Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It's Alive! (?)

Hi Everybody!
( Hi Dr Sam!)
This is completely inaccurate, as I'm not yet a doctor, though eventually I'm sure that some will argue that I, like Dr Nick, am not a 'real' doctor.

Anyway, things have been quiet here for too long, but as most of our members are studying at at least a 4th year/Honours level or above, as well as working, they probably don't have much energy left for this. Never mind.

I am considering a range of updates to put in place over the summer. One is a move to Wordpress, which appears to offer a better service than this. But'm going to test it on my personal Blog first, so we will see how that goes.

The second thing I'm woking on is a detailed list of what philosophy and related courses our University offers, which will link to course and program information on the Uni site. If people are looking for a place to study Philosophy in Australia, I want them to find us.

And, on a more personal level, I'm going to try to be nicer, in an effort to not scare so many people away next year. This probably won't work, but then at least I can say that it wasn't my fault.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Philosophy at the Melbourne Writers Festival

(Plagirised from Dirk Baltzly's a-phil list email on behalf of Graham Oppy)

Philosophy at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival

As part of the History of Australasian Philosophy Project, there are the following four public lectures as part of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. These lectures are being recorded by the ABC, and will be re-broadcast on Radio National. They will be available as pod-casts for about one month after they are broadcast.

More Details:

Saturday, August 26

1:30 – 2:30 Barry Taylor (Melbourne University)
“David Lewis in Australia and New Zealand”
The Tower, CUB Malthouse
113 Sturt Street, Southbank

3.15 – 4:15 Val Plumwood (Australian National University)
“Nature in the Active Voice”
The Tower, CUB Malthouse
113 Sturt Street, Southbank

Saturday, September 2

1:30 – 2:30 John Bigelow (Monash University)
“Metaphysics in Australasia”
The Tower, CUB Malthouse
113 Sturt Street, Southbank

3:15 – 4:15 Tony Coady (Melbourne University)
“Philosophy in Melbourne”
The Tower, CUB Malthouse
113 Sturt Street, Southbank

The School of Philosophy and Bioethics at Monash University will also be hosting two sessions tailored for secondary school students on Monday, August 28. One session, run by Kim Little, will be on Bioethics; the other session, run by Yanna Rider, will be on Critical Thinking.

There will also be one further philosophy lecture associated with the Heart of Philosophy August Symposium Dinner (at The Golden Triangle):

Sunday, August 27

7:00 – 9:00 pm John Armstrong (Melbourne University)
“What is it we really want to know about a significant person’s
life, love and thoughts?”
(Price for this event is about $90, and includes cost of a copy of
John’s new book.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Meeting Times

To be perfectly clear, the Philosophy Club will be meeting on Tuesdays in the McMullin Courtyard from 12 - 2 pm, though unofficially I'll be there from about 11 am. If the weather is inclement, we can be found in the Non-Existent Philosophy Common Room (where staff and students of the Non-Existent Department of Philosophy sometimes lurk), or the adjacent seminar room, MC 110.

I'll put a link in the side-bar so that updates and other events can be added if needed. Suggested agenda for specific meetings could be suggested as comments.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Notices, Updates and Questions

Well classes are back, and people (well actually it was just James) are asking me what is going on with the weekly meetings. Personally I'm happy to continue on having the informal discussion on at the same time and place: Tuesday, 1 - 3 pm McMullin Courtyard (I just didn't turn up yesterday due to the nasty weather). If anyone has any ideas on varying or adding to this timetable, please feel free to suggest them. I'll be turning up at least, until someone advise me otherwise. I notice that PHIL4080 - Philosophy Honours IV is scheduled for Tuesday 12 - 2. Is this actually the real time, and if so where would the honours students like me to move the meeting to? Since Intro to Philosophy B is on from 9 till 11, we have the option of going earlier, eg, 11am till 1 (or 2ish). This also means we aren't clashing with 'Topics' - PHIL3060, but obviously won't work if that time listed for the honours course is the real one. So I guess I'll turn up at about 11ish next Tuesday (unless I hear from people) and see how we go from there.

Other members have also asked if the club, or parts thereof, intend to do anything for This is Not Art (TiNA) in October?

It has been suggested that we might field a discussion panel based on something (I can't remember exactly what) in order to raise the profile of philosophy in Newcastle and make outrageous claims in public. I'm happy to organise this once we have some idea of what we are doing.

There is also an idea for a new club publication that has been suggested to me that I will need to discuss with the executive (what is left of it) and our staff representative. I'll go into more detail about it at the next meeting.

So there it is: Holidays are over and if you are like me - staring down the barrel of a job that is going to turn you into an adminsitrative slave or drive you completely postal if you don't escape, then act now! Seize the day, or alternatively, seize your keyboard and write something. It might not help, but it can't be worse than what you are doing right now, which is nothing.
-Sam Douglas.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Shine on you Crazy Diamond

Sadly, for Syd, there is no other day. He died yesterday at the age of 60 of diabetes complications. I fear from this day on, starving children may be a little hungrier, little kittens a bit less fluffy.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Post-Graduate Symposia Today

Today the University of Newcastle is holding a series of Post-graduate Symposia in the reception rooms on the top floor of the Union Building on the Callaghan campus. The various talks will be running from 9:30 today, with our own Matt Girdler giving a talk on Truth versus Happiness at 3:00 pm. All club memebers and intersted students and staff alike are encouraged to attend.

