Friday, July 3, 2015

New symposium on Adam Smith's Pluralism, the most recent book by PQED author Jack Russell Weinstein

The new issue of the philosophy journal Cosmos + Taxis features a full-length symposium on Adam Smith’s Pluralism, PQED’s author Jack Russell Weinstein’s most recent book. It contains six essays inspired by the book and Jack’s response.

The issue will be of more interest to philosophy professionals, but some of the essays, especially the introduction and Jack’s response are suitable for non-academic audiences.

The issue is free and can be downloaded here. The contents are as follows:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Many Weddings and a Funeral: How to be an American on June 26, 2015

Today is a day of many emotions in the United States. We celebrate the recognition of gay marriage as we mourn the loss of nine innocent murder victims. Being jubilant for one feels disrespectful to the other, and being despondent in the name of grief seems to eradicate the deserved victory of those who have earned their day in the sun. How should we feel about it all? What should we say? What should we do?

Americans are used to crying different tears out of each eye. In this country, weeping with joy is almost always accompanied by lamentation. Equality is a road of violence, bigotry, and exclusion. Movement towards justice rarely comes fast enough and it always seems slowest to the people whom the injustices back into a corner. A good American recognizes that we are each members of multiple communities, each with as much right to exist as the other. Sometimes we look towards the government to help, sometimes we look towards the population as a whole, and sometimes we go to ground, surrounding ourselves with the people whom we are most like, who understand better than anyone else what we need, how we feel, and how to surround and protect us.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Is using an Ad Blocker stealing? [Ask a philosopher]

The folks at Tom's Guide have asked me to weigh-in on a controversy: is using an ad blocker stealing, or more generally, is it immoral? For me, this is just an interesting diversion, but for them, it’s about their livelihood. As most everyone knows, advertising revenue is the backbone of many Internet services. By blocking ads, viewers are directly impacting people’s income.

Those who claim that ad blockers are theft argue that blocking ads takes money out of people’s mouths, that ads are the price we pay to view content, and that people who use ad blockers are either snobs or sociopaths. But none of these ring true.

Monday, June 15, 2015

No one cares what kind of gun you have: an open letter to gun-rights activists.

My article and video “How should people respond to open-carry gun-rights activists?” started making the rounds again. And yet again, I received a deluge of responses from gun-rights advocates who complained about my position, calling me a traitor and an idiot, and claiming that I didn’t have the right to my opinion. Never mind that I wasn’t actually advocating for gun control or limiting anyone’s freedom. The mere suggestion that a gun owner can’t do anything he or she wants, at any time, in any place, appears to be enough to inspire the ire of a very vocal segment of the population.

There is one frequent comment that baffles me more than any others. It is the repeated claim that since I did not get all of the technicalities right, my opinion is irrelevant. The video I made (in one take, by the way) mistakenly identified semi-automatic guns as automatic, so lots of people have told me that since I don’t know anything about guns, I should shut the hell up. The first part is mostly true. I know comparatively little about guns. I’m not as inexperienced as some and I have fired both rifles and shotguns, but I’m willing to stipulate that, for all intents and purposes, I know nothing. And you know what? It shouldn’t matter.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Is revenge immoral?

This is the monologue for the most recent episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “The Moral Argument for Revenge” with guest Thane Rosenbaum. To listen, click here

I have a colleague who has been awful to me since the day I came to UND. This person has bullied me, tried to undermine my work, and lied about me to others. Lots of people know this, but my years of complaints have led to nothing. Administrators simply don’t care about faculty, and my other colleagues, even my friends, wave it away. As best as I can figure it, they think that since I’m a blunt New Yorker, I can “take care of myself,” and that no hostile workplace would ever affect me negatively. They’re wrong.

I long for the day that this person leaves, but I know that even then I won’t be satisfied, because the years of abuse, manipulation, and brute incompetence will fade away unacknowledged. Instead, I want my fourteen years in a hostile workplace recognized publicly. I want apologies from the guilty party and the administration that turns the other cheek, and I want this person punished. If you had asked me how to summarize my desires before today I would have said that I wanted justice. But after preparing for today’s show, I have to deal with the fact that I might want something else. I might also want revenge.

Monday, May 25, 2015

How should we think about dance?

This is the monologue for the most recent episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “How should we think about dance?” with our guest Helanius Wilkins. To listen, click here. 

I suppose I ought to begin today’s show by admitting I know very little about dance. I enjoy watching it, but I only have emotional reactions. I rarely understand what the choreographer intended, and I’d be hard pressed to offer any kind of philosophical explanation for what makes one performance better or more interesting than another.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Is there such a thing as a "national food"?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “Cuisine and Empire: What does food tells us about culture?” with our guest, Rachel Laudan. To listen, click here.

So, there’s this thing called New York pizza. It’s unlike Chicago pizza, favoring thin crust rather than thick, and it’s different than pizza in Italy because it’s meant to be served in slices and eaten with your hands. There are many people who think that it’s the best pizza in the world, but that is, ultimately, a matter of taste. What interests me more is that there is a New York pizza at all, that something so Italian, can be made so American without any sense of compromise or irony.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why? Radio, PQED, and The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life are looking for social-network and marketing interns

Get a PDF of this poster by clicking here.

