3 Quarks Daily Prize in Philosophy

September 22, 2009, NOTE: The winners have been announced here.

September 11, 2009, NOTE: The list of nine finalists can be seen here.

September 8, 2009, NOTE: The list of twenty semifinalists can be seen here.

Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,

ScreenHunter_02 Aug. 24 16.23 In May of this year we announced that we would start awarding four prizes every year for the best blog writing in the areas of science, philosophy, politics, and arts & literature. We awarded the science prizes, judged by Professor Steven Pinker, on June 21st. We have decided to do the prize in philosophy next, and here's how it will work: we are now accepting nominations for the best blog post in philosophy. After the nominating period is over, there will be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this period, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main daily editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add upto three wildcard entries of their choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Professor Daniel C. Dennett, who, we are very pleased, has agreed to be the final judge. Professor Dennett will also write a short comment on each of the winning entries.

The first place award, called the “Top Quark,” will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the “Strange Quark,” will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Charm Quark,” along with a two hundred dollar prize.

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(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS feed.

* * *

PrizePhilosophyAnnounce The winners of the philosophy prize will be announced on September 22, 2009. Here's the schedule:


  • The nominating process is hereby declared open. Please nominate your favorite blog entry in the field of philosophy by placing the URL for the blogpost (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win.
  • Entries must be in English.
  • The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
  • The blog entry may not be more than a year old from today. In other words, it must have been written after August 23, 2008.
  • You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
  • Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
  • You may also comment here on our prizes themselves, of course!

August 31, 2009

  • The nominating process will end at 11:59 PM (NYC time) of this date, so there is only a week to submit nominations.
  • The public voting will be opened immediately afterwards.

September 7, 2009

  • Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).

September 22, 2009

  • The winners are announced.

One Final and Important Request

If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material, and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.

Best of luck and thanks for your attention!



Lunar Refractions: Repetition and Remains [part IV]

This text, which appears on 3QD as the last of a four-part post, was begun as a musing on the theme of series and repetitions in modern and contemporary art inspired by a challenge issued by an art historian colleague of mine. For the previous posts—considerations of the work of Wade Guyton, Frank Stella, and Georges Seurat, respectively—click here, here, and here.

Ps1982 Shapes_petzel

Allan McCollum Allan McCollum
Plaster Surrogates, 1982–1984
The Shapes Project, 2005–2006
Enamel on cast Hydrostone
7,056 framed digital monoprints, 4.25 x 5.5 inches each
Installation: Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, 2006

Conclusion: Once Again, in Other (Perhaps Entirely Unrelated) Words….

We now find ourselves at the end of yet another summer, looking toward yet another autumn, and I’ve yet to bring this wandering tetralogy to a close. Today’s the day. While a neat little conclusion summing up (dare I say repeating?) all that was said of the previous artists’ work might be a nice way to end it, I must confess, dear Reader, that I’m in the mood for neither clarity nor ease. Initially, I’d hoped to trace these many artists’ work in series back to some multiform, manifold re-, which I’d perceived as echoing through the arts—from photography to painting to print to music to mass-produced goods—between the late nineteenth and early twenty-first century. The heat and rains of summer seem to have dampened my springtime ambition, hence I’ve deemed it perfectly permissible to nod at the work of yet another artist dealing with repetition, and then wash it all down with a little list of res.

Read more »

The American Character (We Voted For Bush, We Voted For Obama, So Who The Heck Are We?)

By Evert Cilliers


Who is the quintessential American character?

Honest Abe Lincoln, whose war killed more Americans than Hitler? Founding father Jefferson, who bonked his favorite slave in secret? Jaunty FDR, who betrayed his own class? Preacher MLK, that oddest of American leaders: a fellow driven by morality? Genial Ronald Reagan, a stalwart stooge for the rich? Muhammad Ali, once the most famous American on earth? Or face-shifting Michael Jackson, now the most famous American on earth?

Maybe 30 years ago, one or two of them might have qualified. Now it's not so easy to define the American character anymore, what with white people set to become a minority by 2042 and WASP domination shrinking fast as all the Micks and Guineas and Hymies and Wops and Wogs take over from Buzz and Skip and Topsy. Then there's our new melting-pot-in-one-person President Obama, so frightfully un-American that 50 million Americans believe he was born elsewhere.

