Archive for September, 2013

Tunisia Leads the Way (again)

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Tunisia’s Islamist party to step down after talks – The Hindu. If only the Egyptians had waited to see how the Tunisians do it they might have been a lot better off than they are now. (more…)

Trying Hard for Our (own) Children

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Richard V. Reeves, in The Glass-Floor Problem – concludes with:

This is delicate territory. Nobody wants parents to stop trying hard for their children. But nor do we want a society in which the social market is rigged in favor of those born into affluence. If we want a competitive economy and an open society, we need the best and brightest to succeed. This means some of the children of the affluent must fail.

Well actually, I do want parents whose wealth and position gives their children an advantage over mine to “stop trying hard for their children”. Of course I do! And I want any person or child whose natural talent exceeds mine or my children’s to be hobbled by whatever encumbrances can ensure the eventual success of me and mine. But that doesn’t make it right.

So when Reeves earlier on bleats out that:

Even the most liberal parents are unlikely to be comfortable with the idea that their own children should fall down the scale in the name of making room for a smarter kid from a poorer home.They invest large amounts of economic, social and cultural capital to keep their own children high up the social scale. As they should: there is nothing wrong with parents doing the best by their children.

I have to reply “Oh yeah? Sez who?”   Of course I may do it myself (to the best of my own meagre ability), but that doesn’t make it admirable or even not wrong. Perhaps there is something wrong with valuing our own children more highly than others’. And perhaps the world would be better if we each sought out the most admirable of our peers and devoted our lives to increasing their fertility at the expense of our own.

But this is too complicated for me. So bring on Sam Harris’s “scientific” total well being accumulator to tell us what it is that we really ought to do.

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Ever since whatever happened at the Obama/Putin meeting at the G10 it’s been an amazing time for optimism regarding the future of humanity. But of course the election of Hassan Rohani actually precedes that meeting.

Science and Religion – a false parallel

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Ophelia Benson. quoting Stephen Pinker in paraphrase of Stephen Jay Gould to the effect that “Science gets the empirical universe; religion gets the questions of moral meaning and value” struck me as identifying the key point on which Gould’s idea of “non-overlapping magisteria” is often misinterpreted.

It is true that science “gets” the empirical universe because science is defined as including anything useful that can be said about the empirical universe (whether or not it comes from “peer reviewed” journals or people with academic appointments in specific disciplines at specially annointed institutions). But religion does not “get” the questions of moral meaning and value – it may be restricted to those questions but it doesn’t own them. The fields of ethics and aesthetics “get” these questions by definition in the same sense as science “gets” the empirical world, but anyone who wants to is empowered to participate. To compare science and religion is like comparing values and academic departments or journals. (Or dogs and vegetables, or animals and weeds)

The Moral Landscape Challenge

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Sam Harris has issued a “public challenge” to those who think his book is silly.

To wit: “Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less. (You must refute the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.) The best response will be published on this website, and its author will receive $1,000. If any essay actually persuades me, however, its author will receive $10,000, and I will publicly recant my view.