Title Excerpt Author Date Total Comments Recent Comment
Minds, Myths, and Madness Even while science affords us ever greater understanding about the universe around us, the universe within us remains a distant mystery in many ways. Material reductionism about the brain and ever-better scientific tools and computerization should, one would expect, help us to uncover the mechanisms that make brains and thus… David R. Koepsell 07/11/16 0
Cosmopolitanism and its Enemies Diogenes famously responded, when asked where he came from, that he was “a citizen of the world” (kosmopolitês). This concept, that brazenly undermines the then-current notion of sovereignty of city-states, and later nation-states, inspired some Stoic philosophy which saw the individual as inhabiting a number of concentric spheres of affiliation,… David R. Koepsell 06/27/16 0
The Other Social Justice Not all justice is served by negative or positive law. As we well know, sometimes the law is itself a vehicle for injustice and some sort of extra-legal strategy is necessary to either change the law or deliver some just reward or punishment. Society itself may exact justice through our… David R. Koepsell 06/21/16 3 06/22/16
Saving Liberalism Western liberalism is our heritage. It is the heritage of modern, liberal democracies and our secular humanist philosophies. The ideals of liberalism are broader than those of democracy, but the functioning of democracy depends upon liberalism. The earliest English usage of the term “liberal” appears to be in Middle English,… David R. Koepsell 06/07/16 0
What Trumps Truth? Tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at 8pm EDT, Lindsay Beyerstein will reprise an updated version of her popular CFI talk On Bullshit live as a web event. Registrants can also hear the event following its broadcast, but the live version will enable give-and-take with Ms. Beyerstein in real time. You can register… David R. Koepsell 05/23/16 3 05/24/16
Making the Future What it Once Was I see the tension between a time when the future looked incredible, when anything was possible, and a creeping despair about it, that arises in part out of conflicting philosophies associated with naturalism and humanism. Even during the Cold War, when nuclear Armageddon loomed as a very real possibility and… David R. Koepsell 05/03/16 1 05/03/16
Holiday in Kuwait These are dynamic times for humanism. A new generation of humanist thinkers and leaders is emerging around the globe. Challenges to humanist thought and activism, and actual physical danger to those espousing humanist views in hostile political environments, makes even more relevant our advocacy of enlightenment principles. The philosophical crises… David R. Koepsell 04/26/16 0
Drake vs. Fermi: Skepticism and SETI Most scientists are quite skeptical about the “UFO” phenomenon, and yet supportive of valid scientific efforts like SETI - the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which has been going on now for decades without finding proof of any extraterrestrial communications. Are skepticism and SETI still compatible, and at what point, if… David R. Koepsell 04/12/16 0
Peace in Our Time Since I was a child, I have marveled and despaired at mankind’s propensity and capacity for violence. Mostly through movies and television, since I grew up in a quiet, rural town, I was exposed to visions of wars both real and fictional, as the tail end of Vietnam on the… David R. Koepsell 03/22/16 0
The False Consensus Effect (and how to avoid it) Humans are notoriously prone to several cognitive biases that lead us to erroneous conclusions. In science and in life, the ways our brains work do not always lead us to observe properly or to interpret our observations correctly. Several dozen cognitive biases stand in between our minds’ apparently normal modes of operation… David R. Koepsell 03/08/16 0
On What Claims are Permitted Recently, I had a bit of a disagreement with a cultural ally about how best to pursue our aims. This person suggested that in the course of public debates (or those on social media, to the extent they may sometimes be public) we ought to be careful not to make… David R. Koepsell 02/25/16 0
Science Demands Openness There are a couple trends at play in the gradual move by scientific publishers toward a more open and available world of scientific papers. One is the demand by scientists to make their results more freely available. Recently, in response to protests by scientists themselves,  Wiley changed their access policies… David R. Koepsell 01/25/16 0
Editing Perfect Humans Can Wait I wrote about a decade ago about why genetic modification is not unethical, in a white paper published by CFI. This is still the case. No moral considerations make altering a species inherently wrong. Nature has been modified through human intention for millennia, often for the better. Recently, the debate over… David R. Koepsell 12/07/15 2 12/25/15
X-phi: Should Philosophy use Empiricism? Lately, there has been some debate about the propriety and role of empiricism in philosophy, which might strike some as strange. For those outside the field, western ”analytical” philosophy has for at least a hundred years adhered to the notion that its primary contributions are in the form of clarifying terms and… David R. Koepsell 10/28/15 3 10/30/15
The Learning Life I have now been an educator for more than 20 years. I have at various times been overjoyed, satisfied, thrilled, saddened, and nostalgic during those years, with occasional moments of hope. I won’t say that the state of education is getting worse, nor that students are. This is an old… David R. Koepsell 09/28/15 2 10/04/15
