Monday, December 16, 2013

AAPSS Session at Eastern APA: Libertarianism on the Brink

Professors Narveson and Sterba have been debating libertarianism for decades (see their book: Are Liberty and Equality Compatible ) and take up the discussion again at this year's meeting of the American Association for the Philosophic Study of Society at the 2013 Eastern American Philosophical Association

SATURDAY MORNING, DECEMBER 28th GIII-1, 11:15 a.m. -- 1:15 p.m. 

Chair: Jennifer Baker (College of Charleston)

Speakers: 

  • Jan Narveson (University of Waterloo): "On blood and turnips: fun, but still impossible" 
  • James Sterba (University of Notre Dame): "Libertarianism on the Brink"

About AAPSS
The American Association for the Philosophic Study of Society (AAPSS) is a professional society affiliated with the American Philosophical Association.
AAPSS was founded by Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen.
Current Co-Presidents are Jennifer Baker, Associate Professor of Philosophy at College of Charleston, and Shawn E. Klein, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rockford College.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Review: Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius


Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius
Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Lillard sets out to present the empirical evidence for the Montessori Method. Using research of Montessori directly and psychological research more generally, she explains both the Montessori theory and how the evidence supports much of what goes on in a Montessori classroom. The breadth of evidence that supports many of the key claims of Montessori is impressive and worth a serious look by anyone interested in Montessori or educational philosophy in general.

Another important aspect of the book is where Lillard points out the need for more research to support various aspects of Montessori. She is also careful to note the qualifications or limiting conditions on many of the studies. These are important both because it points out paths for future researchers, but also demonstrating Lillard’s intellectual honesty. She is clearly a Montessori supporter, but she is not dogmatic about it.

A downside here is that Lillard is often critical of traditional, mainstream education, but too often in an overly general way. She paints it with too broad of a brush and so might be seen as unfairly dismissing traditional schools and teachers. This is a point reinforced by some of my students’ responses to the book. I assigned this for my graduate class in Philosophy of Education. For the most part, they liked it and found much of it valuable and eye-opening; but a few noted her easy dismissal of traditional education and felt it unfairly characterized their own experiences. If the book was: “Why Montessori is better than traditional schools” then this would be a significant failing. But Lillard is not writing this book to criticize mainstream education but to show how research supports Montessori. So the fact that she falls short in fairly dealing with traditional education is not damning for the overall quality and importance of this book.



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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

CFA: Steve Jobs and Philosophy (Popular Culture and Philosophy Series)

CFA: Steve Jobs and Philosophy (Popular Culture and Philosophy Series)
Edited by Shawn E. Klein

  • Papers must focus on topics or ideas that are significantly connected to the life, work, and/or cultural impact of Steve Jobs. 
  • Submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to: sklein@rockford.edu 
  • Direct any questions about possible topics to: sklein@rockford.edu 
  • Abstracts due: On-Going
  • Notification of accepted abstracts: On-Going
  • Completed paper due: May 9, 2014
  • 3,000-word philosophy papers written in a conversational style for a lay audience 

 Any relevant topic considered, but here are some possibilities:

  • Jobs’ leadership style and ethical considerations raised by it: the virtues of leadership and how these were (or were not) exemplified by Jobs.
  • Epistemological issues of creativity (related to how Jobs sought to inspire and cultivate creativity and innovation at Apple, NeXT, and Pixar)
  • Epistemological and ethical issues in being a “visionary”; the effects of the so-called “Reality Distortion Field” 
  • The ethical, social, or corporate importance of creativity 
  • Epistemological issues in intuitionism and its role in Jobs’ thinking. 
  • Perfectionism: virtue or vice? 
  • Technology and aesthetics (Form and function) 
  • The originator vs. the integrator/popularizer. (e.g. Apple didn't invent the GUI or point and click, but integrated them with other systems and made them popular) 
  • Philosophical lessons learned by failure and success (from the Newton to the Iphone; Jobs getting pushed out and then returning to lead Apple) 
  • Buddhism and its role in Jobs’ life and career. 
  • The juxtaposition of Jobs’ counter-culture attitude and his capitalistic success. 
  • The virtue (or vice) of pride: moral ambitiousness or hubris? 
  • Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates/Apple vs Microsoft
  • Jobs on philanthropy 
  • Jobs’ political philosophy/outlook
  • Company creating and building as a moral enterprise.

 Steve Jobs and Philosophy will be a book in Open Court Publishing Company’s Popular Culture and Philosophy Series: http://www.opencourtbooks.com/categories/pcp.htm. Submit ideas for possible future PCP books to the series editor, George A. Reisch, at pcpideas@caruspub.com.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sports Ethicist in Sports Illustrated

My Sports Ethicist blog was mentioned in Phil Taylor's "Point After" column in the October 14, 2014 edition. Taylor's column focused on the apparent growing tolerance for cheating. He quoted from my post "The Biogenesis Scandal and PEDs". When and if Sports Illustrated puts the column online, I will link to it.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Review: Hyperion


Hyperion
Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Hyperion is an epic sci-fi novel; it has everything one is looking for: space battles, time travel, a background future-history, a boogeyman (and boogey-race), androids, super-powerful AI, political intrigues, a rag-tag group of thrown together characters with slowly revealed backstories, and so on. Many of the technologies and sci-fi elements are familiar: it is a kind of mash-up of bits from Bladerunner, The Matrix, Terminator, (New) Battlestar Galactica, Tron, Firefly, and Stargate (though predating many of these). It is original in the way all these elements come together and the story being told. There is a fascinating interweaving of questions about religion, faith, and ethics. It draws in poetry (suggested by the title itself) and other cultural elements from “Old Earth”.

