In today’s episode, Jeremi and Zachary have the opportunity to talk with special guests Steven Nadler and Lawrence Sharpiro. They discuss their exciting new book: When Bad Thinking Happens to Good People as well as the topic of moving towards a more open, evidence based, and logical form of thinking in society.
Zachary sets the scene with his poem, “The Apparition”.
Steven Nadler is Vilas Research Professor and the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi of Amsterdam (Yale, “Jewish Lives” series, 2018); A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age (Princeton, 2011); The Philosopher, the Priest and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes (Princeton, 2013); Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge, 1999; 2nd ed. 2018); and Rembrandt’s Jews (Chicago, 2003, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). He is also the author, with his son Ben Nadler, of the graphic book Heretics! The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy (Princeton, 2017). His most recent book is Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die (Princeton, 2020). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Lawrence Shapiro is the Berent Enç Professor of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research spans philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychology. Within philosophy of mind he has focused on issues related to reduction, especially concerning the thesis of multiple realization. His books include The Mind Incarnate (MIT, 2004) and The Multiple Realization Book (co-authored with Professor Thomas Polger.) His book, Embodied Cognition (Routledge Press), received the American Philosophical Association’s Joseph B. Gittler Award for best book in philosophy of the social sciences (2013). His recent interest in philosophy of religion resulted in The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural is Unjustified (Columbia University Press, 2016).
Drs. Nadler and Shapiro recently co-authored an exciting new book: When Bad Thinking Happens to Good People (Princeton University Press, 2021).
This episode of This is Democracy was mixed and mastered by Isaiah Thomas and Ean Herrera
- Jeremi SuriProfessor of History at the University of Texas at Austin
[0:00:05 Speaker 0] Yeah, this is Democracy, a podcast about the people of the United States. A podcast about citizenship about engaging with politics and the world around you. A podcast about educating yourself on today’s important
[0:00:19 Speaker 1] issues
[0:00:20 Speaker 0] and how to have a voice in what happens next. Welcome to our new episode of This is Democracy. This week we have a wonderful opportunity to talk to two of the leading philosophers in our country who have written a really wonderful and timely book on a topic that I know we all think about, which is how we can get past some of the very difficult and pigheaded thinking in our society and move towards a more open approach to issues, more evidence based approach to issues, A more logical approach to the issues. Democracy at some level is hinged upon rationality and attention to evidence. We have challenges around those issues today in our society. These are not new challenges. These have been old historical challenges. They seem to have reached a recent peak in our current time steven. Adler and Lauren Shapiro or two guests have written a really wonderful book that addresses these issues and helps us think through how we can be better thinkers in our democracy. The book is called When Bad Thinking happens to Good people. Health Philosophy can save us from ourselves. Stephen Larry, thank you for joining us today.
[0:01:32 Speaker 1] Well, thanks for having us, jeremy,
[0:01:34 Speaker 0] pleasure to be here. It’s a real pleasure to have you on steven and Larry are old friends from Madison as well. Uh steve steven Adler is a violence research professor and the William H Hey, the second professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin Madison. He’s written by my Count seven books before this one. I am a historian, so I’m sometimes challenged in my county, but I think I counted that accurately. A number of books that I have really enjoyed of his, that I have read carefully or at least read into Rembrandt’s Jews, which was published in 2003 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. And if you’re a fan of Rembrandt, this is a book you have to read. If you’re interested in Jewish history, this is a book you have to read. He also wrote the philosopher the priest and the painter, A portrait of Deckert steve made a cart interesting for me, which I thought was impossible. Um and then a book forged in hell, Spinoza, scandalous treaties and the birth of the secular age. And of course, as I said, he’s a co author on When Bad thinking happens to Good People. Lauren Shapiro is the Barents ends professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin Madison and he was the chair of that department for some time. He’s also written numerous books by my count six um including, and I’m sure I’ve missed some the mind incarnate. Published in 2000 and four uh Embodied cognition. We were just actually talking about these issues a few minutes ago and a really fascinating sounding book, the miracle myth, Why belief in the resurrection and the supernatural is unjustified. That, that I think justifies another podcast episode at some point again. Larry, let’s do it again. Larry and steve. Thank you for joining us. All right, before we turn to our discussion with our two eminent philosophers, we have of course our scene setting poem for mr Zachary. Sorry, exactly. What’s the title of your poem this week? Well, today’s poem is really a song in a song lyric. Um are you gonna do acoustic today?
