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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Oldies but goldies kept out of our schools

Posted by Dave Bath on 2011-07-28

Crap happens.  It has always happened.  It always will.  So why aren’t our education systems giving to people some of the best means of dealing with that crap? Tools that never age, are easily available, cheap, and nobody has ever really criticized in the last couple of millenia?

Even fixing up the biased Christianity in our schools, replacing it merely with comparative religion and ethics classes: good, but not good enough.  We need to provide kids with the tools for consolation and strength, the classical personal philosophies of the likes of Marcus Aurelius.

It’s deprivation, deprivation bordering on abuse.

Over the last couple of years, contact with a few of old uni friends has been re-established – and a couple of them have been having a hard time.  Intelligent folk, decent, crap from the fates, from spouses, from family courts … and there is one bit of advice that seems to have done the most good – and started doing good almost straight away:

Seriously, check out wikipedia on "Meditations" and Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor who wrote it, check out his wikiquotes, and remember this guy had the weight of the known world on his shoulders, and despite later (unprovable) diagnoses as suffering from depression, ruled pretty damn well, and his notes on how to view the world and the crap happening allowed him to rule well.  Have a browse, and if some of it rings true, get yourself the Penguin translation and open it at random – each paragraph stands on it’s own, so even if depression is hitting your cognition as you say, it’s in easy to digest bite-sized pieces.  Then come back to me if you want more of the Stoics and the Epicureans.

Well, usually within a day I’m getting emails that are "Wow!  Never knew this stuff – I mean, I’ve seen him as, you know, the good emperor in ‘Gladiator’, but …"

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Posted in Australia, Education, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Society, Theology and Religion | Leave a Comment »

New Year thought from the Master of Kung

Posted by Dave Bath on 2011-02-02

"When a country is ill governed, riches and honor are things to be ashamed of."

– Confucius

Collary: A rich person complaining about economic policy admits to being shameful.

Or… Twenty-two million reasons why mining magnates are bastards.

Happy New Year!

Posted in China, Economics and Business, Philosophy, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Why most of us look at evidence and action arse-about

Posted by Dave Bath on 2010-02-10

A very thought provoking paper on why people do not want to, and therefore reject, overwhelming scientific concensus, has just been released on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN): "Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus" (2010-02-07) with the lead author from Yale Law School.

It posits and tests the idea that your worldview will make you, near-instinctively, reject evidence based on whether the actions guided that evidence would conflict with your worldview.

Putting it a bit simplistically, libertarians hate the science of climate change because it demands action involving regulation, and supranational concerted action, while lefties, viewing big business as intrinsically untrustworthy, will not credit any evidence that nuclear waste can be managed.

We are all screwed, unless there are enough people who have the intellectual discipline and inclination to make evidence-based decisions.  The number of "people-of-faith" (e.g. base their lives on the idea that evidence is less important than other drivers) in the world means that evidence will hardly get a look-in, so evidence-based politics and consequence evidence-based policy will remain a pipe dream (unless we convince those with imaginary sky friends to be internally consistent and pray rather than seek medical help).

An agonizing crash of human civilization and population is inevitable unless we get rid of both theists and libertarians (hopefully by educating them properly rather than a pogrom).

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Posted in Australia, Education, Environment, International, Philosophy, Politics, Science and Tech, Society, Theology and Religion | 2 Comments »

Modern Chinese Government – Confucian or Legalist?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2010-02-05

The cloak of Confucian authority has been used previously by Lee’s Singapore, and increasingly China, as justification for authoritarianism, promoting misconceptions in Western cultures, and possibly a subtext in the forthcoming movie about Confucius.

Many parts of "The Analects of Confucius" are quietly subversive, as I’ll show by quotes that confound the common charges against Confucius of being an authoritarian superstitious pedant.  Legalism is the true fist in the thin Confucian glove worn by Chinese leaders.  Both schools stress strong government for order in society, but have opposite approaches.

Legalism demands consistent application of harsh criminal sanctions to promote a cohesive society through fear, while Confucius demanded firm yet gentle leadership of a cultivated population, bringing harmony through education in virtue, as shown by the following:

If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. 
If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good.

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Posted in China, Civil rights, Ethics, Language Use, Philosophy, Politics, Society | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

The species intelligence test

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-08

I propose a test for whether a species deserves civil rights:

Have members of the species found farts or fart jokes amusing, or have been observed playing fart/poop practical jokes on their fellows for no other good reason than amusement?

