Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What I'm Reading

Here are a few interesting things that I've encountered in the last few days.
  • Elijah Millgram tells an interesting story about what human beings are. Apparently, we're serial hyper-specializers (duh?). This is a must read if you have even a passing interest in theories of practical rationality. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns into a very influential essay...
  • Tyler Cowen makes some predictions for the American future. A bleak look and a call to arms of sorts...
  • Is the United States Government effectively insolvent? Posner argues probably yes. Becker argues maybe/maybe not.
  • The NY Times looks at Masdar, a sort of eco-disneyland built near Dubai with (irony anyone?) oil money. Interesting (particularly since it's the Times) that the account isn't overwhelmingly positive.


  1. You shouldn't be posting at 3 AM. Go to sleep. If it is 3 AM our time, you can go back to your reading.

  2. Yeah, the time there is EST, not Nepal time...

  3. Masdar makes me think of some kind of ecological Rapture. I really hope the environmental movement doesn't get co-opted by the Randians (although I guess it's better than building the equivalent as an oil paradise).

  4. Also, I have a lot to say in response to that article about hyperspecialization (which I can only really touch on here). In short, I think he gets it wrong by making the either/or assumption in reference to hyper-specialization and the Piltdown man, and that comes from a set of liberal assumptions about individual autonomy and rationality that suppose that any given individual's existence as a rational being are prior to the ends he adopts. In that sense, he's come to the conclusion before making the argument, and is doing exactly as his example states and saying "you're a bicycle not a toaster, so maybe you should be reading bicycle directions" and then goes on to consider what directions that bicycle would have. I would challenge the underlying premise that because we are empirically observed to be hyperspecializers that that is all that we are. Also, his criticism of Kant at the end of the article misunderstands the purpose of the categorical imperative because he comes from the perspective of that same assumption. Even giving him for the moment that we are solely serial hyperspecializers and that there exists no such thing as a nonnegotiable end for individuals (the assumption I am challenging in the first place), there is still a place for a morality as a formal regulative process on deciding what ends are appropriate to adopt. I do not believe that Kantian, or even Aristotelian, morality is incompatible with his conception of the individual. In fact, both would probably even acknowledge that we could be capable of adopting any number of ends, but that there is much more normatively that should go into the process of deciding which ends to adopt than empirical pleasure/pain and interest/boredom signals. Interesting article that touches on a lot of very real philosophical questions. Thanks for pointing it out.

  5. I have to admit that when I read the Millgram piece, I was like, "hmmm, that's a really interesting theory, I should think more about it later..." And then, predictably, I haven't gotten around to REALLY thinking about it because I was busy, got interested in other things, etc.

    I think you're right that he's assuming that piltdown man and serial hyperspecializer man are incompatible and that might be an error. Of course, if empirically we turn out to be hyperspecializer man 99% of the time, then this criticism might not be so strong...

    And I agree that his criticism of Kant and Aristotle (though maybe not the Classical Utilitarians) basically requires a very thin reading of what those guys are actually saying. However, there are a number of writers on practical rationality that he could have targeted instead and his criticism would stand in those cases...