“FELT ABSENCE”: On the One and the Many in Shakespeare’s “Othello”

 by Sera Schwarz
Othello (1952), Orson Welles

Philosophers have long been in the business of privileging the “One” over the “Many”—of privileging, say, the general over the particular, or the whole over the part, or (what comes to much the same) what is over what becomes other. It is little wonder, then, that the “I think, I am” has long served as their “first and most certain” principle[2]: to insist on the primacy of the self just is to insist on the primacy of the singular. And it is as little wonder that Shakespeare—whose writing aimed, on his own admission, to give “to airy nothing a local habitation and name”[3]—stages as profound a response to this as he does, I think, in Othello. Continue reading


Economics and the Realist Criticism: The Role of Realistic Assumptions in Economic Theorizing

by Daniel Listwa

Daniel Listwa is Editor-in-Chief of the Columbia Economics Review.

“So the question isn’t ‘Is this assumption realistic?’ It isn’t even ‘Is it realistic enough?’ It’s ‘Is it realistic enough for what I’m trying to do?’” –Paul Krugman, Economic Realism[1]

As the dust settles from the most recent economic crisis, the blame game has erupted with a fury of finger-pointing regarding who or what is at fault for setback to the U.S.’s economy. Among the accused, along with the government, bankers, and many others, is the study of economics itself. In newspapers and popular journals, there has been a revitalization of the argument that economists are just playing with toy models—unconnected to reality— and thus cannot be relied on to provide actual insight about the economic world. Among some of the more sophisticated debates of this type, such as those appearing in the opinion section of The New York Times, two tropes are seen to repeat: criticism of the type of instrumentalism said to be typified by Milton Friedman, considered one of the most influential Economist of the 20th century, and the claim that the empirical failings of economics are due to the unrealistic-ness of its assumptions.[2] This debate, including these two tropes, is not new, nor is it limited to the pages of popular media. Lawson [2001] cites a number of papers, each claiming that economics contains fundamental methodological faults and some, such as Bell and Kristol [1981], even saying that the field is in a state of crisis.[3] Continue reading


Call for submissions and Layout/Design Editor

The Gadfly, is now accepting submissions for our upcoming edition. Undergraduates from all schools and disciplines are encouraged to submit. We are also in search of a new Layout/Design Editor (more on that below). Please email them to: gadflymagazine@gmail.com. Include in your email your school affiliation, graduation year, and a one or two-sentence summary of your argument.

We are looking for non-fiction essays that are philosophically oriented, though they need not be jargon-heavy or technical. Topic-wise, we are open to — and indeed strive for — a wide range of subjects explored from diverse points of view. In other words, if you have something philosophical to say, ask, observe, ponder, or whatever about the world, we encourage you to send it along to us.

Submission drafts are usually about 3 to 5 double-spaced pages (though we are certainly open to articles that are shorter or longer than this), and need not be finalized. Pitches are also welcome, in case you have an article idea you’d like to discuss with us.

We are also in search of a new Layout/Design Editor. Interested candidates should email gadflymagazine@gmail.com. Please include two or three samples of your work, relevant experience, and a list of the relevant software with which you are proficient.


You Are (Probably Not) a Computer Simulation

by Dan Jacob Wallace

This is a revised version of an article that originally appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of The Gadfly. Updated versions of this article are available at Dan’s website.

Reattachment by Vesna Jovanovic

Are you a computer simulation? Oxford-based philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that it’s highly probable that you are. And a team of physicists have recently cited empirical evidence suggesting that you might be. I think most of us would file this topic under Fun to Think About, but the simulation hypothesis is coming from the sorts of thinkers we’re supposed to take seriously, and has been getting attention from mainstream news sources, most recently the New York TimesIt’s generally reported with at least a face-saving dose of decide-for-yourself skepticism, but, still, I think that the argument’s growing popularity merits it at least a little serious weighing in from the philosophical community ― particularly in an era where it’s becoming a kind of moral transgression to “deny science” (whatever that really means) or even to not “fucking love science” (whatever that means). That said, let’s consider whether the simulation argument is as convincing as its many supporters make it out to be. (It’s not.)
Continue reading


Interview with Zach Weinersmith, Author of Polystate: A Thought Experiment in Distributed Government

by Daniel Listwa

Zach WienersmithOne need not look any further than the items in one’s pocket to see that the progress of technology has facilitated a continued explosion of choice and customization. In the past, technological constraints implied that a particular household generally had only a single choice over telephone service providers. Now, the advent of the cellphone allows one to choose from a whole menu of providers. The phenomenon is widespread. From online dating sites enabling people to browse through millions of potential significant others, to 3D printing allowing the complete customization of almost anything, the trend toward greater personalization of experience continues to grow.

