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Analysis and Comment (70)

How much more glacial melting can the planet stand? How much more glacial melting can the planet stand? NASA

Limiting global warming to 2°C: the philosophy and the science

Industrial civilization must become technologically, economically, politically, and morally sustainable to hold the earth’s temperature below 2°C (3.6°F) higher than its preindustrial average. The problem…
There are many different conceptions of God, and endless questions. There are many different conceptions of God, and endless questions. Waiting For The Word

We don’t know if God exists, but we should keep asking

Disputes about the existence of God — like most disputes about religion, politics, and sex — almost always generate heat but not light. The question of the existence of God seems intractable. As with other…
Movies such as Matrix Revolutions are explicit about their desire to make us think. Movies such as Matrix Revolutions are explicit about their desire to make us think. AAP Image/Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow Films

Thought experiments: the films that turn us into philosophers

Showbusiness is about entertainment, right? Film-going should be fun. We want to laugh or squeal or sigh as emotion arises in us when the music swells and the camera zooms in for an extreme close up…
Does an education in everyday ethics really require an understanding of moral philosophy? Does an education in everyday ethics really require an understanding of moral philosophy? Jef Safi/Flickr

Why moral education should involve moral philosophy

Ethics are increasingly a part of the school curriculum, and practical introductory classes in applied ethics are part of the training that nurses, scientists and soldiers undergo. Ethical education is…
Philosophy begins, as Aristotle remarked, with curiosity and wonder. Philosophy begins, as Aristotle remarked, with curiosity and wonder. kozumel

Free your mind – but are there ideas we shouldn’t contemplate?

You’re a free thinker – congratulations – but does that mean you can, and should, approach everything with an open mind? Let me try to convince you you shouldn’t. I do not want to argue with him: he shows…
The word morality makes people uneasy – but not ethics. What is the basis of a moral education? The word morality makes people uneasy – but not ethics. What is the basis of a moral education? Flood G/Flickr

We don’t need no (moral) education? Five things you should learn about ethics

The human animal takes a remarkably long time to reach maturity. And we cram a lot of learning into that time, as well we should: the list of things we need to know by the time we hit adulthood in order…
Good moral character comes from practice. Good moral character comes from practice. Moyan Brenn

Happy days: virtue isn’t just for sanctimonious do-gooders

When we think of morally upright, virtuous citizens, do we imagine boring do-gooders? Is the idea of being virtuous out-dated and old-fashioned? Or is “being virtuous” still something we should aspire…
How much insight do we have into the philosophical problem of the self? How much insight do we have into the philosophical problem of the self? Sara Lando

We’re self-obsessed – but do we understand the nature of the self?

We live in an age of self-obsession. Everywhere we look, we encounter a preoccupation with self-interest, self-development, self-image, self-satisfaction, self-love, self-expression, self-confidence, self-help…
Is morality – and happiness – determined by how you affect the people around you? Is morality – and happiness – determined by how you affect the people around you? Shutterstock

Telling right from wrong: why is utilitarianism under attack?

It is a word we hear from time to time, but few of us know what it means. Utilitarianism is the method most people use to decide whether an action is right or wrong. We decide the moral merits of what…
In China, former basketball star Yao Ming takes the Ice Bucket Challenge at his NBA Yao School in Beijing. In China, former basketball star Yao Ming takes the Ice Bucket Challenge at his NBA Yao School in Beijing. EPA/NBA Yao School

Critics pour cold water on the Ice Bucket Challenge: are they right?

The Ice Bucket Challenge has been called “one of the most viral philanthropic social media campaigns in history”. The campaign has raised the profile of the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). But some…
YouTube footage of a man kicking a squirrel off a cliff has prompted outrage, yet we all need to stop and think about how we treat animals. YouTube footage of a man kicking a squirrel off a cliff has prompted outrage, yet we all need to stop and think about how we treat animals. YouTube

