I’m with Appiah.

“In most modern societies, the education of most people is conducted by institutions run by the government. Education is, therefore, in the domain of the political. This is not just an accident: social reproduction involves collective goals. Furthermore, as children develop and come to have identities whose autonomy we should respect, the liberal state has a role in protecting the autonomy of children against their parents, churches, and communities. I would be prepared to defend the view that the state in modern society must be involved in education on this sort of basis …”

Liberal- secular values have to be argued for as better than the values inculcated by religions and defended by communitarians.

Returning after a 10-day hiatus to The Ethics of Identity, Appiah is discussing Charles Taylor’s assertion that culture is “intrinsically good”, not merely contingently or instrumentally good for individuals. This type of thinking (Alasdair MacIntyre is another philosopher of this ilk) strikes me as dangerous.

2 objections occur to me.

With such an ideology:-
1. The individual is sacrificed to a (fanciful) conception of community.
2. There is no scope for what Mill called ‘experiments in living’.

Women would still be behind the sink and gays still in the closet, to give just the most obvious examples.

The Secret of Happiness

March 3, 2011

“The secret of happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible.”
Bertrand Russell

Higher Education

March 1, 2011

What place does philosophy have in education?

According to “many of the greatest philosophers of the Greek and Roman world [the role of philosophy in education] has three elements, closely connected, and all traced by Stoics to Socrates:-

1) Philosophical education is practical. It is the rational search for the best human life. Its subject is, above all, the study of moral and social conceptions, and its purpose (as Musonius later makes plain) is, through reflection, the amelioration both of the individual student’s life and, through the choices of educated individuals, of the surrounding society.

2) In philosophical education the pupil is active. It is not the passive reception of external truths, but the following out of paths of rational and critical argument—indeed, the enlivening and developing of the pupil’s rational soul. (For this reason, Musonius later stresses, it must be closely tailored, in each case, to the needs of the particular student, like the prescriptions of a good doctor.)

3) Philosophical education should be broadly distributed. It is appropriate to all who are by nature rational beings, that is, beings capable of practical and ethical reasoning. (Epictetus was a slave when he attended Musonius’ lectures. Later he became a free man and a distinguished philosopher.)”


Philosophy should be taught at every level. Start with six-year-olds and have it a compulsory subject for every student in every grade. The key here is Musonius’ assertion that philosophy is “to examine and inquire into how one should live well.” Kids could be asked to put themselves in another person’s shoes and then decide what to do in a given situation. Clarifying the situation would be part of the process. There must be a book about this somewhere. If anyone knows of one, please let me know in Comments.

Men & Women

February 28, 2011

Gaius Musonius Rufus, teacher of Epictetus, said this in the 1st century:-

“Women have received from the gods the same rational faculty as men, the faculty that we use in communicating with one another and in reasoning about each matter, as to whether it is a good thing or a bad. Similarly, the female has the same faculties of sense perception as the male: seeing, hearing, smelling, and the rest. Similarly, they both have the same number of bodily parts, and neither has any more parts than the other. Furthermore, desire and natural orientation towards excellence belong not only to men, but also to women; for not less than men they are naturally pleased by fine and just deeds and repelled by the contrary. Since things are this way, why on earth should it be fitting for men to examine and inquire into how one should live well—which is what it is to do philosophy—and for women not?”

H/T Martha C. Nussbaum

Treading on God’s Toes

February 28, 2011

The closest thing to a belief i’ve ever heard from the lips of a believer is the amorphous assertion of sanctity of life, unargued. In the past, vaccination was resisted. Sanctity of life notions are simply the present-day version of Treading on God’s Toes. Religious leaders see beginning and end of life issues as their most defensible turf.

“And this is just the point. [The Religious] don’t know anything, and in one sense they don’t believe anything either, because they can shape-shift through a whole sequence of transitions from belief to belief as their beliefs are challenged. They will even say … that they agree with the atheist point of view, except that … — and at this point [they say] something cute and irrelevant, because there’s nothing definite or relevant that can be said.”

“When religions do make propositional claims … then religion is claiming things for which there is not a shred of evidence. But when they stop making propositional claims — as happens when they are put on the hot seat — then they are no longer being “religious” in any meaningful sense, and religion becomes something very vague and mysterian, or, otherwise, simply a kind of humanism. So when believers tell us what they believe and why they believe it, they can no longer be taken seriously; but when they back away from belief, it’s hard to distinguish them from atheists. And this, by the way, is inevitable, because there is simply no reason to take religious believing seriously as being about anything at all.”

“And that is why “debates” between believers and unbelievers can go nowhere, because there is nothing for the debate to be about …, unless, of course, the believer is willing to pin himself down, and then, as even believers know, they simply sound ridiculous.”


There’s not a single defensible religious belief.

Life’s Too Short

February 23, 2011

Bibles should be treated the same way as most other anthologies: there are some interesting bits but, well, blimey, the rest of it … life’s too short.

The world would be a better place if people swapped their bibles for something written by Kwame Anthony Appiah.


Science is imagination that has passed the test of reality.
Imagination is absolutely intrinsic to science.
Imagination is intrinsic to knowledge.
Religion is imagination for which there is no test.
Consequently, there is no such thing as religious knowledge.
Subjective, individual experience does not constitute knowledge.
Subjective, individual experience has a perfectly serviceable word – namely, experience.


Clever Word Play

February 20, 2011

Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational 2009 winners:-

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus : A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxicaton : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6.. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon : It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido : All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1. Coffee, n.. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3.. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4 esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6.. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v.. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men

Autonomy & Community

February 14, 2011

Autonomy is necessary for freedom from the inherited dictates of history.
Community is necessary for the straightforward reason that we are social primates.

This dual perspective takes account of what is distinctive about humanity and also what is our undeniable natural legacy.

The needful project is providing the political and social conditions for a fruitful ongoing conversation between these two essential conditions of the good life.