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A Philosopher of Law on the Dangers of Trump’s Plan to Pardon American War Criminals

By Isaac Chotiner

Well, bellicosity and racism and Eurocentrism contributed enormously to imperialism and colonialism and genocidal wars of the past, for sure. What is interesting is that these attitudes normally led to war rather than what is happening with Trump, which is that it’s being matched with a kind of isolationism. My own view—and I obviously can’t substantiate it—is that the reason Trump is an isolationist is because I don’t think he wants to spend money on brown people. That is, I think he feels, Why are we spending our money and spending lives trying to bring democracy and improve Iraq, or Syria, or spending money on fighting in Iran, where we’re just going to have to pour money into that country? Here, the xenophobia and racism actually contribute to isolationism.

The America Firsters don’t want to get into World War Two in part because they think, Why are we trying to save the Jews? Why are we pouring money to protect these ethnic minorities in Europe when who the hell cares about them? There are definitely strong historical echoes.

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The Epistemic Case for the Genuine Diversification of Academic Philosophy

By Brian Wong

Most justifications of the diversification of academic philosophy tend to appeal to arguments along the following lines: i) there exist problematic norms and values propagated by a field dominated by white, privileged scholars working with pre-existing assumptions and implicit biases (Mills 2005, hooks 1991); ii) representation and diversity – particularly in views and arguments – are intrinsically desirable (Trejo 2017); iii) a more diversified field becomes more accessible and engaging for historically disenfranchised minorities (Du Bois 1968). In addition to these plausible accounts, I suggest that there exists a strong epistemic case for diversifying academic philosophy, on the basis that a greater diversity of views results in a higher probability of the ‘organic truth’ to emerge from intellectual exchange and dialogue.

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“When we stop to reflect on the questions of whether our pre-reflective beliefs are justified, a host of different biases go to work. We better remember evidence which supports the beliefs we hold than evidence we encountered which runs contrary to them. We better remember occasions on which we have been correct than those on which we have erred. We have a tendency to judge arguments which support our beliefs quite favorably, while arguments which run contrary to our beliefs are held to a very high standard. When we form judgments about the processes by which our pre-reflective beliefs were formed, we seem to employ as a minor premise the belief that we are, all things considered, quite reliable in our judgements, and we thus have a strong tendency to see our beliefs as based on evidence which we ourselves take to be highly probative, whether the beliefs were in fact formed on such a basis or not. As a result, far more often than not, the result of reflection turns out to be little more than a ratification of the beliefs held prior to reflective evaluation. Rather than serving as a source of correction…reflection tends to act in ways which further cement our pre-reflective beliefs into place within the larger web of our convictions. Many reflective processes thus act not to correct our pre-reflective beliefs, but only to increase our confidence in them; we thus become more self-satisfied, even if no more accurate, epistemic agents.”

- Hilary Kornblith as quoted in Experimental Philosophy: An Introduction by Joshua Alexander
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“But experience is not an opening through which a world, existing prior to all experience, shines into a room of consciousness; it is not a mere taking of something alien to consciousness into consciousness…Experience is the performance in which for me, the experiencer, experienced being “is there”, and is there as what it is, with the whole content and the mode of being that experience itself, by the performance going on in its intentionality, attributes to it.”
- Edmund Husserl as quote in Introduction to Phenomenology Moran, Dermot
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How the dualism of Descartes ruined our mental health

By James Barnes

Toward the end of the Renaissance period, a radical epistemological and metaphysical shift overcame the Western psyche. The advances of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon posed a serious problem for Christian dogma and its dominion over the natural world. Following Bacon’s arguments, the natural world was now to be understood solely in terms of efficient causes (ie, external effects). Any inherent meaning or purpose to the natural world (ie, its ‘formal’ or ‘final’ causes) was deemed surplus to requirements. Insofar as it could be predicted and controlled in terms of efficient causes, not only was any notion of nature beyond this conception redundant, but God too could be effectively dispensed with.


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The answer to what the ego is will largely depend on who you consult or better said, what discipline you take your cues from. Philosophy has one answer. Religion has another. Psychology has yet another. I happen to think that the answer is a conglomerate of their answers; these disciplines see in part, but not the whole. For simplicity, I take the ego to be a constructed identity that isn’t concerned with what is demonstrable, but rather with pretense.

In this day and age, despite people parroting one another and not thinking for themselves, what amounts to what I call the collective ego, people live in a persistent contradiction because they’re also jockeying to stand out, to paint themselves as unique. So people haphazardly apply labels to themselves and it’s easy to see that those labels don’t even fit them! 

