Showing posts from September, 2017


Written in 2014. This is about an old friend of mine. I’ll call her Violet. Violet is in her mid-30s. She is married but has no children. She is Chinese. Her parents were immigrants to Canada. She grew up in an area that is very racially diverse, where at least a third of the population is Chinese, and whites are a minority. She is now a professor of communications. A while ago, Violet came to my city for a conference. We arranged to meet up and go for coffee (it ended up being tea instead). We met at her hotel. It was a bit awkward at first, as these things usually are. We hugged and exchanged the typical greetings. I suggested that we go to a little tea shop nearby. She agreed. So, we left the hotel and started walking to the tea shop. As we walked, she told me about her recent struggles moving to a new city and starting a new job as a professor. We started talking about her research. I made a remark that academia is dominated by politics rather than truth-seeking, which is

Evolution and Morality

Does evolution have moral implications? It is taboo to discuss the implications of evolution for human nature and society. It is called “Social Darwinism” and dismissed as “discredited”, “pseudoscience”, “bigoted”, or simply “evil”. We are not supposed to think rationally about the implications of evolution for human beings. This taboo exists because evolution seems to conflict with established moral and social views. In particular, evolution conflicts with the moral value of altruism: the belief that we ought to be nice to one another. Evolution has no direct moral implications. Evolutionary theory is a truth theory . It tells us how the world is. Morality, on the other hand, is a value theory . It tells us how we should act, or how the world should be. Evolution is on one side of the is | ought gap, and morality is on the other. There is no way to reason from an “is” to an “ought”, or vice versa. Evolutionary theory doesn’t tell us how we should act, any more than physics doe

Freedom of Speech

What is freedom of speech? People often confuse the principle of free speech with a specific law intended to protect free speech, such as the first amendment of the US constitution. Freedom of speech is not a specific law or set of laws. Freedom of speech is the principle that coercion should not be used to suppress ideas. What is freedom of speech for? The primary function of free speech is to enable social rationality. Social rationality means thinking together. Discussion and debate are ways of thinking together. They are ways of solving problems and making decisions together. Freedom of speech creates a space in which people can freely exchange ideas, and thus think together. Freedom of speech is necessary for social rationality, because otherwise alternatives cannot be presented for consideration. Without freedom of speech, only popular or official opinions can be safely expressed. Under those conditions, the social belief system is fixed. Errors cannot be corrected,