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).

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cardinal Pell charged with serious sex offences

According to media reports (such as this one), Cardinal George Pell has been charged today with serious sexual crimes dating back to his time as a relatively young priest in Ballarat during the 1970s.

I don't know Pell at all and have never had any contact with him. I doubt that I am even remotely on his radar. I don't count him as in any sense a personal enemy, but his deeply reactionary moral views make him the opposite of everything I stand for. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am, for example, an unremitting supporter of gay rights and a trenchant opponent of laws that criminalize abortion. That is quite the opposite position to Pell's.

Furthermore, I have sometimes been a ferocious critic of Pell himself and of the Catholic Church. Indeed, as far as I know I was the first person to popularize the term "cult of misery" as a harsh term for the Church (see the final sentences of the link just provided, and search for the words on this blog). This was in reference to what I view as Roman Catholicism's joylessness, deeply anti-sex attitudes, and weird fetish about suffering. For a time, that term gained considerable currency in some circles.

(To be sure, few phrases are ever truly original. I don't know where I got "cult of misery" from or whether it ... well ... just came to me. Someone probably did use it in that way before me, but if so I don't know who. The point is not that I was especially inventive but that I at least helped to promote this term during the height of New Atheist activism around a decade ago.)

These days, I might use slightly more temperate language and have slightly different priorities - but I have not really changed my views about the Church or its moral values. I stand by the substance of everything I have said about this in the past.

I have also been a scathing critic of the Church's atrocious mismanagement of sexual abuse cases involving children, and it seems clear enough that Pell was implicated in some of this.

What is not clear is whether he ever engaged directly in sexual abuse of children. While it might help my agenda in some ways if this were so, I just don't know about that one way or the other. I don't think that anything he has done that I have criticized in the past is evidence for that kind of extreme abusive conduct.

To be honest, I was (very slightly) surprised that the Victorian police took the step of charging Pell with these historical crimes dating from the 1970s. That suggests to me that the police might have evidence that is stronger than anything made known to the public so far. At the same time, I am not willing to draw inferences of guilt in respect of such serious crimes from what is currently on the public record. At the least, I'd want to see the evidence presented in open court where it could be tested fully for its cogency.

Many people do draw inferences of guilt before legal verdicts are reached - and sometimes even after acquittals. Part of the virtue of the criminal court system is, indeed, to permit public scrutiny of the courts and their operation. I see this as primarily to protect accused persons from being tried in kangaroo courts - subjected to unfair processes - but we might also scrutinize trials if they seem to function too leniently toward highly privileged individuals. At the end of the day, we might have reservations about any outcome, whether it is a conviction or an acquittal.

That acknowledged, I think we should normally be very slow to rush to judgment, especially when a trial is pending and neither side has produced its evidence or tested the evidence relied on by the opposing side. Sometimes what seems like a compelling case for the prosecution collapses when witnesses are cross-examined, other evidence is scrutinized, and evidence tending to suggest innocence is provided to the court. As events unfold, we should also, I think, be deferential to the courts (including, where relevant, the appeal courts) with matters involving grave criminal accusations. That is, we should not lightly conclude that the courts made factual errors on the admissible evidence before them.

All too often, we form views based on experiences of our own that seem analogous (and which we may be distorting in our memories in any event), on our positive or negative feelings about accused people, and on the basis of other evidence that tends to prejudice our judgment without being very logically probative. All of this is worth consciously resisting: after all, any of us could find ourselves accused of grave crimes at some point, and we'd hope that the evidence against us would be subjected to rigorous scrutiny before the public assumed our guilt.

Given my very severe, and even mocking, criticism of Pell in the past, I thought it worthwhile to make a statement on where I stand with this. I haven't softened in my substantive criticism of Pell, or the Catholic Church; ultimately, however, that is not the point. From a legal perspective, Pell is entitled to the presumption of innocence. From a broader social perspective, we should not rush to judgment. Let's at least wait until the legal proceedings are over. If, at that stage, we have serious reservations about the outcome, given the evidence presented, the courts are not beyond criticism. But for now, the best thing to wish for is a fair, thorough, and reasonably expeditious trial.

There is some vagueness about the exact offences charged, but they do sound very serious. They must now be examined through the solemn and rigorous processes of the criminal courts.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination now available for pre-order on Amazon

My new book, Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination: Visions, Minds, Ethics is now available for pre-order on Amazon - and currently at a very affordable price of US$11.45. The projected publication date is 7 September 2017.

