About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Monday, June 26, 2017

New post on The Conversation: "Apologies: Your Best Guide on the Internet"

I have a new post on the Cogito blog, hosted by The Conversation, entitled "Apologies: Your Best Guide on the Internet". I'll repost the entire thing here at some point when I have time (it always takes a lot of fiddling getting pieces from The Conversation to appear here in the proper format).

Meanwhile, if you're reading this click on the link (above) and check it out! I challenge a lot of the popular advice that you'll read about apologies. Amongst it, I defend the use of the much-maligned "notpology". It's your best guide on the Internet because it emphasizes the complexities that other material on the Internet usually tries to deny.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Update on Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination

At this stage, Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination: Visions, Minds, Ethics is scheduled for publication on 7 September 2017. There is a fair bit to do between now and then - nursing a manuscript through the editing and production process can be pretty intense - but the indication is that the book will be appearing sooner rather than later. We have already settled on the cover art and the back-cover copy (which includes a gracious endorsement by Gregory Benford). I'll provide the cover when I have it in an easily usable form, and I'll post more updates as the schedule rolls around.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quartz magazine article on killing bad ideas

The bad news about bad ideas is that there is no straightforward way to kill them off. The reason for that, in a nutshell, is that they often promulgate through psychological mechanisms that are largely independent of the evidence for or against them.

A couple of months ago, I discussed this with journalist Olivia Goldhill, who subsequently wrote an article on the subject for Quartz. The author also spoke to Brian Earp, and she quotes both of us in some detail.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Blast from the past - on apologies

This post is really just to bookmark a post that I wrote back in 2013, when a version of this blog was hosted by the Skeptic Inc. network.

Long extract:
[...] I often find myself apologising for things that I don’t feel especially ashamed of or guilty about. One extension of the central idea of apologising is into areas where we have somehow contributed to confusion or hurt by getting something wrong. This may not always be our fault – sometimes we might misinterpret something, not as a result of paying insufficient attention, or being biased in how we approach it, or anything else that is even mildly culpable. The reason might be ambiguity in what was said by the other person, or other poor expression by that person. Still, harmonious social interaction is assisted if we waive these possible defences in a lot of cases and give at least a light apology: “Oops, sorry – I see what you mean now.” Or whatever. And of course with this kind of case there are all sorts of grey areas about who might not have expressed themselves perfectly and who might not have paid all reasonably possible care in interpreting their words. Light apologies from one side or both are familiar in these
circumstances, and they are beneficial. They help us all get along, despite our various distractions and limitations.
The problem that sometimes arises is when one side insists on these sorts of apologies, or even on more grave and self-humbling apologies. It really is very much a matter of discretion when and how you give this kind of apology where you don’t really feel (at least seriously) culpable. It’s also, to some extent, a reciprocal thing. E.g. if someone gives such an apology to me, I’m likely to acknowledge, in reply, that I could have expressed myself better (we can almost always express ourselves better, after all). All this is really more a matter of etiquette and getting along than anything else, and when it’s ramped up to a higher level, with one person insisting on their moral superiority to the other, the whole point is missed. Furthermore, the discourse can become destructive rather than healing – something none of us should want.
By the way, you can go here for a full archive of my contributions at Skeptic Inc.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination

My book Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination: Visions, Minds, Ethics has been accepted for publication by Springer, and I expect it to appear late in 2017 or possibly early 2018. As the title suggests, the book studies the intersection of the science genre and moral philosophy, with an emphasis on the Intelligent Others (aliens, robots, mutants, etc.) depicted in SF, and on new conceptions of ethics associated with the genre (in particular, an ethic of human destiny; and of course there will be some discussion of transhumanist and posthumanist conceptions of ethics).

I can also announce that the back cover will feature a very kind endorsement from Gregory Benford.

One of my main tasks for the remainder of 2017 will be nursing Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination through the editorial and production stages. I'll have further announcements as the year goes on. Watch out for the book itself around the end of the year.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Philosophy's Future now published

My new book, Philosophy's Future: The Problem of Philosophical Progress - co-edited with Damien Broderick - has now been published by Wiley-Blackwell.

(Note: Australian readers may find a glitch with Wiley's page for the book. If not much material, such as a description, appears when you click on the link, change your country setting at the top of the page.)

The book includes introductory essays by myself and Damien (Damien's is actually in the form of a philosophical dialogue).

Those aside, the contributors are, in order: Myisha Cherry; James Ladyman; Noretta Koertge; Frank Jackson; Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay; Massimo Pigliucci; Jessica Wilson; Daniel Stoljar; Stuart Brock; Richard Kamber; Mark Walker; Timothy Williamson; Christopher Norris; Stefan Lorenz Sorgner; Karen Green; Benj Hellie; and Ward E. Jones.

The central issue of the book is whether the philosophy has a viable future as an academic discipline, given the common perception that it fails to make progress in the same way as the sciences. It often seems as if philosophers are involved in increasingly esoteric, fragmented, highly specialised debates that get nowhere in trying to resolve the discipline's central problems. If that is truly the case, we might wonder what use it is. Why bother studying philosophy or keeping it as part of the university curriculum?

Needless to say, the debate does not end there. Much can be said in response, though there is still a nagging doubt as to whether philosophy might disappoint our hopes and expectations for it. Please consider checking out what our authors have to say!

At the moment there is no cheap option for buying the book (we are hoping for an eventual paperback edition). However, your college or university library should have a nice, durable hardback copy - it includes the views of some of the world's leading philosophers on a topic of fundamental importance to the discipline. So if you're an academic or a student, please consider checking whether your library is ordering a copy and asking them to do so if they weren't planning to.