What if the tendency toward tech-driven personalization were to spread to the sphere of government, breaking its monopoly in such a way that each individual were allowed to freely choose what sort of government system to be a part of? This is the “what if” behind Zach Weinersmith’s new book, Polystate: A Thought Experiment in Distributed Government.

Continue reading


Call for Submissions

The Gadfly is looking for submissions for our Spring 2014 edition. All undergraduates, regardless of major or school affiliation, are encouraged to submit. The due date for submissions is March 23, 2014.

Please email submissions to: gadflymagazine@gmail.com

Include in your email your school affiliation, graduation year, and a one or two sentence summary of your argument.

We are looking for non-fiction essays that are philosophically oriented, but not so jargon-heavy that they are only accessible to philosophy majors. In other words, submissions should not read like a philosophy class assignment or a professional journal article. Topic-wise, we are open to – and indeed strive for – a wide range of subjects explored from diverse points of view.

Submission drafts are usually about 3 to 5 double-spaced pages, and need not be finalized; however, the less formulated your essay, the earlier you should submit it. Pitches are also welcome, in case you have an article idea you’d like to discuss with us.

To sample past issues, check out our archive of electronic editions. And please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions or comments.


The Failure of Philosophy: A Success Story

by Dan Jacob Wallace

This article, which deals with the relationship of failure to philosophy, originally appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of The Gadfly. It appears here in an edited form. The images are of an architectural model that is not executable at the full size of a building, yet represents the sorts of unattainable ideals that inform the design of buildings;  designed and constructed by Sandra Bonito.

I. Introduction

sandra bonito - model - unbuildable perfection

One way of viewing the history of Western philosophy is as a gradual separating out of questions that are essentially empirical in nature from those that aren’t; the former constitutes today’s science, the latter what we currently think of as philosophy. While trust in the explanatory power of science has grown, philosophy has come to be seen as increasingly unreliable in what it can tell us about the world. This, however, is to miscast philosophy based on a scientific model. Indeed, once a philosophical question becomes addressable by a scientific method of falsification, it has moved over into the domain of science.

Philosophy as a field is largely made up of questions that have yet to, or never will, move over to the scientific domain. As such, it’s philosophy’s task to ask questions that current science isn’t prepared to ask, much less test, though it’s even more than this. The claim that I’ll ultimately be working to unfold here, as I explore various notions of failure in relation to philosophy, is that at the bottom of any field there is a level of conception, and when one works at this level, philosophy is happening, and science-like falsification does not play a role. Continue reading



by William Holt

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of The Gadfly.

Somewhat improbably, neoconservatism has struck back. The political ideology of unfettered markets, aggressive democracy promotion, and American exceptionalism not only dominates the pages of The Weekly Standard, but has begun to reestablish itself as an undeniable force in more general talks about American foreign policy.

In response to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense back in January, the neocons clawed their way back into the news cycle and attempted to hijack the vetting process and senatorial hearings on the former Nebraska Senator’s record. Hagel’s one-time remark about the “Jewish lobby” has been pounced on by movement conservatives like Elliott Abrams and William Kristol, who have tried their very hardest to portray the former senator as a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semite and inveterate enemy of the state of Israel. Continue reading


An Interview with Taylor Carman on Heidegger

by Mounia Abousaïd

This article first appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of The Gadfly.

Gadfly: The Gadfly’s spring issue is about failure — and so we’ve been interested in looking at what might lead one to think of certain philosophical systems as failures. One of the things that came to mind — and that led us to think of you — is the idea that a philosopher’s political engagement might lead to the invalidation of his philosophy. So, my first question is a somewhat annoying one, that you must be asked entirely too often: what is your answer to those who argue that Heidegger’s political failure (in his engagement with the Nazi party) invalidates his philosophy?

