Category Archives: Good people disagree

The new religious Machiavellians

      4 Comments on The new religious Machiavellians

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

      No Comments on Left-brain versus right-brain ethics

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?

      2 Comments on Can self-driving cars be moral?

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

      2 Comments on Justice and the parsing of ethical language
Legality Morality & Professional Ethics

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

      1 Comment on A year of rolling the dice

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 »

Brett Kavanaugh, moral luck and the veil of ignorance

In this blog I have visited several times the intersection of mathematical probability with what we often call “divine justice” (also known as theodicy). For instance, the odds being diagnosed with any of several types of cancer resemble statistically the winning of a cruel lottery, with statistical annual diagnosis rates per 100,000 people eerily unchanged from year to year. Or take… Read more »

Ethics, legality and Iowa’s governor

      No Comments on Ethics, legality and Iowa’s governor

Note: This is a cross-post from the excellent Bleeding Heartland blog. A recent AP news story parsed through the repeated practice of Kim Reynolds, current governor of Iowa, of taking trips using planes owned by businessmen who do substantial business with the state. The most recent incident, involving a vendor handling state workers’ compensation claims, was approved by the executive director of… Read more »

The “values voter” – Whose values?

      1 Comment on The “values voter” – Whose values?

In a post a while back I wrote about the concept of “Big Picture” ethics, or meta-ethics, where making moral decisions determined by either by “the rules” or “the goals” become secondary behind a larger, generalized conception of principles or virtues that attempt to reconcile conflicting ideas and filter out the worst choices. One of the primary vectors of meta-ethics… Read more »

“Free will” versus “free won’t”

      2 Comments on “Free will” versus “free won’t”

“I can resist anything but temptation.” – Oscar Wilde One of the best-known series of studies on human volition, or “free will,” was the “marshmallow test,” conducted by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. In one variant of this study, children would be placed alone in a room with one marshmallow and told that if they waited and chose not to eat… Read more »