major themes in his recent work in moral philosophy and the philosophy of religion. It begins by discussing his views on the task of philosophy and focuses particularly on philosophy’s role in achieving an overall view of the world and for understanding and achieving the good life. It also discusses some ‘limits of philosophy’ with respect to understanding and achieving the good life; i.e., some ways in which philosophical reflection on the good (...) life needs to draw on insights found in other domains such as psychoanalysis and religious faith and spiritual practice. The role of philosophy and spiritual practice in coming to religious faith and supporting it is also discussed. (shrink)
Few contemporary philosophers have made as wide-ranging and insightful a contribution to philosophical debate as John Cottingham. This collection brings together friends, colleagues and former students of Cottingham, to discuss major themes of his work on moral philosophy. Presented in three parts the collection focuses on the debate on partiality, impartiality and character; the role of emotions and reason in the good life; the meaning of a worthwhile life and the place of theistic considerations in it. The original (...) contributions to this volume celebrate Cottingham’s work by embracing and furthering his arguments and, at times, in the best spirit of philosophical engagement, challenging and confronting them. The volume concludes with Cottingham’s specially commissioned responses to the contributions. (shrink)
The best way to understand the Meditations is through the lens of Descartes's theistic metaphysics rather than via his programme for physical science. This applies to his use of the concept of ‘nature’ in the Sixth Meditation, which serves Descartes's goal of theodicy. In working this out, Descartes reaches a conclusion about the functional role of sensory perception that is, paradoxically, not far from that offered by Darwinian naturalism. So far from being inherently geared to tracking the truth, the role (...) of sensation is linked to its survival value for the organism. In virtue of his theistic metaphysics however, Descartes is able to set this conclusion against the background of other cognitive faculties that are in principle accurate detectors of the truth; the absence of such a resource for modern Darwinian naturalists creates difficulties for the presumption that humans are cognitively equipped to search for the truth. (shrink)
The Sixth Meditation deals, as its title proclaims, with ‘the existence of material things, and the real distinction between the mind and body of man’. In this paper, I want to start by examining Descartes' argument for the existence of material things—for the existence of an ‘external’, physical world around us. Next, in section two, I shall use this argument concerning the external world to bring out an important general point about the ‘dialectical’ way in which Descartes presents his reasoning (...) in the Meditations. This will lead me on to the third section of the paper, which will analyse the concept of ‘nature’ and the role it plays in Descartes' reasoning, particularly in the Sixth Meditation. And this in turn will bring me to the fourth and final part of the paper, which will focus on what is by general consensus the most fascinating part of the Sixth Meditation —Descartes' account of the relation between mind and body. What I shall try to do in this final section is to highlight a curious tension between Descartes' recognition of the facts of human experience on the one hand, and on the other hand his doctrine that we are essentially incorporeal or non-physical substances. (shrink)
Many theists of a traditional bent have been bothered by the apparent tension between God's essential omnipotence and his essential moral goodness. Nelson Pike draws attention to the conflict between these two attributes in his article ‘Omnipotence and God's Ability to Sin’, and there have been many attempts to respond to it since that time. Most of these responses argue that the essential omnipotence and essential goodness of God are not logically incompatible, so that the traditional conception of God is (...) not incoherent; I think the arguments have been largely successful. However, some theists have found the typical responses to Pike less than convincing, and are tempted to surrender the claim that God has moral perfection essentially in favour of the more modest claim that God is morally perfect in the actual world though in some possible worlds God is morally defective. I argue in this paper that this fall-back position is incoherent. More accurately, I argue that a necessary being who is essentially omniscient and essentially omnipotent cannot be contingently morally perfect or contingently morally defective. Any such being is either essentially good or essentially evil. Since the latter alternative seems unattractive, I argue that theists should embrace the essential moral perfection of God. (shrink)
Philosophers of quantum mechanics have generally addressed exceedingly simple systems. Laura Ruetsche offers a much-needed study of the interpretation of more complicated systems, and an underexplored family of physical theories, such as quantum field theory and quantum statistical mechanics, showing why they repay philosophical attention. She guides those familiar with the philosophy of ordinary QM into the philosophy of 'QM infinity', by presenting accessible introductions to relevant technical notions and the foundational questions they frame--and then develops and defends answers (...) to some of those questions. Finally, Ruetsche highlights ties between the foundational investigation of QM infinity and philosophy more broadly construed, in particular by using the interpretive problems discussed to motivate new ways to think about the nature of physical possibility and the problem of scientific realism. (shrink)
Madness and Modernism is undoubtedly one of the most profound and perspicacious treatments of an illness that is utterly baffling to most laypersons and academics alike. Sass artfully brings together two obscure, complex, and unnerving realms -- the schizophrenic and the modern and postmodern aesthetic -- into mutual enlightenment. The comparisons between schizophrenic symptoms such as loss of ego boundaries, perspectival switching, and world catastrophe with modern literature and art is so adroit that it is almost eerie. The reader finds (...) herself peering into a borderline incomprehensible realm with increasing levels of clarity, by which she gains insight into the utterly chaotic, confused, and bizarre. The lucidity Sass brings to the obscure and confused is a reflection of the many contradictions he introduces to his readers as being entirely paradigmatic of both madness and modernism: that of desiring human contact but also shunning it entirely, of being both afflicted by disease but also exercising a sort of agency, and indeed, an ideal intellectual freedom within the confines of such an affliction, of moving both towards an objectifying materiality of the external world and a total subjectivization of perception, of the tendency towards the hyperabstract and the utterly concrete (between being too "far away" or "too close," respectively). Sass is able to make sense of a world in which these contradictions exist side by side simultaneously, and the disconcerting confusion this causes is palpable to the reader. Sass demonstrates not only his penetrating intellect, but also his unwavering patience and empathy, both in the treatment of the subject matter and the treatment of the subjects suffering from this extraordinary illness. The book is required reading for anyone interested in phenomenological psychiatry, or even psychiatry more generally. (shrink)