[0:03:40 Speaker 1] No,
[0:03:41 Speaker 0] no. And the title is the apparition. Let’s hear it in a time of aging inability. I walked from store to store picking up the remnants of civility from the dirty unmarked floor. You approached me on a subway vent and asked me to repent. But you know, just as well as I that these days ain’t heaven sent oh sing to me of truthfulness. I’ve
[0:04:06 Speaker 1] known it to come and go,
[0:04:07 Speaker 0] oh sing to me of innocence. It’s been swaying to and fro. I’ve been waiting for the apparition in a cabin in the trees. I’ve been waiting for the abolition with the song birds and the bees. These cannot be the pillars of your promised land. Just a speck of dust in a million grains of sand. No wise man was ever so humble, so deflated in his false memory of decency. Pro rated. You came forward in a parking lot and asked for what’s left of me. You came to me with jumper cables and wanted a battery, but I tell you it ain’t free. Oh sing to me of truthfulness. I’ve known it to come and go, oh sing to me of innocence. It’s been swaying to and fro. I’ve been waiting for the apparition in a cabin in the trees. I’ve been waiting for the abolition with the song birds and the bees. That’s beautiful Zachary. What is your song about? Well, I think this song is really about the emotional distress of living in an age when
[0:05:09 Speaker 1] when, when truth
[0:05:11 Speaker 0] and innocence seem like words that are, that are unrealistic, right? When when when we don’t seem to be able to agree on on the basis of truth or or basis of morality. And you find this anxiety ridden. Exactly steve does this and somehow somehow relate to why and how you and Larry wrote this book.
[0:05:34 Speaker 1] It certainly does. Especially since you brought up the issue of anxiety. Um this is not a book that either of us ever imagined would be writing. I’ve worked mainly in 17th century philosophy and Larry works mainly in philosophy of mind and philosophy of cognitive science, but over the last four or five years, um our concern our anxiety, our fears have grown um with the spread of irrational beliefs and the really dangerous actions that have followed from them Watching the storming of the capital in January six and just surviving the four years of the Trump presidency. We thought that as philosophers the least we can do. And perhaps the most we could do was to put philosophy to work and tried to um illuminate um what’s going on, which you know, we like to call it a kind of pandemic. Not of course the covid pandemic but something more insidious and pervasive, which is a pandemic of irrationality and bad thinking which just exacerbates the dangers of the of the viral pandemic
[0:06:44 Speaker 0] and and larry. Why is that why? Why do you see this as a moment? Perhaps worse than others? You you both have, you know, seen different times in our society. Why this moment now? Well it does seem like the world is facing cataclysms of a sort that it hasn’t for a very long time we have a plague that’s decimating our economy and it’s it’s a plague. That doesn’t have to have the severe consequences that it does. It’s because of human failures that we’re seeing the spread of covid, If we all masked up and got vaccinated, we wouldn’t be talking about the delta burying and we have climate change which is already doing huge damage to, to our, to our glaciers to it’s causing the seas to rise. It’s calling causing cities to be devastated by hurricanes. The world is in a very precarious situation right now and something has to be done to convince people to do the right thing before. It’s too late and that was a motivation for the book.
[0:07:57 Speaker 1] We I think we both agree it’s hard not to do. It’s hard not to agree that there’s always been bad thinking. But with technology today, the the ability of this path taking to spread, especially over social media seems a lot more dangerous than it might have been. You know, 25, 100 years ago.
