Thursday, September 17, 2015


For me, there's no topic much more applicable, or interesting than the nature of belief. It hits at the core of issues in epistemology,  philosophy of mind, ethics, and psychology.  I have selected three readings for September 30th (see DropBox):

The first piece is a seminal piece for this topic, written in the late 1800's by British philosopher W.K. Clifford. The big idea is his axiom “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.” I have included only the first section of this essay, The Ethics of Belief.

The second piece is often read in tandem with Clifford: William James' A Will To Believe. In this address to a Harvard audience, James is far less dogmatic than Clifford, holding that there are times when one must, in essence, choose her beliefs (i.e., in cases where evidence on both sides is insufficient). James held to philosophical pragmatism, the view that we choose our beliefs, essentially, based on what is convenient for us. 

Finally, there are a few pages by New Zealand philosopher Jonathan Bennett, underscoring the widely held contemporary view: one cannot chose to believe, because beliefs are involuntary psychological states of affairs. 

All the best, and I'll see you in two weeks.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


The Culture of Narcissism  -  Christopher Lasch, W. W. Norton & Co., 1979

“…the culture of competitive individualism …has carried the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of narcissistic pre-occupation with the self”.

“..the culture of narcissism … arises from the contradiction between the promise that we can “have it all” and the reality of our limitations.”

“…the devaluation of the past, superficially progressive and optimistic, proves on closer analysis to embody the despair of a society that cannot face the future”.

 “Everything conspires to encourage escapist solutions to the psychological problems of dependence, separation and individualism, and to discourage the moral realism that makes it possible for human beings to come to terms with existential constraints on power and freedom’.

“The best defenses against the terrors of existence are love, work and family life.  The best hope of emotional maturity appears to lie in recognition of our need for and dependence on people who nevertheless remain separate from ourselves and refuse to submit to our whims”.

“Narcissus drowns in his own reflection. The point of the story is not that he falls in love with himself but, never understanding that it is his reflection, he lacks any conception of the difference between himself and his surroundings.

Our discussion will focus on how well Lasch’s 1979 description fits culture and society in our time.  It is hard to argue that we do not live in a narcissistic society.  How much of this is intrinsic to human nature?  How much is it, as with the loss of reticence, the inevitable result of democracy, capitalism and science in a post-Nietzsche, post-Freud world?  To what extent do each of us feel and acknowledge that we are narcissistic?  Do we feel a sort of emptiness?  What can we do to gain more meaning in our lives?  Lasch says most of what we are doing is making matters worse.  Terry: how do we have an inner life that is not simply navel gazing?  Dan: is it about gaining Brooksian character?  Charles: is it about regaining reticence?

I recommend reading the whole book.  But if you are pressed for time, at least read the Preface, Chapters I and II, and the Afterward.   And, as always, feel free to post comments/emails in advance.  See you at Mike’s Wednesday 26th.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Our July reading is a carry-forward from 2013: Rochelle Gurstein’s “Repeal of Reticence” (1996).  I am suggesting chapters 9-11 (pp. 227-308), although Gurstein’s early chapters make an elegant historical case for why emotional subtlety, psychological reserve, and personal privacy claim a powerful place in our interior lives, in spite of the modern penchant for absolute disclosure. I invite you to read the excerpt without appeal to current politics or partisanship.

"Our public sphere, which should have displayed and preserved the grandeur and beauty of our civil ideals and moral excellences, is instead inane and vacuous when it is not utterly mean, ugly or indecent." 

                                                          -- Rochelle Gurstein, "Repeal of Reticence"

Sunday, May 31, 2015


As Plato’s Kitchen emerges from a particularly difficult member transition, and we begin our seventh year, it is an opportune time to review and define our process of intellectual inquiry.

I propose a change in topics for June. Instead of “The Economics of Belief,” as scheduled and posted, I would like to engage the following theme: THE JOY OF IGNORANCE, How the Scientific Method Can Model Our Philosophical Inquiry.  It might just as well be titled: The Joy of Uncertainty.

Let’s begin our discussion using a portion of a small book titled IGNORANCE: HOW IT DRIVES SCIENCE by Stuart Firestein, Professor of Neurobioloy at Columbia University. (available in hardback and via Kindle,

The book is written for non-scientists and upends some popular misconceptions about how science works. While articulating the true scientific method, the author gives us some foundational guidelines about the methodology of rigorous intellectual inquiry.

In addition to the high quality questions posed by the author, we will entertain questions such as:

What is it about the formal scientific method that is useful to philosophical inquiry?

Why is prolonged uncertainty so intolerable to mainstream America?

How do the peddlers of Certainty get away with preposterous anti-science claims, even while pretending they are based in science?

How can this trend threaten our very existence?

What would it mean to keep your feet firmly planted in mid-air?

How can the brightest, most cultivated scientific minds maintain a humble curiosity in the very fields and subjects in which they are leading researchers?

How does the same "love of uncertainty" that propels science, enhance the Kitchen’s style of philosophical inquiry?

When is it appropriate to “question the question” in quest of a better question?

What is intellectual integrity?

All of this leads to two of the most important philosophical questions we can ask ourselves: "When was the last time I was absolutely thrilled to find out I was profoundly mistaken?" and, "Can I join in a similar spirit and attitude with scientists who admit they are "looking for a black cat in a dark room . . . knowing that the cat might not even be there?"

Please read at least the first half of the book, which is conveniently divided into two sections: the main thesis, followed by four case studies in “high quality ignorance.”  I am confident you will want to read the entire book!  Please note that in the coming week I will post a few video clips and other brief material that will enhance our upcoming session on Ignorance. 

I approach any discussion of the scientific method with some trepidation, knowing that Dr. Reed is in the room. I trust he will approve the ultimate outcome!

-- Terry   May 31, 2015 

"[A] sparkling and innovative look at ignorance . . . We should remember that when a sphere becomes bigger, the surface area grows. Thus, as the sphere of scientific knowledge increases, so does the surface area of the unknown. Firestein's book reminds us that it is at this interface that we can claim true and objective progress."
--MIchael Shermer for Nature

"Ignorance, it turns out, is really quite profound, and this is a good introduction to the subject." --Library Journal 

Given this month's subject, the following BBC "Infinite Monkey Cage" podcast is a fun way to enter the spirit of our theme,


Esteemed Kitchen Mates,

Below are 7 questions we can use to help define our Kitchen goals at this juncture of refining and defining future iterations of our Kitchen endeavor.  Please review them and prepare to comment on one or more, or create a goal you would like us all to consider adopting.

In future discussions I would like to:

1. Develop more "applied values" (asking questions about the world around us that can bring clarity of thought,  action or expression) that can be used in navigating daily life.

2. Include more "thought experiments."  (Thought experiments defined as mental concepts or hypotheses, often resembling riddles, which are used by philosophers and scientists as simple ways of illuminating what are usually very dense ideas.)

3. Work on creating a new or better "personal philosophical paradigm." (A theory or a group of ideas about how something should be done, viewed or thought about.)

4. Becomes 'radically comfortable' with unknowns and uncertainty.

5. 'Prepare myself emotionally' for a life on the fierce frontier of actuality and change, I believe life will demand of me.

6. Use more "great literature" to explore the ideas we find important.

7. Continue to; 'share openly my experiences and personal dilemmas', so I can contribute to our group exploration of action/coping responses, and contribute to our bonding as a group.

In anticipation of another great Kitchen at Mike's beautiful outdoor salon creation,

AND FINALLY: an intriguing article regarding the certainties of religion warping the civic agenda. 'Antonin Scalia is Unfit to Serve"