The one sour note is that the ending falls a little flat for me. (Possible spoiler alert!!) Partly this is the “to be continued” element. Partly it is too anti-climactic with the book building to a confrontation that doesn’t happen. Partly it is a little cheesy. Nevertheless, I will definitely pick up the next in the series and recommend it highly to anyone who likes sci-fi.




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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Ted Williams: A Baseball Life


Ted Williams: A Baseball Life
Ted Williams: A Baseball Life by Michael Seidel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Ted Williams is a fascinating sports figure. The greatest hitter to ever play the game of baseball, and yet one of the most criticized of players. He had a hate-hate relationship with the media that dogged him his whole baseball life. Seidel's book provides a good account of Williams' rise to baseball greatness and his struggles with the media and the fans. He does a good job balancing between the media's take and Williams' take on the causes of the strife. He doesn't get too much into his personal life except as affected his baseball life. A nice feature of the narrative is that Seidel references contemporaneous events to provide historical context to the events of baseball.

Personally, I don't get a lot out of detailed accounts of baseball games from a half a century ago. Some of it is interesting, but Seidel does a season by season exposition and throws a lot of stats out there. It tended to blur together, and I often lost the thread. The most interesting parts where the accounts and testimony from Williams and his contemporaries. Overall, I am glad I read it, but I'd only recommend it to hard core baseball readers or Williams' fans.



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Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Contemporary Athletics and Ancient Greek Ideals


Contemporary Athletics and Ancient Greek Ideals
Contemporary Athletics and Ancient Greek Ideals by Daniel A. Dombrowski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Dombrowski’s book is very interesting and covers a lot of good material in the philosophy of sport. He is clearly well-versed in Ancient Greek philosophy and the philosophy of sport. So there is a lot to be gained by reading this book.

Truth be told, however, I was a bit disappointed. I think, based on the title and the book descriptions, I expected to find much more in the way of Ancient Greek philosophy. There is a lot, so this might be an unfair criticism, but the focus is really on contemporary philosophers of sport and their theories. The Ancient Greeks are called forth to cast insight, background, and further elaboration, but they are not the focus. Nevertheless, I did learn a lot about the relevancy of the Ancient Greek ideas, particularly of Plato, to some of the issues that arise in the philosophy of sport.

Dombrowski’s discussion of Weiss, Huizinga, and Feezell is helpful and thorough. These are not mere recapitulations. He provides clear insight in to the theories of these thinkers and their impact on the philosophy of sport. He criticizes where he disagrees, though I would have preferred even more critical analysis (that said, this would have lengthened the book beyond the easily digestible size it is). The last chapter on process philosophy was less interesting to me and seemed somewhat misplaced in the context of the other chapters.

Overall, I definitely recommend this. It is not long, is clearly written, and it provides a good discussion of some of the major issues in the philosophy of sport.




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Monday, September 09, 2013

Review: A Death In Vienna


A Death In Vienna
A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



The previous two Allon novels and this one sort of form a trilogy with a focus on the Holocaust. The complicity of the Swiss and the Church are the focus of the first two. This one focuses on the broader complicity of many other countries evident in the post-war world. What makes this particular novel stand out is the detailed point of view of Holocaust survivors. This is integral to the plot; it provides the motivations for many of the characters and it causes the reader to feel the need for justice to be done.

It is paced well and gripping. The accounts from the death camps are harrowing. There is not much in the way of character development here; that is, not much is added to Allon’s character. We do get more of his back story and some of what may have lead him to be the man he is.




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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review: Stone of Tears


Stone of Tears
Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I like the world Goodkind has created. It is rich with characters and an intriguing mythology. I liked the first book, but I like the second book better--maybe because I am familiar with the world, so I can get deeper into the story itself. The story focuses on several interesting themes: self-acceptance and self-awareness, responsibility and consequences for choices, and value-hierarchy. The development of the characters and the way their choices drive the plot keeps me thoroughly engaged in the world. Lastly, I love Gratch.



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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Frozen Heat


Frozen Heat
Frozen Heat by Richard Castle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



These Castle books are fun, but also somewhat confusing: it is hard not to see the characters from the TV show as the characters in the book. There are many parallels between the books and the show but there are dissimilarities as well. It is sometimes hard to keep straight.

The books on their own are good, but not great. This one gets stronger near the end. The beginning sort of meanders a bit and feels like a mundane Castle episode. Things take off as more of the plot is revealed.





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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: Riders of the Purple Sage


Riders of the Purple Sage
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



This wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t come in with a clear idea of what to expect, maybe I was expecting something more like a movie western or even more like Parker’s Cole and Hitch westerns (my only previous literary westerns). In some ways it was more of romance than western. Stylistic, I didn’t like how much the narrator tells the reader about what the characters are thinking or what their motivations are.

Nevertheless, I liked it. It is beautiful book; it is worth the read just for the description of the landscape of Utah alone. The Mormon and Non-Mormon conflict is interesting and raises several issues that are worth more examination and thought.