Outcry over squirrel kicker, yet disrespecting animals is the norm

An online video apparently showing a French tourist kicking a squirrel off a cliff in Grand Canyon National Park was greeted with horror and incredulity after being posted (and since removed) on YouTube…
This Vietnamese school girl is growing up in a new era: by the time she is middle-aged, 60% of the world’s children will be living in a tropical region. This Vietnamese school girl is growing up in a new era: by the time she is middle-aged, 60% of the world’s children will be living in a tropical region. UN Photo/Mark Garten

How the world is turning tropical before our eyes

Our Tropical Future: A new report on the State of the Tropics has revealed rapid changes in human and environmental health in the Earth’s tropical regions. This is the first in a four-part series about…
Three in four Australians see aid to help the world’s most vulnerable poor as a simple human priority. Their government has a different view of the aid program. Three in four Australians see aid to help the world’s most vulnerable poor as a simple human priority. Their government has a different view of the aid program. Julien Harneis/Flickr

Why not cut aid? Let us count the ethical reasons, just for a start

Major changes have been made recently to Australia’s official aid program. Funding has been cut sharply. Australia’s aid agency AusAID has been absorbed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and…
The idea may seem ‘old-fashioned’, says Pope Francis, ‘But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here … even in the 21st century!’ The idea may seem ‘old-fashioned’, says Pope Francis, ‘But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here … even in the 21st century!’ EPA/Maurizio Brambatti

What is Pope Francis on about with all this talk of Satan and evil?

Pope Francis’ discussion of the devil (or Satan) has been greeted with surprise by many. Why would a “progressive” Pope speak about an “old-school”, passé topic like the devil? Has not the Catholic Church…
Facing wicked problems, can Tony Abbott deliver leadership that is ‘about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, producing useful change’? Facing wicked problems, can Tony Abbott deliver leadership that is ‘about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, producing useful change’? AAP/Lukas Coch

Leadership: what it is (and isn’t)

Despite our familiarity with – and craving for – leadership, its precise meaning is often elusive and resistant to consensual definition. Partly because of this, actions that are adjudged as exemplary…
The ancient philosophers knew the perils of expecting other people to complete us emotionally. The ancient philosophers knew the perils of expecting other people to complete us emotionally. Candybox Images/Shutterstock

Love problems? There’s a pill for that, but Plato offers a wiser cure

We take pills and potions for everything from a bad back to depression. Why shouldn’t we adopt the same approach to love and the miseries it may cause? Oxford ethicist Brian Earp has proposed that we should…
Plenty of extreme wrongs are performed by comparatively ordinary people. Plenty of extreme wrongs are performed by comparatively ordinary people. Danny O'Connor

Does evil exist and, if so, are some people just plain evil?

You would have to be naïve to believe that evil exists, right? If you were asked to come up with examples of evil villains, you might think of the Emperor from Star Wars, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter…
The delivery of factual information is a necessary condition to change minds, but it is not always sufficient. The delivery of factual information is a necessary condition to change minds, but it is not always sufficient. shutterstock

Why facts alone don’t change minds in our big public debates

Whether discussing vaccination, climate science, the state of the budget or educational reform, it is common to hear calls for “the facts”. The appealing simplicity of the word “fact” is instrumental in…
Mad Men has jumped the shark, people! Mad Men has jumped the shark. Mad Men has jumped the shark, people! Mad Men has jumped the shark. Tim Bradshaw

Oh, you have an opinion? Are you sure about that?

Tell us what you think about police brutality, organ donation, Obamacare, private schools, zoos, breast implants and stew. Tweet your instant reaction, share your perspective on anything on Formspring…
Believers in alien abduction do not have a right to be taken seriously, and nor do those who simply reject the evidence of climate change. Believers in alien abduction do not have a right to be taken seriously, and nor do those who simply reject the evidence of climate change. Photobank gallery/Shutterstock

Brandis confuses right to be heard with right to be taken seriously

In a recent interview, federal attorney-general George Brandis laments that deniers of climate science are being “excluded” from the debate. On the surface this seems a justifiable complaint, but the point…
‘To be, or not to be – and not to exist at all. Ever.’ ‘To be, or not to be – and not to exist at all. Ever.’ Eddi van W./Flickr

When science and philosophy collide in a ‘fine-tuned’ universe

When renowned scientists now talk seriously about millions of multiverses, the old question “are we alone?” gets a whole new meaning. Our ever-expanding universe is incomprehensibly large – and its rate…
‘An unexamined life is not worthy of a human being’: Socrates. ‘An unexamined life is not worthy of a human being’: Socrates. Shutterstock

Why study humanities?

