Articles about Philosophy

Where universal human rights come from

Universal, inalienable human rights do not come from God and they do not come from nature. They are decided and reaffirmed every day by society. Because we are human, and because the human world is crazy and chaotic and beautifully unstable, our universal human rights are fluid. They evolve, they stretch, they are re-defined and […]

Why I support cloning Neanderthals

I recently came across a Discover Magazine blog article entitled, “Is resurrecting Neanderthals unethical?” The question was pretty simple: if we developed the ability to use preserved DNA and cloning technology to raise living Neanderthals, would there be anything wrong with doing that? Most of the people replying made arguments that followed a similar pattern. […]

I’ve been indoctrinated, and so have you.

I am the son of an atheist scientist and a Unitarian painter. Both of my parents are Ivy-league educated, I was born in New England, and grew up in the northeast. My upbringing was so stereotypically deep-blue that when I was a child I actually thought most people liked President Carter. This is one of […]

it doesn’t have to be natural to be right
Misunderstanding Darwin

As a culture, we have a love-hate relationship with the idea of things being “natural.” We like to use it as an excuse for things that we like: “We must accept it, because it’s natural!” But at the same time, we feel free to dismiss it in cases we don’t like: “We are humans, not […]

abortion and linear separability

People like decisions that are linearly separable. If you’ve got some continuous variable and you want to separate it into two categories–such as “yes/no” or “good/bad” or “moral/immoral” or anything of that sort–people are happiest when they can do it by drawing a single slash mark that divides the variable neatly into two parts.  If […]

the over-generalization over-generalization

Last week a Christian tried to fire-bomb a Planned Parenthood clinic. The reporting on these stories always bothers me: it is terrorism, but it is not reported as such. More specifically it’s Christian terrorism, but it is never reported as such. When terrorism is performed by someone of middle-eastern descent, the media will spend days […]

The death of a symbol
Boy Scout Coin - Back

Yesterday Jon showed me a fantastic historical collector’s item that he owns. It is a bronze “Boy Scout” token created by the Excelsior Shoe Company in 1910. The Excelsior Shoe Company took advantage of the opportunity to associate their advertising with the new Boy Scout movement that began in 1910.  They created a “Boy Scout” […]

Hugo on machines and meaning
What is a machine?

Hugo is a brilliant movie on a number of different levels. There was one moment, however, when the movie reached for deep philosophy in a way that was poetic and inspiring, but struck me as more complex than the movie gave voice to.  Without giving away anything plot-related to those of you who haven’t yet […]

the morality aesthetic
Moral Relativism

There is a class of things in this world that people have difficulty with because they seem to be neither objective nor subjective, but somewhere in between: art, beauty, and music are three of the most-discussed examples. On the one hand, everyone has their own personal quirks and tastes, and it is completely valid and […]

converting sunlight into poo

What is the purpose of life? Many have spent their lives befuddled by this question, believing it to be a large, abstract, and complex issue. In reality, it is none of these things. There is an answer, and the answer is quite simple.  Please allow me to explain. The study of teleology (the study of […]

the magicians of science

“I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in [demons] (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to the belief in [God]. The ‘Life Force’, the worship of […]

Why you are not free (whatever that means)
Everything Imaginable

The popularity of the word “freedom” is in direct proportion to its adaptability. We can slide from talking about a “free market” to “free speech” to “free will” without taking a breath, and we can happily switch between talking about our “freedom” to choose which brand of toothpaste to buy and our “freedom” to practice […]

rethinking physics: an interdisciplinary view

Buck Field is a philosopher, a scientist, and an MBA: an unusual intersection of fields of expertise. Synthesizing concepts from philosophy, physics, and project management, he has envisioned a way to revolutionize our basic understanding of the universe, and perhaps carve a path to one of the “holy grails” of modern physics along the way: […]

the golden age of mathematical philosophy

The four decades from 1940 to 1980 were the Golden Age of Mathematical Philosophy. During this time, the greatest minds of the century brought together cutting edge theory from engineering, mathematics, and physics to speculate on the nature and meaning of mind, morality, society and metaphysics. Today I want to give tribute to some of […]

Judas: saint of secular humanists

I would like to make the case for the sainthood of Judas. Specifically: Judas as the patron saint of secular humanists. His suicide was not out of regret, but rather was the ultimate protestation of the secular humanist faith. I’m certainly not the first person to think of Judas as the voice of the secular, […]

metaphysics on a napkin

At a holiday family gathering, I found myself in drunken dialogue with my significant other’s mother’s best friend’s daughter’s husband, trying to explain my philosophy of the universe. I did a pretty good job. Since it is so rare that I successfully explain my metaphysics in a way that can fit between re-fills of Veuve […]

types of tolerance and respect

It is easy for me to advocate religious respect and tolerance, because I am not a religious man. When I try to imagine political tolerance, I begin to understand how difficult religious tolerance really is for people of faith. As an atheist, questions of faith and religion are abstract and intellectual, much like questions of […]

being a fundamentalist

Consider this: “A fundamentalist is someone who believes that the only way a person can disagree with him is if that person is stupid, crazy, or just doesn’t understand.” This isn’t the dictionary definition of fundamentalism, but I’d like you to entertain it just for a moment. It means that being a fundamentalist isn’t just […]

Circles: vicious and otherwise

This was originally posted to the blog that I had while I was a student at University of Michigan, on September 29, 1999. Not all circles are vicious. Everyone knows about the vicious ones. The famous “this statement is false” sentence. The slightly less famous set of all sets that do not contain themselves (does […]

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