Wednesday assorted links

1. When were the great philosophers?

2. When it comes to the great stagnation, don’t blame the engineers.  A very good post with lots of detail; I say fear the services!

3. Are ravens as clever as chimps?  Paper here.

4. Traffic lights embedded in pavements, in case you cross the street while viewing your smartphone the culture that is Germany.

5. Frequency of Sex Shapes Automatic, but Not Explicit, Partner Evaluations.

6. Noah Smith is leaving academia for full-time at Bloomberg.

7. Why are reactionaries especially unpopular in the United States?


2. The Great Stagnation is the consequence of increasing Government bureaucracy:

I know some guys who believed that, and move their company from California to Texas as a result. Actually I don't know them. I know the former employees who stayed in California, started a competing company, and cleaned the clock of their former now-Texas employers. The California crew has more money than they know what to do with ($200,000 weddings, Porsches for everyone).

Cool story brah!

Conservatives are quite foolish. It is far more renumerative to serve the already-wealthy in California than to try to institute a free market for a chance at competing against entrenched interests via low-regulation in Texas.

I saw elsewhere that US regulations cost the private sector approximately $4 trillion per annum. That and higher taxes may be the reasons for the weakness (lowest of all since WWII) of the so-called recovery.

Yes, by all means let's revoke those laws around clean water & sewerage.

They're standing in the way of recovery!

'Elsewhere': always cited, never seen.

Do you realize how large the radium industry would be today?

Dear Einstein, Then, what is hampering recovery and hindering GDP growth?

Low $ recreations. Netflix.

So you're argument is because one page of regulations is good, one point six million pages of regulation must have no effect on business at all?

An interesting approach.

What do you think of Hernando de Soto's The Other Path?

Dammit. Your not you're.

1:6000000 eh? Science.

Sorry, 1:1600000, much more reasonable.

That "elsewhere" would be "Investors Business Daily" which cited a George Mason University study of the cumulative compliance cost of federal regulations. That $4 trillion (if it were a GDP) would fall in the fourth largest economy on the Planet.

Did you ever hear of George Mason University?

Do you know that the medical examiner of NY fought a war against leaded gasoline in 1924, and lost to crony capitalism?

We had to wait until the 70's to "discover" lead was bad, and get it out of gasoline.

I guess you are with Standard Oil on that one?

Laws and regulations don't clean the air and water. Wealth and technology do.

Poor countries have lots of protected parks with no wildlife and the USSR had banned pollution.

While in rich countries, the revocation of clean water laws wouldn't lead to widespread pollution. Cost-effective technology and social approbation would prevent it.

Regulations are overrated except in their impact on impeding progress.

So called 'conservatives' fail to realize that 99% of regulations are directly related to clean water and sewage. If they were interested in conservation, they would know. Thanks, Carlos.

Workers today are four times more likely to require a professional license than workers in the 1960s because clean water and sewage rules are just so complicated these days?

What % of workers require a license today? I assume you don't mean drivers license.

Did they account for the benefits, or just the costs?

Perhaps much of the problem with contemporary regulation is not so much that it is excessive, but that the enabling statutes are so vague that it becomes difficult to know whether one is in compliance. This produces at least two adverse consequences:

1. Interpretation of what the statute actually means defaults to the bureaucratic agency charged with administering the law. This produces a mass of precedent which citizens must then search in order to determine whether they are in compliance (because the text of the statute is insufficient for the purpose). Which can be time-consuming and costly.

2. If the agency determines you are out of compliance and you disagree, the legal process itself becomes the punishment as you'll have to go through lengthy hearings within the bureaucracy before you acquire standing to sue in a real court of law. And (is it necessary to say this?) bureaucrats have few incentives to be reasonable, as they are appointed (not elected) and often protected by civil service rules.

Because the potential costs, businesses search for safe harbors, yet, often there are only "safer" harbors.

I bet that if coyteblog put half as much attention to running his business as he does to blaming the government for all his problems he would be a lot better off.

I gave up on him years ago when he finally gave up and hired an outside service to do his janitorial work. That service charged him less than he paid his janitors, while paying their employees more than he did. He could not accept that maybe his poor management skills played a role in that result. It.had to be the governments fault that he could not pay his employees low enough wages for his business to do well.

#2 - you notice Vaclav Smil the technology economist is quoted, I've read his books. You can synthesize the "no Great Stagnation" argument in the sentence where the author says there's progress in tech until such time a plateau is reached, then new tech comes along to get to the next level. That's what TC is saying too. The debate is whether there's a general plateau in science in the present moment, and I think there probably is, due to bad patent laws.

He does not even go into ag tech. Per acre yields have been growing at 3 percent a year which BTW is faster than population has been growing.

