Neil Levy

Writing Is Not That Easy: Grammarly As Affordance.

Written by Neil Levy

I recently received an email from someone about a grant application in which I’m involved.  In this email, the person coordinating the grant asked recipients to suggest revisions to the text, but noted that as it stood it had a score of 100% on Grammarly. He asked that any changes be made carefully, so that this score was retained.

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Homelessness as a moral cost to the housed

Written by Neil Levy

Homelessness is, of course, above all a cost to the homeless:  it’s a dangerous, difficult, insecure way to live. There are therefore strong moral reasons to address it, for the sake of the homeless. There are also (non-moral) reasons to address it, centring on its costs to everyone, homeless and housed alike. It’s a financial cost to all of us, at least if it is true that it’s cheaper to give homeless people housing than to pay the costs associated with homelessness (policing, emergency care and shelters). Homelessness is an aesthetic cost and might bring with it associated litter, drunkenness (addiction is both a cause and a consequence of homelessness), and disorder. It decreases amenity for everyone. I want to suggest that homelessness is also a moral cost to the housed. Continue reading

Cancelling Books

Written by Neil Levy

One of the latest flare ups in the culture wars concerns book publishing. Recent books by Mike Pence, Woody Allen and by Milo Yiannopoulos have all been met with protests, many of them stemming from staff within the publishing houses. Sometimes, these protests have been successful, at least to the extent that the publisher has decided not to publish the book.

Conflict over these books has pitted younger staff at publishing houses against older. It’s also pitted advocates of (relatively) unconstrained free speech against those who support no-platforming certain speakers. Perhaps showing my age, I find myself on both sides of these debates. These are very different cases, and the case for no-platforming Yiannopoulos seems strong; in the other cases, I am less certain. Elsewhere, I have given an underappreciated reason why we might often want to no-platform (a strong reason; not necessarily a decisive reason). In this post, though, I want to rebut some common arguments against cancelling books. Continue reading

Making Universities (Even) More Unfair

Written by Neil Levy

Unsurprisingly, I’m a big believer in universities and higher education. I think research, of all kinds, is important for a whole range of reasons and that being educated is very often conducive to a good life. But we shouldn’t pretend that universities are institutions wholeheartedly devoted to genuine education and to research. They’re also businesses, and their business motivations often play a more important role in their decisions than any academic considerations. Beyond that, they play a role in society that’s independent of their role as educators, and that role explains some of their grubbier behavior. Continue reading

Thoughts about Final Thoughts

By Neil Levy

 

I’ve written a brief article for Aeon Magazine, on whether the regrets of the dying give us insight into what really matters. Here’s the first paragraph.

How do we find out what really matters in life? One way might be to ask those who are dying. They might occupy a perspective that allows them to see better what’s trivial and what’s truly significant. The prospect of imminent death might carry them above petty squabbles and the pursuit of money and status, and allow them a clear view of the goods that make our lives worthwhile.

If you’re interested, you can read it here.

In Defence of Pretentiousness

Written by Neil Levy

In Paul Brok’s book Into the Silent Land, the English neuropsychologist tells the story of Michael. Following a head injury, Michael is disinhibited. When he first returned from rehab, he lived on a diet of fish fingers and Led Zeppelin.  Michael experiences the change as a return to authenticity. “He’d always liked these things and now he didn’t feel he should pretend otherwise.” Continue reading

The Urge to Destroy is Also a Creative Urge

Written by Neil Levy

Statues are the latest front in our ongoing culture wars.  Symbolism (as all sides agree) is not the be all and end all of politics, but it does matter. Those who want the statues to fall argue that they are harmful, because they commemorate racists (and worse) and thereby contribute to making these attitudes, and the exclusion they enable, acceptable. Those who want statues preserved argue that we should learn from history, not attempt to erase it. At most, they say, statues should be framed better, with explanatory plaques that note the misdeeds of the person commemorated and place them in context. Continue reading

The Coronavirus: Signs of Hope?

Written by Neil Levy

These are scary times. The death toll from Covid-19 raises hour by hour and in most countries the rate of new infections continues to grow. While most of us know that if we contract the virus the disease will likely be mild for us, we have friends and family who are at much higher risk. As society shuts down and our lives become more and more constrained, our anxiety rises along with it. Continue reading

Cross Post: Climate change: How do I cope with inevitable decline?

Written by Neil Levy

Originally published in The Conversation

I recently watched an interview with David Attenborough, in which he was asked whether there is hope that things can get better for our planet. He replied that we can only slow down the rate at which things get worse. It seems to me that this is the first time in history we have known things will get worse for the foreseeable future. How do you live in the shadow of such rapid and inevitable decline? And how can you cope with the guilt? Paul, 42, London.

I agree that we live in a unique moment in history. This isn’t like a war or an economic recession, where you know things will be bad for a few years but eventually improve. Never before have we known that the deterioration of not just our countries, but our entire planet, will continue for the foreseeable future – no matter what we do. As Attenborough says, we can (and should) fight to slow the rate at which things get worse, even though we can’t realistically hope for improvement.

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Cross Post: Is Virtue Signalling a Perversion of Morality?

Written by Neil Levy

Originally published in Aeon Magazine

People engage in moral talk all the time. When they make moral claims in public, one common response is to dismiss them as virtue signallers. Twitter is full of these accusations: the actress Jameela Jamil is a ‘pathetic virtue-signalling twerp’, according to the journalist Piers Morgan; climate activists are virtue signallers, according to the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; vegetarianism is virtue signalling, according to the author Bjorn Lomborg (as these examples illustrate, the accusation seems more common from the Right than the Left). Continue reading

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