It is hoped that a transcript and/or podcast of this talk will be posted here in the next week or so.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Philosophy Mailing List

The Australasian Association of Philosophy (AAP) provides a mailing list for the dissemination of infromation that may be relavent to those working/studying in, or interested in the field of philosophy. This should be of particular interest to academics and post-graduate students. (Who should really know about this already).

Subscribe here: http://aap.org.au/resources/lists.php

Thursday, May 04, 2006

First On-Line Philosophy Conference – Papers

The first set of papers for the much announced On-Line Philosophy Conference:

- Mary Coleman, ‘Holistic Directions of Fit and Smith’s Teleological Argument’

- Julia Driver, ‘Luck’

- Noa Latham, Fundamental Laws’

- Alfred Mele, ‘Practical Mistakes and Intentional Actions’

- Stephen Stich and Daniel Kelley, ‘Two Theories about the Cognitive Architecture Underlying Morality’

- Jessica Wilson, ‘Non-reductive Physicalism and Degrees of Freedom’

- Outstanding Undergraduate Paper: Andrew Bailey, ‘Some Unsound Arguments for Incompatibilism’

The papers and commentaries are available here, while comments can be made at the Conference blog.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Foucault, footy and philosophy

Marc Abrahams
Tuesday May 2, 2006
The Guardian

Of all the football leagues for all the players in the world, the Australian Football League is the first to sponsor research that overtly applies the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault.
Australian football is not soccer, nor is it American football. It is, fans and players like to point out, based on a different philosophy from anything else that answers to the name "football". Australian behaviourists Peter Kelly and Christopher Hickey elucidate one aspect of the game's philosophy in a study they call: Foucault Goes to the Footy: Professionalism, Performance, Prudentialism and Playstations in the Life of AFL Footballers.
Read the whole article here

Thursday, April 27, 2006

On ‘John Stuart Mill’

'If anyone does an act hurtful to others, there is a prima facie case for punishing him' - John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Penguin, 1985) 70.

An interesting portrait of John Stuart Mill.

[A bit of an ethics theme with these two posts …]

Review Notice – ‘The Evolution of Morality’

‘Controversial’ Australian (?) ethicist Peter Singer has reviewed Richard Joyce’s The Evolution of Morality for NDPR – includes the requisite discussion of primates …

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Question On Ethics And Schools

Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article – ‘Call for ethics classes as alternative to religious teaching’ – on a call by the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW for ethics classes to be provided in New South Wales public schools as alternative to the weekly scripture lessons that have been part of the public system for most of its history.

The questions I want to put forward are (i) should ethics classes have a place in the school system, and (ii) how should ethics be taught in schools?

For reference, the St James Ethics Centre’s proposal is available here.

Editorial Considerations

We have been getting a reasonable amount of original posts on the blog, which is good, but I have concerns regarding the quality of some of these. I’m not asking for literary masterpieces, but I do have a few requests. (I know that some of the contributors don’t want to hear this but I am going to politely suggest this anyway. Please note that none of these requests apply to Ad hominem, I don’t care what you do there.)

The Editor requests that you please:

Try to spell words properly. I know this is hard, but I’ve taken criticism for poor spelling in the past, and I don’t see why anyone else should get away with it. This is not that difficult and I will expect contributors to attempt this, for the initial post at least.

Pay attention to sentence structure and grammar. If you read a sentence aloud and you sound like a gibbering idiot having an acid flashback, it probably needs to be re-written. This is an aim that is probably less achievable in philosophy, since sometimes things can get a bit convoluted.

Be clear on how you are using words. If you are using an obscure word (or a common word) in a non-standard or obscure way, please indicate that you are doing so.

Think about how this will look to other people. I am happy for people to use this site as a way to speculate in ways that may not be well received in our academic work. New and unusual ideas are good. But in terms of the quality, as opposed to the content, of posts, we could stand to do a little better. I have read 1st year tutorial papers (that are student’s first attempts at academic philosophy) that are better in many of the above respects than some of the contributions that we host. This is not right, as many of our contributors are honours students or graduates.

We are one of the few ways in which Philosophy at the University of Newcastle connects to the Web in a way that a broader audience will see. I don’t want to give the impression to outside visitors that this institution churns out philosophy graduates who are borderline illiterate.

-Sam Douglas.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

AAPAE Conference

( Plagiarised gratuitously from an email I received via the 'aphil-l' mailing list)

AAPAE 13th Annual Conference12-14 June, 2006University of New South Wales
Sydney, New South Wales Australia The annual Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics (AAPAE) conference is the longest established conference in Australasia in the area of Professional and Applied Ethics. Sessions and presentations have regularly dealt with a variety of topics, ranging from ethical issues in health care, to business ethics, ethical issues in education, research ethics, public sector ethics, and many others. Presenters have included academics and practitioners form a variety of fields, and keynote speakers drawn from prominent roles in public and professional life. This year’s conference will take place at the UNSW Kensington Campus.Papers/presentations are welcome in all areas of professional and applied ethics. In addition, identified themes of this year's conference are –

Public Sector Ethics
Healthcare Ethics
Business Ethics
Environmental Ethics
Military/Defence Ethics


So far, in addition to streams in these areas and other presentations, special workshops are being organised in the areas of Defence ethics, and Ethical issues of mental health care – in particular, involuntary treatment. Registrations and presentations already accepted have a truly international flavour. Those who would like to submit papers for presentation at the conference can choose whether they would like a full refereeing process for acceptance, or whether they would like their presentation proposal accepted on the basis of an abstract only. It is not too late to submit at paper. It is certainly not too late to register!Aside from conference publication, presenters will have the opportunity to submit their work for consideration for publication subsequent to the conference. keynote speakers are being organised, and
will include Lawrence Hinman (Director of the Values Institute at the University of San Diego), who will be talking about moral imagination, and, he says, sketching out a framework that is applicable in various areas, including law and business. Full details of the conference are available from the conference website:http://www.arts.unsw.edu.au/aapae/conference06/index.htm/
or go to the AAPAE website
click on ‘conferences’, and follow the links Conference registration and submission of papers are available online.The early-bird rate for registrations ends on May 18

On Ethics And The University

“Unfortunately, there is no employer who carefully scrutinises the ethics courses to make sure they are rigorous enough. University students know that if they fail ethics, or don’t even take ethics, they can still graduate from university and go on to a good job.

