Posts

Race and Fantasy

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Starting the year off right with a reactionary screed. One thing that regularly causes internet squabbles is casting of fantasy and sci-fi characters with non-white actors/actresses. There was a bit of that for the Lord of the Rings show on Amazon, a bit of that when Boyega was cast as Finn in Star Wars, and even (ok it's not really fantasy but whatever) with a recent adaptation of the Famous Five. Since I am a huge nerd these often revolve around worlds or settings that I am interested in. So in this blog post I will try and classify the different kind of settings that this sort of thing can happen in and my broad attitude to what's going on in these cases. Now, of course, anything can be done well and anything can be done poorly, so ultimately a lot will depend on skill of the person doing the adaptation. Still though I think there are facts about how settings work that push in certain directions, and these should at least be taken into account. Still unclear what I mean?

Philosophy vs Western Civilisation

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A recent Matt Yglesias post  contained some discussion of concerns people have about the contemporary humanities. For those not subscribed he included a screenshot of the discussion in a recent tweet . The basic idea is that there are some core values underlying American society (the context from which he writes, but I think we can fairly generalise this to at least other liberal democracies) and that people expect educated people to be inculcated into these values. By way of example he mentions ideals of religious freedom and  "a philosophical lineage from Plato and Aristotle to Hobbes and Locke and Mill and Rawls". He says that while it is good to hear about radical critiques of such ideas and such a tradition, and that can even be from some who endorse the critiques (intelligent advocacy for the view points being a good way of hearing them at their strongest) in the end the broader society will not long put up with funding institutions that are too hostile to these things.

How I Am A Marxist

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I wrote a piece before explaining why I do not endorse liberal politics or philosophy. One thing that came out of that was lots of people requesting I say something more positive. If I am not a liberal then what am I? Well I think the answer is Marxist, so I will take some time here to explain what I mean by that. Initially I thought this would also involve arguments for my view but this is already far too long. So as it stands I will just spell out the sort of things I agree to in virtue of being a Marxist (or, rather, the things that make me a Marxist in virtue of agreeing to them) and save for a later date discussion of why I think thy are true and how they contrast with liberal political thought. I will spatter illustrative links throughout though to sources that would follow up on or exemplify the connected ideas. So what do I mean by Marxism? I am probably less fussy about this than some out there but I think we can list some core doctrines usually associated with Marxism and th

Arguments in Philosophy

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One thing that is supposed to be distinctive of analytic philosophy is the dedication to providing rigorous argumentation in favour of clearly stated theses. Arguments here being understood as articulated premises whose joint plausibility, and demonstrated logical relationship to the conclusion, significantly raises the plausibility of that conclusion -- ideally deductively entailing it. Let's set aside how distinctive this ideal really is (surely some scholastic and Nyāya philosophers would protest!) and just think about the ideals themselves. I have commented on these standards before, by and large positively. On the whole I think it is a genuine intellectual good to try very hard to make people understand what you are saying and why it might be worth believing. And yet. I have always been a little bit uncomfortable with the role of argumentation in analytic philosophy, and today I think I will spell out why, and in the end maybe even reconcile my discomfort with my admiratio

On Not Believing In One's Work

 For a while now I have been unable (unwilling is what I should say, but from the inside it feels stronger than that) to really commit to doing philosophy research. (I have stuff from before this in the pipeline so it might not be obvious from the outside that I have not been doing new work, but to those who know me this is not news.) The basic issue is that I do not think my work is good or interesting. I have posted about this briefly before but there was an important difference between then and now. The LSE is unusual among British schools in  having something like a tenure institution - there is a review I must pass which, upon being passed, renders it very difficult indeed to fire me, so long as I still do the basics of my job. Since I have now passed this review, the extremely strong instrumental reason I had to publish despite my self-assessment has vanished. As such, where before I thought my word worthless but kept producing it in miserable bad faith, now I can simply follow

Progressive Liberalism's Dialectic

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The last thing Condorcet wrote was a long book, entitled Outlines of an historical view of the progress of the human mind . It was published in 1795 and was for a while the most influential thing Condorcet produced (I think nowadays his probabilistic studies of democratic reasoning probably came to overshadow this). It expresses a remarkable optimism about the pattern and inevitability of human progress - an optimism no wise belied by the fact that shortly after its completion Condorcet was arrested and would die under somewhat unclear circumstances a prisoner of the French revolutionary forces, a revolution he himself had supported. It seems he anticipated some such fate, for here is the note on which he ended the piece Such are the questions with which we shall terminate the last division of our work. And how admirably calculated is this view of the human race, emancipated from its chains, released alike from the dominion of chance, as well as from that of the enemies of its progress

AI, invertebrates, and the risk of living absurdly

My friend and comrade Jonathan Birch has gifted me with a guest post. I think of it as a kind of belated spiritual sequel to my own musings on the existential status of our profession here . It's a great read, so without further ado over to Birch! -------------------------------------------------------------------------------   Imagine you're the UK Health Secretary during the worst pandemic in a century, signing your name under the most restrictive public health rules in your country's history. You're forced to resign after being caught on CCTV breaking your own guidance—in a manner that also ends your marriage. Feeling your talents may lie more in the area of performing to hidden cameras, you branch out into reality TV. It's going well—people enjoy voting for you to receive grotesque public humiliations—so you decide to write a bestseller about your pandemic experiences. You hire a ghost-writer who is also a noted lockdown sceptic and trust her with 100,000 privat