“Oh, I don’t have a type! I like all races.” One look at his last five girlfriends betrays that. “Oh I’m demisexual.” “I’m polyamorous.” “I’m sapiosexual.” One look at her last few boyfriends and it’s the same generic look. The guys dress the same, do similar things, have a similar sentence structure, all of which reveals a similar psychology that the individual in question finds appealing. Then people claim to be attracted to intelligence while being drawn to people that are anything but. In their jockeying to distinguish themselves, they become like everyone else!

The ego, whether collective or individual, is an exercise in pretense; in the case of the collective, it’s less about finding oneself and more about constructing a self that best fits in with everyone else. People purport to be anyone but who they actually and demonstrably are and their actions are not consistent with their confessions. 

Speaking for myself, I strive for consistency. So perhaps in that, I am on my way to dissolving the ego because I don’t care for pretense; I care about what can be demonstrated. So if a label aligns with my actions and confessions, I adopt it: hence atheist, naturalist, neo-Kantian, feminist, and so on. I don’t adopt labels out of pretense; I adopt them because they are descriptive of things I say and do. So if I stand out (!), it’s an accident rather than by design because in striving for consistency, I am therefore, unlike most people; I do not, however, strive for consistency for sake of distinguishing myself. The ego is borne of pretense; the self is borne of consistency!

So while my definition is clearly psycho-philosophical, there’s an element of Zen Buddhism involved. In recognition of this exercise in pretense, I endeavor to dissolve the ego, be it collective or personal. I do not construct a self of the best fit, a self that is more palatable to others. If someone happens to like me, I accept it and whenever possible, I reciprocate; if someone happens to dislike me, I accept it. Either they don’t approve of who I actually am for whatever reason or they’re so wrapped up in their own pretenses, that they don’t care to be around someone who’s genuine. Given the trap of the ego, I don’t fault anyone for that.

There’s a seduction in pretense, to the notion of fitting in. There’s a seduction in the need or desire to be well-liked. That seduction could be the very basis or end of an entire life, and while that’s sad, a lot of people have gone through life pretending to be someone they’re not, someone that, in deed, is the very contradiction of who they are, in word. It’s as Thor said in Avengers: Endgame, “it’s time for me to be who I am rather than who I’m supposed to be.” Sometimes you set expectations for yourself and at times, others expect things of you. In either case, a lot of people succumb to the pressure and aspire to the ideal self that will meet such expectations. 

But who are you really? That’s the question that should concern you and the real work is in accepting the answer to that question. Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t improve where you can and make changes that you deem necessary, but it does mean that you stop chasing an ideal, stop constructing a false self, stop your exercise in pretense. A lot of people talk of acceptance and have failed to grasp the concept; part of fully grasping the concept involves the dissolution of the ego. What’s crucial about the concept is, first and foremost, the accept of your self!

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I do not believe true love is a once in a lifetime thing. From my own experience and from what I’ve gathered from the experiences of others, there is no such thing as soulmate. That would, unfortunately, limit every single person on the planet to one love per lifetime. There are, however, what I have dubbed compatibles. I have seen good working relationships in where the couple is about 60% compatible. Sure, they have similarities, but they have glaring differences that sometimes makes communication and decision making difficult. It’s sort of a case of “opposites attract.”

I have also seen working relationships in where people are about 70 to 80% compatible. Then I’ve seen working relationships in where people are virtually perfectly compatible, scoring in the 90s. They have so much in common, share many of the same interests, have similar temperaments, similar senses of humor, and so on. I have been around when people lose a lifelong spouse/partner and meet someone new; some of them go on to remarry. Either the new love reminds them enough of their deceased spouse/partner or they find in this new love marquee differences that they desired while they were yet with their deceased spouse/partner. 

Sometimes you can love the person you’re with despite character flaws that damage the relationship or change whatever dynamic it initially had. You don’t want to hurt this person, so you don’t go out of your way to cheat on them, but it’s natural for you to desire patience over anger, sensitivity over callousness, partnership over help only when it’s convenient, attentive listening over selective listening, appreciation over degradation, present-mindedness over distraction, and attention to the minor details of the relationship over forgetfulness of what made it so great in the first place. All of that can go missing in long-term relationships, but that doesn’t make the love any less true.

You are compatible with a number of people. How many people you’re compatible with depends on who you are. Don’t limit yourself to the proverbial second half. Your potential second half isn’t some solid puzzle piece that attaches perfectly to you. You and that individual are malleable, like a fluid; your current shapes and the manner in which you remold one another will determine how well the two of you become as one.

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I’m guessing you don’t know this, but I don’t deal in faulty thought experiments designed to paint someone into a corner. The issue I have with your question is the same one I have with the trolley problem. Simply put, these thought experiments get nowhere near reality; people rarely, if ever, find themselves in such a situation or any that is at least similar. Given that, I have no real obligation to answer your question, especially in light of the fact that a rational person wouldn’t make ethics the highest priority in their deliberation. I would actually set ethics aside! There are relevant questions to consider that aren’t necessarily ethical and can’t be made to fit in any moral paradigm.

