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.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Philosophy's Future has been sent to printing

My new book, co-edited with Damien Broderick, is Philosophy's Future: The Problem of Philosophical Progress. This has now been sent to printing by Wiley-Blackwell, and copies should be available at the end of April.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Viet Kong - a brief review of Kong: Skull Island

Don't read on if you want to see Kong: Skull Island totally unspoiled. That said, I won't hand out any major spoilers. In fact, I'm not sure the movie has any. Once the action gets going, it's all very predictable - which is one of the problems with this movie. Here's a gap in the text if you want to exit now.

I called this post "Viet Kong" for more than the reason that it is set in 1973, at the close of the Vietnam War and that the characters include soldiers from that era. This might have been interesting (I suppose), but it goes further. The expedition to Skull Island is a sort of coda to the Vietnam War, and the events become a miniature re-run of the war. Efforts to kill the giant ape King Kong seem all-too-analogous to America's failed attempt to overcome popular resistance in Vietnam and the activity of Viet Cong guerrillas. Kong himself becomes almost an analogue for the Viet Cong, and let's not even begin with any puns about guerrilla tactics and gorilla tactics. While the latter pun is merely an example of how my mind works, the parallel between whatever America thought it was doing in Vietnam and whatever the expeditionary team thinks it is doing on Skull Island is not my imagination. It's all-too-obvious and heavy-handed.

I was disappointed in this movie. I really wanted to like it, partly because I have some personal connection with the King Kong mythos (my 2005 tie-in novel, Kong Reborn) and partly because I thought Legendary Entertainment did a good job with Godzilla a couple of years ago. I've been looking forward to Kong: Skull Island ever since it was announced, and it did keep me entertained in a basic way, but it never enthralled me. I never found myself caring about any of the characters, and I found my cynicism triggered too much by all its obvious efforts at melodrama and emotional manipulation. At times, the film seemed to be attempting a remake of Apocalypse Now, with appropriate nods to that movie and, inevitably, to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (among other touches, the main character is called "James Conrad" and another character is called "Marlow"!). But we really didn't need a twisted remake of Apocalypse Now with gigantic, noble mammals standing in for the Vietnamese.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Review of Logan

This is a very short film review of the new movie in the X-Men franchise, Logan, starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen.

No specific plot spoilers follow, but read no further if you want to go into the cinema completely unbiased and clueless about what might happen.

The main thing that I can tell you, if you're wondering what this movie is like, is that the look, feel, and tone are very close to those of a Terminator movie back in the day when Terminator movies were good. It also has a bit of a Mad Max vibe, but I think a comparison with the feel of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (a movie for which I have a special soft spot) would make most sense. The experience is more like that than like a standard superhero movie, though if anything Logan is actually a bit darker than T2. The villain, Donald Pearce (played by Boyd Holbrook), even reminded me a little of the T-1000. He's nothing like as personally capable as T2's liquid-metal Terminator, but he's creepy, psychopathic, seems to have infinite resources behind him, and just keeps coming.

If this appeals as an approach to a superhero movie, do see Logan. It's powerful in every way: it kept me on edge, and it made me tear up at times. The performances of the main actors are every bit as solid as you'd expect from actors such as Hugh Jackman (as Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine) and Patrick Stewart (as a very old Charles Xavier, since the movie is set in 2029). However, Dafne Keen steals the show as Laura/X-23.

Warning, though, Logan is dominated by almost unrelenting high-level violence. Even when it does sometimes relent, you always know that more is on its way soon. The result is a suspenseful, involving, frightening futuristic thriller.