And ethics lecturers know that if they make the subject too difficult, nobody will take it. If nobody takes your subject, the university starts asking why they need you. What student wants to waste their time doing a subject that no employer cares about and then fail because it is too difficult and there is too much work involved?

Over time the ethics and philosophy courses become easier and require less work. Not as many books need to be read. The exams are graded less rigorously. Less is required from the assignments” – Eric Claus, ‘Ethically Speaking’ (On Line Opinion).

On ‘The Source Of True Self’

“In 1989 eminent McGill University philosopher Charles Taylor, published a book entitled Sources of the Self. Taylor’s book is a history of western philosophy that, as its title suggests, seeks to explain the origin of the western mind.

While this book is instructive and explains much about the way we now think, a theologian would want to argue that it misses the primary origin of the western self, the person of Jesus. In this we must make a distinction between the contribution to the self made by philosophical ideas and that made by one whose significance cannot be explained in terms of philosophical ideas or in codes of morality, and certainly not as a founder of a great religion, but in his very being as the one true human being.

This is why the New Testament is so puzzling to the modern mind which looks for ideas or even great actions. Here we have a person whom John the Evangelist describes as the Word made flesh, that Word that was with God and was God, the eternal truth of all things. The Christian proclamation is not of a set of ideas but of the perfection of a person, the source of true self” – Peter Sellick, ‘The source of true self’ (On Line Opinion).

Normally I would have refrained from posting this, but it is Easter and I get the feeling that there are certain Contributors who will make fools of themselves misinterpreting this. And there are some who are just going to scoff. But, before your do, make sure you read the entire piece because it gets somewhat better from there.

The only thing missing is the requisite reference to Foucault …

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On-line Philosophy Conference: Schedule of Papers

The schedule of papers for the First On-line Philosophy Conference has been posted, with the first set of papers to be posted on the 30th of April.

Given the alleged ascendency of analytic philosophy within the Club, it is highly likely that most of the readers of this forum will find something of interest among the papers when they are posted.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A claim to make Sam's head explode.

In the Ad Hominem section I made the claim that "physics is just ethicists trying to sound like something else", and Sam broke. Yet, in his crumbling state he did put forward two readings of what I could have meant, the second being more to the mark, that they are both normative systems. Now since Sam has claimed I lake all requisite wherewithal to argue such a case I won't try, but to fill out the picture a little more:

The laws of physics are produced (I make no claims about the laws themselves or those things which the laws describe, but about our awareness of what we refer to as the laws of physics) by observing how things work and then extrapolating. Ethics, similarly, is produced (in similar manner) by observing peoples actions and seeing which we react approbatively, and then extrapolating. Basically, they are both sets of 'laws' that only describe what we see, and do not in fact cause anything to act in certain manner as laws of society, from which the analogy is derived, are supposed to cause certain actions to be performed and cause certain actions not to be performed.

The laws of physics are taken to be different because we have never observed these laws being broken, while we have observed ethical systems being broken frequently. This may be purely because we have not yet formulated the ethical laws to the same degree as we have the physical, rather than because the systems are different. The physical laws certainly have gone through an amount of revision over time. Now I am not trying to suggest that the ethical laws could be brought to such precision as the physical, but that we understand the complexities of the ethical systems more than those of the physical: they are more personal. This of course is an argument that is produced purely through lack of knowledge, like so many other philosophical arguments at the moment, but the lack of knowledge is on both sides. Maybe the model of physical laws is only a model held up because we have limited knowledge of the system, which is upheld by theexistence of continuing work in the area of physics. So, 'physics is just ethics for matter'; what do you think?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

History of the Philosophy Club?

A few days ago I was think about a poster for the club, something that would include: "Corrupting the Youth of Newcastle Since..." (plus a picture of a youth being 'corrupted', whatever that looks like). It was then that I realised that I had no idea how long we had been corrupting these so-called youths.

So if anyone who frequents this site has any information on this, or any ideas on where to start or who to ask, I'd be very happy to hear them. We could compile a comprehensive history, replete with anecdotes and disagreements. (What we will probably end up with is philosophical equivalent of He Died With a Felafel in His Hand. )

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Question On The Nature Of Ethics

Is it appropriate to consider an ‘ethic’ to be anything more than the schema of norms adopted by an individual in the course of ethical decision making?

[Thanks Bill for the post that got me thinking along this particular line.]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Objective Ethics, morality reason judgement faith law meaning relativism death teaching children and honesty

An important point from the discussion today I'd like to highlight is that 'objective ethics' is a contradiction.

There are some systems of beleif that might argue that there is such a thing as objective ethics. For example, religions would assert a set of moral truths - "thou shalt" - which are universally or objectively (ie: true independantly of subjective construction or judgement) true because God/s said they are. And that the set of moral truths constitute an objectively true system of ethics. Alternatively a scientific or sociological approach might investigate the frequency of actual morals and moral principles across society. It might turn out that all cultures or persons hold one or more moral principles/imperatives in common, and that these may be regarded as objective moral standards. Or there might be statistically frequent ones, with confidence intervals etc which are more or less 'objectively true' prima facie from an empirical science point of view. Again these may be regarded as constituting an objective ethical system.

