Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Calvin gets existential

I suggested Woody Allen as a more accessible version of Camus, in class yesterday; but maybe Calvin's even better. Thanks for posting this, Derrick.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Herman's coming to town

Herman Cain's coming to my campus, but (our administration assures us) not as a campaigning politician.
This event was scheduled as a student-oriented, educational session before Mr. Cain declared his candidacy.  His appearance on Dec. 1, therefore, will not be political in nature but rather will focus on his experience as a businessman and entrepreneur.
"Therefore"? Hahahaha.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Intro to Philosophy text?

I've been trying to replace the late Robert Solomon's A Passion for Wisdom: A Very Brief History of Philosophy for a long time in the course formerly known as Intro which I've started calling "CoPhi" instead (short for the pluralistic collaborative form of  "CoPhilosophy" William James advocated).

It packs philosophy's story into an extremely concise and accessible package, without sacrificing too much precision or honesty. But Passion's nearly fifteen years old, and I'd like to try something a little fresher.

So far, I have yet to find a worthy successor. But Nigel Warburton's A Little History of Philosophy looks promising. (Sample pages)

My concern is the new book may be just a little too light and breezy. Its ideal reader, I think, would be a motivated high schooler encountering philosophy for the first time. Will it strike our college students as beneath them? Will they read it? (Always a question, nowadays, whatever the text.)

I would supplement it with an intellectual biography or two. How to Live,  perhaps. Or Courtier and Heretic. Or maybe bring back Logicomix, which went over well last year. Or stick with Doubt and Passion.

Change is a good thing, but it's never good to fix what ain't broken. This'll be a tough call.

Atheism & Philosophy


Spring Semester 2012-
PHIL 4800-003  Readings in Philosophy:
Atheism & Philosophy

With special emphasis on ethics, and how atheists, agnostics, humanists and other deity-deniers establish a personal sense of right and wrong.
Were all other things, gods and men and starry heavens, blotted out from this universe, and were there left but one rock with two loving souls upon it, that rock would have as thoroughly moral a constitution as any possible world which the eternities and immensities could harbor. It would be a tragic constitution, because the rock's inhabitants would die. But while they lived, there would be real good thing and real bad things in the universe; there would be obligations, claims, and expectations; obediences, refusals, and disappointments; compunctions, and longings for harmony to come again, and inward peace of conscience when it was restored; there would, in short, be a moral life, whose active energy would have no limit but the intensity of interest in each other with which the hero and heroine might be endowed. We, on this terrestrial globe, so far as the visible facts go, are just like the inhabitants of such a rock. Whether a God exist, or whether no God exist, in yon blue heaven above us bent, we form at any rate an ethical republic here below. And the first reflection which this leads to is that ethics have as genuine and real a foothold in a universe where the highest consciousness is human, as in a universe where there is a God as well. "The religion of humanity" affords a basis for ethics as well as theism does.
-William James, “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”

Was James right? We’ll see. The course will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:40 – 4:05, in James Union Building room 202.
Readings will include
·        Baggini, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction
·        Anthony, Philosophers Without Gods
·        Blackford, Fifty Voices of Disbelief
·        Harris, The Moral Landscape

For more information contact Dr. Oliver, poliver@mtsu.edu

Monday, November 21, 2011

"New Courses"

I went back to visit our curriculum committee again Friday afternoon. The results this time were quicker and happier than back in April.  PHILOSOPHY 3160, "Philosophy of Happiness," now enjoys a permanent designation and place in the university's course catalog: 
This course examines the concept of human happiness and its application in everyday living, as discussed since antiquity by philosophers, psychologists, writers,spiritual leaders,  and contributors to popular culture. 
Likewise for PHIL 3310, "Atheism and Philosophy":
This course examines various philosophical perspectives on atheism, understood as the belief that no transcendent creator deity exists, and that there are no supernatural causes of natural events. The course compares and contrasts this belief with familiar alternatives (including theism, agnosticism, and humanism), considers the spiritual significance of atheism, and explores implications for ethics and religion.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

goals & sacred grounds

There's a nice story about the reigning queen of coffee, a Salvadoran and former Nashvillian named Aida Battle, in the current edition of the New Yorker  ("Sacred Grounds," Nov. 21). It comes with a bonus cartoon on p.95, reminding us that life is what happens while we're making other plans.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Evolutionary biology for beginners

For students in search of a good science primer, Richard Dawkins' Magic of Reality lays it out straight, simple, and pretty. "Neither supernatural or a trick, quite simply wonderful and real. Wonderful because real."