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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Review: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia


The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia
The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



"The Grasshopper" is unique philosophy monograph. It is part narrative, part dialogue, part treatise. It is also humorous and easy to read. It, quite self-consciously, plays off elements from Socratic dialogues, the New Testament, and Aesop’s fables. Though I don’t agree with many of its philosophic conclusions, the work, overall, is successful at pulling all these elements off. That is, I enjoyed reading it and found it enlightening.

The main focus of the book is an extended discussion of the definition of the concept of “Game.” While in some ways, it is a meant as an answer to Wittgenstein’s famous claim that one can’t define “game,” it is more philosophically rich than that. Suits’ discussion is really more an analysis of the meaning of life. The Grasshopper’s main philosophical claim seems to be that in Utopia, all meaning in life would come from some kind of game-playing. By Utopia, he means a state of life where all activity is purely and totally voluntary and no instrumental activity is necessary. Suits argues that the only activities in such a utopia would games (or other forms of play).

I think Suits is wrong here, for several reasons. Without going into detail (I hope to write a long blog fleshing this out), his use of Utopia is irrelevant. The life he imagines here is impossible, and even if it were, such beings living that life would be nothing at all like human beings. So, whatever we might learn about such a utopian life is meaningless for the life human beings live. His accounting of play as “all of those activities which are intrinsically valuable to those who engage in them” is far too broad (This sweeps in things like one’s career) (146). His distinction between instrumentally and intrinsically valuable activities is too constrained and too sharp (it leaves no room for mixed activities or constitutively valuable activities). So while I agree that game-playing and more generally play itself are important, even central, aspects of human life, I disagree that is the only intrinsically valuable (whatever that means) human activity.

My main quibble (and it might be more than a quibble) with Suits’ definition of games is the idea that “the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favor of less efficient means” (54). It is a quibble if by less efficient he really means obstacle-making. I do think all games involve rules that place certain kinds of obstacles for the players to overcome, surmount, or play around. These obstacles often mean that only less efficient means for achieving the goals/ends of the games are available. So my concern is that the focus on efficiencies is non-essential. The essence is obstacle-making, not efficiency reduction--even if these end up being co-extensive. I am not sure they are co-extensive; hence, my concern that this is more than a mere quibble.





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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: A Storm of Swords


A Storm of Swords
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



There were parts of book three that dragged a little, several hundred pages of characters wondering around in Westeros with not much development. But the last few hundred pages were better as the action heated up. There are several surprises in the characters and plot that are seemingly par for the course for Martin. I was disappointed in the way one character met his end (anti-climatic) and sad to see a few other characters get killed off. I am warming on a few others that I didn't like previously.

The trend has been that characters with the most integrity are killed off, while the vile, treacherous ones live on. That changes a bit (only a bit) here, but it does worry me about the long term plot direction. I am interested and engaged enough to want to see how some of the remaining "good" eyes end up (as well as the bad guys get their comeuppance --- like Aryn I have a list!)




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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Man of Steel: Heroic Individualism (Spoilers)

[SPOILER ALERT]

I thoroughly enjoyed the new Superman film. It’s exciting, thrilling, beautiful, funny, and even at times sweet. The special effects were amazing. The fight scenes were out of this world.

The way they told the story was clever and creative. The Superman origin story is well-known and familiar. This film doesn’t deviate from the story we all know: Superman is sent from Krypton by his scientist parents to save him from the imploding planet. But the details and the how are told in a way to make it refreshing rather than a rehashing. Krypton itself is a fascinating and intriguing world. The hints, bits, and pieces provided about its history, culture, and people help provide greater context to the plot. (Caveat: for fans of the graphic novels, these may not be new at all, but I have not followed the graphic novels so it was all new to me.)

This is more than just another superhero story: the good guy fights the bad guys. What this movie does is show us why these are the good guys and bad guys: each side is motivated and guided by contrasting moral principles.

General Zod is not some psychotic maniac whose motivates are beyond comprehension nor is he just a megalomaniac setting out to rule the world (followed by evil laugh). He is driven by (what he sees as) the greater good of Krypton and its race of people. He is doing what he is doing as a way to preserve his race. Individuals are mere means to ends to the greater good of Krypton. There is little to suggest this is mere cynical cover for just wanting to rule. He is dedicated to the truth and importance of what he is doing. He is a committed collectivist.

This is in stark contrast with Jor-El. He and Lara conceived Superman (Kal-El) and sent him to Earth. Superman is sent to earth to save him and by extension continue Krypton, but it also so that Kal-El can choose his own path in life. Every aspect of life is controlled on Krypton. Reminiscent of Brave New World, each person is artificially conceived and genetically modified to be ideal for a specific role and station in life. There is no individual choice or self-direction. Jor-El and Lara see this as part of the demise of Krypton and seek a new way for their child. Superman is naturally conceived and birthed so that he may choose the man he will become and not have it decided for him.

The adult Superman we see is similarly guided by individualism. At the end of the movie, he tells the US general that he (Superman) is here to help when needed, but it will be on his own terms. He will not be dictated to and will not (indeed, cannot) be controlled by others.

Lois Lane is also, fittingly, her own individual. She is strong-willed, courageous, and ambitious. When her editor tells her to drop the story of an alien amongst us, she continues to investigate. When he refuses to run her story, she finds a way to get it out into the public anyway. When faced with danger, she responds bravely and competently. No damsel in distress is she.

What makes this movie so great is not just the exciting action or amazing special effects; it is the clear theme of individualism versus collectivism. The message is clear: the root of greatness and civilization is the free individual and each individual ought to be free to direct his or her life in peaceful ways.