First lets consider terminology. I'll use philosophical definitions, rather than laymans terms, since we are philosophers (In laymans terms 'ethics' and 'morality' are little distinguished. Regardless of terminology, the distinctions are useful for our understanding of stuff). A moral is a 'should'. A moral statement is an assertion that we should behave some way as opposed to a statement that we do behave some way. Morals always involve a choice.

An ethical relation is one in which two or more 'subjects', capable of making choices, can make moral judgements of one another, ie: you should have done x, you should not have done y; it was wrong to do x; you are right; all people at all times should do x but you did y so you are evil... This might also be extended to other judgements, like you are beautiful, but lets stick with morals right now, since most people think of ethics as being about morality.

So it is 'unethical' to treat another 'subject' (like a person) as an 'object' (like a stone, or a tool, only). It is ethical when dealing with subjects to recognise that they are capable of constructing the world in their own way, their own opinions about reality, capable of making their own moral judgements, and their own moral judgements of your actions - and importantly, that they do so independantly of you. You never really know what another person is thinking, etc. In an ethical relationship you recognise that someone is like yourself, capable of perceiving and acting in the world, and of judgement, yet they are not yourself, and you cannot understand them in the sufficiently complete way you would understand a 'thing' or object (like a rock or shovel - whether animals can be subjects or to what extent, is debatable).

So then you have the morality of ethical relationships - what should we do to each other. I should treat people well. You should not treat people like objects. You should not treat me like that. You should use rocks this way, not like that. Everyone should obey the law. And so on.
But the point is, that ethics involves 'subjects'. And the distinctively ethical point about this relationship between subjects is that they are each capable of their own judgement. Because it is a matter of subjective judgement it is necessarily not objective.

This does not in any way devalue ethics or morality as a 'meaningless relativism'. Rather it compels us to acknowledge and respect each other and ourselves as arbiters, as judges. We cannot simply say "You're wrong acording to this book of objective morality here so I'll chop off your head". We cannot act lightly without considering the consequences of our actions. We can't assume what other people think without asking them. It compels us to negotiate instead of force, or at least to accept that to force is our own decision and judgeable by others.

It also is not 'meaningless relativism' in that we can talk to each other, and decide, for example that everyone should have a right to walk down the street without being murdered, so lets make a law saying murder is wrong. I wouldn't like to be murdered would you? And lets say, anyone who murders will be locked up by these other people who have decided to follow that through. We can establish moral principles. We can and do agree on them and fight about them. They are not meaningless at all. Because they are intersubjective, not objective, does not make them meaningless or any less important, quite the contrary - it gives each of us and our moral decisions more meaning that we could possibly have if morals were not our choice.

Each of us must say, "I am the arbiter of right and wrong."And each of us must recognise that each other person is too.This gives us enourmous freedom and responsibility.To say "I am the arbiter of right and wrong." is not to say "Yippee I can do whatever I want." On the contrary it makes us weigh our thoughts and deeds with gravity.

It can be hard and conscience wracking to figure out what is the right thing to do, or if we should care at all. But luckily we are equipped with reason so we can figure it out. Ultimately we can say we made the right choice at the time, given the information, no regrets - but only if we accept the freedom/responsibility of being a moral and ethical creature. It is typically when people give themselves over to an 'objective morality' that atrocities are committed.

One of the reasons religion is appealing to people is because it is hard to figure out what is right and wrong. (Notably many people who turn to religion are people who have really stuffed up their choices in life and have become desperate.) Life becomes easier if someone else tells you.
But I reckon that's a bit of a weak way to be a person (Blessed are the meek!). It is to relinquish what it is that makes you a person - your ability to judge and to choose. (Worth noting here also, that religious beleif depends on faith, not reason which is what we need for judgement).

I must acknowledge that I get a lot of this thinking from Emmanual Levinas - and also that this breif discussion doesn't nearly do him justice. I reckon no philosopher ought to be comfortable talking about ethics unless they have read Levinas' Totality And Infinity - so read it. On reading it - I have to say I didn't understand a single thing he said for 6 pages. Then when I finally did it was like a revelation and I understood what he was saying for those six pages. So - it's a difficult read at first, and it would be good to have a teacher, I beleive Chris Falzon knows Levinas, but once you get into it it is beautiful and thoroughly rewarding. I was almost religious about this book for a while.

On that note - I have no objection to philosophy being personal. Why do philosophy if it isn't relevant to you? Considering the discussion today, I'd like to add that reading Levinas was a significant factor in my decision not to abort the first 'accident' my wife and I had. It has affected my thinking ever since and been a good basis for deciding about how to relate to my children. They are like me, I will teach them, but they are not me, they are subjects and form their own judgements etc. The way Levinas describes love, fecundity, old age and children certainly provides an a-religious conciliation with death.

So when my daughter beleived in God for about a year or so, it was not vitally important to convince her otherwise. I never beleived that her beleifs could be controlled absolutely by me, nor the scripture teacher. And I was ready to accept it if she decided to remain a Christian. I was always honest with her about my own beleifs, which are very hard to explain to a 5 to 6 year old, but I did what I could to explain if she asked. One day she said "Now I beleive in God about a quarter." and that was all her figuring out - even at 6 years old. I never told her not to beleive in God. I didn't even say I didn't beleive in God. But that said, ours is not a religious household.

