April 26, 2012

Philosophy Now

Green Army: Communications

Avatar (2009)

James Cameron

[You] are stupid, like a child!

The wealth of this world isn't in the ground, it's all around us.

I'll do [the forced relocation] with minimal casualties to the indigenous. …
It'll be humane — more or less. …

Our only security lies in pre-emptive attack. …
We will fight terror with terror.

See the world we come from.
There's no green there.
[The Sky People] killed their Mother.
They're going to do the same here. …
They're going to come like a rain that never ends. …

April 21, 2012

Ockham's Razor

ABC Radio National

[The] multiple of anecdote is not evidence.
[And] a single anecdote is certainly not evidence.

— Eran Segev, The importance of evidence, 9 May 2010.

Terry Krieg:
[Australia exports] yellowcake to over 20 countries for them to produce emissions free energy. …
[We] have a responsibility to take back [that waste] for final disposal.
… Australia should offer the world the Officer Basin for the development of an international nuclear waste repository for the final disposal of what will be [following the advent of Integrated Fast Reactors] an increasingly smaller volume of waste.
(Nuclear waste disposal in Australia, 10 March 2013)

Asa Wahlquist:
[For every one] kilogram of beef 24 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent is produced.
Lamb produces 16.8 Kg.
The figure for pork is 4.1 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of meat and for chicken it is just 0.8 kg.
(Pigs and poultry, 6 January 2013)

Participatory Democracy and Majoritarian Tyranny

William Grey: Honorary Research Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Queensland

[Unlike participatory democracies, representative] democracies embody checks and balances which help to insulate them from the prejudices and delusions disseminated by special interest advocates, who often float happily in a fact-free parallel universe.
One important balance is the evidence-based expertise which bureaucracies and universities provide to our elected representatives.
Evidence-based expertise makes an important contribution to policy development in our science-based technological society, and sound policy in many areas (including health, energy, agriculture, the environment) depends crucially on scientific expertise.
This is a critically important component of the institutional structures of representative democracy but it is something which is downplayed or ignored by the populist processes of participatory democracy. …

Participatory democracy's hostility to science is a serious strike against it.
A related role of scientific experts is to challenge and correct a mountain of error and confusion and to defend evidence-based beliefs against delusional belief systems promoted, for example, by anti-vaccinationists or deniers of climate change. …

[In Australia, there] is no tradition of consulting the people (aside from elections) for the resolution of socially contested issues.
  • Compulsory national service was introduced during the Korean and Vietnam wars;
  • women were given the vote;
  • the death penalty was abolished;
  • homosexuality was decriminalized;
  • no-fault divorce was introduced; [and]
  • the White Australia Policy was abolished
— all without consulting the will of the people.
Why should legalizing same-sex marriage be any different? …

To those who suggest:
Let the people have their say,
I reply:
The people have had their say.
We have elected our representatives who are invested with the authority to make policy decisions on our behalf.
It is the duty of these elected representatives to act with the power invested in them by the Constitution.

Those who think there is little likelihood of public discourse degenerating into hate speech should study the Irish experience.
There is a very real risk that opponents of marriage equality —
  • the shock jocks,
  • the tabloid press and
  • political voices from the lunar right
— would vilify and denigrate opponents.
The [risk] of inflammatory hate speech is [simply one] not worth taking. …

[The] death penalty was [abolished] not because it was popular, but because it was right.
Had the endorsement of a plebiscite been sought, it would never have happened.

[Justice] and majority opinion [do not always] coincide. …
Plebiscites are a dangerous and capricious instrument of governance and should play no role in determining policy outcomes when questions of social justice are at issue.
It is the job of our [elected] leaders to lead — to shape and direct public opinion for benefit of everyone — not to follow. …

(Plebiscites, 13 November 2016)

April 20, 2012

The Spirit of Things

ABC Radio National


Breaking Religion's Monopoly on Spirituality and Ethics


Rachael Kohn

  • Forced marriage, 29 July 2012.
  • Grayling, Anthony.  A Secular Bible, 15 April 2012.
    Maker, The Good Book: A Secular Bible (2011).
    Formerly Professor of Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London

    [AC Grayling] bills himself as 'the maker' not the author of The Good Book, a Secular Bible …

    Rachael Kohn:
    You must be wondering why you're on a program that's usually dedicated to religion and spirituality, but you have written a secular bible after all.

