Tim Crane addresses some of the big questions in the philosophy of mind in the latest interview on Philosophy Bites. This is now available from www.philosophybites.com or on iTunes, Podcast Alley, etc. (there may be a day or so delay before it appears on these last two).
You can listen again to my BBC Radio 4 Archive Hour programme 'I'd Like to Teach the World To...' (first broadcast 13th May 2006). It was repeated yesterday, so should be available for six days here (scroll down till you get to 'Archive Hour'). It was inspired by discovering that my grandfather Reg Warburton had written a correspondence course on popular singing in 1957, but ranges across the genre of distance learning taking in everything from Jane Fonda's workout tapes to The Open University. There is an interview with Hubert Dreyfus on online learning cut in from about 32.30 mins into the programme (and then throughout). For thoughts about Dreyfus's views on distance learning see this earlier post about Dreyfus.
According to an article by Jeremy Laurence in today's The Independent (p.25), Britain's General Medical Council (GMC) has produced draft guidance to doctors that states that 'unneccesary restrictions' should not be imposed on doctors on account of their 'cultural preferences or religious or other convictions'. This is in a wider context of offering guidelines that protect patients from discrimination on grounds of race, gender and sexual orientation. The British Medical Association (BMA) has reacted with some concern to these draft guidelines which seem to license some kinds of discrimination. Apparently there is even anecdotal evidence that some medical students are claiming conscientious objector status vis-a-vis learning about the clinical impact of alcohol.
The idea that doctors' consciences rather than the consciences of patients or more general guidelines issued from above could determine treatment is odd. Science teachers shouldn't be given the option of not teaching Darwinism just because they happen to be creationists. Surely there are role responsibilities that go with taking on the job of being a doctor that include a certain distancing from personal religious and moral stances. If doctors aren't prepared to take on that kind of responsibility, painful as it may be for them on occasion, then they probably should change profession (or possibly go private). Would Muslim doctors be allowed to refuse to treat homosexual patients for STDs on these grounds? Presumably not, because that would contravene anti-discrimination guidelines.
It is not clear, though, which of the proposed two principles, the anti-discrimination one, or the conscientious objection one, would win here. If anti-discrimination trumps conscientious objection in every case, then there is no need to mention conscientious objection as it would be irrelevant. But if conscientious objection can trump anti-discrimination on occasion then this is a radical departure from what I understand to be role responsibilities of a doctor, particularly one employed by the State funded National Health Service. The Abortion Act exempts doctors from an obligation to participate in abortions. But the idea that individual doctors could refuse other medically appropriate and requested treatments because of their individual conscientious grounds on a pick-and-mix basis is very worrying.
Brian Leiter has a fascinating article about Nietzsche on the will (available form that link as a pdf). Leiter is sympathetic to Nietzsche's idea that our experience of willing action is misleading about the actual causal genesis of action, and ties this to recent empirical research in the area which seems to support this view. We think that we will ourselves to do something; and it feels that way. But, perhaps this is all epiphenomenal, i.e. doesn't actually make anything happen. If Nietzsche and Leiter are right, then it raises serious questions about moral responsibility for actions, and whether that notion even makes sense. (Brian invites you to comment on his paper here)
This relates to Freud's idea of the third great blow to humanity's narcissicism which I discussed in an earlier post. Freud was reluctant to read too much of Nietzsche's work because he feared he'd find all his own ideas anticipated...
According to an article in The Observer a headteacher from a Tyneside state school, Dr Paul Kelley, has tried to challenge the idea that pupils should perform a Christian act of worship every day. As a result his school loses points on educational inspections.
Bizarrely, in the UK state schools have a legal requirement for pupils to take part in a daily collective act of worship of a broadly Christian nature (apparently there are exceptions for non-Christian faith schools where the relevant religious act can be substituted). Parents are allowed to request that their children be withdrawn from this (I don't believe that children can themselves opt out).
This is very different from the quite reasonable requirement that pupils should learn about other religions (and, we hope, about those who have no religion at all) as part of the curriculum.
Given that large numbers of children don't have religious beliefs, and certainly don't have Christian beliefs, what this means in practice is that all over the UK thousands of children are encouraged to engage in insincere religious utterances on a daily basis. This has very dubious educational and moral value.
Back in the Seventeenth Century John Locke in his A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) had already spotted that religious coercion is counterproductive:
"It is in vain for an unbeliever to take up the outward show of another man's profession. Faith only, and inward sincerity, are the things that procure acceptance with God...In vain, therefore, do princes compel their subjects to come into their church communion, under pretence of saving their souls. If they believe, they will come of their own accord; if they believe not, their coming will not avail them."
"A sweet religion, indeed, that obliges men to dissemble,
and tell lies to both God and man, for the salvation of their souls!"
That argument should still hold some force with the sincerely religious. But for many of us who are firmly secular in outlook it is disturbing that in the UK this sort of superstitious practice carried out in a state educational context is opt-out rather than opt-in.
Every now and then someone asks me how to set up a blog...
Andy Wibbels' book Blogwild! How Everyone Can Go Blogging is how I got started. It is clear and to the point and very practical. Wibbels doesn't take anything for granted. This is book is a model of clarity. I followed his recommendation to use a Typepad blog and haven't looked back. Wibbels gives you the basics of blogging in 180 pages.
Another book I've found interesting is Bob Walsh's Clear Blogging. This ranges more widely and includes interviews with Seth Godin and others. It gives many tips for generating content, readership and income too.
As specified in his will, the great utilitarian philosopher
Jeremy Bentham (he of the 'greatest happiness principle', the 'felicific calculus' and the panopticon prison design), had what was left of him after death (in 1832) displayed in a case - currently in University College London. At one point his mummified head with glass eyes was on the floor between the legs (it was repeatedly stolen by students, so is no longer there). A reasonably realistic wax head is on the dressed sekeleton, topped with a broad-brimmed hat. He holds his walking stick in his hand and he is seated. Most people know this. But I recently realized I only had a hazy notion of what he was doing by presenting himself as an Auto-Icon (his term). So I looked at the authorative University College London Bentham Project website to get an answer, and was surprised that there is room for speculation about this. Is this a secular momento mori? Or perhaps a macabre kind of statue created by a slightly vain man who was seeking posthumous immortality? Or is there some other more plausible explanation? Is this really not known?