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Being Human

Being Human

Mount Holyoke’s Policy on Admission of Transgender Students

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The following academically qualified students can apply for admission consideration: 1) Biologically born female; identifies as a woman, 2) Biologically born female; identifies as a man, 3) Biologically born female; identifies as other/they/ze, 4) Biologically born female; does not identify as either woman or man, 5) Biologically born male; identifies as woman, 6) Biologically born male; identifies as other/they/ze and when “other/they” identity includes woman Biologically born with both male and female anatomy (Intersex); identifies as a woman. ¶ The following academically qualified students cannot apply for admission consideration: Biologically born male; identifies as man.

The Boob Tube for Brooders

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Recently a number of philosophically arresting moments have managed to insert themselves into the television landscape. True to form, Ronald D. Moore and company continue to address contemporary political, philosophical, and religious questions in the alternate world of Caprica, territory he brilliantly charted in his groundbreaking Battlestar Galactica. If the pilot is any indication, Caprica promises to explore even more pointedly themes of religious and ethnic tolerance, terrorism, technology, and the nature of the soul. ABC’s FlashForward, clearly aimed at continuing the legacy of Lost and retaining its audience, has somewhat disappointed so far, but has nonetheless woven several provocative existential questions into its narrative, including one powerful Sartrean moment in particular. On the comedic front, NBC’s Community had the temerity to devote an episode to whether humanity is intrinsically good or evil, and did so superbly. I’ll admit to being prone to vegging in front of the tube even when the viewing is less cerebral, but a couple of these moments had me off the couch cheering for the writers.

Inductive Fallacies

Go Inductive reasoning consists of inferring from the properties of a sample to the properties of a population as a whole.

Julian Barnes on Sehnsucht and German Diction

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There is a German word, Sehnsucht, which has no English equivalent; it means ‘the longing for something’. It has Romantic and mystical connotations; C.S. Lewis defined it as the ‘inconsolable longing’ in the human heart for ‘we know not what’. It seems rather German to be able to specify the unspecifiable. The longing for something — or, in our case, for someone

John Searle on How We Fit In a Universe of Particles

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There is exactly one overriding question in contemporary philosophy… How do we fit in? … We now have a reasonably well-established conception of the basic structure of the universe. We have plausible theories about the origin of the universe in the Big Bang, and we understand quite a number of things about the structure of the universe in atomic physics and chemistry. We have even come to understand the nature of the chemical bond. We know a fair amount about our own development on this little Earth during the past five billion years of evolution. We understand that the universe consists entirely of particles (or whatever entities the ultimately true physics arrives at), and these exist in fields of force and are typically organized into systems. On our Earth, carbon-based systems made of molecules that also contain a lot of hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen have provided the substrate of human, animal and plant evolution. … The most important set of basic facts, for our present purposes, are given in the atomic theory of matter and the evolutionary theory of biology. … It is not at all easy to reconcile the basic facts with … a conception of ourselves as conscious, intentionalistic, rational, social, institutional, political, speech-act performing, ethical and free will possessing agents. Now, the question is, How can we square this self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, non rational, brute physical particles?

Mark Galli on Being Sick or Dead

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In the New Testament era, by contrast, the big problem was the scandal of the Cross. It’s not hard to see why. Among the many things the Cross says is this: We’re as dead as Jesus. He hangs there as the true human, the sign of all humanity, dead to the world, dead to the future, and especially dead to God, who it seems has forsaken us. The situation is so bad that only the sacrifice of Another—again Jesus, who hangs there as true God — can remedy it. For people like us, who imagine we’re not so much dead as suffering a cold, and that if we take our vitamin C and will ourselves out of bed, we can make a go of it — well, this verdict can sound unnerving. Worse, to be told we can do nothing to revive ourselves, that we are left completely at the mercy of this Other—well, this doesn’t sit well in any culture, let alone in a culture that prizes individual initiative and heroic effort.

Alain de Botton on the Power of Sex

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Only religions still take sex seriously, in the sense of properly respecting its power to turn us away from our priorities. Only religions see it as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. Perhaps only after killing many hours online at youporn.com can we appreciate that on this one point religions have got it right: Sex and sexual images can overwhelm our higher rational faculties with depressing ease. Religions are often mocked for being prudish, but they wouldn’t judge sex to be quite so bad if they didn’t also understand that it could be rather wonderful.