    Anthony C Grayling:
    [T]hat was to encourage people to think that there are other ways of thinking about the good … life, which if I may use the word 'spiritual' in a non-religious sense, would also be a spiritual life.

    Rachael Kohn:
    [Atheists] have come under fire for behaving as if they are a religion.
    [I]s your secular bible going to feed that perception?

    Anthony C Grayling:
    No, I don't think so …
    The [central feature of] religion is a commitment to belief in the existence of a deity or deities and a … need for a relationship between the individual and that deity. [A]theists are people who simply don't take that [view of] the world. …

    Rachael Kohn:
    [A]nother aspect [of religion is a] commitment to a [sacred] book or books ….
    … I wonder whether your secular bible is going to be used in that way.

    Anthony C Grayling:
    One reason for formatting it in the way that I did [is that it's a] very accessible and inviting way of laying out text …

    [T]he real purpose behind it is [to outline] the tradition of classical thinking, [that predates Christianity by nearly 1,000 years,] about the nature of the good and well lived life …
    [T]his was the outlook of educated people for [many centuries, before] Christianity, became dominant in Europe.

    [What I have done is to] collect together non-religious texts from the poets and historians and philosophers, to show people that there is a tremendous amount of insight and wisdom and consolation and inspiration in those ways of thinking about things, fundamentally a humanist way of thinking about things.
    [T]his really is a humanist bible, it is not an atheist bible.
    [T]he primary purpose of it is the ethics of atheism, which is humanism. …

    Rachael Kohn:
    [O]f course the Old Testament on which your parody bible is partly modelled was written well before the New Testament, centuries and centuries, almost 1,000 years before. …

    Anthony C Grayling:
    … Christianity, as an organised religion, came into its dominance in Europe around about the 1st century of the Common Era …
    [While some] of the books of the Old Testament [do] date from quite early, perhaps as early as 1,000 years before the beginning of our Common Era, … most of them are [from] much later, and … the organisation of the Old Testament is only a couple of centuries before the beginning of the Common Era.

    It's interesting history, the way all these different texts got together.
    They are … a regional set of texts, coming … from what we now think of as Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East.

    [M]y reason for choosing the format of a book that has come to be so influential in history is that the thinkers, the philosophers and their writings were pretty well marginalised or were shunted aside …
    They were once very much available to [the literate] minority in society [who] read people like [Aristotle,] Pliny and Cicero …
    [This formed] the substance of their thinking and their discussion about matters ethical.

    [T]he Church … in the late 5th century [CE] closed down the philosophical schools because they were in competition with Christianity …
    [A] whole tradition of thinking, a way of looking at the world which is very rich and deep, was set to one side and people were encouraged to concentrate on just one book …

    I [first] read [the Bible] at about the age of 14 [and] was very struck by … some of the awful things in it.
    The deity of the Old Testament seemed to me to be a sort of monster in a way, committing genocide whenever he was angry or dissatisfied.
    And there were some stories in it, like the story of Lot and his family [which are hardly edifying.] …

    [Bertrand] Russell [once commented that] Socrates was more intelligent than Jesus and the Buddha was more compassionate than Jesus …
    [It's an] accident of history or a victory of propaganda, that Jesus should be the one that people turn to when they try to think about a model for the ethical life …

    Rachael Kohn:
    Well, philosophy is dedicated to the rational exercise of the intellect, but your secular bible is earnestly seeking to produce a wise person.
    Philosophers of course are not always wise, especially those that don't venture beyond their ivory towers.
    Have you sensed a certain failing amongst your academic colleagues to go out and really speak to the common man, to care about the common man?

    Anthony C Grayling:
    I think in the last 100 or 130-odd years the academy has become far too professionalised, too inward looking, too jargon laden, too technical …
    … I feel that those of us who have had the great privilege of being given time to read and to study should try to share some of these things with other people …
    [To] invite them into that … great conversation of mankind that [they] are missing out on …

    Rachael Kohn:
    And in your defence of sexuality you counsel the man to
    be quiet while you argue for the inexpressible charms of the sexual embrace.
    [I]t sounds a bit quaint for our times, doesn't it Anthony?