A few random thoughts:
  • I liked that there wasn’t a Lex Luther character to complicate the plot, but that there was LexCorp stuff in the background. I am sure we will meet Lex in the sequel.
  • The “liquid steel” computer displays on Krypton were very cool. They also allude to the idea of Superman being the Man of Steel.
  • The fight scenes were a bit overdone. Lots of flying threw buildings that were probably unnecessary. Still, they were visually stimulating and provide that comic-book feel.
  • There is a brief scene were a young Clark Kent is reading Plato’s Republic. Yay Philosophy! (though Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics would have been a better choice.)
  • I liked the use of flashback to tell the story of Clark. This way the backstory gets told, but isn’t rushed through so we can get to the current action.
  • One of the things I disliked about the 2006 movie was the Christ imagery they used to depict Superman. The new movie does not engage in this except in one instance where Superman is briefly in a cross stance. No offense to Christians, but Superman is not a Christ figure. He might be a god-like figure here to help save us from evil, but he is not here to be sacrificed and die for our sins (the latter I take to being essential to being a Christ figure). Also, Superman was created by two Jewish guys. If anything, Superman is more of a Golem figure than a Christ figure. (A golem was a mystical Jewish super-strong creature created to defend the Jewish community from attack and injustice.)
Update 6/20: I forgot to mention this additional thought about the movie.
  • The 2006 movie shied away from the American connection to Superman with its infamous: "Truth, Justice, and all that" line. The new movie is not jingoistic, but it doesn't disconnect Superman from his American ideals. This Superman is proud of being an American: he tells the general, who's concerned that Superman would act against America, that "I'm from Kansas. It's about as American as it gets." Superman creators Schuster and Siegel created Superman as an American icon, as a hero to represent the ideals of "truth, justice, and the American way". They were children of Jewish immigrants assimilating and celebrating the principles of America: individual freedom and liberty, fighting tyranny, and a commitment to justice. The new movie stays true to Superman's roots by celebrating Superman's American-ness rather than, out of some PC concern or, worse, a rejection of these ideals, hiding this. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: The Confessor


The Confessor
The Confessor by Daniel Silva

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



An exciting, intriguing thriller focused on the Vatican and the Shoah. I like Allon as spy thriller hero. The use of art restoration as a metaphor for Allon adds an element not often seen in spy thrillers. The self-reflection about his past and the way it affects him also adds an interesting element. This particular story was well-crafted and exciting with several twists. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I will say the ending (epilogue really) could have been its own book; Silva didn't need to tie up that end.



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Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport


Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport
Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport by Heather Lynne Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Reid’s text does exactly what the title says: introduces the philosophy of sport. She covers the main stays of the discipline: the leading thinkers, the primary themes, and the central arguments. It does not go into great detail in any of these; the goal seems more to lay out the main elements and leave readers with enough context and direction to pursue particular issues on their own.

I have my quibbles with particular arguments: both in terms of presentation and content. Nonetheless, I think Reid presents and sticks to the standard main line of philosophy of sport. I think it could serve quite well as the primary text for an introductory level philosophy of sport class.




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Friday, June 07, 2013

Review: Robert B. Parker's Wonderland


Robert B. Parker's Wonderland
Robert B. Parker's Wonderland by Ace Atkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I like what Ace Atkins is doing. He is staying true to the characters, the style, and the overall feel of the Spenser series, but he is also nudging the series forward. I was curious what Parker would have done with Z when he introduced the character. But, since Z was left under-developed and without a history, Atkins can and is using him to explore the Spenser-verse in a new ways. Most significantly for the series going forward are the developments with Vinnie and Gino Fish.

As I said in my first Atkins review, this is Spenser and his world, but is also not Parker. That is a neat trick and real testament to Atkins ability. He has managed to continue Spenser without merely engaging in mimicry. Atkins is not quite as witty as Parker was, but Atkins brings a richer level of description. It may just be that I had grown so comfortable and familiar with Parker’s plots, but I am less sure (in a good way) about where the story is going to go with Atkins.





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Sunday, June 02, 2013

Review: A Clash of Kings


A Clash of Kings
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



A worthy follow-up volume to the first book. Just as cruel and dark, yet a few more glimmers of hope here. The GOT world is not a happy one; it is treachery on top of spite on top of barbarism. It is ruled by men and women who are either petty or evil, and often both. But what draws me into these stories is the small embers of integrity, honor, and goodness that poke through this darkness. There is great action, wonderful world-building and myth-making, and gripping suspense; GRRM is a master story teller. But I am not sticking around for that alone. The strength of character by those worthy of admiration (few indeed) is what ultimately, I think, holds these books together.



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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: Transfer of Power


Transfer of Power
Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



An exciting thriller. Rapp is great hero; though not that distinguishable from other heroes in this genre. Flynn does a great job of painting the weasel characters as well as getting into the minds of the terrorists.



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Monday, May 06, 2013

Review: Zoe's Tale


Zoe's Tale
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This is a retelling of The Last Colony from a different character's point of view. In TLC, the story is told from John Perry's viewpoint. He is, well at least in terms of his physical body, a middle-aged veteran of the Colonial Defense Forces. Zoe is his 17 year old adopted daughter. Scalzi does a great job of retelling the same story from a different point of view without losing the tension of the plot. Even more admirable is how well he captures Zoe. It feels like a different story told from her vantage point instead of Perry's, and not just because some of the events don't overlap. Her way of seeing the world is different and so we see the world differently as well. In many ways, I actually liked it better than TLC.



