Reply to Tyler Cowen’s ‘Stubborn Attachments’

Disclaimers! First: I (somewhat indirectly) work for Tyler Cowen.

Second, this is a reply, not a review. My review is simple: Stubborn Attachments is a fascinating, thought-provoking work of political philosophy. Given its depth and originality, it’s also remarkably accessible. I strongly recommend it.

Third: there is plenty of interesting material in the book that I will not address at all. This includes narrow arguments about redistribution and environmental policy, as well as more abstract arguments about ethical disagreement and decision-making. I will not touch on these because I either simply agree, or if I have reservations, they’re not all that interesting.

Onto the fun stuff.

Introduction: Cowen’s argument in a nutshell, and map of my response

Essential to Cowen’s position is the claim that the discount rate for the value of the wellbeing of future people should be zero. In other words, the fact that someone doesn’t exist yet does not at all diminish the ethical value of their wellbeing. John, who is alive today, living a life of, say, 100 net utils, is worth exactly the same as Linda, who will live two hundred years from now, living a life of 100 net utils.

Presumably, there will be many, many more people alive in the future than are alive today. So, when we think about hard things like public policy and social organization, we shouldn’t aim to maximize the wellbeing of people alive today. Instead, we should maximize the wellbeing of all people—present and future. Given that there will be so many more future people, in practice this means our focus should be on maximizing the wellbeing of future people.

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Nicolas Langlitz: Psychedelics and Philosophy | Who Shaves the Barber? #45

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Psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and ayahuasca, do much more than generate sensory hallucinations. Users often come away with a sense of having gained deep insight into the nature of reality – even if what that insight is, and what is so special about it, can be hard to communicate. Anthropologist Nicolas Langlitz associates it with the “perennial philosophy” – an old idea, popularized by Aldous Huxley, that all world religions communicate the same basic truth. Years after writing the book The Perennial Philosophy, Huxley tried mescaline and LSD and became convinced that psychedelics provide a shortcut to the kinds of mystical experiences that would put us in touch with that basic reality – what he called the “world mind”. Langlitz is skeptical that psychedelics really do communicate some kind of metaphysical truth. In this interview, we discuss what psychedelics do reveal, if anything, and what the relationship is between experience and knowledge.

Next week: Kit Fine: Metaphysical Ground



Topics discussed

0:20 – Intro to Nicolas Langlitz
1:05 – Anthropology and philosophy
10:06 – Nick’s research on psychedelics
22:23 – Perennial philosophy (Huxley)
29:20 – Indescribable?
33:09 – Materialism and mysticism
41:14 – Diversity v. unity of psychedelic experience
47:40 – Validity and expression of the psychedelic experience
59:50 – Place of psychedelics in society


Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain (Langlitz)
Is There a Place of Psychedelics in Philosophy?: Fieldwork in Neuro- and Perennial Philosophy” (Langlitz)
Heaven and Hell (Huxley)
The Doors of Perception (Huxley)…

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Peter Klein: What Is Knowledge? (Gettier Problem) | Who Shaves the Barber? #37

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Peter Klein

What is knowledge?

For some time, the answer to this perennial question was thought by many to be “justified true belief”. If I believe X to be true, I have good reason for believing X to be true, and X really is true, then I know X. In 1963, Edmund Gettier published a now legendary three-page paper titled “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” in which he gave two examples of justified true belief that did not constitute knowledge. Since then, epistemologists have mostly agreed that there’s some extra ingredient requisite for knowledge but have disagreed about what it is. After drawing out Gettier’s examples, Peter Klein explains that there are two major camps. The first he calls etiology of belief: theories in which the extra ingredient has to do with how the belief was attained. Reliabilists, for example, argue that a justified true belief counts as knowledge if the belief is arrived at via a method that reliably delivers accurate beliefs. Klein belongs to the second camp: quality of evidence theories, which have to do with the strength of the justification, not the cause of the belief. Klein defends his own preferred quality of evidence theory: defeasibility theory, which involves the existence or absence of “defeaters” for the justification.

Next week: David Papineau: Physicalism

Interested in knowledge? You may be interested in Alvin Plantinga’s epistemology, which I discussed with professor Jim Slagle.



Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.…

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