In Praise of Pleasure

Geoffrey Harpham, Director, National Humanities Center

When I stumbled upon the future, I was actually looking for the past.

In the 1990s, I was trying to write a book about why the concept of language had so dominated the intellectual history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At some point, it occurred to me

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Final Thoughts of a Disenchanted Naturalist

In Geoffrey Harpham’s first contribution to “On the Human” he wrote,

One of the most striking features of contemporary intellectual life is the fact that questions formerly reserved for the humanities are today being approached by scientists in various disciplines such as cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, robotics, artificial life, behavioral genetics and evolutionary biology.


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A Suicidal Tendency in the Humanities

There is an interesting question as to why those in the humanities – most notably literary studies – have felt so dissatisfied with their performance as not just to re-invent themselves – which is fine and healthy – but to attempt to destroy their very rationale. I want to examine a tendency amongst some of

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Whole-Body Apoptosis and the Meanings of Lives

When, if ever, should we intentionally shorten our lives? Programming our own deaths is not a subject many people seem to have thought much about. But think about it we must. For biotechnologies continue to advance, our psychological identities continue to depend on our being embodied, and more and more of us spend our last days in debilitated confused states. Were we to find a means of safely and effectively cutting short the suffering and frustration of older and older age, wouldn’t it be unethical not to use it?

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Knowledge of our own thoughts is just as interpretive as knowledge of the thoughts of others

Philosophers have traditionally assumed that knowledge of our own thoughts is special. Descartes famously believed that knowledge of our current thoughts is infallible. He also believed that those thoughts themselves are self-presenting, so that whenever one entertains a thought, one is capable of infallible knowledge of it. Many figures in the history of philosophy have

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The Dark Dark Side of the Mind

Mahzarin Banaji

Whatever social changes have occurred that involve race, our children are not different from us in their implicit race attitude. What does this mean, given the change in gender stereotypes by age? Does it mean that in spite of all the changes since civil rights legislation, social change and media change, that a 10 year old and a 70 year old have the same race attitude? Does it mean that racially our lives are still so segregated that that to nudge implicit attitudes we haven’t created the appropriate conditions of contact?

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The Health Impact Fund: a better way to reward new medicines

Thomas Pogge

Thomas Pogge, Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs chair, Yale University

With some of the goods and services we consume, supplying the first unit costs vastly more than the rest. Building a subway line costs billions. The additional cost of making it carry more passengers is minuscule by comparison: pennies per ride for

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When Felons Were Human

Rebecca McLennan

If we understand human rights as inalienable rights that flow from the mere fact of being human, it is hard to escape the conclusion that here in the United States prisoners and convicted offenders more generally do not count, at least in the eyes of the law and a vocal minority of opinion-shapers, as fully human. This drastic erosion of prisoners’ status transpired in the last twenty years of the 20th century and is the result of complex social, economic, and political forces. But the courts and lawmakers of the nineteenth century helped lay the legal pathway to this dismal state of affairs by reviving and modernizing the early medieval legal fiction of ‘civiliter mortuus’ (civil death).

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The Sacred and the Humane

Anat Biletzki

Human Rights are all the rage. They have become, currently, a very popular arena for both political activism and rampant discourse. Human rights, as we all know, are the rights humans are due simply by virtue of being human. But there is nothing simple here, since both “human” and “rights” are concepts in need of investigation. One deep philosophical issue that invigorates debates in human rights is the question of their foundation and justification, the question “where do human rights come from, and what grounds them?” There are two essentially different approaches to answering that question — the religious way and the secular, or philosophical, way.

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The Ethics of Captivity

Though conditions of captivity vary considerably for humans and for other animals, two of the central philosophical issues that emerge in discussions of human imprisonment prove instructive in thinking through the ethical issues raised by captivity for non-humans — autonomy and dignity. When captives have their physical and immediate psychological needs met and are free from suffering, so they are not being harmed in those ways, we can we still ask if there something wrong with holding them captive.

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