In his exciting new book, Plato’s Anti-hedonism and the Protagoras, J. Clerk Shaw paints a masterful portrait of the Athenian majority, or “the many,” as portrayed by Plato not just in the Protagoras (as the title advertises), but throughout the Platonic corpus. Shaw offers an incisive diagnosis of popular “double-think,” which balances the incoherent complex of commitments to hedonism (the view the pleasure is the good), to the possibility of akrasia (weakness of will) and to the belief that injustice is (...) prudent, i.e. in one’s own self-interest to do. Shaw also puts the dialectical context of the Protagoras to good use in identifying the double-talk that Protagoras is forced into by his own conflicting claims and commitments. The central thesis I question is that the sophists have internalized the opinions of the many, thus absorbing conventional morality as their own as opposed to waking the tightrope of popular opinion. Certainly the sophists’ currency is the opinions of the many, reflecting their own views back to them, and this creates difficulties and tensions in their stances (not least because they are reflecting the incoherent double-think that Shaw so beautifully brings out). However, all this can be true independently of the possibility of the sophists’ actually internalizing the views of the many, i.e. without speculating about their psychology at all. I argue that this thesis of Shaw’s is not necessary for his core insights about the many, and (likewise) that we can resist two other interpretative moves he makes. Shaw’s readings of the Protagoras—of Socrates as committed to spirit (thumos), and of the argument that akrasia is ignorance and courage is wisdom as independent of the commitment to hedonis—reveal his sympathies for a so-called “unitarian” interpretation of Plato, which takes the corpus to provide a unified doctrine rather than reflecting the author’s intellectual development. Here too, I suggest, Shaw’s insights can be preserved without running afoul of this interpretive disagreement. (shrink)
Ostensibly, A Literary Review is a straightforward commentary by Søren Kierkegaard on the work of a contemporary novelist. On deeper levels, however, it becomes the existential philosopher's far-reaching critique of his society and age, and its apocalyptic final sections inspired the central ideas in Martin Heiddeger's influential work Being and Time. Embraced by many readers as prophetic, A Literary Review and its concepts remain relevant to our current debates on identity, addiction, and social conformity.
Erik Wielenberg’s new book Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism aims at defending a non-theistic of ‘robust normative realism’: the metaethical view that normative properties exist, and have four features: (1) objectivity, (2) non-naturalness, (3) irreducibility, and (4) causal inertness. In my review I criticize that Wielenberg does not address semantic issues which are crucial both to defending robust normative realism, and to assessing the empirical claims he makes. Moreover, and relatedly, I suggest that Wielenberg’s (...) main psychological and evolutionary claims may be less well-founded than suggested. Despite these worries, however, Robust Ethics is a highly valuable contribution to metaethics. Wielenberg’s writing is extremely accessible, engaging, witty, and clear, he develops various fascinating novel arguments, and skilfully links analytic reflections with the consideration of empirical data. (shrink)
For several years now, Siegfried J. Schmidt’s work has provided an important complement to the field, as it bases constructivism in a philosophical and socio-cultural context. With his new book, he develops this approach, striving to overcome simplistic models that fail to specify how human constructions come into being, to challenge traditional dualistic models, and to show how social systems emerge and function… The book provides an important, prolific and strong case for constructivism as a theory of communication.
This is a very valuable study of the relations, as regards affinity and mutual influence, of two major philosophers who are now more and more being assessed at what we may hold to be their immense true worth. Both were philosophers who brought a form of Platonic realism, quite out of fashion at the time, into their interpretation of logical and mathematical concepts and principles, and who moved away from the psychologistic approaches which see such concepts and principles merely as (...) a set of forms and rules which govern our actual human thinking and its linguistic expression, and whose normative or standard-fixing aspects have their roots in the mere way in which our minds work and the mere ways in which the actual world fits in with their workings. But both thinkers, at a higher level, moved on to a view in which something like a transcendental Kantian Reason served as the ultimate foundation both of the forms and guiding principles of referential thought and of the factual empirical world whose structure this thought tries to encompass and to articulate. Both philosophers further seek in the mediating concept of Sinn or sense, as closely connected with the uses of language as with the objective matters with which language deals, the link between thought and other subjective orientations, on the one hand, and the various objective matters with which thought and language are concerned. Both thinkers, however, display great obscurities at certain points in the working out of their thoughts, by which obscurities their relation to one another is also at certain points rendered obscure. (shrink)
This article is a critical review of David Boonin's book, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press, 2002), a significant contribution to the literature on this subject and arguably the most important monograph on abortion published in the past twenty years. Boonin's defense of abortion consists almost exclusively of sophisticated critiques of a wide variety of pro-life arguments, including ones that are rarely defended by pro-life advocates. This article offers a brief presentation of the book's contents with extended assessments (...) of those arguments of Boonin's that are his unique contributions to the abortion debate and with which the author disagrees: (1) Boonin's critique of the conception criterion and his defense of organized cortical brain activity as the acquired property that imparts to the fetus a right to life: (2) Boonin's defense of J. J. Thomson's violinist argument and his distinction between responsibility for existence and responsibility for neediness and its application to pregnancy. (shrink)
