Category Archives: philosophy

Free Speech and Intelligence

Does free speech have good effects?

Chris Dillow is doubtful. Free speech just opens the floodgates to an outpouring of “mindless and often dishonest ventings.” What good it brings come from “the tiny fraction of intelligent expression it permits, rather than to the vast majority of worthless out-pourings.”

That’s probably true: free speech offers a few gems of intelligence, but mostly a dungheap of foolishness.

Still, those gems can be worth the dungheap, if the gems-to-dung ratio is favorable.

(Not to forget that lack of free speech is no guard against an onslaught of mindlessness and dishonesty. Censorship can also build a dunghill of folly and lies.)

But what determines that all-important gems-to-dung ratio?

Presumably, it is the average intelligence of a society. Low average means very few gems per dunghill. High average IQ means more gems per dunghill.

Does all this mean that only in high average intelligence societies is free speech worthwhile? Is it in high IQ nations that a leavening of intelligent expression is able to outweigh the cost of the flood of mindless ventings? Are the benefits of free speech dependent on a society’s average intelligence?


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The Human Sciences in World History (Part 1)

In ancient Greece, we see the first significant development of the human sciences, mainly in the forms of narrative history and political thought, along with philosophy and natural science. Why?

There seem to have been three key conditions.

First, freedom. Intellectuals were relatively free of control by rulers and priests. They could make a living by traveling among the cities to teach the art of argument to citizens (useful in courts and assemblies). Later, they could subsist in independent schools teaching the sons of the wealthy. Since there were many cities, they could move to another if threatened.

Second, there were enough intellectuals to reach a critical mass. Ultimately, this depended on the average intelligence of the population. Curiosity or the desire for intellectual understanding had to have been widespread enough in the population. Enough intelligent young men who wanted to be intellectuals must have existed.

Third, there was a competitive ethos in Greek culture. When intellectuals compete they innovate, develop novel ideas, approaches, and disciplines. So, freedom from political/religious control, a critical mass of the intelligent, and competition—these were the three distinct features of Greek intellectual life and the reasons why the human sciences first emerged there. None of these three conditions prevailed elsewhere.

(To be continued…)

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Should We Eat Whale Meat?

Naturally, I’m glad that the whales were saved from the brink of extinction. And still-endangered species should not be for the plate. But what about thriving species of whale? Of course this is shocking to some who say that whales are highly intelligent and should be recognized as “persons.” What it means is that they think whales ought to possess more rights than others animals and indeed rights equivalent to humans. But not all whales are highly intelligent. If intelligence is the criterion for possessing rights, then the dumber species might well be dull enough to be food.

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What are the Human Sciences For?

Mainly, to assist understanding by reporting facts, explaining causes, interpreting meanings, and clarifying concepts.
But also to aid moral judgment by evaluating actions and situations.
And to assist practical decisions by diagnosing predicaments and offering prescriptions on what is to be done.
The human sciences are far from perfect at any of these things. But they are all valuable tasks. I suspect that the human sciences are best at #1 and rather poor at #2 and #3.

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Postmoderns proclaim loudly that the project of Enlightenment has fallen into crisis and is coming to an end: the epoch of science and rationality has closed, and now opens a new epoch of post-science, post-modern, post-rational, post-Enlightenment. But mayhap they proclaim too loudly. Their insistence is more a hope, just as the Marxists prematurely proclaimed the crisis of capitalism and the coming end of capitalism.
Beware those who loudly proclaim the crisis or end of this or that.

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The Pedigree of Genealogy

“Genealogy” is popular in some academic circles; its pedigree comes out of Nietzsche via Foucault.

What is it?

Well, it aims at lowering the standing, prestige, or legitimacy of whatever is the target of genealogy. Its means of doing this are characteristically: to claim that its subject had diverse origins, among which were at least some that were disreputable; to claim that the line of succession has been full of breaks, which gives the impression that some future shift could arise; and to claim that the current situation is one of collapse, crisis, or some other low-status situation ripe for overthrow.

It makes me wonder: has anyone ever done a genealogy of genealogy?

(I have learned much from the essay “Nietzsche and Genealogy” by Raymond Guess in his book Morality, Culture, and History [Cambridge, 1999].)

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A Word on Vitality

If Nietzsche thinks what is noble or high in rank is that which is more vital; if Nietzsche thinks our morality (Christian, ascetic) saps vitality; if Nietzsche thinks seeking the truth can sap vitality; then this value of vitality is of major importance. But what exactly does it designate, and how is it to be gauged?

It seems to me that vitality is about life in this world, which would encompass all the various natural desires that people have, including the desire of many for religion and the desire of some for truth. So, instead of being opposed to Christianity, I would think that vitality encompasses it.

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