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Reblogged: Penn & Teller Merge Entertainment with Big Ideas

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Penn & Teller Merge Entertainment with Big Ideas:

pennteller-300x155.jpgAfter attending a conference in Las Vegas earlier this week, I had the chance to see Penn & Teller’s magic show at the Rio. A big part of why their show is so entertaining is that they present interesting ideas in novel and provocative ways. Their show is something of a theme park for the mind.

The prestidigitating duo reveal just enough of their tricks to provide the audience with a window into the world of performance magic. In doing so, they illuminate the difference between sleight of hand and misdirection on the one hand, and bogus claims of psychic and supernatural powers on the other. For instance, Penn Jillette performed the typical “psychic” trick of guiding or predicting the choices of an audience member. But, while Penn made the trick into a delightful mind-bender, he also used it to denounce as “criminal” alleged psychics who prey on people’s fears, tragedies, and insecurities.

A couple of tricks were totally transparent to the audience—except for a single member who participated on stage. For one of these tricks, Penn & Teller made it seem to a woman that solid steel rings passed through her arms, while the audience could see how this was accomplished through misdirection and clever motions. The skill with which the duo manipulated the willing participant was fun to watch. But the deeper meaning, the point that will cause me to reflect on the show far into the future, is the ease with which those skilled in manipulation can misdirect people by withholding information or making false claims.

(Unfortunately, Penn himself has been party to some illegitimate manipulation regarding Ayn Rand. Although he sometimes claims to be a fan of Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged, he has also suggested, among other absurdities and foul-mouthed rudeness, that Rand led a cult.)

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Journal for People of ReasonPenn & Teller also offered explicitly pro-liberty messages during parts of their show. In one trick, Penn denounced the TSA’s rights-violating airport “security” protocols. (I purchased a copy of the Bill of Rights that the duo had printed on small metal plates specifically to trigger metal detectors.) The theme of another trick was that preserving the right of free speech is crucially important—even when speech or symbolism may be offensive. Penn even offered a rousing defense of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms—just before performing the famous trick of catching a bullet between his teeth.

On your next trip to Vegas, check out Penn & Teller’s fabulous show. They’ll do something far more important than entertain you with the fun and facts of magic—they’ll show you the power of entertainment to present big ideas.

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Image: Creative Commons by “Napolean_70″

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Here’s Penn’s address to the Reason Rally. He speaks, disparagingly it seems, of “pinko commie lefty socialists” and “whackjob nut Ayn Rand Objectivists” in the same sentence. His approach to ethics in this brief statement smacks of the Kantian deontological approach.

If that puts you in a bad mood continue watching, because the comedy set by Tim Minchin that follows is a real winner, it’s Tom Lehrer level, top quality stuff.

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"You can't hit your sister, because it's WRONG, not because you won't get an

ice-cream".

But why is it wrong? No answer.

Although an intelligent fellow, Penn bears out my rough theory that though it's true one

can't begin to think with rational totality until one becomes an atheist - the rationalist principles

many atheists live by (secular humanism, 'logical' skepticism) means they might just as well have

remained religious.

Two steps forward, one step back.

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"You can't hit your sister, because it's WRONG, not because you won't get an

ice-cream".

But why is it wrong? No answer.

It was particularly this part that made me think of Kant:

“If you are doing something for reward or punishment, you do not have morality. Morality must come from inside you, from your mind and your heart.”

Add the word “duty” and you’re about there.

Something to bear in mind is that he has self-identified as an Ayn Rand fan (I’m not sure if he’s called himself an Objectivist), and it’s well within the bounds of his public persona to self-identify as a “whack job” and “nut”, so, I don’t read too much into this. As in, I don’t assume he’s had a change of mind. The approach he takes to morality here, however, that might say something.

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Here’s Penn’s address to the Reason Rally. He speaks, disparagingly it seems, of “pinko commie lefty socialists” and “whackjob nut Ayn Rand Objectivists” in the same sentence.

He explained his use of "whackjob" before. He doesn't mean it disparagingly. He likes whackjobs, refers to himself and his friends as such constantly. You're still just taking out of context phrases and reaching sweeping conclusions about people without cause.

You're already off to the races. I see he's already a Kantian. Two more posts, and he's raping babies for fun.

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He explained his use of "whackjob" before. He doesn't mean it disparagingly. He likes whackjobs, refers to himself and his friends as such constantly. You're still just taking out of context phrases and reaching sweeping conclusions about people without cause.

You're already off to the races. I see he's already a Kantian. Two more posts, and he's raping babies for fun.

