Suggested readings, #97

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Did an alien life-form do a drive-by of our solar system in 2017? (New York Times) We have no good reason to believe it, but it sure sells books.

Aristotle to anti-vax: internet and the decline of reason. (World Crunch) Though one wonders whether reason was ever much higher than it is now.

The tyranny of work. Jobs have become, for so many, a relentless, unsatisfying toil. Why then does the work ethic still hold so much sway? (Aeon)

There are two kinds of happy people. Some of us strive for a virtuous life. Others strive for a pleasant one. We could all use a better balance. (Atlantic) A bit simplistic, but some food for thought.

The inflation of concepts. Human rights, health, the rule of law – why are these concepts inflated to the status of totalizing, secular religions? (Aeon) One of the best articles you’ll read this month.

The Enchiridion by Epictetus, a friendly commentary

Here is a fun chat (about 46′) I have had with my friend and colleague Brian Johnson, all about one of our favorite books, Epictetus’ Enchiridion, or the manual for a good life. It is part of a series of podcasts produced by the highly recommended Mouse Books, which you can check here.

A bit about the co-hosts: Brian Johnson is an Associate Professor at Fordham University and the author of The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life. Brian is currently working on a comprehensive re-translation of Epictetus’ works. Massimo Pigliucci is a Professor at the City University of New York and author most recently of A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living, which just happens to be a rewrite and update of the Enchiridion.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Suggested readings, #96

Genetics research.

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

How religion shaped modern economics. In the 18th century, a new Protestant belief that people have control over their destinies fostered the rise of free-market ideas. (Wall Street Journal) A bit too upbeat, in my opinion, about the connection between religion and economics. But food for thought.

In science we trust? Twenty-country Pew survey shows trust in scientists—with major caveats. (Skeptical Inquirer) Major caveats indeed. Despite the title of the piece, there doesn’t seem to be much trust in science. Also, some surprising results…

What if (almost) every gene affects (almost) everything? Three Stanford scientists have a provocative way of thinking about genetic variants, and how they affect people’s bodies and health. (The Atlantic) That was my position for many years as a biologist. Doesn’t look good for prospects of precision human genetic engineering.

Marcus Aurelius in therapy. How to do psychotherapy with a Roman Emperor. (Medium)

Intellectual sins. The longer the Hume racism debate goes on, the more I’m convinced his name should not be removed from The University of Edinburgh’s tallest tower. (Medium) Yet another well balanced piece by Julian Baggini.

Self esteem is overrated. (Skeptical Inquirer) It really is.

Plato, a short guide to all the dialogues. (Britannica)

Suggested readings, #95

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The hidden biases that drive anti-vegan hatred. (BBC)

Making sense of morality: Alasdair MacIntyre’s ethics. (Medium) I don’t make sense of ethics that way, but MacIntyre is one of the leading contemporary figures in virtue ethics.

What, if anything, can psychics tell us about all of this? Demand for their services has illuminated another kind of health crisis. (New York Times) They can’t tell us anything, except that people who feel their life is out of control often resort to pseudoscience and superstition. But we knew that already.

Sex is not an act. Why you can’t separate what goes on between the sheets with what happens before and after. (Medium)

How religion shaped modern economics. In the 18th century, a new Protestant belief that people have control over their destinies fostered the rise of free-market ideas. (Wall Street Journal) Far too upbeat for my taste, but some good points.

Toward the Fifth Stoa: The Return of Virtue Ethics

Stoa at Ephesus, photo by the Author

Below are the first two paragraph of a paper I have written about the modern come back of virtue ethics, especially in the form of Stoicism. In the paper I discuss what virtue ethics is and why it came back, address the specific advantages of Stoicism, and propose the outline of a modernized Stoicism for the 21st century (something on which I greatly expand in my most recent book). You can download the full paper here.

Stoicism is back. After a hiatus of about eighteen centuries (if one does not count the brief interval of Neo-Stoicism instigated by Justus Lipsius during the Renaissance1), the Greco-Roman philosophy often (wrongly) associated with suppressing emotions and going through life with a stiff upper lip is back in the news. Literally. Major national and international newspapers and media outlets, including but not limited to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, the BBC, Der Standard, El Mundo, El Pais, and even Marie Claire, are suddenly talking about Stoicism. The major online community of people interested in the philosophy, on Facebook, counts over 40,000 members.

It is easy and tempting for professional philosophers to scoff at this phenomenon, but it would be unwise. I suggest that what is known as modern Stoicism is to be situated within a broader renaissance of virtue ethics in both technical philosophy and popular culture. I will also argue that this is a clear benefit (despite some caveats) for professional philosophy, for general education, and arguably for society at large. Philosophers should therefore take notice, understand, and insofar as it is possible, contribute to the increasing interest in practical philosophy, of which modern Stoicism is but one manifestation.