When there is no objectivity, no absolute truth, independant of us, what matters above all is honesty.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Addressing the recent concern about grillng an evangelist

After one of our recent weekly meetings one of our club members (who shall remain nameless) expressed concern about the treatment of another club member (who also shall remain nameless) at the meeting. Anyway to cut a long story short, Kathryn felt it necessary to offer a consoling word of explanation to Sam after his evangelistic beliefs and ideas were mercilessly scrutinized, criticized and questioned by several other members of the meeting. And it is true that it would certainly have appeared as though we were all in fact ganging up on poor Sam. This was probably due to the fact that we were all indeed ganging up on poor Sam.

Anyway this did get me thinking: My own position is that there was no consoling needed in this situation. It seems to me that this is after all one of the things that we in the philosophy club do (note I did not say that it was the only thing). That is, if I hold an idea or belief, call it x, then one of the things that I do as a philosopher is to submit x to whatever tests that those around me or the world in general can throw at it. After all as a philosopher I can only benefit from testing x in such a way. If I am right and x is a good idea/belief then in principle it should stand up to such tests and my convictions will be confirmed. If however x is faulty in some way or just downright wrong then by submitting x to such tests then I can come to learn of its problems and either correct or reject x, whichever is appropriate. This much seems to be self evident to me and I have little doubt that it would be self evident to others in the club as well. Hence as a group of philosophers it seems that this testing of our ideas and/or beliefs is, as I said above, just something that we do. It is also something that we all benefit from. As such I feel that Sam needs no consoling after his grilling since this is something that he should expect if he hangs out with us. My question here has two parts: first, is this line of reasoning sound? the second is, am I right in expecting Sam to just keep up with whats going on in the club or should we take time to consolingly explain to him how this thing works?

Of particular interest here is, what do you think Sam?

interpretation: hard, but not really that hard

there is some stuff here that gives ways of limiting the number of meanings you can get out of one book


Thursday, March 16, 2006

How to find the Weekly Meetings on campus.

Look for us in the McMullin Courtyard (at grid reference L, 3) on Tuesdays from 1 - 3 pm. If it is raining etc, then we will usually be in the Non-Existent Philosophy Common Room, or MC110.

Browseable Map

Printable Map (.pdf)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Online papers on Consciousness

This collection of online papers on Consciousness compiled by David Chalmers has a huge amount of material that would be of interest to the students taking John Wright's honours course at the moment (or anyone else interested in this area). Some of the papers are not available in full, but at least those would point you in the right direction. Either way there is plenty here, over 2000 papers, and more on his personal page.

(It's amazing what you find lurking in your bookmarks folder).

Friday, March 10, 2006

All is Well

I've got nothing to say, but it's OK. Good morning.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

26th Philosophers' Carnival

The 26th Philosophers' Carnival is on at Hesperus/Phosphorus (the "decidedly unofficial" group blog for philosophy graduate students at the University of Southern California.)

If you are into logic-type stuff check out Rad Geek's "Chopping logic with nested conditionals: the Impiety Paradox"

Sadly, if you are into continental style philosophy, this carnival will not have a whole lot for you, but there is still plenty worth looking at.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Corrupting the Youth -- A History of Philosophy in Australia

C.A.J. Coady, (University of Melbourne), has had his review of this book published on The University of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews site.

Now I know it has taken a while, (it was published in 2003), but it is so rare that something that mentions Australia gets this sort of coverage, I could not resist. My only real criticism is that we did not rate a mention in the review.

Read the Review Here

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Adversary Culture

The perverse anti-Westernism of the cultural elite
Keith Windschuttle
Address to: Summer Sounds Symposium, Punga Cove, New Zealand
February 11 2006

"For the past three decades and more, many of the leading opinion makers in our universities, the media and the arts have regarded Western culture as, at best, something to be ashamed of, or at worst, something to be opposed. "

Read the whole article Here!

This is well worth the read, even if you do not agree with much of the content. Some of the reversals in opinion that the author details make me think that an analysis of the power micro-relations at play (which would reveal many academics and 'experts' selling out their overall ideals and culture for short term noteriety and the irresistable urge to be contrary) is more likely to explain their actions than anlysing these opinions as such.

Monday, February 20, 2006

God-related Games

Here is the link that I promised to post to the The Philosophers' Magazine online games. There are two listed, the best of which is Battleground God. It claims to test the rational consistency of your answers to various questions regarding religion. This is worth playing if you are a philosophy student at any level, but is especially applicable to those studying Reason and Religion, or who have an interest in the Intelligent Design debate.

Battleground God

These are just a few of the games offered by TPM online, the rest can be found here .

Feel free to post your scores (and your comments obviously) as comments.

Separation of Church and University?

How much should a secular, and in theory independent institution endorse (or appear to endorse) the views of a particular religious group?

I asked myself this as I sat at the official welcome for students in the Faculty of Education and Arts here at Newcastle. This function consisted in the Assistant Academic Registrar, Heads of School(s), Program conveners and the Pro-Vice Chancellor giving speeches to the mass of incoming students covered by this faculty(we accounted for 35% of the total intake this year). This part of the program was normal enough. At the end usually a representative from NUSA, (the Newcastle university Students Association) gives a quick talk about the support services they offer to students etc.

But between the academics and the NUSA rep, someone (and I know who) allowed two Newcastle Christian Students (NCS) members get up and make a short presentation on why people should become go to their functions and how they want to share Jesus' word etc.

