On Reading Weird Books in Public

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Robert Nozick closes The Examined Life with a story of how he, when eighteen or so, “carried around in the streets of Brooklyn a paperback copy of Plato’s Republic, front cover facing outward.” He’d hoped someone might notice and “be impressed, (and) pat me on the shoulder…

Democracy and Ignorance

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Citizens in the United States generally cannot explain the fundamental workings of the Constitution, and cannot explicate the American jurisprudential tradition regarding the freedom of expression. Few citizens can recite the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. Indeed, research routinely reveals stunningly high levels of ignorance regarding…

Cynicism and Argument

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse In the wake of the first Presidential Debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, two assessments have come to be widely accepted. The first is that Mitt Romney handily won the debate. The second is that Mitt Romney’s key claims in the debate were demonstrably inaccurate. Neither…

Civility and Public Reason

Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse According to a prevailing conception among political theorists, part of what accounts for the legitimacy of democratic government and the bindingness of its laws is democracy’s commitment to public deliberation. Democracy is not merely a process of collective decision in which each adult citizen gets precisely one vote…

Civility in Argument

Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Democratic politics is all about argument. Hence, with the US election season upon us, expect commentators from across the spectrum to begin offering familiar lamentations regarding the sorry state of our popular political discourse. Often these critiques express a yearning for a mostly fictitious past in which opposing…

Only Philosophers Go to Hell

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse The Problem of Hell is familiar enough to many traditional theists. Roughly, it is this: How could a loving and just god create a place of endless misery? The Problem of Hell is a special version of the Problem of Evil, which is the general challenge that…

The Emptiness of Pluralism

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse In last month’s post, we argued that value pluralism is the view that there are objective and heterogeneous goods, goods that are distinct and irreducible. To hold that there are distinct and irreducible goods is to hold that there is no summum bonum, no ultimate good that…

The Pluralism Test

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse The commentary stimulated by our November post helps to confirm our view that pluralism is a paradigmatic halo term. Many of the respondents clearly want to claim the term for their favored purposes; but the details concerning the term’s meaning are as yet uncertain. Of course, most…

The Case Against Santa

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse As we have noted previously on this blog, Christmas is a drag. The holiday’s norms and founding mythologies are repugnant, especially when compared to its more humane cousin, Thanksgiving. The story of the nativity doesn’t make much sense; moreover, it seems odd to celebrate an occasion that…

Searching for Pluralism

by Scott Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Some terms come with a built-in halo. We use words like inclusive, liberation, empowerment, and diversity to characterize that which we aim to praise. For example, when a murderer gets off on a technicality, we say that he has been released rather than liberated. A club that welcomes…

On the Gods of Horses

Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse The Presocratic philosopher-poet Xenophanes famously noted that if horses could draw, they would draw their gods as horses. The same, he holds, goes for lions and oxen. What is the intended critical edge of such observations? Suppose it’s true that horses would draw their gods as horses. So…

Philosophy and Failure

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Some philosophers are nearly unanimously considered great. Plato, Aristotle, and Kant make the short list. But that happy unanimity does not persist when the question is which is right. Of these three, at most one is. Likely none is. And so it is appropriate to ask: How…

Things You Cannot Believe

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Early in the 20th Century, the British philosopher G. E. Moore noticed that sentences of a certain form have a quite peculiar feature. Consider: I believe it is Tuesday, but today is Monday. Today is Monday, but I do not believe that. I believe that today is…

The Dignity of Skepticism

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Being a responsible believer requires one to have reasons for one’s beliefs. In fact, it seems that having reasons for one’s beliefs is a requirement for seeing them as beliefs at all. Consider the conflict in thought that arises with assertions like the following: I believe I…

The Eclipse of Pragmatism

By Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Pragmatism is widely regarded as the Unites States’ only indigenous philosophical movement. Founded by a quirky and largely isolated genius, Charles Peirce, pragmatism was introduced as a method for clear thinking which insisted that all words and statements be understood in terms of concrete experience. It was…

Dishonest to Whom?

Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Mary Warnock’s Dishonest to God: On Keeping Religion Out of Politics (Continuum, 2010) is an ambitious book. In it, Warnock distinguishes religion from morality, demonstrates the dependence of religious reasoning on moral reasoning, and argues that religious perspectives are nevertheless crucial for social and political life. We have…

Clifford and James on Evidence and Belief

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse William Kingdon Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief” and Willam James’s “The Will to Believe” are yoked together in the story of philosophy. The two essays are taken as the classic starting points for reflection on the norms governing responsible belief. Clifford captures his view, evidentialism, with the…