This category contains 4 posts

Morality and filth

cleanliness is next to godlinessDisgust is an odd emotion. I can be (and am) disgusted by ketchup. I can also be (and also am) disgusted by cruelty. We use the same word – disgust – to mean both physical revulsion and strong moral disapproval, and yet it’s not terribly obvious why they might be related, at least logically speaking. In a long essay¬†published in Aeon, Katherine McAuliffe explores how triggers for physical disgust may affect or sense of morality. As with much of sociobiology, there is a lot of correlation without much certainty of causation, but the data and accompanying speculation are interesting.… Read the rest

Scientism and other monsters under your bed

There seem to be certain ideas that most polite intellectuals are quick to shy away from. Fundamentalist religion is one – many believe in God among their college-educated peers they are often quick to point out that they don’t believe it THAT God, the one with beard who does all the smiting. Likewise, atheism is out of the question. Sure, some might say, God is unlikely, but we can’t know, can we? They will call themselves something else – agnostics or skeptics perhaps, but certainly not the Christopher Hitchens sort of raving atheist.

Scientism seems to rank among this catalog of extremes which most thoughtful people hope to avoid.… Read the rest

Book Review: The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt

I know what you’re thinking – the last thing the world needs is yet another self-help book telling you to be nice to people, love yourself and ask the universe for stuff. And generally, I’d agree.

But The Happiness Hypothesis is different. Haidt is a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Virginia, and his book his a well-written, fairly dense synthesis of the latest research on happiness expressed in laymen’s terms. Haidt organizes his discussion around ten pieces of “ancient wisdom” – one might be forgiven for suspecting that his publisher forced him to put it this way – but the result is a broad exploration of things that studies have consistently shown contribute to human happiness, along with a certain amount of speculation on the evolutionary advantages of certain behaviors and inbuilt reactions.… Read the rest

Religion, tolerance and crowbars

In Timbuktu, Ansar Dine are destroying ancient mausolea and monuments that under their strict interpretation of Islam they consider to be forbidden. Apart from being a war crime, the destruction of Mali’s ancient heritage seems to be what we could call an intolerable act of intolerance. Clearly tolerance has limits if the concept is to have any value or meaning – I’m under no obligation to tolerate your religions practice if they include burning heretics at the stake, for example. But one can imagine a member of Asnar Dine responding that he is under no obligation to tolerate an ancient monument if it is offensive to Allah.… Read the rest

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