Suggested readings, #80

[Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels]

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Firm led by Google veterans uses A.I. to ‘nudge’ workers toward happiness. Technology companies like to promote artificial intelligence’s potential for solving some of the world’s toughest problems, like reducing automobile deaths and helping doctors diagnose diseases. A company started by three former Google employees is pitching A.I. as the answer to a more common problem: being happier at work. … (New York Times) [Because if there is something I trust corporations to do is to care about my happiness.]

Ancient democracy for an online world. Has the internet spelled the end of democracy? When most people ask this question, they are thinking about what the internet does to the politics of governments: the Cambridge Analytica scandal and QAnon, the app-driven election campaigns of populist strongmen like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, #fakenews, #deepstate and so forth. There are lots of good reasons to worry that the answer might be yes. … (Noema)

A theory about conspiracy theories. More than 1 in 3 Americans believe that the Chinese government engineered the coronavirus as a weapon, and another third are convinced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has exaggerated the threat of Covid-19 to undermine President Trump. The numbers, from a survey released on Sept. 21 by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, may or may not taper off as communities begin to contain the virus. … (New York Times)

Trump is a person devoid of good character. Why doesn’t it seem to matter? If ever the importance of having a good character was put to the vote, it was in November 2016. Then, a reality TV star who flaunted his bad character (from mocking a disabled reporter, to bragging about grabbing women by the pussy and disrespecting members of the military) was voted president of the United States, and on some level the issue was settled. Does character matter anymore? Increasingly, it seems no. … (The Guardian) [Only one caveat: the Stoics wouldn’t be “baffled and depressed” nowadays. On the contrary, they would not have been surprised and would have redoubled their efforts to improve themselves.]

Beyond Kuhn and Feyerabend. When discussing a philosophical question, it is sometimes useful to investigate the history of that question and its answers. The question I am dealing with here is: what makes science special? I assume that scientific knowledge is indeed special primarily by being more reliable than other kinds of knowledge, but also better in some other senses. This question of the special status of science has first been dealt with very soon after science was invented in ancient Greece, having integrated influences from other cultures. In the course of history, the Greek answer had to be seriously modified due to two main factors. First, the sciences developed enormously ever since and a theory of what makes science special had to adapt to this profound change of its subject matter. Second, not only doing science but also thinking about science became more sophisticated, especially regarding what different kinds of logic could and could not achieve in science. In the following, I shall sketch this historical development in order to characterize our current stance with respect to the question of what makes science special. … ( [One of the best articles on philosophy of science you’ll read this year.]

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

2 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #80”

  1. Massimo,

    Thanks for an interesting selection of articles, as well as the video, which contains some interesting points on consciousness.

    Consciousness Regarding consciousness reflecting on itself, I wonder if there are limits to this. Using an analogy, it is not possible for a camera to take a picture of its own back, just as it is not possible for anyone to see the back of their own head. Of course, by using mirrors and other visual effects the camera can see part of its own back, and a human can see part of the back of her head, but never the whole thing, but the question then arises as to how far theories of human consciousness can map themselves completely, or not.

    You will be much more acquainted than I am with the philosophy of Bertrand Russell and, while he was far from being a stoic, I think that the difference he makes between “knowledge by acquaintance” and “knowledge by description” (Problems of Philosophy, OUP, 1910) is useful here. We are all familiar with consciousness as “knowledge by acquaintance”, but it is the “knowledge by description” that is obviously much more problematic.

    Best wishes,

    Robin Pennie

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Robin, I don’t think the camera analogy is fitting, so I’m not sure it tells us anything about consciousness. If there is one thing that is peculiar about human thought is precisely that it is recursive and capable of self-reflection. That said, that certainly is a difference between the two types of knowledge that Russell mentions, but I should think that would help rather than hinder our quest for an understanding of consciousness (two approaches, rather than just one).


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