Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Notes and Links

* Susan Palwick has a lovely post on giving to the homeless.

* Terence Tao has a summary of the argument of the paper co-authored by Danica McKellar in mathematics. McKellar has been getting a considerable amount of publicity recently, since she's a former child actress who's published a paper in mathematics and, more recently, a book encouraging middle school girls to take an interest in mathematics.

* Apparently there are rumors that there will soon be a movie in the works based on Charles Williams's All Hallow's Eve. My favorite Williams novel is (far and away) The Place of the Lion, and AHE probably isn't even in my top five, but it's a decent enough story, and I can see why someone might think it would make an interesting movie.

* Pointing out mistakes that reporters make when talking about the Pope (or any major religious figure, for that matter) is usually like shooting fish in a barrel -- too easy to be anything more than tiresome. But occasionally there's a fun fish to shoot. Some Catholic blogs are noting a Reuters report on the Pope's September 2nd homily, which devoted some words to safeguarding creation. The report says:

Intentionally wearing green vestments, he spoke to a vast crowd of mostly young people sprawled over a massive hillside near the Adriatic city of Loreto on the day Italy's Catholic Church marks it annual Save Creation Day.

Strictly speaking this is certainly true; the Pope was intentionally wearing green vestments. But, as Amy Welborn points out:

Um, yeah. I’m hoping the Reuters reporter means “Intentionally wearing green vestments because that’s the liturgical color for Ordinary Time,” but I’m thinking, given the context into which the reference is woven…maybe not.

* An interesting post on the value-of-knowledge problem at Virtue Epistemology. I found it an interesting read even though I'm a skeptic about the value of knowledge: that is, while I have no doubt that there are particular cases in which knowledge is better than true belief, I don't think knowledge in general is better than true belief in general, nor that knowledge as such is better than true belief as such. (As I've noted before, there are many, many cases in which it is fairly obvious that knowledge is not more valuable than true belief, e.g., when the object of belief or knowledge is very trivial. Incidentally, it bugs me that this value problem, which I regard as relatively trivial, is usurping the name 'Meno Problem', which is already the name for a perfectly good and longstanding philosophical problem, namely, how we can come to know something that we don't know already and recognize that it was what we were trying to know.)

* Hurray! There's a website devoted to making the contribution of women to philosophy more widely known. It's only just getting up and running; almost none of my favorites are on the list: Lady Mary Shepherd, Catharine Trotter Cockburn, Mary Astell, Mary Wollstonecraft, Edith Stein, and more; I look forward to seeing what's put up about them. They do have Anne Conway up, and the patron saint of philosophers, Saint Catherine of Alexandria; as also the two Saint Macrinas, Julian of Norwich, and many more. There is a blog that posts notices of new biographies put up.


* Rebecca has a quiz on the Trinity (answers here). I think #29 is a little ambiguous, but in all it's a great quiz.

* Stephen Matheson, a biologist at Calvin College, has two posts on common descent: here and here.

* There are several discussions going on about the nature of sexual identity, sparked by the Craig scandal; Jon Rowe has some comments, and Mark and Macht does, too, for instance (see the comments on these threads as well). A phrase that keeps coming up is 'sexual orientation'. I'm skeptical that there's any such thing. Obviously there are developed sexual tastes; likewise there are sexual sentiments, partly original and partly learned, that tend to arise for different people on different occasions; moreover, we have sexual self-images; and there's a habitual mix of these that constitute our standing (but not perfectly stable) sexual interests. But 'sexual orientation' is, first of all, a phrase people who classify themselves as heterosexual often use to put everyone else in a comfortably opposed category of sexuality, ignoring large overarching similarities; second of all, it is continually used to elide the difference among standing sexual interests, sexual self-image, sexual experimenting out of curiosity, occasional sexual dabblings due to other reasons, and the like. Both of these are symptoms that the phrase tends to have more use for rhetoric than for designating anything in particular in the real world. It also, it should be pointed out to many of those who use the phrase who would abhor the suggestion in any other context, tends to imply a sort of sexual teleology. It is in fact often explicitly used to do so, and those who use the term have a responsibility either to tell us what sexual teleology they think is involved, or justify their use of a teleological term for something non-teleological. 'Sexual orientation', in fact, is one of the many instances in thought about sexual life where we have a perverse tendency to use the obscure and perpetually shifting to explain the less obscure and more stable.

* A lecture on James Clerk Maxwell, mostly biographical, by Ian Hutchinson of MIT. (ht: Claw)

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