Lectures on Philosophy

If you want to listen to lectures on philosophy, there is a set of lectures given by Hank Green which are as good — if not better — than those given in a college. One reason for their quality is that these lectures have been edited, so they come off as polished presentations. [This can be appreciated by looking at some of the outtakes.]

Here is the Crash Course Philosophy List. There seem to be 46 lectures.

Dangers of Human Overpopulation

Ever since Thomas Malthus, we know that population growth is exponential, while the source of food from using the land is arithmetic. At the site worldmeter, it is reported that the world population in 1800 was 1 billion, in 1930 it became 2 billion, in 1974 it became 4 billion. Currently in 2021, it is nearly 7.9 billion.

The main and imminent danger from overpopulation and its effects is the destruction of the ecosystem. This means a disruption of climate, sea rises, pollution, species extinction.

Another effect is a depletion of resources — primarily food and water. And, as Jared Diamond noticed, the killings in Rwanda were not just due to ethnic hatred, but also due to a scarcity of subsistence land. [See, Jared Diamond, “Malthus in Africa: Rwanda’s Genocide,” Collapse, 2005]

Adding overpopulation and scarcity of resources to war and violence, the result is massive migrations of people into Europe and into the United States.

Today, on facebook, I was reminded of experiments done with mice and rats in overpopulated conditions (with adequate food and water) on behavior patterns which lead to extinction. I remember reading in the Scientific American in 1962, John Calhoun’s article “Population Density and Social Pathology.”

The one that today caught my attention is the experiment of John B. Calhoun; variously called “mouse utopia,” “behavioral sink,” and “universe 25.” Here is the account of the experiment:

See also: What Humans Can Learn from Calhoun’s Rodent Utopia

Who to read in philosophy concerning knowledge and what exists?

I would read a dialectical philosopher. By this I mean a philosopher who has examined the claims and arguments of previous philosophers and has come to his own conclusions. If you had lived at any time up to the 16th century, you should and would have read Aristotle and his commentators, such as Aquinas, Maimonides, and Averroes. But after the discoveries of Galileo in the 17th century there occurred a scientific revolution in physics and astronomy culminating in the work of Newton. And the philosopher to read then was Locke in England, and Descartes in France. The former was an empiricist; the latter a rationalist, whose position was developed by Leibniz. And Hume had presented a major challenge to empiricism. Well, these two strands of empiricism and rationalism were critically examined and readjusted by Immanuel Kant. So, contemporary philosophy (i.e., epistemology and ontology) must now take into account Kant and any advances in science.

So, the question is: which author has competently taken into account this stream of philosophy? My first stab would be to read Bertrand Russell, especially his The History of Western Philosophy (1945). But a second, and an improved reading would be to read everything written by C. D. Broad. Why? Because Russell remained an empiricist, while Broad had absorbed Kant, while still critically having surveyed the history of philosophy. [See my: Philosophical Alternatives from C.D. Broad]

There is an outstanding philosopher — Wilfrid Sellars. [See my: Problems from Wilfrid Sellars] But I would not recommend reading Sellars to a novice because he is too technical. He assumes a knowledge of current technical philosophical literature. He can be appreciated only by professional philosophers. However, several books have now been published with the intention of making him more accessible to a wider audience. Wilfrid Sellars was trying to come to grips with Kantian themes, as have many other Kantian scholars.

One such outstanding Kantian scholar is Robert Paul Wolff, who published his findings in the book Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity (1963). His lectures on Kant, given in 2016, are available on youtube, and I recommend them. Here they are:

Lecture 1

Lecture 2

Lecture 3

Lecture 4

Lecture 5

Lecture 6

Lecture 7

Lecture 8

Lecture 9

As a caveat, I just want to point out that neither Sellars nor Wolff had available to them C. D. Broad’s book: Kant. The reason is that Broad had written out his Kant lectures in 1950-52, and this manuscript was only published by C. Lewy in 1978.

Also see: Kant and Building a Robot

Controversial subjects should be learned through dialogues and debates

Reflecting on my own learning experience, I do not remember learning much of anything (with exceptions) about controversial matters such as politics, religion, or ethics from listening to lectures. But I have learned more from participating in and listening to dialogues and debates.