This is a revised excerpt of a talk given to students at the Inaugural Australian Youth Humanities Forum, hosted at the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus. After two days at this fine conference…
http://www.flickr.com/photos/national_museum_of_australia/5056220012/

Racism of rigid legalism greets asylum seekers and their kind

We rightly celebrate living in a society where law and order prevail. Being able to follow established rules allows for the smooth operation of the many necessary transactions of everyday life. Yet it…
Media studies? Another great idea! Media studies? Another great idea! Photo by Chris Boland / www.bolandactorheadshots.co.uk

Where would we be without Alain de Botton?

On Wednesday evening, after an afternoon of lecture preparation to teach my Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies class “Doing Media Research”, I settled down to watch Newsnight. Alain de Botton, “philosopher…
The country Richard ruled was very different from the one that exists today. The country Richard ruled was very different from the one that exists today. University of Leicester

Consent and discontent: what will become of Richard III’s bones?

Richard III’s skeleton, dug up from a carpark in Leicester in 2012, is currently the subject of a legal dispute about where he should be buried. In one corner is the University of Leicester, whose archaeologists…
Russian forces detained all those aboard Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise after activists tried to hang a banner from an oil platform. Russian forces detained all those aboard Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise after activists tried to hang a banner from an oil platform. EPA/Igor Podgorny/Greenpeace

Greenpeace’s Arctic 30 act on idea of a community of nations

Should the Australian government require Colin Russell to repay at least some of its costs for acting on his behalf when the Russians imprisoned him and 29 other Greenpeace activists and journalists, known…
Tony Abbott argues his first duty is to advance the national interest, without telling us why acting in our own interests is always right or even permissible. Tony Abbott argues his first duty is to advance the national interest, without telling us why acting in our own interests is always right or even permissible. AAP/Daniel Munoz

The spying game: what a 15th-century Irish warlord can teach today’s politicians

Irish philosopher Richard Kearney visited Melbourne last year and, being the fine raconteur he is, told a great tale from his nation’s past. In 1492, Black James, nephew of the Earl of Ormond, and a group…
Any resemblance to actual people – living or dead – is coincidental. Any resemblance to actual people – living or dead – is coincidental. Troy/jacqueline poggi

When Tony Abbott met Socrates

The Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned and put to death for “corrupting the youth” of Athens. The same fate is unlikely to meet contemporary philosophers. Indeed, it is much more likely for…
Who owns the 1,400 ‘degenerate’ works found in the Munich flat of Cornelius Gurlitt? Who owns the 1,400 ‘degenerate’ works found in the Munich flat of Cornelius Gurlitt? Marc Mueller/EPA

Art seized by the Nazis should go to Holocaust victims' families

The large collection of paintings and drawings found in the Munich flat of the 80-year-old recluse, Cornelius Gurlitt, which came to wide public attention earlier this month, raises serious moral and legal…
Man and superman. Man and superman. Wikimedia Commons

Becksistentialism: because man is a goal-seeking animal

A student came up to me after class the other day and said, “So what is this ‘Becksistentialism’ all about then?” I want to begin to answer that question by defining the negative: Sir Alex Ferguson is…
Coalition MP Jamie Briggs doesn’t want the ARC funding ‘interesting thought bubbles’. Coalition MP Jamie Briggs doesn’t want the ARC funding ‘interesting thought bubbles’. AAP/Alan Porritt

A farewell to arts: on philosophy, ARC funding and ‘waste’

The Coalition - among others - have been recently taking aim at the worth of certain Australian Research Council (ARC)-funded projects. Verbal jousting around the value of philosophy as a humanities discipline…
Australia has a form of compulsory voting. But why should we even bother? Australia has a form of compulsory voting. But why should we even bother? AAP/Julian Smith

