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RS40 - Q&A With Massimo and Julia

Release date: July 31, 2011

Massimo and Julia answer listeners' questions. In this installment the topics include: what would they teach in a class in critical thinking, their views on analytics vs. continental philosophy, the ethics of profiteering from a drought in examplistan, how do they compartmentalize their rationality, how does modern technology affect the way we think about things, and what is, or should be the primary purpose of our species. Also, is there really a rational argument to prove the divine origin of the bible?

Comment on theĀ episode teaser.

Reader Comments (7)

I've been reading both' Measure of Doubt' and' Massimo's Skeptic and Humanist' sites for some time now, but this is the first podcast I've listened to. I don't think it's decreased attention span from technology as much as too much else that needs doing.
I'm glad I made the time today. I thoroughly enjoyed the responses and the discussion they provoked.
I hope you will do more on the philosopher and the pig. I have to agree with Julia that it seems arrogant to assume the philosopher is the better life. Most people seem quite happy without opera or Shakespeare, or even philosophy (!).
However, I would agree with Massimo that it is the best, if only because it is the philosopher, the artist, the thinker who brings into human existence more than simple survival.
At the most basic level, the story teller around the campfire, the dancer or singer who depicted the hunt or mythology were the first in the long line of those who lift humanity out of the pig pen.
That the majority prefer less cerebral lives or entertainment doesn't diminish the long term contribution of the thinkers. The space program alone has brought into daily use many things that even its most virulent detractors would not like to be without.
I raised my children with the analogy of bread dough. There are few yeast cells compared to the flour and water, but they are what causes the loaf to rise.
One can argue that humanity without art and science would be just as happy. It's certainly possible. Are chimpanzees and bonobos happy?
And those are also fascinating topics. Without anthropomorphizing, how happy is the pig? And what does it mean to be happy or to be human? As we learn more about whales, elephants, even magpies, I start to wonder what absolutely distinguishes us from other animals. My current guess is the all too prevalent art of denialism.
I'd love to hear you two debate on those topics.
I must check your past podcasts.

August 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret K. Westfall

Thanks for addressing my past blog comment on the show--but looking back at my comment (on the post, I didn't actually conflate epistemic and ethical trust. Rather, in the paragraph you quoted on the show, I was simply saying that ethical trust is an area where, as you pointed out, there are pragmatic benefits for compartmentalization. I went on to write two more paragraphs which you didn't quote on the show, which argued that it's better to rely on people who compartmentalize *and know it* than on people who think they don't but do (as we all do), and to point out that both degree of factual uncertainty and values play a role in disagreements that needs to be recognized.

I also think that epistemic and ethical trust are not entirely distinct, that epistemic dependence requires some sort of ethical dependence as well. While epistemology at least since Descartes has been highly individualistic, that kind of epistemology is ultimately untenable in light of the degree of epistemic dependence we have on social groups (just think, for example, about the acquisition of language and culture). If a culture has a high degree of mistrust (in the ethical sense), that will reduce epistemic success as well, by making the cognitive division of labor less productive.

August 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Lippard

love the podcast. thanks so much to both of you! Massimo, i have to disagree with your statement (around 23min in) about exploiting a tragedy as being immoral. I would categorize the actions in a different way. if our actions make the individual (or all people impacted by the action to the degree they are impacted) better off it is good (moral) and if it make all people impacted worse off it is immoral. I can understand as a society why we categorize exploitation in general as a bad thing but that does not, by default, mean that it is in all or most cases.

nothing about "exploiting" a tragedy is wrong if you are making the people impacted better off. If you are negatively impacting the people by selling water for $100 and influencing how others sell water (they were selling it at $5 and now are selling at $90 and less people can not get water because of your existence) you are causing more harm. many other externalities could take place because of your action and cause more harm then good. by simply giving more options you are not harming them (unless more options is a bad thing and i can imagine that in many situations at the supermarket where time is off the essence and you have a lot of choice, but not this one of them).

I can imagine why we categorize all "exploiting" as bad (as a culture or an evolutionary trait) but I disagree that it is. the idea of a tragedy is a gray area, somewhere between you have coffee and i need some to be productive to you have water and i need some to live. Lots of area in the middle. It is immoral, in my opinion, if the action stops more desire or values from being fulfilled (including all externalities) than would have happened if that action did not take place.

we do have to categorize actions as individuals or a society as we can never see all of the impacts an action will have and exploitation (even if the act will help in some cases) may be one area we choose to look at as bad but that does not make it bad or immoral in all or even most cases. i would think we do this to some degree every time we buy or sell something that we would pay more or less for from a person that is not as well off (whatever that means) as us.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpaul

I don't know if there is anything that can be done about it now, but at about 6 minutes 30 seconds you described modus tollens, and you called it a logical fallacy. I assume you were trying to describe "denying the antecedent". I know this is just a mistake, but it would be great to get some text in the description of the podcast because it is a rather large error.

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCam Spiers

I. Concerning the exploitation argument one can also take a Rawlsian argument, namely that we should prefer societal norms that offer fairness to any one in a given situation. Rawls motivates this with the argument that we do not know at birth in what situation and in what role we will end up later in life (victim, water entrepreneur, ...). This can actually be squared with an utility approach if one applies it equally to both sides.

II. Richard Carrier made an interesting point concerning option B in the Exemplistan thought experiment (interview for documentary "Give a damn"). According to his it is not given that the aid action described (giving water to the inhabitants of Exemplistan) does not actually make the situation worse in the long run. In other words: solving the causes is of greater (moral) importance than symptom solving.

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterislandletters
We definitely need higher levels of critical thinking skills and a better awareness of statistical principles in society as a whole.

Eyewitnesses actually get the suspect wrong MORE than 50% of the time in most experiments.

Julia clearly understands economics and capitalism a lot better than Massimo does.

If someone sells water to a drought stricken examplistan at say a 40% premium, that transaction only occurs with the consent of all parties. Perhaps this type of economic condition indicates the need for some type of public, private, or individual charitable relief to examplistan, but given the choice between expensive water and death by dehydration, the consumers prefer to pay the premium. If you hire a poor person to work as your servant and give them a modicum of food, shelter, clothing and other necessities in exchange for "earning their keep" doing housework, then you have helped them as long as you continue to respect their autonomy and allow them to quit as they please. You only exploit them if you keep them as a slave and treat them as property and deprive them of access to superior alternatives such as education and other more lucrative employment.

The classic Utilitarian Trolley example does not apply to consensual economic interactions since none of the trolley victim participants have an opportunity to consent to the choice made by the decision maker.
January 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
With further regard to drought stricken examplistan, the increase in price of water in response to excess demand given examplistan's insufficient supply of water, (1) the high price serves the purpose of forcing people to buy and use only the water they really need, thus conserving the minimal supply for all the other people, and (2) the fact that people can make large profits on the high price of water encourages more people to supply water to examplistan and creates an incentive for people both within examplistan and outside examplistan to create a new more efficient supply of water that can provide the country with water at a much lower price and thus ultimately solve the problem of the drought.
January 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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