Here are others. Here's the great PBS Evolution series, and here's the BBC's Darwin. Here's an old post on theistic evolution.

Like it or not, it's everybody's story.

squirrel philosophy

"I tell this trivial anecdote of the squirrel because it is a peculiarly simple example of the pragmatic method." William James


Frazz

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ron Bombardi

Very nice profile piece in the Honors College Fall magazine (p.43) by my colleague Ron Bombardi. Handsome photo too.

When John Adams wrote his beloved Abigail in 1780, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy,” he understood the pursuit of philosophy to encompass what we should today call the natural and social sciences. English usage has since changed; disciplinary boundaries have been declared, funded, and institutionalized. Yet, as I see the role of philosophy in contemporary American education, the spirit of Adams’s aspiration remains central to our own, for we too recognize that there are two educations: one that “should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.” The tenor of my own teaching is grounded in this fundamental principle, that liberation of the intellect is essential to human flourishing. Intellectual freedom is, in my view, tantamount to the practice of sound scholarship—that is, to maintaining rigorous habits of organized skepticism and reasoned consensus in all collective endeavor. (Continues...)

Monday, November 14, 2011

"there is grandeur in this view of life"


Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death,[i] the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.



"The Greatest Show on Earth": Dawkins on Darwin

Postscript. How appalling, on the very day of this post, to read a student's comment on the class blog that


If we evolved from animals it would have taken a human procreate with an animal to creat what we now know as human.

I try to stay out of the student blog-comments space but this was too much. I had to reply,

WHAT?! Please tell me you're joking, or at least that you're not repeating something you think you heard in a biology or other science class. Such statements are so fundamentally misinformed, so embarrassing, I don't know whether to laugh first or cry. But I strongly advise getting hold of a biology primer and reading carefully. You and I and every human share common ancestry with all living things. That's simply a fact.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

luminous spaceship earth


Earth | Time Lapse View from Space | Fly Over | Nasa, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

The video captures in equal measure the wonders of the physical planet — including the dancing auroras of both hemispheres — and the impressive luminosity of humanity in the midst of its fossil-fueled growth spurt. It is indeed a “very small stage in a vast cosmic arena,” as Carl Sagan wrote in 1994. But the stage is getting pretty populated... Andrew Revkin

Transcript | Holding Life Consciously with Arthur Zajonc [OnBeing.org]

Transcript | Holding Life Consciously with Arthur Zajonc [OnBeing.org]: "the contemplative traditions have been extraordinarily successful it seems to me in cultivating attention, and attention is one of the most precious entities the human mind has to offer the world. If we can attend to something in a sustained way, especially in a learning context, it's much to our advantage. The other, you know, big gain is if there's emotional balance, and this is another set of practices which are …"

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy Sagan Day!



It's his birthday, and groups from Australia to Alaska are planning star parties, astronomy lectures, science fairs, teacher workshops and more to say thanks to Dr. Sagan and bring his work to the next generation of "star stuff." 

My longtime view about Christianity is that it represents an amalgam of two seemingly immiscible parts: the religion of Jesus and the religion of Paul. Thomas Jefferson attempted to excise the Pauline parts of the New Testament. There wasn't much left when he was done, but [the Jefferson Bible] was an inspiring document." Carl Sagan
The clip above is from Cosmos episode 10, "The Edge of Forever"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"

Just saw the finale of the premier local performance of this amazing show this afternoon. Every American (especially every Tennessean) should see it. Every Nashvillian should have seen it. I'll never look at a $20 bill the same way again. The "inspired discussion" among audience and cast afterwards was, well, inspiring.