[0:08:18 Speaker 0] I wanted to pick up on that precise point. Uh, and, and maybe uh, come back to you larry. One of the things that struck me in the early chapters of the book is the repeated words, stubbornness. Uh, you say epistemological stubbornness, uh, stubbornness toward different kinds of information towards contrary evidence. What do you mean by stubbornness and and and diagnose the problem for us there? Because this is a big part of the, the early part of your book. Well colloquially, a stubborn person is simply a person who, who refuses to do something. And an epistemological, the stubborn person is a person who refuses to abandon a belief despite overwhelming evidence that that belief is false, What refuses to accept a belief, despite overwhelming evidence that that belief is the justified belief that they should be happy they should be having. And so what we’re seeing in the world today is people clinging to their belief that say vaccines are dangerous or clinging to their belief that global warming is not caused by human human activity. And there’s a wealth of evidence that should be convincing these people that that these beliefs that are holding are false and that other beliefs that they should be holding and they’re not are true. So the epidemic lee stubborn person that we’re concerned with is the person who stubbornly insists on a belief despite lacking justification for holding that belief. And and one of the really interesting distinctions you make that comes up a lot for us as historians as well. And I think for all those who think about the broader arc of democracy, is this distinction steve you draw between believing and knowing? How do we distinguish those two things,
[0:10:15 Speaker 1] believing is simply giving your assent to a proposition or some kind of content. You can believe that it’s raining out, You can believe that las Vegas is the capital of France, um simply believing something really does not make it true. We have lots of beliefs that are false, but we continue to believe them and it’s not irrational to believe something that’s false. It’s irrational. Believe something that’s false. When you’re confronted with clear evidence that it is false. Knowledge requires more than just believing something it requires. First of all that the belief should be true. But also we have lots of true beliefs that don’t count as knowledge because they just might be lucky guesses. I’ve never been to Mozambique, but right now I believe that it is sunny in Mozambique and perhaps that belief is true, but because I have no evidence or justification for believing it, my true belief doesn’t really count as knowledge. Ever since plato knowledge has been contrasted with mere opinion or belief by virtue of not just being a true belief, but a belief that the person is justified in holding. It’s not just that there are reasons, good reasons in favour of the truth, but that the person has acknowledged and in a way um um embraced those reasons for having the belief and then you can say, you know something when you have a true belief that’s also justified.
[0:11:46 Speaker 0] It does seem like that in the past few decades we’ve learned more and more about our world. Why is it that as we learn more and more as we know more and more? We seem to be believing less and less as well. Larry. Um Well, I’m not, I’m not sure how to approach that question. You can’t know anything without believing it. So, um so let me rephrase that question. I I think what I what I meant to say was why is it that in a world where we seem to be knowing where we seem to be learning more and more about our world, we seem to have more of that knowledge that people are are less trustful of that knowledge, people are less willing to trust that when we should know more, Why why does it seem like we know less? Yeah, that’s a great question. I wish I knew the answer to that question. I think 11 part of an answer to that question has to focus on the kind of insidious effects of social media and conservative radio and conservative television where there seems to be a great prophet in spreading falsehoods and people are confused. They’re not sure what to believe because they have a former president of the United States who should be revered and respected figure and a propagator of truths spilling lies. That’s confusing for people.
[0:13:15 Speaker 1] There’s also so many different sources of information coming at us today than there were a generation ago. And I think what’s lagging is the sort of second order or meta skill to be able to assess which of these many sources of information are reliable and which are not so with the proliferation, not just of social media, but broadcast news, cable news, um, rumor. Uh, people are just simply taking all this this information. I really don’t know how to assess the validity of what they’re being confronted with.
