Saturday, December 15, 2012

(Gun policies): Is gun control unacceptable because knives kill people also?

In the last blog entry, I asserted what many others are arguing, that we should have a discussion about gun policies. I also indicated that this conversation should take time, and be careful and deliberate. I’d like to get the ball rolling. I do this in part because I’m bothered by the business-as-usual tone of Facebook. The victims of yesterday’s slaughter are still dead. For their families, today will be harder than yesterday because only now do they come face to face with permanence. Their children (and spouses, friends, and parents) are never coming back. In fact, this is true of the victims of Virginia Tech, the Aurora shooting, Columbine, the campers in Norway, and of anyone else whose life was ended through violence. I promise you, those families still feel the pain and nothingness, even if the rest of us have “moved on.” I certainly don’t expect the world to change their Facebook behavior permanently, but it just happened way too fast for me.

Here are the ground rules. All participants will be respectful and respected, and whatever passion is present in people’s comments, remarks cannot be insulting or abusive. I will delete personal attacks or comments from trolls. Second and equally important, philosophy has taught us that it is best to deal with one argument at a time. So, today’s entry will be about the most common claim I’ve seen on Facebook: gun control is unacceptable because knives kill people too. In future entries, I hope to address the arguments that we should be discussing mental health instead of gun policies, the role of collecting in guns, self-defense, hunting, and, of course, the relevance of the second amendment. If you have a question you’d like posed for the community, send it to I will, of course, continue to have non-gun related entries as well.

Friday, December 14, 2012

How and when should we talk about gun policies?

I wrote this blog because, well, I had to do something. Information was coming furiously while I was working on it and I might have written something differently if I decided to tackle this tomorrow or the next day. If I said something the wrong way, I apologize and ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt. I think the spirit in which I wrote this should be clear.

Like many people out there, I’m having a hard time thinking about anything right now but the horrible massacre in the elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. No, massacre isn’t the right word. Slaughter, might be. I don’t know. What kind of language is needed to describe the endless pain and horror that has happened and that will result? What words will describe the feelings of the parents who are breaking into a million pieces right now? I would ask a poet for help, but poetry is inherently beautiful, and nothing in this scenario is. I probably shouldn’t even be writing a blog now since I’ll only risk getting myself in trouble, but what else can I do? I’m a philosopher. I think out loud.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Guest Post: Can we be happy before we reach our goals?

Following up on yesterday’s question “What are college sports for?”, PQED is pleased to publish a post by Michelle Bonapace-Potvin. Michelle is a goalie on the University of North Dakota women’s hockey team; she wrote this essay for Jack Weinstein’s course PHIL 480: Public Philosophy.  

A few days ago, my hockey coach gave an impromptu speech about how accepting our role on the team would lead to a more victorious season. He explained that each of us played a vital role in the success of the team—from the first-string forward to the third-string goalie—and that we should accept our position with a smile. He also emphasized that we have a responsibility to give 100% every day in practice, because we should strive to be the best player on the team. Nothing else, he said, is acceptable. These two roles seem contradictory to me—is it even possible for us to accept our positions with a smile, while at the same time striving to be the best player on the team?

Monday, December 10, 2012

What are college sports for?

I've been asked by a couple of people to reprint the text of the monologue from yesterday's episode of WHY? Radio on the NCAA and the philosophy of college sports. I encourage everyone to listen to it; Taylor Branch did a great job. 

"I suppose I should begin by admitting that I’m baffled by sports; I can’t understand the hype and the fanaticism. The way that I usually summarize my feelings is by casting doubt on what I call “the sports we.” A team wins a big championship and their fans start screaming, “We won! We won!” No. we didn’t win. They won. They woke up, trained, practiced, ate right, and devoted their lives to mastering a skill. We sat on the couch eating pizza and wings, and got fat on beer. How are we all in this together? Because we bought poorly made sweatshirts and overpriced hotdogs at the game? I think we've been suckered.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

TOMORROW: Sunday. December 9, Next Episode of WHY? Radio "The N.C.A.A. and its Universities" with guest Taylor Branch

…the origins of the term ‘student-athlete” lie not in a disinterested ideal but to help the NCAA in its ‘fight against workmen’s compensation insurance claims for injured football players....

WHY? Radio Presents:

"The NCAA and its Universities "
An interview with guest Taylor Branch
Tomorrow, December 9, 5 p.m. central time.


