Quickies

Skepchick Quickies 4.9

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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24 Comments

  1. David Brooks is a tool. What more discussion is needed about that last link?

    In case you haven’t noticed, history and science have ended as well. So say other overpaid assholes with more influence than sense. I think you’ll find, nonetheless, your local history and science departments to be nonetheless quite lively.

    Personally, I’m waiting for someone to come along and decry the End of English. Fucking language has it coming.

  2. Davis Brooks on The End of Philosophy:
    1) Create a straw man: philosophy is thinking through moral problems.
    2) Appeal to inappropriate authority: “many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality”
    3) Move the goalposts: “The question then becomes: What shapes moral emotions in the first place?”
    4) Move the goalposts again: “Finally, it should also challenge the very scientists who study morality. They’re good at explaining how people make judgments about harm and fairness, but they still struggle to explain the feelings of awe, transcendence, patriotism, joy and self-sacrifice, which are not ancillary to most people’s moral experiences, but central.”
    4) Collect paycheck.

  3. The Philosophy article didn’t touch on what I was hoping: the modern incarnation of the academic tradition of philosophy.

    I’m in a related field of the academy (Political Studies, and all that entails), and I butt heads with philosophy students, TA’s and Professors on the constant. These are people who have built for themselves a tightly protected cloister of towers and tomes designed to sequester themselves from the outside world (I can almost guarantee that no one in my neighboring departments will read the NYtimes….too “pedestrian” for them, I suspect), immune to external critiques.

    These people are getting paid to think, but never to act….just think. Sadly, what they think about now are largely superficial regions of thought surrounding post-modern and post-structuralist definitions ‘identity’ (at least they would come of with definitions, but the very act of defining something is apparently oppressive….I wish I was making this up).

    Ever try to talk to a philosophy grad student? Try to get them to talk about a discipline of philosophy outside the one they specialize in…it’s damn-near impossible, because they generally tend to assume that their domain of thought is primary, and they will continuously try to relate the conversation to their tiny-realm of incredibly detailed meaningless knowledge.

    Try to talk about the economic crisis or political economy with an Aristotelian monad expert. Go ahead….try. See how well they fare.

    The practice of philosophy is alive and well, and we all do it constantly. However, the discipline of philosophy is stuck in a cul-de-sac that makes it difficult to apply to those outside the academy, but even discourages it….because why should they have to “vulgarize” their research? (I was told this by a Hegelian a few weeks ago).

    If you’re still reading this post, thank you. If you’d like to hear about a recent experience I had with a bunch of labour academics who should be the LAST group of people engaged in this sort of philosophic navel-gazing, go here:

    http://somecanadianskeptic.blogspot.com/2009/03/in-which-our-hero-looses-faith.html

  4. “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.”

    Gee, does this mean since I don’t have religion I have no one guiding my moral reasoning? So my emotions are just riding roughshod over my reasoning? Can that actually make sense? What about the Vulcans?

  5. I hope that the next David Brooks column I read is titled, “The End of David Brooks’s Career”. Complete with a new portrait of him frowning. That’s a change I would welcome.

    But, to be fair, it’s likely the New York Times would just replace him with someone far worse.

  6. Evolution is not about competition. Evolution is about spreading your genes as far as possible. If cooperation is a more effective strategy then the individuals who choose it will prosper.

    Emotion doesn’t come before reason; decisions come before reason. Most of reasoning is actually rationalizing. I’ve never heard the people researching this topic ever talk about emotion.

    And lastly, “Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know.” No where close to true. Many things have seemed disgusting the first time I put them in my mouth that I’ve since gotten quite a taste for.

  7. “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.”

    The brain is not a monarchy, it is a diarchy (at least).
    Brain scans using fMRI show that some moral questions light up the the areas associated with emotional processing, while other moral questions light up the rational processing regions.
    The processing of some moral questions can vary from individual to individual, depending on the philosophical viewpoint (or, perhaps, the philosophical viewpoint is influenced by how the brain processes moral questions).

    So, while Brooks is attacking a strawman, at least he is using a straw argument, which makes it all ok, right?

