The Evolved Apprentice

Two Framing Ideas About Human Evolution.

Human evolutionary change has been rapid and extensive; so much so that the genetic similarity and recent divergence between the human and the chimp lineages came as a profound surprise. Three million years ago humans were relatively minor elements of a rich East African mammalian fauna. Since then, our

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Moral Camouflage or Moral Monkeys?

In “The Metaphysician’s Nightmare”, Bertrand Russell described a Hell in which there is a special torment for practitioners of each branch of scholarly inquiry. In the place in Hell reserved for statisticians, for example, a pack of monkeys walk aimlessly and endlessly on typewriters, each time creating a perfect rendition of a Shakespearean sonnet. Our

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Control: Conscious and Otherwise

Introduction An important notion in moral philosophy and many legal systems is that certain circumstances can mitigate an individual’s responsibility for a transgression. Generally speaking, such situations are considered extenuating in virtue of their exceptional influence on a person’s ability to act and make decisions in a normal manner. The essence of the case for

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Participants and Spectators


There remains great controversy in philosophy over the issue of how we should make sense of what people do, of their actions, as opposed to explaining what happens to them. Some philosophers believe that if the question is: what distinguishes naturally occurring events like bodily movements in space from metaphysically distinct purposive doings initiated

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Moral Skepticism and Moral Disagreement: Developing an Argument from Nietzsche

By “moral skepticism,” I shall mean the view that there are no objective moral ‘facts’ or ‘truths.’ Moral skeptics from Friedrich Nietzsche to Charles Stevenson to John Mackie have appealed to the purported fact of widespread and intractable moral disagreement to support the skeptical conclusion. Typically, such arguments invoke anthropological reports about the moral views

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On the Human: Rethinking the natural selection of human language


Since Darwin’s time, the human language capacity has been a perennially cited paragon of extreme complexity that defies the explanatory powers of natural selection. And it is not just critics of Darwinism who have argued that this most distinctive human capacity is problematic. Alfred Russel Wallace—the co-discoverer of natural selection theory and in many

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Science and the Humanities

At odd moments, often when I’m distracted, it occurs to me that a song or a piece of music has been repeatedly running through my head. It’s an experience nearly everyone has. Sometimes it’s invigorating to realize that you have been striding through the day to the chords of Beethoven, but it’s often quite irritating

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Narrative and Personal Good

It is now something of a commonplace that we think about our lives in story form.[1] According to a recent article in the New York Times, psychological research into the personal narratives we tell supports the idea that we are natural storytellers. [2] “The human brain,” the article reports, “has a natural affinity for narrative

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The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality

This is a précis of an argument that naturalism forces upon us a very disillusioned “take” on reality. It is one that most naturalists have sought to avoid, or at least qualify, reinterpret, or recast to avoid its harshest conclusions about the meaning of life, the nature of morality, the significance of our consciousness self-awareness,

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Qualitative Experience in Machines

Abstracted from ‘Qualitative experience in machines,’ The Digital Phoenix: How computers are changing philosophy.

1. Many people, perhaps most people, have the idea that, however problematic qualitative experience is for the case of human beings, it is a lot more so for that of machines constructed by human beings. Few philosophers doubt that human beings’

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