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Posted in Biology and Health, Civil rights, Humor, Philosophy | 8 Comments »

Hypatia, Logos, Rise of Christianity, etc

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-28

(First, I’ll point to a good review of Primary Sources on Hypatia, and then there is the "modern" well-structured form Hypatia and her dad Theon apparently put Euclid’s "The Elements" into.

Flattered by SL’s great post on Hypatia/Classicism/Feminism/Christianity/Hellenism ("There’s something about monotheism" 2009-07-28) referencing a few posts of mine, and the resulting traffic, I’ve been thinking about the many interesting issues touched on between us and our commenters.

So… here is a series of related posts here on Balneus (and some pretty good comments by others, and I’ll admit to drawing a longish bow occasionally):

  • Mentioned in SL’s post:
    • "Hypatia makes New Scientist most inspirational woman scientist list" (2009-07-25), with a few ‘tubes from the upcoming film about her.
    • "Athena, Hypatia, et al" (2008-03-08) talks not only about classical male attitudes to scientific, military and monarchical expertise of females, but wonders why all the decent virtues (including the arts of war in a just cause) were embodied in a female deity, Athena.  LE’s musings on Hildegard of Bingen are great!
    • "Roman or Athenian" (2009-07-22) started as a bit of fun, although SL gets into Roman Law and feminism – didn’t expect such erudition in response to such a trivial post!
  • Similarly themed issues:
    • "Founding Father of Femmo-Bolshevism" (2008-02-09) discusses Aristophanes and his play (admittedly a spoof of Republic by his mate Plato) in which the women vote themselves into power and establish a communist state – with a bawdy twist
    • "Hier Stehe Ich" (2007-06-16) goes into non-Abrahamist monotheisms (and the implied authority granted by John 1:1 to secular scientists!)
    • "Do the classics created people with progressive politics?" (2007-05-10) and "Do the classics created people with progressive politics? (2)" (2007-05-21) touches on SL’s discussion of classifical thinking and the modern world (Mill, Jefferson), although I’m thinking more about the influence of the classics on ordinary voters.
    • "Pell’s QuadRant essay is sooooo wrong!" (2007-09-05) is a review and rebuttal of Archbishop Pell’s praise of Constantine – a key figure in the fall of non-Abhramist civilization in the West.  It also points to the letters between Trajan and Pliny the Younger, as they try to sort out what the secretive Xtians were actually doing, and what the law’s response should be." To paraphrase Trajan: "What’s this I hear about worshipping a child god, and having a baby’s blood and flesh mixed into bread?  That’s awful!" and "Well as long as one of them hasn’t actually been to one of those cannibal feasts, does the incense and ‘God save Me’ thingy, and promises not to go to any more meetings with baby-eaters, then let them go… but you’d better keep a close eye on them!"
    • But it’s also worth looking at the dawn of history to see early concepts of justice and duty, a time where there was certainly political conflict between male and female, the palace versus the priestess, as well as an annual public display of intimacy between the two, so I’ll refer to one of my all-time big-hitting posts, "The First Literature – The Must Read" (2007-08-10) which introduces Gilgamesh/Bilgames and has a very short rendering (and I’m still after pointers to the ugliest bits to encourage me to improve scanning).  Its themes are still worthwhile exploring today.  When will they turn this into a good film…. PLEASE!

By the way, I’d really appreciate any links to similarly themed material in your comments – preferably with a sentence or two about what the link covers.  These topics fascinate me, and I’m sure I can learn a lot from you.

Posted in History, Philosophy, Science and Tech, Society, Theology and Religion | 2 Comments »

Religious exemption from anti-discrimination law: the inescapable conclusion

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-22

As a hypothetical, let’s say that anti-discrimination laws allow discrimination by certain organizations based on the nature of the organization, such as religious institutions, including schools, wanting to be able to employ only those (whether as teachers, janitors or receptionists) of the same sect.

Then we invite the Education Minister to an interview:

  • Interviewer: Minister, how important do you think it is that children in our education system are not only given basic facts, but are provided with the skills to develop questions and hypotheses, analyze information, and come to the best conclusions based on the information available to them?
  • Minister: (cannot answer anything but "very" unless wanting a change of portfolio).
  • Interviewer: So, essential to the nature of a state education system, indeed any education with support from the state, is the need to question?
  • Minister: (cannot answer anything but "yes" unless wanting a change of portfolio).
  • Interviewer: The dictionary would define "skepticism" as questioning, wouldn’t it.
  • Minister: Ummmm, (quivering voice, starting to see what is coming) yes.
  • Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Australia, Civil rights, Education, Legislation, Philosophy, Politics, Theology and Religion, Victoria | Leave a Comment »

When is a condom not a condom?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-03-29

Reflecting on the discussion over at SkeptiClawyer about the Pontificator’s absolutism against the use of condoms, even when a spouse is infectious with HIV, I was struck by a way the Pope could encourage condom use to avoid HIV infections, even without compromising the Roman stance against contraception.