4. Augsburg discovers the DC Metro station concept? How forward thinking of Metro - they had that idea in place before the invention of the mobile phone, much less the smartphone. Shame that Metro did not take a German approach to 'Instandhaltung' -

I was thinking this is the wrong approach -- if they're glued to the screen they won't be looking at the pavement. The right approach would put something on the screen, maybe some sort of extension to the Bluetooth standard to support warning beacons.

But then it occurred to me that's wrong too. These people should die. Run them over with trains, buses, whatever you've got. I'm reminded of the recent case in which someone drove off a pier because the GPS map system displayed a route without a warning to stop and wait for the ferry. Or the Israeli soldiers who drove past warning signs that they were entering a Palestinian area forbidden to Israeli citizens, then were attacked. In this case, the map system was not at fault because it had a mode for plotting routes that avoid Palestinian areas, but the soldiers neglected to use that mode.

1. Interesting, and I broadly agree.

Not to take away anything from the Great Women/Men of the Past (they were the pioneers and personally I adore nad admire them etc.), but the speed, quality and rigour of intellectual exchange in the comments section of a Marginal Revolution post must be much higher than that of a salon frequented by Diderot in XVIII century Paris. We tend to discuss much higher-hanging fruit (since the lower hanging fruit has all been picked) and have more resources to critique/back up our arguments (World Wide Web). Not to mention the smaller degree of snobbery (Voltaire was beaten up by some titled mediocrity, and no one stood up for him - read Garrioch's "The Making of Revolutionary Paris").

Plus, they didn't have Ray Lopez back in the days of the Enlightenment.

Getting better all the time!

"You don't think therefore ur a libtard idiot."

--anonymous comment on Descartes's blog

If philosophical greatness were a matter of natural lottery, the most extreme values of a much larger population are usually greater than that of a much smaller population, and the distribution of greatest philosophers should be uniform by birth rank.

which seems like a stupid observation if we accept many of those greatest philosophers ideas about what is conducive to philosophic life. It's not nearly so profound as he thinks it is (indeed one can twist many advantages into disadvantages)

"Further, if we don’t believe they are singular geniuses in human history, study of their work should be principally of historical interest"

why unless we assume all modern philosophers have no systematic biases worthy of interrogation? Also he seems to move from "Plato may not literally be the smartest philosopher of all time" to "well he's probably on the whole pretty unexceptional." which seems stupid. "on average the highs will be higher in bigger populations" isn't a good argument for assuming we're wrong and plato isn't a member of the .1% of excellent philosophers

#7. Not bad. I was reminded of Allan Bloom's The Closing of The American Mind. I think I'll reread that. Chicago FTW again.

I read that book when I was an undergrad studying music. I liked it overall but was struck by how shallow his comments on musical taste were. It made me wonder if his other criticisms were equally shallow.

I hear ya. I reckon Bloom is a bit stronger on, say, Machiavelli, than music.

I'm just feeling a little disoriented. Surely, Bloom is in the middle of the 'liberal tradition' and not some kind of reactionary, right?

Our culture has moved so far so fast that I wonder if the book is now dated, quaint even.

I'm pretty sure the New York Times would be less welcoming of the book than it was in 1987.

I think I'll reread it.

It is an interesting read but Bloom was very much a reactionary. He doesn't think much of American democracy and comes across as a Nietzschean who is a afraid that liberal egalitarianism winds up leading to the celebration of the vulgar and mediocre.

Why are hierarchy conservatives especially unpopular in the United States? It helps if you think of them as monarchists!

5. That makes sense. A woman lusts after an alpha male but tells her girlfriends that he is an ass for xyz reasons. This research would suggest that she is not just engaging in signaling, but actually believes it herself. Likewise, a woman married to a beta male subconsciously despises him for lack of sexual prowess but would rate him highly when asked because he does nice things for her e.g. raising the alpha male's child.

The same could probably be said of men's attitudes toward women.

Misattributed paternity is not that common (the 10% and 30% stats are nonsense internet memes) and the sire and the father-caretaker aren't necessarily different masculine types when it does occur.

It's probably about common as the percentage of queers.

Other anon, I don't think that paper says anything about the alpha/beta idea of male behavior. And I'd think that when betas find a mate, they have as much sex as anybody. In our culture it is pair bonding, after all.

I highly doubt there's much of a relationship between assholishness and sexual prowess. Actually, if anything, it's probably the opposite to what you suggest, since the asshole will just screw his glory hole and have it done with, and the non-asshole might actually prioritize that the lady should get satisfaction too.