The book comes with a kind endorsement from Gregory Benford:

"This is a seasoned, balanced analysis of a major issue in our thinking about the future, seen through the lens of science fiction, a central art of our time. Everyone from humanists to technologists should study these ideas and examples. Blackford's book is wise and savvy, and a delight to read as well."

If you're interested in buying a copy, it might be worthwhile pre-ordering now from Amazon or the other online supplier of your choice. From your viewpoint, you might be able to obtain a copy below its list price. From my point of view (and this applies to any author) it always helps to get a boost in Amazon rankings at an early stage to add to visibility.

Unlike some books, Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination is not intended primarily as a pedagogical work to teach philosophy to undergraduates through science fiction stories, although it could have some value along those lines if used wisely. I do offer an accessible and (I believe) accurate overview of the discipline of philosophy and the specific field of moral philosophy. However, this book is intended as a philosophical investigation of science fiction and some of its major themes. It is written by someone with doctorates in both philosophy and English literature - as well as some professional SF and fantasy publications. I hope that that background shows in the theoretical discussion and my analyses of various novels, stories, and movies. Of course, you'll need to see for yourself.

Apologies: Your Best Guide on the Internet

Self-help book and works of popular psychology often instruct us in the art of apologising. Their advice is reflected, in turn, in much online discussion.

Most commonly, we’re advised to give elaborate, self-abasing apologies: apologies that go well beyond acknowledging misjudgement or admitting to wrongdoing. Most commonly, we’re advised to give elaborate, self-abasing apologies: apologies that go well beyond acknowledging misjudgement or admitting to wrongdoing. With variations, we are told to elaborate in detail just what we did wrong, describe why it was unacceptable, offer nothing in the way of justification or excuse (though sometimes we’re told we can give an explanation without justifying ourselves), and provide explicit assurances that we will never repeat the behaviour. In summary, we’re told to condemn, criticise and abase ourselves, and to ask humbly for forgiveness.

This might be needed for some betrayals of love or friendship. But for most situations it is very bad advice.

Serious wrongdoing

In its most serious mode, the social practice of apologising relates to actions that are later regretted, leading to deep feelings of guilt or shame. With the passage of time, or when we’re brought to focus on what we’ve said or done, we sometimes feel terrible about our own conduct.

To save space, I’ll set aside serious failures resulting from, for example, incompetence (much as these might be interesting in their own right). Let’s consider cases of serious wrongdoing. Here, one person has deliberately harmed or deceived another (or others) in a significant way. In the worst cases, the victim might be someone who legitimately expected the wrongdoer’s goodwill, special concern or even love.

In a situation like this, the victim has every reason to feel profoundly betrayed. Since the wrongdoing was deliberate and significant, it revealed something important and unsavoury about the wrongdoer’s character - what she was psychologically capable of - and especially about her attitude to her victim. In acting as she did, she showed an attitude of disrespect or even malice.

If she aims at reconciliation and seeks forgiveness, the wrongdoer will need to demonstrate that she has undergone something of a psychological transformation. She will need to express heartfelt remorse, show a clear understanding of how she betrayed the victim, and offer especially strong and convincing assurances. She will enter the territory of condemning her own moral character - as it was expressed in the past - and claiming to have changed.

Even the most complete and self-abasing apology might not be enough to regain the victim’s trust and good opinion. The wrongdoer has, after all, revealed by her actions that she was psychologically capable of acting with disrespect or worse. Furthermore, claims to have transformed in moral character are inherently difficult to believe. The victim might understandably be unwilling to restore the relationship to anything like what it previously was.

But most cases are nothing like this. Worthwhile thoughts about apologising in cases of serious wrongdoing can be very bad advice for the range of milder situations that we encounter almost every day.

Everyday cases

In most situations, any sense of guilt or shame is greatly attenuated, even to the point where it might - quite properly - not be felt at all. Thus, words like “sorry” are uttered more as matter of politeness and social convention than to express heartfelt remorse.