Taylor Carman: To say “Burn it!“ is a very bad impulse, generally speaking. There’s lots of good reasons to read Heidegger, even if you think he was the worst person in the world. There’s some extreme critics of Heidegger, for example the French philosopher Emmanuel Faye, who think that one just shouldn’t read Heidegger  — because it’ll corrupt minds. Reading Heidegger will make it easier for forces of evil and totalitarianism to assert themselves. And I think that this idea that there are books we should lock away and take off shelves is not only foolish but dangerous. Faye was concerned with whether Heidegger should be on the French high school philosophy curriculum, and we don’t have that, so there’s no analogous issue for us. But now, that aside, there are people who think that Heidegger’s politics delegitimize his philosophy — that his philosophy must have been a failure because of his politics. Faye thinks that Heidegger literally cannot not have been a philosopher, because of his Nazism. Continue reading


Occupy A Cappella: Pitch Perfect and the Critique of Hierarchy

by Evan Burger, Senior Editor
twitter: @evan_burger

Pitch PerfectWhile the commentariat was busy debating the politics of Lincoln, Django Unchained, and Les Miserables, a surprisingly radical film slipped under the critical radar in the form of Pitch Perfect, a comedy set in the world of collegiate a cappella. Ten months after the eviction of Zuccotti Park ended the glory days of the Occupy movement, and only weeks after Christopher Nolan tied the language of the 99% to the Terror, this light-hearted flick continues the debate over the possibility of more democratic kinds of political organization.

To be sure, classifying Pitch Perfect as even a middlebrow film is quite a stretch. The plotting follows standard Hollywood formulae; the concept is borrowed directly from the most earnest series on television right now, Glee; and the acting, aside from Rebel Wilson’s performance, is solidly forgettable. Continue reading


Ross Douthat and the Young Marx

Gadfly’s resident leftist, Evan Burger, wrote a piece for Jacobin magazine on work, leisure, and the right to be lazy. Drawing on Hegel, Nietzsche, Aristotle, and (of course) Marx, Evan articulates the Left position that we should be fighting for better work, not less work. Check it out!

Ross Douthat and the Young Marx – Why Marx Loved Work — And We Should, Too



Con los Terroristas: The Revolutionary Potential of the Harlem Shake Meme

by Evan Burger
twitter: @evan_burger


By the time this article is published, the meme of the Harlem Shake will almost certainly have passed through oversaturation into the realm of backlash — a stage as essential to the life cycle of a pop culture phenomenon in the internet age as the larval is for the butterfly. However, the question still remains to be asked: can we draw any political insight from this infinite string of insipid videos? Or is it just another expression of the decadence of our television-addled society, another way to distract ourselves from the much more serious business of fighting for liberty, equality, fraternity? Continue reading


Divine Intervention: Interference or Intercession?

by Jay Hyun Kim

Divine Intervention - Art by Anna SharovaDivine intervention: some people see it as interference in their affairs, others as intercession on their behalf. Even a modern man unyielding in his rational perspective of the universe and dismissive of the irrationality of divinity in antiquity cannot ignore the perennial question that has always captivated mankind: the existence of god. The relationship between gods and men has defined what it means to be human. Every philosophy, religion or study of life has dealt with this issue in one way or another. In particular, Buddhism and Stoicism present not only a fascinating contrast but also a remarkable overlap in their respective approaches in reclaiming life. The Buddhists regard the so-called ‘fate’ as a common misconception of what is perfectly logical, the law of causality. Continue reading


The Genetically Modified Guitarist: Genetic Enhancement, Musical Experience, and the Good Art Gene

by Dan Jacob Wallace

This article first appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of The Gadfly. Updated versions of this article are available at Dan’s website.

Genetic Enhancement - Photo by Anna Sharova

In an episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast (5/16/2009) dealing with the topic of
genetic enhancement, host Nigel Warburton poses a thought experiment to his guest, philosopher Allen Buchanan, in which Warburton takes a pill that enhances his memory and coordination, enabling him to learn a guitar composition that had previously proven beyond his ability.Warburton worries that bypassing the struggle to learn might devalue his relationship with the instrument. Buchanan responds that Warburton need not be concerned, as he would proceed to find new challenges, elevating his struggle to a higher plateau.

While I think Buchanan is right, I also think Warburton’s experience as a musician would be positively enhanced, struggle or not, simply because playing guitar well is rewarding in its own right. I’m not here, though, to challenge Buchanan (whose view might very well be compatible with mine), but rather to more deeply consider, in light of Warburton’s enhancement pill, our experience of performing and listening to music, and the social implications such a pill might bring. First, some words on what we mean by “genetic enhancement.” Continue reading