Maaaybe some women just naturally like macho assholes. But, I think, it has more to do with a) being socially conditioned to accept it and b) maybe something like matching with the man with the flashiest peacock feathers.

1. Maybe. Once you get to nihilism either philosophy is over, or it's a contest of who can put forth the most satisfying delusion by which we can continue to live. If the old philosophers can be seen as offering various delusions to choose from, there are some pretty great ones. But if you think they have to start out with the explicit knowledge that all they are offering is a delusion, then I think they pretty much have to be of a more recent vintage.

Interesting perspective. It's not so much a matter of who's wrong/right what's low hanging fruit etc. but it's about who starts the conversation and where it goes.

Problem would be that we can't really be fair to all the philosophers, especially the older ones, because we don't actually know what was in their head. For instance, maybe many of the ancients hit upon a nihilistic view of existence, said "that sucks, I want to come up with something better for people," and then built a scheme of delusion without mentioning their unfortunate nihilistic finding. This would be the most benevolent thing to do, as it is a lot harder to latch on to a life-sustaining delusion when the guy starting it says "Oh, by the way, this is all BS, there is no meaning, human life is absurd." That's why Bokonomism never took off.

But I think any attempt to rank philosophers would have to take account of what intellectual climate they started in. A profound insight in one would be a dull stating of the obvious in another.

Stoicism was a thing. It was pretty nihilistic in a lot of ways, in the sense of not having inherent meaning, although prioritizing what is generally considered to be "good ethics" in addition to not being a slave to desires.

Then, it met Judeaic thought, and the result was Christianity, the most widely adopted religion of history (whether due to its inherent benefits for the peasants and aristocrats alike, or simply because some powerful kings/emperors liked it, is not clear to me.

This is an excellent comment.

I'm not a person of stereotypically "nihilist" temperament, but in my opinion science basically proves that there's no such thing as morality, free will, intrinsic purpose, religion, etc. The universe turns out to be physicalist, a very unromantic collection of atoms that bump into each other.

But of course it's very useful for society that people not believe in the above. And it's also rather psychologically disconcerting, and so in my opinion modern philosophers are basically just people who are professionally obtuse and refuse to take yes for an answer.

For what it's worth I think the hard problem of consciousness (qualia and such) doesn't have a great answer yet and is still a legitimate field of inquiry.

Here is nothin mg new under the sun. it's not as if The great philosopher were unaware of or did not engage with the kind of thing you are saying.

True - although all things were new under the sun once. So I guess I vote whoever wrote Ecclesiastes as the greatest philosopher of all time.

On the contrary I don't think what I'm saying was really understood until around the Enlightenment or so. The big reveal of Newton, for example, was that the laws of the celestial were the same as the laws of the terrestrial. The idea that all of the goings-on in the universe were part of one cohesive causal whole united by natural laws, is relatively new.

And even post-Enlightenment there was more chipping away to be done. Darwin killed creationism only in the back half of the 19th century, for example.

You mean like some kind of Tao or logos or dharma?

I kid, but actually your views aren't so different from the atomists. Newton was heavily influenced by (what the alchemical tradition had told him of) the philosophy of empedocles. Gravity and inertia are essentially love and strife.

I hear what you're saying, but I feel like we need to be careful not to give more credit than is warranted. The reality is that all of these guys were basically throwing shit at a wall in a dark room, and now with the lights on we can see that a few chunks stuck to it. This is a very far cry from our modern understanding of things. Just because some pre-Scientific Revolution folks came up with some vaguely modern-sounding ideas about oneness or whatever, shouldn't be taken too far.

Or put another way, Democritus may have first come up with the idea of atoms, but he didn't have a clue. He was winging it like all the others. As far as I'm concerned the atom was really discovered in 1804 or whatever year that was.

He didn't come up with the idea of atoms the way you mean it. He came up with a metaphysics in which all is matter and flux. I really don't intend to be rude, but don't you worry that you may not know what you are talking about wrt the history of philosophy?

No rudeness taken. In fact I grant that you seem much more informed on the history of philosophy than myself who stopped reading philosophy out of frustration some years ago. I felt, and still feel, that philosophy is interesting as history but as a source for actual answers you're best off skipping ahead to the back of the book, or even just throwing the book away and picking up a science book instead.

I'm confused though, by your comment. Did Democritus not come up with a primitive formulation of what we would now call atomic theory? And do you think that he had good evidence for his metaphysics at the time or just got lucky centuries after the fact?

I still don't think you've really addressed my basic point that there was little basis for deciding among the different metaphysical hypotheses of the past until after the Scientific Revolution or so.