Election 2013 Essays: The philosophy of voting

Election 2013 Essays: As the federal election campaign draws to a close, The Conversation asked eminent thinkers to reflect on the state of the nation and the challenges Australia – and whichever party…
What place for The Thinker will there be in an Australia under an Abbott government? What place for The Thinker will there be in an Australia under an Abbott government? Steven Fettig

Waste not, want not – the politics of why philosophy matters

And so now we officially know: philosophy is a waste. How can we be sure? Because Coalition spokesman for scrutiny of government waste Jamie Briggs has promised an Abbott government would get rid of “those…
Where does the Australian ‘fear’ of asylum seekers arriving by boat come from? Where does the Australian ‘fear’ of asylum seekers arriving by boat come from? AAP/Scott Fisher

Drowning mercy: why we fear the boats

There’s a Latin word: misericordia. It’s usually translated “mercy” or “pity”. Thomas Aquinas took misericordia to be a kind of grief at the suffering of others as if that suffering were our own. Alasdair…
Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas or the ethical underpinning of self-regulation. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas or the ethical underpinning of self-regulation. AAP/RSPCA

Ethics is a jealous God: self-regulation vs self-sacrifice

Late one night recently I got a very frustrated email from a close friend. He’d just spent the evening arguing with investors about whether they needed to take ethics into account in their investment decisions…
Education used to be about striving towards the light of knowledge but this is increasingly less important. Education used to be about striving towards the light of knowledge but this is increasingly less important. Cave image from www.shutterstock.com

Out from the cave: have we lost the purpose of education?

It’s nothing new to say we have a problem in education. But I’m not here to discuss the usual gripes with teachers and test scores. I believe we have a more fundamental problem with defining what we want…
Demonstrations over the death of Margaret Thatcher have raised questions about the morality of celebrating death. Demonstrations over the death of Margaret Thatcher have raised questions about the morality of celebrating death. EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga

Burying Thatcher: why celebrating death is still wrong

A funeral ceremony will take place for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. Outside, protesters will be turning their backs on the coffin as it passes through…
Does your Twitter account have to die with you? Does your Twitter account have to die with you? Image via www.shutterstock.com

I tweet dead people: can the internet help you cheat your maker?

Can you believe it’s been a year already? I’m sure we all remember where we were when we heard the terrible news we’d lost Gregg Jevin. You know, Gregg Jevin? The Gregg Jevin? Don’t worry if the name doesn’t…
Scientist Laurence Krauss has said the philosophy of science is hard to justify. Scientist Laurence Krauss has said the philosophy of science is hard to justify. World Economic Forum/Flickr

Philosophy under attack: Lawrence Krauss and the new denialism

I really shouldn’t let myself watch Q&A. Don’t get me wrong, the ABC’s flagship weekly panel show is usually compelling viewing. But after just a few minutes I end up with the systolic blood pressure…
We’re happy to kill individual creatures in large numbers - what’s stopping us wiping out the biosphere? We’re happy to kill individual creatures in large numbers - what’s stopping us wiping out the biosphere? Darren Harmon

Is an ethic of biodiversity enough?

The environmental crisis has never loomed so large nor been so extensively debated as in the last few years. But at the same time we have never heard less about environmental ethics - the bio-inclusive…
Our impact on the earth has brought on a new geographical epoch – The Age of Humans. Our impact on the earth has brought on a new geographical epoch – The Age of Humans. AAP/Damien Shaw

Climate change signals the end of the social sciences

In response to the heatwave that set a new Australia-wide record on 7 January, when the national average maximum reached 40.33°C, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a statement that, on reflection, sounds…
Starlings were introduced to Australia by humans, but does that matter? Starlings were introduced to Australia by humans, but does that matter? Simon Evans

In defence of invasive alien species

My cat caught a starling this week. By the time I intervened, the poor bird’s leg was broken, the kitchen floor was strewn with feathers, and I had to make one of those awful decisions. Was I to leave…
We need to change the moral system that lets us off the hook for species extinction. We need to change the moral system that lets us off the hook for species extinction. Kelly Garbato

Threatened species: we’re failing on morality and policy

Extinction is a diminution of the natural legacy that we have inherited. It is a breach of the duty we have for inter-generational equity – that we should pass to our descendants a world as rich, intact…
How does Australia measure up morally? Are we in a moral decline? How does Australia measure up morally? Are we in a moral decline? Compass image from www.shutterstock.com

Moral compass: is Australia a kind nation?