[0:13:53 Speaker 0] It’s, there’s also the fact there’s also the fact that there’s less money being spent on education today than there has been in the past. And I have a daughter who is a first grade teacher. And uh, ah, the situations that teachers are expected to tolerate now for the pay that they’re receiving. It’s hard to get, teachers who can be dedicated uh, given the lack of funding for education. Absolutely. And again, that’s an old problem that’s just been made worse as the burdens on teachers, especially with Covid have certainly grown larry as I’m sure your daughter knows better than anyone. Um, I wanted to come back to the point that well, the both of you raised and that steve really put put a put a real tip on, right? Which is that this issue about the skills to work through what in some ways I think is information overload, right? I often believe, and we’ll get to this when we talk about wisdom, right? We we we have a lot of information, but actually because we have so much information, it’s actually hard to know things. And and I think steve you were alluding to this. One of the reasons I picked up the book and was so excited about it is because I think you and Larry and I haven’t seen too many people others do this, are really trying to think through what we always claim we’re doing in the liberal arts, right? Providing critical thinking skills, providing the ability to work through different interpretations and come to something closer to the truth, even if it’s truth, not with a capital T but with a lower case t. Right? What what are some of those skills give us an overview of, you know, what really is the majority of the book here steve. But what are some of those skills that you think philosophers have at least some purchase on reminding us of.
[0:15:37 Speaker 1] Well, one of the things I emphasized in my introduction of philosophy classes that I really don’t care whether you remember what Socrates said or Day Card said. I do care if you remember what Spinoza said,
[0:15:47 Speaker 0] but not, you
[0:15:48 Speaker 1] know, so the I mean, the particular views of this is that philosopher are important, but what’s even more important is that the students acquire a skill both for how to read a text and by text. I mean, broadly how to read a book, how to look at a picture, how to assess uh, verbal information coming at them. Um, and what I mean by that is that they need to be able to understand what an argument is and how to critically assess the arguments that are coming at them, whether they’re explicit arguments or in the form of propaganda and what that means is considering what thesis is being proposed, what evidence or arguments supremacy is are being offered for the thesis. And whether in fact the conclusion does follow from those premises? I think that’s the most basic and important philosophical skill that people that we expect our students to get and that we would like our citizens to be able to to have larry
[0:16:44 Speaker 0] Yeah, I’d like to add that across the humanity is not just in philosophy, but across the humanities, in history and literature. And um, and and feel in languages, people are exposed to complicated texts that require serious interpretation and in order to do this? Well, you need to be able to follow lines of narrative. You need to be able to think about alternative readings. You need to be able to engage with difficult ideas at a high level. And philosophy differs from these other fields. Not not in being even more difficult. It just is that philosophers are focused and concentrate on explicit forms of reasoning that’s sort of their game. It’s the kind of reasoning that you’ll see people in other fields of humanity is engaged in it just as philosophers are more overt about the kinds of uh reasoning and categorizing and cataloging these forms of reasoning.
[0:17:57 Speaker 1] The other thing, I think that distinguishes philosophers from perhaps other humanities, although I don’t want to generalize here, I’m sure historians are in philosophy, in agreement philosophy about this is that we still believe in something called truth. We don’t we don’t accept the notion that we’re in a post truth era. If we are truly in a post truth era, then I think all is lost. Then then the people who say that there are alternative facts. They’ve won. And I’m not willing to concede that battle yet. Mhm.
[0:18:24 Speaker 0] Yeah, it’s a really important point. I do agree with you. But I think the pushback steve would be, well, whose truth right and truth is it’s traditionally been defined has been a very narrow, at least historically. Right. There were truths about race, for example. Right? And so how do we, because the post truth arguments not just made on the right is sometimes made on the left, right. So how do we deal with that?
[0:18:46 Speaker 1] So I think the phrase whose truth is an incoherent one. Um and it’s a it’s a rhetorical strategy. Um when there were claims made about racial inferiority, um these were not true, They were proposed as truth, but they were opinions they were propagandistic beliefs. Um I don’t think there is this person’s truth in that person’s truth. So in that sense the the notion of whose truth to me just doesn’t make sense. There are things that are true and the things that are not true despite the fact that very often things are proposed as truths which are not.