    Anthony C Grayling:
    … I was very careful not to give references to the texts that I drew from …
    What I wanted is just to address the ideas. …

    [T]he point [of that passage was that] moralistic anxieties about love and sexual enjoyment fail to recognise how when two people have a great deal of mutual feeling for one another, among other things, among the pleasure that it gives them and the bond that it creates, it might also very well result in children and the tremendous responsibility and pleasure of bringing up children together.
    It's a very beautiful ethic …
    [I]t incorporates the idea of our human loves and human reproduction in a story of nature, making it one with nature, [a] part of the good aspect of nature.

    Rachael Kohn:
    Yes, it certainly is, I just don't know whether there are many moral anxieties these days about having sex and embracing anything for pleasure, if it's anywhere in your reach. …

    [We are told in the chapter on the creation of Man] that
    • knowledge is freedom from ignorance and fear …
    • legends are limitations, [and]
    • science is the world's greatest endeavour, achievement and promise …
    [T]here have been some dubious achievements [of science], not to mention some of its promises can be a bit way out and scary …
    [I]t can be cruel, fearsome and utterly unpredictable.
    [Knowledge] is not always used for good.

    Anthony C Grayling:
    [Certainly] science has been misapplied, the creation of … the atom bomb, [as] an instrument in the Holocaust … in the Second World War …
    But I think the majority story about science is that the lives of greater numbers of human beings have been vastly enhanced …
    [T]he challenge [is] to be not be merely cleverer … but to be wise in the use of the cleverness. …

    Rachael Kohn:
    You echoed the Stoics … who warned that emotions [may] hinder thinking.
    But isn't thinking which is unhindered by emotions a pathology … both clinically as well as historically? …

    Anthony C Grayling:
    [O]ur rationality is our highest and most distinctive gift …
    [But] in order to be fully reasonable you have to … give the emotions their place … but educated emotion.
    [U]nbridled uneducated emotion—lust, aggression, jealousy, selfishness—[are] obviously very destructive things.
    [W]hen we [raise] our children … we try to help them to manage their emotions, to express the positive ones, to allow themselves to feel affection and love, but to understand the wellsprings of jealousy and anger so that they can manage them better. …

    [The truly] reasonable person is going to recognise that, as a compound of emotion and reason, [the educated] reflective sensibility [is] one where you try to enhance and give expression to positive emotions like affection and love … especially in intimate relationships.
    When I think about my children … I think that the greatest gift that one can give them [is the] sense of being loved, it gives them confidence and a certain sort of poise.
    Children who are never loved spend too much time and energy in misdirected ways trying to find love. …

    Rachael Kohn:
    [I]n the Genesis chapter … you urge people to do nothing against their will, to covet nothing of anyone else's, and in so doing they will encounter no resistance and they will be free then to do what they wish and life will be lovely.
    There's a wonderful sense of order there, that everyone behaves according to the best intentions, but surely, [b]ad things do happen to good people.

    Anthony C Grayling:
    They most certainly do [and] that is a reality that forces us … to think as carefully as we can about what kind of world [would be] a fully good world, and then to try to … to work towards it. …
    It's not fair on other people that we should impinge on their possibility for making and living a good life, any more than we would want them to impinge on ours.
    [S]o there's this reciprocal thing, there's this relationship requiring thought, [understanding and experience.]
    Experience … not just through actual encounter[s] with other people but through our reflective reading, our understanding of history, and our best use of the kinds of insights that the various sciences give us about ourselves and the world we live in.

    Rachael Kohn:
    … I can easily see your secular bible being quoted out of context at the way the Bible often is, and people … saying,
    'It says there to do nothing against my will, so I'll just go ahead and do this.'

    Anthony C Grayling:
    [Y]ou could just as easily quote St Paul where he says 'love and do what you will', which seems to be a kind of a licence for everything.
    [N]obody … who has any capacity for reflection would [take] a few lines out of context and act on them. …

    In the case of Consolation … I remember once many years ago at a time of bearing with a very considerable loss, coming home one day and finding that somebody had baked a cake and left it on my front doorstep for me …
    It was completely anonymous, I never found out who did it, but it was such a tremendously kind thought.
    It was probably … of that whole experience, it was one of the most moving things.

