Search Episodes
Listen, Share, & Support
Listen to the latest episode
Subscribe via iTunes
Subscribe via RSS
Become a fan
Follow on Twitter

Support Us:

Please consider making a donation to help make this podcast possible. Any contribution, great or small, helps tremendously!

Subscribe to E-Mail Updates

Related Readings
  • Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
    Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
    by Massimo Pigliucci
  • Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
    Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
    by Massimo Pigliucci
  • Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science
    Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science
    by Massimo Pigliucci

RS65 - Philosophical Shock Tactics

Release date: July 15, 2012

Why do philosophers sometimes argue for conclusions that are disturbing, even shocking? Some recent examples include the claim that it's morally acceptable to kill babies; that there's nothing wrong with bestiality; and that having children is unethical. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Massimo and Julia discuss what we can learn from these "Philosophical shock tactics," the public reaction to them, and what role emotion should play in philosophy.

Julia's pick: "What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought"
Massimo's pick: "Graphing the history of philosophy"

Be a Communications Consequentialist

Reader Comments (11)

I really enjoyed this podcast but I had a slight problem with the interpretation of Emerson's quote. Being a fan of his and using what I know about him, I think he meant that parti ular quote to mean that people should not be afraid of changing their mind in the face of being inconsistent. People should ajust their beliefs with the acquisition of new information. It was not about consistency of beliefs, but consistency of beliefs over time, which can and should change.

July 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterReno

I thought that this lecture by Alasdair Macintyre might fit well with some of the background themes in this podcast.!

July 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShane

Another great RS podcast, but I found it odd that Julia and Massimo referred to the thesis of South African philosopher David Benatar's book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence, without mentioning Benatar or his book.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEurydice

I like grapes. I like dried fruit. I hate raisins. Oops, an inconsistency. Should I bite the bullet and convince myself I like raisins, or was I wrong about liking dried fruit?

You can logically argue all you want that drinking your own spit is harmless, but we're still wired to think it's disgusting, and making someone drink her own spit would cause suffering.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMax

These podcasts would be better if Julia did not defer to Massimo so much when there was a disagreement. I've listened to about 8 of these podcasts and I notice a pattern:

(1) Massimo says something that Julia finds sketchy
(2) Julia objects and briefly points out the sketchiness
(3) Massimo goes into an extended monologue trying to justify the sketchiness (often unsuccessfully IMO).
(4) Julia moves to a new topic or allows the topic to be changed.

The parts of the podcast where the hosts disagree are the more interesting parts because the "right answer" is difficult and the listener actually has to think about it. It almost seems like Julia doesn't like conflict and moves to topics where she and Massimo both agree (which tend to be more boring/obvious) whenever Massimo doesn't fold immediately after Julia challenges something he says..

The example of this for this podcast is the discussion about whether there should be a place in philosophy for emotion. After Massimo's justification (which I don't think was satisfying and doubt that Julia does either), the topic changes to communications consequentialism.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElliot

Max, "I enjoy dried fruit and grapes, but I dislike raisins" isn't a logical inconsistency except in the colloquial sense. It's just an unexpected exception to a general preference. You admit to not liking all dried fruit when you say you dislike raisins, so your statement is not actually "I like dried fruit" but rather "I like almost all dried fruit". Logical inconsistency would be saying "All dried fruits are good without exception (and good things can't also be bad), but raisins are definitely bad".

I'm not sure how one can "make" someone bite a logical bullet short of clearly unethical brainwashing, but your point is interesting. I'm not sure that pressing someone on logical inconsistencies actually causes suffering (unless one thinks cognitive dissonance counts as suffering). If person A is annoyed by logical inconsistency and person B is annoyed by being confronted with their logical inconsistency, how does anyone know which person will be more annoyed if person B logically contradicts themselves in front of person A and person A confronts B about it? We don't know who is actually suffering more in that scenario, so it needs to come down to other factors when deciding if it's even ethical for person A to confront person B. For example, I value truth and I want others to confront me if I'm being logically inconsistent, even if it causes me momentary discomfort (and even if it's about a very touchy subject like bestiality). Others may feel differently and that's fine for them, but one can't simply say (as your comment seems to imply) "we should never confront anyone with their logical inconsistencies."

July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Prolific Anonymous

You questioned why bother with philosophy if you cannot draw surprising deductions? I cannot agree with this: One obvious answer is that the unexamined life is less desirable than the examined. Even if we find no shocks when we forensically audit ourselves, it is a very worthwhile exercise to verify and thereby reinforce our own consistency of thinking. Checking our own soundness is a good project, and the LESS shocks the better!

I went back to the JME article by Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, and to the replies, to find they have provoked a fillet-storm. In their approval of infanticide they have (unwittingly?) opened a fatal flaw in the logic of the morality of abortion. Was Poe's Law lurking there? I say yes. If a person is so committed to "reason" to the exclusion of their own humanity, what else is there to expect?

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Moriarty

What Emerson said was: "A FOOLISH consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Irrational consistency, if you will. For instance, always opposing something because Obama says it and he is a terrible man, or because a Republican says it, especially when you would otherwise have supported it, would be persistence in foolish consistency.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Finally listened to this episode. I think you're missing a distinction in how we judge the acceptability of bestiality as contrasted with eating animals. Sexual relations, to be acceptable, always require consent. Clear consent can never be given by an animal. If saying that the animal isn't hurt is consent enough, then raping an unconscious woman who never learns she has been raped would be acceptable as well, since the woman would not know she has been harmed. The absence of harm is not sufficient; consent is necessary. Consumption, on the other hand, doesn't require consent. If we needed the consent of what we consumed for sustenance before we consumed it, then there would be no life except that which can survive on photosynthesis. The rules governing what makes a need--eating to survive--acceptable are less strict than the rules governing what makes a desire--sexual relations--acceptable. I think not recognizing that is a bit of category confusion.

January 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTom Wood

anyone saying that killing babies is equal to that of consensual sex with an animal is a fucking moron.

February 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterM.V.
"Shocking" philosophy really just amounts to making logical arguments about emotional issues. Philosophy can legitimately consider the emotional aspects of an argument, but actually using emotion to make the argument clearly does constitute Rhetoric. People who maintain the correctness of logically inconsistent positions discredit themselves intellectually.
January 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.