1. How old is everyone on the boat?

2. Who, if anyone, do the people on the boat support or have to live for: children, elderly (grand)parents, spouses, etc.?

3. What are their income levels?

4. Related to 3: Do any of these people have wills that leave behind a substantial enough inheritance for their kin?

5. Is anyone gravely ill already and therefore, has low odds of continued survival should they survive the boat ordeal?

6. How old am I at the point in time that I find myself in this situation?

7. Related to 6: Does this happen this year, a year in when I still have much to live for?

8. Also related to 6: Does this happen 40 years from now when my life has pretty much run its course?

9. Concluding from 6-8: Is there more life in me or am I resigned to willingly surrender my own life, so that the others may live?

I’m sure there are other pertinent questions that can be asked, but the answers to these questions make it easier to determine who you can convince to get off the boat with the hopes that they do so willingly.

Otherwise, such a thought experiment is nonsensical as the probability of one experiencing anything like this is so low that it’s pretty much negligible. The moral paradigm I employ is a guide in real world scenarios and it works perfectly fine for those purposes. All thought experiments do is show what amounts to arbitrary strengths and/or weaknesses of moral paradigms. Yet what’s necessary is to apply given paradigms to the real world to determine the actual strengths and weaknesses each have.

For instance, take the Golden Rule that Christians are to live by. It’s an egoist paradigm that doesn’t work in the real world. If I treat others as I want to be treated, I am assuming that the criteria that one would have to meet to treat me well are the same criteria other people use. I am not taking into account how they want to be treated! That, to my mind, is far more important than my own standards for how I would like to be treated.

As another example, consider utilitarianism. The United States has a factory in Bangladesh to make fast fashion. In the process, the outsourced employees suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts. On top of that, the pollution from the factory degrades the air quality of the nearby residents. Per the utilitarian, since the fast fashion clothing made by the workers results in the greater happiness of the people buying the clothing, the price the employees and nearby residents pay with respect to their reduced happiness and air quality is negligible. The utilitarian therefore places a greater priority on the happiness of the many over the few.

I can go on, but these two popular moral paradigms are obviously flawed given real world scenarios. As you can see, I didn’t need to devise a thought experiment to demonstrate the flaws inherent in each paradigm. The flaws become glaringly apparent when each paradigm is applied to real world situations. The trolley problem, like your question, intends to elevate one paradigm over all others while simultaneously attempting to hide its flaws. That is precisely my gripe with most thought experiments, regardless of whether they’re related to ethics or not. See my thoughts on Gettier Problems, which are thought experiments in the realm of epistemology.

Whatever your moral paradigm, you probably didn’t expect questions 6 thru 9. The real world is far more nuanced that thought experiments. When considering euthanasia, questions like the ones I asked could be very important. One can’t draw ontological conclusions on the basis of logical considerations; that is a fancy way of saying that what the mind conceives doesn’t always reflect reality. We can’t think our way to solutions from an armchair; we have to apply paradigms, be them philosophical, scientific, or mathematical, to real world scenarios to see which work most effectively.

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The short answer to this question is a resounding yes. The long answer? Well, let’s just say, in a certain manner of speaking that money does indeed buy happiness. Happiness isn’t a commodity sitting on a store shelf, so we can’t think of money as a product. Happiness has been defined as a mere emotion. Others have more elaborate definitions: a state of being, a state of mind, something that’s granted exclusively via a belief in a deity, etc. 

Happiness is elusive in that it’s hard to stay happy and also in that it’s hard to define what it is. Happiness, to my mind, isn’t a state of being or mind; nor is it something bestowed on us by a deity we believe in. Happiness is emergent rather than fundamental, so it isn’t a thing in itself. It’s existence is contingent on at least one other thing, but in most cases, contingent on a number of factors that come together to make us happy.

If you are in good health, have a stable career, food on your table, can pay your bills on time, and so on, you may be happy. Or not. You can have all of that and still find that you’re not happy because you want to be in a relationship or because you covet something else entirely, be it a promotion at work or a luxury item you can’t afford or something as simple as being able to move out of the bad neighborhood you currently live in. If happiness is reducible to just one fundamental thing in itself, I would say that it’s reducible to and contingent on freedom

People talk about specifically financial freedom. In that, they imply the freedom to do a slew of things: buy whatever they covet, travel wherever they want, afford a stay at any hotel, and so on. So if happiness is contingent on freedom, then yes, money does buy happiness. Speaking as someone who grew up poor and who is currently a middle class American, I can say without a doubt that I’d be happier if I were more well off. The reason for that is because I value my freedom. Let’s unpack the amount of freedom I’d have if I had financial freedom.

