In a review essay at The New York Review of Books, Cass Sunstein points out that these objectors were doing so on grounds laid out by John Stuart Mill in “On Liberty.” Mill, who believed that each individual is in a unique position to know what’s in her best interest, concluded that government may coerce citizens to refrain only from acts that are hazardous to others, and has no warrant for regulating an individual’s behavior. Whether this view is correct is, Sunstein claims, “an empirical question,” and recent research in cognitive psychology has seemed to show that in fact, we aren’t so good at choosing what’s best for us. Sunstein thinks that “libertarian paternalism,” an approach he helped pioneer, might be one sensible compromise between Mill’s wish to preserve individual liberty, and protecting citizens from their own bad habits. In this he is in agreement with the arguments in “Against Autonomy,” a new book by Sarah Conly, which Sunstein claims provides the kind of “serious philosophical discussion” that has been missing until now. Conly argues that Mill mistakes an individual’s knowledge of his proper ends with an inability to know the correct means by which to achieve them. With a few caveats, Sunstein recommends her “paternalism of means” as a “fundamental challenge to Mill.”
Condemned to Be Biased His influence on continental philosophers was enormous, but just how many cognitive scientists could Jean-Paul Sartre have produced? In an essay at The Big Think, Sam McNerney recalls how recognizing the paradox of his slavish following of Sartre’s doctrine of the “authentic life” lived in “good faith” as an undergraduate drove him to seek solace in the cutting edge of psychology. But a striking series of experiments on change blindness reminded McNerney of what he calls “the Sartre Fallacy”: assuming the empirical rigor of cognitive science would liberate him from the woolly projections of the existentialists, McNerney discovered that concepts like “confirmation bias” merely introduced another level of bias. No matter their starting point, for humans, McNerney concludes, it’s nearly impossible to “think rationally about irrationality.”
Reading the Unreadable So many books, so little time. Who doesn’t feel the anxiety of it all? In a post at The Guardian’s Books blog, Andrew Gallix moves from a meditation on the phenomenon of the “failed or forgotten” writer, to the deliberate unreadability of the “conceptual writing” championed by the poet Kenneth Goldsmith, to the inevitability of the “blank book” prophesied by Kierkegaard.
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