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Review: The Last Colony


The Last Colony
The Last Colony by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I really enjoy this world and Scalzi's writing. His characters are witty and interesting, the action is fast-paced without being overbearing, and the plot is rich.



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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Classical Liberalism and Evolution Publication

My friend and former fellow graduate student at ASU, Stephen Dilley, has published a new book (out today):  Darwinian Evolution And Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension. This collection "canvasses an array of thinkers from the past to the present as it examines fundamental political, philosophical, ethical, economic, anthropological, and scientific aspects of the ferment between Darwinian biology and classical liberalism." The publisher, Lexington Books, has more detailed information.

My friend Timothy Sandefur and I contributed chapters to this volume as part of the "Alternative Perspectives" section. As one might guess from the title and description, the book, for the most part, takes at best a skeptical eye towards biology and evolution (Clarification note from Stephen: "their contributions focus on a compatibility claim -- is Darwinism compatible with classical liberalism? -- rather than a critique of Darwinian evolution"). I do not share that skepticism; evolution is a well-established scientific theory (read: fact). My contribution, along with Timothy's, dispute that there is any tension between the ideas of classical liberalism/libertarianism and the contemporary understanding of biology.

I think Stephen has pulled together an interesting and thought-provoking book. It is a sign of his deep commitment to intellectual honesty and philosophical inquiry that he made sure from the start of his project to include and encourage critical and dissenting voices from his own view.

Here is an abstract of my chapter.
Volitional Consciousness and Evolution: At the Foundations of Classical Liberalism
By Shawn E. Klein
Classical Liberalism is a view that the only justifiable restraints on the actions and choices of individuals in political orders are ones necessary to preserve individual liberty. Central to this view of liberty is the individual being left free from coercive interference from other individuals and society as a whole. This view presumes the idea that the individual is, firstly, able to choose his ends and actions, and secondly, that the individual is the best judge of these. Thus, the individualism of classical liberalism presupposes a view of human consciousness that is volitional: capable of engaging in choice and individual self-direction. If this view of human consciousness is in conflict with the physical casual and evolutionary accounts of the world, then classical liberalism would seem to have serious problem. Therefore, I argue that the correct conception of volitional consciousness is consistent with the physical causal and evolutionary accounts of the world. Presenting a conception of volitional consciousness that makes the best sense of our introspective experience and knowledge of the world, I then show how such a volitional consciousness is consistent with causality and biological evolution.

Congratulations to Stephen!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Summer of '49


Summer of '49
Summer of '49 by David Halberstam

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Many great anecdotes and quotes, but altogether something of a disappointment. I never got into a good flow with the narrative. The accounts of the games were often flat. I was not surprised to find out that Halberstam is a Yankee fan; the book is about 70% about the Yankees and DiMaggio in particular. I wanted, obviously, more about Sox.



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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One


Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One
Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One by Mark Kurlansky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



A quick, but interesting biography of Hank Greenberg--the first major Jewish baseball star. The book focuses quite a bit on the contrast of Greenberg’s own secularism with his fame as Jewish athlete. Greenberg was a hero to Jews in America in the 30s and 40s (and beyond), not just for being a great baseball player but for sitting out a regular season game against the Yankees because it fell on Yom Kippur. This was not from a need for religious observance, but from a connection to his family and culture. For many, this is perplexing: if he wasn’t religious, why would he care about playing on Yom Kippur. A similar question arises a generation later when Sandy Koufax does the same thing. It points to the difficult and complex nature of what it means to be a Jew in America…far beyond this review and the book. Kurlansky is not out to try to solve that enigma.

Kurlansky tries to do justice the Greenberg “myth”: he is not out to debunk or discredit Greenberg, but he also wants to get the story correct. The game with the Yankees was not one that really mattered (it was a regular season game and the Tigers had all but wrapped up the pennant), and though hurt, Greenberg said he would have played on Yom Kippur the following year against the Cubs during the World Series. (One wonders what would have happened to the Greenberg narrative had he played.) Kurlansky’s point is that Greenberg was a complex guy who balanced his love of baseball and his desire to win with his commitments to his family/roots and his recognition of the role he played in the public eye as a famous Jew. It was a struggle that he dealt with his whole life, and only in his later years did he, by most accounts, become comfortable in his role as a Public Jew. Kurlansky quotes Greenberg’s unpublished autobiography: “I find myself wanting to be remembered not only as a great baseball player, but even more as a great Jewish ballplayer. I realize now, more than I used, to how important a part I played in the lives of a generation of Jewish kids…” (143).

After his playing days, Greenberg moved over to the management and ownership side of the game. He lived a full life beyond baseball. Kurlansky writes “baseball was not the goal of Greenberg’s life; it was just a tool for achieving his goal” (143).




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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: The Fountains of Paradise


The Fountains of Paradise
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Clarke centers this novel around the fascinating idea of building a tower into space (to replace rockets). While I definitely enjoyed the story and found myself engrossed in it, the characterization was at a minimum. This took away from the overall novel for me. The story, in fact, centers much more around the tower and the mountain it is to be built on; they are really the central characters. Notwithstanding my criticism on this front, they are worthy enough to be the focus. I did especially liked the interludes that provided the context for the story. There is also an interesting sub-motif about religion, science, and how mankind (especially on these issues) might be affected by alien contact.