[0:19:21 Speaker 0] Mhm. What if we don’t know Larry, you’re you’re a scholar of cognition, right? There’s so much uncertainty. And I think a lot of what I liked about your book is and this appeals to a historian, right? You talk a lot about logic and evidence and that’s the space we work in, right? But I do find that a lot of the issues people care about there’s perhaps more uncertainty than were sometimes willing to admit. That’s right. I have a deep interest in science. I’m a Flasher. Science broadly conceived and I’m interested in scientific method. I’m interested in trying to understand what science produces, what the outcomes of science are and what we learned from studying science is that the goal for truth is sometimes beyond our grasp. So what we do when we’re thinking about the world from the perspective of science is look for those beliefs, those hypotheses, those conclusions that have the most justification, you can have a very justified belief that still ends up false. So it used to be reasonable to believe that the earth was the center of the solar system. It used to be reasonable to believe that F equals Emma. And we now know that both those believe strictly speaking, are false. But there’s a difference between false belief and a belief that has lots of justification. Uh huh and a belief that’s true and what scientists do is they aim at those beliefs that have the most justification. So I think you’re right, jeremy that often truth is beyond our grasp, but that’s that should be a source of um of uh sorrow. What we should be aiming for are those beliefs that have the most justification. And and and one of the things I took from your book, and one of the reasons I recommend this to all of our listeners is um you provide one of the best descriptions in your book of what I would call the striving for truth, which is I think also what steve’s talking about right there, there are truths. We might not be capable of fully grasping. Um, but reading your book, it’s clear to me, it’s clearer, at least to me how to distinguish between someone who is using the proper tools to try to get to truth and someone who’s actually doing the opposite, which is trying to simply justify a position that pre exists. And those are, it seems to me your book is drawing a distinction between those two activities where one is the softest activity and one is actually the philosophical pursuit of truth. Do I have that? Right? That’s right. In fact, when you were formulating your question, I immediately thought of of this office because Socrates was was accused by his detractors of being a softest, where his office was someone who had used argument and rhetoric for purposes of self interest, not because they were striving for true conclusions, but because they were striving to convince people and convincing people is only a valuable skill if you can convince them of something that’s true were well justified and the softest doesn’t care about that part of the argument. I wanted to turn steve to uh wisdom, but also before wisdom, I wanted to turn to reasonableness. Those are two other topics that come up really, really well in the book and there of course related to one another. Um, we we had Jonathan marks on a few months ago and he has a book on being reasonable also from a very different point of view, actually more from a literary philosophical point of view, what is reasonableness for you and why why why is reasonableness so important?
[0:23:09 Speaker 1] I think a reasonable it can appear in two guises. First of all, there’s there’s a person being reasonable in the way in which we’ve been describing so far in the formation of their beliefs and not holding onto beliefs when the evidence points against them. So you can be a reasonable person in that sense. But there’s also a social dimension to reasonableness. And that involves
[0:23:32 Speaker 0] engaging
[0:23:33 Speaker 1] in um an honest conversation with others in seeking to find out what may or may not be true uh politically, socially and in all sorts of domains. And I think in that case, what what reasonable this means is that there is a shared set of assumptions about what you’re going after. There’s also a shared set of assumptions about what the best way to achieve that goal is that there are certain rules of reasoning that there are certain kinds of arguments that we will grant are valid. And there are other forms that are invalid if we don’t have that sort of base um set of agreements on the rules of the game. The rules of the knowing game and the rules of the social epistemology game, then there’s really no way to get started. And you can’t have reasonable conversations with people. And that seems to be part of the political morass were in that both sides are talking past each other because there’s very little agreement on shared assumptions.