Why? Radio, PQED, and The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life are looking for thoughtful, creative, tech-savvy interns to manage our social-network presence, and our online and offline marketing during for the 2015-2016 school year. We have an international presence with thousands of followers on Facebook, and Twitter and Instagram accounts that need cultivating and promotion. The radio show has over 30,000 listeners in 116 countries, and has been featured in national publications.
Interns receive course credit. Students from any university may apply, but if they are not from The University of North Dakota, they will have to work with the IPPL Director to arrange credit at their local institution. Non-students may also apply, but unfortunately, we cannot pay interns at this time. Students will likely be given priority.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What happens when more people write than read?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “The Rise of Writing: What happens when more people write than read?” To listen, click here.

Here is all the writing I did yesterday: I wrote this monologue. I edited and wrote comments on a colleague’s law review article. I responded to comments on Why? Radio’s blog and to comments on Facebook. I wrote a recommendation letter for a student and some emails about that recommendation letter. I also wrote a handful of emails about a Pakistani scholar who I am bringing to the US and a few more about changing the server that Why? Radio’s webpage is on. I wrote things on my to-do list and notes in the book I read for today’s discussion. I sent lots of text messages to my wife.

I probably wrote for four hours yesterday, but almost none of the things I listed would be considered as writing by most people, they were just…work. Certainly, none of them made me feel like a writer and the one piece I didn’t get to spend any time on was the one I most wanted to, a scholarly article that I’ve been trying to finish for months. I know it sounds contradictory, but I spend so much time writing yesterday that I never got the chance to write.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why the current email controversy is evidence that Hillary Clinton will be president. (Or, some thoughts on political argument).

Hillary Clinton is the single most qualified presidential candidate in the 2016 election cycle. In fact, she is one of the most qualified people to ever run for president, period. Only a few candidates have ever had eight years’ experience in the white house, only six presidents have been Secretary of State, and her time as Senator of New York, combined with her understanding of rural politics in Arkansas, means that she understands better than almost anyone what it means to govern America. Her doing all of this as a woman only makes her achievements more impressive. Women are not treated well by the American political process.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How should I react to my racist parents? [Ask a philosopher]

Recently, a college student asked me how to deal with the fact that her parents are racists. It took her a while to get to the question, but it seems that she, a white woman, dated a black man, and that in response, her parents didn’t talk to her for three months. She was horrified, frustrated, and clearly angry, but she still wanted to preserve their relationship. They are her parents after all.

There were other incidents—this was not a one-time thing—and the upshot is that she’s 21 years old and paying her own college bills. Her parents cut her off because they disapprove of her moral choices, even though she is an outstanding student, bright and, as far as I could tell, a kind, curious, and likeable person.  

Before I reveal my advice to her, I want like to point out that the word “racist” no longer serves its purpose. It is antiseptic and lacks emotional power. It does indeed denote a cluster of bigoted behaviors and attitudes, but it doesn’t identify any causes or predict any consequences. “Racist” sounds more like a profession to me—“John is a doctor, Sally is a scientist, and Billy is a racist”—I can’t imagine any actual racists being upset by its use, especially since so many of them are so proud of their perverse point of view

Monday, February 9, 2015

Today's Twitter Chat on Adam Smith: A live feed

I've never done a Twitter chat before, but the good folks at Palgrave MacMillan asked me to join them for a discussion on Adam Smith. The occasion is the publication of the new book Propriety and Prosperity: New Studies on the Philosophy of Adam Smith edited by David Hardwick and Leslie Marsh. I wrote a chapter in it called: "What My Dog Can Do: On the Effect of The Wealth of Nations I.ii.2." In it, I argue that Adam Smith was wrong when he argued that animals were not capable of exchange, but that it doesn't matter. His work is affected by his mistake.

So, in honor of the chat, I'm going to try to have a live feed here, so people can follow it if they don't have a Twitter account. If you do have one, please follow me at @whyradioshow. If not, you should be able to read the posts here.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why do people hate teachers...and what is a school anyway?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “Equality and Dialogue in American High Schools” To listen, click here.

Everyone in America has an opinion on education policy; we all have the ways in which we want schools to change and improve. This is democracy at work and a good thing. But in the midst of all the debate and politics, one simple fact has been ignored. Almost all of us have only experienced school from one perspective: the student.

Think about what you remember from your schooldays, the friends, the teachers, a handful of meaningful, sometimes traumatic events, but how many of the individual hours do you recall and how many of the lessons? Very little for twelve years’ worth of schooling.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Monday, a special event: A live twitter chat about Adam Smith with Why? Radio host Jack Russell Weinstein.

 Special event: A live twitter chat about Adam Smith with Why? Radio host Jack Russell Weinstein.
Monday, February 9.
10:30 a.m. Central (11:30 Eastern and 8:30am Pacific)

In honor of the new book “Propriety and Prosperity: New Studies on the Philosophy of Adam Smith” (
Palgrave Macmillan is hosting a live Twitter chat with book editor Leslie Marsh and contributor Jack Russell Weinstein.

