Brian Robinson

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Category: Unpublished Thoughts

Responding to Egoism

I’ve been teaching ethics since 2006, and just about every semester I teach the problem of ethical egoism. In short, that problem is: Why should I do what’s right if it’s not in my self-interest. To me, this is THE central question in ethics. Continue reading

The Danger of Philosophy

Tania Lambrozo recently argued that philosophy’s “tools for critical evaluation run counter to another valuable set of tools: our tools for effective social engagement.” Philosophers’ training teaches them to critically analyze statements, which is a degree of scrutiny that most statements made in typical, social conversation are not meant to withstand. Applying our philosophical tools outside of philosophy, Lambrozo argues, is socially determinantal. Danielle Wenner, while agreeing with Lambrozo’s hypothesis, contends that philosophers should not learn to “turn it off” sometimes (at least outside of academic settings). Continue reading

Strength of a Democracy

democracyChurchill did warn us, “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” And, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Plato warned us, too: “So tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty.” Something I take away from these thoughts is that necessarily democracies have a non-zero chance of producing a demagogue. Any democracy, given a long enough time will produce a leader that rises to power by whipping up the base fears and prejudices of the mob. It will eventually happen. There are, therefore, two tests of a democracy: (1) How often does any particular democracy allow such a demagogue to rise to the heights of power? (2) How does the state/society respond when (1) occurs? Together, these questions ask how well a democracy does at preserving itself, at prevent itself from devolving into any of “those other forms” of government. Continue reading

AI and Thanksgiving Traffic

Traveling home on the Sunday after Thanksgiving provided an interesting insight into the future of AI and autonomous vehicles. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the annual I-35 post-Tday traffic jam. It’s something of a tradition as everyone simultaneously returns home. You never know precisely when or where it will happen or how bad it will be, but you know the traffic will drop from 80 mph to 0. In years past, you’d hit the slowdown and everyone would have to make a decision based on what little they could see ahead of them: Get off or stay on. Getting off the interstate and taking the parallel access road might be quicker by bypassing an accident. Or it might not. It was a gamble either way. And everyone had to make that decision independently. Hence, some got off and some stayed on.

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Flags, Racism, and Mixed Messages

The “Confederate Flag”1 should be taken down immediately, at the South Carolina capitol and on any other state grounds (in SC or elsewhere). That it took a racist terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church and the death of nine people to bring this point into the national conversation is a lamentable and reprehensible. I’m hardly alone in this call. There are a number of petitions ( here, here, and here for instance) that one can sign (and I urge you to do so). Here I want to offer a philosophical analysis and rejection of a common argument against removing it.

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Self-Promotion in the Age of the Unread

Two interesting posts appeared on Daily Nous this week. First, there was the depressing-but-not-surprising news that for most humanities articles simply aren’t read or cited (No One is Listening). Second, there was a legitimate question on the permissibilityOld_book_bindings of self-promotion in philosophy (Norms of Self-Promotion).They’re both worth reading on their own. But I want to focus now on the relationship between academic self-promotion and living in the age of the unread (articles). A big part of the reason that self-promotion has become more of the norm is to try to get one’s scholarship read. Continue reading

Philosophy in the Doldrums? Hardly

Brian Leiter recently shared this excerpt from Harry Frankfurt’s contribution to Portraits of American Philosophy:

Harry FrankfurtI believe that there is, at least in this country, a more or less general agreement among philosophers and other scholars that our subject is currently in the doldrums. Until not very long ago, there were powerful creative impulses moving energetically through the field. There was the work in England of G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell and of Gilbert Ryle, Paul Grice, and Herbert Hart, as well as the work of various logicial positivsts. In the United States, even after interest in William James and John Dewey had receded, there was lively attention to contributions by Willard Quine and Donald Davidson, John Rawls and Saul Kripke. In addition, some philosophers were powerfully moved by the gigantic speculative edifice of Whitehead. Heidegger was having a massive impact on European philosophy, as well as on other disciplines–and not only in Europe, but here as well. And, of course, there was everywhere a vigorously appreciative and productive response to the work of Wittgenstein.

The lively impact of these impressive figures has faded. We are no longer busily preoccupied with responding to them. Except for a few contributors of somewhat less general scope, such as Habermas, no one has replaced the imposingly great figures of the recent past in providing us with contagiously inspiring direction. Nowadays, there are really no conspicuously fresh, bold, and intellectually exciting new challenges or innovations. For the most part, the field is quiet. We seem, more or less, to be marking time. (pp. 125-126)

With respect, I think Frankfurt couldn’t be more wrong. Philosophy is hardly in the doldrums. This comment both misrepresents the contemporary status of our discipline and typifies an antiquated notion of what constitutes non-doldrum, energetic, thriving, and creative philosophy. Continue reading

Unpublished Thoughts: Ethics of Cooperation

Passengers push train off womanLast week something interesting happened in Japan. A woman fell into the gap between a train and the platform. Unlike a similar instance in New York where one man could save another from a subway, no one person could save her. So 40 passengers got off the train and started pushing. Others quickly joined in. By cooperating, they managed to push the train over far enough to get her out. This case raises some interesting questions about cooperation? What moral obligation do we have to cooperate? Can we be obligated to cooperate with others on something that we would not individually be obligated to do? And how can we best understand any moral obligation for cooperation, as a duty or a virtue? Continue reading

Unpublished Thoughts: Thomson’s Trolley-problem Problem

Welcome to the first in a new series of posts: Unpublished Thoughts. Today, I’ll take up a significant problem in Judith Jarvis Thomson’s (2008) “Turning the Trolley.” She offers an argument intended to demonstrate the that Trolley Problem is in fact a non-problem. Her argument, however, is logically invalid. Continue reading

Unpublished Thoughts: The Series

There is a new series of posts coming to Cacoethes Scribendi. I’ll be writing a series of posts called Unpublished Thoughts. I, like most philosophers, have way too much going on to write up and publish articles on every interesting thought that pass through my mind. My own research agenda is already very full, and some ideas or arguments are too far afield from my research areas; they simply would take too long to develop into an article. But the power of the internet saves the day, allowing me to share these ideas with others. While I one day may come back to some of these ideas in this series, I won’t begrudge anyone from developing them into an article on their own (so long as credit for the initial idea is given). I would ask, however, that any criticism not extend beyond the blogosphere. If you disagree, feel free to say so in the comments or in a blog post of your own, but not in any scholarly format. These unpublished thoughts are not fully worked up. My intention is to share thoughts of interest, hoping to spark further thought in the future, either for me or someone else. I hope you enjoy these explorations.

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