Category Archives: Good people disagree

The helpless gun violence theodicy of “thoughts and prayers”

In a recent post I looked at the theodicy expressed or implied by people as they sought to explain some “larger meaning” in hurricanes and other natural disasters. Theodicy is literally “the justice of God,” or figuratively the broader question of “Why do bad things (or good things) happen in this world?” That latter interpretation has come to include both… Read more »

The three languages of right and wrong

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You likely don’t realize it, but whenever you talk about issues of “right” and “wrong,” you are at least “bi-lingual,” and often “tri-lingual.” Just as many Americans unconsciously and fluidly slip between speaking English and Spanish in a linguistic hybrid, most of us intermix at least three “cultural languages” when expressing our views on morality and the law. [1] I… Read more »

Applying John Rawls’ “maximin principle” on the border

The refugee crisis on the southern U.S. border confirms to me how impotent religion is in addressing the most pressing social and moral problems of our day, taking a back seat to political ideology and innate human “fear of the other.” The current administration’s policies of child separation, indeterminate detention, and harsh detention conditions for people convicted of no crime… Read more »

The elusive and infinitesimal “cause” of gun violence – part 2

In a prior post I looked at the “infinitesimal phenomenon” in gun violence occurrences, where the closer you look for “the one cause” of any gun event, the more it slips away. Yet, in aggregate and over time, the causes are clearly real. In this continuation, we’ll look at why gun violence statistics are so constant over time, or if… Read more »

The new religious Machiavellians

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The characteristic of the fundamentalist and evangelical Christian super-loyal endorsers of “Everything Trump” that continues to confound me most is how they have appeared to toss over three thousand years of classical Judeo-Christian moral/ethical thought in exchange for a decidedly-secular Renaissance ethical model, the famous one expounded by the Italian politician Niccolò Machiavelli. [1] Machiavelli’s famous dictum of “the end… Read more »

Left-brain versus right-brain ethics

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NPR science correspondent Shankar Vedantam hosts an excellent podcast entitled Hidden Brain, focusing on the science of human behavior. A recent episode features brain researcher and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, author of a book that tries to sort the myths from the science regarding the differences between our “left brain” and “right brain.” The two brain hemispheres sometimes appear complementary or mirrors… Read more »

Can self-driving cars be moral?

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Caltech physicist Sean Carroll presents one of the best science podcasts, called Mindscape, and a recent episode featured philosopher Derek Leben. Leben has been researching how self-driving vehicles might be programmed when faced with what we would typically call a moral dilemma if faced by a human. For instance, if there were no choice but to swerve the car into a brick… Read more »

What’s past is prologue – vectors into the future

We all were sea-swallow’d, though some cast again, And by that destiny to perform an act Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come In yours and my discharge. — Antonio, in The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1 (William Shakespeare, 1610) A freshman college course in Analytic Geometry helped to land me, several years later, onto a project team in… Read more »

Justice and the parsing of ethical language

Let me suggest that you cannot really understand the disputes in the U.S. Department of Justice over the recusal of Matthew Whitaker or William Barr on issues relating to Robert Mueller’s investigation without parsing three variants of “ethical language” that are in play. People are talking past one another on this topic, and in this post I will try to… Read more »

A year of rolling the dice

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I started this blog in early 2018 as a place to post some pieces I had developed over several years looking at how probabilistic randomness and other mathematical realities affect everything from the way we vote to our scientific and religious understandings of the “human condition.” Some blog posts achieved more web penetration than others, and so this post is… Read more »