Join the discussion by following @whyradioshow on Twitter and including the phrase #palgravechat in your questions.

Feel free to send you questions in advance!

More information can be found here:

And don’t forget, Why? Radio is live this Sunday at 5 p.m. central.
For details, visit:

Why? Radio is live this Sunday! "Equality and Dialogue in American High Schools” with guest Nel Noddings

Why? Radio is live this Sunday. Send us your comments now or during the show!

Why? Philosophical Discussions about Everyday Life presents

“Equality and Dialogue in American High Schools”
Guest: Nel Noddings

Sunday, February 8 at 5 p.m. central.
Listen live from anywhere in the world at and in North Dakota at 89.3 (Grand Forks), 91.9 (Fargo), 90.5 (Bismarck), and on Prairie Public radio stations across the state.

Send your comments to

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Should we care if people marry animals?

As candidates vie for the Republican nomination, we are no doubt about to see an upswing in anti-gay-marriage rhetoric. Mike Hukabee has already started us off and it will get worse. It is only a matter of time before people start claiming, once again, that if we let same-sex couples marry, we might as well let people marry animals.

For the record, this is a stupid argument. It misunderstands that modern marriage is built on the ability of people to both want and consent to marry. Modern marriage also assumes the moral personhood of its partners. It wasn’t always like this. The history of marriage is complex and involves a huge variety of traditions including polygamy and polyandry, same-sex marriages, slave-marriages, temporary marriages, and even marriages to ghosts!

Friday, January 23, 2015

How should people respond to anti-vaccination parents?

As many already know, California is suffering through the worst measles outbreak in 15 years, an epidemic that has spread to four other states and Mexico. It began when non-immunized measles-carrying Disneyland guests infected other visitors. Measles is ultra-contagious, so if someone has it, “90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.” Disney has responded by warning those who aren’t immunized to avoid the park and have instructed their ill employees to stay home.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those who got sick through their own bull-headed and anti-science beliefs. You play the game, you take your chances. But I do feel quite bad for their children, for those kids who are too young to be immunized, and for those who are too poor to have access to good medical care. My heart goes out to people who caught the illness because of others' ignorance.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Could Facebook handle Karl Marx? (Some thoughts on doing politics on social media.)

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “Why not socialism?” To listen, click here.

Political activism in America has been usurped by Facebook. The website has made outrage into entertainment and political argument into branding. In a certain sense, this is not new. French existentialists once roamed Parisian cafes performing their political views, and American hippies used their picket signs to troll for sex, but Facebook has made these behaviors immeasurably worse. It is a platform fueled by emotional game playing, not political argument, and its endgame is well-known: when you link to that blog, photo, or pictogram that angers your friends—not your parents, not the establishment, not even “the man,” whoever that was—but your friends, when you find that link that inspires them to be publicly petty and respond with virulent diatribe, then, well, you win. Nothing happens next.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Does academic research have to be relevant? (Some thoughts on Hayek and the Virgin Mary.)

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “Can A Philosopher Govern the United States? The Case of F.A. Hayek.” You can listen the whole episode online here.

There is a certain amount of faith required to advocate for philosophy. We tell our students (or our radio and blog audiences) that even the oldest ideas are still relevant. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about someone who lived two hundred or two thousand years ago, we continually promise that if we can get people to understand what they are saying, we can all learn something new and important about the world around us.

What’s funny about philosophers though, is that we spend most of our time arguing about what those ideas actually are. Instead of showing how historical thinkers are genuinely important to contemporary debate—instead of asking what Machiavelli or Jeremy Bentham might say about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri, for example—we fight about the meaning of their texts. We undermine one another’s interpretations, we publish jargon-filled journal articles for tenure, and we focus on the most obscure terms and claims, and make them the center of our careers. Then, in the midst of it all, we wonder bitterly why cancer researchers get paid the big bucks and why we are still struggling to retain an audience.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why is there no real education in the Harry Potter books?

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I got an energetic response to the Philosophy is Everywhere post pictured above. In it, I suggested that since none of the Hogwarts students get a true liberal-arts education, they won’t grow up to be creative. There were two basic criticisms in response. Some claimed I misrepresented Hogwarts and others argued that I am wrong to suggest that people can’t create art without going to school. The first is a matter of interpretation and less philosophically interesting. My response to that is simply that arthimancy is not math and the history of magic is not world history. Hogwarts students should take all of these subjects, not to mention Composition 101, so they, not the quill, will know how to write. The second criticism however is wonderfully rich and worth exploring. The connection between creativity and education is fascinating.

As with most of the snippets I post, the philosophical issues are simplified and made as stark as possible—public philosophy is often philosophy at a glance. But the substantive questions are still there: what is the purpose of education and what kind of curricula should be prioritized? There are massive debates all over the world about the importance of art, music, theater, and literature in schools. In the U.S. and the UK, they are being pushed aside for STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). All of the Hogwarts classes are the wizarding equivalents of STEM, with the possible exception of the history of magic, which everyone but the half-muggle Hermione hates. If we can conceive of a wizarding world in which the arts and humanities are unnecessary, it’s that much easier to justify a real school in which they are unimportant too.