Suggested readings, #94

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Dostoevsky warned of the strain of nihilism that infects Donald Trump and his movement. (The Conversation)

Caligula’s garden of delights, unearthed and restored. Relics from the favorite hideaway of ancient Rome’s most infamous tyrant have been recovered and put on display by archaeologists. (New York Times)

Why we need climate stoicism to overcome climate despair. (Phys.org)

The paradox of inclusive language. When using inclusive words is a marker of wokeness, does it becomes a means of excluding the un-woke? (Medium)

Playing to lose: transhumanism, autonomy, and liberal democracy. (OUP Blog) Not only is transhumanism incoherent, it is dangerous.

Updating Stoicism: An authorized commentary on Larry Becker’s A New Stoicism

Here comes another free e-booklet that collects a number of essays I wrote, covering Larry Becker’s effort to update Stoicism for the 21st century, as articulated in his A New Stoicism. This commentary, which was put together with Larry’s help before he died, is meant as an introduction and guide to, but definitely not a substitute for, his book. You can download a free PDF version (several other free booklets on Stoicism, philosophy of science and general philosophy can be found here). Updating Stoicism contains the following:

Introduction

I — The map of the territory

II — The way things stand, part 1

III — The way things stand, part 2

IV — Normative Stoic logic

V — Following the facts, part 1

VI — Following the facts, part 2

VII — Virtue, part 1

VIII — Virtue, part 2

IX — Happiness

X — Virtue ethics, political philosophy, and how to live well

20 Essays in Practical Philosophy – Because philosophy actually matters

Here comes another free e-booklet that collects a number of essays I wrote, 20 entries in my practical philosophy series over at Patreon. You can download a free PDF version (several other free booklets on Stoicism, philosophy of science and general philosophy can be found here). Updating Stoicism contains the following:

Introduction: why practical philosophy?

  1. Why does your life matter? A personal story and a challenge to readers 2. On the objectivity of ethical judgments
  2. Telic vs atelic activities, and the meaning of life
  3. Protagoras: should we re-evaluate the Sophists?
  4. Weekend Epicureanism?
  5. Is there a will to meaning?
  6. What on earth is practical philosophy?
  7. Epic battles in practical ethics: Arendt vs Thoreau
  8. Is public philosophy good? Obviously
  9. Epic battles in practical ethics: Virtue ethics vs Consequentialism
  10. Another attack on western philosophy, because, sex
  11. Some of my most loved relatives are sexists and racists. Now what? 13. David Brooks and the five lies culture tells us
  12. Thoreau’s Journal: on writing (why and how)
  13. What does it mean to be “from” somewhere?
  14. What is wisdom?
  15. The lure and danger of extreme examples
  16. Emerson on self-reliance
  17. Secular pilgrimages: the Academy, the Lyceum, and the Stoa
  18. Are you ready to die?

Suggested readings, #93

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Stoicism, cold and warm streams. (Medium)

Why your body sometimes jerks as you fall asleep. A closer look at hypnic jerks. (Medium)

The Dunning-Kruger effect may be a statistical illusion. Research finds the effect is statistically due to other psychological factors. (Psychology Today) There may go yet another major result from psychological research that turns out not to stand up to scrutiny. Remember that, the next time you rush to endorse the latest hot paper in psychology.

The irrationality of transhumanists. The unreasonable flaws in the movement’s big claims. (IAI News)

Our improbable existence is no evidence for a multiverse. Experts in probability have spotted a logical flaw in theorists’ reasoning. (Scientific American) Improbably, I completely agree with Philip Goff on this one. But I find it ironic that he, rightly, chastises supporters of the multiverse for the utter lack of empirical evidence, and yet is entirely blind to the very same problem concerning his own pet theory, panpsychism. The fact that I repeatedly pointed this out to him didn’t seem to have any effect.

Suggested readings, #92

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Testing positivism. “The Murder of Professor Schlick” brilliantly illuminates an ambitious movement in philosophy. (Standpoint Magazine)

Best time to reopen? Economists are just guessing. Their mathematical skills are formidable, but toss out the dicey assumptions and things get squishy. (Bloomberg)

Philosophy: a history of failure? (3 Quarks Daily) Yet another attempt to show that philosophy has failed. Repeatedly. For a different view, see here.

Why I changed my mind about organics. And why you probably should too. (Medium)

What people actually say before they die. Insights into the little-studied realm of last words. (Atlantic) Scientifically a bit questionable, but interesting food for thought.

The problem of now. The injunction to immerse yourself in the present might be psychologically potent, but is it metaphysically meaningful? (Aeon) A good example of a philosopher who engages in good quality logic chopping, thereby missing the forest for the trees.