Listening to a lecture — given either to a small audience such as in a typical classroom, or to a large audience such as in a public lecture — at best, one learns the opinions of the lecturer; but one does not learn the merits of such opinions unless they are subject to criticism by a person of at least equal competence. I, therefore, recommend that all controversial matters taught in schools be conducted by two competent persons with incompatible positions.

Historically, such an approach was dramatically illustrated by Plato’s dialogues, as well as by Aristotle in some of his writings, and more so by Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae. But these are imaginary or opinionated dialogues. What is needed is to witness real disputes.

As illustrations, let me offer the following debates available on the internet as examples.

The first one is a BBC radio debate between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston in 1948:

Here is a transcript of the debate: A Debate on the Argument from Contingency

The second debate is between Norman Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz at Democracy Now in 2003 on the Palestine-Israel conflict:

Here is my take on this debate and its aftermath: Andrew Chrucky, Norman Finkelstein, DePaul, and U.S. Academia: Reductio Ad Absurdum of Centralized Universities, 2007.

The third debate is between Richard Wolff and Gene Epstein on Socialism vs Capitalism in 2019.

Here is my partial commentary: Richard Wolff’s failed definition of capitalism

The fourth debate is between Tucker Carlson and Cenk Uygur on immigration in 2018.

Here are my Comments on the Cenk Uygur and Tucker Carlson “debate”

The fifth: Sir Roger Penrose and William Lane Craig: How to combine the physical realm, the mental realm, and the abstract realm?

My last illustration is the debate between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph on the merits of capitalism: Andrew Chrucky’s annotated commentary on the debate between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph of the Zeitgeist Movement about the free market system, which took place on September 23, 2013.

Immanuel Kant and Building a Robot

Every time I read about Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, I keep thinking that what Kant is describing is a set of problems to be dealt with in building a robot; although, of course, he is talking about human beings.

As I was looking for anyone else who has a similar outlook, I came across the following video:

Here is a link in Wikipedia to: Richard Evans

Robert Paul Wolff’s Blog

I have just discovered that Robert Paul Wolff has had a blog since 2007. I have read some of it, and find nothing substantial to disagree with. Actually, I have in the past read some of his published writings, and have found them to be insightful concerning anarchism, capitalism, and most political matters.

I encourage you to browse his blog: The Philosopher’s Stone

As an example of his wit, here is one of his blogs.

Sunday, March 14, 2021
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
I am sure all of you are fully familiar with this [below] and can probably quote it from memory, but for those who have somehow failed to watch it, this is a must. It is the functional equivalent of two semesters’ study of Karl Marx and one semester study of the foundations of anarchism.

Sunday, January 15, 2017
HOW TO RUIN A GOOD JOKE
Now that you have all had a chance to view the three minute clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, let me ruin it for you by explaining its deeper meaning [yes, Virginia, it has a deeper meaning. For serious Marxists, everything has a deeper meaning.] What makes the scene work, comedically, is the utter failure of the Anarcho-syndicalist cowflop collecting peasants to understand King Arthur, and his utter inability to understand them. The source of the missed communication is that they exist at different stages in the historical development of the social relations of production, and hence their understanding of social reality is encoded in different and incompatible ideological rationalisations of the ruling class. [of course, what also makes the scene work comedically is that the writers of the Monty Python sketches have pitch perfect senses of humor, but that goes without saying.]

The impossibility of someone living in Feudal England understanding the laws of motion of a capitalist economy also, by the way, demonstrates that the knowledge conditions posited by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice under what he calls the “veil of ignorance” are epistemologically incoherent, as I demonstrated in my book Understanding Rawls, But the Monty Python crew, being essentially overgrown Oxbridge undergraduates, probably did not realize that. [If they studied at Cambridge rather than Oxford, they might have taken their understanding of anarchism from my In Defense of Anarchism, because for some while it was required reading for the Moral Science Tripos.]

If you would like me to ruin one of your favorite Marx Brothers sketches, feel free to ask.

Political Orientation

In the Wikipedia article, Poltical Spectrum, there are described different ways of placing a person’s political orientation.

An early one was presented by the psychologist Hans Eysenck “Chapter 7: Politics and Personality,” in Sense and Nonsense in Psychology (1957).