How to lose friends and influence fewer: on being good allies About thirteen years ago I wrote about the culture wars we faced and their roots in the Dominionist movement. Much has changed in that time, and it seems that we are winning against those forces—those who would try to undo secularism. Through victories big and small, in courts, legislatures, and by slow… David R. Koepsell 09/15/15 10 09/18/15
Humanism and Politics: are they separable? For better or worse, the practice of most of our active philosophies takes place in the context of some political system. Whether your personal politics are authoritarian, libertarian, democratic, socialist, or anarchist, you live and communicate in some public sphere that is guided and restrained by laws, rules, and regulations… David R. Koepsell 08/27/15 0
The Lovecraft Theodicy: Cthulhu has No Problem of Evil   This past summer, I listened at the CFI conference to our colleague Stephen Law’s interesting take on an ancient philosophical problem for theists: the problem of evil. The crux of the problem is that, if there is a god, and it is all-powerful and all good, why does it… David R. Koepsell 08/13/15 7 08/17/15
From N-rays to EM-drives: when does science become pseudoscience? A fair amount of pseudo-science begins as blue-sky, basic scientific hypotheses and experiments. Hypotheses can challenge basic accepted notions, or begin with them, and may yet somehow go off the rails. How does this happen, and at what point do scientific inquiries become obsessive or pathological? Consider N-rays. Shortly after… David R. Koepsell 07/29/15 0
Is Studying Ethics (or anything) Worth it?   Recently, a study released by some philosophers raised this question, framing it in their study of the ethics of ethics professors. It is an interesting conundrum, and their results are rather interesting. It turns out that ethics professors are no more or less likely to behave “ethically,” and they draw some… David R. Koepsell 07/20/15 0
(Imagine There’s) No Country for Old Gods I once tried to correct someone who really should have known better, but who claimed that the law was “the only civilized means” of dispute resolution. (Of course, the claim is demonstrably false, as everyone knows some civilized adults who manage to work through issues without dragging each other into… David R. Koepsell 07/01/15 0
Letter to my Daughter, who is not a “distraction” Dear Amelia,  It broke my heart last week when we were talking as I drove you to school. You saw the poster for the Avengers movie and asked who “the girl” was. When I explained she is Black Widow, and that she is an Avenger, you laughed and said “how… David R. Koepsell 06/17/15 1 06/17/15
The Brutalist Style in Academia Many buildings on my campus when I was a graduate student looked a great deal like this one:   The term “Brutalism,” that describes this architectural style, evolved out of the French term for “bare concrete,” as many such buildings are undecorated, often oversized, and dominate the natural environment. The… David R. Koepsell 05/21/15 0
On the (potential) Morality of Crowds I reposted a video on my Facebook page the other day that shows a busy intersection without traffic signals in which the traffic somehow manages to flow, albeit in a way that to most of us seems haphazard and frightening. There are many such examples one can see, coming mostly from what we think… David R. Koepsell 05/11/15 8 05/17/15
Don’t Worry: Be Unhappy Happiness is the god of a modern cult. Its worshippers are lined up to sell us the secrets to its attainment, and a slew of willing consumers will hand over their money, time, and worshipful admiration to those who would teach them its secrets. It isn’t a new belief system,… David R. Koepsell 04/20/15 0
Against Engineerism For six year I lived in The Netherlands, which is home to some of the world’s best engineers. For a culture that survives as it does only by virtue of massive engineering of its landscape, by the draining, essentially, of a vast swamp so that millions can live on dry… David R. Koepsell 04/07/15 10 04/09/15
The Nieuw Universiteit: reclaiming the academy In early March, students at the University of Amsterdam occupied the Maagdenhuis and proclaimed a movement they called Nieuw Universiteit, which is pretty easy to translate into English and you’ve probably guessed it. Their complaints were outlined in a letter to the governing board of the university, and included the following demands:   “An… David R. Koepsell 03/27/15 0
Existential(ish) Threats Mankind probably developed nuclear technology before it became sufficiently morally capable of handling it. It is rather remarkable that we made it this far, close as we have been to annihilating the planet, capable as we were, and politically childish as well. Anyone who has read accounts of the Cuban… David R. Koepsell 03/10/15 1 04/03/15
Conflicts of Interest: the appearance of impropriety The nature of modern research has been changing slowly for the past thirty years. After World War II, when the emergence of big, government-funded science and scientific funding institutions propelled modern science and technology forward suddenly, the modern model of blue-sky, government-financed research beckoned a new generation of scientists to… David R. Koepsell 03/03/15 0
Because the Stakes are So Small: Enlightenment Beyond the Ivory Tower? It’s been a pretty bad year for the image of academia. In my own profession of Philosophy, news about its “gatekeepers” behaving badly, inherent and damaging sexism, threats of lawsuits, and the standard form of infighting that underlie Kissinger’s famous quote (of which the title of this piece is an extract), have undermined philosophy’s public… David R. Koepsell 02/18/15 0
