May 15, 2013, 1:30 pm
David Birnbaum believes he has unified the fields of religion and science. He told me so in an e-mail. A book he wrote, Summa Metaphysica, Volumes I and II, “unifies the two fields—elegantly—and seemlessly” (sic).
In April of last year, Bard College devoted a three-day* conference to the role of metaphysics in science and religion, prompted by the “reflections flowing” from Birnbaum’s books, according to a program e-mailed to participants from prestigious institutions including Dartmouth, Grinnell, and Oxford. “We are especially pleased to announce that David Birnbaum will be present during discussion,” the program enthused.
Left unmentioned was that Birnbaum helped finance the conference, that he has no academic affiliation, and that his works are published by an entity that he himself runs, called “Harvard Matrix” or “Harvard Yard Press” or, as sometimes printed on the…
April 4, 2013, 2:13 pm
Prepare yourselves, dear readers: The United States of North America is coming.
Writing in the newest issue of Dædalus, two historians of science, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, have taken on a quixotic task: imagining a future historian looking back at our time, in an effort to tease out how we failed to avert a climate-caused collapse. Or, as they put it, how it came to be that “a second Dark Age” fell “on Western civilization, in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on ‘free’ markets, disabled the world’s powerful nations in the face of tragedy.” (The full version of the article is online here.)
Known for their 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, which examined the role of industry in casting doubts on the findings of scientists on cigarettes, climate change, and other topics, Oreskes, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, and…
January 4, 2013, 1:14 pm
In a recent podcast, the hosts of Philosophy Bites called up well-known philosophers—people like Martha Nussbaum, Patricia Churchland, Michael Sandel—and asked them to name their favorite philosopher.
Many laughed at first, perhaps because it’s odd to talk about philosophers as if they were football teams or pizza places. Others complained good-naturedly that they wished the question could have been submitted in advance so they would have had more time to think about it, which is exactly what you would expect from a philosopher.
Several named more than one. Others, like Peter Singer, came up with fairly obscure names (he picked the 19th-century British utilitarian Henry Sidgwick). The most surprising answer came from Catharine MacKinnon, who said her favorite philosopher is “the last woman I talked to, whoever she is.”
I tallied the results, which are below. I didn’t…
October 24, 2012, 6:33 pm
October 1, 2012, 3:35 pm
In the past two weeks, thousands of words have been published about these six: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …”
That bit of dialogue comes from a papyrus fragment written in Coptic and thought to date from the fourth century. Its existence was revealed by Karen L. King, a professor of divinity at Harvard, at the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies, in Rome. Even though King cautioned early and repeatedly that the fragment did not prove that Jesus had a wife, that immediately became the focus of popular discussion. BuzzFeed featured a video in which people were asked what they would get Jesus and his wife for a wedding gift (a blender was nixed since everyone already has one).
Among scholars, the discussion has focused on its authenticity. Francis Watson of Durham University, in…
September 26, 2012, 8:04 pm
It was an unsolved mystery of classical music. An “Easter” sonata, sometimes attributed to the 19th-century composer Felix Mendelssohn, had largely disappeared from history. Scholars suspected the work was actually by the celebrated composer’s sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. But the manuscript seemed lost, so how could they prove it?
Duke University announced this week that a 28-year-old Ph.D. student in musicology, Angela R. Mace, had unraveled the riddle, demonstrating that the 1828 sonata was Hensel’s work. How Ms. Mace did it is a story of archival digging and sheer luck that culminated in a trembling moment of excitement as she held the missing manuscript in the Paris office of its private owner.
The discovery helps shed light on a composer who wrote during an era when a musical career was impossible for such a high-status “lady of leisure.” Hensel lived in “a golden cage”…
March 5, 2012, 1:32 pm
A paper by two bioethicists arguing for “after-birth abortion” has stirred up a debate, to say the least (here’s an earlier post about it). I asked Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and one of the world’s best-known philosophers, for his take. Here’s what Singer, whose own views on infanticide are controversial, wrote:
In contemporary applied ethics, the issue of the moral status of newborns and the possibility that in some circumstances infanticide can be justifiable, dates back to Michael Tooley’s article “Abortion and Infanticide” published in Philosophy and Public Affairs—perhaps the most respected journal in the field—in 1972. (The authors quite properly note this article, as well as later contributions to the discussion.) Their article doesn’t say anything remarkably new, although it does add some thoughts about the justifiability of infanticide…