It might just be that all we have left of the American character is a simulacrum from our dream factory. To wit, the Hollywood action hero: the go-it-alone, action-at-all-costs, win-against-all-odds, kill-all-the-bad-guys splat!-bang!-kaboom! individual.

Read more »

The Owls: A Stain on Boston by Ad Hamilton

When people who’ve lived in Boston talk to each other, their reminiscences are often wildly variable, depending on when they lived there. A mentor of mine lived in Somerville in the 1980’s, and has a memory of this city I can’t believe. It sounds like paradise. This is because I lived there during the Big Dig, the federal highway project which temporarily re-routed, demolished, then restored, several miles of superhighway through the city. The Dig affected every aspect of the city, constricting traffic miles away by remote influence, and in my opinion infused the city with a powerful, unfocused daily rage. A predisposition toward hate. This is the second of a series of stories about the eruptions of anger, difficulty and pain I witnessed.

Read “A Stain on Boston, Part I,” at The Owls site.


A Stain on Boston

By Ad Hamilton

Eighty-year-old man hits the ground outside the Senior Center doing ninety and dies. Splat. The jury’s back in the case of Mortal Coil v. Boston Department of Public Works Sidewalk, verdict unanimous. Unlucky, clumsy, depressed or pushed, who knows, another day in Boston, another poor fuck accelerating at 9.8 meters per second squared toward nothing good.

To understand this tragedy, you have to understand architecture. The discipline, not the artifacts. Your affection for the Chrysler building relates to Architecture just like your appreciation for Hubble photos relates to Plasma Physics: which is to say that they have no relation whatever.

And to understand architecture, you have to understand architecture school. The crucible that forms a deranged and flagellant tectonic culture. It’s kind of like Opus Dei, but much less important.

Read more »

A Brief History of Faith and Reason

By Katie Bierach

The Tragical History of Divine Comedy: Reasoning Faith while Maintaining Faith in Reason

Introduction by the Author

Reason relies on assumptions in which people put their faith. We need to believe in the same certain things, a code of communicable ideas, in order to reason anything at all. The relationship of faith and reason has a complex history; the two forces are inextricably connected, yet they repel each other when taken to extremes. Does one tend to lend more understanding than its friend? How will they help us in The End? How do they each reveal holiness? Where is God in this picture? The two powers take turns driving our decision-making processes, whispering in ears as they sit on shrugged shoulders. In best cases, the pair can be found ice-skating hand in hand, gliding together in harmony with coolness and ease. More often than not, however, one will gain more power than the other.

Prologue: Reader, Take Heed!

Meet the unexpected on your journey forward

and keep your faith so you can be rewarded.

Have faith here—where reason may not lie,

where reason is more reticent—do not say goodbye.

May faith guide you onward to this story’s close

and yet be reason’s steward as both take heated blows . . .

Chapter One: in which the Medical Importance of Aforementioned Components is Expounded

Millions of people worldwide suffer from faith and reason imbalances. Doctors who prescribe daily doses of faith and reason must first consider the patient’s tolerance for such ideas (as some have weak constitutions); usually the substances should be taken together, with water, in equal parts, as balance is critical for happiness and longevity. Faith is reasonable to a certain degree, and so much faith must be bestowed in reason so that the soul isn’t annihilated in a downward spiral of skepticism and doubt, which may lead to intense existential anguish.

An overdose of either faith or reason is a prescription for madness. Faith, in low dosages, helps us to function in our daily lives: we have faith that the airplane will stay in the sky and that the pedestrian will not jump in front of our cars. Faith can also have benefits in higher dosages, when taken moderately: faith in metaphysical ideas such as immortality can lead to mental health and thereby social cohesion, curtailing violent crime and allowing for physical fitness. Take as directed. Excess levels of faith in the body can diminish its stores of reason without allowing time for it to replenish. Excess levels of faith, also known as Fideism or Blind Faith (generic) may lead to trauma, madness, serious injury, or death. Fideism is the leading cause of heart disease, kidney failure, suicide bombings, midlife crises, and genocide. Side effects may include redness, swelling, intellectual drowsiness, headache, mania, loss of memory or ability to concentrate, itching, hallucinating, or chest pain. If symptoms persist contact your consciousness immediately. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant have an increased risk of fluctuating faith and reason levels.