Consider: a brick wall is a chair when someone sits on it.

The RC church isn’t against condoms per se, but their use as a contraceptive device.  They object to anything that is a contraceptive device (except abstinence), so their objection is functional.

Therefore, using a condom as a balloon, with no contraceptive function, isn’t a problem.

Using a bible is immoral if you are not using it as a bible, but as a blunt instrument to bash someone.

Therefore, when a woman is not fertile, which is for most of the month, a condom is not a contraceptive device, and cannot reasonably be forbidden by the Roman Catholic church: it is functioning ONLY as a means of preventing infection, no different from a latex glove.

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Posted in Biology and Health, Ethics, Philosophy, Theology and Religion | Leave a Comment »

Pre-emptive responses to G at SkeptiCLAWyer

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-02-22

There is a great post over at Skepticlawyer ("The Dawkins Delusion – Guest Post by ‘G’" 2009-02-22) which is well worth reading.  I’ve already written quite a few posts that could be considered a "pre-emptive response" to G’s article.

The fact that an unbeliever like myself used the epithet "great" for a post from a theist that attacks Dawkins should indicate to ardent atheists that G’s post is thoughtfully written and subtle.

I hope G responds to the more subtle of my earlier posts on the subject from the list below:

  • "Dawkins v God (1)" (2005-05-28) discusses how I think Dawkins should have approached the progressive/subtle theists, such as G.
  • "Unrecognized Allies" (2007-05-08) includes a discussion inter alia of how atheists should treat progressive theists that recognise that such theists assert (correctly) that their understanding evolves.
  • "Dawkins v God (2)" (2007-05-30) discusses what I considered Dawkins flawed attacks on the fundies which should have highlighted their hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance
  • "Dawkins should promote quackery" (2008-05-12) discusses what I consider another "own-goal" by Dawkins
  • "Flawed attacks on Dawkins: Zwartz and all" (2007-07-15)
  • "Hier Stehe Ich" (2007-06-16) is my own theological position.
  • "Christianity’s core non-sequitur" (2007-02-22) demonstrates the kind of attack on Christianity that is most likely to unsettle Christians because of it’s use of theological arguments.

It’s also worth (and I must expand on this in a future post) reflecting G’s reasonable use of secular logic and semantics, by pulling apart his Xtian scripture, not just the execrable Saul/Paul, but a key gospel, in defence of Western secular thought which has at least as much authority on theological matters as the Pope or any Xtian theologian.

This authority is implicit in John 1:1 which states:

"In the beginning was the Λόγος/Logos, and the Λόγος/Logos was with θεος/God, and the Λόγος/Logos was θεος/God."

or, in the original,

"Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος"

(My rendering follows the standard use of the definite article in the last clause than the rarer translation using an indefinite article.)

Thus John asserts the Christian God is both of the same substance (homoousios/ὁμοούσιος, not merely homoiousios/ὁμοiούσιος, the difference being merely an iota), and identical to the Hellenic concept of Λόγος/Logos (etymology, Wikipedia) which underpins Western philosophical thought, and thus scientific positions (consider: "BioLOGY", "CosmoLOGY", "OntoLOGY", "GeoLOGY", "SocioLOGY", which are merely of similar substance: homoiousios/ὁμοiούσιος).

Indeed, a minority of (secular) translators argue (and I’m unqualified to judge) that John should not start with "In the beginning", but "BY/BEFORE the beginning", which would make God/Λόγος underpin not just this universe, but antedent to the Big Bang and even the multiverse postulated by many cosmologists.  This would strengthen the case for secular humanists having precedence over later Christian theologians (including the likes of Augustine the Hippo-crit [¿get the pun?] and the much-underrated Origen).

We can also leverage all the arguments of Taoists (including Confucius) because of the similarity with the Tao.

Too few Western atheists point out that authority granted by a Gospel, and even fewer wield that authority.

See Also/Notes:

  • G’s "home" blog ("History and Spirit") has a recent post "A Review of Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion".  In it, G makes the comment (which I at least partially agree with as you can see from my "Dawkins v God" posts):

    The failure to explore the relationship between philosophy and theism in the book is baffling.

