Friday, August 26, 2011

Cowboy Music for the End of the World

The real people went away.

Apocalypse starts with these words--an unaccompanied voice, half spoken, half sung-- and initiates the seven song tangle of themes of isolation, artistic creation, temporality, and cataclysm that Bill Callahan's new album seeks to make sense of. As the album progresses the notion of apocalypse becomes more personalized and more closely related to artistic production, eventually culminating in Callahan's apocalypse being the album, Apocalypse, itself.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Problem of Free Will (what's the problem again?)

Are we the authors of our own actions? Do we have free will? Whether this question can be answered in the affirmative has far reaching consequences for moral theory, political discourse, and even our interpersonal relationships.

At first glance it seems like a textbook example of a question so stupid only a philosopher could ask it. Of course we are free. We experience our free choice all the time, in big and small decisions. We decide what to have for breakfast, what to wear, what careers to pursue, who to marry, and a whole host of other things. What could be more obvious than that we have free will? It turns out, though, that when you look closely at the idea of free will, especially in light of our ideas about causation, the question isn't nearly as stupid as it looks.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Of Elephants and Tortoises: Locke on Substance

There is an apparent tension in Locke’s Essay regarding the idea of substance. On the one hand, Locke spends a great deal of time discussing the origin of this idea and detailing how it fits into his overall taxonomy of our ideas. On the other hand he seems at times to dismiss the idea as having little utility, even to the point of ridiculing it at times. I think the tension is the result of Locke’s attempting to reconcile the idea of substance with his "corpuscularian" view of how bodies are constructed, which leads him in the end to substitute the notion of real (or hidden inner) constitution and real essence for the substance/accident model of Scholasticism.

Friday, August 12, 2011

It's Extra? Special? Bitter? Sign me up!

Fuller's ESB

Appearance- Nice coppery color. Two fingers or so of foam subsided fairly quickly but nice lacing.

Smell- Very nice. Biscuity aroma with some subtle spicy or floral notes.

Taste- Very good. Full flavor of malty sweetness up front with a really nice hop bite on the back end.

Mouthfeel- Nice again. Creamy, but not heavy. Smooth.

Given the relative ubiquity of this beer it's weird that I hadn't tried it until recently, but I'm glad I did. Despite having "bitter" in the title, this is actually not a bitter beer at all. It's smooth and balanced and very, very good.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

How seriously should we take Hume's skepticism?

The Treatise of Human Nature has given David Hume a reputation for being the arch-skeptic. After beginning his work with the goal of detailing a "science of man" he proceeds through the argument to undercut our confidence in the reliability of the senses, the objectivity of our notions of space and time, the reality of causal laws, and the rationality of our beliefs. By the end of Book I, he seems to have devastated human knowledge and beliefs, leaving us with the mere shell of skepticism. But then, paradoxically, he proceeds to write two more books in the Treatise as well as many other works in which these considerations appear to be largely ignored. So the question becomes: how seriously should we take Hume's skepticism?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is "Transcendental" another word for "Terrible"?

The impossibly-aptly-named theologian Matt Slick has an argument he calls the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God (TAG). The really short version of this is: Logic, therefore God. The argument suffers from a couple of fatal flaws. First, his characterization of logical absolutes leads him to seek a cause or a source where one isn't really necessary. Second, even if we accept his characterization of logical principles, his argument doesn't  really prove what he thinks it can prove.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The "Critique of Pure Reason" in 10 words or less

Kant’s slogan “[t]houghts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” is the core idea of the Critique. By unpacking this ten word phrase we can outline all the key ideas necessary to understanding his whole critical project. The slogan indicates what components Kant thinks are necessary in order to have a cognition that leads to knowledge while setting limits on the scope of what we can claim to know. It also serves as a summary of Kant’s critique of both the Rationalist and Empiricist traditions and provides the foundation for his own philosophy of Transcendental Idealism.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The (Not So) Thin Line Between Sinner and Saint

I've just finished Christopher Hitchens's little polemic against Mother Theresa, The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice, and let's just say that the old bird doesn't come out too well. Hitchens's main charges against her can be grouped into three broad categories:
  • Despite being ostensibly apolitical, Mother Theresa consistently associated herself with right wing causes and despotic leaders throughout the world. She stumped against abortion at every opportunity, calling it a "threat to peace." She supported the Duvaliers in Haiti, she backed the right wing contras in Nicaragua. She associated with Reagan and Thatcher.
  • She accepted large sums of money as donations from corrupt businessmen. For instance, she accepted over a million dollars from Charles Keating, who was a prominent (and convicted) player in the Savings and Loan scandals in the 1980s. Then, when he was brought up on charges, she didn't give back the money so that it could be returned to the people Keating had swindled; instead she wrote a letter on his behalf to the judge presiding over the case.
  • Her real mission was never to help the poor and sick improve their lot; instead her true goal was the furtherance of her own preferred version of austere Catholicism, in which suffering was viewed as something that has intrinsic value instead of something that should be avoided or mitigated as far as possible. To aid in this point, Hitchens marshals testimony from medical professionals who had visited the Missionaries of Charity home for the dying in India, who nearly unanimously decried the unacceptable conditions under which people were receiving treatment.