To listen live from anywhere in the world, go to
To listen via broadcast radio in North Dakota, tune to 89.3 in Grand Forks, 91.9 in Fargo, 90.5 in Bismarck,
and on other Prairie Public radio stations across the state.
In East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and other parts of Northwestern Minnesota, tune in via Pioneer 90.1 FM.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

IPPL is looking for a Social Media Intern

The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life is looking for an intern to increase traffic and participation in our social media, and to be responsible for promotion of our events online. Click here to apply via Intern-Sushi, an intern placement website.

Note: given the nature of the site, only premium users can access the ads at first. That will change in a week or so, so if you don't want to pay, be patient. If there were a completely free site like this, we'd use it. But rest assured, we are not getting any kind of kickback for asking you to use the site.

THIS SUNDAY: WHY? Radio's 50th Episode! "The Public Philosophy Experiment" Clay Jenkinson interviews host Jack Russell Weinstein

WHY? Radio Presents:

"The Public Philosophy Experiment "
Guest Clay Jenkinson interviews host Jack Russell Weinstein
November 11, 5 p.m. central time.
RSVP on Facebook


To listen live from anywhere in the world, go to
To listen via broadcast radio in North Dakota, tune to 89.3 in Grand Forks, 91.9 in Fargo, 90.5 in Bismarck,
and on other Prairie Public radio stations across the state.
In East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and other parts of Northwestern Minnesota, tune in via Pioneer 90.1 FM.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

What does it take to understand a community?

What a confused person sitting at a computer might look like.

As I talked about in a previous post, I’ve been spending a lot of time focused on the Why? Radio Twitter feed. I’ve discovered that it isn’t just a technology I don’t understand, but that there are deep cultural aspects I’m going to have to come to terms with if I’m ever going to truly grok its purpose. In this respect, I was schooled today, first by my public philosophy class, and later by one of the students individually. They have tried, with no amount of exasperation, to get this dense old guy to see what is so obvious. People read Twitter on their phones, not on their computer, they explained, and because posts are more spontaneous and less personal than on Facebook, it’s not creepy for me to look at other people’s tweets. (Please God, don’t let me spell that last word wrong in the previous sentence.)

While my learning Twitter is largely a trivial problem, it is also indicative of a much more serious philosophical issue. As a newcomer, what does it take to authentically understand, or even become a part of, a new community?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Some recent tweets from the @whyradioshow -- Follow us on Twitter!

PQED and Why? Radio are only about five years behind the time, in that we're finally figuring out what Twitter is and how to use it. Come celebrate this monumental step into the 21st century by following our Twitter feed. Here are some of the posts from the last couple of days:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Call For Papers: Essays in Philosophy special issue on public philosophy

 A publishing opportunity for professional philosophers.


Volume 15, Number 1
Issue date: January 2014

Journal issue topic: Public Philosophy

Submission deadline: October 31, 2013

Editor: Jack Russell Weinstein
(University of North Dakota)

How much Is enough?

This blog entry is not an examination of consumerism; I will not ask how many iPads or televisions a person should own. Instead, it’s about our work and creative lives, and about what it means to fulfill the obligations that come with choosing a vocation. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this entry is fairly mundane: the resurrection of the Why? Radio twitter feed. With yet another thing to do everyday, I find myself asking how much work I have to do before I am satisfied. What are the criteria that tell people not to add anymore to their piles? How much work is enough?

Friday, October 12, 2012

THIS SUNDAY: Next Episode of WHY? Radio, "THe Moral Demands we Make on Others" with guest Stephen Darwall

WHY? Radio Presents:

"The Moral Demands we Make on Others"
Guest: Stephen Darwall
October 14, 5 p.m. central time.

To listen live from anywhere in the world, go to

To listen via broadcast radio in North Dakota, tune to 89.3 in Grand Forks, 91.9 in Fargo, 90.5 in Bismarck, and on other Prairie Public radio stations across the state. In East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and other parts of Northwestern Minnesota, tune-in via Pioneer 90.1 FM. Why? is produced and distributed by the Prairie Public radio network.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Should we assume that Lance Armstrong is doping?

Today, the news came out that Lance Armstrong is no longer going to fight allegations made by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that he used performance enhancing drugs. The USADA says they want to strip him of his Tour de France titles but they don’t necessarily have the authority to do so. Armstrong, who maintains his innocence, says that there is no point in fighting a corrupt organization and promises to sue them if they continue to make false claims about him.

For cycling fans this is a big deal. Philosophically, though, we have to ask whether his refusing to fight suggests some sort of guilt and what kind of evidence is necessary to establish his guilt (f there is any). These were the topic of an excellent discussion I had with friends on Facebook. Instead of writing a new blog entry, I’m offering-up the transcript for your reading pleasure.

