Suggested readings, #130

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

‘Green growth’ doesn’t exist – less of everything is the only way to avert catastrophe. There is a box labelled “climate”, in which politicians discuss the climate crisis. There is a box named “biodiversity”, in which they discuss the biodiversity crisis. There are other boxes, such as pollution, deforestation, overfishing and soil loss, gathering dust in our planet’s lost property department. But they all contain aspects of one crisis that we have divided up to make it comprehensible. The categories the human brain creates to make sense of its surroundings are not, as Immanuel Kant observed, the “thing-in-itself”. They describe artefacts of our perceptions rather than the world. … (Guardian)

What if trigger warnings don’t work? Earlier this year, Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy, and Resource Center released a “Suggested Language List,” developed by “students who have been impacted by violence and students who have sought out advanced training for intervening in potentially violent situations.” The students’ purpose, they wrote, was “to remove language that may hurt those who have experienced violence from our everyday use.” They proposed avoiding the idioms “killing it,” “take a stab at,” and “beating a dead horse.” I was struck that one of the phrases they recommended avoiding was “trigger warning,” and that the proffered explanation was sensible: “ ‘warning’ can signify that something is imminent or guaranteed to happen, which may cause additional stress about the content to be covered. We can also never guarantee that someone will not be triggered during a conversation or training; people’s triggers vary widely.” … (New Yorker)

Pleasure and justice. One of the least interesting things a woman can do vis-à-vis sex is consent to it—yet lately, we seem to have less to say about female erotics than we do about male abuses. On the one hand, it is not hard to understand why consent and its absence are at the forefront of mainstream conversation. A focus on rape and assault is warranted in a culture where sexual crimes are so tragically common: one in every six women in the United States is the victim of rape or attempted rape, and 81 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. … (Boston Review)

Conspiracy theorists lack critical thinking skills: new study. Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but they have greater reach and intensity with the advent of social media. As explained by Anthony Lantian, an associate professor of psychology at the Paris Nanterre University and a co-author of the new study: “Conspiracy theories refer to attempts to explain the ultimate cause of an important event (social, political, climatic, etc.) by accusing a hidden coalition of perceived malicious and powerful people or organisations of having secretly planned and implemented these events.” … (New Daily)

The essayist as public intellectual. The mid-twentieth century United States was, American poet Randall Jarrell wrote in 1953, an “age of criticism”: a period in which criticism became the “representative or Archetypal act” of the humanistic intellectual (p. 66). For many of these intellectuals and critics, the essay was the preferred medium of expression. Phillip Lopate recently identified the period from 1945-1970 as “the Golden Age of the American Essay.” In the decades since, essays have also become “the lingua franca of the American academy,” which developed an increasingly tight affiliation with public intellectual work in the United States after World War II. In other words, intellectual historians of the post-1945 period in the United States often have no choice but to contend with essays in our research. But what does it mean to read essays as evidence?… (JHI Blog)

Knowing what to believe. As a student on a summer break from my psychology degree, I spent a few weeks traveling alone around China. Much of the trip was spent on long, rambling train journeys where pleasantries with my fellow passengers were exchanged via hand signals and a few halting words of Mandarin. There was plenty of time to think while watching the landscape roll by. The book in my backpack was conducive to this – Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves, all about free will. Dennett’s thesis was that we can retain a sense of being free while still acknowledging the determinism inherent in the brain and mind (a view known as compatibilism in philosophy). To me it made a lot of sense (and still does) to define freedom as the capacity to make decisions – to be able to consciously weigh up what to believe or what course of action to take. … (IAI News)

Evidence for a probabilistic turn in philosophy. A few decades ago, the use of formal methods in philosophy was dominated by a small number of closely related techniques. Above all, philosophers were concerned with the application of logic. Indeed, to the extent that philosophers turned to other areas for formal tools to conduct their research, it was often to areas that were intimately connected to logic (e.g., set theory). A question now arises as to whether there has been a change in the use of formal methods in philosophy over time. Is the use of formal methods in philosophy still dominated by logic, or has there been a shift toward diversification, with an increased use of other formal tools? And if so, what other tools? … (Daily Nous)

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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.

9 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #130”

  1. The Knowing What to Believe is kind of funny. First, of course, both you and I reject traditional ideas of determinism. Second, even though he IS one, Dennett rejects being called a compatibilist. More seriously, though, I agree with self awareness. And, can we non-jokingly go “meta” with that … awareness of how self aware we are, or are not?

    To the degree it personally impacts your professional work, what’s your take on the probabilism piece?

    I figured it was Monbiot at the Guardian. He’s right, but “boxes” help with the old cliche: Out of sight, out of mind!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I very much welcome the introduction of quantitative methods in philosophy, I’d just would like to have a sense of what caused this increase of interest un such methods. The article doesn’t seem to offer a clue.


  2. Interesting article on trigger warnings–what a shock it would be if the wokesters were doing more harm than good, and equally shocking is how this perspective has pervaded academia and the scientific community. Er, wait, not shocking, obvious and troubling, that’s what I meant.

    I won’t touch the article on conspiracy theorists, I don’t have time today as I’m dry cleaning my tinfoil hats.


  3. Massimo, I think Boghossian started this, before he quit Portland State. (I found that under my tinfoil hat.) More seriously, maybe Briggle or others of the “X-phil” people started a push? “If you present the trolley problem one more time, what is the probability I will roll my eyes?”


    1. I bet that probability is high… No, I don’t think it was Boghossian, he doesn’t have that much influence in the field. More likely, as you suggest, the X-phil crowd.


  4. As for the “why” of one class of trigger alerts, whether they work so well or not, and a name mentioned in passing by Montana last week in discussing Butler? The Boston Review piece clearly touches on that, at least in passing. An interesting piece.

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  5. The conspiracy theory article was very thin,and I coldn’t find a link to the paper referred to; I’ve tracked it, however, to (free download).

    I have long wondered if the phrase “Trigger warning” could itself turn into a secondary trigger. The very word suggests risk of being harmed. However, I can see warnings, however expressed, as useful if not so general as to risk being ignored. I was very glad that a gallery I visited, showing Nolde’s Martyrdom, warned me what to expect, even if I was unable to linger as the artistry deserved

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    1. Paul, right, I think there is a distinction between sensible warnings and trigger warnings. The first are generic and aimed at the broad population. The second easily multiply without stopping criterion, and ideally should be individually tailored.


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