Category Archives: Reason and Philosophy

Do True Scotsmen Have Free Will?

Here’s a clarifying passage from Daniel Dennett on the idea that the findings of neuroscience prove that “free will” is a fiction: Recall the myth of Cupid, who flutters about on his cherubic wings making people fall in love by shooting them with his little bow and arrow. This is such a lame cartoonists’ convention […]

Why Be A Religious Moderate?

Over at Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella has written a fine post in response to a query from a reader about religious zealotry. The reader’s argument was: Given that, as most religions claim — 1) There is an afterlife of infinite duration; 2) Those who live in strict accordance with the religion’s requirements and prohibitions will […]


An unconfirmable truth: the unexamined life is not worth living.

All The Nous That’s Fit To Print

The New York Times has introduced a philosophy-blog. It’s called The Stone. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Discussion, Discussed

Our cyber-friend Jeffery Hodges has just published, and posted at his website, a thoughtful article on the intellectual and cultural requirements for productive discourse. The subject is of particular interest to Jeffery, who is a college professor in Korea — where, in keeping with Confucian social tradition, to question one’s superiors is to get above […]

That Word Again

Of all the conceptual tar-pits into which discussions of Darwinian naturalism often sink, none smothers its victims so prolifically as the concept of “design”. We reserve it jealously for the foresightedly purposeful efforts of conscious agents, which leaves us fumfering about for a word to describe the beautiful machinery of living things, and the powerful […]

Ought From Naught

In a post over at VFR, Lawrence Auster comments on an essay by Stanley Fish in which Professor Fish remarks on the inability of pure “secular” reason, bereft of normative bedrock in the Divine, to provide any “oughts”. This is catnip to Mr. Auster, who is, despite having various admirable qualities, a crusading anti-Darwinist. The […]

Oakeshott On Conservatism, Cont’d

Recently Bill Vallicella excerpted, and I commented briefly upon, some passages from philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s essay On Being Conservative. Wishing to refresh my memory of a few points, I opened it up again today — and was impressed once more by what a fine piece of writing it is, and by how well it limns […]

Parallel Postulates

Lawrence Auster is a very smart fellow, and I admire his formidable presence on the ramparts of Western culture. But he has curious blind spots, for one so intelligent, and one of them has to do with Darwinism. Have a look at this exchange with a reader, one who patiently tries to explain, as I […]

No Comment

For years now I’ve been reading, and occasionally commenting, over at Bill Vallicella’s website, The Maverick Philosopher. Bill’s a grumpy old cuss, and an unrepentant dualist, but he’s the real deal, and an excellent writer to boot. A philosophical amateur and autodidact like myself can learn a lot there (which I certainly have). Bill’s blog […]

Les Choses Sont Contre Nous

We have all had the harrowing suspicion, rising at times almost to a dreadful certainty, that the inanimate objects of the world are arrayed against us with bloodless and implacable malice. We pop the window open on a fine spring morning and it falls back down, shattering the glass. We grab the only pencil at […]

Tower Of Babel

In grappling with persistent questions regarding key aspects of human existence and the natural world — intentionality, free will, morality, and so on — it is very easy to become entangled in terminological difficulties. Here’s a particularly contentious example.

As You Like It

From E.A. Robinson, 1931: “If a man is a materialist, or a mechanist, or whatever he likes to call himself, I can see for him no escape from belief in a futilty so prolonged and complicated and diabolical and preposterous as to be worse than absurd: and, as I do not know that such a […]

Nothing To See Here

We are still on vacation, but I did find some time for the blogosphere this evening. I spent it, though, reading and commenting on a fascinating thread about free will over at Bill Vallicella’s place. Here.

Renewed Interest In Self-Interest

According to today’s news, it appears Objectivism’s star is ascending lately, with sales of Ayn Rand’s books up sharply. Readers taking an interest in Randian thought should visit The Maverick Philosopher, where Dr. William Vallicella has for some time now been conducting a searching examination of Rand and her followers. Note also this post over […]

Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

There is a characteristically penetrating conversation underway over at The Maverick Philosopher on the subject of whether mere thoughts can be morally wrong (Bill Vallicella says yes.) I’m still mulling over the arguments made, and haven’t had time myself to read all of the latest contributions, so am reserving comment for now. Go and have […]

Axe Of Faith

Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, has written a series of posts lately about just what atheism is. In particular his aim has been to rebut the notion that atheists merely lack a positive belief in God, and that the burden of proof naturally falls upon the theist. I am not going to take up the […]


Number 47, in the Krailsheimer edition: Justice and truth are two points so fine that our instruments are too blunt to touch them exactly. If they do make contact, they blunt the point and press all round on the false rather than the true.