Read more »

Monday Poem

I love words and the convolutions of language; how we arrange and rearrange it; how we invent new ways communicate old things; how we nurture its nuances —which is where poetry comes in.

Idioms have always intrigued me. They’re short poems. One-liners created to make startling something banal and obvious. Idioms lighten things up. They renovate tired and dilapidated bits of worn truth and create more transparent windows on the world and the things we do in it.

I'm not hanging noodles with boarder I learned recently of a book containing a collection of international idioms which are indeed startling, funny, and fun. The book, by Jag Bhalla, is called I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears, which is a Russian way of saying, “I’m not pulling your leg.”

Bhalla’s book is sure proof that humans are humorous and truthful when we dump the BS. These idioms have nothing to do with BS. They present the truth with humor and a sometimes brutal directness, but they never veer into hypocrisy.

I had some fun this past week with a few snippets from Noodles myself. The poetic tale below (enlightened by the glossary that follows) was built with an arrangement of Jag Bhalla’s idiomatic bricks (in italics).

I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears

Unable to stop being an owl
my eyes were stolen
a piece of the moon.

I thought, what curves
and me without brakes.

It was
dry firewood meets flame.
I wanted to be
your leg, your goat,
your bumblebee.

Swallowed like a postman’s sock
and steaming
like water for chocolate,
I was so far gone I’d completely
eaten the monkey.

I mused, if only
I could drink your lips
and we, in the midst of a
buckle polish,
under the sway of the
ever romantic Tony Bennett
might, in the magical afternoon light
pluck the turkey.

But love means having
no time to die;
for you I'd surely
break my horns.

Yet if one day, despite all,
the tomatoes had faded
and you were
a red apricot
gone over the wall

and I
took the rake
and was
left nailed
I'd still hope that perhaps
(just maybe) we might
reheat the cabbage and I,
instead of being a
yawning mussel
(but with fast hands),
might find that you were
once again a
sweet potato
for me

I’m not
hanging noodles on
your ears

Read more »

The Nominees for the 2009 3QD Prize in Philosophy Are:

Alphabetical list of blog names followed by the blog post title:

(Please report any problems with links in the comments section below.)

For prize details, click here.

And after looking around, click here to vote.