    [M]y sister was the victim of murder, and my mother, who was unwell at the time … died very soon afterwards as a result …

    [I]f you think about families in Iraq and Afghanistan and people in the Second World War and all places of strife, really awful things do happen to people, and grief is a great fact of life …

    [This] reminds us that whenever you establish a relationship with another person, for example when you fall in love, you're entering into a contract in which one or both of you are going to suffer because [even] if you live together for 50 years, one of you is going to die first and the other one is going to be grief stricken.
    It's just a brute fact that all the good things in life have these potentials connected with them.

    [W]e've got to confront it, and we've got to understand the nature of loss and grief … [W]e've got to understand something about how we can offer consolations … and if it's at all possible … to do something good to try to mend the harm …

    [T]hose texts of Consolation [address the fact that] life goes on …
    [W]e have to incorporate those griefs and become better because of them in a way …
    [To] be more conscious of the fact that other people suffer them and [learn] how we might help to console them …

    Rachael Kohn:
    [In] your last chapter, you seem to quote Paul.
    [Of] all the virtues and values, you say the greatest of these is affection.
    [O]ne can't help hearing Paul in this who extols faith, hope and love and says the greatest of these is love.

    Anthony C Grayling:
    I wasn't quoting him there …
    [200 years before Paul] Mo Tzu … taught his followers [that] brotherly love … is the greatest bond that we can create between us … or the Buddha himself, or Aristotle …
    [T]hose are [the real] sources for that, the idea of the human bond. …

    Rachael Kohn:
    [Alain de Botton] recently said he is going to build a temple to atheism. …
    Do you think there would be a role for The Good Book in its weekly meetings?

    Anthony C Grayling:
    [They'd be] very welcome to make use of it, but [my] hope is that [The Good Book] might move [people] to read some of the original texts themselves and to become part of … the great conversation that is carried on through literature [-] through our reading [and] thinking about it.
    [It's] not only [about] the philosophers, but … also the poets [novelists and dramatists] who portray different aspects of our human experience …
    [T]he result … should be a re-description of things that we've sort of lost sight of …
    [A]gain, if I'm allowed to use the word in a completely non-religious sense … the spiritual dimension of life … our sense of the great yearning that we have for the whole, for the universe, for the absolute, for everything, for the interconnectedness of things, which a lot of people [just assume] must have a religious dimension.
    It doesn't, it's about this world and about this life in it now.

    [What I] would like to encourage people to do is to re-describe, as spiritual exercises, a walk in the country or listening to music or having dinner with friends or lying in bed and twiddling your toes on a Sunday morning, or reading something pleasant, or laughing, that those are the things that refresh and nourish the spirit, those are the things which are important, which give real value, a real significance to our daily lives.
    [Religion has] hijacked that sense that what's important and good and valuable sort of belongs to Holy Communion on Sundays and that everything else is just of the world.
    But it's the world itself which is that important …

    Rachael Kohn:
    [I] think you're sort of polarising it a bit.
    [T]hose who gather in temples, synagogues and churches once a week are mandated or encouraged to go out and live their lives infused with the spiritual awareness of everything that they do. …
    Those who truly are religious are also truly spiritual, so that they live their lives according to these great ideals.

    Anthony C Grayling:
    [From a secular viewpoint] the conflicts and divisions and the strife and even indeed in the mayhem caused by people who become very zealous at the other end of the spectrum [show] that there's something … very tainted about that well.
    It's a world view which … stems from people who knew nothing, or very, very little indeed, 3,000 years ago tending their sheep on the hillside …
    [I]lliterate people who told themselves stories and came up with beliefs in order to try and make sense of their world …

    [They provided] the foundations of [today's religious] outlook.
    [I]t's sin to be autonomous, to think for yourself, to take responsibility for your morality.
    [T]he sin of pride in Christianity is the idea that you don't need to rely on God.
    Islam, the very word means 'submission' …

    It's no accident that [the Abrahamic religions] took their major rise in a period of history [when] monarchy was the [dominant] political model.
    [T]he idea of a supreme ruler to which everybody has to bend the knee is embedded in this view.
    [It needn't] be like that [now].
    We have reason and we are capable of managing our emotions …
    [W]e ought to be … encouraging that and accepting that this life, in this world, and our relationships with the people around us, are the things that we should be focusing on …
    [N]ot distracting ourselves with … fairy stories.

