Philosophy & Ethics

I have been doing public outreach for science since I originally moved to Tennessee in 1996. It has been a fun ride, and I’m sure it will continue to be that way for many years to come. But two of the first things I learned when debating creationists and giving talks about the nature of science were: a) nastiness doesn’t get you anywhere; and b) just because you have reason and evidence on your side doesn’t mean you are going to carry the day.
Laws and Flaws

The roots of miscarriages of justice.

  Although this article is about the common law, the author hopes that it may be of more than passing interest to scientists and to all seekers after truth.

  Over the course of some twenty years the author has used his skills in logic, science and literature research to carry out an in-depth study of the history of English law and of the causes of miscarriages of justice.  The main focus has been on English case law, but many cases from other common law jurisdictions have also been studied.
In defense of Pharmacy and Catholic Pharmacists was written during the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign. This was not written for publication but for my own piece of mind, to justify my own career.

At that time pharmacy, was under attack, recently the attack has been renewed. I have been a Catholic all my life and a pharmacists for over forty years. The use of birth control medications has, until recently, been a private and professional medical decision. Holy-mother-church may not have approved of contraception but she did respect the doctor patient relationship.
Recently I attended a talk by Ronnie de Sousa, a philosopher at The University of Toronto, by the somewhat unusual, almost oxymoronic, title of “Love and Reason” (as opposed to, say, Love or Reason). It turned out to be a fascinating tour de force ranging from the Countess of Champagne and her 1176 verdict on the nature of love, to cognitive scientist’s Helen Fisher studies of the chemical underpinning of different aspects of love. Here I will limit myself to a few aspects of de Sousa’s talk (who graciously provided me with his original slides), but Ronnie is finishing a paper on the subject, so stay tuned for much more if what follows happen to sufficiently stimulate your curiosity.

Temple Grandin’s “The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum” [1] belongs to a new(ly fashionable but old) way of thinking that supports my own approach, namely that pathologic (psychopathic) thinking is necessary for new-enlightenment, for example in the face of existential dangers evolving in the technological substrate (Robopocalypse, Global Suicide).

You're an animal, says Dominique Lestel, a French philosopher who opposes the separation of human and animal life.  

In a new paper, Lestel reminds sociology readers that we are animals and says animals profoundly influence our culture – perhaps more so than they had initially thought.

Western thought that the human species is highly developed and that sets the human species apart. Lestel instead advocates animality (our animal nature) and says humanization is an ongoing performative practice, rather than a historical threshold that was crossed long ago.

Which gender is more generous? Given the social, subjective nature of the question and the influx of armchair philosophy into culture, everyone claims to have the right answer. What about an experiment?

A group of economists have found that, given the chance, women are more likely than men to avoid an opportunity to donate to charity.

The field experiment conducted by scholars at the University of Chicago and University of California, Berkeley tested people's motivations to give, whether they responded to social pressure or from an attitude of altruism, and concluded that when it's easy to avoid making a donation without being confrontational, such as not responding to a door-to-door solicitor, women are less likely than men to give.

Social structure is an imposition, but by definition one that ‘should’ be imposed, meaning by the origin of the meaning of “should” in the co-evolution of the social with our language.

Do you support unions, a minimum wage, dislike business and hate child labor and then tell all of your friends on your iPhone?

People rationalize moral standards when it comes to their own lives, say economists writing in Science. It's easy to lament child labor and exploitation of the work force but if you are not willing to pay $2,000 for a phone, you are part of the problem and Tweeting about social issues on that phone helps precisely no one but corporate shareholders.

Intelligent Design is often presented as a view that runs counter to evolutionary theory.  Whether it be the concept of natural selection or ideas about speciation, Intelligent Design (ID) purports to reconcile the observed environment from the perspective of an intelligent ordering system.

Concepts like "irreducible complexity" to examples of finding a watch or a tornado spontaneously assembling a 747 in a junkyard.  All these images are invoked by Intelligent Design as an argument against evolution.
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.