  1. 3 Quarks Daily: Penne For Your Thought
  2. 3 Quarks Daily: The Temporal Prospects of Humanity
  3. Another Heidegger Blog: Interview with Jeffery Malpas
  4. Biophilia: Altruism Through Genocide
  5. Biophilia: Holy Gibberish!
  6. Blog & ~Blog: Graham Priest’s Theory of Change
  7. Brain Hammer: Bandwidth and Storage in the Human Biocomputer
  8. Cognition and Culture: Descarte’s Skull
  9. Der Wille Zur Macht und Sprachspiele: Nietzsche’s Causal Essentialism
  10. Duck Rabbit: Can words be used incorrectly?
  11. Engage: Conversations in Philosophy: Empathy, Equity, and the Wise Latina Judge: Sotomayor and the Supreme Court Oath of Office
  12. Evolving Thoughts: Aristotle on the Mayfly
  13. Evolving Thoughts: “Class” War
  14. Evolving Thoughts: Darwin, Atheism, and the Catholic Church
  15. Evolving Thoughts: Darwin, God and Chance
  16. Evolving Thoughts: Darwin thought evolution relied on accidents and chance
  17. Evolving Thoughts: Definitions of Atheism
  18. Evolving Thoughts: How to derive an ontology in biology
  19. Evolving Thoughts: Information and Metaphysics
  20. Evolving Thoughts: Laws, Theories and Models
  21. Evolving Thoughts: Phenomena
  22. Evolving Thoughts: Philosophy and Evolution
  23. Evolving Thoughts: The Doctrine of Double Truth
  24. Grundlegung: Philosophy as Bildung
  25. How Not to Win A War: Light ’em up, Baber!
  26. How Not to Win A War: On Ideology
  27. Hyper Tiling: Unheimlich Realism (and Zombies)
  28. In Living Color: Can you be blamed for forgetting?
  29. In Search of Enlightenment: The Availability Heuristic and the Inborn Aging Process
  30. Justin Erik Halldór Smith: The Fundamentals of Gelastics
  31. Larval Subjects: Object-Oriented Ontology and Scientific Naturalism
  32. Larval Subjects: Speculative Realism and the Unheimlich
  33. Let Us Philosophize: Against Much Erudition
  34. Matters of Substance: How Many Regions of Spacetime Actually Exist?
  35. Methods of Projection: Wittgenwanker
  36. Minerva’s Howl: On Retrospective Prophecy
  37. MSU Philosophy Club: Philosophy and Video Games: Idealism and Closure
  38. Object-Oriented Philosophy: English Stylists and Related Matters
  39. PEA Soup: Constraints: Agent-Focused or Victim-Focused
  40. PEA Soup: Scanlon on Moral Responsibility and Blame
  41. Perverse Egalitarianism: Early Heidegger: Fundamental Ontology
  42. Philosophy, et cetera: Reflecting on Relativism
  43. Philosophy Sucks!: The Contestability of (P & ~Q)
  44. Philosophy Sucks!: Reflections on Zoombies and Shombies Or: After the Showdown at the APA
  45. Possibly Philosophy: Uncertainty in the Many Worlds Theory
  46. Public Reason: On Public Reason and Justificatory Liberalism
  47. Specter of Reason: Discovery, Demonstration, and Naturalism
  48. Specter of Reason: The Language of Consciousness
  49. Specter of Reason: Wise on Intelligent Design in the Classroom
  50. Strange Doctrines: Third-World Zombies and (Ana) Qualiac Reference
  51. The Edge of the American West: Part 1, All noble things are as difficult as they are rare
  52. The Edge of the American West: Part 2, The Best of All Possible Worlds
  53. The Edge of the American West: Part 3, Why should we be loyal to reason if it pushes us into the abyss?
  54. The Garden of Forking Paths: Defining Determinism and Such
  55. The Garden of Forking Paths: To Hell With the TNR Principle
  56. The Immanent Frame: Immanent Spirituality
  57. The Prosblogion: An Opinionated Play-by-Play of the Plantinga-Dennett Exchange
  58. The Space of Reasons: A Counterexample to Setiya
  59. The Space of Reasons: Dilworth’s Functional Consonance
  60. Tomkow: Blackburn, Truth and other Hot Topics
  61. Tomkow: The Good, The Bad and Peter Singer
  62. Underverse: Refuting “It,” Thus
  63. Wide Scope: Emotions and Moral Skepticism
  64. Yeah, OK, But Still: An Ethics of Honor

To vote, click here.

Land of hypocrites

Shandana Minhas in Pakistan's The News:

ScreenHunter_10 Aug. 30 21.42 I would like to begin by asking when Ramzan or Ramazan officially became Ramadan? It is the month the natural born Pakistani's intrinsic need to feel holier than thou — a necessary if trying counterpoint to the self loathing we traditionally embody– manifests itself to an alarming degree.

Celebrities begin their yearly plummet off the cliffs of prudishness at the onset of the month, like lemmings but without the charisma. Chiffon clad women wrap themselves in an extra layer of piety as they harangue their Hindu maids. Those who imbibe swear off the stuff for the duration, as if it isn't haram all year around.

Mosque loudspeakers' volumes are raised an extra notch, a crude but effective way to ensure all in their immediate vicinity bridge the class divide by being equally susceptible to inner ear damage. And salespeople ringing up midday food purchases do so with such a contemptuous superiority it is a wonder they are able to stay seated and not inadvertently levitate straight to heaven, bottoms up. And should the topic of inappropriate sanctimonious be brought up in conversation with, say, a person who has broken a red light in their rush to get home for Iftar and nearly totaled your car in the process, do you know what you are likely to get in response? I cannot possibly eat humble pie: I am fasting.