Oh dear-dear-dear-dear-dear. Seriously, did you skip reading comprehension in school, Nicky? “Disparagingly it seems”, why do you suppose I wrote “it seems”? Then I write “it’s well within the bounds of his public persona to self-identify as a ‘whack job’”, do you understand the meaning of those words? What do they communicate to you?

Next, do I say “he's already a Kantian”? What exactly did I write? “His approach to ethics in this brief statement smacks of the Kantian deontological approach.” Do you know what deontological means? What is it in his statement that “smacks of” it? Did I provide a quote? Does it need further explaining? If someone asked politely I probably would spell it out further, and maybe provide a link for further reading. I mean we aim to please.

http://en.wikipedia....hics#Kantianism

One thing that motivated me to post this here was the Kant connection, since it looked like it would provide an opportunity to discuss his ideas accurately. And why not start with someone like Penn, who’s earned the grudging respect of the likes of Ed Cline (above), yet who goes on to make distinctly Kantian ideas sound inspiring? Just listen to the crowd, they’re eating it up. Reportedly Beethoven found this one stirring:

Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

Immanuel Kant,
Critique of Practical Reason
, Conclusion

Or, is someone going to step up and defend the content of Penn’s statement? Or maybe show that it’s something else, maybe a distinctively Rawlsian approach to ethics? Not Kant, you knuckleheaded Time Lord imposter who already regenerated 7 years ago? I’d love to see an intelligent critique. No chance that’s going to come from you, Nicky…I gather you’re bearing a grudge from the date rape thread, here’s a link in case any readers aren’t familiar with it.

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It was particularly this part that made me think of Kant:

“If you are doing something for reward or punishment, you do not have morality. Morality must come from inside you, from your mind and your heart.”

Add the word “duty” and you’re about there.

Something to bear in mind is that he has self-identified as an Ayn Rand fan (I’m not sure if he’s called himself an Objectivist), and it’s well within the bounds of his public persona to self-identify as a “whack job” and “nut”, so, I don’t read too much into this. As in, I don’t assume he’s had a change of mind. The approach he takes to morality here, however, that might say something.

You can look at it as Kantian, or you can look at it as a sort of application of the virtue of justice. Aristotle thought that one was not virtuous for reasons of utility, but because the virtue had inherent value.

I'm sure Penn's view is not as nuanced as this

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You can look at it as Kantian, or you can look at it as a sort of application of the virtue of justice. Aristotle thought that one was not virtuous for reasons of utility, but because the virtue had inherent value.

I'm sure Penn's view is not as nuanced as this

Yeah,

It is an interesting quote by Kant - which I compared to that by Aristotle: "I have gained this from

philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law."

As distinct from "application of the virtue of justice", I see this one as application of the virtue

of pride. It is a favorite quote of mine.

I should be clearer on this, (since it is critical) but I suppose Objectivism holds that the virtues alone (isolated, and apart from one "gaining or keeping values") is intrinsicist.

ie, as opposed to Aristotle, virtue has no "inherent value", as you put it.

Is that correct?

Edited by whYNOT
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You can look at it as Kantian, or you can look at it as a sort of application of the virtue of justice. Aristotle thought that one was not virtuous for reasons of utility, but because the virtue had inherent value.

I don’t recall Aristotle explicitly severing morality from reward and punishment, though I suppose the whole “great souled man” business could be read that way. Sounds like a stretch, but I’d have to review his stuff, I’m feeling rusty. I’m mentally equating “reward and punishment” with pursuit of values in the Objectivist sense, maybe there’s another way of interpreting it.

I’m hearing Penn’s statement as saying self-interested behavior is not within the category of the moral, and also he’s concerned with motives, so a self-interested motive disqualifies an action from being moral. He’s actually invoking a point I often make when people, typically Objectivists, say that Christianity is altruistic. Christian morality would have you behaving in a way that’s indeed altruistic if there’s no heavenly reward, but the root motive is obviously getting to heaven, so I just don’t think of it that way. Penn is setting up the Christians as the morally deficient because they’re acting in their self-interest, and saying hey, we atheists are the one’s with proper morality, because we’re good without any promise of heavenly reward. Still, I just can’t see this being consonant with egoistic ethics.

I'm sure Penn's view is not as nuanced as this

I agree, and I granted him wiggle room in the way I reported it. He uses an example of a child getting ice cream, then he subverts it with a joke about hitting her when daddy’s not looking. So this simply isn’t a serious presentation of ideas, ultimately it’s shtick.

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