Open thread, 6/2/2013

By Razib Khan | June 2, 2013 2:46 pm

The Way of the Sages

On occasion I recommend to friends reading what are to the public obscure philosophers such as Nietzsche and Plato. This is not because I necessarily think that these individuals had deep and/or true thoughts and ideas (though in some cases I do believe they did). Rather, I want to make it clear to angst ridden moderns that cognitive tail chasing has been around a long time, and others have done it with more thoroughness and aplomb, so there’s no point in wasting time and being original. Also, smart opinions from people whose world views are fundamentally alien toward our own allows us to consider what dogmas and orthodoxies we hold as self-evident truths. The reality is on questions of “meta” (physics, ethics) there hasn’t been that much progress on the margin over the past ~3,000 years, in sharp contrast to what used to be natural philosophy and logic/geometry. As an example, I don’t find our arguments against slavery particularly impressive compared the rebuttals of the ancients or basically any pre-moderns in favor slavery as a necessary evil or even a good. Rather, what I find impressive is our realized humanity. In most areas our advances have been in what we have done, not our justifications for what we have done.


Comments (11)

  1. razibkhan

    thought i would pass on this exchange i had a few years ago with a reader. he suggested i not mention my political/social views, because they might alienate liberal readers like himself, and rather i should focus on science. my reasoning to him was that

    1) sometimes i want to talk about non-science stuff

    2) if i don’t make my own views public readers invariably assume i agree with their views, which tend to be liberal, and leave comments where they assume i agree with them in their extrapolations

    but, i also asked him if i thought liberal science bloggers should never talk politics either. his response was, “oh, ok, good point.” IOW, people simply bake their own normative views into the background assumptions of neutrality. this is not exclusive to liberals obviously, but when we talk about ‘diversity’ this is a major issue that needs to be addressed.

  2. Kevin Hill
    • razibkhan

      dude, that’s why i bolded “to the public.” sometimes i wonder why i even emphasize qualifiers to head off responses like this. happens constantly 🙁

  3. re: self-evident truths: when talking to (mostly liberal) people around me i still mainly notice how presumptuous they are about values. they are completely unaware that there are legit “conservative” positions and even when they don’t deny one or two might have some logic to them they show no sign of changing their mind about it. when you combine those factors with that fact that they only listen to NPR and only watch The Daily Show it’s tough to get them to change. anyone have any quick and dirty one-liners to get them to really stop and think for once?

    • No, there is not short one liners. One liners don’t do it.

      This is part of the reason I make a point to read so much history in primary sources. Sometimes you need to be reminded that there was a time when most people thought democracy was a bad thing (as is the case still in some places…) or had very different conceptions of family, work, ethics, etc. Even reading something like Antebellum American books and newspapers can be an eye opening experience = and they were quite closer to us than Plato or Confucius.


    “Look at that British girl who lived off of chicken nuggets for almost
    eighteen years, ” Wenkel continued. “The fact that her body was able to
    utilize the meager nutritional value of those things and get her to
    reproductive age is an incredible feat. It shows exactly how effective
    our versatility has been in human development. In a strict evolutionary
    framework, all your body needs to do is keep you alive until you breed.
    After that, you’re just living on borrowed time.”

  5. razibkhan

    And how, exactly, do you define “the public” anyway? I

    what? are you serious? that’s lawerly. public = functionally literate person. most of them don’t know/recall/retain anything. so of course they’re obscure to the public. and in one logical world would plato be obscure, but some other philosophers wouldn’t? i can be read multiple ways, but there’s a plausible coherent way that it can be read conditional on “razib usually tries to make sense.”

  6. razibkhan
  7. Generalista

    In most areas our advances have been in what we have done, not our justifications for what we have done.

    So, actions speak louder than words? Or, we have an innate sense of justice and human rights that percolates up when oppression declines?

    I think it is both – people need at least a bit of a philosophical/ religious/ political framework (sometimes these seem difficult to distinguish).

    And most likely, these develop in parallel in historic settings.

  8. Riordan

    This is perhaps a over posed question, but I have never encountered a adequate solution to it, so here goes….

    Does anyone know of any online IQ tests that are at least mildly reliable or representative of the real thing? i.e. the results that does not stray too far from a sit down, paid test. And yes, this is a serious question, because I have yet find any suggestions from previous questions.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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