As Santayana said, if we don't learn from our history (Trail of Tears, bank crises, the American culture of "want" and grab, and the culture of political  "change" and disappointment et al) we're doomed to repeat it. Have been repeating it. "Populism, yeah yeah!"

Friday, November 4, 2011

TPA

No, not the Parent-Teacher Ass'n (TPA)... the Tennessee Philosophical Association, holding its annual meeting tonight and tomorrow at Vanderbilt. The personal highlight for me: a reunion with old grad school pals, coming to town to pay tribute to our old Prof Jeffrey Tlumak.

Tonight's keynote address is from LSU Prof John Whittaker, asking "what it costs philosophy to take religious belief seriously."*

It's all free and open to the public, come as you are and stay for the free food and drink afterwards (and pick up easy extra credit, CoPhi and SOL students).

*Abstract: Judeo-Christian religion – and indeed, most any religion – is defenseless when its critics focus on the literalism of its exponents and the mythical character of its sacred stories. This target is too easy to criticize, and it is beneath the dignity of philosophy to concentrate on this naïve form of belief. To take religion at its best, philosophers must pay attention to faith’s insistence that it is not knowledge in the ordinary sense, that all descriptions of the divine are anthropomorphic, that its principles can be reasonable without being evidentially or argumentatively justified, that its wisdom is therapeutic and not cognitive, that its truths are not objectively determinable but discernible in new forms of understanding, that its trust is open-ended, and that the “objects” of this trust are wholly unknowable mysteries. To take these aspects of religion seriously requires nothing less than the overthrow of standard models of epistemology. With respect to these narrow models of epistemology, the wisdom of faith is a form of “not-knowing.”
Does not knowing become deep and profound when "hyphenated"?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNoWriMo

A post for Immanuel, among others:

Ready to write your novel? Sign up here.
At NaNoWriMo, we provide the support, encouragement, and good old-fashioned kick in the pants you need to write the rough draft of your novel in November.
I'm such an inveterate editor, always revising as I go (and then revising the  revisions), that trying to crank out so many unexamined words so quickly would make me crazy. (Crazy in a good way, though, possibly?) And, I have all these papers to grade.

Older Daughter did it last year and says she's doing it again. Her lament on the way to school this morning: "I just want to go home and write!" Good for her. "Quantity over quality"  is the goal of a first draft, she says. I have a hard time committing to that, myself. Maybe next year? Or next month when nobody's looking?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Atheism & Philosophy


Spring Semester 2012-
PHIL 4800-003  Readings in Philosophy:
Atheism & Philosophy
With special emphasis on ethics, and how atheists, agnostics, humanists and other deity-deniers establish a personal sense of right and wrong.
Were all other things, gods and men and starry heavens, blotted out from this universe, and were there left but one rock with two loving souls upon it, that rock would have as thoroughly moral a constitution as any possible world which the eternities and immensities could harbor. It would be a tragic constitution, because the rock's inhabitants would die. But while they lived, there would be real good thing and real bad things in the universe; there would be obligations, claims, and expectations; obediences, refusals, and disappointments; compunctions, and longings for harmony to come again, and inward peace of conscience when it was restored; there would, in short, be a moral life, whose active energy would have no limit but the intensity of interest in each other with which the hero and heroine might be endowed.
We, on this terrestrial globe, so far as the visible facts go, are just like the inhabitants of such a rock. Whether a God exist, or whether no God exist, in yon blue heaven above us bent, we form at any rate an ethical republic here below. And the first reflection which this leads to is that ethics have as genuine and real a foothold in a universe where the highest consciousness is human, as in a universe where there is a God as well. "The religion of humanity" affords a basis for ethics as well as theism does.
-William James, “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”
Was James right? We’ll see. The course will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:40 – 4:05, in James Union Building room 202.
Readings will include
·        Baggini, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction
·        Anthony, Philosophers Without Gods
·        Blackford, Fifty Voices of Disbelief
·        Harris, The Moral Landscape




For more information contact Dr. Oliver, poliver@mtsu.edu

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