Modern Psychotherapies

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The wide variety of psychotherapies that psychologists and students of psychology face can make for a confusing picture. The level of complexity is multiplied for Christians since they must ask how a particular psychotherapy fits (or doesn’t fit) with a Christian understanding of persons and their suffering. In this expanded and thoroughly update edition, Stanton Jones and Richard Butman continue to offer a careful analysis and penetrating critiques of the myriad of psychotherapies now current in the field of psychology including: Classical Psychoanalysis, Contemporary Psychodynamic Psychotherapies, Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Person-Centered Therapy, Experiential Therapies, Family Systems Theory and Therapy. Two valuable new chapters have been added: “Community Psychology and Preventative Intervention Strategies” and “Christian Psychotherapy and the Person of the Christian Psychotherapist.” Opening and closing chapters discuss foundational concerns on the integration of psychology and theology and present the authors’ call for a “responsible eclecticism.” Modern Psychotherapies remains an indispensable resource.

Roger Ebert on Kindness, Happiness, and Politics

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Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Naomi Wolf on Pornography’s Effects

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Pornography did breach the dike that separated a marginal, adult, private pursuit from the mainstream public arena. The whole world, post-Internet, did become pornographized. Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training — and this is having a huge effect on how they interact. ¶ But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

The Good Book

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Few, if any, thinkers and writers today would have the imagination, the breadth of knowledge, the literary skill, and-yes-the audacity to conceive of a powerful, secular alternative to the Bible. But that is exactly what A.C. Grayling has done by creating a non-religious Bible, drawn from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions, using the same techniques of editing, redaction, and adaptation that produced the holy books of the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religions. The Good Book consciously takes its design and presentation from the Bible, in its beauty of language and arrangement into short chapters and verses for ease of reading and quotability, offering to the non-religious seeker all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity. Organized in 12 main sections — Genesis, Histories, Wisdom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good — The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated. Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon, and so many others, The Good Book will fulfill its audacious purpose in every way. ~ Product Description

Examined Lives

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We all want to know how to live. But before the good life was reduced to ten easy steps or a prescription from the doctor, philosophers offered arresting answers to the most fundamental questions about who we are and what makes for a life worth living. In Examined Lives, James Miller returns to this vibrant tradition with short, lively biographies of twelve famous philosophers. Socrates spent his life examining himself and the assumptions of others. His most famous student, Plato, risked his reputation to tutor a tyrant. Diogenes carried a bright lamp in broad daylight and announced he was “looking for a man.” Aristotle’s alliance with Alexander the Great presaged Seneca’s complex role in the court of the Roman Emperor Nero. Augustine discovered God within himself. Montaigne and Descartes struggled to explore their deepest convictions in eras of murderous religious warfare. Rousseau aspired to a life of perfect virtue. Kant elaborated a new ideal of autonomy. Emerson successfully preached a gospel of self-reliance for the new American nation. And Nietzsche tried “to compose into one and bring together what is fragment and riddle and dreadful chance in man,” before he lapsed into catatonic madness. With a flair for paradox and rich anecdote, Examined Lives is a book that confirms the continuing relevance of philosophy today—and explores the most urgent questions about what it means to live a good life. ~ Synopsis

Mary Eberstadt on the Trappings of Hookup Culture

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In 2006, a particularly informative (if also exquisitely depressing) contribution to understanding hookups was made by  Unprotected , a book first published anonymously. The author was subsequently revealed to be Miriam Grossman, a psychiatrist who treated more than 2000 students at UCLA and grew alarmed by what she saw. In her book she cites numbers suggesting that psychiatric-consultation hours doubled in a few years and notes that 90 percent of campus counseling centers nationwide reported an upsurge in students with serious psychiatric problems. She also describes some of her own mental-health cases and their common denominators: drinking to oblivion, drugging, one-night sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and all the rest of the hookup-culture trappings.

What Is a Person?