I found a quiz on the internet — allegedly based on Eysenck’s work — which can be taken by anyone to see where they are placed on his scale. Here is the quiz, and below is my own result after taking the quiz:

There is also a similar chart, called the Nolan chart, which looks like this:
My own approach to political charts is more limited. Since I reject all non-democratic forms of government, that leaves me with two questions:

1. Are you in favor of giving each person a right to free subsistence land? Yes No

2. Are you in favor of micro-democracy? Yes No

I also associate macro-democracy with a centralized government, there are thus four possible alternatives.

Andrew Chrucky’s Politico-Economic Democratic Chart

Reflections on Carl Sagan’s “baloney detection kit”

I am reading Carl Sagan’s collection of essays, titled “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” (1995). I agree with everything in the book, except for two caveats.

The first is that although Sagan juxtaposes the findings of science against superstition and pseudo-science, his real intent is to recommend critical thinking. This becomes evident from two considerations.

The first. He tells us that while teaching at Cornell, the chairman of the astronomy department, Yervant Terzian, allowed him to teach critical thinking in a course titled “Astronomy 490.” (p. 435)

The other matter is that this critical thinking course was composed of what he described as “baloney detection kit,” described in detail in the essay “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.” My point is that science and the methods of science are a subset of critical thinking, and this is admitted by Sagan himself in footnote to the essay “Science and Witchcraft”: “I do not wish to suggest that advocacy of science and skepticism necessarily lead to all the political or social conclusions. Although skeptical thinking is invaluable to politics, politics is not a science.” (p. 401) Exactly!

My second caveat is that Sagan’s skepticism and criticism is too narrow in this book. It should have included a wider political criticism as part of “baloney detection.” But, to be fair, he does express some political criticisms. One example is given in his “baloney detection kit” under the entry:

“weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”).” (p. 216)

Sagan also expresses moral disapproval of President Truman’s dropping of atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And he also criticizes the Alien and Sedition Acts.

But Sagan’s skepticism and criticisms are too narrow. He could have criticized the office of the U.S. President, as such. He could also have criticized the U.S. Constitution (as, for example, as inferior to that of Switzerland). And he could also have criticized the institution of capitalism. But he does none of this.

(3) Further commentary on Ian Shapiro’s course: “Moral Foundations of Politics”

The last four lectures are on democracy.

I agree with the idea of democracy as the claim that government, if moral, should be founded on the will of the people. However, Shapiro seems to use American Democracy, as if it were the paradigm of democratic government. My objection is that there are many different existing types of democratic governments, which Shapiro should have mentioned.

Shapiro mentioned Robert Dahl as being — according to him — the foremost current scholar of democracy. Because of this endorsement, I have read his book, On Democracy (1998). Dahl, in his turn, recommended looking at the freedom ranking of governments at the site: Freedom House. What is more interesting for me is the type of governments which exist in these “free” democracies. And for that answer — by Dahl’s recommendation — we should look at the studies of Arend Lijphart, whose most important book is Patterns of Democracy (1st ed. 1999; 2d ed. 2012). [available on the Internet]

Lijphart’s main classification of democracies is into two types: Majoritarian (also known as the Westminister model) and Consensus models. For example, the United Kingdom uses majoritarian democracy; whereas Switzerland uses consensus democracy.

I am not going to get into the details except to point out two features. In England the House of Commons is elected by a principle that whichever party gets the most votes wins, and then this party chooses the Prime Minister. Whereas in Switzerland, party members are elected by proportional representation, and the four parties with the largest number of representatives nominate the 7-member Federal Council.

Swiss Federal Council 2020

Arend Lijphart believes that Consensus type of democracy is preferable to the Majoritarian type.

My criticism of Ian Shapiro’s course boils down to this. He failed to tell the audience that there are different types of democracies in the world, and failed to consider which is preferable.

But that is not his only failing: i.e., the failure to differentiate and to grade democracies. Beside actual different types of democracies, there are also ideal and utopian types of democracies which are never mentioned by Shapiro. For example, Part III “Utopia” of Robert Nozick’s Anarchism, State, and Utopia points in this direction. [Contrary to Nozick, I would call his framework for utopias as the framework for anarchism] And a general description of anarchist proposals could be summarized as bottom-up federated democracies.

And without considering these alternative ideal democracies, there is no prospect for finding “the moral foundations of politics.”