Econstudentlog

David Hume: Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul

Here’s a link to the text, here’s a goodreads link. I read Hume’s essays and parts of the responses. The responses make it more clear which kinds of competing mental frameworks people applied back then and so they are of historical interest; but I didn’t have to read a lot of that stuff to figure out that the competing mental frameworks were quite stupid and so were not worth my time reading in full. The quotes below are from Hume’s essays:

“A man who retires from life does no harm to society: He only ceases to do good; which, if it is an injury, is of the lowest kind. — All our obligations to do good to society seem to imply something reciprocal. I receive the benefits of society, and therefore ought to promote its interests; but when I withdraw myself altogether from society, can I be bound any longer? But allowing that our obligations to do good were perpetual, they have certainly some bounds; I am not obliged to do a small good to society at the expence of a {19} great harm to myself; why then should I prolong a miserable existence, because of some frivolous advantage which the public may perhaps receive from me? If upon account of age and infirmities, I may lawfully resign any office, and employ my time altogether in fencing against these calamities, and alleviating, as much as possible, the miseries of my future life: why may I not cut short these miseries at once by an action which is no more prejudicial to society? — But suppose that it is no longer in my power to promote the interest of society, suppose that I am a burden to it, suppose that my life hinders some person from being much more useful to society. In such cases, my resignation of life must not only be innocent, but laudable.”

“That Suicide may often be consistent with interest and with our duty to ourselves, no one can question, who allows that age, {21} sickness, or misfortune, may render life a burthen, and make it worse even than annihilation. I believe that no man ever threw away life, while it was worth keeping. For such is our natural horror of death, that small motives will never be able to reconcile us to it; and though perhaps the situation of a man’s health or fortune did not seem to require this remedy, we may at least be assured that any one who, without apparent reason, has had recourse to it, was curst with such an incurable depravity or gloominess of temper as must poison all enjoyment, and render him equally miserable as if he had been loaded with the most grievous misfortunes.”

In related matters I recently watched this lecture and the first half of this. I wouldn’t really recommend them and I didn’t embed them here because I don’t think those lectures are very good; he uses a lot of words to say very little.

August 29, 2013 - Posted by | books, Lectures, philosophy

23 Comments »

  1. “… he uses a lot of words to say very little.” — I suspect that is usually the case in most introductory courses in the social sciences/humanities.

    Comment by Miao | August 29, 2013 | Reply

    • I wonder what you pay for a Yale undergraduate degree. If I’d been a Yale student who’d signed up for that course, I’m pretty sure I’d have wanted my money back.

      Comment by US | August 29, 2013 | Reply

      • You might be giving Yale freshmen a little too much credit🙂 I am sure some of them are exceedingly intelligent, but the rest of them are just above average 18-year-olds in terms of their intellect — which is not saying much.

        Comment by Miao | August 29, 2013

      • To add to my previous comment: Perhaps I was being somewhat unfair. Since you linked to a level-100 course — i.e., it is usually taken by teenagers who finished high school only a while ago (and even the brightest teenagers are probably still very intellectually immature) — perhaps we shouldn’t be judging the quality of the course from the standpoint of 20-something-year-olds.

        Comment by Miao | August 29, 2013

      • I think that ‘in the old days’ (not necessarily that long ago) this was the kind of stuff you were taught in HS, if at all.

        If people are so intellectually immature at that point in their lives that they can’t handle a more complex analysis with a greater amount of detail, it seems mad to me that they should pay tens of thousands of dollars in order to be taught this stuff, rather than wait until they are ready to handle the more complex stuff. You need to start somewhere, true, but if this is where you start then the price tag needs to change. (But of course given the current incentive structures of student loan providers and and the implicit political support for such incentives structures to persist, as well as the abundance of young uncritical people willing to take on huge piles of debt in order to obtain objectively near-useless degrees (in terms of investment value/ROI considerations, rather than consumption value), the price won’t go down anytime soon). (On a related, depressing, note, it may very well be that Yale students being taught this stuff face a positive ROI on account of graduating from that specific university, rather than from some other university. Despite lack of useful skills they’ll probably be hired before the more competent guy from the local community college).

        Comment by US | August 29, 2013

      • “Despite lack of useful skills they’ll probably be hired before the more competent guy from the local community college.” — I think we have discussed before (and agreed!) that, ceteris paribus, a graduate from a top-tier school is very likely to be much more intellectually endowed than a graduate from a third-tier (or worse) school. So it would be helpful if you would elaborate what you mean by ‘competent’ here.🙂

        In addition, as you also pointed out, students who graduate from a top-tier school like Yale receive positive ROI just by virtue of getting coveted degrees. Tuition fees do not just cover education, but also networking opportunities, as well as the privilege of working with big names in academia. In addition, even though the lecture to which you linked is of questionable quality, I am not sure that the same can be said of the classes offered by Yale in other departments/faculties (especially in the sciences) — I suspect that they are probably far more rigorous. There is also the consideration that the introductory philosophy classes offered by Yale, bad as they are, are likely to still be more demanding than those offered by less well-known schools.

