Author: A Ambrossini

Sam Harris

Sam Harris is known for many things, from being one of the leading figures of the New Atheist movement to a controversial critic of Islam. he is also known for arguing that science can provide answers to questions regarding morality. For him, morality is within the domain of science. How is this possible, exactly? After all, science deals with facts, not values. Harris proposes that the term science is far more inclusive than we normally understand. There is no fundamental distinction, for instance, between a scientist working in a laboratory and a plumber identifying problems in a plumbing system. The distinction between them is merely conventional, because what really counts is that doing science means using reason and observation. As long as a given domain can be the subject of reasoned inquiry and observation, it belongs to the broader domain of science. Here is how Harris himself puts it in his essay responding to Ryan Born’s critique: “For practical reasons, it is often necessary to draw boundaries between academic disciplines, but physicists, chemists, biologists, and …

Why Pay Workers More? skepticsociety.co.uk

Why Pay Workers More?

AN ECONOMIST’S GUIDE EFFICIENCY WAGES The term “efficiency wages” or “efficiency earnings” was first introduced by influential economist Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) to represent a unit of labor based upon the relationship between wage and efficiency. According to Marshall, the theory behind efficiency wages would require that employers pay based upon output or efficiency, meaning that more efficient workers would be paid more than less efficient workers which would render the employer theoretically indifferent towards workers of ranging efficiencies. Today, the term has taken on a different meaning. The modern use of the term efficiency wage is in reference to the hypothesis that wages in some markets are not always based upon the process of market-clearing, which requires that supply be equal to demand. Market clearing wage, for instance, is the wage or pay scale at which the quantity of labor is equal to the demand or need for labor. It is when this supply equals demand that the market is cleared of all excess. Efficiency Wage Theory In economic theory, market clearing presents the most …

The Philosophy of Honesty

What does it take to be honest? Although often invoked, the concept of honesty is quite tricky to characterize. Taking a closer look, it is a cognate notion of authenticity. Let’s see why. TRUTH AND HONESTY While it may be tempting to define honesty as speaking the truth and abiding by the rules, this is an overly-simplistic view of a complex concept. Telling the truth – the whole truth – is at times practically and theoretically impossible as well as morally not required or even wrong. Suppose your new partner asks you to be honest about what you have done over the past week, when you were apart: does this mean you’ll have to tell everything you have done? Not only you may not have enough time and you won’t recall all details; but, really, is everything relevant? Should you also talk about the surprise party you are organizing for next week for your partner? The relationship between honesty and truth is much more subtle. What is truth about a person, anyway? When a judge …

Whats wrong with Global Capitalism?

Global capitalism, the current epoch in the centuries-long history of the capitalist economy, is heralded by many as a free and open economic system that brings people from around the world together to foster innovations in production, for facilitating exchange of culture and knowledge, for bringing jobs to struggling economies worldwide, and for providing consumers with an ample supply of affordable goods. But while many may enjoy benefits of global capitalism, others around the world — in fact, most — do not. The research and theories of sociologists and intellectuals who focus on globalization, including William I. Robinson, Saskia Sassen, Mike Davis, and Vandana Shiva shed light on the ways this system harms many. GLOBAL CAPITALISM IS ANTI-DEMOCRATIC Global capitalism is, to quote Robinson, “profoundly anti-democratic.” A tiny group of global elite decide the rules of the game and control the vast majority of the world’s resources. In 2011, Swiss researchers found that just 147 of the world’s corporations and investment groups controlled 40 percent of corporate wealth, and just over 700 control nearly all of …

Introduction to Ethical Egoism

Ethical egoism is the view that each of us ought to pursue our own self-interest, and no-one has any obligation to promote anyone else’s interests. It is thus a normative or prescriptive theory: it is concerned with how we ought to behave. In this respect, ethical egoism is quite different from psychological egoism, the theory that all our actions are ultimately self-interested. Psychological egoism is a purely descriptive theory that purports to describe a basic fact about human nature. ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF ETHICAL EGOISM 1. Everyone pursuing their own self-interest is the best way to promote the general good. This argument was made famous by Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) in his poem The Fable of the Bees, and by Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his pioneering work on economics, The Wealth of Nations. In a famous passage Smith writes that when individuals single-mindedly pursue “the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires” they unintentionally, as if “led by an invisible hand,” benefit society as a whole. This happy result comes about because people generally are the …

India’s ‘instant divorce’ ban,Un-Islamic, arbitrary, unconstitutional.”