For one, I’d have freedom to control my own time. This is absolutely crucial for me and is usually the source of my frustration and unhappiness. There’s just not enough time! What kind of time? Well, personal time in particular is the kind of time I speak of. I find myself working, even on weekends. I have little time to myself and my time is often allocated more heavily toward other people and their needs. 

I’d also be free to control my own space. This, again, is pivotal. I’m an ambivert, so once my social meter plummets, I need my own space. I find a lot of comfort in solitude. I genuinely enjoy being alone at times. I am most effective in my writing when I’m alone, when there’s nothing but the sound of my own breathing. I can also use personal space to read or to do intensive research.

Determinism aside, I’d also have, at the very least, the appearance of freedom of choice. With x amount of millions of dollars in my bank account, the destinations are boundless. I can go to Punta Cana, Cancun, Paris, Sydney, Prague, Budapest, London, Madrid, Belfast, or anywhere else. I can visit any known monument, any of the eight wonders of the world, and anyone I may know outside of New York City. I can go by plane, by cruise, by train, by bus, or by car. I’d be free to leave however I please and whenever I please.

Financial freedom really is just a way of consolidating freedom of time, of space, and of choice. Money can certainly buy you that kind of freedom. At my current job, I have time constraints. I have to be somewhere at a given time and that’s that. There’s always someone to answer to. If I had financial freedom, I wouldn’t be bound to any such commitments, i.e. I would be my own boss. 

Money can certainly buy happiness, but perhaps the answer is a subjective one. Money can buy my happiness given my drawn out explanation here. If you value different things, then money may not buy your happiness. I happen to think that the answer isn’t subjective though. Unhappiness is always tied to time, space, or choice. It also doesn’t matter where a person finds themselves in the world; you can be American, French, Chinese, South African, or what have you. If you’re unhappy, it’s because you want to be somewhere other than where you are: you hate your job; you hate your abusive stepfather or significant other; you don’t like your neighborhood; you don’t like your country. Or, you want to do something else with your time: you want to sleep more; you want to spend time with people other than the people you find yourself with at the moment; you don’t want to be stuck at your job for eight hours; you don’t want to be in class for seven or eight hours. Or, you want more choices: you’re tired of eating the same things; you’re tired of being in the same city; you’re tired of not being able to afford a fancier vacation.

The poorest people on the planet don’t want to live in the underdeveloped parts of their country. They don’t want to live in a shelter with broken, leaky ceilings. They don’t want be confined to the same space. They don’t want to be stuck in that same situation all the time. They want to be able to make better choices for themselves and their families. Humans have this in common and this is arguably why religion is so prevalent: the promise of eternity, be it heaven or reincarnation or whatever afterlife concept you can think of. What everyone seems to want is freedom. We all want freedom to do what we want and when we want, and we want full access to every choice imaginable in every market we can think of, whether that be food, clothing, shelter, cars, or other commodities.

Or is there something you value more than freedom? If so, can you not buy that with money? 

One last thing! I definitely don’t mean to exclude anyone who is disabled (mentally or physically) nor anyone who has a debilitating illness. But at the end of the day, I think such individuals want freedom too. Money definitely can’t buy a clean bill of health in all cases. I can remove a few wisdom teeth causing me pain, but if the cancer is too advanced, removing any tumors wouldn’t help me at all. Money can buy happiness iff one is healthy enough to fully enjoy their freedom. That’s the thing about retirement eh!? That’s another story though!

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academicatheism:

In this, Erdogen can learn a valuable lesson that will vastly reduce the negative impacts women in Turkey are currently facing. The return of restrictive policies also marks the return of illegal contraceptive and abortion methods, which, in turn, are a prelude to higher maternal deaths. Turkey, like Albania before it, must not go back to the days when abortion was criminalized. There is precedence in the Muslim World and in the world at large that should discourage Erdogen from continuing his de facto ban on abortion and eventually passing legislation that would officially ban abortion. If nothing else, the history of reproductive rights in the Muslim World not only serves as exemplary for majority-Muslim countries, but also countries around the world — especially countries currently enforcing prohibitive abortion policies.

Restrictive policies do not end abortion. Such policies end the lives of many women. In country after country, women literally bleed to death after experiencing complications related to unsafe, illegal procedures. Legalizing and decriminalizing abortion not only saves their lives, but also slows the cycle of poverty. For women in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Chile, Brazil, Northern Ireland, and other countries not surveyed here, the battle is ongoing. We are morally obligated to see what measures need to be taken in order to provide these women with safe, legal access to reproductive healthcare. Also, once this access is provided, we must ensure that there are no barriers keeping some women, be it for economic, educational, or other reasons, from getting and being able to meet the costs related to reproductive healthcare. 

R.N. Carmona Ending The Abortion Debate: On The Issues That Truly Matter

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