It seems rare to have a good, calm, thoughtful conversation on Facebook. No one gets mad, no one insults anyone else, and although there is some playfulness and anger at the beginning, it clams down very quickly into a real interaction. I offer this is a model of what a difficult and often philosophical conversation might look like on a social network. (I’m proud of my friends!) Feel free to add your own two cents in the comments section.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Can a single person intentionally change language?

 I recently posted the following message on Facebook:

I would like to announce that I have invented a new euphemism for sex: Sheboygan. Proper use: "woo hee, that is one sexy upper-Midwesterner. I sure would like to take her to Sheboygan."

The word is gender neutral (containing both 'she' and 'boy') and has the added quality of sounding like a Yiddish word used by vaudevillians.

Other examples: {sorry I didn't answer your text, we were on a trip to Sheboygan."


‘It was really disappointing, I thought the trip to Sheboygan would take all night, but we got there sooner than expected.’

What started as a joke is now a genuine question for me. Can I, someone with a relatively small audience, inspire widespread use of a new term?

Monday, August 20, 2012

New feature: ask PQED a question!

PQED is trying out a new feature. Inspired by the success of Yo, Is This Racist and Savage Love, two of our favorite ways to pass some time, we’re going to answer reader questions in the blog itself. Silly or serious, personal or political (or both, as the feminists will tell us), we’ll try to make philosophy out of them. We won’t get to them all, but we’ll try our best.

So, send your questions to And with enough luck, maybe Jack will get to be the guest philosopher on Dan Savage’s advice show. Why dream if you can't dream big?

Should a person be fired over a single joke?

Last week, Gregory Sullivan, a professor at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, set up a movie for his class to watch. As he walked out, he told the class that “if someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit.” This, of course, is a reference to the shootings at the Aurora, Colorado screening of The Dark Knight Rises. It turns out, though, that one of Sullivan’s students lost his father in the shootings – a fact the teacher likely knew – and left the room upset. It looks as if Sullivan will be fired for making the joke. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is “slut-shaming” immoral?

This afternoon, I walked away from a (now deleted) Facebook thread that came to the bizarre conclusion that it is okay to be a white supremacist or wear a Nazi swastikas, but that it is immoral to "slut-shame." I don't think the first part of that statement necessitates comment, but the question of slut-shaming is actually fairly interesting. Is this something people shouldn't do?

Monday, August 13, 2012

WHY? Goes to China! A Special Radio Event

In May, 2012, WHY? was invited to China to take a look around, interview who we could find, and take a fresh look at a country that seems to be blamed for all of America's problems. The result: a half-dozen shows with guests ranging from Chinese college students to four African musicians trying to make it big in Shanghai. What is it like to be an expatriate living in China and do they have more freedom than Chinese nationals? What can we learn from the principal of an elite Chinese private high school? What is the state of environmentalism in the polluted country and how much hold does Confucius's philosophy have over the country and its politicians? All these questions and more will be answered when WHY? goes to China!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is it wrong to be self-righteous?

(For the record, this image refers to what the critic thought of me, not what I thought of him or her.)
Last week, I posted a commentary on the Penn Statechild-rape scandal, claiming, among other things, that university communities are generally close-knit enough to assume widespread knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes. In response, an anonymous reader posted the following:

"what an extremely ignorant, accusatory and self righteous statement. You need to come down from whatever supposed high moral ground on which you were standing when you wrote the above. You, yourself have probably done nothing to contribute to society in comparison to what has been accomplished by the "students, faculty and staff" you're so quick to criticize above.”

Independent of the internet-obligatory insults, the person is accurate. I was being both accusatory and self-righteous. In the words of the great George Costanza, was I wrong? Should I have not done that? My initial reaction was to think that anyone who hasn’t raped a child or enabled anyone else to do so was entitled to be self-righteous about this issue. This, in turn, caused me to ask whether being self-righteous was a bad thing at all. I’m not convinced it is.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Can there be new human rights?

Last week, the United Nations declared that internet access is a human right. Their language was strong, even calling upon all countries to "ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest.” This is both new and exciting, but is it defensible?

When we think of human rights we think of self-defense, water, bodily integrity and education…needs that are part of the essential human experience. Hobbes, the philosopher who introduced the modern conception of rights, founded them on human nature and the human condition. As time went on, our notion of rights expanded, adding political (or civil) rights. These include things like the right to free speech, or freedom of religion and assembly. While these are new-ish ideas (only a few hundred years old) they are based on what we need to thrive in a democracy. Does it make sense to add the internet to this list and if so why? 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Would shutting down Penn State be hurting “the wrong people”?