Democritus' atoms referred to the idea that everything is composed of fundamental units of matter that he called atoms, which literally means uncut tables. Our atoms are, of course, named after Democritus' atoms, but that is not really the significance of Democritus. He was responding to problems created by the philosopher Parmenides, who argued that change and motion are impossible. Much philosophy in he ancient world was desiccated to showing how Parmenides was wrong. You may be familiar with some of zeno's paradoxes. Zeno was a follower of Parmenides. It's easy to intuit that Achilles would in fact catch up to the tortoise; it's much harder to demonstrate the flaw in zeno's argument or premise.

Atomism was the response of one group to the problems created by Parmenides. Democritus agreed that change must in fact be impossible, but argued that reality was fundamentally comprised on these noncomposite unchanging and I changeable atoms (of differing shape, incidentally), discreet quanta as opposed to a single infinitely divisible world necessary for many of zeno's paradoxes to "work". These atoms moved around and give rise to the illusion of change, but in a sense, the configurations of atoms are not really real. All that is really real are the atoms and flux. Hence, Democritus is more the father of nominalism with respect to universals, and materialism. These are essentially the positions others on this thread have posited are somehow implied by Newtonian mechanics. He wasn't trying to create a modern chemistry, just trying harmonize reason and the common observation that things do seem to move around.

Incidentally, Plato pretty much makes mincemeat of materialism and nominalism and Aristotle pretty much solves what you might call the problem of Parmenides.

Thanks for that reply. I feel as though you and I might be taking two different things away from your presentation of the debate. Reading your comment, it just sounds like all the parties involved were hopelessly confused and stumbling around in the dark. The whole thing leaves an angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin taste in my mouth.

You clearly know a lot more on this topic than I do, but I'm just not seeing what you're seeing.

When I was young I had a similar reaction to philosophy. I sort of deemed and question that couldn't be answered, at least in principle, empirically as somehow unimportant or even meaningless (forget that the arguments I used to decide what is and is not important were themselves philosophical arguments, and bad ones at that). I think I had just made up my mind that I wanted to think what I thought all respectable intellectuals thought, atheism, morality is a kind of illusion, life is meaningless, there is no real distinction between living and non-living matter, etc. it as a dodge to keep me from thinking about how the universe really is. You might think the ontological status of universals is unimportant, but it tells us something about the world we live in, and there are implications about how we should live I it as well that that can also only be spun out via philosophical argumentation.

"The idea that all of the goings-on in the universe were part of one cohesive causal whole united by natural laws, is relatively new."

Not necessarily. A lot of ancients viewed "God" as basically the sum of existence and the laws which governed it, not a conscious entity that decided everything. Records of such thinking were presumably purged through 2 millennia of Christianity, Islam, etc., but are still rather present in Stoic philosophy, and are also found in roughly similar analogues in some ways of thinking about Buddhism and Hinduism.

This is what I get for getting into a philosophy argument on the internet :)

For what it's worth I don't believe those things out of any desire to. On the contrary I wish I had good arguments against them. I'm sure I'll think differently about these things X years hence, and I've actually been meaning to tackle some more ancient philosophy one of these days.

Nathan, what you are desrcibing is referred to in the Christian tradition as, classical theism (contra "theistic personalism"). So far from being purged for 2000 years, classical theism was argued for by such thinkers as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas in Christianity, Maimonides in Judaism and , and Avicenna in Islam.

The reformation seems to have marked a move away from classical theism in the west, however, the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition is a living tradition within the Catholic faith.

For sure, there are still interesting issues (like consciousness, as you mention). But they are interesting primarily because I can divorce myself from the nihilism that I believe to be the truth. They are distractions. Sometimes I gamble, drink, and play video games for distraction too. The intellectual exercise of considering consciousness makes me feel better afterward, but I think primarily because I share the same bias as pretty much any of these philosophers we might try to rank: that Truth, and seeking Truth, has some independent merit. That perhaps there is a Heaven for philosophers.

Ultimately I can't live like Camus' Absurd Man, and really I don't think most anyone can. We are sustained by our delusions. Actually swallowing reality every moment of the day would be unbearable (although I guess that is kind of what true Buddhist meditative practice is). But sometimes it bubbles to the surface and takes a lot of work to bat back down.

Last summer, my wife was approaching her due date with our second son, and this thinking bubbled up and caused me to think deeply about whether we were cruelly bringing a life into this absurd world. I still can't give you an answer today, though I do love the little guy. That's something to distract me, and hopefully him as he grows up.

I agree, there's a conflict there at the end of the day.

I won't steal, even if I would definitely get away with it, for example. I know the moral basis for respecting property is basically a fiction, but...I just won't do it. Seems wrong. Undignified.