I'm generally not so negative but this year things got off to a bad start for me thanks to the pick up truck that parked outside the apartment complex I live in during the wee hours of the first night and proceeded to harangue all inmates with demands for charity over a megaphone, which is never a nice thing to do to anyone in bed.

Then, reeling from both sleep deprivation and the knowledge of my own helplessness in the face of wanton, unprovoked wailing, I read about the directive issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs to all provincial governments directing them to ensure full implementation of the Ehteram-e-Ramadan Ordinance. The ordinance, promulgated in 1981 under Zia-ul-Haq, makes it illegal for anyone – young, old, infirm, pregnant, lapsed – to eat, drink or smoke in public and applies across the board to Muslims and non-Muslims. In other words, resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.

More here.

Godless: The Church of Liberalism

Christopher Hitchens in The Liberal:

TRY sipping this single sentence and then rolling it around your tongue and palate for a while:

If Hitler hadn’t turned against their beloved Stalin, liberals would have stuck by him, too.

AnnCoulterGodless Well, I am being paid to parse and ponder that statement and I don’t understand it, either. Does it intend to say that liberals loved Hitler but drew the line at his invasion of the Soviet Union? Should it, rather, be interpreted as meaning that liberals were in love with Stalin but jumped ship when he was attacked by Hitler? It is remarkable to find so much intellectual and syntactical chaos in an assertion that contains no more than fifteen words.

But then, I have the distinct feeling that people do not buy Ann Coulter’s creed-screeds and speed-reads in order to enhance their knowledge of history or their command of syllogism. She has emerged as a persona because she has mastered the politics of resentment, and because she can combine the ideology of Human Events (the obscure ‘Joe McCarthy was right’ magazine) with the demand of the chat-show bookers for a tall blonde with a very rapid delivery on a wide range of subjects. The cover of this book – which follows the success of its forerunners Treason and Slander: titles that require little elucidation – shows her in a low-cut black dress with a prominent crucifix dangling over a modest cleavage. The needs of showbiz notwithstanding, I cannot fathom the reason for this slight come-hitherishness. Miss Coulter is not married and ought therefore, by her own loudly-proclaimed standards, to be a virgin and to remain so until further notice.

More here.

Sunday Poem

Domestic Economics

Sudden silence, the refrigerator motor
cycling off. The psht of water filling

ice maker, half-moon cubes transparent
and white—fingernails whose color doesn’t

vary much body to body. Your dark fingers
swizzle ice in whiskey; you say slaves made

Aristotle possible. Chinese girls, twelve
to a factory dorm room, make my

sneakers possible. I never learned to sew,
the black wheel of my grandmother’s Singer

large as a steam locomotive, the needle a silver
blur as my sister’s fingers fed kelly green cloth

into its stabbing path. You dodge ghosts
on the road, grief squeezing your lungs: children

stacked in a ditch, flaming thatch, your aunt
cradling her head in her lap—I thought

it all so primitive. Thought Hutsul my mother’s
maiden name, not a tribe. Their village stripped even

of seed grain; like rats and grasshoppers, the dead
eaten without ritual. Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Russian:

language a sticky binding, the egg my mother
mixed with leftover mashed potatoes, molded

into patties, fried a filigree brown. It’s an accident
of birth, what we consume. This side-by-side model

with its glass shelves, vegetable and meat drawers—
I have more food than it can hold.

by Mary Petrosky

Was Bernie Madoff an Evil Genius? That’s Just Half Right.

From The Washington Post:

Madoff When Bernie Madoff was a sophomore in high school, he stood up in English class and lied.

Madoff and his classmates were each supposed to read a book and make an oral report in class, but Bernie, an average student at New York City's Far Rockaway High in the early 1950s, hadn't gotten around to it. So when the teacher called on him, Bernie announced that he would cover “Hunting and Fishing” by Peter Gunn and proceeded to fabricate a detailed account of the nonexistent book. When asked to produce the book, Madoff turned deceit into virtue. He didn't have it, he explained — he'd already returned it to the library.