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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Review: Path Of The Assassin


Path Of The Assassin
Path Of The Assassin by Brad Thor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I like the Harvath character and Thor can certainly write a thriller. This delivers what one wants and expects from a thriller. However, I liked Loins of Lucerne better. While I liked this book, I did think the ending/climax came together a little too quickly and wasn't as satisfying as I would have liked.



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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review: Francona: The Red Sox Years


Francona: The Red Sox Years
Francona: The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



The first few chapters, dealing with Francona’s early life and path to the Red Sox job, were much more engaging than the rest of the book. I didn’t know a lot about Francona’s background and how much, even from a young age, a part of baseball he was (and how much baseball was a part of him). The middle chapters were fun in terms of reliving the seasons and the last few chapters were interesting insofar as they detailed the collapse of the 2011 Sox. But the middle chapters read like season summaries, and they felt lazy. That is, Shaughnessy seemed to string together stories told to him, but without much scaffolding to give these stories context. Anecdotes and quotes were dropped in without much segue or setup. Throughout the book, the writing was clich├ęd and flat (I was never a big Shaugnessy fan). The last few chapters didn’t offer anything new on the Sox collapse, though the Sox owners were presented as major a-holes. Lucchino and Werner come off as dishonest, while Henry comes off as disengaged with the Sox. All three were shown as caring more for revenue and personal reputation than a successful baseball team. For my Cubs fan, Theo Epstein escapes fairly well. He has a few mea culpa/“we lost our way” quotes for the bad free agent signings, but otherwise is shown as consistently supporting Francona. In fact, one of themes of the book is Francona and Theo vs. Sox Ownership (usually Lucchino).

Overall, the book is not very strong. Baseball die-hards won’t find much to satisfy them. Red Sox Nation won’t find anything new and revealing. And the casual fan probably doesn’t care one way or the other.




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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Man, Play and Games


Man, Play and Games
Man, Play and Games by Roger Caillois

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Building off of Johan Huizinga’s account (read my review), Roger Caillois, in Man, Play and Games, introduces an expanded and more exhaustive account of play. Huizinga put forward the thesis of showing how culture and play interact, support and emerge out of each other. Caillois’ goal is different; he wants to provide an exhaustive, descriptive account of play in all its variations and forms.

He starts by recapitulating Huizinga’s account and discussing what he regards as its short comings. According to Huizinga, play is a voluntary activity with fixed rules that create a special order residing outside the ordinary pattern of life. It is absorbing, with its own sense of space and time. Lastly, it is not connected to the achieving of any interest (external to play).

Caillois regards Huizinga’s account of play as both “too broad and too narrow” (4). It is too broad because it incorporates into “play” what Caillois calls the “secret and mysterious” (4). This seems to be referring to ritual or religious practices that seem to fit Huizinga’s definition, but do not seem, rightly, to be called “play.” (Indeed, Huizinga does focus a lot on these ‘mysteries’.)

It is too narrow, argues Caillois, because Huizinga’s account excludes types of play that are not based on rules as well as games of chance. Caillois distinguishes between rule-based games and make-believe. In the latter, rules do not govern or establish the play: instead the players play roles. The governing element is more an attitude or stance that players take to act as if they are someone other than what they are. These are clearly examples of play so ought not to be excluded from the concept.

Since Huizinga regards play as incompatible with profit or the gaining of material interests, there is no room in his account of play for games of chance. Caillois seeks to remedy this by arguing that while play has to be unproductive, it does not need to preclude the players from exchanging property or wealth. The goal of play is not to produce anything: “it creates no wealth or goods…[it] is an occasion of pure waste” (5). The players’ attitudes, if they are indeed playing, have to reflect this as well. This serves to exclude professional players, such as pro athletes: “it is clear that they are not players but workers” (6). In games of chance, Caillois argues, there is no production, only an exchange of goods. These are zero-sum games, there is no productive value at all: hence the idea of pure waste.

I think Caillois is right to point out Huizinga’s exclusion of games of chance; nevertheless, I am not convinced that play necessarily must be unproductive or that games of chance are necessarily zero-sum. Caillois does not argue for either of these claims (likely because many people regard them as truisms), but they require, I think, independent justification.

Caillois goes on to introduce his definition and influential typology of play. His definition is that play is an activity that is free, separate, uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules and make-believe (9-10). They are free because they cannot be obligatory without losing their play-quality. They are separate in the sense of creating a special space and time (distinct from the mundane/everyday existence). They are uncertain in that the results or outcomes of the play are not known in advance or predetermined. They are unproductive, as indicated above, because they produce no goods or wealth. They are governed by rules that define the goals and appropriate means for these goals. Lastly, they involve make-believe because of the attitude players have to have towards the play: an acceptance of the special, created world of play.

I’ve already noted my concern about the necessity of the unproductive. Certainly play is something that is a good in itself: it has internal goods that are the primary reason for participating and engaging in the play. But this does not exclude the possibility of external reasons as well. Many things can both be goods-in-themselves while at the same time still being constitutive of other goods. Another quibble is the manner which Caillois treats the issue of rule-governed play and make-believe. Moments before he introduces this list of essential attributes he claimed that play was either rule-governed or make-believe (9), but then he lists these elements as part of a conjunctive that makes up his differentia. Later, he clarifies these latter two parts by arguing that play is regulated and fictive (43). In this way, he avoids this problem. Regulation is not the same as rule-based: make-believe role-playing can be regulated by roles one takes on without explicit rules. Fictive gets at the important idea that playing requires one stepping into this special world; and this doesn’t necessarily imply an absence of rules. Though in this later presentation, he does tell the reader that these two aspects tend to exclude each other.

