Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


Is There Hope for Free Will and Moral Choices?

free will November 12th, 2018

One of the oldest questions in psychology, and in other fields such as philosophy, is whether humans have free will. That is, are we able to choose what we will do with our lives?” This is how psychologist Seth Schwartz begins his trenchant piece entitled, simply, “Do We Have Free Will?” This article, which originally appearred on PsychologyToday.com, is particularly relevant to the section of this blog called Applied Psychology. I am eager to present this piece here because this 10-minute read carefully captures the intriguing and vexing issue of free will vs. determinism when it comes to human actions – and, importantly, morality.

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Is the Fear of Death Rational and Appropriate?

fear of death November 5th, 2018

Epicurus (341-271 BCE) put forth an argument centuries ago that still retains much appeal and boasts some notable adherents (e.g., Rosenbaum, 1986). His thesis was that the actual occurrence of death (as distinguished from any possible afterlife or the act of dying) was not a bad thing, and thus the great anxiety our fear of death brings many people is unwarranted. He did admit that “being alive is generally good.” Epicurus believed that no post-mortem experience was likely, and that we never really know death because where we are, it isn’t, and where it is, we aren’t. It is appealing, but though it contains a meritorious theoretical/cognitive technique to stave off anxiety, I believe that Epicurus’ argument is somewhat shallow and incomplete, it doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny.

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The Risks of an Open Mind

an open mind October 19th, 2018

I was just having a discussion about my nemesis, Donald Trump, with a libertarian friend of mine. An economist, no less. I informed him that the American deficit just reached a seven-year high! It’s amazing that Obama was working with a horrible economy given to us by (drum roll……..) the Republicans – and still had a smaller deficit than what we do in 2018. Stimulus spending was the order of the day back then. The GOP loves to claim the Dems are “capital-S” Socialists who will run us into the ground with profligate spending on Medicare for All and such. Yet, the record seems to show that the GOP likes to spend tax revenue, but they also like to cut taxes to please their donors and feather their own nests. My friend tried to tout the idea that when we cut taxes, revenue increases. It’s magic! Actually, George H. W. Bush, then running against Ronald Reagan, did call this phenomenon “voodoo economics”!! I claim that supply-side economics doesn’t have good support, but it was my friend’s contention that it does. It led me to want to write a blog about the risks of one keeping an open mind in today’s hyperpartisan culture.

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The Mystery of Good Character

character October 16th, 2018

The following is a guest blog written by A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University, Christian B. Miller. In it, he addresses character and introduces the reader to the concept of a character gap. His new book is entitled The Character Gap: How Good Are We?  There is also a link to a blog written by Jason Merchey entitled “The Values and Virtues America Desperately Needs”

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Views of Death Held by Various Philosophers

death October 16th, 2018

Epicurus put forth an argument centuries ago that still retains much appeal and boasts some notable adherents (e.g., Rosenbaum, 1986). His thesis was that the actual occurrence of death (as distinguished from any possible afterlife or the act of dying) was not a bad thing, and ought not to be feared or be a source of great anxiety. He did admit that “being alive is generally good.” The context of this notable Greek thinker was primarily a response to the theistic imaginings of the day that predicted very unfortunate occurrences in the “afterlife.” Epicurus believed that no post-mortem experience was likely, and that we never really know death because where we are, it isn’t, and where it is, we aren’t. It’s logically sound. What follows is a summary of some philosophical points of view about death.

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Responsibility Necessarily Entails Free Will

free will October 8th, 2018

Though determinism has much weight on its side, I have to believe that free will is not an illusion. Imagine there were a god or a supercomputer which could predict with 100% accuracy what I was going to do, 100% of the time. Would I be responsible for my behavior? Could I be praised to doing right or blamed for doing wrong? Is my free will my own, or an illusion? The main reason for believing that if God or a supercomputer could predict my behavior with absolute certainty, I would not be responsible for my actions is that responsibility necessarily entails freedom to choose, to act.

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Aristotle’s View of Humanity’s Highest Aspirations

humanity's highest aspirations September 15th, 2018

Aristotle is the grandfather of ethics and human flourishing; his book The Nicomachean Ethics has been a classic read in philosophy and ethics courses at universities since about 340 B.C.E. He studied with Plato and is largely credited with inventing logic and natural science. In this blog, I will share a brief outline of Aristotle’s first section entitled “The Human Good”, including a few quotations about humanity’s highest virtues.

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The Nature of Values According to Socrates

the nature of values according to Socrates September 8th, 2018

In 399 B.C.E., the year Socrates was put on trial in ancient Athens, he met a prosecutor (for lack of a better word) on the steps of the Court of Archon. His name was Euthyphro, and, astonishingly, he was prosecuting his very own father for murder. He felt it would be “pollution” to allow his father to go unpunished; a stain upon his good name. They get to talking, and soon Socrates has the arrogant man in his grasp. This blog is about the nature of values according to Socrates, which is essentially Socratic dialogue. The question being explored, specifically, is whether goodness is goodness because the Ancient Greek gods want it to be so, or do they see goodness when they look upward, just like we humans do?

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Evidence for A Certain Set of Values

evidence for a certain set of values September 4th, 2018

Philosopher James Rachels asserted “Philosophy, like morality itself, is first and last an exercise in reason – the ideas that should come out on top are the ones that have the best reasons on their sides.” In this blog, I wish to extol the virtue of certain values. This is not new; truth and justice and wisdom have been enshrined and touted and defended since before Socrates and Confucius and the Code of Hammurabi. The thousands of hours and thousands of dollars expended on reading, thinking, recording, codifying, transcribing, and communicating about ideas is philosophy in action; the quotations and the organization Values of the Wise offers is really evidence for a certain set of values.

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What is Wisdom? A Diverse Group of Skills

what is wisdom? September 1st, 2018

Second in a series called What is Wisdom?, this blog seeks to provide some more definition to the concept. Wisdom is one of those skills/values that is difficult to understand and to define. In the first segment of this series, I approached the question what is wisdom? by noting it is an ability to correctly predict outcomes. This second segment takes a cue from the noted philosopher Robert Nozick’s book The Examined Life; specifically, his twenty-third chapter entitled “What is Wisdom? Why Do Philosophers Love It So?”

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