"I know the moral basis for respecting property is basically a fiction...", um, no. It's a product of evolution, like everything else. In V.T.'s example above, people who didn't care for their progeny, didn't pass their non-caring genes on. Same for the advantage of property rights in building a functioning society. Sorry for preaching.

Jamie, I think respect for property rights is more of a culturally-evolved trait, and so it is more easily undone as conditions change. If I needed to no longer respect property rights in order to provide for my family, I could come up with a workable moral framework pretty quickly.

You're conflating "behavior that's evolutionarily selected for" with "the objectively right thing to do."

Also I'm not entirely convinced that property as we would think of it today was really a thing until the rise of agriculture, though I grant prospect theory-type behavior seems pretty deeply embedded in people.

Turkey Vulture April 27, 2016 at 5:38 pm

I think respect for property rights is more of a culturally-evolved trait, and so it is more easily undone as conditions change.

Ever tried to take a bone from a dog? Property rights look universal to me and not confined to humans. It is not that you could come up with a moral alternative - although I am sure you could. It is that you would pretty soon decide some people are not worthy of the same rights as you. The people who wrote the property protection clauses in the Constitution had no problems taking land from Indians.

39 Rock Lobster April 27, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Also I’m not entirely convinced that property as we would think of it today was really a thing until the rise of agriculture

The Yanomamo don't do agriculture. Try to take an axe away from a big time hunter.

SMFS - Yeah, but the other dog sees itself as having equal right to that bone if it can get away with it. And dogs seem to have much less of a sharing instinct outside of raising pups (however, instances of dogs displaying altruism to a variety of species also abound).

" that Truth, and seeking Truth, has some independent merit. That perhaps there is a Heaven for philosophers."

I think many philosophers would be generally sympathetic to this line of thinking. I mostly studied philosophy in the context of political philosophy, but in studying "pure philosophy" there seemed to be a lot of interest in defining what "truth" might mean as a pre-requisite to moving forward in the process.

Even recognizing an evolutionary and physical basis for morality, "free will", "intrinsic purpose", etc., I think it is 100% possible to be aware of these truths and nevertheless enjoy the magic of those ideas.

For example, if you meet a nice lady, do you want to over-analyze it from an evolutionary (whether genetic or cultural), scientific, etc. perspective? Sure, you're rationally aware of that stuff, but you nevertheless live in the moment. In fact, I believe it is entirely rational to unite the contradiction, being both rationally aware of the evolutionary and physical bases of such things, and rationally ignoring them most of the time so as to have a better experience of life.

The awareness I am referring to isn't the physical mechanisms in particular, but rather the simple reality that my consciousness will end. More broadly, that our conscious experience is built on impermanence, but we long for immortality. That is the absurd, or perhaps the super absurd, in my understanding - that immortality, and the continuation of what I experience as my consciousness, are irreconcilable under any belief system. Issues like free will, the nature of consciousness, or arguing about random topics on economics blogs are all means of distracting myself from this.

7. I really should read through first, for commenting economy.

But the idea that 'reactionaries' are unpopular in the U.S. is the just too amusing to let pass. Unless one believes that young earth creationists should be in positions of power involving textbook purchasing, science funding, or curriculum decisions, for example. Or a judge like Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Moore is not a reactionary -

'Roy Stewart Moore (born February 11, 1947) is an American judge, Republican politician, and the current Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In 2003, during Moore's first term as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments (which he had commissioned) from the Alabama Judicial Building despite orders to do so from a federal judge. On November 13, 2003, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary unanimously removed Moore from his post as Chief Justice.'

You don't understand the term 'reactionary,' do you?

Judge Moore is obviously extremely popular

prior_test2 April 27, 2016 at 12:49 pm

7. I really should read through first, for commenting economy.

Don't play with us dude.

I fail to see how the Chief Justice is a reactionary. He just doesn't support the same irrational beliefs everyone else does. He supports some other irrational beliefs. Supported by the majority of voters it seems.

#1: For what it's worth, in the case of Plato/Socrates I think we're more attached to the romance of him than we are to his philosophy per se. I think he was basically wrong about most things, but the Allegory of the Cave, the Apology, the hemlock, the Forms, the whole idea of being an aloof and contrarian intellectual who seeks knowledge and understanding, and so on, have really endured because they captured people's imaginations. In my opinion Aristotle turned out to be the more correct guy, but he's much less of a romantic figure and nobody really cares to read anymore about his cataloguing of plants and animals and such.

Since Christianity is simply Neo-Platonism for the masses, I'd say a lot of people are seriously attached to his philosophy.

And then if Humanism is just Christianity for the Godless - damn, Plato is still dominating.

Of course it is. What is the "Man" of the humanists, if not a perverted Platonic Form? It certainly has no basis in reality. The world-denying outlook of Christianity is a prerequisite.

