Thursday, September 27, 2012

Going Dutch

"The Netherlands is the bicycle capital of the world, with 40% of all traffic movements by bicycle. They have created a bicycle friendly country that promotes a healthier, more active lifestyle for its residents. Last year over 1.3 million bicycles were sold in the Netherlands..." And to where are they pedaling? Philosophy Night!
The Dutch, it seems, like their philosophy. In an essay for Filosofie Magazine, Frank Mulder discusses the public role of philosophy in the Netherlands.
Attention to the subject, Mulder points out, peaks each year on the Night of Philosophy. Held annually at the International School of Philosophy, it attracts a lay audience a thousand strong. As one organizer says, “The Dutch see an evening of philosophizing as a night out”: many cafes hold philosophical readings and discussions and books of philosophy regularly become best-sellers.
Mulder dates the growth of popular interest in the subject to the early 1990s, when neo-liberalism, commercialism and “hyper-individualism” began to disenchant the Dutch, whetting their appetites for fresh conceptions of society and the good life. 
Meanwhile, where I live, there's a new piece of legislation promoting a very different, very stale old conception of the good life.
House Resolution 789: Reaffirming the importance of religion in the lives of United States citizens and their freedom to exercise those beliefs peacefully.
"As if that really was a problem in our country," indeed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bioethics at MTSU

New Course, Spring 2013
Philosophy 3345 – Bioethics
Mondays & Wednesdays, 2:20-3:45, Peck Hall 220
This course explores ethical issues arising from the practice of medical therapeutics (conventional and “alternative”), from the development of new biomedical technologies, and more largely from reflections on life’s meaning and prospects. 

     The course aims at clarifying relevant bioethical and medical issues and debates, representing various perspectives in application to present and future human possibilities and concerns (for example: genetic engineering and biochemical “enhancement,” longevity and life extension, end-of-life decisions, health care access, nanotechnology, cloning, stem cell research, mood and performance-enhancing pharmaceutical use, animal research, and reproductive technologies). 

        We’ll also explore the future of life (human, nonhuman, and trans- or post-human).

The course’s ultimate objective is to provide students with critical resources and tools they can apply in making crucial life-choices.

“Bio” means simply life, but questions about life’s goals, about appropriate means for attaining them, and about the professions devoted to sustaining life, give rise to the most basic, enduring, and fascinating ethical problems and prospects.

Primary text:


Bioethics for Beginners60 Cases and Cautions from the Moral Frontier of Healthcare maps the giant dilemmas posed by new technologies and medical choices, using 60 cases taken from the headlines, and from the worlds of medicine and science… shedding light on the social, economic and legal side of 21st century medicine while giving the reader an informed basis on which to answer personal, practical questions and decide for themselves exactly what the scientific future should hold.” [NOTE: Kindle edition available]

Course website: Bioethics - Supporting the philosophical study of bioethics, bio-medical ethics, biotechnology, and the future of life, at Middle Tennessee State University and beyond...

For more info, contact Dr. Phil Oliver,

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hail Cicero!

Roman philosophy gets a bad rap, and Cicero is way underrated. Jennifer Hecht, I've noted, rectified that a bit in her Doubt: A History.
Cicero‘s wonderful dialogue with a Skeptic, a Stoic, and an Epicurean, Nature of the Gods, would have been fun to join. “Cotta” says it all: Are you not ashamed as a scientist, as an observer and investigator of nature, to seek your criterion of truth from minds steeped in conventional beliefs? The whole theory is ridiculous… I do not believe these gods of yours exist at all, least of all the uninvolved, uninterested ones like the Epicurean-inspired Disinterested Deist Deity. If this is all that a god is, a being untouched by care or love of human kind, then I wave him good-bye.
Novelists and other artisans of the well-chosen and well-spoken word (like Hecht, a poet and historian as well as a terrific philosopher) have appreciated Cicero more than most of my philosophy colleagues. There's Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, in which Epictetus gets the star treatment.

I've been listening to Robert Harris's Conspirata on my daily commute up and down I-24 lately. Simon Jones's narration is delightful.

And then there's the Victorian Trollope's compendious Life of Cicero.

The older I get, the longer my reading list grows. Cicero said that was one of the consolations of aging. He was a wise old consul, and an honest Stoic.
After the loss of his daughter Tullia in childbirth, [Cicero] turned to Stoicism to assuage his grief. But ultimately he could not accept its terms: “It is not within our power to forget or gloss over circumstances which we believe to be evil…They tear at us, buffet us, goad us, scorch us, stifle us — and you tell us to forget about them?” 
But my favorite mention of Cicero in all of literature is still from Emerson:
"Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote those books."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A philosopher finds his peace

A former student just back from Germany sends along proof-positive that pessimistic philosophers eventually get what they yearn for.

Old Artur's not wrestling with the Will anymore. Thanks, Rudy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Lord knows"

We're talking, in addition to Epicurean happiness and relativism and "enhancement,"about Pyrrho and extreme (though allegedly-therapeutic) skepticism in CoPhi today. With all our talk about Platonic cats I'm reminded of a scene in Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. The nameless "man who rules the Universe" turns out, in that fable, to be a kind of Pyrrhonian.

And here's where I'll switch metaphors, from cats to fish, to suggest a useful mnemonic: Pyrrhonian skeptics, given the right mispronunciation, are like those toothy flounders who (it is popularly believed) will devour everything (beliefs included) in their path. Or will seem to, at least in your mind.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hello Plato & Aristotle!

Popped into the Sarratt Gallery at Vanderbilt this morning... was delighted to find this new art installation, on the same day I was to discuss Raphael's School of Athens (and Platonic Forms, real and Ideal cats, etc.) in class. Serendipitous. And funny.

Transgressive, too.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


George Carlin was good when sputtering obscenities to challenge restrictive regulatory rules or fuming about the corporate world's hostility to an informed and critically reflective citizenry. But he was at his best when tracing the quirks and oddities of language, playing with words, and celebrating our historical national pastime.

That's my view, anyway, offered again as football comes around to disturb my peace. The loud tailgate party outside my classroom window went on all afternoon Thursday!

But I'm going to try and not speak of this again 'til the last out is recorded in the October classic. Meanwhile, I urge you to read Gladwell and enjoy George. Accelerating Intelligence News