Think of the following sequence of events (which happened to me a few days ago). I’d alighted from an intercity train, late at night, and was walking along a moderately crowded platform when I stopped - fairly suddenly, no doubt - to check out a vending machine. The middle-aged man walking immediately behind brushed my arm as he stepped past, and we automatically turned to each other to say, “Sorry!” We spontaneously nodded and smiled at each other, raising our hands, palms outward, as if to indicate peaceful intent and absence of weapons … and he then walked on while I concluded that I didn’t really want the junk food on offer in the machine. And that was all.

The entire exchange took only a few seconds, and neither of us had to go through any process of abasement or self-criticism. How, exactly, is this different from cases that seem far more serious?
It is different along many dimensions, and what follows is not intended to be complete. First, no one was hurt (even psychologically). At most, both of us were momentarily startled.

Second, it would be beside the point to castigate either of us in any serious way. Perhaps we could both have been a bit more conscious of what was going on around us, but at most we showed the sort of lapse in attention and concentration that happens to human beings all the time. I had not been aware of his presence behind me; he did not expect me to stop. But people frequently bump into each other in crowds, and no one is seriously blamed: it’s a normal part of life. It would, of course, be quite different if somebody recklessly sprinted through a crowd, shoving aside people who were in his way.

Third, the two people concerned had no previous relationship except, I suppose, as fellow citizens and fellow human beings. There was no relationship of special regard and trust to try to restore. In that sense, we were not exactly seeking reconciliation, although a certain smoothing of the situation was called for. I doubt, however, that this point makes much difference. Even if the man who brushed past me had turned out to be an old friend, no elaborate apology would have been needed.

Small everyday incidents such as this can be surprisingly pleasant encounters. As long as both people act in the expected way - immediately signalling goodwill and peaceful intent - these incidents make us feel better about ourselves and tend to strengthen societal bonds. For a brief moment, each person provides the other with reassurance that whatever happened was not a prelude to any malicious or violent - or otherwise unfriendly or anti-social - course of action. Importantly, each conveys that the other deserves consideration and respect.

Notice how, during these quick exchanges, we often smile or laugh; we express some mutual amusement at the little tangles of social life. In part, we laugh at our own fallibility, and we forgive ourselves and each other for it. We acknowledge that our fallibility is part of being human, and that it does not, in itself, merit condemnation.

And yet, we do say “Oh, sorry!” or use similar words. In context, this is not an admission of serious wrongdoing or guilty thoughts. We are not seeking anything as grand as forgiveness. By using such words, however, we offer clarity and reassurance. We express something like the following: “I made a miscalculation (or had a lapse in concentration, or whatever might be the case); please understand that I bear you no ill will or disrespect; you have nothing to fear from me.”

Often, this is what we really want to know from each other, and this message also has the advantage that it is usually a believable one. By contrast, an assurance by a serious wrongdoer that she will never do such a thing again might strain credulity.

Words of apology are, then, often given without accepting any blameworthiness. Since we are human - not infallible or omniscient beings - we make mistakes, get distracted, have lapses in concentration, and so on. Sometimes, indeed, we take actions that prove not to be optimal, even though they were not contraindicated on the information available to us at the time.

If you’re at all like me, you might very often find yourself apologising for things that you don’t feel especially ashamed of or guilty about. You might also receive such apologies from others.
For example, a salesperson might apologise to you if you have to wait for an unusually long time to be served, even if the delay was caused by something obviously beyond her control. The apology does not indicate an admission of wrongdoing, and it is certainly not an assurance that nothing like this will happen again (it might well!). But it offers respect and reassurance to someone who has been inconvenienced, even unavoidably.

Miscommunications

I frequently find myself apologising to someone I’m talking to if I’ve miscommunicated what I was trying to say and thus caused confusion (or perhaps even hurt feelings). Alternatively, I might apologise if I realise that I’ve been interpreting my interlocutor wrongly: I’ve grabbed the wrong end of the verbal pineapple and thereby caused confusion. In either case, however, the miscommunication is not a reason to feel any serious guilt or shame.

For example, if I misinterpret somebody’s words the reason might be genuine ambiguity in what he said. Conversely, if someone misunderstands my words, perhaps he was being uncharitable. Alternatively, it might have been genuinely difficult to formulate the idea I was trying to get across - and in the circumstances perhaps I couldn’t have been expected to do any better.

It might nonetheless be reasonable - and it is somewhat conventional - to waive our possible defences once we realise that we’re at cross purposes in a conversation. It isn’t difficult, and it can become almost instinctive, to say things like “Sorry - I’ll rephrase that” or “Oops, sorry – I see what you mean now.”

