Suggested readings, #123

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

Talking to science deniers and sceptics is not hopeless. Fears of backfire effects are overblown, and advice to listen and interact still stands. (Nature)

Ancient (bizarre) arguments for vegetarianism. (The Philosophers’ Magazine)

The Man Behind the Myth: Should We Question the Hero’s Journey? A well deserved criticism of Joseph Campbell, which then slides into a lot of questionable wokeness accompanied by a good portion of cherry pickiness. (LA Review of Books)

Is there such a thing as collective virtue? These authors make the case, which I find unconvincing. (Journal of Value Inquiry)

Stoicism and the Eleusinian mysteries. How Marcus Aurelius was Initiated into the Cult of Demeter. (Medium)

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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.

7 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #123”

  1. There actually are universal or quasi-universal motifs in folklore, etc. Unlike Campbell, they’re just not Jungian. Stith Thompson actually did write the book on this.
    And, “shock me” that Jordan Peterson loves him some Campbell. Thompson did the actual work that Campbell did not, starting with taking folkloric elements from different cultures on their own, rather than hammering them as square pegs into round holes. That said, I’m surprised the authors don’t mention this, as the original version of Thompson’s work had been written before Campbell.


    Especially when viewed in terms of the age, but in some cases, when viewed universally, I don’t think most of the “bizarre arguments” for vegetarianism actually are such. Take the second? Imitative ethics appeals are still around today and widely accepted. Such things can be, but are not necessarily, a fallacious appeal, but that alone doesn’t make it bizarre.


    I’ve read several pieces that agree on talking to science deniers. We must remember two caveats that may, or may not, be mentioned in such pieces and that are linked.
    1. These discussions are personal and
    2. They’re one-on-one.

    You’re not going to argue someone out of this on Twitter.


    What? D.S. Wilson hasn’t written about group selection for collective virtue?


  2. Here I go again ;-) Well, the article on science deniers was not as condescending as most I’ve read, but it is based on straw men and false premises anyway. What is a science denier? Someone who looks at the laboratory on the university campus and thinks that the building is just a trick of mirrors? That inside there are only cardboard cutouts of microscopes and test tubes? That is what a science denier is, and in 53 years, 20 of them spent on college campuses, I’ve never met one. What the term “science denier” really is, is a straw man that the establishment, the bourgeoisie interested in keeping the public funds flowing to the universities and research centers, uses to create this false picture of some hillbilly working class uneducated moron so that the rest of us will think “oh, well, I certainly don’t want to be in THAT group, so I’ll be over here with those who do what we’re told.” It is a false dichotomy created to sow division so that one group can feel superior and continue to reap the benefits of being in the approved class.

    I think the fact that the author has to use flat earthers as this prototypical group of science deniers (an insignificant number of goofy nerds who don’t believe it anyway, they’ll be at the Star Trek convention next week with Spock masks on asking William Shatner what it feels like to go through the transporter) is telling. I guess one could conclude that they are delusional or living in a fantasy world, but it would be difficult to convince me that they are a threat. But, it is easier to use this group as an example to criticize than, for example, someone who wants to see a cost benefit analysis of lockdowns, or mask wearing.

    After all, science tells me that I should not eat this sweet roll filled with jam for lunch, but I know, without scientific evidence, that a life spent eating nutritional gruel for every meal is not worth living. Is it impossible that a life spent locked down, or locked down and wearing a mask, cut off from loved ones, stripped of humanity, even if it is longer, is not as valuable? Am I to be condescended to for even pondering this question? Apparently.

    And a science sceptic? This should go without saying but we should all be skeptical of science and scientists, even and especially scientists themselves. Could one even call oneself a scientist if one did not have a firm rooting in skepticism? One who would try may be simply perpetuating a power structure based on appeals to authority. What percentage of those who call themselves scientists have read Kuhn?

    Of course, if the past is irrelevant and we don’t need to pay attention to history, if we now, finally, in 2021 have become immune to mistakes and errors in our thinking, if authority figures and the nobility have finally become trustworthy and honest, having only the best interests of the populous in their hearts for the first time in human history, and if we now understand everything about the world and all its systems, then sure, we should all stop questioning science and just shut up, get in line, and do what we are told.

    But, alas, I’m skeptical.


    1. Montana, I know what you mean and sympathize, to a point. But give me a break. Many of these people are not interested in a breakdown of costs and benefits, much less have they read Kuhn. They are, often, ideologically driven ignoramuses. I know because I’ve met many, on and especially off campus. I count several among my relatives…


  3. @Montana … what Massimo said.

    @Massimo … didn’t Diogenes actually tell Aristotle that a chicken, after being plucked for eating, was a featherless biped who might have been Aristotle’s grandfather?

    More seriously, re Campbell? I came across references to Stith Thompson when I was in the process of deconverting at the end of my graduate seminary and theological school studies. From what I’ve read about it (I’ve never actually read from it, as my seminary didn’t have it, and I don’t think Washington Univ in St. Louis had it, in its general library), it avoids Frazier’s myth-and-ritual fallacies as well as Jungianism. It IS online … at a cool 2,500 pages.


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