A Summary of My Philosophical Questions

I’ve made some changes to the site to reflect my change in priorities and outlook over the past year or two. I also rewrote my ‘about‘ bit. I decided to make it mostly a summary of the philosophical questions and subject matter that are of interest to me and why. I’m happy with how it came out. There’s something very satisfying about laying down a statement of where I am intellectually at some specific time. It’s not comprehensive—notably lacking are my interests in regress and specificity in meanings, and in Hegel. But editing > comprehensiveness, so I’m going to leave those out. In any case, here’s the summary:

Philosophy of logic: People give me a weird look when I say that the philosophy of logic is my strongest philosophical passion. Maybe I can explain it this way: consider any belief you hold. It might even be a tricky belief, like that you don’t know anything for sure, or that your beliefs are not the sorts of things that can be put into words (nice try). Whatever this belief may be, and whether you realize it or not, it is constrained by some abstract, fundamental rules. Rules like if ‘A’ is true and ‘B’ is true, it follows that ‘A & B’ is true. You might think: what could possibly be interesting about such trivial observations? To my mind, there are two very interesting things about them. One is that when we codify all these trivial, almost stupidly obvious rules, we discover that they yield paradoxes.…

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In Praise of Sean Carroll’s Mindscape

Confession: for a guy who hosts a podcast, I don’t listen to all that many of them. I used to enjoy 99% Invisible, and I still recommend it. But for me, it doesn’t go into quite the depth I prefer for the medium. Others do go into quite a bit of depth, but get bogged down by (often political) dogmatism and pettiness from the host (I’m looking at you, Waking Up). The Joe Rogan Experience is sometimes cool but is often too chatty and too much of Joe spitting his by now boring opinions.

I’ve recently become enamored of the physicist Sean Carroll. He works primarily in cosmology and is known, among other things, for being a strong proponent of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. However, he’s also a generally curious guy with broad intellectual interests. (To give credit where it’s due, I discovered him through Rogan.)

Carroll recently started a podcast, Mindscape, and it may be my favorite I’ve found so far. He tackles a wide variety of topics, always interesting, always fairly in-depth. He’s reasonable, smart, and not into politically-minded shit-talk. His most recent interview is with none other than my boss(ish), Tyler Cowen. But he’s also done some very cool interviews on the science of aging (and how we might go about indefinitely postponing aging), cryptocurrencystring theory, and other cool stuff.

Since I’m a philosophy, I especially loved his brilliant solo episode on why there’s something rather than nothing. I love this question (particularly Derek Parfit’s exploration of it).…

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The Specificity of Ideological Labels

It’s become hip to scoff at ideological labels. You’ll sometimes hear the ultra-woke deny all ‘isms’. I agree with the spirit. “Think for yourself!” “Why put yourself in a box?” “Attachment to labels is tribalism!” These are all fine points.

Except for the fact that there are really only two ways to avoid ideological labels:

  1. Have no positions; or
  2. Refuse to name your positions.

(1) isn’t as bad as it seems. You probably should withhold opinion on matters into which you have not put significant analysis or research. (This is assuming you want to hold your opinions because you’re justified in thinking them to be more likely correct than alternatives, and not simply for sport.) But (1) is not the reason for the anti-label imperative. The same people who tell you to avoid labels will also tell you to think through the issues and come up with your own answer. So they would not agree with (1).

(I hope it’s obvious by now that I have no concrete examples of who these ‘people’ are who supposedly argue against labels. I hope you know who I’m talking about. If not, alas, this post is not so serious.)

(2) is, of course, silly. Naming things is necessary for reference and communication, activities I highly recommend.

So, what’s up?

I think the problem isn’t with labels in general, but with labels that are insufficiently specific. Unspecific labels have a tendency to conceal the substance of positions. My favorite example of this is ‘capitalism’. As Roderick Long has helpfully noted in a clip short enough that some people might actually watch it, ‘capitalism’ sometimes means ‘free market’; sometimes ‘means of production owned by capitalists instead of workers’; sometimes ‘this economic system we have in the contemporary west’.…

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