Babbling Brooks David Brooks today attempts to aid the secular world with a screed entitled condescendingly “Building Better Secularists.” In doing so, he betrays almost complete ignorance about how many of us live, and who we are. As far as I can tell, Brooks isn’t grievously wrong so long as he summarizes the… David R. Koepsell 02/03/15 2 02/06/15
Ideas Just Want to be Free Last blog post I suggested that the best approach to speech is an absolutist one, moderated only by Mill’s harm principle. What if I told you that for about the past two hundred years, we have routinely succumbed to laws that limit our speech well beyond instances where there may be some… David R. Koepsell 01/28/15 0
Free Speech Absolutism: “Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant”   Just a week after the horrors in France, it seems clear that many of us have much to learn. France is punishing comedians for expressing points of view with which the government disagrees, and Pope Francis is defending the notion that speech which criticises religion should not be allowed . This is sad… David R. Koepsell 01/15/15 5 01/19/15
Why I’m Kirk Cameron’s Worst Nightmare   Apologies to my friend Tom Flynn, the Anti-Claus, but my family and I are a worse threat to Kirk Cameron’s and Bill O’Reilly’s overblown fears of Christmas Future than Tom is. My wife and I are second generation atheists who grew up never having had any religious or supernatural… David R. Koepsell 12/23/14 2 12/29/14
Social Justice and Humanism: Embracing Pluralism in Value Theory There is some disagreement as to whether “we” as humanists ought to take stands regarding social justice, as a group, with some vocal opponents correctly pointing out that atheism provides no basis for making moral judgments. Indeed, even humanism provides no one, solid, scientific basis for making moral judgments. It… David R. Koepsell 12/08/14 2 12/12/14
On Fads and Funding in Science The current model for funding of “Research and Development” (R&D) descends largely from the experience of the Second World War and its successful employment of “big science” through the Manhattan Project. Building from that success, the current National Science Foundation and eventually the National Institutes of Health began to account… David R. Koepsell 12/04/14 0
On Philosophy, Science, and Fiction Much of my humanistic self was built by a steady diet of stories, specifically through massive consumption of science fiction as a child. I credit my parents who had a large library of sci-fi paperbacks, including especially Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury, my favorites at an early age and still. I… David R. Koepsell 11/13/14 2 11/16/14
Civility, Tone, and Emotions in Debates Lately, there has been a great deal of internet banter and vociferous debate about the ways that people make their arguments online by using terms of derision, and generally acting in ways that seem to some of us to be uncivil or downright mean. Whether it is among the “new… David R. Koepsell 10/28/14 3 11/04/14
After Work: the good life and post-industrial society Since the beginning of industrialized society, we have grown used to a certain form of life, a more rigid structure of day divided into work, family, and if we’re lucky, a bit of play. Industrialization and the growth of capitalism changed the way we had lived significantly, altering the typical… David R. Koepsell 10/14/14 3 10/18/14
Ideas, not Idols When various philosophical movements become too closely connected with particular personas, the results can be disastrous for fruitful areas of inquiry. Recently, Martin Heidegger’s “black notebooks” have been released, and the New York Times just published an excellent review which renews questions regarding his student Hannah Arendt’s view that we should separate… David R. Koepsell 09/29/14 3 10/07/14
Skepticism is a Humble Project, Not a Bold Stance Twenty one years ago this week I walked into my very first teaching assignment: full responsibility for the undergraduate course “Critical Thinking.” I was barely older than my students, just 24 years old, a graduate student in Philosophy in my second year of studies. Down the hall from my student… David R. Koepsell 09/02/14 1 09/11/14
Oh, the Humanity! The existentialists recognized that “existence precedes essence” and moved past the method employed by philosophers for eons: namely, the attempt to describe essences as though they could somehow be divorced from ourselves. At its worst, this tendency leads to a sort of Platonic idealism where nothing is real except essences.… David R. Koepsell 08/01/14 6 08/05/14
Science is not a Crime Recently, a Colombian masters student named Diego Gomez became the target of criminal charges. His crime: putting an academic article he did not author online at a site called Scribd. This case brings to mind the tragic death of Aaron Swartz last year. Swartz downloaded tens of thousands of academic articles from behind an… David R. Koepsell 07/25/14 2 07/25/14
In Defense of Academic Philosophy Ten years ago, when I was Executive Director for Secular Humanism at the Center for Inquiry, I was also involved with classroom teaching on a regular basis, though I was not a full time “academic.” Indeed, like many, I believed that academia was too cloistered, too uninvolved in matters of… David R. Koepsell 07/15/14 0
Has American Secularism Succeeded or Failed? I have, over the past 10 years, lived in radically different places governed by differing forms of secularism. In the U.S., where I grew up, secularism is purportedly enshrined in the Constitution—emanating from the First Amendment guarantee regarding the non-establishment of a state religion. Yet as we know, the U.S.… David R. Koepsell 07/09/14 12 07/12/14