by Neil Van Leeuwen

Photo by Matt Lee on Unsplash

In my last blog, I raised the following question as my sixth pandemic puzzle:

Given that meritocracy as traditionally defined is practically impossible, is there any point at all to appealing to meritocracy as a social ideal?

Let me rehash how I got to the premise of that question.

I gave the analogy of a tweak that could be made to the rules of competitive running, and I called that tweak the “2n rule.” …

by Neil Van Leeuwen

Photo by Matt Lee on Unsplash

As far as I can tell, nothing on earth is fairer — and closer to being something worth calling “meritocracy” — than competitive running.

True, people in different places have access to different coaches, nutrition, training facilities, etc. And all these differences influence (in ways that can seem unfair) who wins races and gets rewarded for it. At best, even competitive running is only an approximation of meritocracy.

Yet all participants in any given race run the same distance, start at the same time, are timed by the same clock, and are subject to the same…

by Neil Van Leeuwen

In my last blog, I continued my tradition (hopefully a temporary one) of presenting philosophical puzzles in order to take your mind off the Corona crisis. We’re now up to solving Puzzle 4.

Puzzle 4 was about why humans argue with each other about fictional stories. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s puzzling that humans consume fiction at all. Why waste valuable cognitive resources on information we know is unreal? But it is even more puzzling that we argue about such fictions! My parade example was the arguing people do over Emma Bovary’s psychological condition in Madame…

by Neil Van Leeuwen

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since the Corona crisis is far from over, I’m keeping my promise to attempt to distract you with philosophical puzzles for yet another month. This month, the puzzle has both psychological and philosophical dimensions.

Here’s a bit of simplified background evolutionary thought that will point the way to the psychological side of the puzzle. It’s no surprise, from an evolutionary standpoint, that humans and other creatures evolved brains with representational capacities: memory, thought, sense perception, etc. …

by Neil Van Leeuwen

Photo by Alessio Ferretti on Unsplash

Many of you know by now that I’ve committed to presenting philosophical puzzles for the duration of the Corona crisis. The idea is to distract you from the woes of the world. My first two puzzles were on whether beliefs are under voluntary control and on how to define the concept of an identity. In each blog I explain the puzzle and don’t say anything by way of solution until the next. (Accordingly, I’ll offer some thoughts on identity at the end of this one.)

This month’s puzzle is somewhat sci-fi in nature, but it’s not…

by Neil Van Leeuwen

Since the Corona crisis rages on, it has come time for a second blog whose purpose is to distract you from the woes of the world. In case you missed it, I promised in my last blog that for the duration of the crisis I would write about philosophical puzzles in order to give you, readers, something to occupy your minds.

Last month’s puzzle was about whether people have voluntary control over their beliefs. That issue is moderately big in philosophy of mind and epistemology, and most philosophers who think about it lean toward involuntarism —…

by Neil Van Leeuwen

Need a distraction from the incessant stream of information (good and bad) and speculation (mostly bad) that has consumed the airwaves lately? I certainly do.

Well, here’s my attempt to give you one. For my next sequence of blogs, I’m going to post about philosophical puzzles that are either old or new. And I’m going to describe the puzzles and attempt to make them gripping — and not offer you any help in solving them. …

by Ray Briggs

Do we really have the right to own our fellow creatures? Are there some animals that should never be kept as pets? Is it okay to declaw a cat, clip a bird’s wings, or dock a dog’s tail? These are some of the questions we’re asking in this episode.

Ideally, keeping a companion animal is a good thing that enriches both of your lives. I can’t find fault with someone who adopts an animal from a shelter and provides care throughout the animal’s life. But many people who keep pets fall short of this ideal.

In worst-case…

by Joshua Landy

Is there such a thing as a self, something that makes you who you are? Or is the self just a convenient fiction? Would the world be a better place if we all stopped believing in selves? These are some of the questions we’re asking in this show.

Eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume certainly believed the self was just an illusion. “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself,” he said, “I always stumble on some particular perception or other… I can never catch myself.” There’s also a wonderful Buddhist story that runs along similar lines…

by David Livingstone Smith

racism, black lives mater
racism, black lives mater
Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

As I write these words, my new book, On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It is poised to be released by Oxford University Press. This would normally be a joyous, exciting time for me. Ten years of painstaking research distilled into one, short, accessible volume is an accomplishment of which I can legitimately be proud.

But in reality, this is not a happy time for me, and not just because of the Covid pandemic. Pandemics come and go, but racism persists. …

Philosophy Talk

Philosophy Talk ( is a nationally syndicated public radio program produced by KALW on behalf of Stanford University.

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