Dumbing down

There are different kinds of silence; ours, I think, was an instinctive dread of catching the plague of dramatic rhetoric. People do not realize how insidiously, in certain circumstances, they can be infected by the rhetorical. And how important it is at least to try to shake it off. And to do so in the name of what seems a simple but is actually a perverse rule, that it is on the slippery confines between the banal and the mysterious that we only fleetingly brush against the never wholly grasped nature of things.
– Gustaw Herling

The evils of “Democracy”

It has frequently been commented that the US has a rather peculiar relationship with democracy, at least in an ideological sense. They trumpet its virtues and their pride in being democratic, and even sometimes start wars, ostensibly in defense of this political system.

Agnostics

Truthdig has posted an interview with Sam Harris (previously discussed 1,2), in which he has an interesting answer to the question of what distinguishes an athiest from an agnostic.

Apathy #2

Does sitting on your hands mean that you should resist complaining? A friend claims that complaining is a natural part of human conversational fabric, whether or not one intends to try and resolve the issues that are being complained about. My argument was typically principled but highly impractical (as they often are), in that I was making the claim that unless you are prepared to try and effect change, you really don’t have the right to complain.

Private intellectuals, public morons

My students are due to hand an essay in next week. Besides the typical whingeing relating to things like essay length (1500 words is apparently unreasonable these days), I’ve also had some students saying things like “if I had wanted to study museum subjects then I would be a Humanities student”. This, after I had the temerity to ask Economics students to read 2 pages of John Stuart Mill. By and large, this anti-intellectual culture seems to be thriving in the media also – this Sunday was typical, in that the weekend papers provided their usual 30-minute-maximum of diversion.

The End of Faith

One very positive development, following the publication of Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, is that commentators on the issue are occasionally taking pains to identify themselves what one might call “moderate athiests”. See, for example, this review by David Niose of Humanist magazine.

Apathy

A friend remarked over dinner that, if we were in London (his home town), power outages such as those experienced in Cape Town of late would result in marches and the like. This may be true, and I can’t help wondering if my feeling that there would simply be no point in marching is a) true or b) an indication that he’s highlighting a deep-seated apathy that Capetonians (maybe South Africans) are prone to.

Coherentism

Neverness has posted something on ignorance, and using coherentism as an epistemological framework. I’d agree with what he says if it’s meant as a descriptive claim – about what humans tend to do – but I’d be wary of suggesting we adopt coherintist epistemology as a normative proposition. It doesn’t embed or endorse some very useful, and seemingly justified, logical rules (excluded middle, non-contradiction, etc.).

I also don’t believe we should leave out some key insights from virtue epistemology, namely that we are at least partly in control over what path to go down in terms of the “set” or “tradition” of beliefs to follow. For example, isn’t it reasonable to demand us to ask, when encountering a new proposition, whether Occam’s Razor would challenge us to reject it or not?