We’re in a state of moral decline in the West – or so we’re told. From sky-rocketing divorce rates and the shrinking of life-long commitments to an excessive concern with self and consumerism. Morality…
We can learn to use our minds better by becoming more familiar with how they work. We can learn to use our minds better by becoming more familiar with how they work. JohnGreenaway

Good reasoning needn’t make you an unfeeling robot

Some interesting recent research using neuroimaging gives us evidence that different brain systems activate in different reasoning situations. But before we get to that, try the following puzzles: Puzzle…
Students' opinions should matter to their teachers. Students' opinions should matter to their teachers. Jeremy Wilburn

Yes, you are entitled to your opinion … and I want to hear it

Every semester, I enter my classroom with almost zero knowledge of my students’ interests. So as a rhetoric and writing teacher, I ask them to employ that which is most beneficial to them in their lives…
That’s me: Scientists agree animals are conscious, but public attitudes still lag behind. That’s me: Scientists agree animals are conscious, but public attitudes still lag behind. flickmor/Flickr

About time: science and a declaration of animal consciousness

Are animals conscious? Notoriously, the famous 17th century philosopher René Descartes thought they were not. He believed that possession of a soul was necessary for rational thought and for consciousness…
Peter Singer is awarded for ideas for which we shun others. Peter Singer is awarded for ideas for which we shun others. Joel Travis Sage

Cory Bernardi is right, in Peter Singer’s anti-human world

Senator Cory Bernardi has been reviled for associating homosexuality with something repugnant, bestiality. Yet Australia has just awarded its highest civilian honour to a philosopher who provides a moral…
Since 1739, David Hume has been telling us to take a look at our decision-making processes. Since 1739, David Hume has been telling us to take a look at our decision-making processes. Oscar Palmer

Don’t wait for science to ‘settle’; decide what society needs

If you listen to the debate between science and society in most of the West, you get one version or another of the linear model. Science comes first. When it is “settled”, society will know what to do…
Could you survive if the world was overrun by undead? Could you survive if the world was overrun by undead? DayZ

Surviving the zombie apocalypse: the DayZ experiment

Amid the resurgent popularity of zombies in recent years – think The Walking Dead, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Shaun of the Dead and so on – the 2011 publication of Dan Drezner’s Theories of International…
A bride should not have to submit to her groom. A bride should not have to submit to her groom. Potatojunkie

Marriage really matters, Archbishop? Then stop denigrating mine

It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Archbishop Peter Jensen. But his latest foray into the public space was right about at least one thing: it’s time for a serious, grown-up discussion about the…
The environment isn’t “out there”; it’s in us, and we’re part of it. The environment isn’t “out there”; it’s in us, and we’re part of it. Forest Wander/Flickr

Why we need to forget about the environment

Calls to “protect the environment” ring out across issues as diverse as climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water conservation and chemical contamination. I believe it is time to abandon…
The dead soldier’s funeral holds an important place in our society. The dead soldier’s funeral holds an important place in our society. (AAP Image/Australian Department of Defence, LS Andrew Dakin)

From religion to patriotism: how we see the death of a soldier

Another Australian soldier has tragically lost his life while on his seventh tour in Afghanistan. The 40 year-old special forces soldier from Perth was shot while on a counter-insurgency operation in the…
We are the world: under a cosmopolitan ethos, citizens from all corners of the globe are united by a universal, common language. We are the world: under a cosmopolitan ethos, citizens from all corners of the globe are united by a universal, common language. hojusaram

Challenge 15: Let’s get ethical; embracing the cosmos leads to better decision-making

In part 15 of our multi-disciplinary Millennium Project series, Edward Spence argues that the modern world is crying out for a return to classical cosmopolitanism. Global challenge 15: How can ethical…
You want the truth? You can’t handle the … wait: it’s actually quite simple. You want the truth? You can’t handle the … wait: it’s actually quite simple. Daveblog

The truth, the whole truth and … wait, how many truths are there?

