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The Myth of Senseless Violence

(Chapter for Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy) People have a fascination with something called “senseless violence”. The term originated in Dutch police reports and media stories in the 90s (zinloos geweld), but has since then found its way into other languages as well. It refers to violence that is unprovoked, random, excessive, ruthless, and above all devoid of… Lees verder »The Myth of Senseless Violence

Playing Fallacy “Gotcha!”

I was expecting some strenuous but constructive criticism from the sceptical community about my Fallacy Fork article, and I have not been disappointed. Skeptical Inquirer published a selection of four letters from readers, and Steven Novella has criticized my article on his blog and podcast. Readers have taken issue with both of my central claims: that cut-and-dried fallacies rarely occur in real… Lees verder »Playing Fallacy “Gotcha!”

The cultural buck stops somewhere: the origin of supernatural belief and the role of agency detection

(Commentary on “Seeking the Supernatural: The Interactive Religious Experience Model” by Neil Van Leeuwen & Michiel van Elk, target paper for Religion, Brain & Behavior by ) When I was a kid I used to pray in front of a glow-in-the-dark statue of the Virgin Mary. To “enhance” my telepathic connection with the Mother of God, I would rapidly flick the… Lees verder »The cultural buck stops somewhere: the origin of supernatural belief and the role of agency detection

A most unnatural alliance

Is naturalism on the wane in philosophy? Even more so than with other -isms in our field, the precise meaning of “naturalism” is widely disputed. By and large, it stands for two substantially different positions, each of which, naturally, lends itself to further conceptual hair-splitting [1, 2]. Perhaps the best way to understand the broad difference is to compare their… Lees verder »A most unnatural alliance

Enjoying your cultural cheesecake: why believers are sincere and shamans are not charlatans

(BBS Commentary on Manvir Singh’s target paper “The cultural evolution of shamanism“) Abstract: Cultural evolution explains not just when people tend to develop superstitions, but also what forms these beliefs take. Beliefs that are more resilient in the face of apparent refutations and more susceptible to occasional confirmation stand a greater chance of cultural success. This argument helps to dispel… Lees verder »Enjoying your cultural cheesecake: why believers are sincere and shamans are not charlatans

Think before you give: Charity is about a cool head as much as a warm heart

When I was a kid, my little sister and I sold calendars door to door to raise money for Haiti. They were nice, too: shiny paper and beautiful full-color photos of poor Haitian children. The money raised went to support the charity work of the Salesian Missionary. They cost 700 Belgian francs each (about €17.50), which was quite a tidy… Lees verder »Think before you give: Charity is about a cool head as much as a warm heart

The Magic Three-Letter Word

One day when I was in elementary school, I asked my teacher if he believed in God. For weeks, he had been telling us all these nice stories about Yahweh and his people (we used a sanitized children’s Bible, without the sex and violence), but when it came to his own beliefs, he tended to waffle somewhat. When I asked him… Lees verder »The Magic Three-Letter Word

Moral myopia: how to conflate (culpable) negligence with wilful murder

There’s a worrying tendency today to equate wilful acts of murder (i.e. terrorism) with deaths due to (culpable) negligence or remission. I’ve heard people comparing jihadi terrorism to 1) boat refugees drowning in the Mediterranean 2) civilian casualties due to Western airstrikes in Syria, or even 3) the deaths of Grenfell fire. In a discussion on Twitter on the relative… Lees verder »Moral myopia: how to conflate (culpable) negligence with wilful murder

Escaping The Fallacy Fork? Straw-manning and circular reasoning.

Is it time to get rid of fallacy theory? Is there any use in having a laundry lists of labels for alleged reasoning errors, often with impressive Latin names, that are constantly thrown around? Several people have pointed to the “straw man fallacy” and the fallacy of “begging the question” (also known as circular reasoning or petitio principii) as counterexamples… Lees verder »Escaping The Fallacy Fork? Straw-manning and circular reasoning.

The Conceptual Penis Hoax: Solid or Flaccid?

Last month, the philosopher Peter Boghossian and mathematician James M. Lindsay perpetrated a hoax on the journal Cogent Social Science, in an attempt to expose the academic field of Gender Studies. The paper, entitled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct”, is a hilarious piece of satire, making the preposterous argument that the human penis is not so much an… Lees verder »The Conceptual Penis Hoax: Solid or Flaccid?