What Is Truth?

In commenting on a recent post, our reader and commenter Addofio, parsing the distinction between truth and opinion, says that “it all depends on what we mean by ‘true’”. Kevin Kim takes a good preliminary poke at the question over at his place. Or, as my friend Anthony Bouza once explained it, in closing a […]

Bah! Humbug!

In a challenging and thoughtful comment on our recent post about tolerance, our reader Addofio chides me for the disdainful tone I have taken in some of my criticism of religion. She recommends that we discuss ideas, however preposterously absurd, in emotionally neutral terms, as a gesture of respect for the people who hold them. […]


I recently began a careful re-reading of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, a book I had not looked at closely in decades. The work is primarily an argument for Pascal’s Jansenist Christian beliefs, but prepares the soil with a searching review of Man’s transience and wretchedness. The genius Pascal, in his cruelly foreshortened life, acquired wisdom far […]

Change We Can Believe In

Following on from yesterday’s post, I’d like to look more closely at the matter of potentiality. As mentioned previously, the argument put forward by Bill Vallicella in his discussion of abortion at The Maverick Philosopher is that from the moment of conception the zygote has the potential to become a fully developed adult, a rights-possessing […]

Working Moms

As mentioned in our previous post, there is a discussion ongoing at The Maverick Philosopher on the subject of abortion. The argument put forward (see yesterday’s post for a very brief synopsis) is that a fertilized zygote has the potentiality to become a fully developed, rights-possessing adult — and, in virtue of that, should be […]

Does Potential Confer The Right To Life?

Over at his website The Maverick Philosopher, Dr. William Vallicella has been puting together a philosophical defense of the pro-life position based on an argument from the potential personhood of the conceptus. His argument runs as follows: 1. We ascribe the right to life to neonates and young children on the basis of their potentialities. […]

Consolation Prize

Well, we’ve just got back to New York, and should be resuming normal operations shortly. In the preceding post I neglected to mention the award given to the second-place winner: it was a copy of an amusing little book called Plato And A Platypus Walk Into A Bar…, in which the authors, Thomas Cathcart and […]

A Potential Disagreement

Sorry for the dead air yesterday; I’ve gone and got myself involved in another wrangle over at Bill Vallicella’s, and spent too long over there to have time for a post here. The topic is the morality of abortion, which as everyone knows by now is a great sucking vortex of infinite confusion and intractable […]

The Magic Feather

In a comment to a recent post, reader David Brightly asked if I was worried that naturalistic accounts of morality “might lead to less good and more harm being done.” It’s a good question, and I am not sure about the answer.

Natural Goodness

There is an organization, which I expect most of you have heard of by now, called “the The Brights“. It is dedicated to the promotion of what it calls a “naturalistic worldview”, which it defines as being free of “supernatural and mystical elements”. The name, I think, is exceedingly unfortunate; it seems smug and pollyanna-ish, […]

Nothing To See Here

It’s late in the day, and it’s been a long, full day: up early this morning to drive our son back to college, then an evening memorial service here in Wellfleet for a truly remarkable woman — Ellen Rafel, our next-door neighbor here on Hiram Hill, who lost her fight with cancer this spring. So […]

The Meaning of Life, Continued

A couple of weeks ago I posted an essay in response to a post of Bill Vallicella’s on whether life might have an objective meaning. In his piece Bill argued that any attempt to offer a purely subjective interpretation must lead to an infinite regress, and therefore must be false. I responded, drawing on work […]

What To Do?

We’ve been giving morality, and the universality of moral intuitions, a good going over lately (particularly in this discussion, which now has over 100 comments). Readers with an interest in this topic might like to have a look at Harvard University’s Moral Sense Test. Feel free to share your thoughts here. Note: Don’t read the […]

The Meaning Of Life

Dr. William Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, is back in harness after a month-long layoff from blogging. I’m glad he’s back on the job: he is as interesting and provocative as always. I’d like to weigh in on this post in particular, in which he argues that meaning, in particular the meaning of life, must either […]

Tower of Babel

Debating philosophical or religious questions in the blogosphere can be awfully unproductive; it shows you why some of the same questions that vexed the ancients are still confounding us today. People with different fundamental assumptions live in inner worlds that are quite irreconcilable: words mean different things to different speakers, and often serve only to […]