        Comment by Miao | August 29, 2013

      • Actually, now that I have taken the time to view snippets of the lectures to which you linked, the professor just seems exceptionally bad/lazy — e.g., never once did he get up to use the board to write down his arguments (or even better, formalise them). It is too easy to add fluff/bullshit when you don’t bother presenting your arguments in a clear, step-by-step format so that your audience can keep track of where you are heading and where you might go wrong — and this is exceptionally important when you are teaching students who are still very new to the field. He also didn’t seem to have assigned any readings — I don’t hear any rigorous critique on his part of popular viewpoints espoused by influential philosophers/medical researchers/doctors. He sounds like he is just giving the lecture ad lib, and I can only hope that other Yale philosophy professors are not like that. (In my own education so far I have only encountered one philosophy professor like him.)

        Comment by Miao | August 29, 2013

      • Elaboration: A person may be more intellectually endowed yet less competent – a not-uncommon case would be one where the community college guy spent years learning relevant stuff the smart Yale grad will have to learn from scratch on the job if he gets hired. Risk aversion in the HR department (‘if I don’t hire the Yale graduate and the other guy turns out not to be great, I’ll get fired – but if the Yale grad turns out to be a bad pick, it won’t be my fault’) may be one of several reasons/institutional factors leading to the less competent applicant (‘smarter guy from Yale’) getting hired in such cases. It’s quite normal for someone to both be smarter than the other guy yet also less competent when it comes to doing some specific job function – I’m probably smarter than a lot of plumbers out there, but I’m not going to try to fix my toilet if it breaks down or something like that.

        So the point is that part of the wage premium those grads earn from their ‘Yale education’ is derived from inefficiencies in the hiring process, inefficiencies many people who are not Yale grads probably perceive of as being unfair. Of course if Yale grads of that type still have a positive expected ROI on their education, then it makes sense for people to pay a lot to study there – and naturally it’s true as you say that stuff like networking opportunities etc. should affect the willingness-to-pay.

        Comment by US | August 29, 2013

      • Lecturer “seems exceptionally bad/lazy — e.g., never once did he get up to use the board to write down his arguments (or even better, formalise them)”

        Exactly. He seems so lazy and unstructured that without a video description I’d have assumed this lecture was given at some local community college. If there are lecturers like that at Yale, their educations can’t be that different from those of other universities. At the very least it seems safe to say that even at the best schools there’s quite a bit of variation.

        Comment by US | August 29, 2013

      • “If there are lecturers like that at Yale, their educations can’t be that different from those of other universities.” — Based on my online learning/video-viewing experiences (which are admittedly limited), this professor seems to be the anomaly. I am really appalled by his teaching style — a competent philosophy professor would assign readings every week, and then discuss/critique the viewpoints presented in these readings during the lectures, while writing down each step of the arguments on the board so that students can follow what is going on. A competent professor would also encourage good questions/objections from students. Fortunately almost all of the philosophy professors I have had so far are good teachers — I am not always interested in what they teach, but I can recognise good teaching when I see it.

        Comment by Miao | August 29, 2013

      • “Fortunately almost all of the philosophy professors I have had so far are good teachers”. Yes – and you didn’t go to Yale (in terms of the formal metrics of comparison NUS is probably comparable to Yale, but I don’t think the philosophy department of Aarhus is). I assume most Yale students also have mostly good teachers. But there are bad teachers both at Yale and at lower-ranked schools. I watched an MIT stats lecture which also had me running for the hills a while back. Of course MIT is not an Ivy, but it’s really high up there when it comes to the stuff they do well. Some people seem to think otherwise, but I feel pretty confident that even the best schools have some really bad lecturers on the payroll. The alternative would be surprising; good researchers aren’t always good teachers and vice versa, and all universities will have a mix of both. Also, publication record presumably matters a lot more (and so teaching ability/student feedback less) if you want to get tenure at Harvard than if you’re satisfied with being employed at a local community college, so to the extent that research focus crowds out focus on teaching skills, you might end up with better teachers at the local college. I don’t think this is necessarily the case, but it’s important to have in mind that ‘the system’ does not always favour the best teachers and that the inter-university variation in teaching ability may be smaller than the intra-university variation.