More here.

On the hunt for snark

It is sly, knowing and often downright nasty. Politicians and celebrities are its prey. And it attacks, under the guise of wit, without proof or reason. David Denby goes on the hunt for snark, which is invading all modern discourse from gossip sites to newspapers.

From The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_09 Aug. 30 12.12 What is snark? Abuse in a public forum of a particular kind – personal, low, teasing, rug-pulling, finger-pointing, snide, obvious, and knowing.

How does snark work? Snark is hazing on the page. It prides itself on wit, but it's closer to a leg stuck out in a school corridor that sends some kid flying. It pretends to be all in fun, and anyone who's annoyed by it will be greeted with the retort, “How can you take this seriously? What's wrong with you?” – which has the doubly aggressive effect of putting the victim on the defensive. No one wants to argue with a joke, so this is shrewd as far as it goes. But some of these funsters are mean little toughs. Snark seizes on any vulnerability or weakness it can find – a slip of the tongue, a sentence not quite up to date, a bit of flab, an exposed boob, a blotch, a blemish, a wrinkle, an open fly, an open mouth, a closed mouth. It exploits – slyly, teasingly – race and gender prejudice. When there are no vulnerabilities, it makes them up. Snark razzes pomp, but it razzes certain kinds of strength, too – people who are unaffectedly serious. Snarky writers can't bear being outclassed by anyone, and snark becomes the vehicle of their resentment and contempt.

Actual comedy is hard work – harder than dying, according to the actor Sir Donald Wolfit, who remarkably announced this truth while lying on his deathbed. But snark, eschewing work, adopts the mere manner of wit, as if manner were enough.

How does snark operate these days? Let me count the ways.

More here.

An Open Letter to the UN Secretary General

Akbar Ganji in the Boston Review:

ScreenHunter_08 Aug. 30 11.57 We, intellectuals, political activists, and defenders of democratic rights and liberties beseech you to heed the widespread protests of the Iranian people and to take immediate and urgent action by:

1) Forming an international truth-finding commission to examine the electoral process, vote counting and the fraudulent manipulation of the people’s vote in Iran;

2) Pressuring the government in Iran to annul fraudulent election results and hold democratic, competitive and fair elections under the auspices of the UN;

3) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to release all those detained in the course of recent protests;

4) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to free the media that have been banned in recent days and to recognize and respect the right of the people to free expression of ideas and the nonviolent protesting the results of the recent elections;

5) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to stop its harsh and barbaric treatment of the people of Iran;

6) Refuse to recognize Ahmadinejad’s illegitimate government that has staged an electoral coup, and curtailing any and all forms of cooperation with it from all nations and international organizations.


1. Akbar Ganji, journalist
2. Jürgen Habermas, J.W.Goethe Universitaet, Frankfurt
3. Noam Chomsky, MIT
4. Charles Taylor, McGill University
5. Martha Nussbaum, University of Chicago
6. José Ramos-Horta, Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1996
7. Orhan Pamuk, Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 2006
8. Nadine Gordimer, Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1991
9. Mario Vargas Llosa, Novelist
10. Robert N. Bellah, UC-Berkeley
11. Seyla Benhabib, Yale University
12. Cornel West, Princeton University
13. Hilary Putnam, Harvard University
14. Benjamin Barber, Senior Fellow, Demos
15. Craig Calhoun, Social Science Research Council
16. Howard Zinn, Boston University
17. John Esposito, Georgetown University
18. Michael Walzer, Princeton University
19. Adam Michnik, essayist, Poland
20. Ahmed Rashid, journalist, Pakistan

More here.

Rethinking Secularism: Religion Takes the Stand

Winnifred-fallers-sullivan1Over at the Immanent Frame, “Nathan Schneider, scholar of religion and law Winnifred Fallers Sullivan …[discuss] the failure of the courts to grapple with lived religion, the crisis of prisons in the United States, and why, in some sense at least, we are all religious now.”:

The problems with defining religion play a central role in the argument that you’ve been developing over your last two books. Why can’t we—as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography—simply know it when we see it?