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What is a person? This fundamental question is a perennial concern of philosophers and theologians. But, Christian Smith here argues, it also lies at the center of the social scientist’s quest to interpret and explain social life. In this ambitious book, Smith presents a new model for social theory that does justice to the best of our humanistic visions of people, life, and society. Finding much current thinking on personhood to be confusing or misleading, Smith finds inspiration in critical realism and personalism. Drawing on these ideas, he constructs a theory of personhood that forges a middle path between the extremes of positivist science and relativism. Smith then builds on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and William Sewell to demonstrate the importance of personhood to our understanding of social structures. From there he broadens his scope to consider how we can know what is good in personal and social life and what sociology can tell us about human rights and dignity. Innovative, critical, and constructive, What Is a Person? offers an inspiring vision of a social science committed to pursuing causal explanations, interpretive understanding, and general knowledge in the service of truth and the moral good. ~ Product Description

Physicalism

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Physicalism, the thesis that everything is physical, is one of the most controversial problems in philosophy. Its adherents argue that there is no more important doctrine in philosophy, whilst its opponents claim that its role is greatly exaggerated. In this superb introduction to the problem Daniel Stoljar focuses on three fundamental questions: the interpretation, truth and philosophical significance of physicalism. In answering these questions he covers the following key topics: A brief history of physicalism and its definitions; What a physical property is and how physicalism meets challenges from empirical sciences; ‘Hempel’s dilemma’ and the relationship between physicalism and physics; Physicalism and key debates in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, such as supervenience, identity and conceivability; Physicalism and causality. Additional features include chapter summaries, annotated further reading and a glossary of technical terms, making Physicalism ideal for those coming to the problem for the first time. ~ Product Description

Laurence Bonjour on Presumptive Naturalism

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A second sort of defense in favor of materialism appeals to the general idea of naturalism. Here again we have a view, like materialism itself, to which many, many philosophers pay allegiance while offering little by way of clear argument or defense, but here the view itself is much harder to pin down in a precise way. Indeed, even more striking than the absence of any very clear arguments is the fact that many recent philosophers seem so eager to commit themselves to naturalism — to fly the naturalist flag, as it were — while showing little agreement as to what exactly such a commitment involves. Thus naturalism seems to be even more obviously an intellectual bandwagon than materialism. (In addition, naturalism, for some of those who use the term, seems to just amount to materialism, which would make an argument from naturalism to materialism entirely question-begging.) ¶ Is there any genuine support for a materialist presumption to be found in the vicinity of naturalism? One version of naturalism is the idea that metaphysical issues — or philosophical issues generally — should be dealt with through the use of the methods of natural science. If this is accepted, and if it is true that following the methods of natural science leads plausibly to an endorsement of materialism, then at least some presumption in favor of materialism might follow. But both of the needed suppositions are in fact extremely dubious, to say the least. There is simply no good reason to think that the methods of natural science exhaust the methods of reasonable inquiry — indeed, as has often been pointed out, there is no plausible way in which that claim itself can be arrived at using those methods.

Surviving Death

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In this extraordinary book, Mark Johnston sets out a new understanding of personal identity and the self, thereby providing a purely naturalistic account of surviving death. Death threatens our sense of the importance of goodness. The threat can be met if there is, as Socrates said, “something in death that is better for the good than for the bad.” Yet, as Johnston shows, all existing theological conceptions of the afterlife are either incoherent or at odds with the workings of nature. These supernaturalist pictures of the rewards for goodness also obscure a striking consilience between the philosophical study of the self and an account of goodness common to Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism: the good person is one who has undergone a kind of death of the self and who lives a life transformed by entering imaginatively into the lives of others, anticipating their needs and true interests. As a caretaker of humanity who finds his or her own death comparatively unimportant, the good person can see through death. But this is not all. Johnston’s closely argued claims that there is no persisting self and that our identities are in a particular way “Protean” imply that the good survive death. Given the future-directed concern that defines true goodness, the good quite literally live on in the onward rush of humankind. Every time a baby is born a good person acquires a new face. ~ Publisher’s Description

Jonah Golberg on Avatar

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Cameron wrote Avatar, says Podhoretz, “not to be controversial, but quite the opposite: He was making something he thought would be most pleasing to the greatest number of people.” What would have been controversial is if — somehow — Cameron had made a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts. Of course, that sounds outlandish and absurd, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We live in an age in which it’s the norm to speak glowingly of spirituality but derisively of traditional religion. If the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics, there would be boycotts and protests. Make the oversized Smurfs Rousseauian noble savages and everyone nods along, save for a few cranky right-wingers. I’m certainly one of those cranky right-wingers, though I probably enjoyed the movie as cinematic escapism as much as the next guy. But what I find interesting about the film is how what is “pleasing to the most people” is so unapologetically religious.