10 Mind-Altering Philosophy Books from 2014

2014, ten challenging philosophy books from this year. Have you read or heard of any of these?


Philosophy books often don’t get their due. They’re usually long, often badly written, frequently pompous and annoying, and sometimes even poorly edited. But 2014 has been a hallmark year for works of philosophy that can genuinely impact your life (even in the immediate future) without becoming self-help nonsense. These books deal try to change what is possible in politics, sex, feminism, art, and more.

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Illusions of Understanding

Extended research on Kruger & Dunning, 1999:
“People’s mistaken sense that they understand the causal processes underlying policies contributes to political polarization.
“Across three studies, we found that people have unjustified confidence in their understanding of policies. Attempting to generate a mechanistic explanation undermines this illusion of understanding and leads people to endorse more moderate positions. Mechanistic-explanation generation also influences political behavior, making people less likely to donate to relevant advocacy groups. These moderation effects on judgment and decision making do not occur when people are asked to enumerate reasons for their position. We propose that generating mechanistic explanations leads people to endorse more moderate positions by forcing them to confront their ignorance. In contrast, reasons can draw on values, hearsay, and general principles that do not require much knowledge. Previous research has shown that intensively educating citizens can improve the quality of democratic decisions following collective deliberation and negotiation (Fishkin, 1991). One reason for the effectiveness of this strategy may be that educating citizens on how policies work moderates their attitudes, increasing their willingness to explore opposing views and to compromise. More generally, the present results suggest that political debate might be more productive if partisans first engaged in a substantive and mechanistic discussion of policies before engaging in the more customary discussion of preferences and positions. However, fostering productive discourse among people who have different political stances faces obstacles and can have consequences that fall outside the scope of the current research. Future research should explore the benefits of mechanistic explanation in more ecologically valid civil-discourse contexts.

“Our results suggest a corrective for several psychological phenomena that make polarization self-reinforcing. People often are unaware of their own ignorance (Kruger & Dunning, 1999), seek out information that supports their current preferences (Nickerson, 1998), process new information in biased ways that strengthen their current preferences (Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979), affiliate with other people who have similar preferences (Lazarsfeld & Merton, 1954), and assume that other people’s views are as extreme as their own (Van Boven, Judd, & Sherman, 2012). In sum, several psychological factors increase extremism, and attitude polarization is therefore hard to avoid. Explanation generation will by no means eliminate extremism, but our data suggest that it offers a means of counteracting a tendency supported by multiple psychological factors. In that sense, it promises to be an effective debiasing procedure.”

Feminist Philosophers

This research is fascinating, and could have serious methodological importance for philosophy.

Here’s the gist of the result (which was obtained by studying samples of US residents recruited online).

People often don’t understand political issues fully, yet have strong convictions about them. When subjects were asked to go into state-and-defend mode on a political issue (i.e., asked to state their view and then give their reasons for holding it), their conviction was entrenched and their misunderstandings went unnoticed.

But if asked to explain, or talk through, how the policy, position, etc. they defend would actually work, people were significantly more likely to appreciate what they did not fully understand, and to stop being so entrenched in their opinions.

This kind of information could be a huge deal for philosophical methodology. There are many issues (political and otherwise) that philosophers discuss which we do not fully understand, yet have strong convictions about.

State-and-defend mode is so common in our discipline. What if…

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#613: How do I reach out to my friends who have depression?

Asking for help when depressed is not like asking for help with a broken arm. There’s a great deal of shame, embarrassment, and worry (that one is being a burden or presenting oneself as pathetic).

Captain Awkward

Today is a weird, sad day in social medialand and also with various life stuff and brain chemistry stuff and street harassment. To be honest, I have been crying or on the verge of crying off and on for the last 20 hours with occasional breaks for sleep and a much needed breakfast and movie (a movie …that made me cry) with a friend this morning. I almost started crying in the Apple Store a little while ago when I thought I’d have to pay $80 for a new power cable, and then I really cried when it was under warranty and it was free and this big bear of a man was so nice to me and didn’t call attention to the crying and just gently handled my transaction. Crying is good, btw. It’s better than numbness, avoidance. But this question is well-timed.

Dear Captain Awkward,

This has…

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Now that’s a meaningful course evaluation!

How studying women philosophers gives us a full understanding of philosophy.

Feminist Philosophers

The following is from Jessica Gordon-Roth, Assistant Professor at CUNY-Lehman. The emphasis was added by me, because it is splendid:

I asked my ‘Modern’ students how studying women philosophers shaped their understanding of the early modern period. To my surprise many took the opportunity to express how studying these women affected their understanding of philosophy more generally.

“Reading female philosophers helped me not only understand and appreciate the role of women in philosophy…it also expanded and challenged my understanding of many philosophers. For example Catharine Trotter Cockburn’s defense of Locke expanded on some vague points Locke made (which could be what Locke meant to say). So it opened my eyes to the possible implications of Locke’s arguments. Princess Elisabeth presented faults and questions about Descartes’ work which I would have never thought of myself and so it helped and inspired me to dig into Descartes’ arguments and all subsequent arguments…

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So you think you are not biased against any group. So what?

Achieving meritocracy—the idea that people advance in work and life based on ability—is complicated. Well-intentioned efforts to implement meritocracy in schools and the workplace can actually have the opposite effect.
MIT Sloan professors Emilio Castilla and Denise Lewin Loyd present research that details how even simple attempts to instill meritocracy and inclusion in an organization can become fraught with complexity.
Castilla calls it “The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations,” whereby promoting an institution as a meritocracy can actually have some “unintended consequences of increased bias.”
In some of his experiments, he found that managers who were embedded in organizations that emphasized meritocracy actually showed greater bias against women, for example.

Feminist Philosophers

In the “Men behaving splendidly” session at the APA, there was some discussion of what percentage of women should we push for. Elizabeth Harman made a strong and important point; it was roughly this: When we give conferences we are educating the next generation, so we should have 50 % women philosophy speakers.

Whatever the right numbers, it is a very safe bet that a conference without women speakers, or with a very small minority of them, is not encouraging women to participate in philosophy.

But, you might say, you don’t think badly of women philosophers; you may an effort to include some, but it doesn’t always work out. Well, read below; in some ways it makes points made at the APA, but briefly and directly:

From Nancy Di Thomaso:

In a study I conducted among white workers, I found that 70% of the participants’ jobs, past and present…

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The Life of A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

Who are the highly sensitive people in your life? Reading this may help you (like it helped me) empathise better.

by Katharine Sawchuk

Your heart rate quickens. There’s a surge of adrenaline and – there it is! – the anticipated drops of sweat soon follow. Senses are being assaulted from all angles and you tell yourself to focus because guess what; you’re taking a bus to work and it’s only 7:45 am. There are nine more hours of this crap to get through. So you better get through it.

Why these sudden feelings? What is this “crap” I’m referring to that is making you so uncomfortable? Are you hung over? Did you just run a marathon? Was it something just as obvious making you feel so ill? Or is it simply because you noticed the bus driver is in a bad mood after a mere glance, the guy sitting across from you is stressing you out just from sitting there for some reason, or is it the sounds, the moving…

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