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TANSTAAFL

TANSTAAFL

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.TANSTAAFL. Anybody recognize that? Where it comes from? What it refers to? This past weekend was the 100th birthday of Robert A. Heinlein. I was not there, though I’d wanted to be. You see, Robert A. Heinlein was one of the greatest science fiction writers in the […]

July 12, 2007 | By | 4 Replies More
No, he’s not an adult.  None of them are . . .

No, he’s not an adult. None of them are . . .

Another headline, another senseless tragedy. During a week full of them, this one hardly caused a blip on my radar, except that it happened here. First I read that a group of teens forced a boy to watch his mother repeatedly raped, then have sex with her himself at gunpoint. An 11-yr.-old girl took the […]

July 12, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More
How often should one clean one’s bathroom drinking cup?

How often should one clean one’s bathroom drinking cup?

I raised this question at a recent family gathering, because I see it as my role to raise such questions: Assume that you’re living alone. How often should you clean the drinking cup you use in at your bathroom sink? The first answer came from a brother-in-law who cautiously answered in the form of a […]

July 9, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More
Missouri Mandates Ignorance-Only Sex Education

Missouri Mandates Ignorance-Only Sex Education

Last Friday, Governor Blunt signed a bill that mandates that sex ed teachers provide political affiliations and charitable contribution disclosures to the state in order to prevent any teachers possibly affiliated with any reproductive rights centers or groups from teaching about reproduction. It also prohibits schools from obtaining materials from organizations that normally provide family […]

July 9, 2007 | By | 6 Replies More
Are we alone?

Are we alone?

Sometimes I think we’re alone. Sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the thought is staggering. R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983)

July 7, 2007 | By | 1 Reply More
Why conservatives and liberals talk past each other on moral issues.

Why conservatives and liberals talk past each other on moral issues.

I’ve studied moral philosophy for many years, mostly in frustration. Though many philosophical theories of morality have offered tantalizing glimmers, they ultimately fail to account for the “moral” decisions people make in the real world. Traditional philosophical accounts of morality have appeared especially feeble in light of the ongoing and volatile American culture wars. For instance, some of us claim that torture is OK while others feel that we have a moral duty to impeach the President and Vice-President for failing to stop the torture. Starting with the assumption that both sides to this controversy are sincerely, no philosophical moral system begins to account for both of those positions.

Luckily, we are in a new era with regard to understanding morality. Cognitive scientists such as psychologist Marc Hauser and primatologist Frans de Waal are studying morality with new sets of tools.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read an extraordinary article by Jonathan Haidt (pronounced “height”) and Jesse Graham: “When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions That Liberals May Not Recognize.” This article is written in an easily accessible style and its 16 pages are packed with ideas that bridge Haidt’s theories to the real world. If you’re in the mood to watch rather than read, sit back and view this video of Haidt describing his approach (the 30-minute video moves right along–Haidt is an eloquent speaker as well as a talented writer).

I’m not going to try to hide my excitement at Haidt’s approach. The more I learned about it, the more I thought of the words T. H. Huxley spoke upon learning of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection: “How stupid of me not to have thought of it.”

If you want to test your own moral foundations before proceeding, go to Haidt’s site and take a short test to determine your own moral foundation. Then read on (either read Haidt’s article or come back here).

July 7, 2007 | By | 24 Replies More
The Onion: “Congress Passes ‘America Is #1’ Bill”

The Onion: “Congress Passes ‘America Is #1’ Bill”

Now it’s official.  We don’t have to try any more.  All we need to do is proclaim what we all know in our hearts.  This is a reissue of an Onion story from 1999, even more appropriate in 2007.

July 6, 2007 | By | 3 Replies More
Incompetence as the Basis of Civilization

Incompetence as the Basis of Civilization

I was reading about Gallium metal, and got sidetracked by a debate about math software. The point that got my attention is the contention that civilization is based on an institutionalized principle that we all are incompetent in many important fields. The item being debated was the necessity of children developing skill at long division […]

July 6, 2007 | By | 3 Replies More
Disgust as a basis for morality

Disgust as a basis for morality

It is striking that so many conservatives spend so much energy condemning gays. They don’t just criticize gays; they condemn gays with intense passion. Nor does this process of moral judgment usually involve any sort of delicate weighing process. Too often it is a visceral and unrelenting moral harpooning delivered by the likes of Ted Haggard—or, at least, the sort of judgment previously delivered by the then-closeted version of Ted Haggard, whose name is now synonymous with “reaction formation.”

Many of the people who condemn gays on street corners and pulpits remind me of steam boilers on the verge of blowing up. Anti-gay bigots are rarely if ever attempting to work through the details of any of the three main historical philosophical approaches to morality (consequentialism, deontology or virtue) when they condemn gays. No, there is nothing much philosophical about the way most people rail against the gays. They are not driven by any sort of philosophy. In my experience, they are primarily driven by disgust.

What especially disturbs conservative Christians are images of men kissing men and men having sex with other men. Such images are so incredibly disgusting to those who hate gays that it has become a favorite insult on the streets and in the military to shout “You’re GAY!” And when this insult is hurled in the process of casting moral judgment, it is done by people whose faces are contorted with utter disgust.

Because such condemnations of gays are so visceral, this raises the issue of whether disgust is a valid basis for morality . . .

July 4, 2007 | By | 7 Replies More