    I’ll facetiously point out that while G has category list on that goes:

    • Gok Wan
    • Gospel of Luke
    • Gospel of Mark
    • Gospel of Matthew
    • Hebrews

    I’ll retort with

    "The failure to have ‘Gospel of John’ as a category when exploring the relationship between philosophy and theism on your blog is baffling"

    The only "John" categories are: John Lennon, John McCain, John Milton, John Polkinghorne… but no John the Evangelist!  Baffling, indeed!  At least G has a category for Origen, showing that G is no theological nincompoop.

Posted in Philosophy, Science and Tech, Theology and Religion | 2 Comments »

fMRI, moral decision making, and the law

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-12-20

A short letter in Nature’s Molecular Psychiatry ("The neural correlates of moral decision-making in psychopathy", doi:10.1038/mp.2008.104) demonstrates differences between normal people and psychopaths under fMRI.

I’d like to see similar studies done on those who are sociopathic, such as the "Corporate Psychopath", who often suffer, sorry, cause suffering, because of a lack of ethics and empathy.

While I’m extremely dubious about claims for fMRI use in legal cases, this does open up the door to discussions about whether a person can be held responsible for psychopathic actions.  Is the hypoactive amygdala during moral decision-making the product of nature, or of habit that "trained" the neural network?

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Posted in Biology and Health, Civil rights, Ethics, Law, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

“Nature” journal essays free for one week

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-10-29

Nature, probably the most prestigious science journal in the world, is making available a series of essays on "being human" available for 1 week.

Click here for essays, including:

A look within : A series of Essays examines what science has to say about being human.
Religion: Bound to believe? : Atheism will always be a harder sell than religion, Pascal Boyer explains, because a slew of cognitive traits predispose us to faith.

Posted in Philosophy, Science and Tech, Society, Theology and Religion | Leave a Comment »

Pell’s comments could be welcomed by rationalists

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-07-15

I welcome Pell’s dangerous comments denying anthropogenic climate change and encouraging dangerous population growth, while at the same time wondering whether they suggest that Pell is a closet racist, as well as a closet Manichee, recapitulating a stance that the Roman Catholic church (and it’s predecessors) has considered the most abominable of heresies.

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Posted in Environment, Philosophy, Science and Tech, Society, Theology and Religion | 4 Comments »

Nature and religious “science”

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-05-19

In my Nature newsletters recently is an announcement for The John Templeton Foundation, which is funding research to prove intelligent design, among other things.  The newsletter included the following:

Does science make belief in God obsolete? Join the conversation among leading scientists and scholars.

I’ll be visiting the site, and hope to provide some notes about content soon.

In the meantime, enjoy Christopher Hitchens’ response: "No, but it should", and his debate with Miller

Posted in Philosophy, Science and Tech, Theology and Religion | 1 Comment »

“Human Rights” – a regressive concept

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-05-04

It sounds contradictory, but because I am a progressive, I don’t want a "human rights" bill introduced, indeed I think the term "human rights" should be considered politically incorrect, and a "human rights" bill might be a win for regressives.

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Posted in Civil rights, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Society | 6 Comments »

Great news – pity it’s a new mortal sin

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-04-03

I’m jumping for joy about a recent Gene Therapy paper, although as it’s definitely in the Roman Catholic mortal sin list, I expect Australia’s own Grand Inquisitor Cardinal George Pell will be jumping up and down in extreme anger.

It promises great reductions in human misery and health costs, but presents a problem for politicians more committed to their electability rather than than the welfare of the population, as well as for lawyers acting on behalf of people afflicted with single-point mutations who want the best for their children.

"Correction of a genetic defect in multipotent germline stem cells using a human artificial chromosome" offers the hope for people with nasty single-base-pair genetic disorders (like Sickle-Cell, Cystic Fibrosis, and a host of nastier syndromes) with the possibility to avoid abortion after a nasty result from foetal testing, yet avoid the need to tinker with genes inside a conceptus by fixing testicular cells before they produce sperm.

Loud cheers for the Japanese researchers, who produced the paper (published online 2008-02-28) with the formal identification "Gene Therapy (2008) 15, 617–624; doi:10.1038/"

Over the fold, I’ll go through parts of the abstract and add explanatory notes, then I’ll talk about the implications and legal/ethical/economic implications.

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Posted in Biology and Health, Philosophy, Politics, Science and Tech, Society, Theology and Religion | Leave a Comment »

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