The internal investigation of Penn State University’s complicity with Jerry Sandusky’s serial raping of young boys has been completed and Gawker puts the conclusions best: “Everyone Pretending They Didn’t Know Actually Knew.” It turns out that all of the high-level administrators were aware of Sundusky’s crimes for at least four years before he was caught raping a boy in a locker room shower. Gawker, again, highlights the summary paragraph:

“Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and  Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large. Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky's victims."

My initial thoughts: burn the place to the ground.

Follow-up post: On firing students…let’s change the question.

Many people reacted strongly to my last post suggesting that teachers shouldbe allowed to fire students. Some people liked the proposal, others didn’t. Will C. commented that the very idea that education should train people to be (in his words) wage slaves, “should be dragged into the backyard and shot.” Bill C., not the same person, I promise, wrote: “Absolutely, if doctors can decide not to treat patients who are too sick and insurance companies can reject people who have pre-existing conditions, then teachers should be able to drop students.” Finally, several people wondered if I was being serious or presenting satire. To the last group, I point to Poe’s Law.

But now for the hard part: I want to change the question. Instead of asking whether teachers should be allowed to fire students, I would like us to consider if teachers can establish minimal standards for remaining in a class.

Imagine the following scenario: a class is closed-out with a long waiting list. In response, the teacher tells the class that if a student doesn’t do every assignment, his or her spot will be given to someone else. Students don’t have to do well, the teacher would explain, but they have to genuinely try their best. If not, they will be replaced.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Should teachers be allowed to fire students?

I just received last semester’s student evaluations and, as usual, the most common complaint is that my introductory class has too much work for the 100-level. This is the same criticism I have been hearing for twenty years, but it is particularly galling coming from University of North Dakota students since Princeton Review ranks it as the university where students study the least. I think that my students’ unrealistic expectations may haunt them when they join the work force and I hope to better prepare them for their futures.

My concerns have been intensified after watching this recruitment video just release by Apple; it’s basic message is “this is a great place to work, but in order to be here, you not only have to be really good, you also have to work very very very hard.” So, given the fact that most non-professors seem to think that a university education is for job preparation, I would like to propose that teachers be given the ability to fire students.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sunday, July 8: Next episode of Why? Radio: "Lies My Teacher Told Me" with guest James Loewen

WHY? Radio presents:

"Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Revisiting a classic critique of how we teach education.”

with guest James W. Loewen.

Sunday, July 8, 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 North Dakota.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Today! Listen to the next episode of WHY? Radio: "Are Corporations People?" with Stephen M. Bainbridge

WHY? Radio presents:
"Are Corporations People?"
with guest Stephen M. Bainbridge.
Sunday, June 10, 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 North Dakota.

Friday, May 11, 2012

This Sunday: Next Episode of Why? Radio: "Does science give us Truth?"

WHY? Radio presents:

"Does science give us Truth?"
with guest Jan Golinski

May 13 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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Next Episode of WHY? Radio: "Love, Hate, or Eat: How Humans Relate to Animals" with guest Hal Herzog

WHY? Radio presents:

"Love, Hate, or Eat: How Humans Relate to Animals"
with guest, Hal Herzog

RSVP in Facebook, click here.

Why do some cultures eat dogs and others invite them into their bedrooms? Who enjoyed a better quality of life—the chicken on a dinner plate or the rooster who dies in a Saturday-night cockfight? On the next episode of WHY? we’ll talk with author Hal Herzog about human attitudes towards animals, examine how rational we are when it comes to pets, and ask what all this tell us about ourselves.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What is the will and where does it come from?

I’ve had a lot of trouble concentrating the last few weeks. I’ve been neglecting this blog, exercise, and a whole bunch of other things; each day has been a morass of desperation and triage. I recognize that some of the pressure would go away if I could just sit down and get stuff done, but it feels impossible. Independent of being exhausted, overworked, and focused on my family, I have been suffering from a good old fashioned lack of willpower. But what the will is, and where it comes from, is a mystery to me. I am not alone my ignorance.

Should society limit the reproductive capabilities of individuals who suffer from certain psychological problems? (QOTW)

Question of the Week: Should society limit the reproductive capabilities of individuals who suffer from certain psychological problems?