I think that's a bit of a stretch.

Aristotles catalogues of nature were impressive, but we have much better ones. From todays perspective, his natural science is mostly a quaint collection of falsehoods and misconceptions.

Whearas Platos Republic is no worse today than on the day it was written.

Aristotles politics is still quite good. Aristotles metaphysics benefits a great deal from the improvements of the various Aristotelian traditions. The thomist philosopher Edward feser's fairly recent book, scholastic metaphysics, shows how high aristotelianism had basically solved all of these problems that will plague modern analytical philosophy regarding causality, ontology and more. May e he is wrong, but modern philosophers do seem to be rediscovering territory that the aristotelians had already covered. The only reason to not take Aristotle seriously is to not know what you are talking about.

Plato on the other hand, probably doesn't benefit as much in the truth value of his thought from any of the platonic schools (I could be wrong as I haven't actually read Plotinus). Renaissance Neoplatonism is probably less gobbledygook than it has sometime been made out to be, but it doesn't compare to the scholastics or even the bagdad peripatetics. Some of the other commenters here seem like they could have fit in at the academy during its skeptical period.

Except that the Republic is really not that good unless you think there's hidden Straussian meaning. I read it once, it was fun to read, but I'm struggling to recall any actual useful governance ideas that came out of it. Aristotle's Politics, as Josh points out below, is good, but why no love for him?

The republic is amazing. It's not about governance, it's about the nature of justice, and much more.

I've been meaning to give it another shot one of these days, but when I first read it I remember thinking, "I don't get it. Are all these ideas supposed to be so half-baked?" I reached out to a guy I knew from college who was a classics PhD. He told me about the Straussian theory that the whole thing is Socrates deliberately making dumb arguments as a teaching device or something. I thought it was rather disconcerting that we don't actually know if the points in the book are supposed to be bad or not.

Like I said I enjoyed reading it but just, hoo boy it was a lot weirder and more utopian than I was expecting. I haven't read Plato's Laws but I'm told that one is more down to earth.

I agree that they were wrong about a lot of things. But it's an excellent place to start the conversation, in particular given that many other historically important conversations were framed in response to what they said.

In studying Plato and Socrates, we basically never debated "were they right", but rather, "here's a debate, what do you think, and why - here are some for/against arguments that they presented". Famously so with the debate between "morality is real" versus "might is right".

#3: Anyone interested in learning more about the relationship between brain size and the number of neurons in a brain would be well served by reading The Human Advantage by Suzana Herculano-Houzel.

7. Douthat lays bare his internal struggle to reconcile his core beliefs as a fundamentalist (Douthat was a Pentecostal when he was a child) and his professed beliefs as a Roman Catholic: once a fundamentalist, always a fundamentalist. In this second installment of his excuses for crazy conservatives, Douthat enlists Leo Strauss, a Jew, as evidence that reactionaries aren't all Nazis - although Douthat fails to mention that Strauss rejected his Jewish religion (as incompatible with reason). In any case, I would reject Douthat's premise (that reactionaries are unpopular). In my part of the country, evangelical reactionaries rule. Douthat's complaint isn't that reactionaries are unpopular, his complaint is that they don't rule in all of America as they do in many parts of the American South.

There is a big difference between a "conservative" or even a fundamentalist evangelical and a reactionary (note that in the English Civil War radical protestants are the supporters of the Parliament, not of the King) - fundamentalist protestants are not against democracy nor particularly against egalitarianism (the kind of inequality that they could support - for example, between sexes - are relatively common some decades ago); they not have even a true clerical class; contrast with the nostalgia for an Acient Regime of kings, nobles and priests that we can find in some variants of traditional catholicism.

Most protestant churches have essentially elected clergy, with variation in the precise mechanisms. I tend to believe that this was very important in the development of democratic ethos (for better or worse), in particular as contrasted with divine right of kings and the Vatican, but this doesn't tend to get much of a hearing.

I think the interesting application of this should be in spreading democratic ideals into Islam. Congregations should have a formal democratic means of selecting and firing their imam. This would subvert theocracy, and surely be resisted, but it would also lay bare the evidently human aspects of theocratic rule.

My impression is that Sunni Islam is not particularly theocratic (in the sense of rule by religious leaders; it is theocratic in the sense of rule by religious law), with imans being perhaps not much different from protestant preachers. Shia Islam (with its hierarchy of Great Ayatollahs, Ayatollahs, Hojatoleslams, etc.) is a different case.

2. Team Artir, all the way. If there is a stagnation it isn't because technological progress has slowed.

(As an aside, some bright shiny objects, like self-driving cars and games-playing computers, might be like jet packs. They are more an evocative image of a possible future than something we actually need to get there.)