[0:24:27 Speaker 0] Right? Right. And and it’s important to clarify that under this, I think very helpful definition the practice of being reasonable doesn’t mean you’re necessarily moderate in your views. You could be a radical reasonable person. And I am I accurate in that
[0:24:42 Speaker 1] That seems right. If you define radical in terms of the content of the belief, the belief might be politically radical, um whatever that means these days. But if you have good reasons for proposing it, then it’s a perfectly reasonable for you to have. You may end up of course, if you’re being reasonable, giving up that belief in the face of an argument that you find stronger. Right?
[0:25:07 Speaker 0] Right. But I think of abolitionists, for example, right, who were often seen as radicals, right, Lincoln himself. So abolitionists as radicals. But in some ways you could argue they were being the most most reasonable. If you take the very terms of what discussion around humanism should have been in that time, Right?
[0:25:26 Speaker 1] Yeah, I think that’s right.
[0:25:27 Speaker 0] What about wisdom? Uh Larry, it’s another, you know, big word that’s used here, that that I think is undervalued in our society. What is wisdom? Well, part, part of wisdom has to involve uh close attention to the sorts of principles that you allow to guide your actions. Um so we we talk in the book about people who uh follow rules simply because their rules without thinking about the principles that might have been motivating the rule in the first place. We have a couple of examples, like an example of of uh someone here in Madison, a person who worked at a school and was called the N. Word by a black student and and told the student not to call him the N. Word. And because the school’s policy was to to suspend or fire anyone who used that word. This this poor, I think it was a janitor, was fired a security guard, security guard. And so so wisdom is in part an ability to reflect on the sorts of principles that should be guiding action and understand when exceptions to rules are acceptable. But wisdom is also a broader kind of thing. It has to do with with a kind of epidemic humility. The wise person knows what he or she does not know and doesn’t try to um come to conclusions on the basis of beliefs that they have no entitlement to hold. You have a very good section. I just wanted to read a few lines because this really helped me think through this term, uh a wise person is someone who exercises good thinking in her opinions. She knows how to come to her beliefs in a rational way and she does not hold onto those beliefs beyond the point when the evidence counts against them. She has internalized the lessons regarding justification and good reasoning that we have examined. And you give some you have a section on profiles in wisdom. How does one come to do this Stephen? It actually seems so rare as I reread this and think about our world?
[0:27:46 Speaker 1] Yeah, it is rare. Um it’s something that takes effort and this is why I keep going back and reading Plato’s dialogues where Socrates, um and my students find him extremely annoying, very obnoxious. Why is he poking these people? Um good thing. They put him to death, He deserved it. And I try to convince him that he was not doing this to be obnoxious. He was doing it both for his own good, in their own good. He was doing it for his own good because he didn’t want to live among people who were irrational and corrupt. He was doing it for their good because it’s in one’s own best interest to be reasonable. But as you say, it’s it’s rare and it’s difficult. It requires, as Larry said, thinking about what you’re doing in the light of your values and beliefs, especially your moral beliefs, um you don’t just act haphazardly, but you think about whether what you’re about to do is right or wrong. But the more difficult part is examining those values or beliefs about right and wrong in the first place and there you really have to dig, you have to think how did I come to believe that this is what justice is, How did I come to believe that this is what makes the right action right? And are these beliefs ones that I can defend and that takes um, takes a good deal of work? And I would say it takes training and philosophy and not just mere logic, but training in ethics training in how to reflect upon your own, your own beliefs, your background beliefs and the new beliefs you’re being asked to accept on the background of those beliefs
[0:29:24 Speaker 0] and I should, I should say lest our project seemed beyond the pale our desire that people learn philosophy and learn from philosophy, I don’t, I don’t think is unreasonable desire. I I remember plenty of time spent in school and When I was 7, 8, 10 years old learning things like greek mythology, which was nice. It was good to learn greek mythology. But just imagine if we also spent time teaching students, young students, basics and philosophy, I think that would be a wonderful thing that might go some way toward fixing the world.
