Ethnocentricity, Moral Beliefs and Moral Truth

Adam Etinson writes in The Stone on ethnocentrism (defined as ‘our culture’s tendency to twist our judgment in favor of homegrown beliefs and practices and against foreign alternatives’), skepticism about universal morality and the existence of moral facts as  a response to it, and finally, on whether such skepticism is warranted. To wit, concern aboutContinue reading “Ethnocentricity, Moral Beliefs and Moral Truth”

The Sidewalk Book Disposal Scheme

New York has lots of books: in stores, libraries, shelves in private collections, sidewalk sales, and sometimes, in boxes on sidewalks, being given away, with or without a sign that says ‘help yourself.’ These books have been abandoned; their former owners do not have the space (or time) for them any more.  Perhaps a moveContinue reading “The Sidewalk Book Disposal Scheme”

Ten Years After: The Anti-War March of Feb 15, 2003

Exactly ten years ago, I gathered with hundreds of thousands of others, on a freezing cold day in New York City, to take part in an anti-war march. I was still hungover from a friend’s book party the previous night. We marched, got corralled into pens, felt our extremities freeze, jousted with policemen, lost friends,Continue reading “Ten Years After: The Anti-War March of Feb 15, 2003”

Michelle Rhee Shoulda Gotten An Education

Late last night, I stumbled across an ‘interview’ with Michelle Rhee (linked to by John Protevi on Facebook). (‘Michelle Rhee Gets an Education,’ New York Times Magazine, 2 February 2013). The comments section is absolutely priceless, and well worth a read. Here, I want to address a couple of her responses, because they offer usContinue reading “Michelle Rhee Shoulda Gotten An Education”

‘What One Cannot Or Will Not See, Says Something About You’

From Rachel Cohen‘s A Chance Meeting: There was something of the mystic about [Beauford] Delaney. His friends regarded him as a kind of minor deity, and his stories and observations often had the quality of parables. [James] Baldwin told the story again and again of standing on Broadway and being told by Delaney to lookContinue reading “‘What One Cannot Or Will Not See, Says Something About You’”

Contra Ed Smith, Plain and Clear Language is Still a Virtue

In the New Statesman Ed Smith pushes back at Orwell‘s classic ‘Politics and the English Language‘: When politicians or corporate front men have to bridge a gap between what they are saying and what they know to be true, their preferred technique is to convey authenticity by speaking with misleading simplicity. The ubiquitous injunction ‘Let’sContinue reading “Contra Ed Smith, Plain and Clear Language is Still a Virtue”

Meek’s Cutoff and the Terror of the Beautiful

In the summer of 1998, during an epic road-trip out to the American West, I drove from Idaho into Oregon, heading for Eugene. I was still recovering from the surprise of having found out that the landscape of Idaho had been nothing quite like I expected it to be. (Idaho; potatoes, right? So, flat fields,Continue reading “Meek’s Cutoff and the Terror of the Beautiful”

Adam Gopnik on the Scientist’s Lack of ‘Heroic Morals’

In an essay reviewing some contemporary historical work on Galileo, (‘Moon Man: What Galileo saw‘, The New Yorker, February 11, 2013), Adam Gopnik, noting Galileo’s less-than-heroic quasi-recantation before the Catholic Church, writes: Could he, as Brecht might have wanted, have done otherwise, acted more heroically? Milton’s Galileo was a free man imprisoned by intolerance. What wouldContinue reading “Adam Gopnik on the Scientist’s Lack of ‘Heroic Morals’”

Babies and Personal Identity

As a professor of philosophy I have taught personal identity several times; almost always in introductory classes; mostly via John Locke, David Hume, and the Buddha, and by relying on standard examples in the literature (the Ship of Theseus for instance). Invariably, I begin my class discussions of  personal identity by saying something along the linesContinue reading “Babies and Personal Identity”

Henry James on the ‘Fatal Cheapness’ of the Historical Novel

Reviewing Colm Tóibín‘s The Master, a ‘novelistic portrait’ of Henry James, Daniel Mendelsohn writes: ”The Master” is not, of course, a novel about just any man, but rather a novel about a figure from the past about whom we know an extraordinarily great deal, through both his own and others’ memoirs, books and letters. As Toibin wellContinue reading “Henry James on the ‘Fatal Cheapness’ of the Historical Novel”