I think Mr Douthat is wrong if he thinks that Europe's Geert Wilders or Nigel Farage are appealing to a worldview that is particularly Catholic or even monarchist. It is about immigration, that's all. If that's wrong, and they are more like Ted Cruz than like neckbearded nerds playing at monarchy, then he has misclassified reactionaries.

7. Hmm. Douthat wonders why reaction doesn't get traction. In response, let me ask, who owns Tomorrowland?

IIRC, conservatives saw that movie and said they would have had the jet packs, if it wasn't for the darn liberals. Well, I don't think you can have the techno-optimism and a deep attachment to an ancien regime at the same time. So which is it, do we invent a new future, or do we give up self-driving cars and go back to Driving Miss Daisy?

People saw tomorrow land?

Douthat says "First, America has no real ancien regime," He's right in the sense that the ancien regime in the US was one of limited government. If big progressive government is the path to Tomorrowland then the French, with 60% of GDP going to government, should be there now. Instead, if your a French entrepreneur you'd be better off emigrating to the US Frances labor and bankrupcy laws crush entrepreneurship. Here at home, what's the biggest obstacle to Amazon's delivery drones? The FAA of course. So I don't think you can have techno-optimism and an attachment to big government progressivism.

Doesn't the FAA take a middle ground, that you can't fly drones, but you can't shoot them either? Just kidding.

I don't think drone delivery is quite ready to be a thing. The logistics of a recharging distribution carrier truck seem all made up at this point.

Uber and AirBnB are a better model for useful tech battling The Man, and they seem to be doing OK.

If you're a French entrepreneur, you probably have better knowledge of what will be a hit in France than what might be a hit in the USA. However, American consumers are generally regarded as more willing to try something new ... what that might be is probably a great mystery to most French entrepreneurs.

I don't intend that as any sort of comment on whether the level of red tape in France is at the "wrong" level.

Reformer = someone who supports the changes I want

Reactionary = someone who opposes the changes I want

One could call public sector unions reactionaries for opposing changes to tenure and pension rules just as the ancient regime opposed changes to landholding practices.

I remember reading a 60s radical memoir where the author discusses an sds meeting where the topic is whether lsd is a revolutionary or counterrevolutionary drug. People have been using these terms to mean something for quite a long time. Reactionary, I think, means something similar to counterrevolutionary, where revolution refers to the sort of permanent world revolution envisioned by the French Revolution or international communism.

Aside from testing of LSD in the CIA and military (at least some of which highly non-consensual and therefore highly illegal) ... ever heard of the stories about how they used to surreptitiously give people LSD so they could document them doing/saying crazy things and use this as a means of blackmail and/or discrediting them?

I'm not sure whether that counts as revolutionary or counter-revolutionary, but either way, highly illegal (I'm not aware of anyone ever facing legal consequences for doing so, however, perhaps specifically related to the ability of others to claim "you're crazy, that simply never happened" ...)

I had not heard of the blackmail angle, though it would not surprise me.

It can be subtle. Say, you start expressing yourself on a certain issue, or are perceived as a whistleblowing risk on something. Then, a few conversations by "random" people in your vicinity mention the documentation (real or not) of the event. And allude to how your reputation will be destroyed as "mentally ill".

Certainly, it would never be so explicit as "pay $1000 a month or we'll disclose".

The same might apply to politicians or opinion leaders. Say, there's a debate about expanding funding for some black op, um, I mean general budget increases for national security ... and people who oppose the plan are reminded of documentation (real or not) of their embarrassing or perhaps even illegal event. Always built into a conversation or circumstance so if you try to report on it, others would say "that's just a normal conversation, right?", but you cannot explain the specific circumstance/meaning without self "incriminating".

#4 could also be good for tall drivers.

6. On Noah.

Average is Over. He is moving to where he can become top tier. Congrats Noah! Classy farewell to Stony Brook in his blog by the way.

"Staying classy":

"He is moving to where he can become top tier"

With Megan McCardle as a stablemate? Smith is a mediocre hack.

He'll fit right in.

Taleb needs a brain scan. Tumor talk.

What silliness. It is normal for professors to be allowed to take leave and during that time they are considered to maintain their institutional affiliation and can use their offices and university resources. Noah doesn't mention whether this was a partially paid sabbatical or leave without pay but, either way, the university still lists him in the faculty directory so that should settle the matter.

RE: 1. All of the modern philosophers on that Top 10 list were bachelors, with the possible exception of Frege, whom I don't know offhand. Excelling at philosophy is not pure g/fluid intelligence. It's about spending a lot of time in quiet contemplation and perhaps also living in times/circumstances that lead you to grapple with these questions.