The word “religion” comes out of a particular history. There are various ways of telling that history, but one could say, from the perspective of someone like me who is interested in church/state issues, that the notion that religion is a discrete, bounded aspect of human culture and society is something that emerged in the early modern period, parallel with the emergence of the modern state. With the secularization of the state and the differentiation of socio-cultural formations within society, religion gets reinvented as something separate. But the context in which that happens shapes what religion means. Politically, it comes to serve the modern state by providing a location in which modern citizens are trained to be moral, functioning members of society. This is a very particular understanding of religion, rooted in a particular kind of Protestant Christianity. Naturally, once modern societies try to expand that role beyond Protestant Christianity, they begin bumping up against different understandings of where religion ought to fit.

So this project is primarily located in the situation of a religiously diverse society?

I regard all societies as diverse. This is especially so in light of a global shift of religious responsibility toward individuals and an acknowledgment, even if it’s not politically realized everywhere, of the right of each individual to religious freedom. Then, religious diversity becomes a social fact virtually everywhere, within traditions as well as among traditions.

Creationists, Now They’re Coming for Your Children

Dawkins-185x295_604179aRichard Dawkins in the Times (UK):

Imagine you are a teacher of more recent history, and your lessons on 20th-century Europe are boycotted, heckled or otherwise disrupted by well-organised, well-financed and politically muscular groups of Holocaust-deniers. Unlike my hypothetical Rome-deniers, Holocaustdeniers really exist. They are vocal, superficially plausible and adept at seeming learned. They are supported by the president of at least one currently powerful state, and they include at least one bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Imagine that, as a teacher of European history, you are continually faced with belligerent demands to “teach the controversy”, and to give “equal time” to the “alternative theory” that the Holocaust never happened but was invented by a bunch of Zionist fabricators.

Fashionably relativist intellectuals chime in to insist that there is no absolute truth: whether the Holocaust happened is a matter of personal belief; all points of view are equally valid and should be equally “respected”.

The plight of many science teachers today is not less dire. When they attempt to expound the central and guiding principle of biology; when they honestly place the living world in its historical context — which means evolution; when they explore and explain the very nature of life itself, they are harried and stymied, hassled and bullied, even threatened with loss of their jobs. At the very least their time is wasted at every turn. They are likely to receive menacing letters from parents and have to endure the sarcastic smirks and close-folded arms of brainwashed children. They are supplied with state-approved textbooks that have had the word “evolution” systematically expunged, or bowdlerized into “change over time”. Once, we were tempted to laugh this kind of thing off as a peculiarly American phenomenon. Teachers in Britain and Europe now face the same problems, partly because of American influence, but more significantly because of the growing Islamic presence in the classroom — abetted by the official commitment to “multiculturalism” and the terror of being thought racist.

An Interview with Amartya Sen on Practical Justice

0821_amartya_408x600Neelima Mahajan-Bansal and Udit Misra in Forbes:

Is there really a way to measure justice?

The question that you are asking–is there more injustice or less injustice. That’s an excellent question. The answer isn’t 37 as opposed to 51. That ranking is the basis of measurement we have known for at least a hundred years. The basic measure to look at is a ranking. Then everything else follows from it. And it’s the ranking that justice is concerned with, not a numerical measure, I think. The debates are all about rankings.

Take the issue of land acquisitions in SEZs. There are several stakeholders. A villager would feel it’s unjust to take his land. A company would feel their taking the land is justified because it would add to economic activity. Are there mechanisms to deal with issues like that?

I wasn’t so much saying that justice means different things to different people. There are different ways of looking at justice. Sometimes the same person can take different views. In the flute case, I think I can give an argument for all three of them and I see merit in each of them.

[Note: In the book, Sen describes a problem of divergent views on justice in which you have one flute and three children who want it. One child wants the flute because she knows how to play it, the second one wants it because he is poor and doesn’t have toys, and the third one says she made the flute, so she should get it. Who do you give it to?]

The main point is that there can be different reasonable positions not that different people must have different positions. It’s not related to difference between persons. It’s related to difference between arguments and reasoning.