“Un-Islamic, arbitrary, unconstitutional.” That was the judgement of the Indian Supreme Court as it announced a ban on the contentious practice of instant “triple-talaq”. Triple-talaq is a form of Islamic divorce which allows a husband to dissolve his marriage instantly and unilaterally, simply through pronouncing “talaq” (divorce) three times to his wife. While it has long existed in customary practice, it carries little formal sanction within Islamic law itself. It receives no endorsement in the Qur’an, which stresses unambiguously that all divorces should work through a staggered process which allows space for reconciliation. And authoritative works of jurisprudence uniformly declare instant-talaq to be “sinful”, if not always technically “forbidden”. It is on these grounds that, especially over the last century, a large majority of Muslim countries have banned instant-talaq, including neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sri Lankahas also banned it. Nevertheless, instant-talaq had remained legal in India. Delivered either in person, or increasingly via text message, email or WhatsApp, it led to countless women suffering the fates of instant abandonment, homelessness or destitution. This is why …

Physics of bubbles can tell us about language

What do the physics of bubbles have in common with the way you and I speak? Not a lot, you might think. But my recently published research uses the physics of surface tension (the effect that determines the shape of bubbles) to explore language patterns – where and how dialects occur. This connection between physical and social systems may seem surprising, but connections of this kind have a long history. The 19th century physicist Ludwig Boltzmann spent much of his life trying to explain how the physical world behaves based on some simple assumptions about the atoms from which it is made. His theories, which link atomic behaviour to the large scale properties of matter, are called “statistical mechanics”. At the time, there was considerable doubt that atoms even existed, so Boltzmann’s success is remarkable because the detailed properties of the systems he was studying were unknown. The idea that details don’t matter when you are considering a very large number of interacting agents is tantalising for those interested in the collective behaviour of large …

Danger in the online and real word

The term “stranger danger” was coined as a warning to children: beware the unknown adult, proceed with caution and be very careful what personal information you reveal. The question is, do adults take their own advice? Perhaps most would be more guarded and make sure they know who they are dealing with before revealing too much about themselves. But our relationship with “strangers” has been evolving and social media has torn down some of the barriers that used to protect us. Now a relative stranger could be a Facebook “friend” and evidence shows that sexual predators are using this to their advantage. How we transition from stranger to non-stranger relationships is a relatively unexplored strand in research, with little recognition paid to the fact that the internet has completely transformed our level of engagement with strangers. At the same time other studies are showing how the rate of reporting sexual offences to conviction is low. A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) concluded that 1 in 4 sexual offences should have been recorded …

Why people believe in conspiracy theories

I’m sitting on a train when a group of football fans streams on. Fresh from the game – their team has clearly won – they occupy the empty seats around me. One picks up a discarded newspaper and chuckles derisively as she reads about the latest “alternative facts” peddled by Donald Trump. The others soon chip in with their thoughts on the US president’s fondness for conspiracy theories. The chatter quickly turns to other conspiracies and I enjoy eavesdropping while the group brutally mock flat Earthers, chemtrails memes and Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest idea. Then there’s a lull in the conversation, and someone takes it as an opportunity to pipe in with: “That stuff might be nonsense, but don’t try and tell me you can trust everything the mainstream feeds us! Take the moon landings, they were obviously faked and not even very well. I read this blog the other day that pointed out there aren’t even stars in any of the pictures!” To my amazement the group joins in with other “evidence” supporting the moon …

What is an atomic magnet

There is an adage that says that data will expand to fill all available capacity. Perhaps ten or 20 years ago, it was common to stockpile software programs, MP3 music, films and other files, which may have taken years to collect. In the days when hard disk drives offered a few tens of gigabytes of storage, running out of space was almost inevitable. Now that we have fast broadband internet and think nothing of downloading a 4.7 gigabyte DVD, we can amass data even more quickly. Estimates of the total amount of data held worldwide are to rise from 4.4 trillion gigabytes in 2013 to 44 trillion gigabytes by 2020. This means that we are generating an average of 15m gigabytes per day. Even though hard disk drives are now measured in thousands of gigabytes rather than tens, we still have a storage problem. Research and development is focused on developing new means of data storage that are more dense and so can store greater amounts of data, and do so in a more energy …