 The question of the week is posed by our intern Caitlin and is presented here without comment from PQED. Our hope is that people will talk to one another as they seek an answer. Discussion also takes place on WHY? Radio's Facebook page

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When does art with sexual content become pornographic (and does it stay art)? (QOTW)

Photo by Robert Mapplethorpe

Question of the Week: When does art with sexual content become pornographic (and does it stay art)?
The question of the week is posed by our intern Caitlin and is presented here without comment from PQED. Our hope is that people will talk to one another as they seek an answer. Discussion also takes place on WHY? Radio's Facebook page.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Join WHY? as an audience member at a special live performance: "Love, Hate, or Eat: How Humans Relate to Animals" with guest: Hal Herzog

Be a member of the audience at a special, live-taping of WHY?
Why? Radio Presents:

“Love, Hate, or Eat: How Humans Relate to Animals.”
with guest: Hal Herzog
Thursday, March 29th at 2:00 p.m.
University of North Dakota Memorial Student Union: River Valley Room
Fine the location via Google map.

(Part of the free, UND Writers Conference)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

PQED, WHY? Radio, and IPPL need your help!

A few of the guests at WHY?'s birthday party.
Dear, WHY? Radio and IPPL supporters,

A couple of weeks ago, about sixty people gathered in a small Grand Forks, North Dakota restaurant to celebrate the third birthday of WHY? Radio. In Chicago or Los Angeles this might not be a huge crowd, but in Grand Forks and to celebrate a call-in philosophy show,… well something very big is happening.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. WHY? Radio has over 12,000 regular live listeners and tens of thousands more who listen via podcast and syndication. The show has audience members in every county in North Dakota, every state in the U.S.A, and in over one hundred countries around the world. It is rebroadcast on public radio in Michigan and we’re negotiating the possibility of bringing it to Minnesota radio as well. WHY? is proving that there is no ivory tower.
Which philosopher are you? Check out our donor levels at:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Does affirmative action do more harm than good? (QOTW)

Question of the Week:
Does affirmative action do more harm than good?
This week's question comes from the suggestion box located on University of North Dakota campus. We look forward to seeing your answers, and thanks for the question!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Next Episode of WHY? -- "What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Economics?" with guest Deirdre McCloskey

For a free high-definition poster of this episode, click here

Next Episode of WHY? Radio

"What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Economics?"
with guest Deirdre McCloskey

Sunday, March 11, 2012
5:00 p.m. (central time) 

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.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Do human rights exist? (QOTW)

IPPL's philosophy intern Caitlin has been posting Questions of the Week (QOTW) for about two months now. We’ve tried them out on Facebook and on our campus bulletin board. It’s time now for her to hit the big time – we are going to start to post them on PQED. The question of the week is special because we won’t comment on them at all, we’ll just ask them, sit back, and see how people answer. There has already been lots of response on Facebook itself. Hopefully, some of them will make it to this blog.

Here is what Caitlin has written this week:
"It is time once again for the question of week. This time I am going to choose a question that was asked and placed from an anonymous person in our suggestion envelope on campus. If you have any questions that you would like to see as the question of the week, shoot us a message!

Question of the Week: Do (human) rights exist? If yes, what are they based on?

Friday, March 2, 2012

How do we think about ethics in research? (Video)

Last night, I was a guest on Studio One, the University of North Dakota's daily news show. They asked me to do an interview presenting an introductory account of ethics in research. It's only about seven minutes long. As always, your comments are welcome.

(And just for the record, I call the IRB an "Internal Review Board." That was an odd slip of the tongue. It's an "Institutional Review Board.") 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

WHY? Birthday Party and IPPL Fundraiser -- This Sunday (March 4th)

The most recent episode of WHY? marked our third anniversary. If you are in the Grand Forks region, please join us to celebrate this milestone and to kick-off IPPL's first fundraising campaign. Help support the radio show, PQED, WHY? Digital Magazine, and The Art & Documentary Film Series.

Sunday, March 4
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Babylon Restaurant, 108 North 3rd Street.

If you can't come or would like to donate, please visit the donation page on our website. We can't continue without your help! Click on the button for more information.

Thank you for your support of PQED and of the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Is there such a thing as too much profit?

In my last post, I used the price increase of Whitney Houston’s music on iTunes to ask whether it was wrong to profit from someone’s death. One particular response caught my attention. A reader commented that making money off the dead was not inherently immoral, but that raising the price of her music was because “they would've made a lot of money on her death already, but they just wanted more.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

Is it wrong to profit from someone’s death?

