Choose a topic

.. Epistemology
Semiotics and Body Language

.. HUM
A Mind

Culture is Ordinary

AI and Art
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Is this picture real?
NonFungible Tokens
Public Art
Tearing Down Statues
What is Art?
Working With Reality

Artificial Intelligence and the Collingridge Dilemma.
Bird Brains
Bounded Rationality
Competence Without Comprehension
Consciousness is More Like Fame Than Television
Developmental Processes
Emergence and Cognition
I Lost My Knife
Incomplete Information and Stories
Is free will an illusion?
Natural Law
Necessary Illusions
On Affordances
Pencil and Paper
Post Phenomenology
Reflective Equilibrium
Return of the Law of Forms
Shifting Meanings
Taking Things on Faith
The Hard Problem
The I Love You Gesture
The Imagined Order
The Phenomenology of Swim Bladders.
Thinking about medical procedures
Thinking About Risk
Underdetermination and Redundancy
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
What Does Google Know?

A Country Is Not Like A Company
Alternate ideas lying around waiting for disaster
Blood and Money
Can Capitalism Survive?
Do Our Minds Own Our Bodies?
Everyday Communism
Invisible Hand
Job Creators
Job Destroyers
Money and Value
Money is Different
National Accounts
Necessary Production
Paper Wealth
Post Capitalist Society
Profit Motive Fails
Rentier Capitalism
Social Wealth vs Surplus Value
Spending Money Into Existence
The Metaphysics of Money
The Ontology of Debt
Thinking about Money
Wealth is What Money Buys

Blowing Up Pipelines

Absolute Knowledge
I do not know everything
Rethinking Knowledge
Rethinking Knowledge
The Curious Ineffectiveness of Facts
The Past and the Future.
Uncertainty and Unpredictability
Whatever happened to The Truth?

Competition and Cooperation
Dr Malthus would be pleased
Error Correction
Evolution Defended
Evolution is not Religion
Evolution of Cars
Forces of Nature
Is Natural Selection Obsolete?
Politics and Evolution
The Evolution of Purpose.
The Problem with Natural Selection.
The Source of Bad Behavior
Thinking about Tails
Why Does a Leopard Have Spots?

Free Speech in the age of Twitter
Freedom and Badness
Freedom and Morality
Freedom From and Freedom To
Freedom in the Age of Convoys
Libertarian Coercion

10 Views of Landscape
Affect and Effect
I pay rent.
Listening to Corn
The Reform vs Revolution Paradox
What is Public Schooling For?

Levels of Abstraction
Levels of Abstraction and Minds
What is a newspaper?

As Much As Possible
Zipfs Law

Emotional Plague
Memes: Imitated Behavior.
The Problem with Memes
What is a replicator?

Beyond Rules Based Morality
Freedom and Morality
Moral Realism.
What do we owe animals?


Maps and Territories
Metaphysics Without Absolutes
Philosophy Buds
Sincerely Held Beliefs
Sorites Paradox
Stereoscopic Vision and The Hard Problem
The Gorilla in the Room of Science
The Purpose of Science
What is Going On?

If It Walks Like a Duck
Right Wing Freedom
The Sovereign Citizen
Tyranny of the Majority


Constructed Life
Correlation Wins
Quack Doctors
The Great Shattering
The Material Space
Thinking about Interconnection
Too Small to See
Watching Pigeons
Weirdness in Physics

A society needs a government.
Belly of the Beast
Cultural Appropriation
Family Values
Griefers and Misinformation and Disinformation
Inclusion and Christmas
Open Society and Falsification
Rules in a Knife Fight?
Sex and Gender
Society and The State
Spheres of Influence
The Care and Feeding of Free Speech
The Collingridge Dilemma
The Dual Meaning of Power
The Homeless
The Problem with Hedonism
To the Moon
We Live in the Present
Why is there a shortage of nurses?
Work - Productive, Useful, Worthless, and Bad.

Implications of Very Productive Technology
Modest Proposal
Problems with Universal Basic Income
Tormenting Unlucky People
Why there are oligarchs

Natural Law


I take the idea of natural law to mean that there are laws of nature (which I use as a synonym here for reality) that apply to human morality and our judgements of each other's behavior. Since it's a law of nature like gravity, it applies to all people equally.
It's an idea that is appealing.
It grounds human law in reality rather than one person coercing another. It is claimed that natural law can be discovered by reason like the laws of nature can. And it is intuitively satisfying because it fits with the way we feel about human laws. Often we encounter human laws that just seem to be plain wrong. Without a concept of natural law that kind of judgement is very hard to justify.

For something that is a law of nature, the application of the idea of natural law can be contradictory in places. Some people claim that being forced to wear a face mask if they don't want to violates their 'freedom' and that freedom is seen as an inviolable natural right. Other people take the opposite view. That they have a right to be in public without risking a fatal disease that is mitigated by face masks

Some people feel that they have a right to defend themselves. I don't argue against that. Other people feel that they have a right not to be attacked. I don't argue against that. Sometimes people feel they have a right to attack. I can see cases where that works.

This is very odd if you think of these things in terms of laws of nature. It's like gravity being an attractive force here and a repulsive force there. And I think there are maybe situations where gravity IS a repulsive force but the very strangeness of that idea and the difficulty of demonstrating it makes my point: It's easy to show that people have contradictory ideas about what natural law tells us. The problem here is a bit of a category switch. Laws of nature tell us what is happening.
Natural law tells us what ought to happen with the understanding that that ought often doesn't happen.

The idea of natural law is very ancient; it seems intuitively true because it accords with our intuitions so well. And one of the distinctions it enables is that natural law stands apart from divine law. Natural law is discoverable. Divine law must be revealed. (Aside: let's note that the people of a religious society internalize their locally revealed divine laws so much that the divine laws seem like natural ones.)

When we perceive our world we recognize things and situations and commonalities. For instance, Unsupported solid objects always fall. Whenever you have that situation, the object falls. That's a commonality. We can express that as a law: unsupported objects fall. When we look at human behavior we see lots of commonalities. Some are quite universal and even transcend our species. Lovers like to smile at each other for instance. Now we might take that as a law of nature in the sense that gravity is. And it can be diagnostic - if lovers don't smile at each other something is wrong. But I don't think we could express that as an 'ought'. There are a lot of commonalities in our behavior that are like that. In general people act defensively if threatened. Can we turn that into a natural law? Perhaps as in, you have a right to defend yourself against threats. There are many scenarios possible here: You might be unable to defend yourself against the threat The party threatening you might be responding to a threat you make to them You may defend and a stalemate ensues. You may defend and prevail which means the other party lost.

Point is that the fact that people act defensively if threatened doesn't work as a natural law that provides an ought as an output.

I recognize very strongly that we, as people, live in a world of oughts. And there are very many commonalities that are quite universal in a society or even among people. How do we account for that ? There are two factors; genetics and culture. Genetics accounts for lovers smiling at each other. And culture accounts for how here in Vancouver it's natural for cars to drive on the righthand side of the highway. Just how a commonality emerges in a society is a huge and complex issue - the answer involves memetics but not the idea that memes are to culture as genes are to phenotypes even though both genes and memes evolve using the same algorithm. But as has been observed, an is is not an ought. Nature doesn't tell us what to do. We need to figure it out for ourselves.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.