    [Another New Republic]

    Rachael Kohn:
    [Is] your intention as master of New College of the Humanities, a private university which you and others have founded … to train up the new wise leaders of tomorrow? …

    Anthony C Grayling:
    [A]ny higher education institution exists to help people learn how to think [not] to tell them what to think.
    So there's no aim … to train up a cadre of people who share my views.
    I very much hope that [our students] will test and challenge all the views that they meet, including mine and my colleagues'.
    [I]t's about helping them to [become] questioning thinkers …
    [I]t's their responsibility to come to the views that they will eventually live by.

    Rachael Kohn:
    [W]ho you would look up to as the pre-eminent embodiment of a wise man?


    Imperfect Exemplars

    Anthony C Grayling:
    … I admire many, many people … people like Einstein and Russell, right the way back through history to David Hume, to Descartes, to Copernicus, to Galileo, to [anyone] who ventured to think and to use [their] insightful, incisive, creative intellect to understand our world a bit better and to move us forward …

    Rachael Kohn:
    … I must say Einstein and Russell … may have been brilliant, but there has certainly been a lot of criticism [of] on how they behaved in their personal lives. …

    Anthony C Grayling:
    [I]f we allowed people to go through our (figuratively speaking) rubbish bins, each one of us would not escape whipping, as somebody once said.
    We're all human with our failings, and we would admire nobody if we didn't [behave generously] by looking at the best things that they managed. …

    The wonderful thing about the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne is that, probably for the … very first time in history, [we're seeing] people who don't have a religious outlook, [coming] together with a wide variety of … other political and ethical views, to discuss how we deal with a world which is now moving … beyond the dominance of religion.

    People think [that] in the last 10 or 15 years … religion has come back much more into focus, whereas what's actually happened … is that the religious voice has been amplified … because of the polarisation following the 9/11 atrocities …
    [T]he horror that many … felt that religion was positioning itself to become as destructive and violent and bloody as it had been in the 17th and 16th centuries … or during the medieval period with the Crusades.
    [T]he opposition to [being] taken over again, having won this great liberation of mind, [enquiry,] diversity and plurality that resulted from the Enlightenment.

    [T]his movement is a coming together of people who share … that view …
    [A] movement, that [argues that we] have to take responsibility for the ethical, and [do] it far better than the religions have … in the last 2,000 years.

    [Excerpts from the transcript]

    Genesis, Chapter 1

    1. In the garden stands a tree.
    2. In springtime it bears flowers; in the autumn, fruit.
    3. Its fruit is knowledge, teaching the good gardener how to understand the world.
    4. From it he learns how the tree grows from the seed to sapling, from sapling to maturity, at last ready to offer more life.
    5. And from maturity to age and sleep, whence it returns to the elements of things.
    6. The elements in turn feed new births; such is nature's method, and its parallel with the course of humankind.
    7. It was from the fall of a fruit from such a tree that new inspiration came for inquiry into the nature of things.
    8. When Newton sat in his garden, and saw what no one had seen before: that an apple draws the earth to itself, and the earth the apple.
    9. Through a mutual force of nature that holds all things, from the planets to the stars, in unifying embrace.
    10. So all things are gathered into one thing: the universe of nature, in which there are many worlds: the orbs of light in an immensity of space and time,
    11. And among them their satellites, on one of which is a part of nature that mirrors nature in itself,
    12. And can ponder its beauty and significance, and seek to understand it: this is humankind.
    13. All other things, in their cycles and rhythms, exist in and of themselves;
    14. But in humankind there is experience also, which is what makes good and its opposite,
    15. In both of which humankind seeks to grasp the meaning of things.

    The Good, Chapter 4

    1. There is not one single kind of good that suits and fits everyone; there are as many good lives as there are people to leave them.
    2. It is false that there is only one right way to live and one right way to be,
    3. And that's to find it we must obey those who claim to have the secret of a 'one right way' and a 'one true good'.
    4. If there are guides to the good, one must eventually leave them behind and seek the good of one's choice, and which suits one's own talents.
    5. This is the ultimate responsibility: to choose, and to cultivate the talents for one's choice.