The truth of it is, we can almost always express ourselves a bit more clearly and listen a bit more astutely. In acknowledging this on any particular occasion, we are not admitting to serious wrongdoing or a nasty attitude. Our mild words of apology can and should reflect this.

Through minor apologies, we reassure the people we’re dealing with that we view them as worthy of respect. We signal that we don’t hold grudges or assign blame over small things that have gone wrong, and that the people we encounter don’t need to worry about how we regard them or what we might do next. All this helps us get along socially, as human beings must.

A flexible practice

The more we think about the practice of apologising, the more we become aware of how varied, complex and flexible it is.

On some occasions, perhaps you should have taken more care, yet you were not outright malicious or even reckless. Perhaps you were tired or stressed or poorly prepared for a task. In these cases, something more than a brief conventional apology might be in order. All the same, mere failure to take adequate care does not indicate anything especially unsavoury about your moral character. It happens from time to time to almost anyone.

If your carelessness has caused significant harm, you might feel urgent concern for those affected and you might owe them some kind of redress. But depending on the circumstances, it might be overkill if an officious interloper demanded that you humble and condemn yourself. If you did any such thing, it would feel and appear insincere.

Irrespective of any advice from pop psychologists, it often makes sense to accompany an apology with an explanation or excuse. Indeed, explanations or excuses can be better than apologies. Allow me to elaborate.

It is often said that “intent is not magic”, and that phrase does have some point when clear-cut harm has been inflicted on somebody identifiable. In more cases than not, however, it is precisely the wrong way to think about human interaction. Often, what hurts us most about someone else’s conduct is the attitude that it seems to reveal. It might seem to show that the person views us with malice or disrespect. If she is someone we care for, that can be emotionally devastating. We might wonder whether our relationship with her was based all along on an illusion.

But much of the sting is removed if she gives an explanation or excuse that shows she does not, after all, harbour malice or disrespect. She might, in fact, utter conventional words of apology, but the important thing is that she reassure us in some convincing way about how she feels. The point of good explanations is that they really do explain; the point of good excuses is that they really do excuse.

In some cases, we can even apologise for actions that were not our own. For example, you might apologise (as you try to shuffle him out of a party) for the boorish and embarrassing conduct of a friend who has had too much to drink. Similarly, a media organisation might apologise for a defamatory or outrageous remark made by a guest.

Likewise, the leader of a country might apologise formally for something done by her country, even if it happened a long time ago before she was born. This is a fairly well understood public act with a potential to reconcile and heal. It makes intuitive sense because it relies on the idea that political entities have an ongoing existence beyond the lifetimes and participation of their individual citizens.
However, not just any relationship can make an apology coherent. There has to be the right sort of connection between the person giving the apology and somebody else’s behaviour. For example, you can’t sensibly apologise for your friend’s boorish actions on some past occasion when you were not even present.

In some situations, we don’t have a clear idea who may have been inconvenienced or offended by our conduct. Contrary to much advice on the Internet, it makes perfectly good sense in these circumstances to offer contingent apologies such as “We apologise for any inconvenience” or “I am sorry if I upset anyone.”

On some particular occasion, you might think that any upset from your conduct was not reasonable. You might even doubt whether anyone was genuinely upset, as opposed to grandstanding to make a point. Nonetheless, you might also feel concern about any upset that actually was experienced, even unreasonably. If so, a mild and contingent apology might be perfectly in order. It is a socially intuitive way to convey that you are not motivated by malice or disrespect. And again, it signals that whatever you did or said was not the precursor to a more troubling course of conduct.

This leads me to the sensitive topic of weaponised demands for apologies, often followed by equally weaponised complaints about “notpologies”.

Weaponised demands and complaints

As we’ve seen, it’s coherent to apologise even when you are guilty of nothing more than ordinary human fallibility - or sometimes even when your conduct was justifiable. An example of the latter is when you have inconvenienced somebody in order to deal with a crisis.

In other cases, you - or I - might be guilty of something more than ever-present human fallibility. Even then, we might have shown no more than a low degree of negligence that is easily excused. In these cases, we might feel concern if we’ve caused anyone serious harm. Usually, however, feelings of deep guilt or shame will not be fitting. (Very often, in fact, it’s debatable whether we really were careless or merely unlucky: the line can be very blurred, and reasonable people can reach different conclusions.)

