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Our future: cognitive neuroscience’s view

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A good friend of mine sent me via e-mail this small interview. Thomas Metzinger [informations about him here and here], who studies philosophy of consciousness and models of the self, talks about the impact of his job on his personal life, about academic hypocrisy, amazing scientific discoveries and their applications, the great danger (which these discoveries gave birth to) that is coming on us, as humanity, and – last but not least – about losing the spiritual sense of our lives.

Read the interview, it does worth!

rue sans sens

(Etaples, France © Andruska)

Written by Andrei Stavilă

Noiembrie 15, 2008 at 10:22 am

„Land of the free”, my ass!

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California’s voters said „yes” to „Proposition 8” – read here (thanks, Stefan)! This means that gay marriages (which were allowed since June, 2008 in the state of California) will be banned from now on. I keep wandering what the fuck means this. I mean, I thought there are some basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The fact that they are „guaranteed” means that they cannot constitute the subject of a popular vote. „Freedom of expression and association”, „equality under the law”, etc. are such rights. People cannot vote to ban an individual’s or a group’s enjoyment of these rights.

So why the right to marry whoever you want should be different? Why should the group of heterosexuals decide something which concerns only the group of gays? America is the land of the free? But who the hell qualifies for the „free person” label? „Land of the free”, my ass!

Written by Andrei Stavilă

Noiembrie 5, 2008 at 3:45 pm

The Amazing State of Nature

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That’s right: in the hobbesian „state of nature” (1) even the week can destroy the strong. Nobody is safe. That’s why (2) we have to sign the contract and act together as a „body politic”. In this civil society, (3) the free rider does not always win something (watch the crocodiles!). And (4) the deceitful Kings are almost killed by the mob… The following movie extraordinary illustrates these four contractarian ideas. Here’s the real thing, although the actors are animals. The movie is 8 minutes long – but be patient and wait for the end, it’s marvelleous!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM

Written by Andrei Stavilă

Octombrie 30, 2008 at 8:10 am

Rousseau and Bentham on animal rights

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„By this means, an end can also be made to the ancient disputes regarding the participation of animals in the natural law. For it is clear that, lacking intelligence and liberty, they cannot recognize this law; but since they share to some extent in our nature by virtue of the sentient quality with which they are endowed, one will judge that they should also participate in natural right, and that man is subject to sme sort of duties toward them. It seems, in effect, that if I am obliged not to do any harm to my fellow man, it is less because he is a rational being than because he is a sentient being: a quality that, since it is common to both animals and men, sjhould at least give the former the right not to be needlessy mistreated by the latter” [Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Discourse on the Origin of Inequality]

„Other animals, which, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded into the class of things. … The day has been, I grieve it to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated … upon the same footing as … animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse?…the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?… The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes…” [Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832), Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation]

My favorite writer

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Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827)

Lichtenstein Castle (located near Honau in the Swabian Alb, Baden-Wurttenberg, Germany)

The first book I read in my life was “Fairy Tales”, written by Wilhelm Hauff. It is, in my view, probably one of the best books ever written. And Hauff (a German Romanticist writer)… well, if you have time, just read something about his life and work here and here.

You can read some of his Fairy Tales in English here. If you are a German reader, you may want to take a look at more Fairy Tales here.

Works of Wilhelm Hauff at Project Gutenberg here.

Written by Andrei Stavilă

Iulie 1, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Evolutionism Versus Creationism: Post-scriptum with Thomas Christiano

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In Bled (Slovenia) I had the great honor to meet and discuss with Tom Christiano. In my talk (“Does Liberal Neutrality Require Epistemic Abstinence?”), I advocated a Rawlsian version of the “epistemic abstinence” theory, according to which we should not build the basic institutions of a liberal democratic society on “the truth” promoted by one of the competing comprehensive views of the good, but on an “overlapping consensus” over the basic political (not metaphysical) values. Now, Tom Christiano advocates the opposite view, according to which a decision is authoritative if it is the outcome of a fair, democratic decision making (the decision-making procedure must be publicly recognized as being fair, and it must take into consideration the interests of everyone involved) [of course, the outcome is limited by the constitutional provisions regarding the basic liberal rights].

But take the following example. In some modern, liberal democratic states there is pervasive disagreement regarding the teaching of evolutionism and creationism in public schools. The evolutionists want to take religion off the textbooks, whereas the creationists want the same thing in what concerns evolutionism. How can a liberal democratic state solve this problem? Let’s apply the two theories to this example.

According to my “soft epistemic abstinence” theory, the state should say to the contending parties: “I am a liberal democratic state, and I have to further equally the interests of both of you. My political concern is not the ‘truth’ each of you advocates, but the way in which you can all live peacefully, and the way in which you can all have the possibility to further your own interests. According to this goal, the solution is the following: evolutionism is to be taught in biology classes, and creationism is to be taught in religion (and history of religion) classes. In this way, you can all further your own interests, while respecting the others’ constitutional rights of furthering their own interests”.