    Wisdom, Chapter 6

    1. The meditation of the wise man is a meditation on life, not on death.
    2. The wise see the necessity of things, and by this they free themselves from distress:
    3. For the pain arising from loss is mitigated as soon as its inevitability is perceived;
    4. And likewise no one pities a newborn baby for being unable to speak or walk, because this is natural to its state.
    5. Thus the recognition of necessities is a liberation, and the wise are those who distinguish between necessity and contingency.
    6. Emotion is bad if it hinders the mind from thinking.
      An emotion that opens the mind to contemplate several aspects of things at once is better than one that fixes thought to an obsession.
    7. By framing a system of right conduct and practical precepts, one better bears adversity and resists evil.
    8. The wise thus remember what is to their true advantage, and the good that follows from friendship, and the fact that men act by the necessity of their nature.

    Lamentations, Chapter 11

    1. Every state of well-being, every feeling of satisfaction, is negative;
    2. It merely consists in freedom from pain, which is the positive element of existence.
    3. It follows that the happiness of any given life is to be measured not by its joys and pleasures,
    4. But by the extent to which it has been free from suffering.

    Consolations, Chapter 4

    Of grief, to a friend.

    1. I am grieved to hear that he is dead whom you loved, but I would not have you sorrow more than is fitting.
    2. That you should not mourn at all I should hardly dare insist; and yet I know that it is the better way; for he is at peace, safe from any further harms,
    3. And you and his other friends will cherish the best memories of him, and speak of him, thus making him part of life still.
    4. But what man will ever be so endowed with that ideal steadfastness of mind, unless he has already risen far above the reach of chance, not to mourn?
    5. Even the most stoical would be stung by an event like this, though for him it were only a sting.
    6. We, however, may be forgiven our tears, if only our tears have not flowed to excess.
    7. We may weep, but we must not wail.
      Do you think that this advice is harsh?
    8. Well: only consider the reason for lamentations and weeping.
      It is because we mourn for ourselves as well as for he who has left us; we are sad because we are bereft.

    The Good, Chapter 9

    1. Seek always for the good that abides.
      There can be none except as the mind finds it within itself;
    2. Wisdom alone affords everlasting and peace-giving joy, for then, even if some obstacle arises,
    3. It is only like an intervening cloud, which floats beneath the sun but never prevails against it.
    4. When will you attain this joy?
      It will begin when you think for yourself,
    5. When you truly take responsibility for your own life,
    6. When you join the fellowship of all who have stood up as free individuals and said,
    7. 'We are of the company of those who seek the true and the right, and live accordingly;
    8. 'In our human world, in the short time we each have,
    9. 'We see our duty to make and find something good for ourselves and our companions in the human predicament.'
    10. Let us help one another, therefore; let us build the city together,
    11. Where the best future might inhabit, and the true promise of humanity be realised at last.

    Rachael Kohn:
    That's the last chapter of A Secular Bible …
    [T]there's a lot more to it, including … Songs, which is something of a parody of the Song of Songs from the Bible.

    Would you like know more?

April 16, 2012

Prosperity Without Growth 3

Tim Jackson

The Independent on Sunday:
We do not agree with the anti-capitalists who see the economic crisis as a chance to impose their utopia, whether of a socialist or eco-fundamentalist kind …
Most of us in this country enjoy long and fulfilling lives thanks to liberal capitalism: we have no desire to live in a yurt under a workers’ soviet.

The Economist:
As every hunted animal knows, it is not how fast you run that counts, but whether you are slower than everyone else.
(November, 2008)

April 9, 2012

Cultural Cognition Project

Green Army: Research and Development

Dan Kahan:
[If] the problem is that culture is preventing you from appreciating what the best scientific information is, maybe we can do something about that. …
There are techniques we can use and those techniques are not substitutes for rational thought, THEY ARE RATIONAL THOUGHT.
There's no system of human rationality where people can figure out things for themselves without being able reliably to receive information certified by other people that they ought to trust, that they can rely on, even all scientists do it.
So why can't we get our system in a state like that, so … people can [become] participants …