Why should I respect your stupid opinion?

by Emrys Westacott You have been called for jury service. The trial is complex and much hangs on the relative credibility of different witnesses, particularly those offering expert testimony regarding whether a certain medicine is likely to produce aggressive behavior as one of its side effects. A professional psychiatrist called by the defense testifies that…

Against terrorism, let’s try idealism

by Emrys Westacott When terrorist atrocities are visited on civilian populations, the immediate emotional response is a combination of shock, sadness, and anger. That is natural and understandable. But the anger people feel fuels the thought that “something must be done; ” and political leaders, acutely aware of what is expected of them, immediately proceed…

Why do we read literary biographies?

by Emrys Westacott I have just finished reading Curtis Cate's 2005 biography of Nietzsche. At close to six hundred pages one would expect it to be exhaustive, the kind that is routinely described in the back cover blurb as “definitive.” After all, Nietzsche's life, apart from his thoughts and subjective experiences, was not especially eventful…

How not to accuse someone of prejudice

by Emrys Westacott A colleague recently responded to a memo I circulated by telling me they considered it unintentionally heterosexist. I didn't agree. After a brief exchange of e-mails that served only to sandpaper each other's sore spots, my colleague called my attention to the following passage in Allen Johnson's book Privilege, Power, and Difference:…

What problems in education can technology help solve?

by Emrys Westacott The computer revolution has transformed education over the past quarter century. PowerPoint, greatly improved graphical and multi-media capabilities, e-books, Wikis, online student collaboration, flipped classrooms, clicker quizzes, open-access online courses (MOOCs), and the inexhaustible wealth of material available on the internet have opened up all sorts of interesting possibilities. (At the same…

American politics as the clash of symbols

by Emrys Westacott My Facebook profile describes my political views as “very liberal.” In the US this is a shorthand way of indicating that I support gay rights, government-run health care, stricter gun laws, abortion rights for women, abolition of the death penalty, reduced military spending, environmental protection, campaign finance reform, the United Nations, Charles…

How elite soccer illustrates an ancient paradox and a current problem

by Emrys Westacott The market is efficient. The market knows best. This belief underlies much contemporary theory and practice, especially in the realm of government policy. It is has been used, for instance, to justify privatizing the railways and the post office in the UK, and it forms a central plank in the arguments of…

The nostalgic appeal of simplicity

by Emrys Westacott Nostalgia is a fascinating and remarkably common phenomenon. We have all heard older people comparing the present unfavorably with the past in spite of–or even because of–obvious material improvements in the standard of living. Most of us over the age of twenty-five have probably done this ourselves. Often the fond remembrance involves…

Why don’t more people kill themselves?

Why don’t more people choose to induce death at the very end of life when they have little more to live for? We are still in thrall to traditional taboos that aren’t rational. Those who choose suicide in these circumstances should be applauded for heir courage and selflessness.

On Fear of Surveillance Technology

by Emrys Westacott Surveillance of people by governments and other institutions is an ancient practice. According to the legend, the first Christmas occurred in Bethlehem because of a census ordered by the emperor Augustus. One of the first acts of William the Conqueror after becoming king of England was to commission the Doomsday Book–an exact…

The continuing relevance of Immanuel Kant

by Emrys Westacott Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is widely touted as one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Western civilization. Yet few people other than academic philosophers read his works, and I imagine that only a minority of them have read in its entirety the Critique of Pure Reason, generally considered his magnum opus.…