In this comprehensive new study of human free agency, Laura Waddell Ekstrom critically surveys contemporary philosophical literature and provides a novel account of the conditions for free action. Ekstrom argues that incompatibilism concerning free will and causal determinism is true and thus the right account of the nature of free action must be indeterminist in nature. She examines a variety of libertarian approaches, ultimately defending an account relying on indeterministic causation among events and appealing to agent causation only in (...) a reducible sense. Written in an engaging style and incorporating recent scholarship, this study is critical reading for scholars and students interested in the topics of motivation, causation, responsibility, and freedom. In broadly covering the important positions of others along with its exposition of the author’s own view, Free Will provides both a significant scholarly contribution and a valuable text for courses in metaphysics and action theory. (shrink)
To be able to believe that a dog with a broken paw is not really in pain when it whimpers is a quite extraordinary achievement even for a philosopher. Yet according to the standard interpretaion, this is just what Descartes did believe. He held, we are informed, the ‘monstrous’ thesis that ‘animals are without feeling or awareness of any kind’. The Standard view has been reiterated in a recent collection on animal rights, which casts Descartes as the villain of the (...) piece for his alleged view that animals merely behave ‘ as if they feel pain when they are, say, kicked or stabbed’. The basis for this widely accepted interpretation is Descartes' famous doctrine of ‘animal machine’ ; a doctrine that one critic condemns as ‘a grim fortaste of a mechanically minded age’ which ‘brutally violates the old kindly fellowship of living things’. (shrink)
I examine two recent books by analytic philosophers that address the underexplored topic of whether the meaning of life depends on the existence of a supernatural realm including God and a soul. John Cottingham’s On the Meaning of Life defends a supernaturalist conception of life’s meaning, whereas Kurt Baier’s Problems of Life and Death defends the opposite, naturalist perspective. I show that their respective arguments are worth serious consideration, indicate some potential weaknesses in them, and suggest some other argumentative (...) strategies that those interested in this fascinating topic might pursue elsewhere in more depth. (shrink)
This paper proposes a new relational account of concepts and shows how it is particularly well suited to characterizing normative concepts. The key advantage of our ‘connectedness’ model is that it explains how subjects can share the same normative concepts despite radical divergences in the descriptive or motivational commitments they associate with them. The connectedness model builds social and historical facts into the foundations of concept identity. This aspect of the model, we suggest, reshapes normative epistemology and provides new resources (...) for a vindication of realism in ethics. (shrink)
IRBs in action -- Everyone's an expert? Warrants for expertise -- Local precedents -- Documents and deliberations: an anticipatory perspective -- Setting IRBs in motion in Cold War America -- An ethics of place -- The many forms of consent -- Deflecting responsibility -- Conclusion: the making of ethical research.
A philosophically and historically sensitive account of the engagement of the major protagonists of Victorian British philosophy, Reforming Philosophy considers the controversies between William Whewell and John Stuart Mill on the topics of science, morality, politics, and economics. By situating their debate within the larger context of Victorian society and its concerns, Laura Snyder shows how two very different men—Whewell, an educator, Anglican priest, and critic of science; and Mill, a philosopher, political economist, and parliamentarian—reacted to the challenges of (...) their times, each seeking to reform science as a means of reforming society as a whole. The first book-length examination of the dispute between Mill and Whewell in its entirety, Reforming Philosophy provides a rich and nuanced understanding of the intellectual spirit of Victorian Britain and will be welcomed by philosophers and historians of science, scholars of Victorian studies, and students of the history of philosophy and political economy. (shrink)
The Victorian period in Britain was an “age of reform.” It is therefore not surprising that two of the era’s most eminent intellects described themselves as reformers. Both William Whewell and John Stuart Mill believed that by reforming philosophy—including the philosophy of science—they could effect social and political change. But their divergent visions of this societal transformation led to a sustained and spirited controversy that covered morality, politics, science, and economics. Situating their debate within the larger context of Victorian society (...) and its concerns, _Reforming Philosophy_ shows how two very different men captured the intellectual spirit of the day and engaged the attention of other scientists and philosophers, including the young Charles Darwin. Mill—philosopher, political economist, and Parliamentarian—remains a canonical author of Anglo-American philosophy, while Whewell—Anglican cleric, scientist, and educator—is now often overlooked, though in his day he was renowned as an authority on science. Placing their teachings in their proper intellectual, cultural, and argumentative spheres, Laura Snyder revises the standard views of these two important Victorian figures, showing that both men’s concerns remain relevant today. A philosophically and historically sensitive account of the engagement of the major protagonists of Victorian British philosophy, _Reforming Philosophy_ is the first book-length examination of the dispute between Mill and Whewell in its entirety. A rich and nuanced understanding of the intellectual spirit of Victorian Britain, it will be welcomed by philosophers and historians of science, scholars of Victorian studies, and students of the history of philosophy and political economy. (shrink)