[0:30:08 Speaker 1] It would make dinner conversations a lot more interesting. That’s for sure when kids would call out their parents for invalid arguments
[0:30:14 Speaker 0] That happens in artists all the time Steve one thing I’ve noticed as a student who has taken a multiple philosophy courses at high school and middle school in the past few years is that I think sometimes uh teaching philosophy at a non collegiate level becomes how to convince people you’re right instead of how to
[0:30:38 Speaker 1] know you’re right and how
[0:30:39 Speaker 0] to find the right answer? How do we avoid, how do we avoid teaching philosophy as this? Just survey of human knowledge instead of actually getting and instead of actually getting people to engage with that material and and and those questions, Well, well, what one thing that seems to be true? We we have a a teacher here in our high school who teaches philosophy and he’s quite good at it, I think steve and I have both spent some time in his classroom. Um teachers are trained to teach their subject matters typically. So the english teacher has learned how to teach english and the math teacher how to teach math, but there’s not as far as I know much time or money spent on teaching teachers how to teach philosophy. So Zachary may be part of the problem was that your instructor didn’t really understand what philosophy is, it’s not teaching people how to be how to convince others of anything. It’s it’s reflecting on the right rules of reasoning and um engaging with principles and values. So it’s much more than it sounds like you received in your thoughts, be education steve. Cool.
[0:31:52 Speaker 1] Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. Um it’s a shame that philosophy is not taken very seriously in this country if you go to europe for example, um philosophy is taught in the secondary level and I think perhaps in some place in the primary level. Um and students are asked to read um in high school, um not just dry
[0:32:13 Speaker 0] rules
[0:32:14 Speaker 1] of arguing, but they? Re plato they? Re cont they read Dick art and are exposed to the broad variety of questions that philosophy asks, the broad variety of answers that philosophers give to those questions and it encourages them to formulate for themselves. What do I think about good and bad and right and wrong? It’s not just about arguing, it’s about figuring out how to come to substantive conclusions about some of the most important questions we face every day
[0:32:44 Speaker 0] and and and to keep rethinking them. Right. I mean, you never stop thinking about these issues. That’s the point. Right.
[0:32:50 Speaker 1] Right. And it becomes harder and harder the older you get, I mean, I go back and read the same things, the same philosophers again and again and it’s more and more difficult each time because you come at it with new questions, the things you hadn’t noticed, that we’re confusing before are now sticking out.
[0:33:05 Speaker 0] So we always like to close our episodes with something that’s both practical and positive, right? Are are are stick is to say each week that there’s something we can learn from history and the broader humanities that helps us to see a positive pathway for our democracy, that we can all participate in. This is participatory democracy in a, in a sort of heady way. Uh, what, what do you hope that the readers of your book? Or at least those who listen to people talk about your book as they have now? What do you want them to do now? What’s what’s the next step?
[0:33:41 Speaker 1] I’d like to encourage them to not lose hope that all is not lost and that um we can turn things around but it ain’t gonna happen without people getting engaged and involved. And part of our message in the book is that philosophy is not just a dry academic exercise but has serious practical implications. And you know, you should it should inform who you vote for and how you consider the issues and what you do in reaction to um oppressive laws, for example, in your state jeremy, but also in our state here in Wisconsin. Um, the way to respond to these laws, restricting our our most natural rights over the use of our bodies is not by getting angry and sitting and stewing but getting out there and making reasoned pleas for uh changing things.