Shortly after Whitney Houston died, Sony significantly raised the price of some of her MP3s on iTunes. There was a strong demand for her work – lots of mourners wanted to buy her Greatest Hits album – and Sony figured they would make some extra money from the surge of interest. There has been widespread outrage (see here and here), with lots of people claiming that it was a lousy thing to do. Is this reaction justified?

The basic rules of the market say “no.” Price is regulated by supply and demand. If demand goes up, then price goes up, and as long as demand continues, the price won’t go down again. This is exactly what happened, so it seem hard to argue that Sony did anything wrong.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

An article about WHY?'s third anniversary and great syndication news!

Tomorrow’s episode marks WHY’s third anniversary on the air, a tenure longer than most sitcoms! The Grand Forks Herald has a nice article about the show, IPPL’s vision of it, and how it fits into the culture of North Dakota. We thought supporters might be interested in reading it:

We are also pleased to announce that WHY? is now being broadcast twice a month on Public Reality Radio – a public radio station in Grand Rapids, Michigan! Check them out on the air or on the web, at and if you do, please let them know you’re a WHY? listener.  (Public Reality only broadcasts pre-recorded episodes; they are not simulcasting us live. To listen live and comment during the show, you still need to listen via Prairie Public or

Friday, February 10, 2012

Next Episode of WHY? - Feb 12 - "Should the Government Care About You?" with guest Virginia Held.

For a free high-definition poster of this episode, go to:

Maybe it’s time to think about our relationship with government
and not just its size.

RSVP for this on Facebook at:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What is art?

A new version of Star Wars was just released, one made through the cooperation of thousands of strangers. Star Wars Uncut is a crowd-sourced film, meaning that people all over the world recorded their own versions of individual scenes, and a team of collaborators edited them into a full-length copy of the movie. This new creation has Lego actors, little kids, cartoons, ferrets, Darth Vader as one of Charlie’s Angels, and lots and lots of people in C3PO masks. It is good-humored, irreverent, a labor of love, and mesmerizing.  It’s also, I think, a work of art.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Are people responsible for their thoughts?

Several weeks ago, a group of Orthodox Jews in Israel spat at and harassed an eight-year old girl on her way to school; they thought she wasn’t dressed modestly enough. The event recalls the more extreme 2002 case, in Saudi Arabia, when Muslim “religious police” prevented girls from escaping a school fire because the girls weren’t wearing headscarves. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times emphasizes that the demand for modest dress is not really about how young women are dressed, but about the thoughts of the men who see them. Provocative dress causes men to think sexual thoughts, the argument goes, and, as such, it should be banned.

Let’s ignore the fact that in most countries, none of the outfits in question would ever be considered provocative. Let’s also ignore the fact that the girl is Israel is eight years old and that there is something very alarming about grown men who respond sexually to someone her age. And, perhaps even more difficult, let’s pass on discussing the inherent sexism of the circumstance. Instead, I’m curious about the core claim that people can ever control their thoughts. I don’t think people can.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

[Ethical Dilemma] Who should pay the dead man’s water bill?

A man in Ontario died suddenly, right after turning on the bathroom faucet. The water ran for three weeks, resulting in a $500 bill. His daughter is asking that the utility forgive the bill but the City Council is unsure whether it will do so.

On the one hand, someone died and the city council should be compassionate; one would think that the city utility would have some kind of fund or insurance to pay for things like this. More philosophically, it seems odd to suggest that a dead person can even be said to incur charges. He or she is no longer an "agent" in the economic sense. (Living relatives are charged for funerals, not the deceased.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can social networks be true communities?

My friend Neil died suddenly last week; I hadn’t seen him in a very long time. We knew each other well in college and then lived near one another in Boston for a few years after we graduated. We didn’t reconnect until Facebook and didn’t talk much, but we read each other’s status updates, made snarky comments on posts, and maintained a digital presence in one another’s lives. I learned that he died from another friend’s status.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Next Episode of WHY? "A House Divided: Philosophy's Deepest Fault Line" with guest Gary Gutting

For a free high-resolution poster advertising this episode, click here

WHY? Radio presents:

"A House Divided: Philosophy's Deepest Fault Line"
with guest Gary Gutting

January 8, 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.
Should philosophy make things simpler or more complex? Should it describe the muddle of human emotions or simply give us the language to analyze them? The answers to these questions not only tell us what we can know, but also aligns us with of two very controversial philosophy camps. Join WHY? as we discuss one of philosophy's deepest and most divisive controversies: the battle between the "continentals" and the "analytics."