NCS are well known for their activities on campus, and their somewhat conservative views on anything remotely fun. But this incursion gave the message to new and naive students that NCS is a part of structure of this university in the same league as the faculty officials or the student union organisation. It also gave the impression that Newcastle is a majority Evangelical Christian campus, which I would dispute (I think we are mostly apathetic as far as religion is concerned).

If they can get a spot in the official welcome, then we should have too, along with any other club or society that craves the limelight. I have had just about all I can stand of NCS taking every possible opportunity and using every possible resource and connection to promote their message. I think that the 'ignore them and they will go away' strategy that other members have adopted in the past has totally failed and that we should adopt a more aggressive attitude. Would Nietzsche ( a younger one at least) have taken this lying down? No. He would have burst something. ( I know I almost did).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Question On The Rigour Of Analytic And Humanistic Philosophy

Thinking about responding to Mr Pender’s recent post – ‘On allegory and meaning’ – I considered the use of allegory and analogy (I’ll agree that, as techniques, they have their place, though I often wonder if they are used when other techniques may conveyed their message more precisely [which seems to imply that I think less of them than other techniques, though I can think of no legitimate basis for this position]).

This set me wondering on a different question; why is it that ‘analytic’ philosophy is considered more rigorous? Perhaps this perception is purely subjective (it was part of my initial response to Mr Pender), but their seems to be a general view that analytic philosophy is more intellectually rigorous in its arguments and presentations than ‘humanistic’ (or Continental, if you will) philosophy. Is there that much of distinction – in terms of rigour – between high calibre works in either tradition? Or is it simply a bias on the part of the anglophile/Anglophone analytic tradition?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Pepsi Challenge, Swinging Priests and People Who Clean Up My Messy Links.

Just a few of my favourite things.
Here's a semi-interesting follow up to the previous link I posted....

Don't preach to scientists in evolution row: Kueng

On allegory and meaning

I have been accused, and probably quite rightly, of things along the lines of being to damn mystical, a bloody day dreamer, or a useless hippy loony. These accusations have speued from my interest in literature. But here is my question; if meaning is so unsure as Kripky seems to argue, then why is there any trouble speaking in stories rather than whatever that which is not spoken in stories is spoken in? Surely the practice of saying one thing to mean another was brought in as an attempt to produce clarity. Maybe it is similar to the mathematicians insistence on 'elegance' rather than brevity or simplicity.

Anyway, I like stories, and am intrigued by Camus' use of the sun and the sea as antitheses that have very strong crossovers in their nature. Both give and take life, and make on feel alive and jealous of their life. So they cannot really be true antitheses in the logical sense, but nonetheless, this is how they are held up. So i object to the claim that speaking in stories means a lack of logical rigourand instead claim that it is useful still once logic has ceased to be. It is said that philosophy began in wonder, and I think tis is where it should stay, as a means of framing questions, and only answering tem in order to ask a different question. Anyway, that's my story; what do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Advice For The Freshers …

It is, allegedly, O-Week at the University of Newcastle. Perhaps some Freshers, having survived contact with the Philosophy Club stall (if it exists), will find their way to this philoblog. And what will they find here?

Well, they will find a link to some advice that I have long admired.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Regarding ‘Benedict Takes The Pepsi Challenge’, Roman Catholicism and Science


I’d like to address the first issue – the compatibility of Roman Catholicism and scientific thought.

Firstly, Peter, the easy position is that if the Pontiff claims that Roman Catholicism and science are compatible then they are, due to pontifical infallibility (the Pontiff is infallible on theological matters; within limits now-days). It is an easy position, but can be set aside for the purposes of this discussion.

Secondly, the more complex theological position (as I understand it, and considerably oversimplified). Drawing from the non-literal interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that is current in Roman Catholic theology, science has been assumed into the Roman Catholic worldview. (You have to remember that this is the Church that hosted and canonised Aquinas, Anselm, and Abelard, and that gives the Jesuits the capacity to build large radio telescopes. It is also the Church whose spiritual leader was well aware that Galileo was right about planetary motion at the time of excommunicating him.) To clarify, in a series of pontifical encyclicals, the Church has adapted doctrine to accord and accept scientific development/discovery. For example, a theologically acceptable version of Darwinian evolution is now taken as part of Church teaching, with the opening of ‘Genesis’ being viewed as a creation myth used to explain the process of how the world and its populations came to be. Further, there are no points of difference between Church teaching and current physics. In this theological system, God is relegated to the purely metaphysical – a figure outside the scope of possible scientific knowledge. It is within this framework that the Church position on miracles – an issue debated here last year – holds that a miracle is something that cannot be explained by rational and sceptical science.

The basic point is that the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to accept any position that is considered scientifically acceptable. The point of difference is that Roman Catholic dogma postulates the existence of God, and insists that this deity exists outside the realm of the scientifically knowable.

[I probably should have stated up-front that it has been a good few years since I dealt with any of the relevant material, so I’m far from infallible on these points. Further, should anyone feel like really engaging on this topic – you know to whom I refer – you might want to spend some time reading the various encyclicals and doctrinal documents prepared on the relationship between science and Roman Catholicism before you comment, but I – personally – think that none of the regular contributors to this blog are in any position to treat this particular issue at the moment. I am even prepared, having dealt with the topic to this extent, to say that to go further is beyond me – and I, of us all, should know the material having been educated in Catholic schools.]

Post Script; His Holiness is actually trying to extricate himself from involvement in the Intelligent Design debate. He made comments last year that were viewed – by some commentators – as being out of sync with the position articulated by his predecessors and which were criticised accordingly. Essentially, he made a comment that, translated into English, could have been taken as a support of ID, which was seen as challenging the acceptance of evolution. Further, the Pontiff is in no position to relieve the pressure in the states; ID is a Christian issue, NOT a Catholic one. As I’ve pointed to, Catholics are pro-evolution.