        Comment by US | August 29, 2013

      • “(in terms of the formal metrics of comparison NUS is probably comparable to Yale, but I don’t think the philosophy department of Aarhus is)” — On an unimportant note, I actually disagree that NUS is “probably comparable to Yale” in philosophy, if you compare the professors at each department by their influence/publication rate within academia. Using those two factors as the basis of comparison, NUS is actually comparable to Aarhus, except that NUS has a stronger analytic bent. (However, in terms of breadth, NUS outperforms Yale, But if you have no interest in studying crap like Indian philosophy, this advantage doesn’t matter.)

        Comment by Miao | August 30, 2013

      • I used the word ‘probably’ because I had close to no idea how these institutions are ranked in that field – I’ll take your word for it when it comes to those things🙂. If NUS is also lower ranked than Yale then you’re if anything strengthening my point..

        Comment by US | August 30, 2013

      • I don’t deny that there are famous institutions hire bad teachers as well; what I disagree with is your comparison of Yale to community colleges — comparing Yale to liberal arts colleges (which are teaching-oriented, though usually much lower-ranked) would be far more appropriate. Sorry for not making that clear earlier. Meanwhile, I shall brace myself for potential criticisms for being condescending towards community colleges…

        Comment by Miao | August 30, 2013

      • Ah, I see – thanks for making that clear. This was not even a distinction I’d considered.

        Comment by US | August 30, 2013

      • (You should probably also brace yourself for potential criticisms for calling stuff like Indian philosophy ‘crap’… :))

        Comment by US | August 30, 2013

      • By the way, watching this series of videos has left me with a very bad impression of Yale freshmen in economics/political science. During every lecture, the professor (who, unlike the incompetent philosophy professor, is a very good teacher) would randomly pick students to answer questions, and most of the students had a tendency to give completely lacklustre answers.

        I also remember that, in one of the lectures, the professor asked a few students who have declared economics as their intended major about something they should have learned in another class: “How does a monopolistic company decide how many units to produce?” The first few students either didn’t know or claimed they didn’t remember. I found that highly worrying…

        Comment by Miao | August 31, 2013

      • “the professor (who, unlike the incompetent philosophy professor, is a very good teacher) would randomly pick students to answer questions” – something is off here in your description… If I were a freshman in their situation (we did not have any optional courses during the first two years) and I knew beforehand that by taking a specific elective course I’d run the risk of being asked a random question by the lecturer during the lecture in front of a hundred other people I didn’t know, I’d not take that course. That’s just evil – what I consider to be ‘a very good teacher’ would not do that.

        I’m impressed that you watched that playlist. Regarding your remarks about the students, I don’t have much to say in defense of them as I don’t really know anything about them and don’t really care about them either – but it should be pointed out that there could be a lot of reasons for someone not to answer ‘easy’ questions in a satisfactory manner in a setting like that (they could be scared/uncomfortable/shy/afraid to give the wrong answer and lose status/etc.).

        Comment by US | August 31, 2013

      • “That’s just evil” — I should clarify that all the questions he asked had answers that 1) he had mentioned before, or 2) flowed logically/common-sensically (I’m making up words here) from things he had mentioned before. So I don’t think he was evil🙂

        Comment by Miao | August 31, 2013

      • “or 2) flowed logically/common-sensically (I’m making up words here) from things he had mentioned before.”

        As to this part at least, I should note that you are both very smart and very logical (not complimenting you, just stating the obvious); so I’m not sure I can trust your evaluation of how difficult those questions were without watching the videos… Although an answer might to you have seemed to ‘flow logically from things he had mentioned’, it may well be that people in those lecture halls found it harder than you did to ‘connect the dots’ and figure out the answer. I’m sure you wouldn’t consider him evil on account of him asking those questions to the students, but other students might be of a different opinion (some of them probably, as mentioned, for reasons completely unrelated to the difficulty level of the questions – i.e. ‘don’t ask me to risk embarrassing myself in front of a huge number of people’/’don’t draw attention to me, I’d prefer to just be considered part of the wallpaper while you’re lecturing’).

        Comment by US | August 31, 2013

  2. “Of course MIT is not an Ivy, but it’s really high up there when it comes to the stuff they do well.” — The Ivy League is just an informal group of universities; being in the Ivy League is no guarantee of top-notch quality. MIT easily outperforms most Ivy League schools in most departments (including the humanities/social sciences, in spite of its reputation as an STEM-oriented institution) — in addition, MIT does not have a reputation for grade inflation, unlike schools like Harvard.

    Comment by Miao | August 29, 2013 | Reply

  3. Må jeg ulejlige dig med at kigge forbi levned og meninger og forklare mig noget om pengemængde, inflation oa.?

    Comment by Ulla Lauridsen | August 30, 2013 | Reply

    • 🙂 Jeg kigger forbi og vil forsøge at give lidt input.

      Comment by US | August 30, 2013 | Reply


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