  8. David Brooks is apparently an idgit. He leaps straight from the (apparently stunning) realization that most people’s moral decisionmaking software doesn’t ponder Kantian imperatives or Randian ethical egoism and concludes that whatever most people feel like doing is the right thing and science concurs. Right.

    It fundamentally overlooks the fact that a) the rules of the game have changed with the march of civilization, and we need to complement our intuitions with a little pondering (or maybe Brooks doesn’t ever meet an ethical problem he cannot plow straight through and b) humans are fundamentally pliable, and the process of considering rationally who our moral sentiments should apply to is demonstrably of value.

  9. I don’t tend to read Op-Ed pieces for philosophical insights. However I think Brooks raises some interesting points of discussion about evolutionary processes, modern philosophical machinations, ethics and neurological science.

    I find the personal attacks on Brooks in this thread quite entertaining given the accompanying complaints about Brooks fallacious arguments and apparently inaccurate analogies.

    Most people never read philosophy books and I’d wager more people read Brooks Op-Ed piece than have purchased any particular philosophy book in the history of commercial printing. Having fruitful public discussions about rational thought, ethics, and values and how evolutionary biology effects this discussion would seem to require engaging popular notions and what is presented in the main stream media.

  10. @James Fox: “Most people never read philosophy books…”

    Ummm, most people here have never read philosophy books? Got a source for this? (Pause for effect.) I’ve got a pocket full of college credits and a bookshelf that argues otherwise for me at least.

    I agree that personal attacks are never the way to end an argument, at the same time I really can’t disagree with the commenter who called him a tool. This is the best single word description I can come up with as well.

  11. @James Fox: All the more reason people shouldn’t be getting their philosophy from a complete tool like Brooks.

    I’m sorry, we treat creationists with established track records of idiocy like the idiots they are. Why should we accord more respect to pundits with equally dismal ones?

  12. @Davew
    Nope most people don’t. I was clearly referring to people in general and not Skepchick readers. No citation is necessary for this very apparent observation of the general population. My undergraduate degree was in philosophy and aside from my class mates in college many years ago few of my friends, except two philosophy professors, read philosophy books. And just out of curiosity by tool do you mean dick, prick, willy, or that Brooks exercises his penile gland to much?

    @Joshua
    Most people don’t get any philosophical discussion from anywhere except the drivel people hear at church or the popular press and media outlets. Again name calling is an ineffective contribution to the discussion. And I didn’t ask anyone to respect Brooks just recognize he brings up points worth discussing. I don’t know anything about Brooks and have no idea if he’s a creationist or not. Conversely if someone believes in something I feel is irrational or unreasonable anything I say after calling them an idiot or tool will fall on deaf ears. Most people have track records of some stupidity or another.

    Being dismissive of persons allows others to devalue the content of anything you have to say in the future.

  13. For a start, two words: Iraq War.

    For a continuation, he declares an entire field of study “ended” based purely on his own misconceptions about a) the field of study in question and b) the other fields of study he uses to support his claim and c) the whole argument is based on the naturalistic fallacy, that because humans by nature make decisions based on emotional responses which they later rationalise, there’s no use for rational thought whatsoever in either ethics or morality. Where a) comes in is that he treats ethics and morality as the entirety of the field of philosophy. He brings evolution into the picture, but completely fucks it up by missing the point that rationality evolved just as much as emotion-based moral responses did.

    And this is par for the course for him. Like most of the pundit class, he’s more interested in saying things that score points with other pundits and justify an unquestioning belief in so-called conventional wisdom. He’s not as bad in that sense as, say, David Broder, but nonetheless he’s from the same camp of bloviating idiots who thing they’re smart and objective and possessed of deep insight because they write things that piss off “both sides” of the political spectrum.

  14. @James Fox: “And just out of curiosity by tool do you mean dick, prick, willy, or that Brooks exercises his penile gland to much? ”

    I was thinking more like an adjustable wrench. The guy would be completely useless except for the slight possibility you could get him to bite down on a nut while you give his feet a vigorous spin.

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