In all, the practice of apologising is subtle and complex, and we should enjoy a considerable range of discretion in when and how far we engage in it.

When others demand that we apologise against our own initial judgement, it can be a form of abuse or a political weapon. At the level of personal relationships, demands for apologies can be abusive: a method of punishment and control. At the level of political, social, and cultural debate, the purpose is to humiliate and discredit somebody who is viewed as an opponent or a wrongdoer.

If we force a public apology from someone we cast as a villain, we gain a victory over them and we warn others not to behave similarly. This might have some social value if restricted to people who’ve engaged in genuinely outrageous conduct. However, through public shaming and threats to careers, humiliating apologies can be forced from people who have done little - or arguably nothing - wrong.

As we’ve seen, elaborate self-criticism and self-abasement might be appropriate sometimes. They might be called for when apologising in private to a loved one who has been betrayed in some way. But when somebody is forced through this process in public - perhaps because of her honestly stated opinion on a matter of legitimate controversy, or perhaps for the phrasing of an unrehearsed remark - it is a cruel, unnecessary, indecent spectacle.

To be clear, somebody who is pressured to apologise might, indeed, feel concern at having offended others. She might willingly offer some clarification and some mild words of apology. The latter might, for example, be along the lines of, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended.” In the circumstances, this response provides clarification of intent, reassurance, and an expression of goodwill. Once a shaming campaign begins, however, it won’t get anyone off the public relations hook.

Whatever mob is pressuring and shaming her will inevitably condemn her (quite reasonable) response as a mere “notpology” and apply further pressure. In this parlance, appropriately limited and contingent apologies are referred to as “notpologies” by zealots who hope to humiliate and discredit their real or imagined enemies.

When demands and complaints are made in this weaponised manner, we have a powerful reason to resist them. Each time someone gives in to a mob of zealots, and offers public self-criticism and a humiliating public apology, it encourages the mob to find new victims. Don’t give such mobs positive feedback.

Your best guide?

My subheading to this article, “Your Best Guide on the Internet”, is lighthearted but on point. As I’ve emphasised, the practice of apologising is complex. We often have to make subtle, discriminating decisions about when and how to engage in it. By contrast, most advice on the Internet is misleading in suggesting that there is a single formula that we need to learn.

Fortunately, our intuitions are usually well honed by experience during our formative years, and most of us make reasonable judgements more often than not, even on the spur of the moment. We might not always be aware of it consciously, but we sense in our everyday practices that apologies can take many forms to suit a myriad of circumstances.

None of this is intended to suggest that I always get it right in my own life! Perhaps no one does; in any event, I am not holding myself out as a role model. I have sometimes made mistakes in this area, even quite serious ones, usually out of anger or pride or self-righteousness. If I have any advice to give beyond the most obvious, it’s to try to avoid those feelings - especially in combination. It’s wise to put them aside, if we can, and in cases of doubt it’s often best to give some sort of apology even if it goes against our grain.

The ability to apologise freely, without embarrassment, should be easier if we recognise how often our mistakes come from ordinary human limitations for which we should feel no particular guilt or shame. Combined with this, most apologies do not relate to serious wrongdoing, disrespectful attitudes to others, or defects of character.

Everyday apologies usually have rather conventional and pragmatic functions: to express regret (but not necessarily culpability) for inconvenience, confusion or hurt; to assure others that we respect them and recognise their interests, and that our intentions are not hostile; and to indicate that others have nothing to fear from us going forward.

In a sense, none of this is new. I’m telling readers what they already know, but the opposite of what they are too often told. I’ve set out in an explicit way some of the complexity that we are all aware of if we’re not confused by pop psychology or a dubious ideology.

Once again: it is often worth apologising (albeit mildly) even when we’ve done nothing wrong; apologies are often quite legitimately accompanied by explanations or excuses; most apologies do not have to be lengthy or especially self-critical or self-abasing. In some situations, much-maligned “notpologies” might be all that is needed.

This complexity should be familiar, once we think about it clearly and for ourselves.
For each of us, as individuals, the social practice of apologising gives many options to match with the ever-changing situations we encounter in our lives. We can think of them as tools in our social kit. Exactly how we use them is up to us.

Republished from The Conversation (published June 25, 2017, by Russell Blackford, University of Newcastle, NSW).


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.