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RS80 - Dear Abby

Release date: February 10, 2013

In honor of the passing of Dear Abby columnist Pauline Philips, Massimo and Julia talk about the history and philosophy of advice. How do you rationally evaluate advice, and how do you give rational advice? Along the way they discuss some of Dear Abby's snarkiest moments, the origins of the advice column in 1680, and some of the worst advice ever given.

Julia's un-pick: "Cloud Atlas"

Massimo's un-pick: "Is Philosophy Finally Without God?"

Reader Comments (5)

Dr. Pigliucci,

I enjoyed Podcast #80. However, you were being a bit coy in your protestation that you couldn’t follow Dutt’s statement. Surely you know enough about existentialism and continental philosophy to parse it! Most of your blog’s readers don’t have your background and it would have been EASY for you to point out to them the philosophical commonplaces beneath the verbiage.

· demands from others are part of our sense of personhood (to be is to be perceived, thank you Bishop Berkely)
· these demands are involved in the very constitution of our personhood (the expectations others have of me become part of who I am, perhaps this Other talk is a borrowing from psychoanalysis?)
· a further constituent of our personhood is the love that others dedicate to us
· we shouldn’t think of this process of coming to personhood as dependent on a 2nd person relationship with a god: the "thou" that places demands/gives support is not the holy Thou (ruling out the existentialism-inflected theologies of Martin Buber or E. Levinas)
· ethics begins when we take on responsibility for the person that we have been made by our relationship with others (we make a free decision but there is a whole prior world that contributed to who we are: pretty standard existentialism)
· taking responsibility should be approached as an act, not as a concept one holds or an external reality one acknowledges (again, standard-issue existentialism with its emphasis on a-rational decisionism and action) [I think the author meant to say ethics takes place on the same PLANE as ontology, it is an action taking place in a world of actions and is not a matter of playing with concepts in some ideal plane or tinkering with the logical permutations of a few axioms]
· this ethical activity, once the person has decided to enter into it, is neither subject to abstract (deontological) principles, nor is it carried out as a dispassionate calculation of the consequences of one’s decisions for a general utility: it is an exercise of one’s inescapable personal freedom (thank you Messr. Sartre and Herr Doktor Professor Heidegger, and Herr Kierkegaard)
· equally inescapable is one’s enduring relationship to the others (reified as the big “O” Other), so you are not some isolated monad or a self-generating cogito (again, 19th century Romantic culture and philosophy turning away from the self- and personhood as Moderns like Leibniz and Descartes presented them – post-modernism has been with us for a loooong time!)

Perhaps one of the besetting sins of continental philosophy is not that it multiplies a bewildering array of metaphysical concepts; rather, it buries a number of threadbare commonplaces under spectacular verbal fireworks and allusions to famous writers to give an illusion of profundity.

February 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErik Weissengruber

I liked Cloud Atlas over all. I totally missed that line though. I find it hard to believe that any of the people involved in the production of the movie would still have such a biased view of science and scientists. Maybe they were just trying to be faithful to that respective bit on the book (which I haven't read) ?

February 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeonardo C.

Atheist's advice column: Ask Richard

Atheists != skeptics and all that, but it's close enough to warrant a mention.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge


I liked Ann Landers' column as a kid. I packed up today for a trip to the Shenandoah area armed with a bit of food, clothing, maps/GPS, this podcast (was interested in both non-picks), a paper by the now-short-haired Chalmers about ontological anti-realism, a paperback of Manjit Kumar's Quantum with some focus on Bohr's efforts to get Einstein to jump aboard the Q-train, an idea about Leibniz' monads vs Spinoza's subtance, and lastly coffee grounds to bury in a place where the dirt is less packed and cold than it is in the NY metro area.But its freezing right now here in WV, and left at home besides my family is another paperback by Shorto called Descartes Bones - covering all the changes his skull and other bones went though in the battle vs faith and reason. Its a battle that still rages, and sometimes it seems that this battle is a trivial as the battle between right and wrong, Dems and Reps, Giants and Eagles. But as with all wars, people get hurt, and they can use advice. Anyone can give advice, and given good ears, will probably do a good job giving it. It is not obvious that the faith v. reason war was also fought this past century on French-hosted philosophical soil, but it was. The postmoderns were intellectually miles in front of their analytically-minded Western peers. The Sokaling wet towel thrown on them did not negate what they accomplished, it was the equivalent of a political cartoon, both in action and effect. Also left at home are problems for which I'm sure Abby or Ann would not have to work very hard to help out with, but might not have the entertainment value we seek. It got so cold here - other people here were talking about the relative merits of coal, oil, and electric heat, and also about people they know who have no heat of their own. As if you can own heat. And as always, when I get to back-country areas, it seems that every hundredth sentence has a reference to New York City. Wonder if this drops off when one is in non-English speaking areas

Sorry for the ramble.

February 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schreier
Great episode. Straw Vulcan Award sounds really kool.
February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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