"The ideal state for a philosopher, indeed, is celibacy tempered by polygamy." - H.L. Mencken

Great quote. I never knew Mencken wrote a book on Nietzsche.

There's actually a Mencken translation of The Antichrist, possibly of Thus Spoke Zarathustra too? Haven't read them, just going by memory.

Is your wife on board with this?

No, unfortunately when I suggest the latter arrangement, she responds by instituting the former.

Socrates wasn't a bachelor nor was Aristotle.

But Socrates married ironically.

Tyler Fan April 27, 2016 at 2:15 pm

RE: 1. All of the modern philosophers on that Top 10 list were bachelors

Ahh but which bathroom could they use in South Carolina?

Aldous Huxley once said an intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting that sex. Clearly that only intensifies as you rise to the top.

2. Power plants and cars are "technology"? What are Cowen's friends in Silicon Valley doing? I thought that was technology.

on 1 again: wouldn't the best way to prove this to be something like prove how 1900 was the best time to do philosophy up till than and how much smarter your favorite phils of that period are than "the greats"? same logic should hold

The article about ancient philosophy being of more historical than practical use reminded me of Isaiah Berlin saying he became an historian of ideas rather than a philosopher because he had a strong desire to know more at the end of his life than at the beginning.

#6. Noah Smith was in academia this whole time?

Who knew?

#1 Nothing could be more damaging to a philosopher than to be clearly understood ( I think it's a quote from Schopenhauer). They're basically bullshitters. Nothing useful until Francis Bacon. Their accomplishments pale when measured against those of Newton, Gauss, Darwin, etc...

Well in fairness the bullsh!tting quotient has gone up a lot lately. Compare Plato with Lacan.

So this proves there is no stagnation in philosophy!

"His mother was ardently Catholic", so he had something going for him; a mind at work,, patterns and contrasts, maybe useful in someday, someway.

#6 doesn't surprise. He's clearly in the mold of subjective pop-economist. Hope it works?

"7. Why are reactionaries especially unpopular in the United States?"

Alexander Hamilton seems pretty popular at the moment.

#3 The comparison of the brains of raven and chimp is more or less the biological equiv of that for RISC and CISC computer processors. Raven requires lighter and faster reaction time for flight and the chimp can have bigger and more complex brain on the ground.

"For any given level of general performance, a RISC chip will typically have far fewer transistors dedicated to the core logic which originally allowed designers to increase the size of the register set and increase internal parallelism."

In the past RISC gave better performance but now it has reached the speed limit.

1) No Indian or Chinese philosophers? Very Eurocentric.

Also, they are "great" in the sense of breaking new ground, formalizing previous endeavours, etc., in a way that profoundly shaped the history of philosophy. In that sense, they ARE truly "great", even though with larger populations there are many thousands who might have made similar breakthroughs in a similar context.

Also, probably the military success of the respective nations led to their large role in history of philosophy. In that sense, the greatness of the philosophers themselves is probably rather over-rated (unless you believe that the philosophy itself contributed to civilizational success, which is altogether possible).

These days there's such an enormous volume of philosophy, that it's hard to stand out. Also, not an awful lot of new ground to break into.

Yes; I suspect that most of the so-called "great philosophers" were from antiquity is because (and not "in spite of") there was few philosophers in that time

What's an "automatic measurement?"

Ravens are indeed clever. Look on Youtube for the phone-camera-videos of ravens snow-boarding down roofs on jam jar lids, climbing up with the lid in their beaks and surfing down again, taken by bored security guards out at the far corners of the Gazprom and Sibneft campuses.

1. 'Greatness' is obviously a function of context--like the price of goods is largely determined by where/when they are consumed; ignoring that leads to false conclusions like that recent 'analysis' showing that Germany is really 'poorer' per capita than any southern US state. You can't have another Aristotle now (the first to write on the topic of logic), because that ship has already sailed. Also 'philosophy' is now fragmented into different fields (logic, mathematics, physics, biology, etc.), by the old definition someone like Einstein would have been on this list.

Late to the party, just having read the Gregory Lewis article.

Every Straussian I know either threw up a little in his mouth, or turned left to spit before crossing himself three times after reading this:

"But it perhaps should make us less deferential towards the ancient greats. Instead of a large secondary literature to find a good argument in Socrates’s infamous refutation of Thrasymachus near the start of The Republic, we should be more willing to believe that Socrates/Plato just made a bum argument: they were not that brilliant, and so the chances of them doing some bad philosophy is not that low. Further, if we don’t believe they are singular geniuses in human history, study of their work should be principally of historical interest..."

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