Benedict Takes The Pepsi Challenge

Some recent comments by the pope suggests that he's not afraid of those 'other' ideas.

In light of our recent discussions this might hold some interest. I think the two most notable issues here are 1) whether the pope is right in his claims and science is actually compatible with his faith and 2) it looks like the pope is attempting to alleviate some of the unrest in schools (especially the in the U.S.) over the creationism vs. evolution debate.

Any thoughts?

Yahoo News piece.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I have a question. How does the justification of justification run?

Now, if justification does not require a justification then any demand for justification is unjustified, thus hypocritical.

If justification does require justification then how is this done without begging the question?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Brief Methodological Note Regarding ‘February 1, 2006’ in ‘A Question For The Theologists’

A comment made on ‘A Question For The Theologists’ has come under methodological criticism, and I think it better to state my defence here rather than in that strand of discussion because I would rather that strand continue discussing the theme than methodology.

Michael set out several charges against my comment. He charged that I added nothing, that I accused him of misapplying a word, and that I alleged that no other positions were being advocated. I am prepared to admit guilt on all three charges, but would like to present a brief defence.

Firstly, I am aware that my comment made no substantive contribution to the debate in comparison to the eristic presentations that had been going on. I have taken a methodological view that, though eristic may look impressive, it is not good philosophical practice. I would rather add nothing, in substantive terms, than advocate a position in an area that I am not entirely competent in. In such cases, I try to be somewhat Socratic in my method.

Secondly, I have in fact charged Michael with misapplying a word. This was not my intent. Michael stated at ‘January 31, 2006 3:33 pm’ that he was confused – probably in response to an earlier post – and then presented the following question “Now if you think, but are not sure, that god doesn't exist, and it matters, is this not agnosticism, rather than atheism?” From this I read that Michael had misunderstood the concept of agnosticism and wanted that concept clarified. It has been made apparent that I was wrong to read his comment in such a way, and that my response was inappropriate.

Thirdly, I did make the observation that no other positions were being advocated. I stand by that observation. The way I have been reading the strand of comments takes Michael as advocating a certain position that others have been attempting to critique. Yes, they have been doing this from their repsective positions, but it had been some posts in the thread since anyone else had advocated, as I take the term, a position.

Having answered my critic, I would like to make a few other comments and replies. Perhaps these should be located in the comments on ‘A Question’, but I will set them out here.

Firstly, I persist that Michael is using a poor conception of agnosticism. As he apparently ‘defined’ it, in the aforementioned question, it holds only a vague similarity to the concept as I defined it, which I assume to be the more common definition. This is only an assumption, but I’m yet to come across an agnostic who holds a Michael type view. Secondly, Michael, I have read Hicks. I dare say that Samuel has as well. The Philosophy of Religion, Second Edition is an introductory text on the philosophy of religion – not language – that has been on the PHIL1020 reading list, as well as on the Reason and Religion reading list. Thirdly, you may feel that imposing dictionary definitions on terms used in a discussion is poor form, but I take it to be good form because the terminology of your discipline is highly reliant on its practioners being able to understand each other. If you want to challenge a conventional concept, you need to establish that convention and then set out why it needs to be changed. This is how philosophy is practiced, not by simply asserting your prefered definition and hoping that all will accept. Chances are that they will not.

I wish to conclude with a proposal on how the discussions on Dialectic should be set out in the future. Having observed the practice of commenting, I think that in future comments should be limited to questions and clarifications of a specific post. Positions and critiques of posts should be presented as a new post. These posts should have a heading of the type ‘RE: ‘A Question For The Theologists’ I’ (or similar … I’m not fussy, and it is no longer my place to expound editorial policy). This would enable the advocacy of positions to be more apparent, and issues of clarification to carry on alongside discussions. The Becker-Posner Blog may be a model that can be adapted. How, and whether, this proposal works is entirely reliant on the practice of the contributors and the conventions that should evolve.

[I feel that I may be charged with excess for this post, or that some may claim it as a victory. To those who would charge the former, it probably is. To those who would charge the latter, you’ve not understood the post at all.]

Friday, February 03, 2006

An argument to be held in stories.

An illustration of the relation between theism, atheism, agnosticism, skeptics and irreligious.
There are two giant birds flying, and between them hangs a rope that each grasps in it claw. On the back of each bird ride many people, but riding in the bird’s back between the wings so that they can see neither the other bird nor the rope nor the fall to the ground. Across the rope also many people wander back and forth, seemingly lost. They want to leave the rope for it is round and they fear to fall, but they can’t bring themselves to choose either bird over the other, so they remain on the rope. Far below is the ground. On the ground are many people: among them are those who have never looked up and wondered what it is like to fly, and those who have but have dismissed it a mere dreaming.
The one represents theism, the other atheism The rope represents agnosticism. Those on the ground that don’t look up are the terminally irreligious people, while those that do I think are cynics.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

25th Philosopher's Carnival

The Uncredible Hallq is Hosting the 25th Philosopher's Carnival.

I have not gotten through all the contributions yet, but Jerry Monaco on Category Mistakes is probably worth a look.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The clock shows the wrong time.

I think it's time we had a discussion on the nature of time. Now there seem to be two main theories of time; one where all time exists as a dimension, and the present moves along/through this time, and the other where only the present exists, and time flows through the present. The first is useful for explaining scientific concepts and the second for theories of identity that allow for alteration, and even complete divorces from and creation of a new identity in the one self, which is obviously disallowed under the first concept of time.

