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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Call for Papers: Origins of Design in Nature

Liz Swan is looking to solicit contributions from women philosophers of science for a prospective Springer volume she is co-editing entitled, "Origins of Design in Nature: A Fresh, Interdisciplinary Look at How Design Emerges in Complex Systems, Especially Life". You can contact her at:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hitler finds out about his philosophy grad school applications

Brian Leiter linked to this video a few days ago, but because of the Central Division Meeting I didn't get around to watching it until now (Thanks to John Fraiser for reminding me!). It's hilarious.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Alternative Location at the Pacific Division Meeting of the APA

As you might have heard the Pacific APA meeting in San Francisco is taking place at a hotel that is currently in a labor dispute. Since many members want to honor the boycott of the union, the University of San Francisco offers an alternative location. At this point there are 17 sessions fully confirmed. Here is the website with all the info (HT: Gerard Kuperus).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heidegger And A Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates

I just read Heidegger And A Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between (Thanks to Brian Leiter for the link). It's available as an e-book through the Penguin group.

The authors Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein were once philosophy graduate students at Harvard University. After graduating they went on to do other things. Cathcart served as a probation officer and attended various divinity schools. Klein wrote a lighthearted book on jokes and a number of thrillers. After many years the two men re-united and wrote Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, a humorous and lighthearted introduction to key concepts in philosophy. It was rejected by 40 publishers before an editor finally showed interest. Initially the book was called An Existentialist and a Horse Walk into a Bar. But the editor didn't like the title. "I want it to be called Plato and ... something", he said. Cathcart quickly replied "A platypus". The book went on to become a bestseller. The two college friends followed up with Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington, a humorous book about logic tied to political speech. The alliteration has become their logo. One wonders whether their next book is going to be called Frege and a Flamingo Walk into an APA Smoker.

Cathcart and Klein's latest effort explores the meaning of life and death through a dialogue between the two authors. The dialogue includes serious passages, jokes and clever little gags, such as the continual assignment of flippant nick names to philosophers. Some reviewers found the running gags annoying. For example, the authors refer to Heidegger as 'Heidi' and 'Marty', and Sigmund Freud as 'Siggy'. I found the style refreshing, and while most of the jokes didn't originate with the authors, they are well placed in the context of more serious philosophical discourse.

Incidentally, the authors' French publisher didn't want 'Heidegger' in the title of the translation because of Heidegger's Nazi associations. The French editor had once put out a book of letters from Heidegger to his wife. No one bought it. So, in France the book will be called Sartre et la Salamandre.

The authors' main aim in the book is to educate the reader about the immortality systems cultures go out of their way to design. Immortality systems are ways of denying death. Religions that promise eternal life are immortality systems. So is the urban tripe: the university club, the fraternity, the golfer club. Groups outlive individuals. Or you decide that you are going to live on in the hearts of your country men, or through your publications and international reputation. You decide that that's going to be your immortality system. But, the authors say, clinging to an immortality system is cheating yourself of a fulfilling life. It means that you are denying death. By not embracing death you are not living fully. And who wants eternal life through others anyway? As Woody Allen once wisely put it, "I don't want to live on in the hearts of my country men. I want to live on in my apartment".

The authors point out that immortality systems don't work very well. People are ultimately willing to kill each other to save their immortality systems. The reason: If I buy into one, and you buy into another, then yours could ultimately be seen as a threat to mine.

Historically, philosophers thought they were giving us a good message when they told us to get in touch with our mortality, Cathcart and Klein say. If you deny your own death, you also reject the chance of feeling fully alive. If we had eternal life, we could waste a couple of millennia making mistakes. It wouldn't matter. It is because of our mortality that we have to take responsibility for ourselves. Artifacts are stuck with the purpose they were designed to have, they cannot change their essence. Human beings, on the other hand, choose what they are going to become. However scary it may be, you have to take responsibility for your own life, Cathcart and Klein add. The message of the book: Face death head on and live intensely.

It's a fine little book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a lighthearted and humorous reality check on life and death.

Monday, February 15, 2010