[0:34:39 Speaker 0] You’re here larry your thoughts. Mm. Yeah. I think um looking at our book in the sort of broadest possible way abstracting away from some of its content. It should come as I hope, good news to people that we are not in a post truth world. Or we shouldn’t be in a post truth world. Just to bring this conversation back to earlier talking points. Um, what we learned from philosophy is that there are means that are better suited to finding the truth than other means? And philosophy provides you with the tools for finding truth or for finding the best justified beliefs. This should come as welcome news even to those people who end up with beliefs that by philosophical standards are not justified because at least they then know that there’s some better belief out there. Uh, if you give up on the idea of truth and you give up on the idea of reason, you don’t have that kind of comfort, I really liked one of your closing paragraphs and the conclusion titled Thinking Responsibly, which I think is, but both of you are talking about, I thought I just read a few lines from that. There is an antidote for bad thinking. That’s the good news right away to mitigate its effects and even prevent it altogether. It lies in the right kind of education, a kind of a Munday shin of the intellect. This is from this guy steve, I don’t if you ever heard of him Spinoza by the way through philosophy and more generally the humanities philosophy as we have shown, teaches the canons of good thinking that is proper reasoning and the epidemic moral and even political benefits of forming and holding beliefs in irrational matter. And I think you guys display that very well in in the book Zachary listening to this as we listen to our conversations every week. Uh, is this persuasive to you is this is is this approach to philosophy. You think of a way out of the ditch that we’re in? Yes, I am often struck by the um, but by the way that my generation likes challenge ideas and and it’s often unwilling unfortunately to accept ideas, uh the conventions of truth or reason, but I’m also struck every day by how my peers and I how much we engage with material like Kant, Aristotle Plato and Dante all of which I’ve had the privilege to read in high school, um shout out to my english teachers and philosophy teachers, you guys are amazing. Um, I think that that every day that young people get to interact with these texts, even if it’s only for a little bit, um can have such an impact on how we think and how we view the world. And so that that’s a great comments as being very helpful. So Stephen Larry, I was going to close them with this final question, what’s the one thing that after our listeners read your book, you would want them to read?
[0:37:36 Speaker 1] I say go out and read Plato’s dialogues with Socrates the apology. I mean, that’s where it all begins. That’s where Socrates famously says the examined life is not worth living and explains to you what an examined life is. It’s a it’s a very accessible dialogue. It’s not hard to read at all and it will spur you to think about what it is we’re doing here.
[0:38:03 Speaker 0] So, so I I agree 100% of that. I’m not, I don’t have the expertise. You have but I’ve probably read it three times and it’s certainly moved me every time. Larry. Okay. Uh I would I would love people to uh read some essay by john Rawls who was one of the greatest political philosophers of the last few 100 years, died not too long ago and developed just a magisterial theory of justice that I I think has um lots of application to uh, the problems in the world today.
[0:38:43 Speaker 1] If I’m following my dad, you know, you don’t have to read philosophers, philosophy can seem someone forbidding, but some of our greatest novelists raise these philosophic questions if you read jane Austen’s Emma, um you can’t help but be confronted with the question of what it is to know yourself to know what your desires are and what other people’s characters like.
[0:39:01 Speaker 0] Right, right. Or or Shakespeare for that Shakespeare, you know that very well said and and you couldn’t see this Larry but Zachary was was very excited when you mentioned roles and the theory of justice. Good and roles is also wonderful with his labels labels, right? The difference principle, right? The veil of ignorance, right? He he understood how to, you know how to get a sound bite out. As philosophical as he was. Right. Yeah, that’s true. He was he was good with the sound bites, but most of his writing is pretty uh dense. So it it takes some some help to get through. Rolls right? Yeah he has a wonderful essay that I love on the law of the People’s right? I guess it’s a short book right? But really applying his theory of justice to international affairs which is even harder in some ways. I want to thank both of you steven Adler and Larry Shapiro. This has really been a fun conversation so rich and I hope it gives our our listeners a taste of how worthwhile this book is. It’s a short book. It’s filled with lots and lots of great ideas and it’s easy to read but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy book right? It’s a book that really stimulates a lot of important thought and I’m so glad you’ve been able to share a little bit of it with us. So thank you for joining us.
[0:40:15 Speaker 1] Thanks so much for having us.
[0:40:16 Speaker 0] Thank you Jeremy thank you for your poem Zacharias all and thank you most of all to our listeners for joining us for this week of this is Democracy. Yeah. Mhm mm. This podcast is produced by the liberal arts I. T. S. Development studio and the College of Liberal Arts at the University of texas at Austin. The music in this episode was written and recorded by Harris Komotini.
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