Caillois’ definition, though, is not that different from Huizinga. What really marks out Caillois’ contribution is his classification of games. He divides games into four broad types: Agon (competition); Alea (chance); Mimicry (simulation): and Ilinx (vertigo). Each of these can range along an axis from what Paidia to Ludens. This range moves from something close to pure frolic (Paidia; lacking almost any structure or rules; the players’ attitudes are more exuberant and spontaneous) to highly structured (Ludens; more calculated and controlled; requiring much more precise and developed skill).

So sports, being competitive, fall under agon. Casino games and dice playing are alea. The game of tag is a kind of mimicry (One pretends to be ‘it’). Lastly, ilinx are kinds of play, like whirling around or amusement park rides, where the goal is a momentary break from normal consciousness. Many games are a mix of these types. A game like poker involves both alea and agon: it is a competition requiring the developing of keen psychological skills but depends on the random distribution of cards.

Using this matrix, Caillois is able to organize all games and types of play. It also allows him to identify ways in which play or games interact with culture and how play can be corrupted. In other words, create what he calls a “Sociology derived from Games”

His definition and typology are also used to explain how play or games get corrupted. Essentially, play is corrupted as more of the rules, structures, and motivations of the non-play/mundane reality mix into play. Not surprisingly, the pursuit of profit is a major corrupting force. Professionals are a “contagion of reality” (45). It pushes aside, at least momentarily, the internal motivations and goals of play. Not just profit does this, but the bringing in reality in any of various ways can corrupt the play. Professionalism can also defeat the free element of play by making it obligatory to play on such-a-such an occasion. The inclusion of too much ‘reality’ can undermine the fictive element. Interestingly, Caillois also sees a parallel perversion that occurs when the blurring goes from play to reality. For example, he discusses superstition as the application of the rules of alea (games of chance) to reality.

As a philosopher of sport, I am much more interested in the definition and typology than the sociological accounts of games (or how games inform sociology). No doubt this can be fascinating in many ways and of possible great worth for a sociologist or anthropologist. Nevertheless, I am not such how far an understanding of the play-elements of tribes that use masks for their sacred rituals can give us about contemporary games and athletics. This is not a criticism of Caillois or others who would extend this account. It is just a statement of (1) my own interests and (2) how far I think an over-arching, all-encompassing conception of ‘play’ can go. As far as (2) goes, I think Huizinga and Caillois are reaching too far into other areas for the concept of play. They are identifying categories of things that are closely related to play or play-inchoate. There is likely a more general concept that covers all these things, but they err in extending ‘play’ to cover all of this. Thus, insofar as one is trying to understand ‘play’ proper, this over-arching conception does not add that much. Caillois seems to suspect this as well: “The facts studied in the name of play are so heterogeneous that one is led to speculate that the word “play” is perhaps merely a trap” (162).

Caillois’ book is an exhaustive, comprehensive, and structured account of play and its role in society and culture. It is an important work if one is interested in play, games, sport, or their interactions with society.






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Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Rebel Dawn


Rebel Dawn
Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Han Solo is my favorite Star Wars character, so reading about his life all the way up to his meeting of Luke and Obi-wan has been a lot of fun. Crispin does a good job of building up to the events of A New Hope. She clearly is having fun writing this, throwing in little hints about future characters and events. And the reader/fan has a lot of fun too.



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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Review: The English Assassin


The English Assassin
The English Assassin by Daniel Silva

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I really enjoy Silva's Allon novels: exciting, intelligent spy thrillers. They have well-drawn characters and unpredictable twists. That said, the these twists sometimes aren't that convincing, but only in minor ways. In this novel, two of the characters have changes of heart that were a little too quick for my taste. I thought that the background drop of the collaboration of the Swiss with the Nazis during the war provided a good canvas for the plot of this story. The Gabriel Allon character is an excellent thriller protagonist: brooding, thoughtful, deadly, and honorable.



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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Review: The Man in the High Castle


The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



This is an intriguing book; a fantastical premise combined with compelling characters. Ultimately, though, I felt a little let down at the end and not sure what to make of things. But then, that strikes me as somewhat the point. The feeling of ambivalence is something of leitmotif for the characters and the reality of the story itself.

The book could have developed some of these themes more or worked out what this world was like in more detail. But then both of these would have made the book much longer; and probably serve a different purpose than what Dick likely wanted. It is not, I think, meant to be an experiment in alternative history to see what the world would be like if the Axis won World War II. The alternative history serves more to provide a context for Dick to explore the themes he wants to explore. Like many of Dick’s works, the story plays with themes of free will, powers behind the scenes/hidden realities, paranoia, and justice.




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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sports Ethicist on CNN.com

I provide my take on Lance Armstrong's upcoming confession of doping here:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/15/opinion/opinion-roundup-lance-armstrong/index.html

Review: A Conspiracy of Paper


A Conspiracy of Paper
A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is like Jewish Spenser meets Sherlock Holmes. The mystery is well-crafted, with many unexpected twists. The writing captures the language of the period without being overbearing or opaque.