A Mathematical Review by John Corcoran, SUNY/Buffalo -/- Macbeth, Danielle Diagrammatic reasoning in Frege's Begriffsschrift. Synthese 186 (2012), no. 1, 289–314. ABSTRACT This review begins with two quotations from the paper: its abstract and the first paragraph of the conclusion. The point of the quotations is to make clear by the “give-them-enough-rope” strategy how murky, incompetent, and badly written the paper is. I know I am asking a lot, but I have to ask you to read the quoted (...) passages—aloud if possible. Don’t miss the silly attempt to recycle Kant’s quip “Concepts without intuitions are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind”. What the paper was aiming at includes the absurdity: “Proofs without definitions are empty; definitions without proofs are, if not blind, then dumb.” But the author even bollixed this. The editor didn’t even notice. The copy-editor missed it. And the author’s proof-reading did not catch it. In order not to torment you I will quote the sentence as it appears: “In a slogan: proofs without definitions are empty, merely the aimless manipulation of signs according to rules; and definitions without proofs are, if no blind, then dumb.”[sic] The rest of my review discusses the paper’s astounding misattribution to contemporary logicians of the information-theoretic approach. This approach was cruelly trashed by Quine in his 1970 Philosophy of Logic, and thereafter ignored by every text I know of. The paper under review attributes generally to modern philosophers and logicians views that were never espoused by any of the prominent logicians—such as Hilbert, Gödel, Tarski, Church, and Quine—apparently in an attempt to distance them from Frege: the focus of the article. On page 310 we find the following paragraph. “In our logics it is assumed that inference potential is given by truth-conditions. Hence, we think, deduction can be nothing more than a matter of making explicit information that is already contained in one’s premises. If the deduction is valid then the information contained in the conclusion must be contained already in the premises; if that information is not contained already in the premises […], then the argument cannot be valid.” Although the paper is meticulous in citing supporting literature for less questionable points, no references are given for this. In fact, the view that deduction is the making explicit of information that is only implicit in premises has not been espoused by any standard symbolic logic books. It has only recently been articulated by a small number of philosophical logicians from a younger generation, for example, in the prize-winning essay by J. Sagüillo, Methodological practice and complementary concepts of logical consequence: Tarski’s model-theoretic consequence and Corcoran’s information-theoretic consequence, History and Philosophy of Logic, 30 (2009), pp. 21–48. The paper omits definitions of key terms including ‘ampliative’, ‘explicatory’, ‘inference potential’, ‘truth-condition’, and ‘information’. The definition of prime number on page 292 is as follows: “To say that a number is prime is to say that it is not divisible without remainder by another number”. This would make one be the only prime number. The paper being reviewed had the benefit of two anonymous referees who contributed “very helpful comments on an earlier draft”. Could these anonymous referees have read the paper? -/- J. Corcoran, U of Buffalo, SUNY -/- PS By the way, if anyone has a paper that has been turned down by other journals, any journal that would publish something like this might be worth trying. (shrink)
In this book, Bogdan offers an empirically informed theory of the emergence and nature of predication with unmistakable pragmatic and developmental overtones. While the emphasis on psycho-pragmatic and developmental factors is most welcome, and while the discussion is informed and informative, Bogdan’s thesis suffers from some major weaknesses, in particular philosophical ones. Chief among these is an insufficient clarity with regard to the problem domain being addressed: Bogdan professes to offer a theory of predication as a general mental faculty but (...) in reality he focuses on a rather narrower phenomenon. This narrow delineation of the problem domain, and Bogdan’s insistence on the discontinuity between full-fledged human predication and animal thought patterns, leads to a theoretical impasse that renders the very coherence of his proposal dubitable. (shrink)
This review essay assesses the significance of J. B. Schneewind's "The Invention of Autonomy" for the history of moral thought in general and for religious ethics in particular. The essay offers an overview of Schneewind's complex argument before critically discussing his four central themes: the primacy of Immanuel Kant, the fundamentality of conflict, the insufficiency of virtue, and community with God. Whereas Schneewind argues that an impasse between modern natural law and perfectionist ethics revealed irresolvable tensions within Christian ethics (...) and thus encouraged the emergence of secular moral thought, this author suggests that these tensions were specific to a voluntarist strand of Christian moral thought from which even antivoluntarists of the modern period were unable to break free. (shrink)
These are bleak days for moral theory in mainstream professional philosophy. At the heart of the matter lies our inability, within contemporary liberal democracies, to come to a consensus on the deep issue of what we are as human beings and where our true good lies. Because of this, any moral theory built on a rich view of human nature and of the good for human beings is automatically viewed with suspicion. And, in fact, there are few such theories around. (...) Instead, the lack of agreement on the deep issue is typically taken as a sign that moral theory should proceed as if there were no philosophical anthropology that yields a true and detailed account of human nature and the good for human beings. The reasoning goes like this: Either there is no such account or, at the very least, no such account has the degree of certitude required for philosophical inquiry. (shrink)