Rhyme and Reason

In a recent post, The Maverick Philosopher imagined a possible world in which he might have blogged about Schopenhauer under the banner The Scowl of Minerva (a play on the owl as the symbol of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and philosophy). Things like this always set my own mental wheels in motion, and I […]

Unholy Alliance

I’ve been watching a spate of videos, over the past week or so, featuring various members of the group often referred to as the “New Atheists”: Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. The last two links I’ve posted here were debates between one or another of these fellows with some religiously-minded opponent, […]

Bill Of Goods

In his recent New York Times Magazine article on the evolutionary and biological underpinnings of morality, Steven Pinker acknowledges the nihilistic shadows nearby, and, like other popularizers of Darwinian naturalism, reassures us that we needn’t worry. I think he’s right — we needn’t — but not for the reasons he suggests.

Moral Truths

As promised, Steven Pinker has written what I think will be seen as a a fairly important article for the New York Times Magazine about human morality. Having banged on the topic of morality a great deal myself lately, I encourage all of you to read it. I found little to disagree with, though his […]

Peering Into The Abyss

Dr. William Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher upon whose posts we often comment in these pages, has put up a good one today on the topic of God and evil. He makes an important distinction, one that people often fail to keep in mind, between what is called the “argument from evil” and its close cousin, […]

I Vas Only Following Orders

We wrote recently on the “problem of evil”, and argued that it is hardly necessary that good and evil be absolute, objective features of the world for subjective beings like us to have difficulty reconciling the notion of an omnipotent, loving, and infinitely merciful God with the gruesome and arbitrary suffering we see all around […]

Grasping the Nettle

In Daniel Dennett’s most important book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, he makes with brilliant clarity the case that Darwin’s great insight — arguably, I think, the greatest ever had by anyone, so far at least — is, as Dennett calls it, a “universal acid”, eating at the foundations of many of Man’s smugly cherished notions about […]

Home Of The Hits

There’s much more that I want to say about the important questions raised in the previous post, but for tonight I just want to let you know about a website I’ve just run across. It’s called Philosophy Talk, and it’s associated with a radio show by the same name. The show is hosted each week […]

Ali Oops

Readers will probably be familiar with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Muslim apostate and political writer. You may have heard of her in connection with the film Submission, about the opression of women under Islam — for which she wrote the screenplay, and for which its director Theo van Gogh was murdered in an Amsterdam […]

What Science Isn’t

I apologize for the sloppy editing of yesterday’s post. I try to be careful, but it is in the nature of daily blogging that occasionally one’s vigilance will waver, and poorly proofread material will go into print. The post contained both a repeated passage and a mistaken double negative, both of which have been corrected. […]

The Teflon God

As you know, the debate between theists and a-theists is heating up a bit lately. (That we can even have such a debate is a healthy trend, considering that in earlier days such disputes were resolved by burning the nonbeliever at the stake.) There will, of course, be no resolution of it, as theists make […]

Euthyphro and Con

The discussion of Divine Command Theory linked to in yesterday’s post is fascinating for me in more ways than one. I find it of interest not only in itself, as a thoughtful examination of an ancient and vexatious philosophical problem, but also on another, deeper level as well.

Command Performance

Given that I have arranged to sell off most of each day to a medium-sized international corporation, leaving me in possession of only a few meager hours each evening in which to pursue my own diverse interests, I find myself, as does anyone whose assets are insufficient to satisfy his needs, having to scrimp and […]

No End In Sight

In a recent post at his Maverick Philosopher website, Bill Vallicella responds to the following brief remark by philosopher Jim Ryan: The reason I’m an atheist is straightforward. The proposition that there is a god is as unlikely as ghosts, Martians amongst us, and reincarnation. There isn’t the slightest evidence for these hypotheses which fly […]

Today’s Homework

Here is some interesting reading for you all, courtesy of First up is an essay called Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, in which he takes the “new atheists” to task for failing to develop a subtle enough appreciation of the adaptive underpinnings of religion, and of morality. He draws […]

Diverse Dan

I make no secret of my admiration for the philosopher Daniel Dennett. His intellectual interests coincide nearly exactly with my own: the puzzle of consciousness, the theory of evolution, the phenomenology of religion, and the question of human freedom in a world apparently ruled by a combination of deterministic and probabilistic laws. He has tilled […]

The God Confusion

I don’t comment over at Bill Vallicella’s website any more, but I still follow the conversations there, as they are often interesting, and attract a number of intelligent participants. Bill has put up an odd post today, however, which he calls The Humanity Delusion, in an obvious swipe at Richard Dawkins’s atheist manifesto The God […]