Calling something a “scientific truth” is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it carries a kind of epistemic (how we know) credibility, a quality assurance that a truth has been arrived at in an understandable…
There are many different religions, but are there different types of atheism? There are many different religions, but are there different types of atheism? EPA/Andy Rain

Mad, glad or sad: what type of atheist are you?

This weekend thousands of so-called “New Atheists” will converge on Melbourne for the second Global Atheist Convention. Last month Alain de Botton, a European popular philosopher, received copious coverage…
Universities are centres of research… but what kind of research? Universities are centres of research… but what kind of research? flickr/pcgn

A question universities need to answer: why do we research?

Fundamentally, there are two big motives for research. On the on hand there is intellectual ambition: the desire to know and understand the word, to appreciate the best that has been said and thought on…
The ins and outs of the parliamentary day are often nothing more than a distraction. The ins and outs of the parliamentary day are often nothing more than a distraction. AAP/Alan Porritt

Why I’m giving up daily politics for a grander vision

Some people worry that we are, collectively, indifferent to politics. I am beginning to worry that I have not been indifferent enough. It’s a frightening idea: maybe politics matters far less than I thought…
The “post-birth abortion” argument doesn’t hold. The “post-birth abortion” argument doesn’t hold. Paqman

There’s no good argument for infanticide

Philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva have received an avalanche of abusive comments and emails following the publication of their paper on “post-birth abortion” in last week’s Journal of…
Religion has been the guiding force behind much great architecture. Religion has been the guiding force behind much great architecture. flickr/etrusia

Religion for Atheists: the struggle for the heart and soul of non-believers

Following the publication of Alain de Botton’s new book Religion for Atheists, there has been a curious development: a fight between atheists. At one level the conflict looks crazy. The only condition…
Philosophers talk about the “dirty hands” problem: are lies OK in the pursuit of truth? Philosophers talk about the “dirty hands” problem: are lies OK in the pursuit of truth? Le Mast/Flickr

The morality of unmasking Heartland

“Truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Winston Churchill’s famous words were uttered during the war against the Nazis and referred to Operation Bodyguard, a deception…
We take animals' liberty every day, but is calling them slaves accurate? We take animals' liberty every day, but is calling them slaves accurate? Rev Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos ClintJCL/Flickr

Can an animal be a slave?

Is the confinement of animals for human purposes akin to slavery? Are some animals slaves? Slavery is an evocative concept. Treating someone as a slave is one of the worst things you can do to them. Using…
When it comes to being “fortunate”, context is king. When it comes to being “fortunate”, context is king. kaibara87

Explainer: does luck exist?

Some people seem born lucky. Everything they touch turns to gold. Others are dogged by misfortune. It’s not just people who might be lucky or unlucky – it can be single acts. When the ball hits a post…
Gaddafi’s death raises moral questions about whether he should have been put on trial or not. Gaddafi’s death raises moral questions about whether he should have been put on trial or not. EPA/Rehan Khan

Should Colonel Gaddafi have been allowed to live?

Muammar Gaddafi met his end after being cornered in a Sirte drainage pipe, having fled from a NATO air-strike on his convoy. Questions about exactly how he died - whether caught in crossfire or summarily…
The lawyer for the self-confessed Norway killer, Anders Breivik will enter a plea of insanity AFP photo/Facebook - Youtube. The lawyer for the self-confessed Norway killer, Anders Breivik will enter a plea of insanity AFP photo/Facebook - Youtube.

The lone mad man? Breivik’s lunacy label stops vital questions

Societies, if we are to take the Freudian line, prefer to subordinate chaotic urges in favour of dull order. Civilization implies stability. By the nineteenth century, human society was digesting a range…
Is our understanding of time a “stubbornly persistent illusion”? Is our understanding of time a “stubbornly persistent illusion”? xenob/Flickr

Time is but a dream … or is it?

One thing most of us know about time is that there isn’t enough of the stuff, and that the problem is getting worse. “Too swiftly now the Hours take flight,” as the English poet Austin Dobson (1840-1921…