Now as far as I understand it the first concept of time gained momentem because of relativity, allowing supposed movement back and forward through time. the trouble with this is that the person traveling through time doesn't actually have time flow differently for him; it is only in relation to others.

So my idea is that the first idea of time is purely analytical, as concepts of duality in personhood have been accused of being so in the "Question for Theologists" discussion. If this is the case then obviously Augustine must be right if there is a god, in saying that time is just one of god's creations, explaining how he can be perfectly transcendental. In which case the first concept of time is (at least partially) correct because of god's nature. Now we have a contradiction. So either god doesn't exist or the first concept of time is the correct one.

So if we take the first idea of time to be the correct one, then god is not outside of time, and thus cannot be prefectly transcendental, so obviously not god. Again, we have a contradiction, so either god does not exist or the second conception of time is the correct one. Which brings us full circle.

I think it's entertaining, how about you?

Philosophy Talk

I found this site, Philosophy Talk today.

Philosophy Talk is a radio show about philosophy (obviously) that is broadcast/webcast/podcast etc. from Stanford University. I still have to download realplayer so I can actually listen to their archive, but there seems to be some pretty good stuff here: eg a discussion on Intelligent Design with Daniel Dennett, Brian Leiter on Nietzsche, John Searle on Mind or Martha Nussbaum on Friendship. (Their blog is worth a look too).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Notice: O Week Ideas

Since it will probably take a while for us to get organised enough to actually meet (in the flesh as it were), I thought it might be a good idea to start throwing around ideas/plans etc. for Orientation Week (13th - 17th Feb).

I tried to book our stall,but the person incharge of that was away, so I will have to chase that up this week. But other than that it is just a matter of deciding what, (if anything), we want to do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


The ABC has recently been running a documentary series about the idea of race, reporting to us with undeniable genetic proof that which any third year sociology student can tell us without breaking a sweat: the notion of race is just a myth. One of the great myths of modernity no doubt, but a myth nonetheless. Now I haven't watched any of this series myself but having spent a fair amount of time over the years toying with various claims of biological determinsim I got to thinking.

My concern is basically this. The temptation with proving the falsity of such a claim as racial differentiation is to then say something like, "hence cultural clashes that are based on claims about race (such as aparthied) can be seen to be based on nothing that is real". But what if the notion of race was not the cause of these cultural clashes but was instead the effect. There are no doubt people out there who would claim that cultural clashes, be they physically violent or otherwise, occur. They would happen if the people involved were thinking about racial differentiation or not. And it may have been in an effort to explain these clashes that the notion of race was first concieved. Hence proving race to be a myth does little for advancing our position as long as we remain unable to get along peacefully.

Now it is obvious that without the necessary historical analysis I am clearly debating about chickens and eggs here. But to engage in some specualtion, suppose it were true that race was the effect and not the cause of cultural clashes. Perhaps we can find no biological determinants of cultural clashes at all. Now my questions here are, are there any cultural determinants that can be said to cause such clashes and if so what are they? Could we then go on to use our knowledge of such determinants to find solutions and/or preventions to our problems? Or in attempting to find such determinants are we in danger of creating another boogeyman-myth like race? Should we in fact just accept such clashes as inevitable?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ethical Hypothetical – On Disability, Voluntary Euthanasia, And Organ Donation

A hypothetical:

A, a young man of utilitarian persuasion, decides that life with a disability is not justified. A signs a statutory declaration to such effect, adding that in the case of an emergency where an operation could save his life though leave him disabled he refuses medical assistance other than that which will enable his organs to be donated.

A, after this declaration, is involved in an accident that leaves him unconscious and with a leg requiring amputation. Surgery to remove the limb will be uncomplicated, and enable A to live with a disability. Following A's instructions will involve the medical professions in the death of an individual who would otherwise have recovered, though his organs will be donated to numerous other individuals who will benefit from them.

[Cross posted at Epideixis, where comments have been enabled.]

[Comments, you may note, have been enabled here (MH 24/01).]

Calls For Papers

Philosophy Conferences And Calls For Papers has put up it’s February list, for those interested …

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Question For The Theologists....

OK people, I'm after some commentary, tips, corrections, hints, suggestions, etc regarding some thoughts I have been having for some time concerning everybody's favourite topic: Atheism.

First: The basic propostion runs something like this: An atheist is someone who claims that there is no God. And when understood as such (which is quite probably how most people concieve of atheism), atheism is understood as nothing but a denial. Yet if we say that there is no Deity then we must hold that reality, whatever it is, must be an accident. Hence atheism, when properly understood, is not to be concieved of as a just a denial ("No I don't belive in a God") but also as an affirmation ("Yes I do belive that everything is an accident").

Second: Now, I understand that the word 'faith' is often associated with or used to refer to a persons belief in Deity. However it can also be used to refer to any belief which is not based on a proof. As such is it not possible then to say that an atheist has faith? Even to say of a particular atheist for instance, that his/her faith is stronger than that of a particular christians faith?

Third (this is where my concern over these points originated): It seems to me that this type of account of atheism was what was being employed by quite a few 19th C Geman thinkers, such as Nietzsche.

Friday, January 06, 2006

‘How To Read Derrida’ – Review Notice

Dolan Cummings has reviewed Penelope Deutscher’s How To Read Derrida and Peter Osbourne’s How To Read Marx (from a series published by Granta) for New Statesman.

[Cross-posted at Epideixis. Comments have been disabled here.]