Weaver is an interesting character. A Jewish Londoner in the 18th century, he is a former boxer turned thief-catcher. That alone intrigued me enough to pick up the book. The look into the Jewish community in London at this time was well-done. It doesn't dominate the story but there is just enough to capture the mix of the growing comfort with life in England and the precariousness of their position in English society. I am curious how much Liss plays with this in the subsequent Weaver novels.

My criticisms are that some of the characterization of London's underworld, corrupt courts, and stock-exchange are a bit overdrawn. This works in the story, but is probably oversimplified from a historical perspective. But this is only a small quibble.








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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Review: Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture


Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture
Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture by Johan Huizinga

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I am deeply interested in the concept of “play.” I think it is important as a practical matter for children and adults to engage in play; and I think it is key for understanding different aspects our lives. It also connects in obvious and important ways to one of my main research focuses: the philosophy of sport. Ever since getting interested in the philosophy of sport, I’ve wanted to read Johan Huizinga’s classic Homo Ludens: A study of the play element in culture.

It is a fascinating book; wide-ranging, almost epic in what it attempts to cover. Huizinga attempts to elucidate the different elements and qualities of play in civilization and culture. He sees civilization and culture as at once emerging from a kind of play and as being a kind of play. He says: “genuine, pure play is one of the main bases of civilization” (5) and “[civilization] arises in and as play, and never leaves it” (173).

So what is play? Huizinga does not provide a clear, simple to state definition. He does provide several essential characteristics of play. One, it is a voluntary activity; it is a kind of freedom. It has a dual sense of freedom: it is something freely engaged in and something that is an expression of one’s freedom.

Two, it is outside the ordinary life. It is a kind of step into another world with its own rules and boundaries. My favorite example that Huizinga uses for this is the notion of a playground. He compares this to the sacred grounds or spaces of religions. A space, in all other ways similar to other spaces, marked out for a specific and special purpose.

Third, play has its own space, and also its own time. Play runs its course: it has a beginning and an end. For many games and play, this time is not parallel to “real” time (think of how long two minutes in football takes to play).

Fourth, play, through its rules, creates an order. For much play, the rules and the order they create are absolute. To break the rules is to destroy the order and the play. Lastly, it is connected to social and community groups that engage in the play.

The features of special and separate space, time, and order create a paradox about play. Play is, because it is outside of ordinary life, not serious. Play, as it is conceived by Huizinga, is not engaged in to gain the values that one needs for life (it has its own internal ends). At the same time, play is not mere frivolity. It has to be taken seriously by the player. Within the game, the rules and the play are absorbing and near absolute. Outside of the game, these are arbitrary and even meaningless. It is this paradox, I think, that makes play so fascinating to think about.

Huizinga’s first chapter digs into this paradox of play and seriousness, and he returns to it throughout the book. The middle chapters of the book are sweeping discussions of the different elements of play in different parts of civilization and culture (ritual, religion, philosophy, language, art, etc.). These are for the most engrossing and fun (sort of like play itself?). I cannot attest to the accuracy of his claims and accounts, and given their sweeping presentation I am sure there is some simplification going on, but it is worthwhile even if he may be somewhat inaccurate because it helps clarify the elements of play that he sees operating in culture.

The last two chapters look at the modern world. Huizinga has some biting criticisms of the way modern culture has lost or perverted the sense of play. It is here he begins to address issues with direct relevance to the philosophy of sport. He sees contemporary sport as having lost much of the play-spirit that he thinks is so important to culture. It is, he claims, neither something completely seriously, nor is it play: it has become something of its own category. He also doesn’t think that sport of today is a “culture-creating activity” (198). I think there is some truth in his criticisms here, but I am not sure I would go as far as Huizinga. In part, the phenomenon of contemporary sport is still something very new in human culture. What its effects are and will be is still being discovered.

I think this book is, for those interested in play, culture, or sport, an important work. I fear, nevertheless, that Huizinga is too far-reaching in thesis and sees play nearly everywhere. He recognizes this potential fault and tries to avoid it, but I am not sure he does. To the extent that he is identifying elements of play that are a part of the features of culture and civilization, I think his thesis is better supported. But to the extent that he is trying to make the case that civilization is itself a kind of play, I think his argument falters.




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Saturday, January 05, 2013

Review: Furies: An Ancient Alexandrian Thriller


Furies: An Ancient Alexandrian Thriller
Furies: An Ancient Alexandrian Thriller by D.L. Johnstone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Set in Ancient Alexandria during Roman rule, this mystery-thriller has some nice twists and turns to it. I also enjoyed the tidbits of philosophy that found their way into the story. Besides the fun gimmick of Ancient Rome (which is what grabbed me), I though the book was interesting and fun. The characters where well-drawn and believable. I particularly liked the ancient "CSI" elements from the Egyptian healer Sekhet. The plot was not obvious and had me guessing for most of the book. I hope Johnstone writes more in this setting and with these characters.



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Review: Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children


Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children
Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children by Lenore Skenazy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



An important book for any parent. Even if you are not comfortable with all or even most of it, it is at times hilarious and offers a good perspective on many of the fears parents have. It is a nice cure for too much "helicoptering" or tiger-mom-ing.



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Friday, January 04, 2013

The Sports Ethicist: Rule Violations and Playing As If



A new blog post at The Sports Ethicist Blog: Rule Violations and Playing As If.

http://sportsethicist.com/2013/01/04/rule-violations-and-playing-as-if/

The post considers situations where one appears to violate a rule but plays as if one has not.