Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Year in Review: Best Posts of 2013

As part of my annual retrospective, here is a list of what I think were the best posts of 2013. I have tried to include at least one post from each month, and to give some sense of the diversity of topics I have covered in the past year.

  • 1. The Lucretian Symmetry Argument (Part One, Part Two) - These two posts date from January and deal with Lucretius' famous symmetry argument against the badness of death. If the period of non-existence prior to our births was nothing to us, why should the period of non-existence after our deaths be of concern? I look at a recent exchange of views about this argument.

  • 2. The Golem Genie and Unfriendly AI (Part One, Part Two) - Straddling the end of January and the start of February was this two-part series about the risks of unfriendly AI. The series dealt with an article by Luke Muehlhauser and Louis Helm from the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI). 

  • 3. The Logic of Indirect Speech (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) - Steven Pinker, along with his co-authors Martin Nowak and James Lee, has argued that people use ambiguous or indirect forms of speech for strategic reasons, i.e. to help them maintain plausible deniability across a range of social relationships. I look at their arguments in this three-part series.

  • 4. Revisiting Nagel on the Absurdity of Life (Part One, Part Two) - Way back in the early 1970s, Thomas Nagel wrote a much publicised article about the absurdity of life. Way back in April, I thought it might be worth revisiting this article and analysing its core arguments. For those who care, the resulting pair of posts were the most popular ones to feature on this blog in the past year, generating over 4000 individual hits each (they weren't, however, my most-viewed posts of the year, more on that later).

  • 5. How should we respond to moral risk (Part One, Part Two) - There is typically a reasonable degree of uncertainty regarding the truth of philosophical claims, particularly moral claims. How should that uncertainty affect our moral decision-making? These two posts try to answer that question, with the help of Dan Moller's article on the topic of abortion and moral risk.

  • 6. Are we cosmically insignificant? - Building on my year-long (life-long?) obsession with the meaning of life, death, the universe and everything, in June I took a look at Guy Kahane's important (if confusing) new paper on the topic of cosmic significance. In the process, I tried to clarify Kahane's core argument.

  • 7. Hedrick on Hilbert's Hotel and the Actual Infinite (Part One, Part Two) - William Lane Craig has long argued that the existence of an actually infinite series of events is absurd. The argument is a key part of his overall defence of theism. But is it any good? Landon Hedrick has recently critiqued one of Craig's main supports for the absurdity of the actual infinite -- the Hilbert's Hotel Argument. In this pair of posts, I analyse Hedrick's critique.

  • 8. Disambiguating Evil (Series) - In August, I was distracted by the problem of evil. To be more precise, I was distracted by some recent attempts to render the problem of evil more compelling by distinguishing between different kinds of evil. I looked at three papers in total. The first from Moti Mizrahi which looked at the problem of natural inequality; the second from Ted Poston outlined the problem of social evil; and the third, from Luke Maring, presented the problem of divine authority and evil.

  • 9. The Ethics of Prostitution (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) - Should prostitution be a criminal offence? Should it be decriminalised, in whole or in part? Governments have long grappled with these questions. In this series of posts, I looked at Ole Martin Moen's claim that prostitution was not harmful.

  • 10. The Ethics of Robot Sex - In the future, we may all be having sex with sophisticated human-like robots. Or so at least argues David Levy. In this post, I take a look at his argument and wonder whether sex with robots raises any serious ethical issues. This was my most-viewed post (note: I don't say 'read', since I suspect most people don't read what they click through to) of the year, thanks in no small part to its republication on the IEET blog.

  • 11. Are mental illnesses real? (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) - I didn't do much blogging in November, so when it came to including something from that month this three-part series on the philosophy of mental illness was pretty much my only option. Still, I think it deals with many of the key contributions to the debate, from Thomas Szasz's infamous critique of mental illness, up to Andrew Wakefield's attempt to integrate an account of mental illness with modern evolutionary biology.

  • 12. Libertarianism and the Basic Income (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) - I got back into the swing of things, blogging-wise, in the past month, and my main preoccupation was with political philosophy and the case for the basic income. This three-part series on the connection between libertarianism and the basic income gives a good overview of the topic, and might provide many people with a useful window into the debate.

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