Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


Free Speech in Modern America

free speech November 16th, 2022

Freedom of speech is a liberty that is woven into the very fabric of the United States. We have a long history here of continuing the tradition and system set up by the founders of America, such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Except for certain periods of a marked diminution of free speech and dissent (such as the Alien and Sedition Acts, McCarthyism, and the juggernaut of the post-9/11 Middle East wars), one could rest assured that if they wished to stand on a soapbox and absolutely trash the POTUS, one would not be prevented from doing so. Of course, there are libel and slander laws, which make it illegal to lie about someone in public (i.e., to besmirch their good reputation). And yes, in the age of social media free speech, freedom of expression, and the liberty to be who one chooses to be are greatly stressed.

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Skepticism, Belief, Doubt, & Evidence

evidence November 9th, 2022

We all believe some things without sufficient (or, perhaps “good”) evidence to support the belief. It is often innocuous—”My son is going to win his game this Saturday!”, or “Our financial problems will get better, don’t worry, honey”, or “Go Pats!” However, belief without evidence is highly questionable. This blog gets into religion, politics, and such from the perspective that belief in something should, by and large, be apportioned based on what the balance of solid, dispassionately-perceived evidence indicates.

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Self-Interest and Self-Righteousness

self-interest October 24th, 2022

I aim to convince the reader that two things which work against social progress, social justice, the ability to survive global warming, and so on are two age-old human habits: self-interest and self-righteousness. Indeed, the reason humanity sucks so badly—and why it has almost destroyed its only home, and why so many have suffered (even died!) over the millennia—is that we have these traits and tendencies within us that stymie and counteract and subvert our other, higher notions such as goodwill toward man, love of one’s neighbor, caring, compassion, a reasonable type of equality and equal opportunity, etc. I try to make the case that America is being torn apart by neo-fascist, extremist conservative, nativist, white supremist, Trumpist values, and that this must be reversed if we wish to avoid another January 6th, another Civil War, or a complete inability to counter global threats such as China and Russia.

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Quotes About Religion and Secularism

freedom from religion October 9th, 2022

In this blog about the downsides and abuses of religion, one will find many interesting and rare quotations by both zealots and true believers, as well as by those who are atheistic/agnostic/secular/humanistic/freethinking!

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Aristotle’s View of Humanity’s Highest Aspirations

humanity's highest aspirations September 29th, 2022

Aristotle is the grandfather of ethics and human flourishing; his book The Nicomachean Ethics has been a classic read in philosophy and ethics courses at universities since about 340 B.C.E. He studied with Plato and is largely credited with inventing logic and natural science. In this blog, I will share a brief outline of Aristotle’s first section entitled “The Human Good”, including a few quotations about humanity’s highest virtues.

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Ignorance is Often Not Bliss

ignorance September 9th, 2022

There is a saying that passes as folk wisdom: ignorance is bliss. That is, if a person ignores information, facts, and wisdom (and remember that ignore comes from the same root word as ignorance, of course), or is otherwise benighted, misinformed, mentally lazy, or superstitious or biased to an adequate degree, then they will be happier, so it is claimed. Not so! I consider it dangerous, not a route to happiness. What follows are some thoughts I have about what a state of stupidity we humans seem to consistently find ourselves in. It’s a species-wide flaw!

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The Danger Posed by Far-Right Extremism

extremism August 20th, 2022

I wish to make three points which, hopefully, will lead a reader to accept my conclusion. The premises are: a) Donald Trump is a very mentally ill individual, and probably fascistic and authoritarian and criminal in his heart; b) political extremism on the Right is out of control and untethered to reality or decency; and c) far-Right extremism is buoyed by a noxious media echo chamber, fueled by white supremacy, and these individuals don’t seem to have much to lose. They are armed and they are endlessly aggrieved. The conclusion I draw is that America is facing unparalleled danger from far-Right extremists because they are buying this malarkey, have very little “reality-testing” (as psychiatrists call the ability to think critically and avoid delusional thinking), and are quite aggrieved. When combined with the fact that they tend to be armed and hostile and groupthink-y, it adds up to a powder keg of violent extremism.

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Sacred Values Can Lead to Intolerance

intolerance and white supremacy August 11th, 2022

As Scott Atran and Jeremy Ginges noted in their article titled “Devoted Actors and the Moral Foundations of Intractable Intergroup Conflict,” there are things known as sacred values and devoted actors. “Sacred values” sounds uniformly good, right?

Unfortunately, the upsides of having a fervent belief in a particular religious viewpoint, or a willingness to stand up for one’s tribe or political faction, can be easily ruined by the potential downsides of holding certain values sacred. Why? Read on…

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Cosmos: Science, Hope, Wisdom & Inspiration

science July 28th, 2022

Famed astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s obituary featured the President of the National Academy of Sciences, Bruce Alberts extolling him thusly: “Carl Sagan, more than any contemporary scientist I can think of, knew what it takes to stir passion within the public when it comes to the wonder and importance of science.” The television program Cosmos has been a reliable, interesting, educational experience for me and for millions of others; it’s like Sesame Street for this millennium. If you want to learn more about science—astrophysics, astronomy, geology, and even the history of science—this is the show for you.

I will say a few things about it and share a number of quotes from a diverse group of individuals.

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What is Socratic Dialogue?

Socratic dialogue July 17th, 2022

“In order to improve yourself, Socrates insists, you have to know yourself,” said philosopher Judith Barad. Socrates hasn’t been around since ancient Athens, Greece, but the method of inquiry and self-examination he pioneered is still valid and has a lot to recommend it. “Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from the heavens and establish it in the towns and introduce it into homes and force it to investigate life, ethics, good and evil,” according to also-significant Roman orator Cicero. “Socrates’ method was to go about, as he said himself, ‘cross-examining the pretenders to knowledge and wisdom,’ and by the cross-examination, showing them that they were in error, that what they supposed they knew, they did not know,” noted the luminary Mortimer Adler. This blog is about Socratic dialogue – how to appreciate it, and what it can do.

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