According to Tom Christiano’s view, there should be public discussions about evolutionism and creationism. Everyone interested in this debate should have the right to say her own point of view. Then individuals are required to vote one of these three possibilities: a) only evolutionism should be taught in public schools; b) only creationism should be taught in public schools; c) both evolutionism and creationism should be taught in public schools. If the decision-making process is fair, publicly known and democratic, then the decision is authoritative.

Now, my problem with this view is the following. Suppose that, in a particular state (say, Romania) people vote that evolutionism must NOT be taught in public schools. According to Tom Christiano, if all the democratic requirements have been met, then this decision is authoritative. But I feel uneasy with this solution.

Tom (who thinks that creationism is a stupidity) had several answers. First, he said that in a liberal democratic state many of us feel uneasy with many decisions – but we still have to accept them, as long as they are the outcome of a democratic decision-making process. Then he thought again, and he asked me why the teaching of evolutionism in public schools, in a democratic state, should be regarded as necessary, as long as the citizens rejected it through a fair and democratic process. And then he thought again. His final answer was that the only way to save evolutionism in such a case is to declare that some basic scientific education (evolutionism included) is necessary for citizenship.

Moreover, He told me that my solution is not exactly neutral – but it is a triumph for evolutionism. This is so because my solution accepts the teaching of evolutionism in biology classes, but it sends creationism from scientific to religious textbooks – and this is not quite a neutral answer. On the contrary, it safeguards evolutionism, while at the same time it diminishes the importance of creationism.

The discussion was long enough and it was late – we didn’t finish it. But I have two answers to Tom Christiano’s ideas.

First, to declare some basic scientific knowledge as necessary for citizenship seems a very controversial idea. I’m not saying that it is impossible to defend it – I’m just saying that there is much to be said in its favor. Moreover, if we accept this proposal, I do not see any reason to reject other proposed requirements for citizenship – for example, some basic knowledge in religious matters, or some basic moral knowledge, and so on. There are good arguments for supporting such requirements, but I will not discuss them here. I would rather say that it seems to me hard to defend some basic scientific knowledge as a requirement for citizenship, while rejecting the same status to basic moral or religious knowledge. And if we accept all these requirements for citizenship – then Christiano’s outcome is the same with my proposal’s outcome: evolutionism and creationism should both be taught in public schools.

Second, I do not agree with Tom’s critique, according to which my proposal is not neutral – because it favors evolutionism, by making it the single theory taught in biology classes. First, I think that I can explain to creationists that they don’t really want to see their theory taught in biology classes: they don’t accept this kind of science, so they shouldn’t care about it. They can teach evolutionism in religious classes – however these classes might be called (why not a distinct class, of “creationist biology” – indeed, “what’s in a name?”). There is, of course, the problem of the status of these classes. But I think there could be ways of solving this problem. We can device different combinations between “obligatory”, “optional” and “facultative” classes for both biology and religion. So the problem of neutrality could be in principle solved.

I am happy to see that me and Tom Christiano both agree with the outcome (evolutionism and religion should be both taught in schools). It is true that we have different ways of reaching this conclusion. But the debate is not over yet – or so I hope.

Written by Andrei Stavilă

Iunie 10, 2008 at 11:09 pm

Philosophy Conference in Bled

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This year, the subject of the conference was „Social and Political Philosophy„. It started on Tuesday, June 3rd – and the last day was Friday, June 6th. So 4 days full od talks, from 09:00 to 17:00 (four talks per day, except Wednesday – when there were five talks, mine being the last – brrrr!!!).

The conference was extraordinary – really! I had the honor to meet and discuss with Thomas Christiano, Igor Primoratz, and Luc Bovens – and I also enjoyed the talks of Jules Coleman and Alistair Norcross. I was glad to find out that the Slovenian and Croatian moral and political philosophers are very good indeed (I especially liked the talks of Friderick Klampfer, Neven Petrovic, and Elvio Baccarini). I want to thank Tom Christiano and Luc Bovens for our wonderful discussions, which were very enriching to me.

It was my first conference and my first talk. Although I was the only speaker that was only a PhD student (all the other speakers were professors), I think it was ok (except the fact that my talk was the last that day, peopole were very tired – and I was tired and stressed, so I had to read the talk from the paper!). Anyway, the point is that I started to love conferences: you can meet wonderful people, hear extraordinary talks, and see beautiful places. I want more!!!!

In what concerns the town – well, Bled (Slovenia) is a turistic place, so it is very expensive (even more expensive than, for example, some German towns). It is a small city, you can see all the important things in only one day, or even less: the lake, the castle, the island with its church. The problem was that the weather was nasty: it rained the whole week, almost continuously…

Some pictures:

You can see more pictures from Bled here. Read about Bled here and here. The conference’s site is here.